Taking Leave of Darwin

A Longtime Agnostic Discovers the Case for DesignNeil Thomas

University professor Neil Thomas was a committed Darwinist and agnostic — until an investigation of evolutionary theory led him to a startling conclusion: “I had been conned!” As he studied the work of Darwin’s defenders, he found himself encountering tactics eerily similar to the methods of political brainwashing he had studied as a scholar. Thomas felt impelled to write a book as a sort of warning call to humanity: “Beware! You have been fooled!” The result is Taking Leave of Darwin, a wide-ranging history of the evolution debate. Thomas uncovers many formidable Darwin opponents that most people know nothing about, ably distills crucial objections raised early and late against Darwinism, and shows that those objections have been explained away but never effectively answered. Thomas’s deeply personal conclusion? Intelligent design is not only possible but, indeed, is presently the most reasonable explanation for the origin of life’s great diversity of forms.


A brilliantly synoptic, dispassionate overview of the controversies that have swirled around Darwin’s theory of evolutionary transformation over the past 160 years. The more that science has progressed, argues Neil Thomas, the greater the dissonance between Darwinism’s simplistic mechanism and the inscrutable complexities of life it seeks to explain. Thomas’s open-minded interrogation of the implications for our understanding of ourselves and our world is masterly and persuasive.

James Le Fanu, Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and winner of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize

Taking Leave of Darwin bristles with righteous indignation. Retired British humanities professor and lifelong rationalist Neil Thomas believed the confident claims for Darwinism. Now he knows better. Writing in elegant, erudite prose, Thomas excoriates those who have robbed people of their right to grapple with our mysterious universe as best they can. I highly recommend the book.

Michael J. Behe, Lehigh University Professor of Biological Sciences and author of Darwin’s Black Box

Professor Neil Thomas has written a brief, courageous, spirited, and lucid book. It shows the commendable willingness of a committed agnostic intellectual to change his mind about Darwinism, the great contemporary sacred cow, in the face of the large, accumulating body of new evidence against it and also to avail himself of the insights and arguments of intelligent critics of it since the very beginning and across 160 years — including Sedgwick, Mivart, Butler, A.R. Wallace, Agassiz, Max Muller, Kellogg, Dewar, Jacques Barzun, and Gertrude Himmelfarb. His intelligent, non-specialist survey of the contemporary state of the question is enriched by references to the insights of the distinguished philosopher Thomas Nagel and the MD and award-winning science writer James Le Fanu, and by a quite moving rationalist commitment to “follow the argument where it leads,” however unexpected and uncomfortable this loyalty to logic and truth has made him. He provides a gratifying and illuminating case study in intellectual courage.

M.D. Aeschliman, Professor Emeritus, Boston University, author ofThe Restoration of Man: C.S. Lewis and the Continuing Case Against Scientism

Taking Leave of Darwin provides helpful cultural and literary context for the development of Darwin’s ideas and traces the rational and philosophical analyses that followed in its wake. Neil Thomas argues that even though Darwin’s story of blind evolution is poorly grounded and inadequately supported, the public and some professional scientists (willfully or otherwise) have been duped into accepting a set of unsubstantiated assumptions and assertions. Despite being wary to entertain the notion of design, Thomas finds himself cornered—teleology is unavoidable.

David Galloway, MD DSc FRCS FRCP FACS FACP, Former President, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow, Honorary Professor of Surgery, College of Medical, Veterinary & Life Sciences, University of Glasgow

Taking Leave of Darwin by Neil Thomas, a senior academic literary historian and a life member of the British Rationalist Association, is an unusual book, for it is an attack on the secular theory of evolution by a non-Christian. Thomas describes “the whole Darwinian edifice as an offense not only to best scientific practice but even to commonsense.” So why do Darwinists persist? According to Thomas, “If you bring to origins science an anything-but-God mindset, then you will cling tenaciously to the one purely materialistic theory you believe has any chance, however slender, of explaining the mysterious origin of life’s diversity.” Indeed, he says that “to attribute creative potential to nature itself is a deeply archaic, animistic way of thinking,” and he concludes that “with the naturalistic/materialistic alternative having failed so signally, we are left with no other choice but to consider the possibility of the ‘God hypothesis.’” I confess that I am not qualified to judge the book’s scientific arguments, but am astonished by a non-Christian suggesting that Darwinism, far from a rigorous scientific theory, “cannot in strictly logical terms rise above the status of a hypothesis or philosophical postulate.” If you are looking for a skeptical take on evolutionary theory outside the often simplistic science-vs.-religion framework, Taking Leave of Darwin is made to order.

Rev. Dr. Paul Beasley-Murray, former principal of Spurgeon’s College, London, and author of many books, including There is Hope

This well-researched and detailed examination of the all-pervasive and inexplicable overreach of neo-Darwinism in science and philosophy is a must read for all those interested in the science of origins and the nature of scientific conclusions. The analysis of historical objections to and current doubts about Darwinism are most illuminating. The author’s reasons for “Taking Leave of Darwin” and being open to the existence of design in nature are compelling. A brilliant and thought-provoking book!

Dr. Alastair Noble, Former Science Teacher and Inspector of Schools, Scotland, UK

Unlike many books written in the heat of the debates over Darwinism, Taking Leave of Darwin is a reflective, even meditative work. It charts the path by which one highly educated non-scientist has become an agnostic about the evolution of life by purely naturalistic processes. A thought-provoking feature of Neil Thomas’s ruminations is the explicitness with which he considers how biology might have developed without Darwin’s extreme naturalism. He concludes interestingly that it would have probably led to some sort of rapprochement with ideas of design and purpose in nature, perhaps along the lines of Alfred Russel Wallace’s alternative treatment of natural selection. It remains an option worth exploring.

Steve Fuller, University of Warwick, Author of Science vs. Religion? and Dissent over Descent

In a highly engaging and thoroughly researched account that is at once deeply personal and highly perceptive, scholar Neil Thomas exposes the bold presumptuousness of the Darwinian faithful for what it is, namely, a “modern form of hoodwinking” that fails an honest and unbiased test of history and logic. Taking Leave of Darwin exposes the “science” of Darwinian evolution as scientism and the explanatory “power” of natural selection as the paper tiger of “Nature red in tooth and claw.” Read this book and be fooled no longer!

Michael A. Flannery, Professor Emeritus, UAB Libraries, University of Alabama at Birmingham, author of Nature’s Prophet: Alfred Russel Wallace and His Evolution from Natural Selection to Natural Theology

Neil Thomas

Neil Thomas is a Reader Emeritus in the University of Durham, England and a longtime member of the British Rationalist Association. He studied Classical Studies and European Languages at the universities of Oxford, Munich and Cardiff before taking up his post in the German section of the School of European Languages and Literatures at Durham University in 1976. There his teaching involved a broad spectrum of specialisms including Germanic philology, medieval literature, the literature and philosophy of the Enlightenment and modern German history and literature. He also taught modules on the propagandist use of the German language used both by the Nazis and by the functionaries of the old German Democratic Republic. He published over 40 articles in a number of refereed journals and a half dozen single-authored books, the last of which were Reading the Nibelungenlied (1995), Diu Crone and the Medieval Arthurian Cycle (2002) and Wirnt von Gravenberg's 'Wigalois'. Intertextuality and Interpretation (2005). He also edited a number of volumes including Myth and its Legacy in European Literature (1996) and German Studies at the Millennium (1999). He was the British Brach President of the International Arthurian Society (2002-5) and remains a member of a number of learned societies.