Criticisms on “The Origin of Species”

The teleological general conception adopted by Darwin is a mistaken one. Find out why in this book.



In the course of the present year several foreign commentaries upon Mr.Darwin’s great work have made their appearance. Those who have perused that remarkable chapter of the ‘Antiquity of Man,’ in which Sir Charles Lyell draws a parallel between the development of species and that of languages, will be glad to hear that one of the most eminent philologers of Germany, Professor Schleicher, has, independently,published a most instructive and philosophical pamphlet (an excellent notice of which is to be found in the ‘Reader’, for February 27th ofthis year) supporting similar views with all the weight of his special knowledge and established authority as a linguist. Professor Haeckel,to whom Schleicher addresses himself, previously took occasion, in his splendid monograph on the ‘Radiolaria’*, to express his high appreciation of, and general concordance with, Mr. Darwin’s views.

[footnote] *’Die Radiolarien: eine Monographie’, p. 231.

But the most elaborate criticisms of the ‘Origin of Species’ which haveappeared are two works of very widely different merit, the one by Professor Kolliker, the well-known anatomist and histologist ofWurzburg; the other by M. Flourens, Perpetual Secretary of the French Academy of Sciences.

Professor Kolliker’s critical essay ‘Upon the Darwinian Theory’ is, like all that proceeds from the pen of that thoughtful and accomplished writer, worthy of the most careful consideration. It comprises a brief but clear sketch of Darwin’s views, followed by an enumeration of the leading difficulties in the way of their acceptance; difficulties which would appear to be insurmountable to Professor Kolliker, inasmuch as he proposes to replace Mr. Darwin’s Theory by one which he terms the’Theory of Heterogeneous Generation.’ We shall proceed to consider first the destructive, and secondly, the constructive portion of the essay.

We regret to find ourselves compelled to dissent very widely from manyof Professor Kolliker’s remarks; and from none more thoroughly thanfrom those in which he seeks to define what we may term the philosophical position of Darwinism.

“Darwin,” says Professor Kolliker, “is, in the fullest sense of the word, a Teleologist. He says quite distinctly (First Edition, pp. 199,200) that every particular in the structure of an animal has beencreated for its benefit, and he regards the whole series of animal forms only from this point of view.”

And again:

“7. The teleological general conception adopted by Darwin is a mistaken one.

“Varieties arise irrespectively of the notion of purpose, or of utility, according to general laws of Nature, and may be either useful,or hurtful, or indifferent.

“The assumption that an organism exists only on account of some definite end in view, and represents something more than the incorporation of a general idea, or law, implies a one-sided conception of the universe.Assuredly, every organ has, and every organism fulfils, its end, but its purpose is not the condition of its existence. Every organism is also sufficiently perfect for the purpose it serves, and in that, at least, it is useless to seek for a cause of its improvement.”

It is singular how differently one and the same book will impress different minds. That which struck the present writer most forcibly on his first perusal of the ‘Origin of Species’ was the conviction that Teleology, as commonly understood, had received its deathblow at Mr.Darwin’s hands. For the teleological argument runs thus: an organ or organism (A) is precisely fitted to perform a function or purpose (B);therefore it was specially constructed to perform that function. In Paley’s famous illustration, the adaptation of all the parts of the watch to the function, or purpose, of showing the time, is held to be evidence that the watch was specially contrived to that end; on the ground, that the only cause we know of, competent to produce such an effect as a watch which shall keep time, is a contriving intelligence adapting the means directly to that end.

Suppose, however, that any one had been able to show that the watch had not been made directly by any person, but that it was the result of the modification of another watch which kept time but poorly; and that this again had proceeded from a structure which could hardly be called a watch at all–seeing that it had no figures on the dial and the hands were rudimentary; and that going back and back in time we came at lastto a revolving barrel as the earliest traceable rudiment of the whole fabric. And imagine that it had been possible to show that all these changes had resulted, first, from a tendency of the structure to vary indefinitely; and secondly, from something in the surrounding world which helped all variations in the direction of an accurate time-keeper, and checked all those in other directions; then it is obvious that the force of Paley’s argument would be gone. For it would be demonstrated that an apparatus thoroughly well adapted to a particular purpose might be the result of a method of trial and error worked by unintelligent agents, as well as of the direct application ofthe means appropriate to that end, by an intelligent agent.

