|Essay: Natural selection & natural theology|
NATURAL SELECTION NOT INCONSISTENT WITH NATURAL THEOLOGY.
Atlantic Monthly for July, August, and October, 1860, reprinted in 1861.
Novelties are enticing to most people; to us they are simply annoying. We cling to a long-accepted theory, just as we cling to an old suit of clothes. A new theory, like a new pair of breeches (the Atlantic still affects the older type of nether garment), is sure to have hard-fitting places; or, even when no particular fault can be found with the article, it oppresses with a sense of general discomfort. New notions and new styles worry us, till we get well used to them, which is only by slow degrees.
Wherefore, in Galileo's time, we might have helped to proscribe, or to burn—had he been stubborn enough to warrant cremation—even the great pioneer of inductive research; although, when we had fairly recovered our composure, and had leisurely excogitated the matter, we might have come to conclude that the new doctrine was better than the old one, after all, at least for those who had nothing to unlearn.
Such being our habitual state of mind, it may well be believed that the perusal of the
new book ‘
Well, we found no cause of quarrel with the first chapter. Here the author takes us
directly to the barn-yard and the kitchen-garden. Like an honorable rural member of our
General Court, who sat silent until, near the close of a long session, a bill requiring
all swine at large to wear pokes was introduced, when he claimed the privilege of
addressing the house, on the proper ground that he had been ‘
Could we ‘
The prospect of the future, accordingly, is on the whole pleasant and encouraging. It is
only the backward glance, the gaze up the long vista of the past, that reveals anything
alarming. Here the lines converge as they recede into the geological ages, and point to
conclusions which, upon the theory, are inevitable, but hardly welcome. The very first
step backward makes the negro and the Hottentot our blood-relations—not that
reason or Scripture objects to that, though pride may. The next suggests a closer
association of our ancestors of the olden time with ‘
No doubt, the full development and symmetry of Darwin's hypothesis strongly suggest the
evolution of the human no less than the lower animal races out of some simple primordial
animal—that all are equally ‘
This leads us to ask for the reasons which call for this new theory of transmutation. The
beginning of things must needs lie in obscurity, beyond the bounds of proof, though
within those of conjecture or of analogical inference. Why not hold fast to the
customary view, that all species were directly, instead of indirectly, created after
their respective kinds, as we now behold them—and that in a manner which,
passing our comprehension, we intuitively refer to the supernatural? Why this continual
striving after ‘
To this, in general, sufficient answer may be found in the activity of the human
Since, then, questions about the origin of species will be raised, and have been raised—and since the theorizings, however different in particulars, all proceed upon the notion that one species of plant or animal is somehow derived from another, that the different sorts which now flourish are lineal (or unlineal) descendants of other and earlier sorts—it now concerns us to ask, What are the grounds in Nature, the admitted facts, which suggest hypotheses of derivation in some shape or other? Reasons there must be, and plausible ones, for the persistent recurrence of theories upon this genetic basis. A study of Darwin's book, and a general glance at the present state of the natural sciences, enable us to gather the following as among the most suggestive and influential. We can only enumerate them here, without much indication of their particular bearing. There is—
1. The general fact of variability, and the general tendency of the variety to propagate its like—the patent facts that all species vary more or less; that domesticated plants and animals, being in conditions favorable to the production and preservation of varieties, are apt to vary widely; and that, by interbreeding, any variety may be fixed into a race, that is, into a variety which comes true from seed. Many such races, it is allowed, differ from each other in structure and appearance as widely as do many admitted species; and it is practically very difficult, even impossible, to draw a clear line between races and species. Witness the human races, for instance. Wild species also vary, perhaps about as widely as those of domestication, though in different ways. Some of them apparently vary little, others moderately, others immoderately, to the great bewilderment of systematic botanists and zoologists, and increasing disagreement as to whether various forms shall be held to be original species or strong varieties. Moreover, the degree to which the descendants of the same stock, varying in different directions, may at length diverge, is unknown. All we know is, that varieties are themselves variable, and that very diverse forms have been educed from one stock.
2. Species of the same genus are not distinguished from each other by equal amounts of difference. There is diversity in this respect analogous to that of the varieties of a polymorphous species, some of them slight, others extreme. And in large genera the unequal resemblance shows itself in the clustering of the species around several types or central species, like satellites around their respective planets. Obviously suggestive this of the hypothesis that they were satellites, not thrown off by revolution, like the moons of Jupiter, Saturn, and our own solitary moon, but gradually and peacefully detached by divergent variation. That such closely-related species may be only varieties of higher grade, earlier origin, or more favored evolution, is not a very violent supposition. Anyhow, it was a supposition sure to be made.
3. The actual geographical distribution of species upon the earth's surface tends to suggest the same notion. For, as a general thing, all or most of the species of a peculiar genus or other type are grouped in the same country, or occupy continuous, proximate, or accessible areas. So well does this rule hold, so general is the implication that kindred species are or were associated geographically, that most trustworthy naturalists, quite free from hypotheses of transmutation, are constantly inferring former geographical continuity between parts of the world now widely disjoined, in order to account thereby for certain generic similarities among their inhabitants; just as philologists infer former connection of races, and a parent language, to account for generic similarities among existing languages. Yet no scientific explanation has been offered to account for the geographical association of kindred species, except the hypothesis of a common origin.
4. Here the fact of the antiquity of creation, and in particular of the present kinds of the earth's inhabitants, or of a large part of them, comes in to rebut the objection that there has not been time enough for any marked diversification of living things through divergent variation—not time enough for varieties to have diverged into what we call species.
So long as the existing species of plants and animals were thought to have originated a few thousand years ago, and without predecessors, there was no room for a theory of derivation of one sort from another, nor time enough even to account for the establishment of the races which are generally believed to have diverged from a common stock. Not so much that five or six thousand years was a short allowance for this; but because some of our familiar domesticated varieties of grain, of fowls, and of other animals, were pictured and mummified by the old Egyptians more than half that number of years ago, if not earlier. Indeed, perhaps the strongest argument for the original plurality of human species was drawn from the identification of some of the present races of men upon these early historical monuments and records.
But this very extension of the current chronology, if we may rely upon the
archaeologists, removes the difficulty by opening up a longer vista. So does the
discovery in Europe of remains and implements of prehistoric races of men, to whom the
use of metals was unknown—men of the stone age, as the Scandinavian
archaeologists designate them. And now, ‘
5. The overlapping of existing and extinct species, and the seemingly gradual transition
of the life of the drift period into that of the present, may be turned to the same
account. Mammoths, mastodons, and Irish elks, now extinct, must have lived down to
human, if not almost to historic times. Perhaps the last dodo did not long outlive his
huge New Zealand kindred. The aurochs, once the companion of mammoths, still survives,
but owes his present and precarious existence to man's care. Now, nothing that we know
of forbids the hypothesis that some new species have been independently and
supernaturally created within the period which other species have survived. Some may
even believe that man was created in the days of the mammoth, became extinct, and was
recreated at a later date. But why not say the same of the aurochs, contemporary both of
the old man and of the new? Still it is more natural, if not inevitable, to infer that,
if the aurochs of that olden time were the ancestors of the aurochs of the Lithuanian
forests, so likewise were the men of that age the ancestors of the present human races.
Then, whoever concludes that these primitive makers of rude flint axes and knives were
the ancestors of the better workmen of the succeeding stone age, and these again of the
succeeding artificers in brass and iron, will also be likely to suppose that the
Equus and Bos of that time, different though they be, were the remote
progenitors of our own horses and cattle. In all candor we must at least concede that
such considerations suggest a genetic descent from the drift period down to the present,
and allow time enough—if time is of any account— for variation and
natural selection to work out some appreciable results in the way of divergence into
races, or even into so-called species. Whatever might have been thought, when geological
time was supposed to be separated from the present era by a clear line, it is now
certain that a gradual replacement of old forms by new ones is strongly suggestive of
some mode of origination which may still be operative. When species, like individuals,
were found to die out one by one, and apparently to come in one by one, a theory for
what Owen sonorously calls ‘
That all such theories should take the form of a derivation of the new from the old seems to be inevitable, perhaps from our inability to conceive of any other line of secondary causes in this connection. Owen himself is apparently in travail with some transmutation theory of his own conceiving, which may yet see the light, although Darwin's came first to the birth. Different as the two theories will probably be, they cannot fail to exhibit that fundamental resemblance in this respect which betokens a community of origin, a common foundation on the general facts and the obvious suggestions of modern science. Indeed—to turn the point of a pungent simile directed against Darwin—the difference between the Darwinian and the Owenian hypotheses may, after all, be only that between homoeopathic and heroic doses of the same drug.
