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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 74.djvu/385

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PREDARWINIAN AND POSTDARWINIAN BIOLOGY

PREDARWINIAN AND POSTDARWINIAN BIOLOGY[1]
By Professor WILLIAM MORTON WHEELER

HARVARD UNIVERSITY

CHARLES DARWIN undoubtedly exerted a profound and threefold influence on botany, zoology and all the kindred sciences; first, by his rehabilitation of Lamarck's theory of transformism, or evolution, as it is more generally but less aptly called; secondly, by his wonderful studies on variation; and thirdly, by the announcement of his brilliant theory of natural selection through the survival of the fittest. There is much difference of opinion as to which of these constitutes Darwin's most glorious achievement. Neodarwinists regard the promulgation of the theory of natural selection as his greatest work; experimental zoologists and botanists attribute to his studies on variation a deeper and more salutary influence on present and future investigation; while Neolamarckians insist that his labors in the cause of evolution in general, quite irrespective of whether it be conceived to result from natural selection or from other factors, is his most important contribution, not only to biological science, but to the whole body of modern thought. With this last estimate I believe that most conservative men of science will agree. Just how Darwin's work has compelled us to change our attitude so radically towards the world about us can be made clear if you will permit me very briefly to contrast the tendencies of ancient and modern science.

The unceasing flux of phenomena which is all that science can deal with has been envisaged very differently by ancient and modern observers. The Greek scientist fixed his attention on particular moments or aspects of phenomena, so that science became to him a static edifice of concepts or ideas, a hierarchy of genera and species. The scientist of to-day does not thus concentrate his attention on single moments to the exclusion or neglect of all other aspects of a phenomenon, but seeks to obtain a complete knowledge of the uniformities and constants in its occurrence and recurrence. For this reason modern science is dynamic and lays stress on laws and not on the definition and classification of concepts and ideas. These important differences between ancient and modern science have been clearly pointed out by the eminent French philosopher, Henri Bergson, in the following words:

Ancient science believed that she understood her object when she had noted its privileged moments, whereas modern science considers it at any
  1. Read before the Boston Society of Natural History, February 12, 1909.