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Evolution, Old & New

"The want of a practical acquaintance with Natural History leads the
author to take an erroneous view of the bearing of his own theories
on those of Mr. Darwin. - _Review of 'Life and Habit,' by Mr. A. R.
Wallace, in 'Nature,' March 27, 1879._

"Neither lastly would our observer be driven out of his conclusion,
or from his confidence in its truth, by being told that he knows
nothing at all about the matter. He knows enough for his argument;
he knows the utility of the end; he knows the subserviency and
adaptation of the means to the end. These points being known, his
ignorance concerning other points, his doubts concerning other
points, affect not the certainty of his reasoning. The consciousness
of knowing little need not beget a distrust of that which he does

Paley's '_Natural Theology_,' chap. i.

Evolution, Old & New

Or the Theories of Buffon, Dr. Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck,
as compared with that of Charles Darwin


Samuel Butler

New York
E. P. Dutton & Company
681 Fifth Avenue

_Made and printed in Great Britain_


The demand for a new edition of "Evolution, Old and New," gives me
an opportunity of publishing Butler's latest revision of his work.
The second edition of "Evolution, Old and New," which was published
in 1882 and re-issued with a new title-page in 1890, was merely a
re-issue of the first edition with a new preface, an appendix, and
an index. At a later date, though I cannot say precisely when,
Butler revised the text of the book in view of a future edition. The
corrections that he made are mainly verbal and do not, I think,
affect the argument to any considerable extent. Butler, however,
attached sufficient importance to them to incur the expense of
having the stereos of more than fifty pages cancelled and new
stereos substituted. I have also added a few entries to the index,
which are taken from a copy of the book, now in my possession, in
which Butler made a few manuscript notes.


_October, 1911._




Since the proof-sheets of the Appendix to this book left my hands,
finally corrected, and too late for me to be able to recast the first of
the two chapters that compose it, I hear, with the most profound regret,
of the death of Mr. Charles Darwin.

It being still possible for me to refer to this event in a preface, I
hasten to say how much it grates upon me to appear to renew my attack
upon Mr. Darwin under the present circumstances.

I have insisted in each of my three books on Evolution upon the
immensity of the service which Mr. Darwin rendered to that
transcendently important theory. In "Life and Habit," I said: "To the
end of time, if the question be asked, 'Who taught people to believe in
Evolution?' the answer must be that it was Mr. Darwin." This is true;
and it is hard to see what palm of higher praise can be awarded to any

I have always admitted myself to be under the deepest obligations to Mr.
Darwin's works; and it was with the greatest reluctance, not to say
repugnance, that I became one of his opponents. I have partaken of his
hospitality, and have had too much experience of the charming simplicity
of his manner not to be among the readiest to at once admire and envy
it. It is unfortunately true that I believe Mr. Darwin to have behaved
badly to me; this is too notorious to be denied; but at the same time I
cannot be blind to the fact that no man can be judge in his own case,
and that after all Mr. Darwin may have been right, and I wrong.

At the present moment, let me impress this latter alternative upon my
mind as far as possible, and dwell only upon that side of Mr. Darwin's
work and character, about which there is no difference of opinion among
either his admirers or his opponents.

_April 21, 1882._


Contrary to the advice of my friends, who caution me to avoid all
appearance of singularity, I venture upon introducing a practice, the
expediency of which I will submit to the judgment of the reader. It is
one which has been adopted by musicians for more than a century - to the
great convenience of all who are fond of music - and I observe that
within the last few years two such distinguished painters as Mr.
Alma-Tadema and Mr. Hubert Herkomer have taken to it. It is a matter for
regret that the practice should not have been general at an earlier
date, not only among painters and musicians, but also among the people
who write books. It consists in signifying the number of a piece of
music, picture, or book by the abbreviation "Op." and the number
whatever it may happen to be.

No work can be judged intelligently unless not only the author's
relations to his surroundings, but also the relation in which the work
stands to the life and other works of the author, is understood and
borne in mind; nor do I know any way of conveying this information at a
glance, comparable to that which I now borrow from musicians. When we
see the number against a work of Beethoven, we need ask no further to be
informed concerning the general character of the music. The same holds
good more or less with all composers. Handel's works were not
numbered - not at least his operas and oratorios. Had they been so, the
significance of the numbers on Susanna and Theodora would have been at
once apparent, connected as they would have been with the number on
Jephthah, Handel's next and last work, in which he emphatically
repudiates the influence which, perhaps in a time of self-distrust, he
had allowed contemporary German music to exert over him. Many painters
have dated their works, but still more have neglected doing so, and some
of these have been not a little misconceived in consequence. As for
authors, it is unnecessary to go farther back than Lord Beaconsfield,
Thackeray, Dickens, and Scott, to feel how much obliged we should have
been to any custom that should have compelled them to number their works
in the order in which they were written. When we think of Shakespeare,
any doubt which might remain as to the advantage of the proposed
innovation is felt to disappear.

