Bertram Coghill Alan Windle.

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variability, whereas it implies only the preservation of such
variations as arise and are beneficial to the being under
its conditions of life." 1 But apart from this fundamental
and indeed inexcusable error, great difference of opinion
exists to-day as to the real value of Darwin's theory. Some
sturdy defenders still proclaim that it is the great and funda-
mental explanation of species ; others — though they are
few in number — hold that there is no substance in the theory
and that those who believe in it believe in a vain thing.
De Vries says : " Natural Selection acts as a sieve ; it
does not single out the best variations, but it simply destroys
the larger number of those which are, from some cause or
another, unfit for their present environment. In this way
it keeps the strains up to the required standard, and in
special circumstances may even improve them." 2 With
that view probably the large majority of biologists would
find themselves in sympathy, and would agree that Natural
Selection is at least a potent agent, perhaps the most
potent agent in evolution. But it is most important to
understand its limitations, which have been very clearly
pointed out by many and by none more clearly than by
Driesch, to whose pages readers may be referred for a close
analysis of the theory in question. He writes : 3 " It must
be certain from the very beginning of analysis that

1 " Origin of Species," etc., ed. vi., Vol. I, p. 99.

2 " Darwin and Modern Science," Camb. Univ. Press, 1909, p. 63.

3 " Science and Philosophy ot the Organism," Vol. I, p. 262.

2 A


Natural Selection, as defined here, can only eliminate what
cannot survive, what cannot stand the environment in
the broadest sense, but that Natural Selection never is able
to create diversities. It always acts negatively only, never
positively. And therefore it can ' explain ' — if you will
allow me to make use of this ambiguous word — it can
' explain ' only why certain types of organic specifications,
imaginable a priori, do not actually exist, but it never
explains at all the existence of the specifications of animal
and vegetable forms that are actually found. In speaking
of an ' explanation ' of the origin of the living specific forms
by Natural Selection one therefore confuses the sufficient
reason for the non-existence of what there is not, with the
sufficient reason for the existence of what there is. To say
that a man has explained some organic character by Natural
Selection is, in the words of Naegeli, the same as if someone
who is asked the question, ' Why is this tree covered with
these leaves ? ' were to answer, ' Because the gardener did
not cut them away.' Of course, that would explain why
there are no more leaves than those actually there,
but it never would account for the existence and
nature of the existing leaves as such. Or do we under-
stand in the least why there are white bears in the Polar
Regions if we are told that bears of other colours could not
survive ? "

One of the results which undoubtedly followed on the
early and exaggerated acceptance of the doctrine of Natural
Selection was a great distrust or even denial of what has
long been known as the Argument from Design, which
potent piece of logic was supposed to have been completely
put out of action by the Darwinian broadsides. It is not
too much to say that the assumption of a large part of the
world of science, as shown by the writings, the correspond-
ence and even the serious statements of the time, was that
believers in anything higher than Nature, and more especi-
ally persons putting any faith in the argument from design,
were objects if not of contempt at least of pity. Yet Lecky,
when materialism was in its heyday, was telling its prophets
that they were wholly wrong and that their theories made
the postulation of a Creator more necessary if possible than


it had been before. 1 As Mivart pointed out at the time,
Lecky says : " That matter is governed by mind, that the
contrivances and elaborations of the universe are the pro-
ducts of intelligence, are propositions which are quite un-
shaken, whether we regard these contrivances as the results
of a single momentary exercise of will, or of a slow, con-
sistent, and regulated evolution. The proofs of a pervading
and developing intelligence, and the proofs of a co-ordinating
and combining intelligence, are both untouched, nor can
any conceivable progress of science in this direction destroy
them. If the famous suggestion, that all animal and veget-
able life results from a single vital germ, and that all the
different animals and plants now existent were developed
by a natural process of evolution from that germ, were a
demonstrated truth, we should still be able to point to the
evidences of intelligence displayed in the measured and
progressive development, in those exquisite forms so differ-
ent from what blind chance could produce. . . . The argu-
ment from design would indeed be changed ; it would
require to be stated in a new form, but it would be fully
as cogent as before. Indeed it is, perhaps, not too much to
say, that the more fully this conception of universal evolu-
tion is grasped, the more firmly a scientific doctrine of
Providence will be established, and the stronger will be the
presumption of a future progress." These words are well
worth quoting again and may be read in connection with
the — also contemporary — parable of Charles Kingsley. 2

