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be worth turning. To make the suggestion more entertaining than it would
be to most people in the form of a biological treatise, I have written
Back to Methuselah as a contribution to the modern Bible.

Many people, however, can read treatises and cannot read Bibles. Darwin
could not read Shakespear. Some who can read both, like to learn the
history of their ideas. Some are so entangled in the current confusion
of Creative Evolution with Circumstantial Selection by their historical
ignorance that they are puzzled by any distinction between the two.
For all their sakes I must give here a little history of the conflict
between the view of Evolution taken by the Darwinians (though not
altogether by Darwin himself) and called Natural Selection, and that
which is emerging, under the title of Creative Evolution, as the
genuinely scientific religion for which all wise men are now anxiously


The idea of Evolution, or Transformation as it is now sometimes called,
was not first conceived by Charles Darwin, nor by Alfred Russel Wallace,
who observed the operation of Circumstantial Selection simultaneously
with Charles. The celebrated Buffoon was a better Evolutionist than
either of them; and two thousand years before Buffon was born, the Greek
philosopher Empedocles opined that all forms of life are transformations
of four elements, Fire, Air, Earth, and Water, effected by the two
innate forces of attraction and repulsion, or love and hate. As lately
as 1860 I myself was taught as a child that everything was made out of
these four elements. Both the Empedocleans and the Evolutionists were
opposed to those who believed in the separate creation of all forms
of life as described in the book of Genesis. This 'conflict between
religion and science', as the phrase went then, did not perplex my
infant mind in the least: I knew perfectly well, without knowing that I
knew it, that the validity of a story is not the same as the occurrence
of a fact. But as I grew up I found that I had to choose between
Evolution and Genesis. If you believed that dogs and cats and snakes
and birds and beetles and oysters and whales and men and women were all
separately designed and made and named in Eden garden at the beginning
of things, and have since survived simply by reproducing their kind,
then you were not an Evolutionist. If you believed, on the contrary,
that all the different species are modifications, variations, and
elaborations of one primal stock, or even of a few primal stocks, then
you were an Evolutionist. But you were not necessarily a Darwinian; for
you might have been a modern Evolutionist twenty years before Charles
Darwin was born, and a whole lifetime before he published his Origin of
Species. For that matter, when Aristotle grouped animals with backbones
as blood relations, he began the sort of classification which, when
extended by Darwin to monkeys and men, so shocked my uncle.

Genesis had held the field until the time (1707-1778) of Linnaeus the
famous botanist. In the meantime the microscope had been invented. It
revealed a new world of hitherto invisible creatures called Infusorians,
as common water was found to be an infusion of them. In the eighteenth
century naturalists were very keen on the Infusorian Amoebas, and were
much struck by the way in which the members of this old family behaved
and developed. But it was still possible for Linnaeus to begin a
treatise by saying 'There are just so many species as there were forms
created in the beginning,' though there were hundreds of commonplace
Scotch gardeners, pigeon fanciers, and stock breeders then living who
knew better. Linnaeus himself knew better before he died. In the
last edition of his System of Nature, he began to wonder whether the
transmutation of species by variation might not be possible. Then came
the great poet who jumped over the facts to the conclusion. Goethe said
that all the shapes of creation were cousins; that there must be some
common stock from which all the species had sprung; that it was the
environment of air that had produced the eagle, of water the seal, and
of earth the mole. He could not say how this happened; but he divined
that it did happen. Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles, carried
the environment theory much further, pointing out instance after
instance of modifications made in species apparently to adapt it to
circumstances and environment: for instance, that the brilliant colors
of the leopard, which make it so conspicuous in Regent's Park, conceal
it in a tropical jungle. Finally he wrote, as his declaration of faith,
'The world has been evolved, not created: it has arisen little by little
from a small beginning, and has increased through the activity of the
elemental forces embodied in itself, and so has rather grown than come
into being at an almighty word. What a sublime idea of the infinite
might of the great Architect, the Cause of all causes, the Father of all
fathers, the Ens Entium! For if we would compare the Infinite, it would
surely require a greater Infinite to cause the causes of effects than to
produce the effects themselves.' In this, published in the year 1794,
you have nineteenth-century Evolution precisely defined. And Erasmus
Darwin was by no means its only apostle. It was in the air then. A
German biologist named Treviranus, whose book was published in 1802,
wrote, 'In every living being there exists a capacity for endless
diversity of form. Each possesses the power of adapting its organization
to the variations of the external world; and it is this power, called
into activity by cosmic changes, which has enabled the simple zoophytes
of the primitive world to climb to higher and higher stages of
organization, and has brought endless variety into nature.' There you
have your evolution of Man from the amoeba all complete whilst Nelson
was still alive on the seas. And in 1809, before the battle of Waterloo,
a French soldier named Lamarck, who had beaten his musket into a
microscope and turned zoologist, declared that species were an illusion
produced by the shortness of our individual lives, and that they were
constantly changing and melting into one another and into new forms as
surely as the hand of a clock is continually moving, though it moves so
slowly that it looks stationary to us. We have since come to think that
its industry is less continuous: that the clock stops for a long time,
and then is suddenly 'put on' by a mysterious finger. But never mind
that just at present.