If theories of derivation could only stop here, content with explaining the diversification and succession of species between the teritiary period and the present time, through natural agencies or secondary causes still in operation, we fancy they would not be generally or violently objected to by the savants of the present day. But it is hard, if not impossible, to find a stopping-place. Some of the facts or accepted conclusions already referred to, and several others, of a more general character, which must be taken into the account, impel the theory onward with accumulated force. Vires (not to say virus) acquirit eundo. The theory hitches on wonderfully well to Lyell's uniformitarian theory in geology—that the thing that has been is the thing that is and shall be—that the natural operations now going on will account for all geological changes in a quiet and easy way, only give them time enough, so connecting the present and the proximate with the farthest past by almost imperceptible gradations—a view which finds large and increasing, if not general, acceptance in physical geology, and of which Darwin's theory is the natural complement.
So the Darwinian theory, once getting a foothold, marches boldly on, follows the supposed
near ancestors of our present species farther and yet farther back into the dim past,
and ends with an analogical inference which ‘
This is the kernel of the new theory, the Darwinian creed, as recited at the close of the
introduction to the remarkable book under consideration. The questions,
Seeing that analogy as strongly suggests a further step in the same direction, while he
protests that ‘
In the first extract we have the thin end of the wedge driven a little way; in the last, the wedge driven home.
We have already sketched some of the reasons suggestive of such a theory of derivation of
species, reasons which gave it plausibility, and even no small probability, as applied
to our actual world and to changes occurring since the latest tertiary period. We are
well pleased at this moment to find that the conclusions we were arriving at in this
respect are sustained by the very high authority and impartial judgment of Pictet, the
Swiss paleontologist. In his review of Darwin's book — the fairest and most
admirable opposing one that has appeared—he freely accepts that
ensemble of natural operations which Darwin impersonates under the now familiar
name of Natural Selection, allows that the exposition throughout the first chapters
This raises the question, Why does Darwin press his theory to these extreme conclusions? Why do all hypotheses of derivation converge so inevitably to one ultimate point? Having already considered some of the reasons which suggest or support the theory at its outset—which may carry it as far as such sound and experienced naturalists as Pictet allow that it may be true—perhaps as far as Darwin himself unfolds it in the introductory proposition cited at the beginning of this article—we may now inquire after the motives which impel the theorist so much farther. Here proofs, in the proper sense of the word, are not to be had. We are beyond the region of demonstration, and have only probabilities to consider. What are these probabilities? What work will this hypothesis do to establish a claim to be adopted in its completeness? Why should a theory which may plausibly enough account for the diversification of the species of each special type or genus be expanded into a general system for the origination or successive diversification of all species, and all special types or forms, from four or five remote primordial forms, or perhaps from one? We accept the theory of gravitation because it explains all the facts we know, and bears all the tests that we can put it to. We incline to accept the nebular hypothesis, for similar reasons; not because it is proved—thus far it is incapable of proof —but because it is a natural theoretical deduction from accepted physical laws, is thoroughly congruous with the facts, and because its assumption serves to connect and harmonize these into one probable and consistent whole. Can the derivative hypothesis be maintained and carried out into a system on similar grounds? If so, however unproved, it would appear to be a tenable hypothesis, which is all that its author ought now to claim. Such hypotheses as, from the conditions of the case, can neither be proved nor disproved by direct evidence or experiment, are to be tested only indirectly, and therefore imperfectly, by trying their power to harmonize the known facts, and to account for what is otherwise unaccountable. So the question comes to this: What will an hypothesis of the derivation of species explain which the opposing view leaves unexplained?
Questions these which ought to be entertained before we take up the arguments which have
been advanced against this theory. We can barely glance at some of the considerations
which Darwin adduces, or will be sure to adduce in the future and fuller exposition
which is promised. To display them in such wise as to indoctrinate the unscientific
reader would require a volume. Merely to refer to them in the most general terms would
suffice for those familiar with scientific matters, but would scarcely enlighten those
who are not. Wherefore let these trust the impartial Pictet, who freely admits that,
What more than this could be said for such an hypothesis? Here, probably, is its charm, and its strong hold upon the speculative mind. Unproven though it be, and cumbered prima facie with cumulative improbabilities as it proceeds, yet it singularly accords with great classes of facts otherwise insulated and enigmatic, and explains many things which are thus far utterly inexplicable upon any other scientific assumption.
We have said that Darwin's hypothesis is the natural complement to Lyell's uniformitarian theory in physical geology. It is for the organic world what that is for the inorganic; and the accepters of the latter stand in a position from which to regard the former in the most favorable light. Wherefore the rumor that the cautious Lyell himself has adopted the Darwinian hypothesis need not surprise us. The two views are made for each other, and, like the two counterpart pictures for the stereoscope, when brought together, combine into one apparently solid whole.
If we allow, with Pictet, that Darwin's theory will very well serve for all that concerns
the present epoch of the world's history—an epoch in which this renowned
paleontologist includes the diluvial or quaternary period—then Darwin's first
and foremost need in his onward course is a practicable road from this into and through
the tertiary period, the intervening region between the comparatively near and the far
remote past. Here Lyell's doctrine paves the way, by showing that in the physical
geology there is no general or absolute break between the two, probably no greater
between the latest tertiary and the quaternary period than between the latter and the
present time. So far, the Lyellian view is, we suppose, generally concurred in. It is
largely admitted that numerous tertiary species have continued down into the quaternary,
and many of them to the present time. A goodly percentage of the earlier and nearly half
of the later tertiary mollusca, according to Des Hayes, Lyell, and, if we mistake not,
Bronn, still live. This identification, however, is now questioned by a naturalist of
the very highest authority. But, in its bearings on the new theory, the point here turns
not upon absolute identity so much as upon close resemblance. For those who, with
Agassiz, doubt the specific identity in any of these cases, and those who say, with
Pictet, that ‘
That considerable differences are often discernible between tertiary individuals and their supposed descendants of the present day affords no argument against Darwin's theory, as has been rashly thought, but is decidedly in its favor. If the identification were so perfect that no more differences were observable between the tertiary and the recent shells than between various individuals of either, then Darwin's opponents, who argue the immutability of species from the ibises and cats preserved by the ancient Egyptians being just like those of the present day, could triumphantly add a few hundred thousand years more to the length of the experiment and to the force of their argument.
As the facts stand, it appears that, while some tertiary forms are essentially undistinguishable from existing ones, others are the same with a difference, which is judged not to be specific or aboriginal; and yet others show somewhat greater differences, such as are scientifically expressed by calling them marked varieties, or else doubtful species; while others, differing a little more, are confidently termed distinct, but nearly-related species. Now, is not all this a question of degree, of mere gradation of difference? And is it at all likely that these several gradations came to be established in two totally different ways—some of them (though naturalists can't agree which) through natural variation, or other secondary cause, and some by original creation, without secondary cause? We have seen that the judicious Pictet answers such questions as Darwin would have him do, in affirming that, in all probability, the nearly-related species of two successive faunas were materially connected, and that contemporaneous species, similarly resembling each other, were not all created so, but have become so. This is equivalent to saying that species (using the term as all naturalists do, and must continue to employ the word) have only a relative, not an absolute fixity; that differences fully equivalent to what are held to be specific may arise in the course of time, so that one species may at length be naturally replaced by another species a good deal like it, or may be diversified into two, three, or more species, or forms as different as species. This concedes all that Darwin has a right to ask, all that he can directly infer from evidence. We must add that it affords a locus standi, more or less tenable, for inferring more.
