Bertram Coghill Alan Windle.

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no one can prove to demonstration that it may not be true.
But it is certain that biologists for the most part have
abandoned the micromerist theories, as Delage has named
those explanations which depend on the assumption of the
collection of minute fragments from different parts of the
body in the germ-cells.

In the first place, it has been calculated that it would
require some trillions of minute fragments to meet the
necessities of the representation of all parts of the body
capable of independent variation. Then again it has to be
remembered that heredity does not confine itself to the
characteristics of the immediate progenitors of the off-
spring. Everybody knows that children may " throw
back " to a grandparent or even to a more distant ancestor,
and all breeders of dogs and cattle are aware that an
ancestor, tainted from the breeder's point of view, may
exhibit itself in the progeny of a generation much later than
that which immediately followed upon the taint ; and that,
although nothing but pure strains have been employed
since that period. Hence Pangenesis or any other micro-
meric theory demands a complexity so utterly beyond
conception as to defy belief. " Any theory which involves
the assumption of morphological units as representing
characters must bring us to an impasse in a very few genera-
tions, as is demonstrated by the working out of such a
theory to comparatively few degrees upward from offspring
to parents, grandparents and so on." 1

Whether it be the chromosomes or, as some think, some

1 Walker, " Hereditary Characters Bad their Mode of Transmission,"
Loadon, Araold, igto, p. ifx.


other constituent of the cell, the micromerist theory seems
to break down . Can it be replaced by any other of a material
character ? Samuel Butler, the author of " Erewho-n '
and a number of other books far less well known than they
deserve to be, published in 1880 his " Unconscious Memory." 1
In this he gives a translation of Hering's address of ten
years previously, 2 in which he urges that it is the memory
of the past in the germ which causes the embryo to develop
into something closely resembling the stock from which
it sprung and which it unconsciously remembers. This
memory may be thought of as an immaterial or a material
phenomenon. The point, as indeed all the points which
we are considering in the present connection, is of purely
scientific and philosophical interest ; for whichever ex-
planation we accept, no religious difficulty is suggested. It
is quite clear that an immaterial explanation can be given,
and it is equally true that it can neither be proved nor dis-
proved. Hering adopted a material explanation and made
the mechanism of memory reside in certain " vibrations of
the protoplasm and the acquired capacity to respond to
such vibrations once felt upon their repetition." 3

Butler adopted this material explanation even more
warmly than its parent had done. In his earlier writings
he certainly leant strongly to the side of dualism, but in
this book he appears as a materialistic monist, since he
declares that the only thing of which he is sure is " that
the distinction between the organic and inorganic is arbi-
trary." Now it is well known that there are certain physical
facts, such as the behaviour of wire which has been sub-
mitted to torsion, which suggest something simulating
memory in non-living matter. This is not a philosophical
treatise, so that the question need not be further pursued
than to say that, as in the former case, it is not possible to
prove that transmitted vibrations of the protoplasm may

1 Republished in the Collected Edition of Butler's works, Fifield,
London, 1910.

2 "Das Gedachtniss als allgemeine Funktion der organisirter Sub-
stanz," given as an Inaugural Address to the Imperial Royal Academy of
Sciences at Vienna, in 1870. Eng. trans., Open Court Publishing Co.,

8 For a resum6 of the question see Hartog's excellent Introduction of
Butler's Works in "Unconscious Memory."


not be the mechanism of a memory which controls and
directs heredity. Nor does this present any difficulty from
the vitalistic point of view, since it in no way accounts for
variation nor for the powers of modification which the
living thing has been shown to present. Nevertheless it
may be admitted that the so-called mnemic theory with
which we have been dealing has never as yet secured any
real support in the scientific world. This is in part due to
the fact that it is impossible to prove it : in part it is cer-
tainly due to the unwillingness of many to adopt the
mnemic explanation on account of what they would call
its mystical character.