I call your special attention to Lamarck, because later on there were
Neo-Lamarckians as well as Neo-Darwinians. I was a Neo-Lamarckian.
Lamarck passed on from the conception of Evolution as a general law to
Charles Darwin's department of it, which was the method of Evolution.
Lamarck, whilst making many ingenious suggestions as to the reaction
of external causes on life and habit, such as changes of climate,
food supply, geological upheavals and so forth, really held as his
fundamental proposition that living organisms changed because they
wanted to. As he stated it, the great factor in Evolution is use and
disuse. If you have no eyes, and want to see, and keep trying to see,
you will finally get eyes. If, like a mole or a subterranean fish, you
have eyes and dont want to see, you will lose your eyes. If you like
eating the tender tops of trees enough to make you concentrate all your
energies on the stretching of your neck, you will finally get a long
neck, like the giraffe. This seems absurd to inconsiderate people at the
first blush; but it is within the personal experience of all of us that
it is just by this process that a child tumbling about the floor becomes
a boy walking erect; and that a man sprawling on the road with a bruised
chin, or supine on the ice with a bashed occiput, becomes a bicyclist
and a skater. The process is not continuous, as it would be if mere
practice had anything to do with it; for though you may improve at each
bicycling lesson _during_ the lesson, when you begin your next lesson
you do not begin at the point at which you left off: you relapse
apparently to the beginning. Finally, you succeed quite suddenly, and do
not relapse again. More miraculous still, you at once exercise the new
power unconsciously. Although you are adapting your front wheel to your
balance so elaborately and actively that the accidental locking of your
handle bars for a second will throw you off; though five minutes before
you could not do it at all, yet now you do it as unconsciously as you
grow your finger nails. You have a new faculty, and must have created
some new bodily tissue as its organ. And you have done it solely by
willing. For here there can be no question of Circumstantial Selection,
or the survival of the fittest. The man who is learning how to ride
a bicycle has no advantage over the non-cyclist in the struggle for
existence: quite the contrary. He has acquired a new habit, an automatic
unconscious habit, solely because he wanted to, and kept trying until it
was added unto him.


