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DARWIN ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES.
On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, or the pre
servation of favoured races in the struggle for life. By Charles Darwin, M.A. London: Murray. 1860.
We took up this book with a determination to enjoy it, however, on many points, we might differ from its conclusions. We had long indulged a fancy that the practice of classing into separate species had been carried too far; and that many of the objections brought against the details of the ark of Noah originated in errors of that kind. Under a firm conviction that no small number of the so-called species were only varieties, we had ourselves experimented in vegetation, and produced varieties which might well have been ranked as separate species. Therefore, though we could not go the length of affirming our belief, as Mr. Darwin does in his introduction, “that the view which most naturalists entertain ... that each species has been independently created, is erroneous,”
-we were at least prepared to feel much general agreement with his views. Indeed, taking into account our different standpoint, we not only endeavoured to open our mind to conviction, but were ready to look with a certain degree of favour upon opinions from which we were compelled to dissent.
The product of thirteen years of laborious research and investigation demands attention, and will not fail to gain it from all those who know what labour close and earnest investigation entails. Unfortunately, however, for the cause of science and of general knowledge, investigation may be carried on with honest purpose, but with a bias of the mind which leads insensibly to the choice of exceptional rather than of normal examples. And while facts in nature and science are always useful, and we may return due thanks to those who gather them, whatever may have been the object they had in view ; yet when they have been gathered for the definite purpose of supporting a foregone conclusion, it is always necessary to canvass freely, investigate closely, and receive with caution, conclusions thus advanced. Such, after a patient and attentive reading of Mr. Darwin's four hundred and ninety pages, is the opinion we have arrived at in his case. By choosing exceptional instances, abnormal developments, for the purpose of argument, and filling up from imagination every lapse or hiatus that occurs, the most preposterous opinions may be made to appear plausible—the most erroneous to wear the semblance of truth. And by these processes, and especially the latter, has Mr. Darwin endeavoured to prove that neither species nor genera were independently created.
Vol. 59.-No. 272.
To complain of a "philosopher" that he ignores scripture, and treats all natural questions as though no "records of creation” existed, may be thought narrow-minded. Love of truth demands, we admit, that evidence should at all times stand upon its own ground, tell its own tale, and not be warped to adapt itself to opinions previously or generally entertained. Yet there is no need for a writer to go out of his way in order to throw a lance at scripture doctrines or scripture conclusions. When this is done, and more especially when it is needlessly done, it exhibits an animus which is calculated, in thoughtful and especially in pious minds, to injure the cause such an author seeks to advance. Mr. Darwin has made this great mistake, and we are sorry for it. Had he confined himself to his proper theme, the question he has brought before the world would have been much more likely to have been discussed without warmth and without prejudice. What need was there, for example, for such an assertion as the following, in
“ Mr. Horner's researches have rendered it in some degree probable that man, sufficiently civilized to have manufactured pottery, existed in the valley of the Nile thirteen or fourteen thousand years ago; and who will pretend to say how long before these ancient periods, savages, like those of Tierra del Fuego or_Australia, who possess a semi-domestic dog, may not have existed in Egypt.”
If Mr. Darwin is so ready to assent to the probability of Mr. Horner's conclusion, very few will agree with him. Nor is it anytbing more than a petitio principii that man existed in a savage state before he existed in a civilized one; the whole bent of early history seems to show a degradation rather than an advance.
Again, in his chapter on "mutual checks to increase," the argument of which is the extinction of one race by another, he says :
“ Nevertheless, so profound is our ignorance, and so high our presumption, that we marvel when we hear of the extinction of an organic being ; and, as we do not see the cause, invoke cataclysms to desolate the world, or invent laws on the duration of the forms of life.”
Now this assertion is simply untrue. We do not invoke cataclysms to account for the extinction of species. The evidence of the occurrence of cataclysins (or deluges) rests upon entirely independent grounds. And it is evidence, and not mere suggestion, such as Mr. Darwin usually brings forward in support of his theories. And if we find that on the occurrence of these cataclysms species are extinguished, surely we are not compelled to travel out of the record along with Mr. Darwin in order to find other reasons to account for the fact than those which are clear and apparent, and which, resting on the surface, strike the mind at once.
We might point out many other passages of a similar character to these, and may have to refer to some of them; but first we will turn to the main argument of the book. This, we are sorry to say, is not exactly what its title imports, " The origin of species by means of natural selection," but the origin of all living creatures, vegetable and animal, from some one hermaphrodite, or some pair of organic beings. “ Natural selection” is, therefore, simply a new term, coined for the purpose of supplying the place of " development,” as used by the author of the "Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation;" and Mr. Darwin's book is an impotent attempt to prove how this process of development might go forward from such a beginning until the earth attained its present condition.