Now it appears to us that what we have here, for illustration’s sake,supposed to be done with the watch, is exactly what the establishmentof Darwin’s Theory will do for the organic world. For the notion that every organism has been created as it is and launched straight at a purpose, Mr. Darwin substitutes the conception of something which may fairly be termed a method of trial and error. Organisms vary incessantly; of these variations the few meet with surrounding conditions which suit them and thrive; the many are unsuited and become extinguished.

According to Teleology, each organism is like a rifle bullet fired straight at a mark; according to Darwin, organisms are like grapeshot of which one hits something and the rest fall wide.

For the teleologist an organism exists because it was made for the conditions in which it is found; for the Darwinian an organism exists because, out of many of its kind, it is the only one which has been able to persist in the conditions in which it is found.

Teleology implies that the organs of every organism are perfect and cannot be improved; the Darwinian theory simply affirms that they work well enough to enable the organism to hold its own against such competitors as it has met with, but admits the possibility of indefinite improvement. But an example may bring into clearer light the profound opposition between the ordinary teleological, and the Darwinian, conception.

TitelCats catch mice, small birds and the like, very well. Teleology tells us that they do so because they were expressly constructed for so doing–that they are perfect mousing apparatuses, so perfect and so delicately adjusted that no one of their organs could be altered,without the change involving the alteration of all the rest. Darwinism affirms on the contrary, that there was no express construction concerned in the matter; but that among the multitudinous variations of the Feline stock, many of which died out from want of power to resist opposing influences, some, the cats, were better fitted to catch mice than others, whence they throve and persisted, in proportion to the advantage over their fellows thus offered to them.

Far from imagining that cats exist ‘in order’ to catch mice well, Darwinism supposes that cats exist ‘because’ they catch mice well–mousing being not the end, but the condition, of their existence. And if the cat type has long persisted as we know it, the interpretation of the fact upon Darwinian principles would be, not that the cats have remained invariable, but that such varieties as haveincessantly occurred have been, on the whole, less fitted to get on inthe world than the existing stock.

If we apprehend the spirit of the ‘Origin of Species’ rightly, then,nothing can be more entirely and absolutely opposed to Teleology, as itis commonly understood, than the Darwinian Theory. So far from being a”Teleologist in the fullest sense of the word,” we would deny that heis a Teleologist in the ordinary sense at all; and we should say that,apart from his merits as a naturalist, he has rendered a mostremarkable service to philosophical thought by enabling the student ofNature to recognise, to their fullest extent, those adaptations topurpose which are so striking in the organic world, and which Teleologyhas done good service in keeping before our minds, without being falseto the fundamental principles of a scientific conception of theuniverse. The apparently diverging teachings of the Teleologist and ofthe Morphologist are reconciled by the Darwinian hypothesis.

But leaving our own impressions of the ‘Origin of Species,’ and turningto those passages especially cited by Professor Kolliker, we cannotadmit that they bear the interpretation he puts upon them. Darwin, ifwe read him rightly, does ‘not’ affirm that every detail in thestructure of an animal has been created for its benefit. His words are(p. 199):–

“The foregoing remarks lead me to say a few words on the protest latelymade by some naturalists against the utilitarian doctrine that everydetail of structure has been produced for the good of its possessor.They believe that very many structures have been created for beauty inthe eyes of man, or for mere variety. This doctrine, if true, would beabsolutely fatal to my theory–yet I fully admit that many structuresare of no direct use to their possessor.”

And after sundry illustrations and qualifications, he concludes (p.200):–

“Hence every detail of structure in every living creature (making somelittle allowance for the direct action of physical conditions) may beviewed either as having been of special use to some ancestral form, oras being now of special use to the descendants of this form–eitherdirectly, or indirectly, through the complex laws of growth.”