Here another geological consideration comes in to help on this inference. The species of the later tertiary period for the most part not only resembled those of our days—many of them so closely as to suggest an absolute continuity—but also occupied in general the same regions that their relatives occupy now. The same may be said, though less specially, of the earlier tertiary and of the later secondary; but there is less and less localization of forms as we recede, yet some localization even in palaeozoic times. While in the secondary period one is struck with the similarity of forms and the identity of many of the species which flourished apparently at the same time in all or in the most widely-separated parts of the world, in the tertiary epoch, on the contrary, along with the increasing specialization of climates and their approximation to the present state, we find abundant evidence of increasing localization of orders, genera and species, and this localization strikingly accords with the present geographical distribution of the same groups of species Where the imputed forefathers lived their relatives and supposed descendants now flourish All the actual classes of the animal and vegetable kingdoms were represented in the tertiary faunas and floras and in nearly the same proportions and the same diversities as at present The faunas of what is now Europe, Asia America and Australia, differed from each other much as they now differ: in fact—according to Adolphe Brongniart, whose statements we here condense 1 —the inhabitants of these different regions appear for the most part to have acquired, before the close of the tertiary period, the characters which essentially distinguish their existing faunas. The Eastern Continent had then, as now, its great pachyderms, elephants, rhinoceros, hippopotamus; South America, its armadillos, sloths, and anteaters; Australia, a crowd of marsupials; and the very strange birds of New Zealand had predecessors of similar strangeness. Everywhere the same geographical distribution as now, with a difference in the particular area, as respects the northern portion of the continents, answering to a warmer climate then than ours, such as allowed species of hippopotamus, rhinoceros, and elephant, to range even to the regions now inhabited by the reindeer and the musk-ox, and with the serious disturbing intervention of the glacial period within a comparatively recent time. Let it be noted also that those tertiary species which have continued with little change down to our days are the marine animals of the lower grades, especially mollusca. Their low organization, moderate sensibility, and the simple conditions of an existence in a medium like the ocean, not subject to great variation and incapable of sudden change, may well account for their continuance; while, on the other hand, the more intense, however gradual, climatic vicissitudes on land, which have driven all tropical and subtropical forms out of the higher latitudes and assigned to them their actual limits, would be almost sure to extinguish such huge and unwieldy animals as mastodons, mammoths, and the like, whose power of enduring altered circumstances must have been small.
This general replacement of the tertiary species of a country by others so much like them is a noteworthy fact. The hypothesis of the independent creation of all species, irrespective of their antecedents, leaves this fact just as mysterious as is creation itself; that of derivation undertakes to account for it. Whether it satisfactorily does so or not, it must be allowed that the facts well accord with that hypothesis. The same may be said of another conclusion, namely, that the geological succession of animals and plants appears to correspond in a general way with their relative standing or rank in a natural system of classification. It seems clear that, though no one of the grand types of the animal kingdom can be traced back farther than the rest, yet the lower classes long preceded the higher; that there has been on the whole a steady progression within each class and order; and that the highest plants and animals have appeared only in relatively modern times. It is only, however, in a broad sense that this generalization is now thought to hold good. It encounters many apparent exceptions, and sundry real ones. So far as the rule holds, all is as it should be upon an hypothesis of derivation.
The rule has its exceptions. But, curiously enough, the most striking class of exceptions, if such they be, seems to us even more favorable to the doctrine of derivation than is the general rule of a pure and simple ascending gradation. We refer to what Agassiz calls prophetic and synthetic types; for which the former name may suffice, as the difference between the two is evanescent.
Now, these reptile-like fishes, of which gar-pikes are the living representatives, though
of earlier appearance, are admittedly of higher rank than common fishes. They dominated
until reptiles appeared, when they mostly gave place to (or, as the derivationists will
insist, were resolved by divergent variation and natural selection into) common fishes,
destitute of reptilian characters, and saurian reptiles—the intermediate
grades, which, according to a familiar piscine saying, are ‘
Note also, in this connection, that along with a wonderful persistence of type, with
change of species, genera, orders, etc., from formation to formation, no species and no
higher group which has once unequivocally died out ever afterward reappears. Why is
this, but that the link of generation has been sundered? Why, on the hypothesis of
independent originations, were not failing species recreated, either identically or with
a difference, in regions eminently adapted to their well-being? To take a striking case.
That no part of the world now offers more suitable conditions for wild horses and cattle
than the pampas and other plains of South America, is shown by the facility with which
they have there run wild and enormously multiplied, since introduced from the Old World
not long ago. There was no wild American stock. Yet in the times of the mastodon and
megatherium, at the dawn of the present period, wild-horses—certainly very
much like the existing horse—roamed over those plains in abundance. On the
principle of original and direct created adaptation of species to climate and other
conditions, why were they not reproduced, when, after the colder intervening era, those
regions became again eminently adapted to such animals? Why, but because, by their
complete extinction in South America, the line of descent was there utterly broken? Upon
the ordinary hypothesis, there is no scientific explanation possible of this series of
facts, and of many others like them. Upon the new hypothesis, ‘
Along with these considerations the fact (alluded to on page 98) should be remembered that, as a general thing, related species of the present age are geographically associated. The larger part of the plants, and still more of the animals, of each separate country are peculiar to it; and, as most species now flourish over the graves of their by-gone relatives of former ages, so they now dwell among or accessibly near their kindred species.
Here also comes in that general ‘
All these things, it may naturally be said, go to explain the order, not the mode, of the
incoming of species. But they all do tend to bring out the generalization expressed by
Mr. Wallace in the formula that ‘
Here, however, all depends upon the probability that Mr. Wallace's inference is really true. Certainly it is not yet generally accepted; but a strong current is setting toward its acceptance.
So long as universal cataclysms were in vogue, and all life upon the earth was thought to have been suddenly destroyed and renewed many times in succession, such a view could not be thought of. So the equivalent view maintained by Agassiz, and formerly, we believe, by D'Orbigny, that irrespectively of general and sudden catastrophes, or any known adequate physical cause, there has been a total depopulation at the close of each geological period or formation, say forty or fifty times or more, followed by as many independent great acts of creation, at which alone have species been originated, and at each of which a vegetable and an animal kingdom were produced entire and complete, full-fledged, as flourishing, as wide-spread, and populous, as varied and mutually adapted from the beginning as ever afterward—such a view, of course, supersedes all material connection between successive species, and removes even the association and geographical range of species entirely out of the domain of physical causes and of natural science. This is the extreme opposite of Wallace's and Darwin's view, and is quite as hypothetical. The nearly universal opinion, if we rightly gather it, manifestly is, that the replacement of the species of successive formations was not complete and simultaneous, but partial and successive; and that along the course of each epoch some species probably were introduced, and some, doubtless, became extinct. If all since the tertiary belongs to our present epoch, this is certainly true of it: if to two or more epochs, then the hypothesis of a total change is not true of them.
Geology makes huge demands upon time; and we regret to find that it has exhausted
ours—that what we meant for the briefest and most general sketch of some
geological considerations in favor of Darwin's hypothesis has so extended as to leave no
room for considering ‘
We all know that the arm and hand of a monkey, the foreleg and foot of a dog and of a horse, the wing of a bat, and the fin of a porpoise, are fundamentally identical; that the long neck of the giraffe has the same and no more bones than the short one of the elephant; that the eggs of Surinam frogs hatch into tadpoles with as good tails for swimming as any of their kindred, although as tadpoles they never enter the water; that the Guinea-pig is furnished with incisor teeth which it never uses, as it sheds them before birth; that embryos of mammals and birds have branchial slits and arteries running in loops, in imitation or reminiscence of the arrangement which is permanent in fishes; and that thousands of animals and plants have rudimentary organs which, at least in numerous cases, are wholly useless to their possessors, etc., etc. Upon a derivative theory this morphological conformity is explained by community of descent; and it has not been explained in any other way.
Naturalists are constantly speaking of ‘
If it is difficult and in many cases practically impossible to fix the limits of species, it is still more so to fix those of genera; and those of tribes and families are still less susceptible of exact natural circumscription. Intermediate forms occur, connecting one group with another in a manner sadly perplexing to systematists, except to those who have ceased to expect absolute limitations in Nature. All this blending could hardly fail to suggest a former material connection among allied forms, such as that which the hypothesis of derivation demands.
Here it would not be amiss to consider the general principle of gradation throughout organic Nature—a principle which answers in a general way to the Law of Continuity in the inorganic world, or rather is so analogous to it that both may fairly be expressed by the Leibnitzian axiom, Natura non agit saltatim. As an axiom or philosophical principle, used to test modal laws or hypotheses, this in strictness belongs only to physics. In the investigation of Nature at large, at least in the organic world, nobody would undertake to apply this principle as a test of the validity of any theory or supposed law. But naturalists of enlarged views will not fail to infer the principle from the phenomena they investigate—to perceive that the rule holds, under due qualifications and altered forms, throughout the realm of Nature; although we do not suppose that Nature in the organic world makes no distinct steps, but only short and serial steps—not infinitely fine gradations, but no long leaps, or few of them.
