Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution

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Mosaic medallion in the floor of the main hall of the Jordan Hall of Science, University of Notre Dame.

"Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution" is a 1973 essay by the evolutionary biologist and Russian Orthodox Christian Theodosius Dobzhansky, criticising anti-evolution creationism and espousing theistic evolution. The essay was first published in American Biology Teacher, volume 35, pp. 125–129.[1]

Dobzhansky first published the title statement, in a slight variation, in a 1964 article in American Zoologist, "Biology, Molecular and Organismic", to assert the importance of organismic biology in response to the challenge of the rising field of molecular biology.[2] The term "light of evolution"—or sub specie evolutionis—had been used earlier by biologist Julian Huxley.


Dobzhansky starts with a reductio ad absurdum of the alleged geocentrism of Shaikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz, the then Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, who believes the Sun revolves around the Earth because of scripture.[3][4] Dobzhansky asserts his own belief that scripture and science do not contradict each other. He criticizes creationists and argues that they imply that God is deceitful and asserts that this is blasphemous.

Dobzhansky then goes on to describe the diversity of life on Earth, arguing that the diversity of species cannot be best explained by a creation myth because of the ecological interactions between them. He uses examples of evidence for evolution: the genetic sequence of cytochrome C to show evidence for common descent (citing the work of Emanuel Margoliash and Walter M. Fitch); embryology; and his own work on fruit flies in Hawaii. Dobzhansky concludes that scripture and science are two different things: "It is a blunder to mistake the Holy Scriptures for elementary textbooks of astronomy, geology, biology, and anthropology."

The central issue[edit]

The central issue of the essay is the need to teach biological evolution in the context of debate about creation and evolution in public education in the United States.[5] The fact that evolution occurs explains the interrelatedness of the various facts of biology, and so makes biology make sense.[6] The concept has become firmly established as a unifying idea in biology education.[7]

The phrase[edit]

The notion of the "light of evolution" came originally from the Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, whom Dobzhansky much admired. In the last paragraph of the article, de Chardin is quoted as having written:

(Evolution) general condition to which all theories, all hypotheses, all systems must bow and which they must satisfy henceforward if they are to be thinkable and true. Evolution is a light which illuminates all facts, a curve that all lines must follow. (p. 219 of Phenomenon of Man)

The phrase "nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution" has come into common use by those opposing creationism or its variant called intelligent design.[5][8] While the essay argues that Christianity and evolutionary biology are compatible, a position described as evolutionary creationism or theistic evolution, the phrase is also used by those who consider that "in biology" includes anthropology, and those who consider a creator to be unnecessary, such as Richard Dawkins who published The Selfish Gene just three years later.


I am a creationist and an evolutionist. Evolution is God's, or Nature's method of creation. Creation is not an event that happened in 4004 BC; it is a process that began some 10 billion years ago and is still under way.

— Theodosius Dobzhansky, "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution" (1973)

Does the evolutionary doctrine clash with religious faith? It does not. It is a blunder to mistake the Holy Scriptures for elementary textbooks of astronomy, geology, biology, and anthropology. Only if symbols are construed to mean what they are not intended to mean can there arise imaginary, insoluble conflicts.... the blunder leads to blasphemy: the Creator is accused of systematic deceitfulness.

— Theodosius Dobzhansky, "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution" (1973)


  1. ^ Theodosius Dobzhansky "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution", American Biology Teacher vol. 35 (March 1973) reprinted in Evolution versus Creationism, J. Peter Zetterberg ed., ORYX Press, Phoenix AZ 1983. Available online at
  2. ^ Theodosius Dobzhansky, "Biology, Molecular and Organismic", American Zoologist, volume 4 (1964), pp. 443–452. The phrase appears on page 449 as "nothing makes sense in biology except in the light of evolution, sub specie evolutionis."
  3. ^ Ibn Baz's book in which he makes his claim.
  4. ^ Fatwa on the rotation of Earth referring to the same book by Ibn Baz issued by the Permanent Committee including Ibn Baz.
  5. ^ a b "NCSE Resource". Cans and Can'ts of Teaching Evolution. National Center for Science Education. February 13, 2001. Retrieved 2007-12-13. 
  6. ^ Eugenie C. Scott (November 8, 1997). "BioForum 11/9/97: Scott: Evolution and Biology". Access Excellence at the National Health Museum. Retrieved 2007-12-13. 
  7. ^ David L. Haury (1996). "CSMEE Digest 96-4". Teaching Evolution in School Science Classes. The Educational Resources Information Center. Archived from the original on 2007-09-23. Retrieved 2007-12-13. 
  8. ^ Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School DistrictContext: 1. An Objective Observer Would Know that ID and Teaching About "Gaps" and "Problems" in Evolutionary Theory are Creationist, Religious Strategies that Evolved from Earlier Forms of Creationism

External links[edit]