But when your son tries to skate or bicycle in his turn, he does not
pick up the accomplishment where you left it, any more than he is born
six feet high with a beard and a tall hat. The set-back that occurred
between your lessons occurs again. The race learns exactly as the
individual learns. Your son relapses, not to the very beginning, but to
a point which no mortal method of measurement can distinguish from the
beginning. Now this is odd; for certain other habits of yours, equally
acquired (to the Evolutionist, of course, all habits are acquired),
equally unconscious, equally automatic, are transmitted without any
perceptible relapse. For instance, the very first act of your son
when he enters the world as a separate individual is to yell with
indignation: that yell which Shakespear thought the most tragic and
piteous of all sounds. In the act of yelling he begins to breathe:
another habit, and not even a necessary one, as the object of breathing
can be achieved in other ways, as by deep sea fishes. He circulates his
blood by pumping it with his heart. He demands a meal, and proceeds at
once to perform the most elaborate chemical operations on the food he
swallows. He manufactures teeth; discards them; and replaces them with
fresh ones. Compared to these habitual feats, walking, standing upright,
and bicycling are the merest trifles; yet it is only by going through
the wanting, trying process that he can stand, walk, or cycle, whereas
in the other and far more difficult and complex habits he not only does
not consciously want nor consciously try, but actually consciously
objects very strongly. Take that early habit of cutting the teeth: would
he do that if he could help it? Take that later habit of decaying and
eliminating himself by death - equally an acquired habit, remember - how
he abhors it! Yet the habit has become so rooted, so automatic, that he
must do it in spite of himself, even to his own destruction.

We have here a routine which, given time enough for it to operate, will
finally produce the most elaborate forms of organized life on Lamarckian
lines without the intervention of Circumstantial Selection at all. If
you can turn a pedestrian into a cyclist, and a cyclist into a pianist
or violinist, without the intervention of Circumstantial Selection, you
can turn an amoeba into a man, or a man into a superman, without it. All
of which is rank heresy to the Neo-Darwinian, who imagines that if
you stop Circumstantial Selection, you not only stop development but
inaugurate a rapid and disastrous degeneration.

Let us fix the Lamarckian evolutionary process well in our minds. You
are alive; and you want to be more alive. You want an extension of
consciousness and of power. You want, consequently, additional organs,
or additional uses of your existing organs: that is, additional habits.
You get them because you want them badly enough to keep trying for them
until they come. Nobody knows how: nobody knows why: all we know is that
the thing actually takes place. We relapse miserably from effort to
effort until the old organ is modified or the new one created, when
suddenly the impossible becomes possible and the habit is formed. The
moment we form it we want to get rid of the consciousness of it so as
to economize our consciousness for fresh conquests of life; as all
consciousness means preoccupation and obstruction. If we had to think
about breathing or digesting or circulating our blood we should have
no attention to spare for anything else, as we find to our cost when
anything goes wrong with these operations. We want to be unconscious of
them just as we wanted to acquire them; and we finally win what we want.
But we win unconsciousness of our habits at the cost of losing our
control of them; and we also build one habit and its corresponding
functional modification of our organs on another, and so become
dependent on our old habits. Consequently we have to persist in them
even when they hurt us. We cannot stop breathing to avoid an attack of
asthma, or to escape drowning. We can lose a habit and discard an organ
when we no longer need them, just as we acquired them; but this process
is slow and broken by relapses; and relics of the organ and the habit
long survive its utility. And if other and still indispensable habits
and modifications have been built on the ones we wish to discard, we
must provide a new foundation for them before we demolish the old one.
This is also a slow process and a very curious one.


The relapses between the efforts to acquire a habit are important
because, as we have seen, they recur not only from effort to effort in
the case of the individual, but from generation to generation in the
case of the race. This relapsing from generation to generation is an
invariable characteristic of the evolutionary process. For instance,
Raphael, though descended from eight uninterrupted generations of
painters, had to learn to paint apparently as if no Sanzio had ever
handled a brush before. But he had also to learn to breathe, and digest,
and circulate his blood. Although his father and mother were fully grown
adults when he was conceived, he was not conceived or even born fully
grown: he had to go back and begin as a speck of protoplasm, and to
struggle through an embryonic lifetime, during part of which he was
indistinguishable from an embryonic dog, and had neither a skull nor a
backbone. When he at last acquired these articles, he was for some time
doubtful whether he was a bird or a fish. He had to compress untold
centuries of development into nine months before he was human enough
to break loose as an independent being. And even then he was still so
incomplete that his parents might well have exclaimed 'Good Heavens!
have you learnt nothing from our experience that you come into the world
in this ridiculously elementary state? Why cant you talk and walk and
paint and behave decently?' To that question Baby Raphael had no answer.
All he could have said was that this is how evolution or transformation
happens. The time may come when the same force that compressed the
development of millions of years into nine months may pack many more
millions into even a shorter space; so that Raphaels may be born
painters as they are now born breathers and blood circulators. But they
will still begin as specks of protoplasm, and acquire the faculty of
painting in their mother's womb at quite a late stage of their embryonic
life. They must recapitulate the history of mankind in their own
persons, however briefly they may condense it.

