Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 85.djvu/480

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
476
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

CIVILIZATION AS A SELECTIVE AGENCY
By ROLAND HUGINS

CORNELL UNIVERSITY

WRITERS of recent years appear to agree that there has been little or no improvement of civilized man through selection. Since the dawn of history, it is recognized that many selective forces, some favorable, some deleterious, have acted on the human breed; but it is denied that any constant and effective agency which would bring about a marked advance in moral and intellectual quality has been in operation. August Weismann expressed himself on this score clearly, though with scientific reserve. He said:[1]

But as a mere suggestion, without any pretense to exactness, I will state that the people of "antiquity," viz., the ancient civilized nations of the Mediterranean, had already, at the very dawn of their history, attained the highest level of intellectual development. If any further growth has occurred since in European states, it certainly has been so imperceptibly small that it could cause no sensible difference in the susceptibility of the human soul to music. The times which produced such legislators as Moses and Solon, poets like Homer and Sophocles, philosophers and men of science like Aristotle, Plato and Archimedes—times which created the Egyptian temples and pyramids and the statues of the Greek gods, most undoubtedly display the achievements of the human intellect at its best. And an age which produced the gentle and forgiving Christian philosophy shows us that, as regards character and feeling, the human mind had attained the highest development.

This view has come, indeed, to be orthodox. Except among thinkers who still cling to the Lamarckian doctrine, it is generally accepted. It is taken over without reservation in many books on social theory.[2] According to this principle our inheritance is primitive inheritance. The growth of the social heritage, rather than changes in the racial heritage, has wrought civilization for us and bridged the gap between aboriginal Teuton and modern German. Mankind may have progressed, certainly has altered, but for cause we must look to "those contrivances which enable human beings to advance independently of heredity."[3]

Among writers of authority possibly no one has given more emphasis to this conception that Alfred Russel Wallace, codiscoverer with Darwin of natural selection. In his latest book[4] Wallace reiterates the conclusion:

  1. "Thoughts Upon the Musical Sense in Animals and Man."
  2. For example, see Simon N. Patten, "The New Basis of Civilization" p. 169.
  3. G. Ritchie, "Darwinism and Politics," p. 101.
  4. "Social Environment and Moral Progress," p. 102.