My friends, to whom I urged all the above, and more, met me by saying
that the practice was doubtless a very good one in the abstract, but
that no one was particularly likely to want to know in what order my
books had been written. To which I answered that even a bad book which
introduced so good a custom would not be without value, though the value
might lie in the custom, and not in the book itself; whereon, seeing
that I was obstinate, they left me, and interpreting their doing so into
at any rate a modified approbation of my design, I have carried it into

The edition of the 'Philosophie Zoologique' referred to in the following
volume, is that edited by M. Chas. Martins, Paris, Librairie F. Savy,
24, Rue de Hautefeuille, 1873.

The edition of the 'Origin of Species' is that of 1876, unless another
edition be especially named.

The italics throughout the book are generally mine, except in the
quotations from Miss Seward, where they are all her own.

I am anxious also to take the present opportunity of acknowledging the
obligations I am under to my friend Mr. H. F. Jones, and to other
friends (who will not allow me to mention their names, lest more errors
should be discovered than they or I yet know of), for the invaluable
assistance they have given me while this work was going through the
press. If I am able to let it go before the public with any comfort or
peace of mind, I owe it entirely to the carefulness of their

I am also greatly indebted to Mr. Garnett, of the British Museum, for
having called my attention to many works and passages of which otherwise
I should have known nothing.

_March 31, 1879._



Statement of the Question - Current Opinion adverse to
Teleology 1


The Teleology of Paley and the Theologians 12


Impotence of Paley's Conclusion - The Teleology of the
Evolutionist 24


Failure of the First Evolutionists to see their Position
as Teleological 34


The Teleological Evolution of Organism - The Philosophy
of the Unconscious 43


Scheme of the Remainder of the Work - Historical Sketch
of the Theory of Evolution 60


Pre-Buffonian Evolution, and some German Writers 68


Buffon - Memoir 74


Buffon's Method - The Ironical Character of his Work 78


Supposed Fluctuations of Opinion - Causes or Means of
the Transformation of Species 97


Buffon - Puller Quotations 107


Sketch of Dr. Erasmus Darwin's Life 173


Philosophy of Dr. Erasmus Darwin 195


Fuller Quotations from the 'Zoonomia' 214


Memoir of Lamarck 235


General Misconception concerning Lamarck - His
Philosophical Position 244


Summary of the 'Philosophie Zoologique' 261


Mr. Patrick Matthew, MM. √Йtienne and Isidore Geoffroy
St. Hilaire, and Mr. Herbert Spencer 315


Main Points of Agreement and of Difference between the
Old and New Theories of Evolution 335


Natural Selection considered as a Means of Modification - The
Confusion which this Expression occasions 345


Mr. Darwin's Defence of the Expression, Natural
Selection - Professor Mivart and Natural Selection 362


The Case of the Madeira Beetles as illustrating the
Difference between the Evolution of Lamarck and
of Mr. Charles Darwin - Conclusion 373






Of all the questions now engaging the attention of those whose destiny
has commanded them to take more or less exercise of mind, I know of none
more interesting than that which deals with what is called
teleology - that is to say, with design or purpose, as evidenced by the
different parts of animals and plants.

The question may be briefly stated thus: -

Can we or can we not see signs in the structure of animals and plants,
of something which carries with it the idea of contrivance so strongly
that it is impossible for us to think of the structure, without at the
same time thinking of contrivance, or design, in connection with it?

It is my object in the present work to answer this question in the
affirmative, and to lead my reader to agree with me, perhaps mainly, by
following the history of that opinion which is now supposed to be fatal
to a purposive view of animal and vegetable organs. I refer to the
theory of evolution or descent with modification.

Let me state the question more at large.

When we see organs, or living tools - for there is no well-developed
organ of any living being which is not used by its possessor as an
instrument or tool for the effecting of some purpose which he considers
or has considered for his advantage - when we see living tools which are
as admirably fitted for the work required of them, as is the carpenter's
plane for planing, or the blacksmith's hammer and anvil for the
hammering of iron, or the tailor's needle for sewing, what conclusion
shall we adopt concerning them?