To glance at a few illustrations out of many that present themselves. It would be thought that the distinction between the two organic kingdoms was broad and absolute. Plants and animals belong to two very different categories, fulfill opposite offices and, as to the mass of them are so unlike that the difficulty of the ordinary observer would be to find points of comparison Without entering into details which would fill an article, we may safely say that the difficulty with the naturalist is all the other way—that all these broad differences vanish one by one as we approach the lower confines of the two kingdoms, and that no absolute distinction whatever is now known between them. It is quite possible that the same organism may be both vegetable and animal, or may be first the one and then the other. If some organisms may be said to be at first vegetables and then animals, others, like the spores and other reproductive bodies of many of the lower Algae, may equally claim to have first a characteristically animal, and then an unequivocally vegetable existence. Nor is the gradation restricted to these simple organisms. It appears in general functions, as in that of reproduction, which is reducible to the same formula in both kingdoms, while it exhibits close approximations in the lower forms; also in a common or similar ground of sensibility in the lowest forms of both, a common faculty of effecting movements tending to a determinate end, traces of which pervade the vegetable kingdom—while, on the other hand, this indefinable principle, this vegetable
graduates into the higher sensitiveness of the lower class of animals. Nor need we hesitate to recognize the fine gradations from simple sensitiveness and volition to the higher instinctive and to the other psychical manifestations of the higher brute animals. The gradation is undoubted, however we may explain it.
Again, propagation is of one mode in the higher animals, of two in all plants; but vegetative propagation, by budding or offshoots, extends through the lower grades of animals. In both kingdoms there may be separation of the offshoots, or indifference in this respect, or continued and organic union with the parent stock; and this either with essential independence of the offshoots, or with a subordination of these to a common whole; or finally with such subordination and amalgamation, along with specialization of function, that the same parts, which in other cases can be regarded only as progeny, in these become only members of an individual.
This leads to the question of individuality, a subject quite too large and too recondite for present discussion. The conclusion of the whole matter, however, is, that individuality—that very ground of being as distinguished from thing —is not attained in Nature at one leap. If anywhere truly exemplified in plants, it is only in the lowest and simplest, where the being is a structural unit, a single cell, member-less and organless, though organic—the same thing as those cells of which all the more complex plants are built up, and with which every plant and (structurally) every animal began its development. In the ascending gradation of the vegetable kingdom individuality is, so to say, striven after, but never attained; in the lower animals it is striven after with greater though incomplete success; it is realized only in animals of so high a rank that vegetative multiplication or offshoots are out of the question, where all parts are strictly members and nothing else, and all subordinated to a common nervous centre—is fully realized only in a conscious person.
So, also, the broad distinction between reproduction by seeds or ova and propagation by buds, though perfect in some of the lowest forms of life, becomes evanescent in others; and even the most absolute law we know in the physiology of genuine reproduction—that of sexual cooperation—has its exceptions in both kingdoms in parthenogenesis, to which in the vegetable kingdom a most curious and intimate series of gradations leads. In plants, likewise, a long and finely graduated series of transitions leads from bisexual to unisexual blossoms; and so in various other respects. Everywhere we may perceive that Nature secures her ends, and makes her distinctions on the whole manifest and real but everywhere without abrupt breaks We need not wonder therefore that gradations between species and varieties should occur; the more so, since genera, tribes, and other groups into which the naturalist collocates species, are far from being always absolutely limited in Nature, though they are necessarily represented to be so in systems. From the necessity of the case, the classifications of the naturalist abruptly define where Nature more or less blends. Our systems are nothing, if not definite. They express differences, and some of the coarser gradations. But this evinces not their perfection, but their imperfection. Even the best of them are to the system of Nature what consecutive patches of the seven colors are to the rainbow.
Now the principle of gradation throughout organic Nature may, of course, be interpreted upon other assumptions than those of Darwin's hypothesis—certainly upon quite other than those of a materialistic philosophy, with which we ourselves have no sympathy. Still we conceive it not only possible, but probable, that this gradation, as it has its natural ground, may yet have its scientific explanation. In any case, there is no need to deny that the general facts correspond well with an hypothesis like Darwin's, which is built upon fine gradations.
We have contemplated quite long enough the general presumptions in favor of an hypothesis
of the derivation of species. We cannot forget, however, while for the moment we
overlook, the formidable difficulties which all hypotheses of this class have to
encounter, and the serious implications which they seem to involve. We feel, moreover,
that Darwin's particular hypothesis is exposed to some special objections. It requires
no small strength of nerve steadily to conceive, not only of the diversification, but of
the formation of the organs of an animal through cumulative variation and natural
selection. Think of such an organ as the eye, that most perfect of optical instruments,
as so produced in the lower animals and perfected in the higher! A friend of ours, who
accepts the new doctrine, confesses that for a long while a cold chill came over him
whenever he thought of the eye. He has at length got over that stage of the complaint,
and is now in the fever of belief, perchance to be succeeded by the sweating stage,
during which sundry peccant humors may be eliminated from the system. For ourselves, we
dread the chill, and have some misgivings about the consequences of the reaction. We
find ourselves in the ‘
The origin of species, like all origination, like the institution of any other natural state or order, is beyond our immediate ken. We see or may learn how things go on; we can only frame hypotheses as to how they began.
Two hypotheses divide the scientific world, very unequally, upon the origin of the existing diversity of the plants and animals which surround us. One assumes that the actual kinds are primordial; the other, that they are derivative. One, that all kinds originated supernaturally and directly as such, and have continued unchanged in the order of Nature; the other, that the present kinds appeared in some sort of genealogical connection with other and earlier kinds, that they became what they now are in the course of time and in the order of Nature.
Or, bringing in the word species, which is well defined as ‘
The first hypothesis assumes that they were parallel from the unknown beginning and will be to the unknown end. The second hypothesis assumes that the apparent parallelism is not real and complete, at least aboriginally, but approximate or temporary; that we should find the lines convergent in the past, if we could trace them far enough; that some of them, if produced back, would fall into certain fragments of lines, which have left traces in the past, lying not exactly in the same direction, and these farther back into others to which they are equally unparallel. It will also claim that the present lines, whether on the whole really or only approximately parallel, sometimes fork or send off branches on one side or the other, producing new lines (varieties), which run for a while, and for aught we know indefinitely when not interfered with, near and approximately parallel to the parent line. This claim it can establish; and it may also show that these close subsidiary lines may branch or vary again, and that those branches or varieties which are best adapted to the existing conditions may be continued, while others stop or die out. And so we may have the basis of a real theory of the diversification of species and here indeed, there is a real, though a narrow, established ground to build upon But as systems of organic Nature, both doctrines are equally hypotheses, are suppositions of what there is no proof of from experience, assumed in order to account for the observed phenomena, and supported by such indirect evidence as can be had.
Even when the upholders of the former and more popular system mix up revelation with
scientific discussion—which we decline to do—they by no means
thereby render their view other than hypothetical. Agreeing that plants and animals were
produced by Omnipotent fiat does not exclude the idea of natural order and what we call
secondary causes. The record of the fiat—‘
The two views very unequally divide the scientific world; so that believers in
The adoption of the undulatory theory of light called for the extension of the same theory to heat, and this promptly suggested the hypothesis of a correlation, material connection, and transmutability of heat, light, electricity, magnetism, etc.; which hypothesis the physicists held in absolute suspense until very lately, but are now generally adopting. If not already established as a system, it promises soon to become so. At least, it is generally received as a tenable and probably true hypothesis.
Parallel to this, however less cogent the reasons, Darwin and others, having shown it likely that some varieties of plants or animals have diverged in time into cognate species, or into forms as different as species, are led to infer that all species of a genus may have thus diverged from a common stock, and thence to suppose a higher community of origin in ages still farther back, and so on. Following the safe example of the physicists, and acknowledging the fact of the diversification of a once homogeneous species into varieties, we may receive the theory of the evolution of these into species, even while for the present we hold the hypothesis of a further evolution in cool suspense or in grave suspicion. In respect to very many questions a wise man's mind rests long in a state neither of belief nor unbelief. But your intellectually short-sighted people are apt to be preternaturally clear-sighted, and to find their way very plain to positive conclusions upon one side or the other of every mooted question.
In fact, most people, and some philosophers, refuse to hold questions in abeyance, however incompetent they may be to decide them. And, curiously enough, the more difficult, recondite, and perplexing, the questions or hypotheses are—such, for instance, as those about organic Nature—the more impatient they are of suspense. Sometimes, and evidently in the present case, this impatience grows out of a fear that a new hypothesis may endanger cherished and most important beliefs. Impatience under such circumstances is not unnatural, though perhaps needless, and, if so, unwise.
To us the present revival of the derivative hypothesis, in a more winning shape than it ever before had, was not unexpected. We wonder that any thoughtful observer of the course of investigation and of speculation in science should not have foreseen it, and have learned at length to take its inevitable coming patiently; the more so, as in Darwin's treatise it comes in a purely scientific form, addressed only to scientific men. The notoriety and wide popular perusal of this treatise appear to have astonished the author even more than the book itself has astonished the reading world Coming as the new presentation does from a naturalist of acknowledged character and ability and marked by a conscientiousness and candor which have not always been reciprocated we have thought it simply right to set forth the doctrine as fairly and as favorably as we could There are plenty to decry it and the whole theory is widely exposed to attack For the arguments on the other side we may look to the numerous adverse publications which Darwin s volume has already called out and especially to those reviews which propose directly to refute it. Taking various lines and reflecting very diverse modes of thought, these hostile critics may be expected to concentrate and enforce the principal objections which can be brought to bear against the derivative hypothesis in general, and Darwin's new exposition of it in particular.
