Peer Pressure and Darwin

Douglas Axe is a molecular biologist, and the author of Undeniable: How Biology Confirms Our Intuition That Life Is Designed. Early in his book, he explains that Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theories didn’t catch on right away. But, all of a sudden, they did!


What would cause such a sudden reversal of scientific opinion? Did a new scientific discovery appear in the late 1860s or early 1870s—potent enough to convince the skeptics that Darwin was right after all? Clearly not, as Darwin surely would have cited such a decisive finding. But if science itself wasn’t the cause of the change, then what was?

Whether he intended to or not, Darwin reveals here that peer pressure is a part of science, happening behind the scenes as the various scientific interests compete against one another for influence. If it’s a plain historical fact that the experts didn’t side with Darwin in the early 1860s, then why would he have been “much censured” by his peers for saying so?

It’s as though his colleagues wanted all mention of opposition expunged from the record now that this opposition had faded. Darwin resisted the pressure applied to him on that occasion, but what if others, perhaps under even greater pressure, were less able to resist?

Might the earlier inability of some scientists to express their support of Darwin’s theory—the silence and ambiguity of expression Darwin referred to—have been the result of peer pressure too? And if so, then might the sudden change in Darwin’s favor have been more like a change of power than a change of minds—a sudden reversal of the stream’s flow?

Douglas Axe, Undeniable (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2016; Kindle ed.), pg. 5.

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