Jean-Henri Fabre: Anti-Evolutionist French Scientist
by Jerry Bergman, Ph.D. *
Eminent French scientist Jean-Henri Fabre (1823-1915) devoted his life to a field of research called entomology—the study of insects.1 His pioneering research laid the groundwork for this field to the extent that he is “generally considered the father of modern entomology.”2 Though his achievements were great, Fabre pointed to God as his inspiration. He refused to accept the evolutionary doctrine of his day and allowed God to take the credit for creating such a beautiful world.
Fabre Begins His Lifelong Passion
Born in Saint Leons, France, Fabre spent his early childhood in a small village where his love of nature blossomed. He was especially attracted to the beauty of butterflies and displayed a remarkably inquiring mind that was fostered by scientific mentors Requien of Avignon and Moquin-Tandon.3 When still a young man, Fabre “became a doctor of sciences, laureate,” allowing him to teach natural science.4 The Avignon lyceum students were captivated by his lectures and demonstrations. Later, as a professor, he devoted his spare time both to scientific experiments and the study of plants and insects.5
While other entomologists preferred to base their conclusions on studies of dead insects, Fabre directly observed insects in their natural habitats. His work had enormous value, “but its superior merit is that of introducing the experimental method into the study of the habits of insects, a method almost entirely neglected by [other scientists].”6
This method became particularly advantageous in the ingenious hands of the eager investigator [Fabre] who was the leader in it. It characterized all his entomological works and…is recognized today in its full value throughout France and America where it is practiced by numerous biologists.6
A Renaissance Man
Although his most important achievements were in entomology, Fabre’s vivid mind and love for science allowed him to work as a physicist, chemist, zoologist, and botanist.7 He even obtained several patents on methods that he developed to produce natural dyes, garancine being the most significant.
The importance of Fabre’s role in popularizing science was enormous. His books were “used throughout the French schools, and such were their charms that they instructed parents as well as pupils.”8 His ten-volume Souvenirs Entomoligiques became the foundational encyclopedia of entomological science. Although the scientific background in these ten volumes is unparalleled, these important texts were written in a popular and engaging style, as were most of his writings. As a result, his books sold well and influenced a generation of students.
At the age of 55, Fabre bought a piece of land that later became the main arena for his scientific studies and observations for the rest of his life. His “Harmas de Sérignan” now serves as a museum devoted to his life and work.
Strident Opposition to Darwinism
Fabre’s colleague, Charles Darwin, called him an “inimitable observer.”9 Darwin’s verdict is “significant in that the French entomologist did not scruple to oppose…the theories of the famous English naturalist.”10 In the Origin of Species, Darwin cited Fabre to support his (Darwin’s) conclusion that “I can see no difficulty in natural selection making an occasional habit permanent,” a sweeping conclusion that Fabre strongly disagreed with.11
In another instance, Darwin cited Fabre to support his (Darwin’s) theory of sexual selection, which Darwin believed was central to evolution, a conclusion that Fabre also rebuked.12 Fabre revealed his feelings about Darwin when he penned the following:
It was my task to report to [Darwin] the result of some experiments which he had suggested to me in the course of our correspondence: a very pleasant task, for, [the facts]…disincline me to accept his theories….I was drafting my letter when the sad news reached me: Darwin was dead: after searching the mighty question of origins, he was now grappling with the last and darkest problem of the hereafter.13
Although Darwin waged war “boldly” upon the ideas that Fabre firmly held to, such as creationism, Fabre once asked that “God preserve me from ever [unkindly] doing so upon those who maintain [evolutionism].” In spite of his battles against Darwinism, he lived this goal: Whenever he wrote Charles Darwin’s name, he mentioned it “with evidence…of respect and sympathy.”14
Fabre concluded his lifetime of studying nature by maintaining that the original Genesis animal kinds were fixed and unchanging, stressing, “we cannot refrain from proclaiming the necessity of a sovereign Mind, the creator and instigator of order and harmony…to the glory of God the Creator.”15
Henry Morris called Fabre a “great Christian biologist” who was a “lifelong and vigorous opponent…of the entire theory of evolution.”16 Fabre’s biographer and son Augustin Fabre wrote that his father found “all the marks of ingenuity” in the design of the many insects that he studied.15
