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Chapter 14

MR. MIVART AND MR. DARWIN


"A distinguished zoologist, Mr. St. George Mivart," writes Mr. Darwin, "has recently collected all the objections which have ever been advanced by myself and others against the theory of natural selection, as propounded by Mr. Wallace and myself, and has illustrated them with admirable art and force ("Natural Selection," p. 176, ed. 1876). I have already referred the reader to Mr. Mivart's work, but quote the above passage as showing that Mr. Mivart will not, probably, be found to have left much unsaid that would appear to make against Mr. Darwin's theory. It is incumbent upon me both to see how far Mr. Mivart's objections are weighty as against Mr. Darwin, and also whether or not they tell with equal force against the view which I am myself advocating. I will therefore touch briefly upon the most important of them, with the purpose of showing that they are serious as against the doctrine that small fortuitous variations are the origin of species, but that they have no force against evolution as guided by intelligence and memory.

But before doing this, I would demur to the words used by Mr. Darwin, and just quoted above, namely, "the theory of natural selection." I imagine that I see in them the fallacy which I believe to run through almost all Mr. Darwin's work, namely, that "natural selection" is a theory (if, indeed, it can be a theory at all), in some way accounting for the origin of variation, and so of species--"natural selection," as we have already seen, being unable to "induce variability," and being only able to accumulate what--on the occasion of each successive variation, and so during the whole process--must have been originated by something else.

Again, Mr. Darwin writes--"In considering the origin of species it is quite conceivable that a naturalist, reflecting on the mutual affinities of organic beings, or their embryological relations, their geographical distribution, geological succession, and other such facts, might come to the conclusion that species had not been independently created, but had descended, like varieties from other species. Nevertheless, such a conclusion, even if well founded, would be unsatisfactory, until it could be shown how the innumerable species inhabiting this world had been modified, so as to acquire that perfection of structure and co-adaptation which justly excites our admiration" ("Origin of Species," p. 2, ed. 1876).

After reading the above we feel that nothing more satisfactory could be desired. We are sure that we are in the hands of one who can indeed tell us "how the innumerable species inhabiting this world have been modified," and we are no less sure that though others may have written upon the subject before, there has been, as yet, no satisfactory explanation put forward of the grand principle upon which modification has proceeded. Then follows a delightful volume, with facts upon facts concerning animals, all showing that species is due to successive small modifications accumulated in the course of nature. But one cannot suppose that Lamarck ever doubted this; for he can never have meant to say, that a low form of life made itself into an elephant at one or two great bounds; and if he did not mean this, he must have meant that it made itself into an elephant through the accumulation of small successive modifications; these, he must have seen, were capable of accumulation in the scheme of nature, though he may not have dwelt on the manner in which this is accomplished, inasmuch as it is obviously a matter of secondary importance in comparison with the origin of the variations themselves. We believe, however, throughout Mr. Darwin's book, that we are being told what we expected to be told; and so convinced are we, by the facts adduced, that in some way or other evolution must be true, and so grateful are we for being allowed to think this, that we put down the volume without perceiving that, whereas Lamarck DID adduce a great and general cause of variation, the insufficiency of which, in spite of errors of detail, has yet to be shown, Mr. Darwin's main cause of variation resolves itself into a confession of ignorance.

This, however, should detract but little from our admiration for Mr. Darwin's achievement. Any one can make people see a thing if he puts it in the right way, but Mr. Darwin made us see evolution, in spite of his having put it, in what seems to not a few, an exceedingly mistaken way. Yet his triumph is complete, for no matter how much any one now moves the foundation, he cannot shake the superstructure, which has become so currently accepted as to be above the need of any support from reason, and to be as difficult to destroy as it was originally difficult of construction. Less than twenty years ago, we never met with, or heard of, any one who accepted evolution; we did not even know that such a doctrine had been ever broached; unless it was that some one now and again said that there was a very dreadful book going about like a rampant lion, called "Vestiges of Creation," whereon we said that we would on no account read it, lest it should shake our faith; then we would shake our heads and talk of the preposterous folly and wickedness of such shallow speculations. Had not the book of Genesis been written for our learning? Yet, now, who seriously disputes the main principles of evolution? I cannot believe that there is a bishop on the bench at this moment who does not accept them; even the "holy priests" themselves bless evolution as their predecessors blessed Cleopatra--when they ought not. It is not he who first conceives an idea, nor he who sets it on its legs and makes it go on all fours, but he who makes other people accept the main conclusion, whether on right grounds or on wrong ones, who has done the greatest work as regards the promulgation of an opinion. And this is what Mr. Darwin has done for evolution. He has made us think that we know the origin of species, and so of genera, in spite of his utmost efforts to assure us that we know nothing of the causes from which the vast majority of modifications have arisen--that is to say, he has made us think we know the whole road, though he has almost ostentatiously blindfolded us at every step of the journey. But to the end of time, if the question be asked, "Who taught people to believe in evolution?" there can only be one answer--that it was Mr. Darwin.