Nothing was so astonishing and significant in the discoveries of the
embryologists, nor anything so absurdly little appreciated, as this
recapitulation, as it is now called: this power of hurrying up into
months a process which was once so long and tedious that the mere
contemplation of it is unendurable by men whose span of life is
three-score-and-ten. It widened human possibilities to the extent of
enabling us to hope that the most prolonged and difficult operation of
our minds may yet become instantaneous, or, as we call it, instinctive.
It also directed our attention to examples of this packing up of
centuries into seconds which were staring us in the face in all
directions. As I write these lines the newspapers are occupied by the
exploits of a child of eight, who has just defeated twenty adult chess
players in twenty games played simultaneously, and has been able
afterwards to reconstruct all the twenty games without any apparent
effort of memory. Most people, including myself, play chess (when they
play it at all) from hand to mouth, and can hardly recall the last move
but one, or foresee the next but two. Also, when I have to make an
arithmetical calculation, I have to do it step by step with pencil and
paper, slowly, reluctantly, and with so little confidence in the result
that I dare not act on it without 'proving' the sum by a further
calculation involving more ciphering. But there are men who can neither
read, write, nor cipher, to whom the answer to such sums as I can do
is instantly obvious without any conscious calculation at all; and the
result is infallible. Yet some of these natural arithmeticians have but
a small vocabulary; are at a loss when they have to find words for any
but the simplest everyday occasions; and cannot for the life of them
describe mechanical operations which they perform daily in the course of
their trade; whereas to me the whole vocabulary of English literature,
from Shakespear to the latest edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica,
is so completely and instantaneously at my call that I have never had
to consult even a thesaurus except once or twice when for some reason I
wanted a third or fourth synonym. Again, though I have tried and failed
to draw recognizable portraits of persons I have seen every day for
years, Mr Bernard Partridge, having seen a man once, will, without more
strain than is involved in eating a sandwich, draw him to the life. The
keyboard of a piano is a device I have never been able to master; yet Mr
Cyril Scott uses it exactly as I use my own fingers; and to Sir Edward
Elgar an orchestral score is as instantaneously intelligible at sight as
a page of Shakespear is to me. One man cannot, after trying for years,
finger the flute fluently. Another will take up a flute with a newly
invented arrangement of keys on it, and play it at once with hardly a
mistake. We find people to whom writing is so difficult that they prefer
to sign their name with a mark, and beside them men who master systems
of shorthand and improvise new systems of their own as easily as they
learnt the alphabet. These contrasts are to be seen on all hands, and
have nothing to do with variations in general intelligence, nor even
in the specialized intelligence proper to the faculty in question: for
example, no composer or dramatic poet has ever pretended to be able to
perform all the parts he writes for the singers, actors, and players who
are his executants. One might as well expect Napoleon to be a fencer, or
the Astronomer Royal to know how many beans make five any better than
his bookkeeper. Even exceptional command of language does not imply the
possession of ideas to express; Mezzofanti, the master of fifty-eight
languages, had less to say in them than Shakespear with his little Latin
and less Greek; and public life is the paradise of voluble windbags.