Shall we hold that they must have been designed or contrived, not
perhaps by mental processes indistinguishable from those by which the
carpenter's saw or the watch has been designed, but still by processes
so closely resembling these that no word can be found to express the
facts of the case so nearly as the word "design"? That is to say, shall
we imagine that they were arrived at by a living mind as the result of
scheming and contriving, and thinking (not without occasional mistakes)
which of the courses open to it seemed best fitted for the occasion, or
are we to regard the apparent connection between such an organ, we will
say, as the eye, and the sight which is affected by it, as in no way due
to the design or plan of a living intelligent being, but as caused
simply by the accumulation, one upon another, of an almost infinite
series of small pieces of good fortune?

In other words, shall we see something for which, as Professor Mivart
has well said, "to us the word 'mind' is the least inadequate and
misleading symbol," as having given to the eagle an eyesight which can
pierce the sun, but which, in the night is powerless; while to the owl
it has given eyes which shun even the full moon, but find a soft
brilliancy in darkness? Or shall we deny that there has been any purpose
or design in the fashioning of these different kinds of eyes, and see
nothing to make us believe that any living being made the eagle's eye
out of something which was not an eye nor anything like one, or that
this living being implanted this particular eye of all others in the
eagle's head, as being most in accordance with the habits of the
creature, and as therefore most likely to enable it to live contentedly
and leave plenitude of offspring? And shall we then go on to maintain
that the eagle's eye was formed little by little by a series of
accidental variations, each one of which was thrown for, as it were,
with dice?

We shall most of us feel that there must have been a little cheating
somewhere with these accidental variations before the eagle could have
become so great a winner.

I believe I have now stated the question at issue so plainly that there
can be no mistake about its nature, I will therefore proceed to show as
briefly as possible what have been the positions taken in regard to it
by our forefathers, by the leaders of opinion now living, and what I
believe will be the next conclusion that will be adopted for any length
of time by any considerable number of people.

In the times of the ancients the preponderance of opinion was in favour
of teleology, though impugners were not wanting. Aristotle[1] leant
towards a denial of purpose, while Plato[2] was a firm believer in
design. From the days of Plato to our own times, there have been but few
objectors to the teleological or purposive view of nature. If an animal
had an eye, that eye was regarded as something which had been designed
in order to enable its owner to see after such fashion as should be most
to its advantage.

This, however, is now no longer the prevailing opinion either in this
country or in Germany.

Professor Haeckel holds a high place among the leaders of German
philosophy at the present day. He declares a belief in evolution and in
purposiveness to be incompatible, and denies purpose in language which
holds out little prospect of a compromise.

"As soon, in fact," he writes, "as we acknowledge the exclusive activity
of the physico-chemical causes in living (organic) bodies as well as in
so-called inanimate (inorganic) nature," - and this is what Professor
Haeckel holds we are bound to do if we accept the theory of descent with
modification - "we concede exclusive dominion to that view of the
universe, which we may designate as _mechanical_, and which is opposed
to the teleological conception. If we compare all the ideas of the
universe prevalent among different nations at different times, we can
divide them all into two sharply contrasted groups - a _causal_ or
_mechanical_, and a _teleological_ or _vitalistic_. The latter has
prevailed generally in biology until now, and accordingly the animal and
vegetable kingdoms have been considered as the products of a creative
power, acting for a definite purpose. In the contemplation of every
organism, the unavoidable conviction seemed to press itself upon us,
that such a wonderful machine, so complicated an apparatus for motion as
exists in the organism, could only be produced by a power analogous to,
but infinitely more powerful than the power of man in the construction
of his machines."[3]

A little lower down he continues: -

"_I maintain with regard to_" this "_much talked of 'purpose in nature'
that it has no existence but for those persons who observe phenomena in
plants and animals in the most superficial manner_. Without going more
deeply into the matter, we can see at once that the rudimentary organs
are a formidable obstacle to this theory. And, indeed, anyone who makes
a really close study of the organization and mode of life of the various
animals and plants, ... must necessarily come to the conclusion, that
this 'purposiveness' no more exists than the much talked of
'beneficence' of the Creator."[4]

Professor Haeckel justly sees no alternative between, upon the one hand,
the creation of independent species by a Personal God - by a "Creator,"
in fact, who "becomes an organism, who designs a plan, reflects upon and
varies this plan, and finally forms creatures according to it, as a
human architect would construct his building,"[5] - and the denial of all
plan or purpose whatever. There can be no question but that he is right
here. To talk of a "designer" who has no tangible existence, no organism
with which to think, no bodily mechanism with which to carry his
purposes into effect; whose design is not design inasmuch as it has to
contend with no impediments from ignorance or impotence, and who thus
contrives but by a sort of make-believe in which there is no
contrivance; who has a familiar name, but nothing beyond a name which
any human sense has ever been able to perceive - this is an abuse of
words - an attempt to palm off a shadow upon our understandings as though
it were a substance. It is plain therefore that there must either be a
designer who "becomes an organism, designs a plan, &c.," or that there
can be no designer at all and hence no design.