The upshot of the whole matter is that we know very
well that there is such a thing as heredity, but we do not
know what its mechanism is. It is a case exactly parallel
to that of Gravitation. This ignorance of the vehicle of
heredity is very clearly exemplified by the statements
made by Bateson in his Presidential Address to the British
Association. 1 He says, " The allotment of characteristics
among offspring is not accomplished by the exudation of
drops of a tincture representing the sum of the character-
istics of the parent organism, but by a process of cell-
division, in which numbers of these characters, or rather
the elements upon which they depend, are sorted out among
the resulting germ-cells in an orderly fashion. What these
elements, or factors as we call them, are we do not know.
That they are in some way directly transmitted by the
material of the ovum and the spermatozoon is obvious,
but it seems to me unlikely that they are in any simple or
literal sense material particles. I suspect rather that their
properties depend on some phenomenon of arrangement."

It is worth while pausing for a moment to consider two
points in this utterance. In the first place, as regards
material and immaterial. " Particles " must be material,
though they might have immaterial connections, relations,
or perhaps guidance. But once we assume immateriality,
it is obvious that we are engaged in metaphysics ; indeed
in what many persons — including, we fancy, the author of
tlris address — would stigmatize as " mysticism."
* j^U. " Melbourne Address/' p. 5,,


Again, what is meant by " arrangement " ? The dis-
position of the particles in the germ ? Who arranges them
and under what laws are they arranged ? To this no
answer is given. The whole matter is another example of
the impossibility of attempting to give a complete answer
to these difficulties without assuming the hypothesis of a
Creator and Maintainer of Creation and of Laws of Exist-
ence founded and enforced by Him. It is the attempt to
turn the flank of this theory which leads to explanations of
the kind quoted, which explain nothing, since they do not
explain who does the arranging or how the " arrangement "
takes place. The " explanation ' thus becomes purely
verbal. 1

Returning from this momentary digression we must,
before leaving this branch of our subject, consider one
further important point. Can all the features, natural and
acquired, which are presented by the progenitors be in-
herited by the offspring ? Around this question there has
raged a vigorous and still undecided controversy, as indeed
is not wonderful having regard to the importance of the
matter in connection with certain grave problems. This
will shortly be made more clear. Let us take the problem
piecemeal. Suppose a man has had his leg cut off, is it
likely that his offspring will be one-legged ? To ask the
question is to answer it ; yet up to a recent time it was
scarcely doubted that mutilations of other kinds might be
inherited. As far as anything in the shape of a negative
can be proved, Weismann, in a series of papers, did in my
opinion prove that mutilations are not heritable. 2 But
suppose a man has all his life exercised the muscles of his

1 Of course the familiar retort is that our explanation of a Creator
and that of a vital principle are equally " verbal." The reply to this is
that by a process of exclusion and by other lines of argument pursued
elsewhere in this book we can, so we maintain, show the existence
of a Creator and, by another line of argument, of a vital principle. If we
can do this we are entitled to argue that the Creator's power is manifested
in the directions under discussion, — in otherwords, that through His undying
laws He is the " arranger." Our contention has at least the advantage of
being logical and complete, neither of which epithets can be applied to
the other attempted solution.

2 In making this statement I am not ignoring the standard argument
of those who differ ijrom me on this point, namely, Brown-Sequard's
epileptic , This experiment does not in, any way convince me.


arms as a blacksmith, is his son more likely to possess
muscular arms than the son of a literary man who has
never worked at anything more laborious than a type-
writer ? Here we come to a more difficult question and one
far less capable of solution by experiment. And it becomes
still more difficult of solution if we extend the question :
is the son of a blacksmith, who is also the grandson, the
great-grandson and the great-great-grandson of blacksmiths,
likely to be born with better and more muscular arms than
the descendant of generations of writers ? Or take another
case, illustrating another form of environment. The emigrant
from England to some tropic clime gets a tanned face : in
the course of generations is this tanned face likely to become
a hereditary characteristic ? In other words, can the
environment, taking that word in its widest sense, produce
any effect on heredity ? Weismann and those of his school
answer definitely in the negative. According to their
view the germplasm is segregated from the plasm of the
body proper in the very earliest stages of development and
cannot be influenced by anything which affects the body
save such things as bacterial infection, which may attack
it just as they may attack the child after it has been born.
When committing himself to this doctrine Weismann took
up a position which made it very difficult to account for
variation — impossible to do so in fact without appealing
to an internal impulse inexplicable on purely materialistic
grounds or without resorting (as we shall see that he did)
to a fantastic and utterly unprovable hypothesis.