But it is one thing to say, Darwinically, that every detail observed inan animal’s structure is of use to it, or has been of use to itsancestors; and quite another to affirm, teleologically, that everydetail of an animal’s structure has been created for its benefit. Onthe former hypothesis, for example, the teeth of the foetal Balaenahave a meaning; on the latter, none. So far as we are aware, there is not a phrase in the ‘Origin of Species’, inconsistent with Professor Kolliker’s position, that “varieties arise irrespectively of the notion of purpose, or of utility, according to general laws of Nature, and maybe either useful, or hurtful, or indifferent.”

On the contrary, Mr. Darwin writes (Summary of Chap. V.):–

“Our ignorance of the laws of variation is profound. Not in one caseout of a hundred can we pretend to assign any reason why this or thatpart varies more or less from the same part in the parents…. Theexternal conditions of life, as climate and food, etc., seem to haveinduced some slight modifications. Habit, in producing constitutionaldifferences, and use, in strengthening, and disuse, in weakening and diminishing organs, seem to have been more potent in their effects.”

And finally, as if to prevent all possible misconception, Mr. Darwinconcludes his Chapter on Variation with these pregnant words:–

“Whatever the cause may be of each slight difference in the offspring from their parents–and a cause for each must exist–it is the steady accumulation, through natural selection of such differences, when beneficial to the individual, that gives rise to all the more important modifications of structure which the innumerable beings on the face of the earth are enabled to struggle with each other, and the best adaptedto survive.”

We have dwelt at length upon this subject, because of its great general importance, and because we believe that Professor Kolliker’s criticisms on this head are based upon a misapprehension of Mr. Darwin’sviews–substantially they appear to us to coincide with his own. The other objections which Professor Kolliker enumerates and discusses arethe following*:–

[footnote] *Space will not allow us to give Professor Kolliker’s arguments in detail; our readers will find a full and accurate version of them in the ‘Reader’ for August 13th and 20th, 1864.

“1. No transitional forms between existing species are known; and known varieties, whether selected or spontaneous, never go so far as to establish new species.”

To this Professor Kolliker appears to attach some weight. He makes the suggestion that the short-faced tumbler pigeon may be a pathological product.

“2. No transitional forms of animals are met with among the organic remains of earlier epochs.”

Upon this, Professor Kolliker remarks that the absence of transitional forms in the fossil world, though not necessarily fatal to Darwin’sviews, weakens his case.

“3. The struggle for existence does not take place.”

To this objection, urged by Pelzeln, Kolliker, very justly, attaches noweight.

“4. A tendency of organisms to give rise to useful varieties, and anatural selection, do not exist.

“The varieties which are found arise in consequence of manifoldexternal influences, and it is not obvious why they all, or partially,should be particularly useful. Each animal suffices for its own ends,is perfect of its kind, and needs no further development. Should,however, a variety be useful and even maintain itself, there is noobvious reason why it should change any further. The whole conceptionof the imperfection of organisms and the necessity of their becomingperfected is plainly the weakest side of Darwin’s Theory, and a ‘pisaller’ (Nothbehelf) because Darwin could think of no other principle bywhich to explain the metamorphoses which, as I also believe, haveoccurred.”

Here again we must venture to dissent completely from ProfessorKolliker’s conception of Mr. Darwin’s hypothesis. It appears to us tobe one of the many peculiar merits of that hypothesis that it involvesno belief in a necessary and continual progress of organisms.

Again, Mr. Darwin, if we read him aright, assumes no special tendencyof organisms to give rise to useful varieties, and knows nothing ofneeds of development, or necessity of perfection. What he says is, insubstance: All organisms vary. It is in the highest degree improbablethat any given variety should have exactly the same relations tosurrounding conditions as the parent stock. In that case it is eitherbetter fitted (when the variation may be called useful), or worsefitted, to cope with them. If better, it will tend to supplant theparent stock; if worse, it will tend to be extinguished by the parentstock.

If (as is hardly conceivable) the new variety is so perfectly adapted tothe conditions that no improvement upon it is possible,–it willpersist, because, though it does not cease to vary, the varieties willbe inferior to itself.

If, as is more probable, the new variety is by no means perfectlyadapted to its conditions, but only fairly well adapted to them, itwill persist, so long as none of the varieties which it throws off arebetter adapted than itself.