Before any gentleman calling himself a philosopher undertook a task like this, it might have been more modest had he shown some slight reasons for dissenting from the views generally entertained. We have Records of Creation which give us, authoritatively, a very different account of the origin of living creatures; and these records are substantiated by at least a thousand tiines the amount of evidence which Darwin can bring forward in support of his views—by evidence internal and external, by history and science, and by the very habits and constitution of the human mind. But these records our author simply ignores. He sets about his task as though he had never heard there was such a book as the Bible in existence. And yet he tells us that he sees no good reason why the views given in his volume should shock the religious feelings of any one: and refers to a "celebrated author and divine" - whose name he appears to have thought it more prudent to withhold-as having written to him that
“He bad gradually learned to see that it is just as noble a conception of the Deity to believe that Ile created a few original forms capable of self-development into other and needful forms, as to believe that He required a fresh act of creation to supply the voids caused by the action of His laws.”
Very becoming certainly in a divine, who, if of the church of England, must at least have professed, at his ordination, to take the holy scriptures as his rule and guide!
That we have not misrepresented Mr. Darwin's main design we could give abundant evidence,-the great difficulty being to compress our remarks within reasonable limits, or choose among the (nearly one hundred) passages we had marked for notice. It is true that this design is but gradually “ developed” in the book. Not to startle the reader too suddenly, he at first confines himself to his proper subject - species. Next he gives something like hints that genera as well as species have been produced by varieties in the process of natural selection. Then have we intimations of a clearer kind, as for instance :
Extinction, as we have seen in the fourth chapter, has played an important part in defining and widening the intervals between the several groups in each class. We may thus account even for the distinctness of whole classes from each other for instance, of birds from all other vertebrate animals—by the belief that many ancient forms of life have been utterly lost, through which the early progenitors of birds were formerly connected with the early progenitors of the other vertebrate classes." (p. 431.)
“On this idea of the natural system being, in so far as it has been perfected, genealogical in its arrangement with the grades of difference between the descendants from a common parent, expressed by the terms genera, families, orders, &c., we can understand the rules which we are compelled to follow in our classification. We can understand why we value certain resemblances far more than others,” &c. &c. (p. 433.)
The conclusion of this paragraph renders Mr. Darwin's object tolerably clear. By placing a few words in italics, we shall obviate the necessity for any remarks.
remarks. It runs as follows :“We shall never, probably, disentangle the inextricable web of affinities between the members of any one class; but when we have a distinct object in view, and do not look to some unknown plan of creation, we may hope to make sure but slow progress.
Our author gathers confidence as he goes on, and strengthens his expressions, even though, in some of the chapters, he weakens his argument. He seems to be somewhat in the condition of the man who repeats a falsehood until he actually believes it himself. He tells us :
“ As all the organic beings, extinct and recent, which have ever lived on this earth, have to be classed together, and as all have been connected by the finest gradations, the best, or indeed, if our collections were nearly perfect, the only possible arrangement, would be genealogical.” (p. 448.)
We gain another step at page 484 ; though the assumption there is somewhat modestly expressed :
“ Therefore I cannot doubt that the theory of descent with modifcation embraces all the members of the same class. I believe that animals have descended from ut most only four or five progenitors, and plants from an equal or lesser number. Analogy would lead me one step further, namely, to the belief that all animals and plants have descended from some one prototype.”
This modesty is, we must say, a little cast aside at page 488; where his "notion" -- for it is scarcely worthy the name of an hypothesis — is assumed as an established fact; and is recommended as a new light to guide the geologist in his researches :
“As species are produced and exterminated by slowly-acting and still existing causes, and not by miraculous acts of creation and by catastrophes ; and as the most important of all causes of organic change is one which is almost independent of altered, and perhaps suddenly altered, physical conditions, namely, the mutual relation of organism to organism, the improvement of one being entailing the improvement or extermination of others; it follows, that the amount of organic change in the fossils of consecutive formations probably serves as a fair measure of the lapse of actual time."
Finally, at the conclusion of the argument, the definite view comes out in no ambiguous language :
“ Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that whilst this planet has gone cycling on, according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning, endless forms, most beautiful and most wonderful, have been and are being evolved.”
And how is this extraordinary dogma attempted to be substantiated ? Certainly not by anything that bears the slightest resemblance to what may properly be called proof. We have, it is true, a very carefully-laid train of circumstantial evidence. Wherever that evidence breaks down for want of connecting links, a special case is got up to show that there are, or may be, reasons for supposing a link has been lost. Sometimes, in addition to this, reasons are attempted to be brought forward why such link has been lost. But, from the beginning of the book to the end, we have not one jot of direct and substantial evidence in favour of this theory, by which the belief of the whole Christian world is to be overthrown. It is conjecture at the beginning, conjecture in the middle, conjecture at the conclusion, conjecture throughout. Facts, whose evidence might be turned into quite another channel, are bent into one particular direction. The absence of facts is made to tell in the same direction-imagination being called upon to fill up the hiatus. Whatever bears strongly against the theory is frittered away by nibbling criticisms and peddling suggestions. And when, in this way, as much of the field of argument has been passed through, as, on his own principle of “selection," he has thought it desirable to traverse, the author comes to the triumphant conclusion that his case is proved, or, at least would have been proved, if he had been able to find room for the facts by which his assertions might be substantiated.
Before giving such a digest of the book as will corroborate these assertions, we think it desirable to lay before our readers a few specimens of the ease with which Mr. Darwin obtains bis conclusions; and which, as specimens of ratiocination, certainly do not tell much in favour of those patient and laborious investigations