If heredity were an absolutely rigid thing, then there
must result absolute and unvarying identity in a family
or a species. We know that this is not the case, but
that all sorts at least of minor differences are exhibited
which are the result of what we call Variation. How
does Variation come about ? Is the impetus from
without or from within or from both ? Weismannians
declare that it is not from without : Lamarckians and the
so-called Neo-Lamarckians claim that it may come from
without ; and indeed whatever may be said of the inherit-
ance from one generation to the next, it is hard to believe
that the accumulated influence of the environment over


several generations is unable to produce any effect upon
the germ and upon the offspring. 1

We turn, therefore, to the question of variation. No one
doubts that the thing is there : can we in any way account
for it ?

Lamarck was a distinguished French botanist and zoolo-
gist born in 1744. He seems at first to have believed in
the fixity of species ; but after deserting botany for zoology
he changed his mind and in 1800 avowed his belief in trans-
formism, saying that Nature, having formed the simplest
organisms, " then with the aid of much time and favourable
circumstances . . . formed all the others." 2 Moreover, he
tried to explain how variation was brought about. Accord-
ing to his view use and disuse in animals chiefly bring about
variations in organs, and new organs arise in response to a
physiological need. In reference to this we must be careful
to remember that it is not suggested that the animal thinks
a certain organ would be useful to it and sets about, securing
it : such a suggestion would be ridiculous. What Lamarck
suggests is, that a new condition having arisen in connec-
tion with a certain animal or group of animals of the same
species leads to a reflex action as a result of which the new
organ may arise. Further, he assumes that the new organ
once acquired may be inherited by the offspring and thus
handed down. When we come in the next chapter to dis-
cuss the question of Natural Selection we shall see the
bearing of that theory on this suggestion. Meantime it
need only be said that Lamarck's theory at least offers an
explanation, whether true or false, of the origin of a varia-
tion which Darwin's theory does not.

One of the most convinced of the Neo-Lamarckians
writes : ' ' The theory of selection can never get over the
difficulty of the origin of entirely new characters. . . .
How can it be said that the horns of ruminants arose ?

1 Recent observations seem to indicate that the environment can and
does effect much more than has of late years been thought possible. See
Morgan's "Mechanism of Mendelian Heredity," Constable, London, 1915,
p. 38 seq.

2 For an interesting account of Lamarck and other biological pioneers,
with the theories associated with their names, the reader may be referred
to " Biology and its Makers," by William A. Locy, New York, Henry
Holt & Co., 1908,


No other mammals have ever been stated to possess two
little symmetrical excrescences on their frontal bones as an
occasional variation ; what, then, caused such excrescences
to appear in the ancestors of horned ruminants ? Butting
with the forehead would produce them, and no other cause
can be suggested which would." Further, he continues :
" There is evidence that physiological change precedes
morphological. There is a climbing kangaroo in Papua
which shows so little adaptation of structure to the climbing
habit, that no naturalist would believe from the mere study
of its body that it lived in trees. But as a matter of fact it
does live entirely in trees." 1

Darwin seems to some extent to have accepted the
Lamarckian view, though he never made any real attempt
to explain the origin of variation. Weismann, having ex-
cluded the Lamarckian explanation, and indeed any explana-
tion which permitted the exercise of any external influence
to count, found himself face to face with the difficulty of
accounting for variation save by some internal impulse or
power — in other words, by some vital principle — or by an
explanation described in the language of his school as
" mystical." Hence he erected an enormous edifice of
assumptions 2 consisting of imaginary physical entities none
of which are capable of demonstration under the microscope
or by other means.

