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Chapter 19


Having put before the reader with some fulness the theories of the three writers to whom we owe the older or teleological view of evolution, I will now compare that view more closely with the theory of Mr. Darwin and Mr. Wallace, to whom, in spite of my profound difference of opinion with them on the subject of natural selection, I admit with pleasure that I am under deep obligation. For the sake of brevity, I shall take Lamarck as the exponent of the older view, and Mr. Darwin as that of the one now generally accepted.

We have seen, that up to a certain point there is very little difference between Lamarck and Mr. Darwin. Lamarck maintains that animals and plants vary: so does Mr. Darwin. Lamarck maintains that variations having once arisen have a tendency to be transmitted to offspring and accumulated: so does Mr. Darwin. Lamarck maintains that the accumulation of variations, so small, each one of them, that it cannot be, or is not noticed, nevertheless will lead in the course of that almost infinite time during which life has existed upon earth, to very wide differences in form, structure, and instincts: so does Mr. Darwin. Finally, Lamarck declares that all, or nearly all, the differences which we observe between various kinds of animals and plants are due to this exceedingly gradual and imperceptible accumulation, during many successive generations, of variations each one of which was in the outset small: so does Mr. Darwin. But in the above we have a complete statement of the fact of evolution, or descent with modification--wanting nothing, but entire, and incapable of being added to except in detail, and by way of explanation of the causes which have brought the fact about. As regards the general conclusion arrived at, therefore, I am unable to detect any difference of opinion between Lamarck and Mr. Darwin. They are both bent on establishing the theory of evolution in its widest extent.

The late Sir Charles Lyell, in his 'Principles of Geology,' bears me out here. In a note to his résumé of the part of the 'Philosophie Zoologique' which bears upon evolution, he writes:--

"I have reprinted in this chapter word for word my abstract of Lamarck's doctrine of transmutation, as drawn up by me in 1832 in the first edition of the 'Principles of Geology.'[333] I have thought it right to do this in justice to Lamarck, in order to show how nearly the opinions taught by him at the commencement of this century resembled those now in vogue amongst a large body of naturalists respecting the infinite variability of species, and the progressive development in past time of the organic world. The reader must bear in mind that when I made this analysis of the 'Philosophie Zoologique' in 1832, I was altogether opposed to the doctrine that the animals and plants now living were the lineal descendants of distinct species, only known to us in a fossil state, and ... so far from exaggerating, I did not do justice to the arguments originally adduced by Lamarck and Geoffroy St. Hilaire, especially those founded on the occurrence of rudimentary organs. There is therefore no room for suspicion that my account of the Lamarckian hypothesis, written by me thirty-five years ago, derived any colouring from my own views tending to bring it more into harmony with the theory since propounded by Darwin."[334] So little difference did Sir Charles Lyell discover between the views of Lamarck and those of his successors.

With the identity, however, of the main proposition which, both Lamarck and Mr. Darwin alike endeavour to establish, the points of agreement between the two writers come to an end. Lamarck's great aim was to discover the cause of those variations whose accumulation results in specific, and finally in generic, differences. Not content with establishing the fact of descent with modification, he, like his predecessors, wishes to explain how it was that the fact came about. He finds its explanation in changed surroundings--that is to say, in changed conditions of existence--as the indirect cause, and in the varying needs arising from these changed conditions as the direct cause.

According to Lamarck, there is a broad principle which underlies variation generally, and this principle is the power which all living beings possess of slightly varying their actions in accordance with varying needs, coupled with the fact observable throughout nature that use develops, and disuse enfeebles an organ, and that the effects, whether of use or disuse, become hereditary after many generations.

This resolves itself into the effect of the mutual interaction of mind on body and of body on mind. Thus he writes:--

"The physical and the mental are to start with undoubtedly one and the same thing; this fact is most easily made apparent through study of the organization of the various orders of known animals. From the common source there proceeded certain effects, and these effects, in the outset hardly separated, have in the course of time become so perfectly distinct, that when looked at in their extremest development they appear to have little or nothing in common.

"The effect of the body upon the mind has been already sufficiently recognized; not so that of the mind upon the body itself. The two, one in the outset though they were, interact upon each other more and more the more they present the appearance of having become widely sundered, and it can be shown that each is continually modifying the other and causing it to vary."[335]

And again, later:--

"I shall show that the habits by which we now recognize any creature are due to the environment (circonstances) under which it has for a long while existed, and that these habits have had such an influence upon the structure of each individual of the species as to have at length" (that is to say, through many successive slight variations, each due to habit engendered by the wishes of the animal itself), "modified this structure and adapted it to the habits contracted."[336]

These quotations must suffice, for the reader has already had Lamarck's argument sufficiently put before him.

Variation, and consequently modification, are, according to Lamarck, the outward and visible signs of the impressions made upon animals and plants in the course of their long and varied history, each organ chronicling a time during which such and such thoughts and actions dominated the creature, and specific changes being the effect of certain long-continued wishes upon the body, and of certain changed surroundings upon the wishes. Plants and animals are living forms of faith, or faiths of form, whichever the reader pleases.

Mr. Darwin, on the other hand, repeatedly avows ignorance, and profound ignorance, concerning the causes of those variations which, or nothing, must be the fountain-heads of species. Thus he writes of "the complex and little known laws of variation."[337] "There is also some probability in the view propounded by Andrew Knight, that variability may be partly connected with excess of food."[338] "Many laws regulate variation, some few of which can be dimly seen."[339] "The results of the unknown, or but dimly understood, laws of variation are infinitely complex and diversified."[340] "We are profoundly ignorant of the cause of each slight variation or individual difference."[341] "We are far too ignorant to speculate on the relative importance of the several known and unknown causes of variation."[342] He admits, indeed, the effects of use and disuse to have been important, but how important we have no means of knowing; he also attributes considerable effect to the action of changed conditions of life--but how considerable again we know not; nevertheless, he sees no great principle underlying the variations generally, and tending to make them appear for a length of time together in any definite direction advantageous to the creature itself, but either expressly, as at times, or by implication, as throughout his works, ascribes them to accident or chance.

