...This is a new thread on Henry Fairfield Osborne, John Burroughs , Elizabeth Dougherty from this thread

CharlesKingsley must it be for the layman ? ......" ".... I have not yet had time to answer John Burroughs whole misleading article on Natural Selection in the Atlantic Monthly .... but in my...

natural selection Edit

It is a name for a process of elimination 107088547.pdf IV



It is never safe to question Darwin's facts, but it is always safe to question any man's theories. It is with Darwin's theories that I am mainly concerned here. He has already been shorn of his selection doctrines as completely as Samson was shorn of his locks, but there are other phases of his life and teachings that invite discussion.

The study of Darwin's works begets such an affection for the man, for the elements of character displayed on every page, that one is slow in convincing one's self that anything is wrong with his theories. There is danger that one's critical judgment will be blinded by one's partiality for the man.

For the band of brilliant men who surrounded him and championed his doctrines--Spencer, Huxley, Lyall, Hooker, and others--one feels nothing more personal than admiration; unless the eloquent and chivalrous Huxley--the knight in shining armor of the Darwinian theory--inspires a warmer feeling. Darwin himself almost disarms one by his amazing candor and his utter self-abnegation. The question always paramount in his mind is, what is the truth about this matter? What fact have you got for me, he seems to say, that will upset my conclusion? If you have one, that is just what I am looking for.

Could we have been permitted to gaze upon the earth in the middle geologic period, in Jurassic or Triassic times, we should have seen it teeming with huge, uncouth, gigantic forms of animal life, in the sea, on the land, and in the air, and with many lesser forms, but with no sign of man anywhere; ransack the earth from pole to pole and there was no sign or suggestion, so far as we could have seen, of a human being.

Come down the stream of time several millions of years--to our own geologic age--and we find the earth swarming with the human species like an ant-hill with ants, and with a vast number of forms not found in the Mesozoic era; and the men are doing to a large part of the earth what the ants do to a square rod of its surface. Where did they come from? We cannot, in our day, believe that a hand reached down from heaven, or up from below, and placed them there. There is no alternative but to believe that in some way they arose out of the antecedent animal life of the globe; in other words that man is the result of the process of evolution, and that all other existing forms of life, vegetable and animal, are a product of the same movement.

To explain how this came about, what factors and forces entered into the transformation, is the task that Darwin set himself. It was a mighty task, and whether or not his solution of the problem stands the test of time, we must yet bow in reverence before one of the greatest of natural philosophers; for even to have conceived this problem thus clearly, and to have placed it in intelligible form before men's minds, is a great achievement.

Darwin was as far from being as sure of the truth of Darwinism as many of his disciples were, and still are. He said in 1860, in a letter to one of his American correspondents, "I have never for a moment doubted that, though I cannot see my errors, much of my book ["The Origin of Species"] will be proved erroneous." Again he said, in 1862, "I look at it as absolutely certain that very much in the 'Origin' will be proved rubbish; but I expect and hope that the framework will stand."

Its framework is the theory of Evolution, which is very sure to stand. In its inception his theory is half-miracle and half-fact. He assumes that in the beginning (as if there ever was or could be a "beginning," in that sense) God created a few forms, animal and vegetable, and then left it to the gods of Evolution, the chief of which is Natural Selection, to do the rest. While Darwin would not admit any predetermining factors in Evolution, or that any innate tendency to progressive development existed, he said he could not look upon the world of living things as the result of chance. Yet in fortuitous, or chance, variation he saw one of the chief factors of Evolution.

The world of Chance into which Darwinism delivers us--what can the thoughtful mind make of it?