There is no doubt that this explanation would explain
what requires to be explained ; but it cannot be too carefully
borne in mind, as already pointed out, that there may be
twenty explanations of a given series of events, nineteen of
which must be, and twenty of which may be utterly in-
correct, though every one of them is capable of explaining
the events in question. There is not a shadow of real
evidence for Weismann's entities, and as a matter of fact
they have not won acceptance in the biological world except
with some few who, like Weismann himself, refuse to acknow-

1 From the Preface to Cunningham's Translation of Eimer's " Organic
Evolution," London, Macmillan, 1890.

' This will be found in his " Evolution Theory," transl., Thomson,
London, Edward Arnold, 1904. For some criticism of the theory the
reader may be referred to an article by the present writer in " A Century
of Scientific Thought," London Burns aAd Gates, 1915.


ledge the possibility of the action of external influences
or the other possibility of the potency of vital action from
within. Germinal Selection, Weismann's theory, can, as
he admits, " no more be proved mathematically than any
other biological process. No one who is unwilling to accept
germinal selection can be compelled to do so, as he might
be to accept the Pythagorean propositions. It is not built
up from beneath upon axioms, but is an attempt at an ex-
planation of a fact established by observation — the dis-
appearance of disused parts. But when once the inherit-
ance of functional modifications has been demonstrated
to be a fallacy, and when it 1 has been shown that, even
with the assumption of such inheritance, the disappearance
of parts which are only passively useful, and of any parts
whatever in sterile animal forms, remains unexplained, he
who rejects germinal selection must renounce all attempt
at explanation. 2 It is the same as in the case of personal
selection. No one can demonstrate mathematically that
any variation possesses selection value, but whoever rejects
personal selection gives up hope of explaining adaptations,
for these cannot be referred to purely internal forces of
development." 3

We must return to this when discussing the scientific
value of the theory of Natural Selection.

1 It may be noted that the writer assumes as proved in his favour the
very things winch his opponents dispute.

2 The reader will note that this triumphant assertion is made by the
author of the theory in question.

3 Op. cit., Vol. II, p. 121.


WE have seen that, in spite of the popular belief on
the subject, Darwin did not invent the theory of
transformism which has become so closely associated with
his name. It had been discussed more or less spasmodically
for centuries, but only by the learned and more or less
academically. It was Darwin's lot to accomplish what
Lamarck and Chambers had failed to do — namely, to focus
the public interest on the question ; to make the subject of
evolution into a battle-cry between materialists and non-
materialists — a position which it should never have occupied
— and even to make out of it a curious yet most dangerous
kind of religion or at least a rule of life.

That Darwin achieved this end quite unexpectedly to
himself and with results which he can never have foreseen,
was due no doubt in part to the fact that the " psychological
moment " — to use a hackneyed phrase — had arrived ; every-
thing was ready for the coming of the idea. But, in large
measure, the cause of the success of the book was that it
offered, with magnificent wealth of proof of various kinds
laboriously accumulated during many years at home and
abroad, an explanation of how transformism might be
carried out — in fact that it professed to demonstrate the
mechanism of evolution. This is made quite clear by the
full title of the book, which though generally shortened
down into " The Origin of Species " and believed by many
to be that and no more, is really " The Origin of Species
by Means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of
Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life." In that title is
briefly summarised the entire teaching of a book of several



hundred closely printed pages, which teaching we have now
to submit to a brief examination.

