Home            Pangenesis: Darwin was Wrong


"Charles Darwin was Wrong"

Pangenesis is the theory of inheritance Charles Darwin supported.  It is often stated as one he invented.  While in the actual form he put forward this may be so, the idea that all the parts of the body contribute to inheritance and that the body cells shed gemmules (hypothetical particles) that go to the reproductive organs, each playing their part in the next generation was not new in Darwin's day.

The ancient Greeks had speculated on this even before Hippocrates wrote 'Vessels for the transmission of bodily fluids are found throughout the entire body.  From every part of the body are produced particles which mix with the bodily fluids in the vessels and are carried by them to the testicles'.

Consequences of this theory were the cause of some of Darwin's doubts about his theory of evolution by natural selection. See 'Darwin's Doubts'.

Of course not everyone at the time accepted the theory of pangenesis.  One person who tested it (with the approval of Charles Darwin) was Darwin's own half cousin, Sir Francis Galton.  Galton did experiments involving blood transfusions in rabbits.  The experiments failed to show any inheritable characteristics being passed onto the offspring by the blood.  Charles Darwin did not accept these experiments as good evidence the theory was wrong, and at the time there were good reasons for rejecting the experiments.

At the same time as Charles Darwin was doing his later work, an obscure Austrian Monk called Gregor Mendel was experimenting with peas in a tiny monastery garden.  He developed a rival theory of inheritance, and published it in 1866. (He actually read his paper in public the year before.)
Mendel's original paper can be found at: "Versuche ├╝ber Pflanzen-Hybriden (1865) von Gregor Mendel."

Mendel's paper was criticized, but mostly ignored.   It was cited only three times in the next thirty five years.

His work was rediscovered about thirty five years later, and his results duplicated and extended.  Now Gregor Mendel is recognised as the Father of Genetics.  It is accepted that "Darwin was wrong about the theory of pangenisis", while it is accepted by the great majority of  scientists that Darwin was basically correct about the theory of evolution by natural selection. 
A majority of Christians belong to churches that accept the basic tenents of the theory of evolution and it is accepted by most people in many countries which have a Christian majority and   tradition. It is not so well accepted in countries with a Moslem majority.

Charles Darwin almost certainly never saw the paper Gregor Mendel wrote.  (Not many people did.)  Darwin's German was  poor so he would only have read something in German that he already thought was important. If he had, it is interesting to speculate on whether he would have accepted it as explaining much his own Pangenisis theory did not.
Father Gregor Mendel on the other hand was well aware of Darwin's theory of evolution and approved of it.

Charles Darwin's theory of pangenesis is now accepted as being wrong.  However, it is a clever theory in some ways. Perhaps on some other planet there are organisms that do have a mechanism for all parts of their body to contribute to the offspring.  This would allow for the inheritance of acquired characteristics which could be a huge advantage.

Steve Challis



Charles Darwin
Sir Francis Galton
Gregor Mendel