On the other hand, as soon as it varies in a useful way, i.e. when thevariation is such as to adapt it more perfectly to its conditions, thefresh variety will tend to supplant the former.

So far from a gradual progress towards perfection forming any necessarypart of the Darwinian creed, it appears to us that it is perfectlyconsistent with indefinite persistence in one estate, or with a gradualretrogression. Suppose, for example, a return of the glacial epoch anda spread of polar climatal conditions over the whole globe. Theoperation of natural selection under these circumstances would tend, onthe whole, to the weeding out of the higher organisms and thecherishing of the lower forms of life. Cryptogamic vegetation wouldhave the advantage over Phanerogamic; Hydrozoa over Corals; Crustaceaover Insecta, and Amphipoda and Isopoda over the higher Crustacea;Cetaceans and Seals over the Primates; the civilization of theEsquimaux over that of the European.

“5. Pelzeln has also objected that if the later organisms have proceededfrom the earlier, the whole developmental series, from the simplest tothe highest, could not now exist; in such a case the simpler organismsmust have disappeared.”

To this Professor Kolliker replies, with perfect justice, that theconclusion drawn by Pelzeln does not really follow from Darwin’spremisses, and that, if we take the facts of Palaeontology as theystand, they rather support than oppose Darwin’s theory.

“6. Great weight must be attached to the objection brought forward byHuxley, otherwise a warm supporter of Darwin’s hypothesis, that we knowof no varieties which are sterile with one another, as is the ruleamong sharply distinguished animal forms.

“If Darwin is right, it must be demonstrated that forms may be producedby selection, which, like the present sharply distinguished animalforms, are infertile, when coupled with one another, and this has notbeen done.”

The weight of this objection is obvious; but our ignorance of theconditions of fertility and sterility, the want of carefully conductedexperiments extending over long series of years, and the strangeanomalies presented by the results of the cross-fertilization of manyplants, should all, as Mr. Darwin has urged, be taken into account inconsidering it.

The seventh objection is that we have already discussed (‘supra’, p.178).

The eighth and last stands as follows:–

“8. The developmental theory of Darwin is not needed to enable us tounderstand the regular harmonious progress of the complete series oforganic forms from the simpler to the more perfect.

“The existence of general laws of Nature explains this harmony, even ifwe assume that all beings have arisen separately and independent of oneanother. Darwin forgets that inorganic nature, in which there can be nothought of genetic connexion of forms, exhibits the same regular plan,the same harmony, as the organic world; and that, to cite only oneexample, there is as much a natural system of minerals as of plants andanimals.”

We do not feel quite sure that we seize Professor Kolliker’s meaninghere, but he appears to suggest that the observation of the generalorder and harmony which pervade inorganic nature, would lead us toanticipate a similar order and harmony in the organic world. And thisis no doubt true, but it by no means follows that the particular orderand harmony observed among them should be that which we see. Surelythe stripes of dun horses, and the teeth of the foetal ‘Balaena’, arenot explained by the “existence of general laws of Nature.” Mr.Darwin endeavours to explain the exact order of organic nature whichexists; not the mere fact that there is some order.

And with regard to the existence of a natural system of minerals; theobvious reply is that there may be a natural classification of anyobjects–of stones on a sea-beach, or of works of art; a naturalclassification being simply an assemblage of objects in groups, so asto express their most important and fundamental resemblances anddifferences. No doubt Mr. Darwin believes that those resemblances anddifferences upon which our natural systems or classifications ofanimals and plants are based, are resemblances and differences whichhave been produced genetically, but we can discover no reason forsupposing that he denies the existence of natural classifications ofother kinds.

And, after all, is it quite so certain that a genetic relation may notunderlie the classification of minerals? The inorganic world has notalways been what we see it. It has certainly had its metamorphoses,and, very probably, a long “Entwickelungsgeschichte” out of a nebularblastema. Who knows how far that amount of likeness among sets ofminerals, in virtue of which they are now grouped into families andorders, may not be the expression of the common conditions to whichthat particular patch of nebulous fog, which may have been constitutedby their atoms, and of which they may be, in the strictest sense, thedescendants, was subjected?