If we look out upon the world we see a vast number of
different species of plants and animals, all of them increasing
and multiplying at a rapid rate. Yet the world does not
become overfull of animals : if we look back over a number
of years, we shall recognise that there are about the same
number of birds of different kinds around us as there were
in our childhood, and that the country is not overrun by
the weeds which grow along the hedge sides ; yet these
birds and weeds multiply their numbers enormously every
year. The explanation, of course, is that whilst numbers
of new birds are hatched every year, numbers also die — so
many, in fact, as to keep the general average, in any par-
ticular district which has not undergone great changes of
some kind, about the same in a series of succeeding years.
The careful farmer takes pains to see that the weeds do not
invade his grounds to any harmful extent, and thus acts
as an eliminating agent. An eliminating agent — that,
in some shape or form, is what keeps down the numbers
and prevents the whole face of the earth from being
covered by innumerable swarms of animals of all kinds.
If one-half or more likely three-fourths of these living
things perish in their early days, is it merely chance
or luck which leads to the survival of the remaining
one-half or one-quarter ? Darwin's theory was that, if one
may so put it, external luck had nothing and internal luck
everything to say to the survival of any particular individual
Individuals vary ; some of them will be stronger and better
able to resist a period of shortness of food ; some of them
will be swifter of foot and better able to escape from those
who would slay them. These favoured individuals would
survive in the struggle for existence, would hand on to
some at least of their progeny, and perhaps in an enhanced
condition, those gifts by means of which they themselves
had survived in the contest ; by a gradual accumulation
of small variations, first a " variety " and then a new
" species " would be formed. Stripped of all its smaller
details, this is what is meant by the phrase " Natural
Selection " : the selection made by Nature from amongst


myriads of individuals whereby favoured individuals survive
in the struggle for existence. It may at once be said that,
if we grant that mediate creation is acceptable, there can
be no quarrel between religious dogma and this theory ;
for, as a mechanism devised by the Creator, it would fall
into its place with a number of other orderly arrangements
which we call Laws of Nature.

It remains to be seen whether it is or is not scientifically
sound and what it can and cannot do. In the first place, it
assumes but does not purport to explain the fact that
variations do occur. In this it differs from the Lamarckian
theory ; the often-quoted example of the giraffe will well
explain the difference which exists between the two. The
long neck of this animal on Darwinian lines would be
accounted for by the fact that, in some prolonged drought
or other food-famine, those members of a species on the
road to becoming what we call giraffes which had the
longest necks could feed on leaves growing higher up on
trees than those less well-provided in this respect, and hence
would survive when their less favoured brethren must die.
The longer necks would become hereditary, and still further
elongate themselves and finally the giraffe, as it exists
to-day, be evolved. It will be observed that this theory
has to begin with a group of herbivorous animals alike
in most respects but differing in that some of them have
shorter, some longer necks. In other words, this theory
" neglects " the origin of variation, which remains outside
its system. Further, it assumes that the longer necks will
be inherited — this is hardly an assumption, for abundant
proof that such might occur is available. Lamarck, on the
contrary, would explain the long neck by saying that the
particular species in question, by constantly stretching
after higher and yet higher branches, would, by the reflex
stimulus thus set up, actually develop a longer neck. Here,
it will be seen, we begin with the development of the varia-
tion — a point evaded by the Darwinian theory. On the
other hand, we assume what the Weismannians and some
at least of the neo-Darwinians would deny, namely, that
acquired characters are heritable. We now see the differ-
ence between the two views, which are very sharply dis-


tmguishable the one from the other. It may be added that
the supporters of either side wage war upon one another at
times with scarcely less bitterness than the odium theologi-
cum is said to provoke.

For a time Natural Selection simply swept the field. Its
more ardent and less well informed supporters claimed for
it a position which the author of the theory himself dis-
claimed. It is difficult to understand how they could have
taken up such a position, but Darwin in later editions of
his book was obliged to point out that those who believed
that Natural Selection could account for the origin of varia-
tions were labouring under a mistake. Thus he writes :
" Some have even imagined that Natural Selection induces

Online LibraryBertram Coghill Alan WindleThe church and science → online text (page 32 of 38)