Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 85.djvu/416

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The meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science in Canada, in South Africa and now in Australia exhibits those national traits which led to the founding and development of these dominions, and year after year the president of the association represents the leadership in science which the British races have so continuously maintained since the time of Roger Bacon. Recent advances in biological science are scarcely parallel in importance to the newer developments in physics, recounted before the association by Dr. Lodge last year, but the experimental and quantitative methods now being applied in genetics, as clearly explained by Professor Conklin in the present issue of this journal, are a beginning from which much may be expected. Professor William Bateson has been a leader, perhaps the chief leader, in this work, and his presidential address deserves attention both for the advances which he recounts and for the speculations in which he indulges.

The address—which in this country has been printed in full in Science—was divided into two parts, or it may rather be said that two addresses were made, one at Melbourne and one at Sydney. The first describes Mendelian genetics with special reference to its evolutionary aspects and its destructive side, the second is largely concerned with applications to man and to society. Professor Bateson tells us that in biological science we are just about where Boyle was in the nineteenth century; we can dispose of alchemy, but we can not make more than a quasi-chemistry. Still, he is pretty positive, not only in his destructive criticism, but also about the wide implications of his quasi chemistry.

If, as Professor Bateson tells us, genetic research can only obtain new varieties by crossing, and if new traits can only be exhibited by the loss of inhibiting factors, we are certainly put to ignorance in regard to the entire process of evolution. This is doubtless where we have always been, for no biologist now supposes that natural selection can account for the origin of variations. Darwin did not, but assumed variability to be a natural function of organisms. Mendelism is supplying a vast amount of new and exact knowledge in regard to the results of crossing and hybridization, but in so far as it can not explain the origin of those variations which have led to new species and organic evolution, it only exhibits our failure in this direction. Professor Bateson says: "We have to reverse our habitual modes of thought. At first it may seem rank absurdity that the primordial forms of protoplasm could have contained complexity enough to produce the diverse types of life." But this is what the mechanical theory of life presupposes, and how we are helped by assuming, as Professor Bateson does, that the differentiation that gives rise to new species is due entirely to the loss of factors rather than to the addition of factors, it is difficult to see. The proposition that we all have the genius of Shakespeare and Newton, but that they were able to exhibit it owing to the loss of inhibiting elements appears to be purely mythological.

Professor Bateson and other Mendelians are doubtless correct in regarding the doctrine of natural selection and the survival of the fittest as a kind of philosophical truism, but it is not clear