Upon the opposing side of the question we have read with attention—1. An article in the North American Review for April last; 2. One in the Christian Examiner, Boston, for May; 3. M. Pictet's article in the Bibliotheque Universelle, which we have already made considerable use of, which seems throughout most able and correct, and which in tone and fairness is admirably in contrast with—4. The article in the Edinburgh Review for May, attributed—although against a large amount of internal presumptive evidence—to the most distinguished British comparative anatomist; 5. An article in the North British Review for May; 6. Prof. Agassiz has afforded an early opportunity to peruse the criticisms he makes in the forthcoming third volume of his great work, by a publication of them in advance in the American Journal of Science for July.
In our survey of the lively discussion which has been raised, it matters little how our
own particular opinions may incline. But we may confess to an impression, thus far, that
the doctrine of the permanent and complete immutability of species has not been
established, and may fairly be doubted. We believe that species vary, and that
We are disposed to rank the derivative hypothesis in its fullness with the nebular hypothesis, and to regard both as allowable, as not unlikely to prove tenable in spite of some strong objections, but as not therefore demonstrably true. Those, if any there be, who regard the derivative hypothesis as satisfactorily proved, must have loose notions as to what proof is. Those who imagine it can be easily refuted and cast aside, must, we think, have imperfect or very prejudiced conceptions of the facts concerned and of the questions at issue.
We are not disposed nor prepared to take sides for or against the new hypothesis, and so, perhaps, occupy a good position from which to watch the discussion and criticise those objections which are seemingly inconclusive. On surveying the arguments urged by those who have undertaken to demolish the theory, we have been most impressed with a sense of their great inequality. Some strike us as excellent and perhaps unanswerable; some, as incongruous with other views of the same writers; others, when carried out, as incompatible with general experience or general beliefs, and therefore as proving too much; still others, as proving nothing at all; so that, on the whole, the effect is rather confusing and disappointing. We certainly expected a stronger adverse case than any which the thoroughgoing opposers of Darwin appear to have made out. Wherefore, if it be found that the new hypothesis has grown upon our favor as we proceeded, this must be attributed not so much to the force of the arguments of the book itself as to the want of force of several of those by which it has been assailed. Darwin's arguments we might resist or adjourn; but some of the refutations of it give us more concern than the book itself did.
These remarks apply mainly to the philosophical and theological objections which have
been elaborately urged, almost exclusively by the American reviewers. The North
British reviewer, indeed, roundly denounces the book as atheistical, but
evidently deems the case too clear for argument. The Edinburgh reviewer, on
the contrary, scouts all such objections—as well he may, since he records his
belief in ‘
Proposing now to criticise the critics, so far as to see what their most general and comprehensive objections amount to, we must needs begin with the American reviewers, and with their arguments adduced to prove that a derivative hypothesis ought not to be true, or is not possible, philosophical, or theistic.
It must not be forgotten that on former occasions very confident judgments have been pronounced by very competent persons, which have not been finally ratified. Of the two great minds of the seventeenth century, Newton and Leibnitz, both profoundly religious as well as philosophical, one produced the theory of gravitation, the other objected to that theory that it was subversive of natural religion. The nebular hypothesis—a natural consequence of the theory of gravitation and of the subsequent progress of physical and astronomical discovery—has been denounced as atheistical even down to our own day. But it is now largely adopted by the most theistical natural philosophers as a tenable and perhaps sufficient hypothesis, and where not accepted is no longer objected to, so far as we know, on philosophical or religious grounds.
The gist of the philosophical objections urged by the two Boston reviewers against an hypothesis of the derivation of species—or at least against Darwin's particular hypothesis— is, that it is incompatible with the idea of any manifestation of design in the universe, that it denies final causes. A serious objection this, and one that demands very serious attention.
The proposition, that things and events in Nature were not designed to be so, if logically carried out, is doubtless tantamount to atheism. Yet most people believe that some were designed and others were not, although they fall into a hopeless maze whenever they undertake to define their position. So we should not like to stigmatize as atheistically disposed a person who regards certain things and events as being what they are through designed laws (whatever that expression means), but as not themselves specially ordained, or who, in another connection, believes in general, but not in particular Providence. We could sadly puzzle him with questions; but in return he might equally puzzle us. Then, to deny that anything was specially designed to be what it is, is one proposition; while to deny that the Designer supernaturally or immediately made it so, is another: though the reviewers appear not to recognize the distinction.
If the sneer here escapes ordinary vision in the detached extracts (one of them wanting
the end of the sentence), it is, if possible, more imperceptible when read with the
context. Moreover, this perusal inclines us to think that the Examiner has
misapprehended the particular argument or object, as well as the spirit, of the author
in these passages. The whole reads more naturally as a caution against the inconsiderate
use of final causes in science, and an illustration of some of the manifold errors and
absurdities which their hasty assumption is apt to involve—considerations
probably equivalent to those which induced Lord Bacon to liken final causes to
After an illustration from the vegetable creation, Darwin adds:
All this, simply taken, is beyond cavil, unless the attempt to explain scientifically how any designed result is accomplished savors of impropriety.
In the other place, Darwin is contemplating the patent fact that ‘
As to the other illustration, is the reviewer so complete an optimist as to insist that the arrangement and the weapon are wholly perfect (quoad the insect) the normal use of which often causes the animal fatally to injure or to disembowel itself? Either way it seems to us that the argument here, as well as the insect, performs hari-kari. The Examiner adds:
But are not many individuals and some races of men placed by the Creator
The North American reviewer also has a world of his own—just such
a one as an idealizing philosopher would be apt to devise—that is, full of
sharp and absolute distinctions: such, for instance, as the ‘
In their scientific objections the two reviewers take somewhat different lines; but their
philosophical and theological arguments strikingly coincide. They agree in emphatically
asserting that Darwin's hypothesis of the origination of species through variation and
natural selection ‘
We should like to be informed of the grounds of this sureness. The marked rejection of
spontaneous generation—the statement of a belief that all animals have
descended from four or five progenitors, and plants from an equal or lesser number, or,
perhaps, if constrained to it by analogy, ‘
However that may be, it is undeniable that Mr. Darwin has purposely been silent upon the philosophical and theological applications of his theory. This reticence, under the circumstances, argues design, and raises inquiry as to the final cause or reason why. Here, as in higher instances, confident as we are that there is a final cause, we must not be overconfident that we can infer the particular or true one. Perhaps the author is more familiar with natural-historical than with philosophical inquiries, and, not having decided which particular theory about efficient cause is best founded, he meanwhile argues the scientific questions concerned—all that relates to secondary causes—upon purely scientific grounds, as he must do in any case. Perhaps, confident, as he evidently is, that his view will finally be adopted, he may enjoy a sort of satisfaction in hearing it denounced as sheer atheism by the inconsiderate, and afterward, when it takes its place with the nebular hypothesis and the like, see this judgment reversed, as we suppose it would be in such event.
Whatever Mr. Darwin's philosophy may be, or whether he has any, is a matter of no
consequence at all, compared with the important questions, whether a theory to account
for the origination and diversification of animal and vegetable forms through the
operation of secondary causes does or does not exclude design; and whether the
establishment by adequate evidence of Darwin's particular theory of diversification
through variation and natural selection would essentially alter the present scientific
and philosophical grounds for theistic views of Nature. The unqualified affirmative
judgment rendered by the two Boston reviewers, evidently able and practised reasoners,
Since natural science deals only with secondary or natural causes, the scientific terms of a theory of derivation of species—no less than of a theory of dynamics—must needs be the same to the theist as to the atheist. The difference appears only when the inquiry is carried up to the question of primary cause—a question which belongs to philosophy. Wherefore, Darwin 's reticence about efficient cause does not disturb us. He considers only the scientific questions. As already stated, we think that a theistic view of Nature is implied in his book, and we must charitably refrain from suggesting the contrary until the contrary is logically deduced from his premises. If, however, he anywhere maintains that the natural causes through which species are diversified operate without an ordaining and directing intelligence, and that the orderly arrangements and admirable adaptations we see all around us are fortuitous or blind, undesigned results—that the eye, though it came to see, was not designed for seeing, nor the hand for handling—then, we suppose, he is justly chargeable with denying, and very needlessly denying, all design in organic Nature; otherwise, we suppose not. Why, if Darwin's well-known passage about the eye equivocal though some of the language be—does not imply ordaining and directing intelligence, then he refutes his own theory as effectually as any of his opponents are likely to do. He asks:
This must mean one of two things: either that the living instrument was made and perfected under (which is the same thing as by) an intelligent First Cause, or that it was not. If it was, then theism is asserted; and as to the mode of operation, how do we know, and why must we believe, that, fitting precedent forms being in existence, a living instrument (so different from a lifeless manufacture) would be originated and perfected in any other way, or that this is not the fitting way? If it means that it was not, if he so misuses words that by the Creator he intends an unintelligent power, undirected force, or necessity, then he has put his case so as to invite disbelief in it. For then blind forces have produced not only manifest adaptions of means to specific ends—which is absurd enough—but better adjusted and more perfect instruments or machines than intellect (that is, human intellect) can contrive and human skill execute—which no sane person will believe.