It will be obvious from what has preceded, that we do not agree withProfessor Kolliker in thinking the objections which he brings forwardso weighty as to be fatal to Darwin’s view. But even if the case wereotherwise, we should be unable to accept the “Theory of HeterogeneousGeneration” which is offered as a substitute. That theory is thusstated:–

“The fundamental conception of this hypothesis is, that, under theinfluence of a general law of development, the germs of organismsproduce others different from themselves. This might happen (1) bythe fecundated ova passing, in the course of their development, underparticular circumstances, into higher forms; (2) by the primitive andlater organisms producing other organisms without fecundation, out ofgerms or eggs (Parthenogenesis).”

In favour of this hypothesis, Professor Kolliker adduces the well-knownfacts of Agamogenesis, or “alternate generation”; the extremedissimilarity of the males and females of many animals; and of themales, females, and neuters of those insects which live in colonies:and he defines its relations to the Darwinian theory as follows:–

“It is obvious that my hypothesis is apparently very similar toDarwin’s, inasmuch as I also consider that the various forms of animalshave proceeded directly from one another. My hypothesis of thecreation of organisms by heterogeneous generation, however, isdistinguished very essentially from Darwin’s by the entire absence ofthe principle of useful variations and their natural selection: and myfundamental conception is this, that a great plan of development liesat the foundation of the origin of the whole organic world, impellingthe simpler forms to more and more complex developments. How this lawoperates, what influences determine the development of the eggs andgerms, and impel them to assume constantly new forms, I naturallycannot pretend to say; but I can at least adduce the great analogy ofthe alternation of generations. If a ‘Bipinnaria’, a ‘Brachialaria’, a’Pluteus’, is competent to produce the Echinoderm, which is so widelydifferent from it; if a hydroid polype can produce the higher Medusa;if the vermiform Trematode ‘nurse’ can develop within itself the veryunlike ‘Cercaria’, it will not appear impossible that the egg, orciliated embryo, of a sponge, for once, under special conditions, mightbecome a hydroid polype, or the embryo of a Medusa, an Echinoderm.”

It is obvious, from these extracts, that Professor Kolliker’s hypothesisis based upon the supposed existence of a close analogy between the phenomena of Agamogenesis and the production of new species from pre-existing ones. But is the analogy a real one? We think that itis not, and, by the hypothesis, cannot be.

For what are the phenomena of Agamogenesis, stated generally? An impregnated egg develops into an asexual form, A; this gives rise,asexually, to a second form or forms, B, more or less different from A. B may multiply asexually again; in the simpler cases, however, itdoes not, but, acquiring sexual characters, produces impregnated eggs from whence A, once more, arises.

No case of Agamogenesis is known in which, ‘when A differs widely fromB’, it is itself capable of sexual propagation. No case whatever isknown in which the progeny of B, by sexual generation, is other than areproduction of A.

But if this be a true statement of the nature of the process of Agamogenesis, how can it enable us to comprehend the production of new species from already existing ones? Let us suppose Hyaenas to have preceded Dogs, and to have produced the latter in this way. Then the Hyena will represent A, and the Dog, B. The first difficulty thatpresents itself is that the Hyena must be asexual, or the process willbe wholly without analogy in the world of Agamogenesis. But passingover this difficulty, and supposing a male and female Dog to beproduced at the same time from the Hyaena stock, the progeny of thepair, if the analogy of the simpler kinds of Agamogenesis* is to befollowed, should be a litter, not of puppies, but of young Hyenas. Forthe Agamogenetic series is always, as we have seen, A: B: A: B, etc.;whereas, for the production of a new species, the series must be A: B:B: B, etc. The production of new species, or genera, is the extremepermanent divergence from the primitive stock. All known Agamogeneticprocesses, on the other hand, end in a complete return to theprimitive stock. How then is the production of new species to berendered intelligible by the analogy of Agamogenesis?


