Popular Science Monthly/Volume 15/May 1879/Dangers of Darwinism


MR. DARWIN has certainly achieved the distinction of being recognized as the "bogey" of his generation. What Bonaparte was to the English tradesman and his family at the beginning of this century, the great evolutionist is at present to pious Clapham and chapel-going Holloway. Vast numbers of virtuous vestrymen frighten the old women of their parishes with the mere mention of his name. Sentiments and sayings are put into his mouth which would come equally well from that of the enemy of mankind. His conspiracy against the peace of the British matron is so diabolical that even bishops sometimes thunder at him, and good people of an old-fashioned way of thinking have a conviction that he ought, in this world or another, to be burned. It is no use for tender-hearted clergymen, in the great reviews and elsewhere, to recommend him to mercy, and to suggest that his theories after all may not be altogether so infamous as the lovers of damnation would insinuate. It is no use for him, himself, to mildly plead that he is no iconoclast, and makes no pretense whatever to have fathomed the solemn mysteries of Nature. His great offense has been committed, and he is condemned out of the mouth of his enemies to moral excommunication. Curiously enough, those most indignant at the suggestion of an ape-like ancestry are the individuals who are pretty generally admitted to be descendants of quite another species. By these the dangers of Darwinism are proclaimed with unwearied iteration, and thus the bray of the donkey confutes the folly which affirms man to be an offshoot of some archetypal baboon.

The author of this "Darwinian Theory Examined" is anonymous, but from the anxiety he shows to be "written down" not an ape, we have no hesitation in saying that he belongs to the Dogberry family of dissenters from the faith of modern science. Under what temptation he first thought of coming forward as the critic of Darwinism, and of speaking so loudly on behalf of the claims of his own ancestry, we are at a loss to guess; but we may at once say that he has made us fully alive to the limitations of the great modern theory of man's descent. A theory which relegates all men to the great monkey family, and makes no account of those who confidently establish and vindicate a descent from the four-footed companion of Balaam, must be defective somewhere, as our anonymous author shows. With a charming coherence, he compares Darwinism to phrenology, and again to mesmerism, and again to what he calls phrenomesmerism. "None of these," he says, "could have sprung from nothing (sic) that was reasonable; they all held on by the skirts of truth, and they have all had their hour of triumph"; and he continues, "Every one of a certain age may remember how phrenology flourished, how people hired servants, selected associates, and so forth, by its rules." We ourselves are of a certain age, but we really don't remember so much; and the period when people "hired servants" and "selected associates" by feeling their bumps must have been previous to our editorial infancy. There is now a danger, we presume, that people may do such things by the rules of Darwinism, but the author fails to inform us whether we are likely to "select" servants and intimate friends because they do, or because they do not, present in their faces and on their persons indications of their apely origin? As to the common results of the theory, however, he is far more explicit, and the case that he reports is so awful that We hope all our readers will take warning. "A man," he says, "was lately reported in America as giving a lecture, at the close of which he had advertised his intention to destroy himself. The audience was considerable. . . . Having concluded a most interesting discourse, he, in compliance with his advertised intention, before any one could interfere, drew a pistol out of his pocket and blew his brains out. At his lodging was found a will, leaving all his property to purchase the works of Darwin, Tyndall, and Huxley for the public library of the district." After that, can any rational being doubt that Mr. Darwin has much to answer for? "Such," the author triumphantly cries, "being some of the Darwinian theory's proved results (!), its suppression on the ground of being contrary to Nature and her true interpretation is clearly an object much to be desired"!!

When our author descends from generalities and comes to tackle Mr. Darwin on his own ground, his intellectual feats are simply marvelous. In answer to the philosopher's question whether differences of bodily structure and mental faculties are transmitted to offspring, he replies that the "answer is in the negative, because we every day see tall fathers with short sons, and the reverse—wise men and thrifty, with fools and spendthrifts for children!" Nevertheless, he naively confesses a little further on that "hereditary peculiarities certainly exist." His reflections are both profound and elevating: "Facially there are men and women who bear strong resemblance to owls, baboons, and other of the lower order of animals. In fact, an illustrated book has been published concerning these peculiarities; but these are not to the point, and prove nothing." Then why adduce them? a poor heathen might demand; but really we can not follow our author through the phases of his deep and dangerous argument. He gives it to Mr. Darwin tremendously, and is very high and haughty with him whenever he catches him prevaricating. Sometimes, indeed, he is barely civil: "This argument is of the lucus a non lucendo order, and the premises are as false as the conclusion." When the poor philosopher mildly dissents, he is ready to disconcert him altogether with an aside to the reader: "And here I may remark that the French Academy deliberately and wisely refused him (Mr. Darwin) admission into their body (three times, I have heard), for the reason that his views of Nature were not legitimately founded on facts or science." He adds loftily, in the finest manner of Mr. Podsnap: "Of this I have not personal knowledge; I have only been told so."

Here and there he is almost too hard on Mr. Darwin, as when he says: "His approach to the deep mysteries of Nature is in the veni, vidi, vici style, little affected by the fact that he has no power of himself to make the lowest living form of being." Really, Mr. Darwin makes no pretense to any powers of creation, unless it be in a modest literary way. Again, our critic says that, on a review of the whole "Descent of Man," this strikes him: "That any one, who can discover legitimate proof of the origin of man in its assumption, may truly be said to see with the eyes of Darwin, and not with those of God." Really, all an ordinary man can do is to see with his own eyes, if he possesses any, and not even a critic of superhuman stupidity could do much more. We regret to see these blemishes on so characteristic a book, for we are sure that it is one that will be welcomed by many a frightened matron, and by not a few seraphic spinsters. Such a work was wanted, not only to exhibit the dangers of Darwinism in its possible effects on the inmates of Hanwell, but to concentrate in one concise and complete vade mecum all the irrelevant twaddle of the ancient house of Dogberry. If Mr. Darwin survives this attack, he will at least know that the force of utter flabbiness can go no further. To the present generation he is a very Goliath of the Philistines; but, though the cranium of a catarrhine-ape may some day confute him, he is not to be annihilated in this off-hand fashion by the jawbone of an ass.—Examiner.

  1. "The Darwinian Theory Examined." London: Bickers & Sons.