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The New York Times/Biologist Denies Chance Evolution

< The New York Times


Dr. Lucien Cuentot Says Insects’ Mechanical Devices Evidently Result from Design.
Eugenic Congress Listens to the Theories of an Eminent French Scientist.

The thousands of ingenious mechanical devices to be found in insects indicate that they were developed from design, not from chance variation and selection, according to Dr. Lucien Cuentot, an eminent French biologist, who made the leading address yesterday before the Second International Congress of Eugenics.

Dr. Cuentot outlined objections to the theories of evolution by pure chance on which scientific atheism is based and indicated harmonies between recent studies of evolution and religion.

“All human devices except the wheel,” he said, “are found in nature—the file, the anchor, the pick, the rail, the groove of guidance, the dovetailing, many musical instruments, &c.”

He argued that the insect was endowed originally with the power of developing these clever contrivances in order that it could use these tools when it needed them. His position was apparently in conflict with the school of biologists who deny or doubt “intention”: that is, that an insect or other living thing should develop in a given manner preceding the actual development. Dr. Cuentot did not commit himself definitely with the biologists of the spiritual school and the theologians, but he said:

“One may boldly declare that none of the theories of evolution enables us to understand the genesis of these organs of definite intention; perhaps there are, in addition to the active causes already known, other factors which have escaped the penetrating minds of our great biologists of the past century and of our own time, and which would enable us to understand the evident intended design of these structures.”

Organs of Insects Cited.

The sting of the bee was one of the French scientist’s specimens of an organ of definite intention. Another was the ovipositor of the grasshopper, a kind of torpedo tube which it has developed for the purpose of planting its eggs deeply in bark or earth. The leading ehibit of the speaker was the cuttlefish, which has two organs of definite intention. One was its well-known faculty to blacken the water with ink while escaping, and another a system of snaps like those on gloves, which buckles on its outer skin at the throat. This device, apparently used by nature for many thousands of years, was not patented by mortals until forty years ago.

Another specimen was an insect which killed its assailants with a deadly poisoned gas. The scientist threw on a screen a picture of destroyers making a smoke screen, and compared it with the cuttlefish’s escape.

“The inventions of the great war are all met with in animals and insects,” he said. He proceeded to cite various examples of camouflage in animals built or colored to blend indistinguishably into their usual background or setting.

“Nature’s solution differs from that of the craftsman,” he continued, “only by its greater perfection, its greater adaptation and its security, and its elegance and luxury of minute detail.

Theory of Modern Biologists.

“But biologists since Darwin have been pure mechanics. If organs have an end, they say, it is because they fulfill a useful purpose in the co-ordinated organisms; that they have reached their present state by the play of natural causes (evolutional factors), merciless selection having allowed only the persistence of such organs that were useful or slightly superfluous, never organs harmful to the species. Biologists of the spiritualistic school and the theologians, although accepting evolution, believe in a final causality of a universe and a creative spirit, superior and pre-existing to nature, which leads the latter by the laws he has ordained without direct interference.

“From a philosophical point of view there is without doubt a precipice between the two conceptions. Concerning the first one, the finality of the organs is the result of chance variation and selection. Concerning the second one, evolution is directed by the will of a spirit, after an ordained scheme of implied causes. Finality is therefore intentional, whether there is a question of the infinitely small detail of the leg of an insect or of a bird’s eye.

“For the theologian, the general harmony of nature, the marvelous results of efficient causes, makes up the most evident proof of final causality. From a scientific or practical point of view the two conceptions agree absolutely. To eplain the formation of coaptations, it does not matter whether one is spiritualistic, monistic or agnostic; whether one believes or not in a final causality.”

On the theory that special organs designed for a particular use were developed before the time came for their use, it would be necessary for birds evolving from reptiles to acquire feathers gradually through many generations before they used the feathers for flight.

Reptile-Bird of Antiquity.

Dr. Coentot therefore predicted that relics of a reptile-bird older than archaeopteryx would some time be discovered. The archaeopteryx, the oldest known member of the feathered family, was a bird the size of a crow with a long tail something like a lizard’s, with feathers growing from both sides of it. The scattered remains of two or three were found in fossil deposits in a quarry from which lithograph stone was taken in Germany.

The still older species predicted by Dr. Cuentot will be a reptile-bird with feathers, but without the wing or tail spread necessary for flight. Such a link between reptiles and birds would show the long growth of feathers by reptiles before they became sufficiently birdlike to make attempts at flying.

In another part of his paper Dr. Cuentot discussed experiments tending to show how far heredity can be modified by introducing new chemical factors into the composition of the parents. Telling of the experiments of M. Guyer and E. A. Smith last year, he said:

“In injecting into fowl the crushed crystalline lens of rabbits, they obtained a crystallotic serum; injected into pregnant rabbits, the crystallosine, passing through the placentas, affects in a certain number of cases the crystalline lenses of the embryos, which are born with ocular malformations; now this authentically acquired character has been proved hereditary almost in the manner of a Mendelian recessive character and has been found transmissible to the eighth generation.”

Study of One-Cell Life.

Dr. H. S. Jennings of Johns Hopkins University discussed attempts to watch evolution in the making by studying one-celled animal life through successive generations, the generations succeeding one another in such low forms at the rate of about 100 a year. Very slight changes were detected. He referred to experiments in which one-celled animals had during many generations acquired a special power of resistance against certain chemicals placed in their environment and had transmitted that resistance through many generationns after the chemicals had been withdrawn from the environment.

Mrs. Margaret Sanger and other advocates of birth control attended the sessions yesterday, but the speakers were men of scientific eminence and the discussions in the main were technical.