On the other hand, if Darwin even admits—we will not say adopts—the
theistic view, he may save himself much needless trouble in the endeavor to account for
the absence of every sort of intermediate form. Those in the line between one species
and another supposed to be derived from it he may be bound to provide; but as to
To insist, therefore, that the new hypothesis of the derivative origin of the actual species is incompatible with final causes and design, is to take a position which we must consider philosophically untenable. We must also regard it as highly unwise and dangerous, in the present state and present prospects of physical and physiological science. We should expect the philosophical atheist or skeptic to take this ground; also, until better informed, the unlearned and unphilosophical believer; but we should think that the thoughtful theistic philosopher would take the other side. Not to do so seems to concede that only supernatural events can be shown to be designed, which no theist can admit—seems also to misconceive the scope and meaning of all ordinary arguments for design in Nature. This misconception is shared both by the reviewers and the reviewed. At least, Mr. Darwin uses expressions which imply that the natural forms which surround us, because they have a history or natural sequence, could have been only generally, but not particularly designed—a view at once superficial and contradictory; whereas his true line should be, that his hypothesis concerns the order and not the cause, the how and not the why of the phenomena, and so leaves the question of design just where it was before.
To illustrate this from the theist's point of view: Transfer the question for a moment
from the origination of species to the origination of individuals, which occurs, as we
say, naturally. Because natural, that is, ‘
The whole argument in natural theology proceeds upon the ground that the inference for a final cause of the structure of the hand and of the valves in the veins is just as valid now, in individuals produced through natural generation, as it would have been in the case of the first man, supernaturally created. Why not, then, just as good even on the supposition of the descent of men from chimpanzees and gorillas, since those animals possess these same contrivances? Or, to take a more supposable case: If the argument from structure to design is convincing when drawn from a particular animal, say a Newfoundland dog, and is not weakened by the knowledge that this dog came from similar parents, would it be at all weakened if, in tracing his genealogy, it were ascertained that he was a remote descendant of the mastiff or some other breed, or that both these and other breeds came (as is suspected) from some wolf? If not, how is the argument for design in the structure of our particular dog affected by the supposition that his wolfish progenitor came from a post-tertiary wolf, perhaps less unlike an existing one than the dog in question is to some other of the numerous existing races of dogs, and that this post-tertiary came from an equally or more different tertiary wolf? And if the argument from structure to design is not invalidated by our present knowledge that our individual dog was developed from a single organic cell, how is it invalidated by the supposition of an analogous natural descent, through a long line of connected forms, from such a cell, or from some simple animal, existing ages before there were any dogs?
Again, suppose we have two well-known and apparently most decidedly different animals or plants, A and D, both presenting, in their structure and in their adaptations to the conditions of existence, as valid and clear evidence of design as any animal or plant ever presented: suppose we have now discovered two intermediate species, B and C, which make up a series with equable differences from A to D. Is the proof of design or final cause in A and D, whatever it amounted to, at all weakened by the discovery of the intermediate forms? Rather does not the proof extend to the intermediate species, and go to show that all four were equally designed? Suppose, now, the number of intermediate forms to be much increased, and therefore the gradations to be closer yet—as close as those between the various sorts of dogs, or races of men, or of horned cattle: would the evidence of design, as shown in the structure of any of the members of the series, be any weaker than it was in the case of A and D? Whoever contends that it would be, should likewise maintain that the origination of individuals by generation is incompatible with design, or an impossibility in Nature. We might all have confidently thought the latter, antecedently to experience of the fact of reproduction. Let our experience teach us wisdom.
These illustrations make it clear that the evidence of design from structure and adaptation is furnished complete by the individual animal or plant itself, and that our knowledge or our ignorance of the history of its formation or mode of production adds nothing to it and takes nothing away. We infer design from certain arrangements and results; and we have no other way of ascertaining it. Testimony, unless infallible, cannot prove it, and is out of the question here. Testimony is not the appropriate proof of design: adaptation to purpose is. Some arrangements in Nature appear to be contrivances, but may leave us in doubt. Many others, of which the eye and the hand are notable examples, compel belief with a force not appreciably short of demonstration. Clearly to settle that such as these must have been designed goes far toward proving that other organs and other seemingly less explicit adaptations in Nature must also have been designed, and clinches our belief, from manifold considerations, that all Nature is a preconcerted arrangement, a manifested design. A strange contradiction would it be to insist that the shape and markings of certain rude pieces of flint, lately found in drift-deposits, prove design, but that nicer and thousand-fold more complex adaptations to use in animals and vegetables do not a fortiori argue design.
We could not affirm that the arguments for design in Nature are conclusive to all minds. But we may insist, upon grounds already intimated, that, whatever they were good for before Darwin's book appeared, they are good for now. To our minds the argument from design always appeared conclusive of the being and continued operation of an intelligent First Cause, the Ordainer of Nature; and we do not see that the grounds of such belief would be disturbed or shifted by the adoption of Darwin's hypothesis. We are not blind to the philosophical difficulties which the thoroughgoing implication of design in Nature has to encounter, nor is it our vocation to obviate them It suffices us to know that they are not new nor peculiar difficulties—that, as Darwin's theory and our reasonings upon it did not raise these perturbing spirits, they are not bound to lay them. Meanwhile, that the doctrine of design encounters the very same difficulties in the material that it does in the moral world is Just what ought to be expected.
So the issue between the skeptic and the theist is only the old one, long ago argued out—namely, whether organic Nature is a result of design or of chance. Variation and natural selection open no third alternative; they concern only the question how the results, whether fortuitous or designed, may have been brought about. Organic Nature abounds with unmistakable and irresistible indications of design, and, being a connected and consistent system, this evidence carries the implication of design throughout the whole. On the other hand, chance carries no probabilities with it, can never be developed into a consistent system, but, when applied to the explanation of orderly or beneficial results, heaps up improbabilities at every step beyond all computation. To us, a fortuitous Cosmos is simply inconceivable. The alternative is a designed Cosmos.
It is very easy to assume that, because events in Nature are in one sense accidental, and the operative forces which bring them to pass are themselves blind and unintelligent (physically considered, all forces are), therefore they are undirected, or that he who describes these events as the results of such forces thereby assumes that they are undirected. This is the assumption of the Boston reviewers, and of Mr. Agassiz, who insists that the only alternative to the doctrine, that all organized beings were supernaturally created just as they are, is, that they have arisen spontaneously through the omnipotence of matter.
As to all this, nothing is easier than to bring out in the conclusion what you introduce in the premises. If you import atheism into your conception of variation and natural selection, you can readily exhibit it in the result. If you do not put it in, perhaps there need be none to come out. While the mechanician is considering a steamboat or locomotive-engine as a material organism, and contemplating the fuel, water, and steam, the source of the mechanical forces, and how they operate, he may not have occasion to mention the engineer. But, the orderly and special results accomplished, the why the movements are in this or that particular direction, etc., is inexplicable without him. If Mr. Darwin believes that the events which he supposes to have occurred and the results we behold were undirected and undesigned, or if the physicist believes that the natural forces to which he refers phenomena are uncaused and undirected, no argument is needed to show that such belief is atheism. But the admission of the phenomena and of these natural processes and forces does not necessitate any such belief, nor even render it one whit less improbable than before.