Fabre’s other biographer, Percy Bicknell, wrote, “The theory of evolution, a theory that he found much reason to criticize in later life, he unconsciously refuted as a boy.”17 As an adult, Fabre “severely criticized the idea of evolution” and, as a result of “his exhaustive criticism sustained by minutely controlled facts,” he kept evolutionists busy by trying to answer them and preventing them from “resting on the laurels of the great masters who established the theory [of evolution].”18
In response to one “evolutionist, and a highly original one,” Fabre concluded that evolution required an “incredible” suspension of logic and reason, noting that evolutionists believe in fantastic ideas like:
A bat is a rat that has grown wings; the cuckoo is a sparrow-hawk that has retired from business; the slug, a snail which…has lost its shell; the night-jar…is an old toad which…has grown feathers in order to enter the folds and milk the goats. Nothing gives him pause in tracing the descent of animals. He has a reply for everything: this comes from that.19
Fabre responded in detail to what he called evolutionists’ “insanities,” such as their proclamation that Pithecanthropus was the precursor of man, a conclusion that Fabre believed was based on irresponsible speculation. Fabre expressed amazement that “there are men who will seriously tell us that…it is absolutely proved that man is descended from some vaguely sketched monkey.”19
Fabre observed that every period of history has had “its scientific craze; to-day it is evolution.” At one time it was spontaneous generation, but “Pasteur exploded forever the insanity which professed to see life arising from a chemical conflict in a mass of putrescence.”20
Fabre’s advice from this lesson of history was that evolution was not founded on “sufficiently numerous and solid foundations” to conclude that it is true, and where sufficient foundations are lacking, generalizations are used to cover ignorance. In other words, the evolutionist “generalizes to the utmost, simplifying in his inability to see the complex…and he will do so more as his faculty of observation is more widely exercised.”21 Fabre also wrote that, due to his study of the natural world, he regarded atheism as “the malady of the age. You could take my skin from me more easily than my faith in God.”22
Fabre “has exerted and will long exert” an enormous positive influence on science. Fabre “was a professor in the highest meaning of the term, and, moreover, a teacher of an entirely special kind, who dwelt alone and raised up followers by the magic of his style, the powerful interest of his works.”18 All of Fabre’s work was not only original, but also of the highest standard. His sympathetic biographer, Dr. G. V. Legros, justly wrote of him that “he owed little to others, savants or authors and the formula of his style as well as the secret of his art are uniquely his own.”18
Fabre’s writing, described as science penned in the form of a literary classic, details not only the wondrous insect world but also holds a stark appreciation of the design, wonder, and ingenuity found everywhere in nature.23 All of his many books on insects are, in fact, creation textbooks written to give glory to the Creator and to document the conclusion that evolution does not, and cannot, explain the natural world.24 Fabre’s work is important reading for every lover of nature and science.
- Starr, C. K. 1985. Jean-Henri Fabre and Biological Systematics. DLSU Dialogue. 20 (2): 36-65.
- Morris, H. M. 1988. Men of Science, Men of God: Great Scientists Who Believed the Bible. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 62.
- Bicknell, P. F. 1923. The Human Side of Fabre. New York: The Century Company, 5.
- Bouvier, E. L. 1917. The Life and Work of J. H. Fabre. Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution, for 1916. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 587.
- Hammond, D. B. 1928. Stories of Scientific Discovery. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 82.
- Bouvier, Life and Work of J. H. Fabre, 589.
- Bicknell, Human Side of Fabre, 3.
- Bouvier, Life and Work of J. H. Fabre, 588.
- Darwin, C. 1859. On the Origin of Species. London: John Murray, 364.
- Fabre, A. 1923. The Life of Jean Henri Fabre, the Entomologist, 1823-1910. Miall, B., transl. New York: Dodd, Mead, 4.
- Darwin, On the Origin of Species, 218-219.
- Darwin, C. R. 1871. The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex. London: John Murray, 364-365.
- Fabre, Life of Jean Henri Fabre, 285.
- Ibid, 286.
- Ibid, 8-9.
- Morris, Men of Science, Men of God, 62.
- Fabre, Life of Jean Henri Fabre, 5-6.
- Bouvier, Life and Work of J. H. Fabre, 595-97.
- Fabre, Life of Jean Henri Fabre, 283.
- Ibid, 158-159.
- Ibid, 284.
- Hammond, Stories of Scientific Discovery, 88.
- Legros, G. V. 1913. Fabre, Poet of Science. Miall, B., transl. London: T. Fisher Unwin; Fabre, J. H. 1991. The Insect World of J. Henri Fabre. de Mattos, A. T., transl. Boston: Beacon Press; 1862. The Writings of M. Fabre. The Natural History Review: A Quarterly Journal of Biological Science. 6: 121-130.
- Fabre, J. H. 1921. Fabre’s Book of Insects. Retold from A. T. de Mattos’ translation by R. Stawell. London: Hodder and Stoughton Ltd.
* Dr. Bergman is Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Toledo Medical College in Ohio.
Cite this article: Jerry Bergman, Ph.D. 2014. Jean-Henri Fabre: Anti-Evolutionist French Scientist. Acts & Facts. 43 (7).