We have seen which of these alternatives Professor Haeckel has adopted.
He holds that those who accept evolution are bound to reject all
"purposiveness." And here, as I have intimated, I differ from him, for
reasons which will appear presently. I believe in an organic and
tangible designer of every complex structure, for so long a time past,
as that reasonable people will be incurious about all that occurred at
any earlier time.

Professor Clifford, again, is a fair representative of opinions which
are finding favour with the majority of our own thinkers. He writes: -

"There are here some words, however, which require careful definition.
And first the word purpose. A thing serves a purpose when it is adapted
for some end; thus a corkscrew is adapted to the end of extracting corks
from bottles, and our lungs are adapted to the end of respiration. We
may say that the extraction of corks is the purpose of the corkscrew,
and that respiration is the purpose of the lungs, but here we shall have
used the word in two different senses. A man made the corkscrew with a
purpose in his mind, and he knew and intended that it should be used for
pulling out corks. _But nobody made our lungs with a purpose in his mind
and intended that they should be used for breathing._ The respiratory
apparatus was adapted to its purpose by natural selection, namely, by
the gradual preservation of better and better adaptations, and by the
killing-off of the worse and imperfect adaptations."[6]

No denial of anything like design could be more explicit. For Professor
Clifford is well aware that the very essence of the "Natural Selection"
theory, is that the variations shall have been mainly accidental and
without design of any sort, but that the adaptations of structure to
need shall have come about by the accumulation, through natural
selection, of any variation that _happened_ to be favourable.

It will be my business on a later page not only to show that the lungs
are as purposive as the corkscrew, but furthermore that if drawing corks
had been a matter of as much importance to us as breathing is, the list
of our organs would have been found to comprise one corkscrew at the
least, and possibly two, twenty, or ten thousand; even as we see that
the trowel without which the beaver cannot plaster its habitation in
such fashion as alone satisfies it, is incorporate into the beaver's own
body by way of a tail, the like of which is to be found in no other

To take a name which carries with it a far greater authority, that of
Mr. Charles Darwin. He writes: -

"It is scarcely possible to avoid comparing the eye with a telescope. We
know that this instrument has been perfected by the long-continued
efforts of the highest human intellects; and we naturally infer that the
eye has been formed by a somewhat analogous process. But may not this
inference be presumptuous? Have we any right to declare that the Creator
works by intellectual powers like those of man?"[7]

Here purposiveness is not indeed denied point-blank, but the intention
of the author is unmistakable, it is to refer the wonderful result to
the gradual accumulation of small accidental improvements which were not
due as a rule, if at all, to anything "analogous" to design.

"Variation," he says, "will cause the slight alterations;" that is to
say, the slight successive variations whose accumulation results in such
a marvellous structure as the eye, are caused by - variation; or in other
words, they are indefinite, due to nothing that we can lay our hands
upon, and therefore certainly not due to design. "Generation," continues
Mr. Darwin, "will multiply them almost infinitely, and natural selection
will pick out with unerring skill each improvement. Let this process go
on for millions of years, and during each year on millions of
individuals of many kinds; and may we not believe that a living optical
instrument might be thus formed as superior to one of glass, as the
works of the Creator are to those of man?"[8]

The reader will observe that the only skill - and this involves
design - supposed by Mr. Darwin to be exercised in the foregoing process,
is the "unerring skill" of natural selection. Natural selection,
however, is, as he himself tells us, a synonym for the survival of the
fittest, which last he declares to be the "more accurate" expression,
and to be "sometimes" equally convenient.[9] It is clear then that he
only speaks metaphorically when he here assigns "unerring skill" to the
fact that the fittest individuals commonly live longest and transmit
most offspring, and that he sees no evidence of design in the numerous
slight successive "alterations" - or variations - which are "caused by

It were easy to multiply quotations which should prove that the denial
of "purposiveness" is commonly conceived to be the inevitable
accompaniment of a belief in evolution. I will, however, content myself
with but one more - from Isidore Geoffroy St. Hilaire.

"Whoever," says this author, "holds the doctrine of final causes, will,
if he is consistent, hold also that of the immutability of species; and
again, the opponent of the one doctrine will oppose the other also."[10]

Nothing can be plainer; I believe, however, that even without quotation
the reader would have recognized the accuracy of my contention that a
belief in the purposiveness or design of animal and vegetable organs is
commonly held to be incompatible with the belief that they have all been
evolved from one, or at any rate, from not many original, and low, forms
of life. Generally, however, as this incompatibility is accepted, it is

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