Surely, too, the accidental element may play its part in Nature without negativing design in the theist's view. He believes that the earth's surface has been very gradually prepared for man and the existing animal races, that vegetable matter has through a long series of generations imparted fertility to the soil in order that it may support its present occupants, that even beds of coal have been stored up for man's benefit Yet what is more accidental, and more simply the consequence of physical agencies than the accumulation of vegetable matter in a peat bog and its transformation into coal? No scientific person at this day doubts that our solar system is a progressive development, whether in his conception he begins with molten masses, or aeriform or nebulous masses, or with a fluid revolving mass of vast extent, from which the specific existing worlds have been developed one by one What theist doubts that the actual results of the development in the inorganic worlds are not merely compatible with design but are in the truest sense designed re suits? Not Mr. Agassiz, certainly, who adopts a remarkable illustration of design directly founded on the nebular hypothesis drawing from the position and times of the revolution of the world, so originated direct evidence that the physical world has been ordained in conformity with laws which obtain also among living beings But the reader of the interesting exposition will notice that the designed result has been brought to pass through what, speaking after the manner of men, might be called a chapter of accidents.
A natural corollary of this demonstration would seem to be, that a material connection
between a series of created things—such as the development of one of them from
another, or of all from a common stock—is highly compatible with their
intellectual connection, namely, with their being designed and directed by one mind. Yet
upon some ground which is not explained, and which we are unable to conjecture, Mr.
Agassiz concludes to the contrary in the organic kingdoms, and insists that,
because the members of such a series have an intellectual connection,
Returning to the accidental element, it is evident that the strongest point against the compatibility of Darwin's hypothesis with design in Nature is made when natural selection is referred to as picking out those variations which are improvements from a vast number which are not improvements, but perhaps the contrary, and therefore useless or purposeless, and born to perish. But even here the difficulty is not peculiar; for Nature abounds with analogous instances. Some of our race are useless, or worse, as regards the improvement of mankind; yet the race may be designed to improve, and may be actually improving. Or, to avoid the complication with free agency—the whole animate life of a country depends absolutely upon the vegetation, the vegetation upon the rain. The moisture is furnished by the ocean, is raised by the sun's heat from the ocean's surface, and is wafted inland by the winds. But what multitudes of raindrops fall back into the ocean—are as much without a final cause as the incipient varieties which come to nothing! Does it therefore follow that the rains which are bestowed upon the soil with such rule and average regularity were not designed to support vegetable and animal life? Consider, likewise, the vast proportion of seeds and pollen, of ova and young—a thousand or more to one—which come to nothing, and are therefore purposeless in the same sense, and only in the same sense, as are Darwin's unimproved and unused slight variations. The world is full of such cases; and these must answer the argument—for we cannot, except by thus showing that it proves too much.
Finally, it is worth noticing that, though natural selection is scientifically explicable, variation is not. Thus far the cause of variation, or the reason why the offspring is sometimes unlike the parents, is just as mysterious as the reason why it is generally like the parents. It is now as inexplicable as any other origination; and, if ever explained, the explanation will only carry up the sequence of secondary causes one step farther, and bring us in face of a somewhat different problem, but which will have the same element of mystery that the problem of variation has now. Circumstances may preserve or may destroy the variations man may use or direct them but selection whether artificial or natural no more originates them than man originates the power which turns a wheel when he dams a stream and lets the water fall upon it The origination of this power is a question about efficient cause. The tendency of science in respect to this obviously is not toward the omnipotence of matter, as some suppose, but to ward the omnipotence of spirit.
So the real question we come to is as to the way in which we are to conceive intelligent and efficient cause to be exerted, and upon what exerted. Are we bound to suppose efficient cause in all cases exerted upon nothing to evoke something into existence—and this thousands of times repeated, when a slight change in the details would make all the difference between successive species? Why may not the new species, or some of them, be designed diversifications of the old?
There are, perhaps, only three views of efficient cause which may claim to be both philosophical and theistic:
1. The view of its exertion at the beginning of time, endowing matter and created things with forces which do the work and produce the phenomena.
2. This same view, with the theory of insulated interpositions, or occasional direct action, engrafted upon it—the view that events and operations in general go on in virtue simply of forces communicated at the first, but that now and then, and only now and then, the Deity puts his hand directly to the work.
3. The theory of the immediate, orderly, and constant, however infinitely diversified, action of the intelligent efficient Cause.
It must be allowed that, while the third is preeminently the Christian view, all three
are philosophically compatible with design in Nature. The second is probably the popular
conception. Perhaps most thoughtful people oscillate from the middle view toward the
first or the third—adopting the first on some occasions, the third on others.
Those philosophers who like and expect to settle all mooted questions will take one or
the other extreme. The Examiner inclines toward, the North
American reviewer fully adopts, the third view, to the logical extent of
maintaining that ‘
At present we suspect that our author prefers the first conception, though he might
contend that his hypothesis is compatible with either of the three. That it is also
compatible with an atheistic or pantheistic conception of the universe, is an objection
which, being shared by all physical, and some ethical or moral science, cannot specially
be urged against Darwin's system. As he rejects spontaneous generation, and admits of
intervention at the beginning of organic life, and probably in more than one instance,
he is not wholly excluded from adopting the middle view, although the interventions he
would allow are few and far back. Yet one interposition admits the principle as well as
more. Interposition presupposes particular necessity or reason for it, and raises the
question, when and how often it may have been necessary. It might be the natural
supposition, if we had only one set of species to account for, or if the successive
inhabitants of the earth had no other connections or resemblances than those which
adaptation to similar conditions, which final causes in the narrower sense, might
explain. But if this explanation of organic Nature requires one to ‘
What does the difference between Mr. Darwin and his reviewer now amount to? If we say
that according to one view the origination of species is natural, according to
the other miraculous, Mr. Darwin agrees that ‘
In short, Darwin maintains that the origination of a species, no less than that of an
individual, is natural; the reviewer, that the natural origination of an individual, no
less than the origination of a species, requires and presupposes Divine power. A
fortiori, then, the origination of a variety requires and presupposes Divine
power. And so between the scientific hypothesis of the one and the philosophical
conception of the other no contrariety remains. And so, concludes the North
American reviewer, ‘
We can barely glance at a subsidiary philosophical objection of the North
American reviewer, which the Examiner also raises, though less
explicitly. Like all geologists, Mr. Darwin draws upon time in the most unlimited
manner. He is not peculiar in this regard. Mr. Agassiz tells us that the conviction is
Well, physical geology must go with it: for, even on the soberest view, it demands an
indefinitely long time antecedent to the introduction of organic life upon our earth.
A fortiori is physical astronomy a branch of metaphysics, demanding, as it
does, still larger ‘
The leading objection of Mr. Agassiz is likewise of a philosophical character. It is,
that species exist only ‘
The common view of species is, that, although they are generalizations, yet they have a
direct objective ground in Nature, which genera, orders, etc., have not. According to
the succinct definition of Jussieu—and that of Linnaeus is identical in
meaning—a species is the perennial succession of similar individuals in
continued generations. The species is the chain of which the individuals are the links.
The sum of the genealogically-connected similar individuals constitutes the species,
which thus has an actuality and ground of distinction not shared by genera and other
groups which were not supposed to be genealogically connected. How a derivative
hypothesis would modify this view, in assigning to species only a temporary fixity, is
obvious. Yet, if naturalists adopt that hypothesis, they will still retain Jussieu's
definition, which leaves untouched the question as to how and when the
Mr. Agassiz has ‘
An ingenious dilemma caps the argument:
Now, we imagine that Mr. Darwin need not be dangerously gored by either horn of this
curious dilemma. Although we ourselves cherish old-fashioned prejudices in favor of the
probable permanence, and therefore of a more stable objective ground of species, yet we
agree—and Mr. Darwin will agree fully with Mr. Agassiz—that species,
and he will add varieties, ‘
Moreover, Mr. Darwin might insinuate that the particular philosophy of classification upon which this whole argument reposes is as purely hypothetical and as little accepted as is his own doctrine. If both are pure hypotheses, it is hardly fair or satisfactory to extinguish the one by the other. If there is no real contradiction between them, nothing is gained by the attempt.
As to the dilemma propounded, suppose we try it upon that category of thought which we call chair.
This is a genus, comprising a common chair (Sella vulgaris), arm or easy chair (S. cathedra), the rocking-chair (S. oscillans)—widely distributed in the United States—and some others, each of which has sported, as the gardeners say, into many varieties. But now, as the genus and the species have no material existence, how can they vary? If only individual chairs exist, how can the differences which may be observed among them prove the variability of the species? To which we reply by asking, Which does the question refer to, the category of thought, or the individual embodiment? If the former, then we would remark that our categories of thought vary from time to time in the readiest manner. And, although the Divine thoughts are eternal, yet they are manifested to us in time and succession, and by their manifestation only can we know them, how imperfectly! Allowing that what has no material existence can have had no material connection or variation, we should yet infer that what has intellectual existence and connection might have intellectual variation; and, turning to the individuals, which represent the species, we do not see how all this shows that they may not vary. Observation shows us that they do. Wherefore, taught by fact that successive individuals do vary, we safely infer that the idea must have varied, and that this variation of the individual representatives proves the variability of the species, whether objectively or subjectively regarded.