Let us turn for a few moments to a consideration of the
Argument from Design. 3

The high-water mark of the Argument in pre-Darwinian
days was certainly reached by a very remarkable though
now much neglected book — Paley's Evidences, of which
Darwin was a great admirer, claiming that at one time he
could almost have repeated it by heart. Huxley also ad-
mired it, and pointed out that Paley had in many ways
foreshadowed the evolution hypothesis and had declared

1 In his " History of Rationalism," Vol. I, p. 316.

2 See p. 337.

s I may refer readers to my volume " A Century of Scientific Thought
and other Essays," Burns and Oales, 1915, for a further discussion of this
matter. Part of this chapter is extracted from the essay in that book.


that when properly understood it was not really in opposi-
tion to religion.

Paley starts with the famous simile of a watch found
by a traveller on a heath who recognises at once that it is
quite a different thing from the stones which he has hitherto
encountered on his way. It is, he claims, an inevitable
inference that the watch must have had a maker, " an
artificer or artificers, who formed it for the purpose which
we find it actually to answer : who comprehended its con-
struction, and designed its use." Nor, in his opinion, are
the arguments weakened by the facts that : First we may
never have seen a watch made, or known an artist capable
of making one ; second, that the watch, sometimes, even
frequently went wrong ; third, that there were parts in it
which we did not understand. Further, he argued that the
finder of the watch could not be expected to be satisfied
by any of the following arguments : First, that it was one
of many combinations of matter, and might have been thus
or otherwise arranged ; second, " that there was a principle
of order which had disposed the parts of the watch into
their present form and situation " ; third, that the mechan-
ism was not proof of contrivance, only a motive to induce
the mind to think so ; nor again by the argument that,
fourth, the watch was no more than the result of the laws
of metallic nature. Finally, he is not to be put off from his
belief by being told that he knew nothing of the matter.
It will be observed that in this parable Paley sums up all
the lines of argument which had been brought forward, or
indeed have since been brought forward or could well be
brought forward in favour of a materialistic explanation of
Nature. Having given his parable, he proceeds in great
detail to apply his argument to various contrivances through-
out the animal kingdom. Thus he examines the eye and
its mechanism, and claims that if it presents lenses and a
focussing apparatus and other things of the kind just as a
telescope does, then, just as the telescope must have had
an intelligent maker who constructed it for the purpose
for which it is fitted, so also must the eye have had its
intelligent artificer.

Now the remarkable thing is that Darwin and almost


all his contemporaries seemed to be quite sure that Natural
Selection had utterly and for ever overthrown the argument
from design. Darwin himself wrote : " The old argument
from design in nature, as given by Paley, which formerly
seemed to me so conclusive, fails, now that the law of
Natural Selection has been discovered. We can no longer
argue that, for instance, the beautiful hinge of a bivalve
shell must have been made by an intelligent being, like the
hinge of a door by man. There seems to be no more design
in the variability of organic beings, and in the action of
Natural Selection, than in the course which the wind
blows." 1 It is certainly a bold and also certainly a wholly
unwarrantable demand upon our belief that the doctrine
of Natural Selection was thus powerful, and it ignores the
fact that a powerful agent of its kind can only have come
into being in one of two ways — by chance or by design. If
the former, we have to believe that by accident the particles
of matter in the universe formed a world, by accident also,
and, in some manner hitherto undreamt of by the modern
chemist, that the seed of life appeared on this accidentally
constructed world. Then, by pure, blind, blundering chance,
the law of Natural Selection came into effect and by its
action produces all living things, including the brain and
genius of man and every work of genius and imagination
that man has ever produced. The man who can believe
this has certainly an enviable power of imagination and