[footnote] * If, on the contrary, we follow the analogy of the more complex forms of Agamogenesis, such as that exhibited by some ‘Trematoda’ and by the ‘Aphides’, the Hyaena must produce, asexually, a brood of asexual Dogs, from which other sexless Dogs must proceed. At the end of a certain number of terms of the series, the Dogs would acquire sexes and generate young; but these young would be, not Dogs, but Hyaenas. In fact, we have ‘demonstrated’, in Agamogenetic phenomena, that inevitable recurrence to the original type, which is ‘asserted’ to be true of variations in general, by Mr. Darwin’s opponents; and which, if the assertion could be changed into a demonstration would, in fact, be fatal to his hypothesis.

The other alternative put by Professor Kolliker–the passage offecundated ova in the course of their development into higherforms–would, if it occurred, be merely an extreme case of variation inthe Darwinian sense, greater in degree than, but perfectly similar inkind to, that which occurred when the well-known Ancon Ram wasdeveloped from an ordinary Ewe’s ovum. Indeed we have always thoughtthat Mr. Darwin has unnecessarily hampered himself by adhering sostrictly to his favourite “Natura non facit saltum.” We greatlysuspect that she does make considerable jumps in the way of variationnow and then, and that these saltations give rise to some of the gapswhich appear to exist in the series of known forms.

Strongly and freely as we have ventured to disagree with ProfessorKolliker, we have always done so with regret, and we trust withoutviolating that respect which is due, not only to his scientificeminence and to the careful study which he has devoted to the subject,but to the perfect fairness of his argumentation, and the generousappreciation of the worth of Mr. Darwin’s labours which he alwaysdisplays. It would be satisfactory to be able to say as much for M.Flourens.

But the Perpetual Secretary of the French Academy of Sciences deals withMr. Darwin as the first Napoleon would have treated an “ideologue;”and while displaying a painful weakness of logic and shallowness ofinformation, assumes a tone of authority, which always touches uponthe ludicrous, and sometimes passes the limits of good breeding.For example (p. 56):–

“M. Darwin continue: ‘Aucune distinction absolue n’a ete et ne pout etreetablie entre les esp_ces et les varietes.’ Je vous ai deja dit quevous vous trompiez; une distinction absolue separe les varietes d’avecles especes.”

“Je vous ai deja dit; moi, M. le Secretaire perpetuel de l’Academie desSciences: et vous

“‘Qui n’etes rien, Pas meme Academicien;’

what do you mean by asserting the contrary?” Being devoid of the blessings of an Academy in England, we are unaccustomed to see our ablest men treated in this fashion, even by a “Perpetual Secretary.”

Or again, considering that if there is any one quality of Mr. Darwin’s work to which friends and foes have alike borne witness, it is his candour and fairness in admitting and discussing objections, what is to be thought of M. Flourens’ assertion, that”M. Darwin ne cite que les auteurs qui partagent ses opinions.” (P.40.)

Once more (p. 65):–

“Enfin l’ouvrage de M. Darwin a paru. On ne peut qu’etre frappe dutalent de l’auteur. Mais que d’idees obscures, que d’idees fausses!Quel jargon metaphysique jete mal a propos dans l’histoire naturelle,qui tombe dans le galimatias des qu’elle sort des idees claires, desidees justes! Quel langage pretentieux et vide! Quellespersonifications pueriles et surannees! O lucidite! O solidite del’esprit Francais, que devenez-vous?””Obscure ideas,” “metaphysical jargon,” “pretentious and emptylanguage,” “puerile and superannuated personifications.” Mr. Darwinhas many and hot opponents on this side of the Channel and in Germany,but we do not recollect to have found precisely these sins in the longcatalogue of those hitherto laid to his charge. It is worth while,therefore, to examine into these discoveries effected solely by theaid of the “lucidity and solidity” of the mind of M. Flourens.

According to M. Flourens, Mr. Darwin’s great error is that he has personified Nature (p. 10), and further that he has

“imagined a natural selection: he imagines afterwards that this powerof selection (pouvoir d’_lire) which he gives to Nature is similar tothe power of man. These two suppositions admitted, nothing stops him:he plays with Nature as he likes, and makes her do all he pleases.”(P. 6.)

And this is the way M. Flourens extinguishes natural selection:

“Voyons donc encore une fois, ce qu’il peut y avoir de fonde dans cequ’on nomme election naturelle.