Each species or sort of chair, as we have said, has its varieties, and one species shades off by gradations into another. And—note it well—these numerous and successively slight variations and gradations, far from suggesting an accidental origin to chairs and to their forms, are very proofs of design.
Again, edifice is a generic category of thought. Egyptian, Grecian, Byzantine,
and Gothic buildings are well-marked species, of which each individual building of the
sort is a material embodiment. Now, the question is, whether these categories or ideas
may not have been evolved, one from another in succession, or from some primal, less
specialized, edificial category. What better evidence for such hypothesis could we have
than the variations and grades which connect these species with each other? We might
extend the parallel, and get some good illustrations of natural selection from the
history of architecture, and the origin of the different styles under different climates
and conditions. Two considerations may qualify or limit the comparison. One, that houses
do not propagate, so as to produce continuing lines of each sort and variety; but this
is of small moment on Agassiz's view, he holding that genealogical connection is not of
the essence of a species at all. The other, that the formation and development of the
ideas upon which human works proceed are gradual; or, as the same great naturalist well
states it, ‘
We must close here. We meant to review some of the more general scientific objections which we thought not altogether tenable. But, after all, we are not so anxious just now to know whether the new theory is well founded on facts, as whether it would be harmless if it were. Besides, we feel quite unable to answer some of these objections, and it is pleasanter to take up those which one thinks he can.
Among the unanswerable, perhaps the weightiest of the objections, is that of the absence, in geological deposits, of vestiges of the intermediate forms which the theory requires to have existed. Here all that Mr. Darwin can do is to insist upon the extreme imperfection of the geological record and the uncertainty of negative evidence. But, withal, he allows the force of the objection almost as much as his opponents urge it—so much so, indeed, that two of his English critics turn the concession unfairly upon him, and charge him with actually basing his hypothesis upon these and similar difficulties—as if he held it because of the difficulties, and not in spite of them; a handsome return for his candor!
As to this imperfection of the geological record, perhaps we should get a fair and intelligible illustration of it by imagining the existing animals and plants of New England, with all their remains and products since the arrival of the Mayflower, to be annihilated; and that, in the coming time, the geologists of a new colony, dropped by the New Zealand fleet on its way to explore the ruins of London, undertake, after fifty years of examination, to reconstruct in a catalogue the flora and fauna of our day, that is, from the close of the glacial period to the present time. With all the advantages of a surface exploration, what a beggarly account it would be! How many of the land animals and plants which are enumerated in the Massachusetts official reports would it be likely to contain?
Another unanswerable question asked by the Boston reviewers is, Why, when structure and instinct or habit vary— as they must have varied, on Darwin's hypothesis—they vary together and harmoniously, instead of vaguely? We cannot tell, because we cannot tell why either varies at all. Yet, as they both do vary in successive generations—as is seen under domestication—and are correlated, we can only adduce the fact. Darwin may be precluded from our answer, but we may say that they vary together because designed to do so. A reviewer says that the chance of their varying together is inconceivably small; yet, if they do not, the variant individuals must all perish. Then it is well that it is not left to chance. To refer to a parallel case: before we were born, nourishment and the equivalent to respiration took place in a certain way. But the moment we were ushered into this breathing world, our actions promptly conformed, both as to respiration and nourishment, to the before unused structure and to the new surroundings.
The North American reviewer's position, that the higher brute animals have comparatively little instinct and no intelligence, is a heavy blow and great discouragement to dogs, horses, elephants, and monkeys. Thus stripped of their all, and left to shift for themselves as they may in this hard world, their pursuit and seeming attainment of knowledge under such peculiar difficulties are interesting to contemplate. However, we are not so sure as is the critic that instinct regularly increases downward and decreases upward in the scale of being. Now that the case of the bee is reduced to moderate proportions, we know of nothing in instinct surpassing that of an animal so high as a bird, the talegal, the male of which plumes himself upon making a hot-bed in which to batch his partner's eggs—which he tends and regulates the heat of about as carefully and skillfully as the unplumed biped does an eccaleobion.
As to the real intelligence of the higher brutes, it has been ably defended by a far more
competent observer, Mr. Agassiz, to whose conclusions we yield a general assent,
although we cannot quite place the best of dogs ‘
The assertion that acquired habitudes or instincts, and acquired structures, are not heritable, any breeder or good observer can refute.
It has been attempted to destroy the very foundation of Darwin's hypothesis by denying that there are any wild varieties, to speak of, for natural selection to operate upon. We cannot gravely sit down to prove that wild varieties abound. We should think it just as necessary to prove that snow falls in winter. That variation among plants cannot be largely due to hybridism, and that their variation in Nature is not essentially different from much that occurs in domestication, and, in the long-run, probably hardly less in amount, we could show if our space permitted.
As to the sterility of hybrids, that can no longer be insisted upon as absolutely true, nor be practically used as a test between species and varieties, unless we allow that hares and rabbits are of one species. That such sterility, whether total or partial, subserves a purpose in keeping species apart, and was so designed, we do not doubt. But the critics fail to perceive that this sterility proves nothing whatever against the derivative origin of the actual species; for it may as well have been intended to keep separate those forms which have reached a certain amount of divergence, as those which were always thus distinct.
The argument for the permanence of species, drawn from the identity with those now living of cats, birds, and other animals preserved in Egyptian catacombs, was good enough as used by Cuvier against St.-Hilaire, that is, against the supposition that time brings about a gradual alteration of whole species; but it goes for little against Darwin, unless it be proved that species never vary, or that the perpetuation of a variety necessitates the extinction of the parent breed. For Darwin clearly maintains—what the facts warrant—that the mass of a species remains fixed so long as it exists at all, though it may set off a variety now and then. The variety may finally supersede the parent form, or it may coexist with it; yet it does not in the least hinder the unvaried stock from continuing true to the breed, unless it crosses with it. The common law of inheritance may be expected to keep both the original and the variety mainly true as long as they last, and none the less so because they have given rise to occasional varieties. The tailless Manx cats, like the curtailed fox in the fable, have not induced the normal breeds to dispense with their tails, nor have the Dorkings (apparently known to Pliny) affected the permanence of the common sort of fowl.
As to the objection that the lower forms of life ought, on Darwin's theory, to have been long ago improved out of existence, and replaced by higher forms, the objectors forget what a vacuum that would leave below, and what a vast field there is to which a simple organization is best adapted, and where an advance would be no improvement, but the contrary. To accumulate the greatest amount of being upon a given space, and to provide as much enjoyment of life as can be under the conditions, is what Nature seems to aim at; and this is effected by diversification.
Finally, we advise nobody to accept Darwin's or any other derivative theory as true. The
time has not come for that, and perhaps never will. We also advise against a similar
credulity on the other side, in a blind faith that species—that the manifold
sorts and forms of existing animals and vegetables—‘
Meanwhile an inevitable and legitimate hypothesis is on trial—an hypothesis thus far not untenable—a trial just now very useful to science, and, we conclude, not harmful to religion, unless injudicious assailants temporarily make it so.
One good effect is already manifest; its enabling the advocates of the hypothesis of a multiplicity of human species to perceive the double insecurity of their ground. When the races of men are admitted to be of one species, the corollary, that they are of one origin, may be expected to follow. Those who allow them to be of one species must admit an actual diversification into strongly-marked and persistent varieties, and so admit the basis of fact upon which the Darwinian hypothesis is built; while those, on the other hand, who recognize several or numerous human species, will hardly be able to maintain that such species were primordial and supernatural in the ordinary sense of the word.
The English mind is prone to positivism and kindred forms of materialistic philosophy, and we must expect the derivative theory to be taken up in that interest. We have no predilection for that school, but the contrary. If we had, we might have looked complacently upon a line of criticism which would indirectly, but effectively, play into the hands of positivists and materialistic atheists generally. The wiser and stronger ground to take is, that the derivative hypothesis leaves the argument for design, and therefore for a designer, as valid as it ever was; that to do any work by an instrument must require, and therefore presuppose, the exertion rather of more than of less power than to do it directly; that whoever would be a consistent theist should believe that Design in the natural world is coextensive with Providence, and hold as firmly to the one as he does to the other, in spite of the wholly similar and apparently insuperable difficulties which the mind encounters whenever it endeavors to develop the idea into a system, either in the material and organic, or in the moral world. It is enough, in the way of obviating objections, to show that the philosophical difficulties of the one are the same, and only the same, as of the other.
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