In other words, he admits his ignorance concerning them, and dwells only on the accumulation of variations the appearance of which for any length of time in any given direction he leaves unaccounted for.

Lamarck, again, having established his principle that sense of need is the main direct cause of variation, and having also established that the variations thus engendered are inherited, so that divergences accumulate and result in species and genera, is comparatively indifferent to further details. His work is avowedly an outline. Nevertheless, we have seen that he was quite alive to the effects of the geometrical ratio of increase, and of the struggle for existence which thence inevitably follows.

Mr. Darwin, on the other hand, comparatively indifferent to, or at any rate silent concerning the causes of those variations which appeared so all-important to Lamarck, inasmuch as they are the raindrops which unite to form the full stream of modification, goes into very full detail upon natural selection, or the survival of the fittest, and maintains it to have been "the most important but not the exclusive means of modification."[343]

It will be readily seen that, according to Lamarck, the variations which when accumulated amount to specific and generic differences, will have been due to causes which have been mainly of the same kind for long periods together. Conditions of life change for the most part slowly, steadily, and in a set direction; as in the direction of steady, gradual increase or decrease of cold or moisture; of the steady, gradual increase of such and such an enemy, or decrease of such and such a kind of food; of the gradual upheaval or submergence of such and such a continent, and consequent drying up or encroachment of such and such a sea, and so forth. The thoughts of the creature varying will thus have been turned mainly in one direction for long together; and hence the consequent modifications will also be mainly in fixed and definite directions for many successive generations; as in the direction of a warmer or cooler covering; of a better means of defence or of attack in relation to such and such another species; of a longer neck and longer legs, or of whatever other modification the gradually changing circumstances may be rendering expedient. It is easy to understand the accumulation of slight successive modifications which thus make their appearance in given organs and in a set direction.

With Mr. Darwin, on the contrary, the variations being accidental, and due to no special and uniform cause, will not appear for any length of time in any given direction, nor in any given organ, but will be just as liable to appear in one organ as in another, and may be in one generation in one direction, and in another in another.

In confirmation of the above, and in illustration of the important consequences that will follow according as we adopt the old or the more recent theory, I would quote the following from Mr. Mivart's 'Genesis of Species.'

Shortly before maintaining that two similar structures have often been developed independently of one another, Mr. Mivart points out that if we are dependent upon indefinite variations only, as provided for us by Mr. Darwin, this would be "so improbable as to be practically impossible."[344] The number of possible variations being indefinitely great, "it is therefore an indefinitely great number to one against a similar series of variations occurring and being similarly preserved in any two independent instances." It will be felt (as Mr. Mivart presently insists) that this objection does not apply to a system which maintains that in case an animal feels any given want it will gradually develop the structure which shall meet the want--that is to say, if the want be not so great and so sudden as to extinguish the creature to which it has become a necessity. For if there be such a power of self-adaptation as thus supposed, two or more very widely different animals feeling the same kind of want might easily adopt similar means to gratify it, and hence develop eventually a substantially similar structure; just as two men, without any kind of concert, have often hit upon like means of compassing the same ends. Mr. Spencer's theory--so Mr. Mivart tells us--and certainly that of Lamarck, whose disciple Mr. Spencer would appear to be,[345] admits "a certain peculiar, but limited power of response and adaptation in each animal and plant"--to the conditions of their existence. "Such theories," says Mr. Mivart, "have not to contend against the difficulty proposed, and it has been urged that even very complex extremely similar structures have again and again been developed quite independently one of the other, and this because the process has taken place not by merely haphazard, indefinite variations in all directions, but by the concurrence of some other internal natural law or laws co-operating with external influences and with Natural Selection in the evolution of organic forms.

"It must never be forgotten that to admit any such constant operation of any such unknown natural cause is to deny the purely Darwinian theory which relies upon the survival of the fittest by means of minute fortuitous indefinite variations.

"Among many other obligations which the author has to acknowledge to Professor Huxley, are the pointing out of this very difficulty, and the calling his attention to the striking resemblance between certain teeth of the dog, and of the thylacine, as one instance, and certain ornithic peculiarities of pterodactyles as another."[346]

In brief then, changed distribution of use and disuse in consequence of changed conditions of the environment is with Lamarck the main cause of modification. According to Mr. Darwin natural selection, or the survival of favourable but accidental variations, is the most important means of modification. In a word, with Lamarck the variations are definite; with Mr. Darwin indefinite.


[333] Vol. ii. chap. i.

[334] Vol. ii. chap, xxxiv., ed. 1872.

[335] 'Philosophie Zoologique,' ed. M. Martins, Paris, Lyons, 1873, tom. i. p. 24.

[336] 'Philosophie Zoologique,' tom. i. p. 72.

[337] 'Origin of Species,' p. 3.

[338] Ibid. p. 5.

[339] 'Origin of Species,' p. 8.

[340] Ibid. p. 9.

[341] Ibid. p. 158.

[342] Ibid. p. 159.

[343] 'Origin of Species,' p. 4.

[344] 'Genesis of Species,' p. 74, 1871.

[345] See ante, p. 330, line 1 after heading.

[346] 'Genesis of Species,' p. 76, ed. 1871.

Samuel Butler

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