“L’election naturelle n’est sous un autre nom que la nature. Pour unetre organise, la nature n’est que l’organisation, ni plus ni moins.

“Il faudra donc aussi personnifier l’organisation, et dire quel’organisation choisit l’organisation. L’election naturelle est cetteforme substantielle dont on jouait autrefois avec tant de facilite.Aristote disait que ‘Si l’art de batir etait dans le bois, cet artagirait comme la nature.’ A la place de l’art de batir M. Darwin metl’election naturelle, et c’est tout un: l’un n’est pas plus chimeriqueque l’autre.” (P.31.)

And this is really all that M. Flourens can make of Natural Selection.We have given the original, in fear lest a translation should beregarded as a travesty; but with the original before the reader, we maytry to analyse the passage. “For an organized being, Nature is onlyorganization, neither more nor less.”

Organized beings then have absolutely no relation to inorganic nature: aplant does not, depend on soil or sunshine, climate, depth in theocean, height above it; the quantity of saline matters in water have noinfluence upon animal life; the substitution of carbonic acid foroxygen in our atmosphere would hurt nobody! That these are absurditiesno one should know better than M. Flourens; but they are logicaldeductions from the assertion just quoted, and from the furtherstatement that natural selection means only that “organization choosesand selects organization.”

For if it be once admitted (what no sane man denies) that the chances oflife of any given organism are increased by certain conditions (A) anddiminished by their opposites (B), then it is mathematically certainthat any change of conditions in the direction of (A) will exercise aselective influence in favour of that organism, tending to its increaseand multiplication, while any change in the direction of (B) willexercise a selective influence against that organism, tending to itsdecrease and extinction.

Or, on the other hand, conditions remaining the same, let a givenorganism vary (and no one doubts that they do vary) in two directions:into one form (a) better fitted to cope with these conditions than theoriginal stock, and a second (b) less well adapted to them. Then it isno less certain that the conditions in question must exercise aselective influence in favour of (a) and against ( b), so that (a) willtend to predominance, and (b) to extirpation.

That M. Flourens should be unable to perceive the logical necessity ofthese simple arguments, which lie at the foundation of all Mr. Darwin’sreasoning; that he should confound an irrefragable deduction from theobserved relations of organisms to the conditions which lie aroundthem, with a metaphysical “forme substantielle,” or a chimericalpersonification of the powers of Nature, would be incredible, were itnot that other passages of his work leave no room for doubt upon thesubject.

“On imagine une ‘election naturelle’ que, pour plus de menagement, on medit etre inconsciente, sans s’apercevoir que le contre-sens litteralest precisement la: ‘election inconsciente’.” (P. 52.)

“J’ai deja dit ce qu’il faut penser de ‘l’election naturelle’. Ou’l’election naturelle’ n’est rien, ou c’est la nature: mais la naturedouee ‘d’election’, mais la nature personnifiee: derniere erreur dudernier siecle: Le xixe fait plus de personnifications.” (P. 53.)

M. Flourens cannot imagine an unconscious selection–it is for him acontradiction in terms. Did M. Flourens ever visit one of theprettiest watering-places of “la belle France,” the Baie d’Arcachon? Ifso, he will probably have passed through the district of the Landes,and will have had an opportunity of observing the formation of “dunes”on a grand scale. What are these “dunes”? The winds and waves of theBay of Biscay have not much consciousness, and yet they have with greatcare “selected,” from among an infinity of masses of silex of allshapes and sizes, which have been submitted to their action, all thegrains of sand below a certain size, and have heaped them by themselvesover a great area. This sand has been “unconsciously selected” fromamidst the gravel in which it first lay with as much precision as ifman had “consciously selected” it by the aid of a sieve. PhysicalGeology is full of such selections–of the picking out of the soft fromthe hard, of the soluble from the insoluble, of the fusible from theinfusible, by natural agencies to which we are certainly not in thehabit of ascribing consciousness.

