Christian Research Institute

What Is Darwin’s Tree of Life?

According to Charles Darwin’s Tree of Life*, humans and fruit flies share a common ancestor. According to Richard Dawkins, so do boys and bananas. This begs the question: What is Darwin’s version of the Tree of Life?

First, Darwin’s Tree of Life is an illustration. It appears in The Origin of Species to persuade the faithful that all species are, as Darwin put it, “lineal descendants of some few beings which lived long before the first bed of the Cambrian system was deposited.” At the root of the tree is a handful of organic building blocks; at the tips of its budding branches are all modern species.

Furthermore, the Tree of Life is an icon. And not just an icon—the principal symbol of evolution. Indeed, for multitudes this icon has become the argument. The mere mention of it invokes devotees to bow deeply at the twin altars of common descent* and natural selection*. “I should infer,” the chief priest intoned, “that probably all the organic beings which have ever lived on this earth have descended from some one primordial form.”

Finally, the Tree is incorrect. In the geological period designated Cambrian, the highest orders in the biological hierarchy appear suddenly and fully formed. As Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins acknowledged, “It is as though [fossils] were just planted there, without any evolutionary history.” And that is precisely the case. Darwin’s Tree of Life is not only uprooted by the Cambrian Explosion*, but the fossil record in general shows no evidence of the origin of species by means of common descent and natural selection.


For further study, see Jonathan Wells, Icons of Evolution: Science or Myth? Why Much of What We Teach About Evolution Is Wrong (Washington, DC: Regnery, 2000).