Mr. Mivart urges with much force the difficulty of STARTING any modification on which "natural selection" is to work, and of getting a creature to vary in any definite direction. Thus, after quoting from Mr. Wallace some of the wonderful cases of "mimicry" which are to be found among insects, he writes:-

"Now, let us suppose that the ancestors of these various animals were all destitute of the very special protection they at present possess, as on the Darwinian hypothesis we must do. Let it be also conceded that small deviations from the antecedent colouring or form would tend to make some of their ancestors escape destruction, by causing them more or less frequently to be passed over or mistaken by their persecutors. Yet the deviation must, as the event has shown, in each case, be in some definite direction, whether it be towards some other animal or plant, or towards some dead or inorganic matter. But as, according to Mr. Darwin's theory, there is a constant tendency to indefinite variation, and as the minute incipient variations will be IN ALL DIRECTIONS, they must tend to neutralise each other, and at first to form such unstable modifications, that it is difficult, if not impossible, to see how such indefinite modifications of insignificant beginnings can ever build up a sufficiently appreciable resemblance to a leaf, bamboo, or other object for "natural selection," to seize upon and perpetuate. This difficulty is augmented when we consider--a point to be dwelt upon hereafter--how necessary it is that many individuals should be similarly modified simultaneously. This has been insisted on in an able article in the 'North British Review' for June 1867, p. 286, and the consideration of the article has occasioned Mr. Darwin" ("Origin of Species," 5th ed., p. 104) "to make an important modification in his views ("Genesis of Species," p. 38).

To this Mr. Darwin rejoins:-

"But in all the foregoing cases the insects in their original state, no doubt, presented some rude and accidental resemblance to an object commonly found in the stations frequented by them. Nor is this improbable, considering the almost infinite number of surrounding objects, and the diversity of form and colour of the host of insects that exist" ("Natural Selection," p. 182, ed. 1876).

Mr. Mivart has just said: "It is difficult to see how such indefinite modifications of insignificant beginnings CAN EVER BUILD UP A SUFFICIENTLY APPRECIABLE RESEMBLANCE TO A LEAF, BAMBOO, OR OTHER OBJECT, FOR 'NATURAL SELECTION' TO WORK UPON."

The answer is, that "natural selection" did not begin to work UNTIL, FROM UNKNOWN CAUSES, AN APPRECIABLE RESEMBLANCE HAD NEVERTHELESS BEEN PRESENTED. I think the reader will agree with me that the development of the lowest life into a creature which bears even "a rude resemblance" to the objects commonly found in the station in which it is moving in its present differentiation, requires more explanation than is given by the word "accidental."

Mr. Darwin continues: "As some rude resemblance is necessary for the first start," &c.; and a little lower he writes: "Assuming that an insect originally happened to resemble in some degree a dead twig or a decayed leaf, and that it varied slightly in many ways, then all the variations which rendered the insect at all more like any such object, and thus favoured its escape, would be preserved, while other variations would be neglected, and ultimately lost, or if they rendered the insect at all less like the imitated object, they would be eliminated."

But here, again, we are required to begin with Natural Selection when the work is already in great part done, owing to causes about which we are left completely in the dark; we may, I think, fairly demur to the insects ORIGINALLY happening to resemble in some degree a dead twig or a decayed leaf. And when we bear in mind that the variations, being supposed by Mr. Darwin to be indefinite, or devoid of aim, will appear in every direction, we cannot forget what Mr. Mivart insists upon, namely, that the chances of many favourable variations being counteracted by other unfavourable ones in the same creature are not inconsiderable. Nor, again, is it likely that the favourable variation would make its mark upon the race, and escape being absorbed in the course of a few generations, unless--as Mr. Mivart elsewhere points out, in a passage to which I shall call the reader's attention presently--a larger number of similarly varying creatures made their appearance at the same time than there seems sufficient reason to anticipate, if the variations can be called fortuitous.