All these examples, which might be multiplied by millions, are cases in
which a long, laborious, conscious, detailed process of acquirement has
been condensed into an instinctive and unconscious inborn one. Factors
which formerly had to be considered one by one in succession are
integrated into what seems a single simple factor. Chains of hardly
soluble problems have coalesced in one problem which solves itself
the moment it is raised. What is more, they have been pushed back (or
forward, if you like) from post-natal to pre-natal ones. The child
in the womb may take some time over them; but it is a miraculously
shortened time.

The time phenomena involved are curious, and suggest that we are either
wrong about our history or else that we enormously exaggerate the
periods required for the pre-natal acquirement of habits. In the
nineteenth century we talked very glibly about geological periods, and
flung millions of eons about in the most lordly manner in our reaction
against Archbishop Ussher's chronology. We had a craze for big figures,
and positively liked to believe that the progress made by the child in
the womb in a month was represented in prehistoric time by ages and
ages. We insisted that Evolution advanced more slowly than any snail
ever crawled, and that Nature does not proceed by leaps and bounds. This
was all very well as long as we were dealing with such acquired habits
as breathing or digestion. It was possible to believe that dozens of
epochs had gone to the slow building up of these habits. But when we
have to consider the case of a man born not only as an accomplished
metabolist, but with such an aptitude for shorthand and keyboard
manipulation that he is a stenographer or pianist at least five sixths
ready-made as soon as he can control his hands intelligently, we
are forced to suspect either that keyboards and shorthand are older
inventions than we suppose, or else that acquirements can be assimilated
and stored as congenital qualifications in a shorter time than we think;
so that, as between Lyell and Archbishop Ussher, the laugh may not be
with Lyell quite so uproariously as it seemed fifty years ago.


It is evident that the evolutionary process is a hereditary one, or,
to put it less drily, that human life is continuous and immortal. The
Evolutionists took heredity for granted. So did everybody. The human
mind has been soaked in heredity as long back as we can trace its
thought. Hereditary peers, hereditary monarchs, hereditary castes and
trades and classes were the best known of social institutions, and in
some cases of public nuisances. Pedigree men counted pedigree dogs and
pedigree horses among their most cherished possessions. Far from being
unconscious of heredity, or sceptical, men were insanely credulous about
it: they not only believed in the transmission of qualities and habits
from generation to generation, but expected the son to begin mentally
where the father left off.

This belief in heredity led naturally to the practice of Intentional
Selection. Good blood and breeding were eagerly sought after in human
marriage. In dealing with plants and animals, selection with a view to
the production of new varieties and the improvement and modification of
species had been practised ever since men began to cultivate them. My
pre-Darwinian uncle knew as well as Darwin that the race-horse and the
dray-horse are not separate creations from the Garden of Eden, but
adaptations by deliberate human selection of the medieval war-horse to
modern racing and industrial haulage. He knew that there are nearly
two hundred different sorts of dogs, all capable of breeding with one
another and of producing cross varieties unknown to Adam. He knew that
the same thing is true of pigeons. He knew that gardeners had spent
their lives trying to breed black tulips and green carnations and
unheard-of orchids, and had actually produced flowers just as strange
to Eve. His quarrel with the Evolutionists was not a quarrel with the
evidence for Evolution: he had accepted enough of it to prove Evolution
ten times over before he ever heard of it. What he repudiated was
cousinship with the ape, and the implied suspicion of a rudimentary
tail, because it was offensive to his sense of his own dignity, and
because he thought that apes were ridiculous, and tails diabolical when
associated with the erect posture. Also he believed that Evolution was
a heresy which involved the destruction of Christianity, of which, as
a member of the Irish Church (the pseudo-Protestant one), he conceived
himself a pillar. But this was only his ignorance; for man may deny his
descent from an ape and be eligible as a churchwarden without being any
the less a convinced Evolutionist.


What is more, the religious folk can claim to be among the pioneers of
Evolutionism. Weismann, Neo-Darwinist though he was, devoted a long
passage in his History of Evolution to the Nature Philosophy of Lorenz

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