Page:Origin of Species 1872.djvu/178

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instances, can we understand the graduated scale of complexity and the multifarious means for gaining the same end. The answer no doubt is, as already remarked, that when two forms vary, which already differ from each other in some slight degree, the variability will not be of the same exact nature, and consequently the results obtained through natural selection for the same general purpose will not be the same. We should also bear in mind that every highly developed organism has passed through many changes; and that each modified structure tends to be inherited, so that each modification will not readily be quite lost, but may be again and again further altered. Hence, the structure of each part of each species, for whatever purpose it may serve, is the sum of many inherited changes, through which the species has passed during its successive adaptations to changed habits and conditions of life.

Finally, then, although in many cases it is most difficult even to conjecture by what transitions organs could have arrived at their present state; yet, considering how small the proportion of living and known forms is to the extinct and unknown, I have been astonished how rarely an organ can be named, towards which no transitional grade is known to lead. It is certainly true, that new organs appearing as if created for some special purpose rarely or never appear in any being;— as indeed is shown by that old, but somewhat exaggerated, canon in natural history of "Natura non facit saltum." We meet with this admission in the writings of almost every experienced naturalist; or, as Milne Edwards has well expressed it, Nature is prodigal in variety, but niggard in innovation. Why, on the theory of Creation, should there be so much variety and so little real novelty? Why should all the parts and organs of many independent beings, each supposed to have been separately created for its own proper place in nature, be so commonly linked together by graduated steps? Why should not Nature take a sudden leap from structure to structure? On the theory of natural selection, we can clearly understand why she should not; for natural selection acts only by taking advantage of slight successive variations; she can never take a great and sudden leap, but must advance by the short and sure, though slow steps.


Organs of little apparent Importance, as affected by Natural Selection.

As natural selection acts by life and death,— by the survival of the fittest, and by the destruction of the less well-fitted individuals,— I have sometimes felt great difficulty in understanding the origin or formation of parts of little importance; almost as