Surely it must be obvious — indeed it is admitted by
even materialistic men of science — that a Law presupposes,
indeed compels, a belief in a Law-giver. We may say that
we know nothing of Him — that is the pure Agnostic attitude
— but we shall find it difficult to dispute the existence of
such a Being if once we admit the Law. It is once more
the case of the Being who makes things make themselves.
Certainly it does not give us a less exalted idea of the
Creator if, to take up Paley's parable once more, we look
again at the watch and consider that its artificer had not
made it himself but had so empowered things of his creation

1 " Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, ' Vol. I, p. 309.


that they could themselves make it and many another
wonderful work. These, under this hypothesis, would be
as much the product of His idea as if He had indeed called
them fully made out of nothing by immediate creation.
Thus, as Lecky told the men of his time, the doctrine of
the Argument from Design emerges from the struggle
stronger than it ever was, irrefutable indeed unless we are
to believe in Blind Chance, or to deny our own intellect
and attempt to hold that there may be a Law without a

There is a further matter in connection with Natural
Selection which must not completely escape notice. If
Natural Selection is a law of Nature, and, if, as some would
have us believe, there is no higher law by which our actions
should be governed, ordinary logic would seem to suggest
that we should do our best to assist the law of Natural
Selection and not to thwart them, as Charity, working on
the lines indicated by Christianity, is constantly endeavour-
ing to do. Why should we not assist Natural by Artificial
Selection and arrange the matrimonial affairs of budding
youth according to the methods of the stud-farm ? Some-
thing like this is the programme of the more advanced
Eugenists, and something like this has been proposed as
an ideal to be sought after, by a recent President of the
British Association in his presidential address. 1 There is
one element in the calculation which seems always to be
omitted by the visionaries who are the parents of schemes
such as this : Human Nature, which, especially as manifest
in the young, is very unlikely to submit to its matrimonial
arrangements being made for it by a jury of matrons and
doctors and wholly without regard to such trifles as love
and mutual attraction. We need have no serious fears so
far as this proposition is concerned. One wonders, how-
ever, whether those who refuse to believe in any higher
law than that of Nature, have ever thought out what would
follow upon a strict adherence to natural laws and what
sort of a world to live in would be one bereft of God, con-
ducted in strict conformity with Nature as we see it around

1 Bateson, Part II of Address, delivered at Sydney.


us " red in tooth and claw." It is all very well to talk of
the Survival of the Fittest in the Struggle for Existence, but,
if we invert the meaning, we may arrive at a better com-
prehension of what it entails. The Survival of the Fittest
means the Extermination of the Less Fit. What would
this mean in the case of mankind ? Rigid extermination
of the feeble and unfit : the cripples, the sickly, and such-
like, must wend their way to the lethal chamber for the
benefit of the race, or must at least be incarcerated so as to
cut them off from any prospect of propagating offspring
like unto themselves. Carried a step further, even the
stupid and the less active in body must be eliminated or
restrained, so that the race may become greater and more
powerful. So much for the inner life of the nation, but
what of the outer ? The more powerful nation is to wipe
out the weaker without any pity : why should there be any
pity when it is the Law of Nature that the Strong shall
inherit the Earth and that Might is Right ? Let any
person consider even for a few moments what a world
conducted on the lines of Natural Selection, unchastened by
any ameliorating influences of a religious character, would
be : he will not be long in coming to a conclusion that hell
itself could scarcely be a less comfortable place to live in.
It is perfectly true that neither Darwin — one of the kindliest
of men, as we learn from his life — nor his almost equally
kind-hearted followers for an instant contemplated such
infamies as those which have been suggested above. But
when we are told that Christianity is an exploded thing
and that we must decline upon the laws of Nature, it is
well to consider what that is likely to lead us to. Morality,
as we understand it, is not to be learned from the laws of
Nature, nor the natural operations of the living world.
This fact alone ought to be enough to teach any rational
human being that there must be something higher than
Nature and the teachings of Nature ; since to trust merely
to the laws of Nature is to enter at once a lupanar and a