But that which wind and sea are to a sandy beach, the sum of influences,which we term the “conditions of existence,” is to living organisms.The weak are sifted out from the strong. A frosty night “selects” thehardy plants in a plantation from among the tender ones as effectuallyas if it were the wind, and they, the sand and pebbles, of ourillustration; or, on the other hand, as if the intelligence of agardener had been operative in cutting the weaker organisms down. Thethistle, which has spread over the Pampas, to the destruction of nativeplants, has been more effectually “selected” by the unconsciousoperation of natural conditions than if a thousand agriculturists hadspent their time in sowing it.

It is one of Mr. Darwin’s many great services to Biological science that he has demonstrated the significance of these facts. He has shown that–given variation and given change of conditions–the inevitable result is the exercise of such an influence upon organisms that one is helped and another is impeded; one tends to predominate, another to disappear; and thus the living world bears within itself, and issurrounded by, impulses towards incessant change.

But the truths just stated are as certain as any other physical laws,quite independently of the truth, or falsehood, of the hypothesis whichMr. Darwin has based upon them; and that M. Flourens, missing thesubstance and grasping at a shadow, should be blind to the admirableexposition of them, which Mr. Darwin has given, and see nothing therebut a “derniere erreur du dernier siecle “–a personification ofNature–leads us indeed to cry with him: “O lucidite! O solidite del’esprit Francais, que devenez-vous?”

M. Flourens has, in fact, utterly failed to comprehend the first principles of the doctrine which he assails so rudely. His objectionsto details are of the old sort, so battered and hackneyed on this sideof the Channel, that not even a Quarterly Reviewer could be induced topick them up for the purpose of pelting Mr. Darwin over again. We haveCuvier and the mummies; M. Roulin and the domesticated animals of America; the difficulties presented by hybridism and by Palaeontology;Darwinism a ‘rifacciamento’ of De Maillet and Lamarck; Darwinism asystem without a commencement, and its author bound to believe in M.Pouchet, etc. etc. How one knows it all by heart, and with what reliefone reads at p. 65–

“Je laisse M. Darwin!”

But we cannot leave M. Flourens without calling our readers’ attentionto his wonderful tenth chapter, “De la Preexistence des Germes et del’Epigenese,” which opens thus:–“Spontaneous generation is only a chimaera. This point established,two hypotheses remain: that of ‘pre-existence’ and that of’epigenesis’. The one of these hypotheses has as little foundation asthe other.” (P. 163.)”The doctrine of ‘epigenesis’ is derived from Harvey: following by ocular inspection the development of the new being in the Windsor does,he saw each part appear successively, and taking the moment of’appearance’ for the moment of ‘formation’ he imagined ‘epigenesis’.”(P. 165.)

On the contrary, says M. Flourens (p. 167),

“The new being is formed at a stroke (‘tout d’un coup’) as a whole,instantaneously; it is not formed part by part, and at different times.It is formed at once at the single ‘individual’ moment at which theconjunction of the male and female elements takes place.”

It will be observed that M. Flourens uses language which cannot be mistaken. For him, the labours of von Baer, of Rathke, of Coste, and their contemporaries and successors in Germany, France, and England,are non-existent: and, as Darwin “imagina” natural selection, so Harvey” imagina” that doctrine which gives him an even greater claim to the veneration of posterity than his better known discovery of the circulation of the blood.

Language such as that we have quoted is, in fact, so preposterous, so utterly incompatible with anything but absolute ignorance of some of the best established facts, that we should have passed it over in silence had it not appeared to afford some clue to M. Flourens’ unhesitating, ‘a priori’, repudiation of all forms of the doctrine of progressive modification of living beings. He whose mind remainsun influenced by an acquaintance with the phenomena of development, mustindeed lack one of the chief motives towards the endeavour to trace a genetic relation between the different existing forms of life. Those who are ignorant of Geology, find no difficulty in believing that the world was made as it is; and the shepherd, untutored in history, sees no reason to regard the green mounds which indicate the site of a Roman camp, as aught but part and parcel of the primeval hill-side. So M.Flourens, who believes that embryos are formed “tout d’un coup,”naturally finds no difficulty in conceiving that species came into existence in the same way.


2 thoughts on “Criticisms on “The Origin of Species””

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s