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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 33.djvu/719

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EDITOR'S TABLE.

EDITOR'S TABLE.

 

THE OPPOSITION TO DARWINISM.

THE "Contemporary Review" for June contains a timely article by Mr. Romanes in reply to recent attacks on Darwin and the Darwinian theory of natural selection. Mr. Romanes first applies himself to answering an anonymous writer in the "Edinburgh Review," who, not content with opposing Darwinism, assails the character of Darwin himself. Here Mr. Romanes has an easy task; for, if anything is obvious to an ordinarily candid mind, it is that the author of the theory of natural selection was a man of a rare elevation and disinterestedness of spirit—a man whom, so far as his personal attributes were concerned, any school of thought might be proud to call its chief. The "Edinburgh Reviewer" tries to prove from the "Life and Letters" that Darwin was a vain man, wedded to his own notions, greedy of flattery, and impatient of criticism. The record is there; he who runs may read, and no one save the reviewer has yet read what he professes to have done.

Mr. Romanes's more serious concern, however, is with the criticisms of the Duke of Argyll; and, to our mind, he deals in a very effectual manner with that writer's contention that natural selection can in no sense be a cause of the formation of species. Natural selection, it is urged, does not produce the variations that occur in Nature—ergo, it can not explain the origin of species. To this Mr. Romanes replies that natural selection is precisely the thing which gives vitality and perpetuity to certain variations, and which causes others to perish, and that, in that sense, it is as truly a cause of species as any one thing can be of another. If natural selection is not a cause of species, then neither is the intervention of the breeder a cause of the varieties which we know his art produces among domestic animals; for the breeder does not make the congenital variations upon which he works; he simply chooses among them those which he wishes to preserve and, if possible, establish and develop. If the reaction of the environment exercises a selective influence upon variations spontaneously produced, extinguishing most, favoring a few, we may with perfect propriety speak of that as "natural selection," and may regard it as a cause of species just as we regard any other necessary antecedent or condition of a given phenomenon as a cause of that phenomenon. We need not personify it in doing so, need not make a metaphysical entity of it; all we are called on to’ do is to attest the fact—if the facts appear to warrant it—that, by a process of natural selection, species are formed.

But Mr. Romanes makes a very true remark when he says that the Duke of Argyll's quarrel is really not with natural selection as a special theory, but with natural selection considered as one aspect of the general doctrine of evolution. What his Grace objects to is that idea of natural causation which the doctrine of evolution implies; for there would be absolutely no advantage, from the duke's point of view, in destroying the theory of natural selection if the scientific world were straightway to set about discovering some other natural hypothesis to take its place. What the duke, therefore, has to show is that nothing can be naturally explained, and therefore that all attempts of the nature of Darwin's are predoomed to failure. The moment we admit the efficacy of natural causes at all we start upon a career of explanation to which, in the very nature of things, there are no lim-