Nor is it of any use to argue that the prophets of the
Gospel of Nature are not themselves brutal or uncharitable,
nor to urge that they are supporters of hospitals and other


good works of the kind. In that they are so they are belying
their own principles, for Nature teaches no such doctrine,
provides no hospitals for the sick and wounded but rather a
speedy death. It is the atmosphere of the Gospel of Christ
in which such persons live and in which they have been
brought up which, perhaps insensibly, influences them, and
not the Gospel of Nature of which they proclaim them-
selves adherents.




IN his Presidential Address to the British Association
in 1913, Sir Oliver Lodge spoke of the characteristic
(so far as pure science was concerned), " of the promising
though perturbing period in which we live ' as being
" rapid progress, combined with fundamental scepticism."
He further told us that " a critical examination of scientific
foundations " was going on, and that " a kind of philosophic
scepticism " was in the ascendant, " resulting in a mistrust
of purely intellectual processes and in a recognition of the
limited scope of science." 1 His successor, Professor Bateson,
looking at things from the standpoint of a biologist, delivers
himself in very much the same strain. " My predecessor,"
he says, " said last year that in physics the age is one of
rapid progress and profound scepticism. In at least as high
a degree this is true of Biology, and as a chief characteristic
of modern evolutionary thought we must confess also to
a deep but irksome humility in presence of great vital
problems." 2

We have seen in the last chapter that great doubts have
been expressed as to the value of Natural Selection by many
biologists, and by none more so than the author of the
address in question, which may be quoted as the latest
and most magistral utterance on the subject. " We have
come to the conviction that the principle of Natural Selec-
tion cannot have been the chief factor in delimiting the

1 " Continuity," Dent, London, 1913, pp. 7, II.

* Bateson, " Presidential Address to British Association," Part I,
Melbourne, p. 9.



species of animals and plants such as we now, with fuller
knowledge, see them actually to be. We are even more
sceptical as to the validity of that appeal to changes in the
conditions of life as direct causes of modification, upon
which latterly at all events Darwin laid much emphasis "
(ibid. p. 2). " We go to Darwin for his incomparable col-
lection of facts. We would fain emulate his scholarship, his
width and his power of exposition, but to us he speaks no
more with philosophical authority. We read his scheme
of Evolution as we would those of Lucretius or Lamarck,
delighting in their simplicity and their courage " (ibid. p. 8).
And the outcome of all this : " We are just about where
Boyle was in the seventeenth century. We can dispose of
Alchemy, but we cannot make more than a quasi-chemistry.
We are awaiting our Priestley and our Mendel£ef "' (ibid.
p. 19). 1

It is not merely as to Natural Selection that doubt is
expressed, but as to other incidental portions of Darwin's
teaching. We have seen that this was the case as to Pan-
genesis, and it certainly is with regard to his views as to
the cumulative value of small variations : for Darwin
taught that it was in this way that the origin of species
came about. It is true that at times he wavered towards
the view that larger changes — saltations or mutations as
they are now called — might stand for something in evolu-
tion, but on the whole he was unfavourable to this view —
less favourable indeed than Huxley, who expressed the
opinion that Darwin had tied his own hands by too vigorous
a profession of faith in the formula Natura non facit saltum.
Nothing can now be more sure than that Nature does make

1 The reader who is unfamiliar with the stream of biological literature,
may be warned that the above views are those of one school and one school
only of biological workers. Diametrically opposite views are held by other
and equally distinguished biologists ; those who desire to study these in a
readable form may be referred to Poulton, " Darwin and the ' Origin,' '
London, Longmans, 1909; Ray Lankester, "The Kingdom of Man,"
London, Constable, 1907. It may be added that the confident language
of the address in relation to the all-powerfulness of Mendelism as a future
explanation of biological problems is the echo of the similar hopes expressed
as to Darwinism some forty years ago. It may quite well be re-echoed
forty years hence by some President of the same Association, proclaiming
the partial failure of Mendelism and extolling the coming conquest of the
scientific world by the fashionable theory of the day.


