Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 37.djvu/87

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WALLACE ON "DARWINISM."
lace, that all which is here claimed is now almost universally admitted, while the criticisms of Darwin's works refer almost exclusively to those numerous questions which, as he himself says, will long remain obscure.

Mr. Wallace then proceeds to explain precisely what is meant by natural selection, and what, therefore, the Darwinian theory really is:

The theory of natural selection rests on two main classes of facts, which apply to all organized beings without exception, and which thus take rank as fundamental principles or laws. The first is the power of rapid multiplication in a geometrical progression; the second, that the offspring always vary slightly from the parents, though generally very closely resembling them. From the first fact or law there follows, necessarily, a constant struggle for existence; because, while the offspring always exceed the parents in number, generally to an enormous extent, yet the total number of living organisms in the world does not, and can not, increase year by year. Consequently, every year, on the average, as many die as are born, plants as well as animals; and the majority die premature deaths. They kill each other in a thousand different ways; they starve each other by some consuming the food that others want; they are destroyed largely by the powers of nature—by cold and heat, by rain and storm, by flood and fire. There is thus a perpetual struggle among them which shall live and which shall die; and this struggle is tremendously severe, because so few can possibly remain alive—one in five, one in ten, often only one in a hundred or one in a thousand. Then comes the question, Why do some live rather than others? If all the individuals of each species were exactly alike in every respect, we could only say it is a matter of chance. But they are not alike. We find that they vary in many different ways. Some are stronger, some swifter, some hardier in constitution, some more cunning. An obscure color may render concealment more easy for some, keener sight may enable others to discover prey or escape from an enemy better than their fellows. Among plants the smallest differences may be useful or the reverse. The earliest and strongest shoots may escape the slug; their greater vigor may enable them to flower and seed earlier in a wet autumn; plants best armed with spines or hairs may escape being devoured; those whose flowers are most conspicuous may be soonest fertilized by insects. We can not doubt that, on the whole, any beneficial variation will give the possessors of it a greater probability of living through the tremendous ordeal they have to undergo. There may be something left to chance, but on the whole the fittest will survive.[1]

Upon this statement of what "Darwinism" is, coming to us as it does from the highest authority, certain observations suggest themselves.

In the first place, objection may be taken to the phrase, the fittest will survive. The phrase, if I am not mistaken, was not originally devised by Mr. Darwin, and seems open to criticism. For fitness implies something of moral superiority; you can not measure it in respect of length, or breadth, or strength, or any other quality capable of being tested by strictly physical conditions. Moreover, there is some danger of being betrayed by the


  1. Pages 10, 11.