That life with all its myriad forms is the result of chance is, according to Professor Osborn, a biological dogma. He everywhere uses the word "chance" as opposed to law, or to the sequence of cause and effect. This, it seems to me, is a misuse of the term. Is law, in this sense, ever suspended or annulled? If one chances to fall off his horse or his house, is it not gravity that pulls him down? Are not the laws of energy everywhere operative in all movements of matter in the material world? Chance is not opposed to law, but to design. Anything that befalls us that was not designed is a matter of chance. The fortuitous enters largely into all human life. If I carelessly toss a stone across the road, it is a matter of chance just where it will fall, but its course is not lawless. Does not gravity act upon it? does not the resistance of the air act upon it? does not the muscular force of my arm act upon it? and does not this complex of physical forces determine the precise spot where the stone shall fall? If, in its fall, it were to hit a bird or a mouse or a flower, that would be a matter of chance, so far as my will was concerned. Is not a meteoric stone falling out of space acted upon by similar forces, which determine where it shall strike the earth? In this case, we must substitute for the energy of my arm the cosmic energy that gives the primal impetus to all heavenly bodies. If the falling aerolite were to hit a person or a house, we should say it was a matter of chance, because it was not planned or designed. But when the shells of the long-range guns hit their invisible target or the bombs from the airplanes hit their marks, chance plays a part, because all the factors that enter into the problem are not and cannot be on the instant accurately measured. The collision of two heavenly bodies in the depth of space, which does happen, is, from our point of view, a matter of chance, although governed by inexorable law.

The forms of inanimate objects--rocks, hills, rivers, lakes--are matters of chance, since they serve no purpose: any other form would be as fit; but the forms of living things are always purposeful. Is it possible to believe that the human body, with all its complicated mechanism, its many wonderful organs of secretion and excretion and assimilation, is any more matter of chance than a watch or a phonograph is? Though what agent to substitute for the word "chance," I confess I do not know. The short cut to an omnipotent Creator sitting apart from the thing created will not satisfy the naturalist. And to make energy itself creative, as Professor Osborn does, is only to substitute one god for another. I can no more think of the course of organic evolution as being accidental in the Darwinian sense, than I can think of the evolution of the printing-press or the aeroplane as being accidental, although chance has played its part. Can we think of the first little horse of which we have any record, the eohippus of three or four millions of years ago, as evolving by accidental variations into the horse of our time, without presupposing an equine impulse to development? As well might we trust our ships to the winds and waves with the expectation that they will reach their several ports.

Are we to believe that we live in an entirely mechanical and fortuitous world--a world which has no interior, which is only a maze of acting, reacting, and interacting of blind physical forces? According to the chance theory, the struggle of a living body to exist does not differ from the vicissitudes of, say, water seeking an equilibrium, or heat a uniform temperature.

Chance has played an important part in human history, and in all life-history--often, no doubt, the main part--since history began. It was by chance that Columbus discovered America; he simply blundered upon it. He had set out on his voyage with something quite different in view. But his ship, and the crew, and the voyage itself, were not matters of chance but of purpose.

According to the selectionists' theory, chance gave the bird its wings, the fish its fins, the porcupine its quills, the skunk its fetid secretion, the cuttlefish its ink, the swordfish its sword, the electric eel its powerful battery; it gave the giraffe its long neck, the camel its hump, the horse its hoof, the ruminants their horns and double stomach, and so on. According to Weismann, it gave us our eyes, our ears, our hands with the fingers and opposing thumb, it gave us all the complicated and wonderful organs of our bodies, and all their circulation, respiration, digestion, assimilation, secretion, excretion, reproduction. All we are, or can be, the selectionist credits to Natural Selection.

Try to think of that wonderful organ, the eye, with all its marvelous powers and adaptations, as the result of what we call chance or Natural Selection. Well may Darwin have said that the eye made him shudder when he tried to account for it by Natural Selection. Why, its adaptations in one respect alone, minor though they be, are enough to stagger any number of selectionists. I refer to the rows of peculiar glands that secrete an oily substance, differing in chemical composition from any other secretion, a secretion which keeps the eyelids from sticking together in sleep. "Behavior as lawless as snowflakes," says Whitman--a phrase which probably stuck to him from Rousseau; but are snowflakes and raindrops lawless? To us creatures of purpose, they are so because the order of their falling is haphazard. They obey their own laws. Again we see chance working inside of law.

When the sower scatters the seed-grains from his hand, he does not and cannot determine the point of soil upon which any of them shall fall, but there is design in his being there and in sowing the seed. Astronomy is an exact science, biology is not. The celestial events always happen on time. The astronomers can tell us to the fraction of a second when the eclipses of the sun and moon and the transit of the inferior planets across the sun's disk will take place. They know and have measured all the forces that bring them about. Now, if we knew with the same mathematical precision all the elements that enter into the complex of forces which shapes our lives, could we forecast the future with the same accuracy with which the astronomers forecast the movements of the orbs? or are there incommensurable factors in life?

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