leaps, and whether we accept the statements of de Vries 1
to the full extent or not, it may safely be said that the
general opinion of biologists is entirely against the possi-
bility of any process of evolution having taken place by
means of small, slowly accumulating variations. It is at
any rate obvious that when we look out upon Nature we see
not a continuous but a discontinuous picture. Further, we
now know or think we know — on this point, indeed, we have
perhaps attained to greater certainty than mere thinking —
that the series-scheme so dear to the hearts of phylogenists,
is a delusion ; there is no evidence that the various
forms which can be fitted so beautifully into a series were
ever terms of any such series. " Presented with a collec-
tion of modern Sweet Peas, how prettily would the devotees
of Continuity have arranged them in a graduated series,
showing how every intergrade could be found, passing
from the full colour of the wild Sicilian species in one
direction to white, in the other to the deep purple of ' Black
Prince,' though happily we know these two to be among
the earliest to have appeared." 2 Here is a case in which
we know that the arrangement in series which a phylogenist
most certainly would have made would have been wholly
incorrect. We have the same information as to other similar
and apparently attractive phylogenetic arrangements : how
are we to know that many, perhaps all, of the other series
which have been unfolded for us are not equally fallacious ?
Take that commonplace of the text-book, the favourite
example of the small manuals of Evolution, the pedigree of
the horse, proclaimed in one of them 3 as " a conclusive
instance." Doubts had long ago been expressed as to this
series, and caution inculcated, by Sedgwick in his well-
known text-book of Zoology. 4 Is it not clear now that there
is some, perhaps much reason to suppose that this much-
lauded series is not a phylogenetic series at all ; not mono-
phyletic but polyphyletic ? The whole teaching of the wing
of biologists represented by Professor Bateson is in favour
of a polyphyletic origin of species — a view in which Father

1 In his " Species and Varieties," Chicago, 1905. * Bateson, i., p. 15.

* Saleeby, " Organic Evolution," London, Jack.

* For a recent discussion of the phylogeny of the horse see "The Theory
of Evolution," by W. B, Scott, New York, the Macmillian Co., 1917.


Wasmann, a biologist of great distinction, poles apart from
Bateson in other directions, concurs. 1

Then again it is more than doubtful whether any new
characteristics can be added in the process of evolution.
It has been pointed out that most mutations with which
we are acquainted are due to losses of one or perhaps even
more than one, of the characters of the wild type. De Vries
calls these " retrogressive mutations," and they appear to
follow the Mendelian laws of heredity, of which more has to be
said. It is obvious that a thornless rose would be a different
thing from the rose of the hedges, but the difference would
be caused by the loss of something — in this case the thorns —
and not by the addition of any new feature. But surely
new features do appear ? They certainly seem to do so,
but according to the authorities on Mendel, they are not
really new qualities in any proper sense of the word. They
are qualities which have all the time been there, but have
been " inhibited," as it is called, by other qualities, which
have prevented them from coming to the front. Two or
three boys may pass wholly unnoticed in a school because
they are downtrodden and made to keep in the background
by bullies : on the departure of the latter, the hitherto
neglected boys may take a prominent place in the politics
of their school. In like manner characteristics latent in
living things are thrust into the background by other
factors : if these factors happen to be eliminated, the
hidden things are made plain. But it must be noted that
this is not the case of a gain. On the contrary, the trans-
action which appears to end in a gain is really a loss, for
until the restraining qualities have been removed and thus
lost the hidden qualities cannot appear.

Finally, after a careful study of the vast field of experi-
ment on Mendelian lines which has marked the years since
Abbot Mendel's discovery was rediscovered, Lotsy has
answered, in the negative, the question as to whether there
is any such thing as spontaneous variation. In his opinion,
all that we call variation is really due to the crossing of well-

Online LibraryBertram Coghill Alan WindleThe church and science → online text (page 33 of 38)