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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/811

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791
A DEFENSE OF MODERN THOUGHT.

abroad, Lad there not been a united country behind them. It was the virtues, not the vices, of the Roman people that enabled them to conquer the world. It was their vices, not their virtues, that led to their fall. Fitness to survive is a quality the import of which varies according to circumstances. In shipwrecks (to pursue his lordship's illustrations) the fit to survive are those who can swim, or who have readiness of resource or strength of constitution. In famines and pestilences the physically stronger will as a rule survive; though here prudence and self-control become also most important elements of safety. Let it always be remembered that the problem with which evolutionary philosophy has to grapple is not how to account for a perfect world, or a perfect state of society, but how to account for just such a mingling of good and evil (accompanied by general tendencies toward good) as we actually witness. This once settled, most of the objections of the theologians would be seen to fall wide of the mark.

To persons unfamiliar, or but slightly familiar, with the present subject, it is possible that the Bishop of Ontario may appear to have touched a weak point in the doctrine under discussion where he says: "Laws of nature should be obeyed and co-operated with, not fought against and thwarted; and, if the survival of the fittest be one of those laws, we ought to abolish all hospitals and asylums for the blind, the deaf, the drunkard, the idiot, and the lunatic, and we ought to expose to death all sickly, puny, and superfluous infants." A word, therefore, in regard to this objection may not be thrown away. The first observation to make is, that there is nothing whatever in the law of the survival of the fittest, as understood by men of science to-day, which could possibly be converted into a rule of conduct. The scientific world is not aware that Nature has any ends in view, or is capable of having any ends in view, which she needs the help of man to enable her to realize. Science does not attribute purpose to Nature. Science has simply obtained a glimmering of how, in point of fact, Nature works. It sees that survival is a question of fitness, in other words a question of the fulfillment of the conditions on which continued existence depends. In some cases, as is well known, superiority of type becomes an impediment, not a help, to the preservation of life; and in a vast number of cases the differentiations on which survival depends imply neither progress nor retrogression.[1] What moral guidance, therefore, can possibly be found in a simple perception of the fact that in the realm of Nature there are conditions attached to survival? We may ask, in the next place, whether there is any single law of Nature which men "obey," or ever have obeyed, in the sense in which his lordship bids us obey the law of the survival of the fittest.

  1. Vide Spencer, "Principles of Sociology," vol. i, pp. 106, 107; and Haeckel, "History of Creation," vol. i, p. 285.