"There would," continues Mr. Darwin, "indeed be force in Mr. Mivart's objection if we were to attempt to account for the above resemblances, independently of 'natural selection,' through mere fluctuating variability; but as the case stands, there is none."

This comes to saying that, if there was no power in nature which operates so that of all the many fluctuating variations, those only are preserved which tend to the resemblance which is beneficial to the creature, then indeed there would be difficulty in understanding how the resemblance could have come about; but that as there is a beneficial resemblance to start with, and as there is a power in nature which would preserve and accumulate further beneficial resemblance, should it arise from this cause or that, the difficulty is removed. But Mr. Mivart does not, I take it, deny the existence of such a power in nature, as Mr. Darwin supposes, though, if I understand him rightly, he does not see that its operation UPON SMALL FORTUITOUS VARIATIONS is at all the simple and obvious process, which on a superficial view of the case it would appear to be. He thinks-- and I believe the reader will agree with him--that this process is too slow and too risky. What he wants to know is, how the insect came even rudely to resemble the object, and how, if its variations are indefinite, we are ever to get into such a condition as to be able to report progress, owing to the constant liability of the creature which has varied favourably, to play the part of Penelope and undo its work, by varying in some one of the infinite number of other directions which are open to it--all of which, except this one, tend to destroy the resemblance, and yet may be in some other respect even more advantageous to the creature, and so tend to its preservation. Moreover, here, too, I think (though I cannot be sure), we have a recurrence of the original fallacy in the words--"If we were to account for the above resemblances, independently of 'natural selection,' through mere fluctuating variability." Surely Mr. Darwin does, after all, "account for the resemblances through mere fluctuating variability," for "natural selection" does not account for one single variation in the whole list of them from first to last, other than indirectly, as shewn in the preceding chapter.

It is impossible for me to continue this subject further; but I would beg the reader to refer to other paragraphs in the neighbourhood of the one just quoted, in which he may--though I do not think he will-- see reason to think that I should have given Mr. Darwin's answer more fully. I do not quote Mr. Darwin's next paragraph, inasmuch as I see no great difficulty about "the last touches of perfection in mimicry," provided Mr. Darwin's theory will account for any mimicry at all. If it could do this, it might as well do more; but a strong impression is left on my mind, that without the help of something over and above the power to vary, which should give a definite aim to variations, all the "natural selection" in the world would not have prevented stagnation and self-stultification, owing to the indefinite tendency of the variations, which thus could not have developed either a preyer or a preyee, but would have gone round and round and round the primordial cell till they were weary of it.

As against Mr. Darwin, therefore, I think that the objection just given from Mr. Mivart is fatal. I believe, also, that the reader will feel the force of it much more strongly if he will turn to Mr. Mivart's own pages. Against the view which I am myself supporting, the objection breaks down entirely, for grant "a little dose of judgement and reason" on the part of the creature itself--grant also continued personality and memory--and a definite tendency is at once given to the variations. The process is thus started, and is kept straight, and helped forward through every stage by "the little dose of reason," &c., which enabled it to take its first step. We are, in fact, no longer without a helm, but can steer each creature that is so discontented with its condition, as to make a serious effort to better itself, into SOME--and into a very distant--harbour.

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It has been objected against Mr. Darwin's theory that if all species and genera have come to differ through the accumulation of minute but--as a general rule--fortuitous variations, there has not been time enough, so far as we are able to gather, for the evolution of all existing forms by so slow a process. On this subject I would again refer the reader to Mr. Mivart's book, from which I take the following:-

"Sir William Thompson has lately advanced arguments from three distinct lines of inquiry agreeing in one approximate result. The three lines of inquiry are--(1) the action of the tides upon the earth's rotation; (2) the probable length of time during which the sun has illuminated this planet; and (3) the temperature of the interior of the earth. The result arrived at by these investigations is a conclusion that the existing state of things on the earth, life on the earth, all geological history showing continuity of life, must be limited within some such period of past time as one hundred million years. The first question which suggests itself, supposing Sir W. Thompson's views to be correct, is: Has this period been anything like enough for the evolution of all organic forms by 'natural selection'? The second is: Has the period been anything like enough for the deposition of the strata which must have been deposited if all organic forms have been evolved by minute steps, according to the Darwinian theory?" ("Genesis of Species," p. 154).

Mr. Mivart then quotes from Mr. Murphy--whose work I have not seen-- the following passage:-

"Darwin justly mentions the greyhound as being equal to any natural species in the perfect co-ordination of its parts, 'all adapted for extreme fleetness and for running down weak prey.' Yet it is an artificial species (and not physiologically a species at all) formed by a long-continued selection under domestication; and there is no reason to suppose that any of the variations which have been selected to form it have been other than gradual and almost imperceptible. Suppose that it has taken five hundred years to form the greyhound out of his wolf-like ancestor. This is a mere guess, but it gives the order of magnitude. Now, if so, how long would it take to obtain an elephant from a protozoon or even from a tadpole-like fish? Ought it not to take much more than a million times as long?" ("Genesis of Species," p. 155).

I should be very sorry to pronounce any opinion upon the foregoing data; but a general impression is left upon my mind, that if the differences between an elephant and a tadpole-like fish have arisen from the accumulation of small variations that have had no direction given them by intelligence and sense of needs, then no time conceivable by man would suffice for their development. But grant "a little dose of reason and judgement," even to animals low down in the scale of nature, and grant this, not only during their later life, but during their embryological existence, and see with what infinitely greater precision of aim and with what increased speed the variations would arise. Evolution entirely unaided by inherent intelligence must be a very slow, if not quite inconceivable, process. Evolution helped by intelligence would still be slow, but not so desperately slow. One can conceive that there has been sufficient time for the second, but one cannot conceive it for the first.

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I find from Mr. Mivart that objection has been taken to Mr. Darwin's views, on account of the great odds that exist against the appearance of any given variation at one and the same time, in a sufficient number of individuals, to prevent its being obliterated almost as soon as produced by the admixture of unvaried blood which would so greatly preponderate around it; and indeed the necessity for a nearly simultaneous and similar variation, or readiness so to vary on the part of many individuals, seems almost a postulate for evolution at all. On this subject Mr. Mivart writes:-

"The 'North British Review' (speaking of the supposition that species is changed by the survival of a few individuals in a century through a similar and favourable variation) says -

"'It is very difficult to see how this can be accomplished, even when the variation is eminently favourable indeed; and still more, when the advantage gained is very slight, as must generally be the case. The advantage, whatever it may be, is utterly outbalanced by numerical inferiority. A million creatures are born; ten thousand survive to produce offspring. One of the million has twice as good a chance as any other of surviving, but the chances are fifty to one against the gifted individuals being one of the hundred survivors. No doubt the chances are twice as great against any other individual, but this does not prevent their being enormously in favour of SOME average individual. However slight the advantage may be, if it is shared by half the individuals produced, it will probably be present in at least fifty-one of the survivors, and in a larger proportion of their offspring; but the chances are against the preservation of any one "sport" (i.e., sudden marked variation) in a numerous tribe. The vague use of an imperfectly-understood doctrine of chance, has led Darwinian supporters, first, to confuse the two cases above distinguished, and secondly, to imagine that a very slight balance in favour of some individual sport must lead to its perpetuation. All that can be said is that in the above example the favoured sport would be preserved once in fifty times. Let us consider what will be its influence on the main stock when preserved. It will breed and have a progeny of say 100; now this progeny will, on the whole, be intermediate between the average individual and the sport. The odds in favour of one of this generation of the new breed will be, say one and a half to one, as compared with the average individual; the odds in their favour will, therefore, be less than that of their parents; but owing to their greater number the chances are that about one and a half of them would survive. Unless these breed together--a most improbable event--their progeny would again approach the average individual; there would be 150 of them, and their superiority would be, say in the ratio of one and a quarter to one; the probability would now be that nearly two of them would survive, and have 200 children with an eighth superiority. Rather more than two of these would survive; but the superiority would again dwindle; until after a few generations it would no longer be observed, and would count for no more in the struggle for life than any of the hundred trifling advantages which occur in the ordinary organs.

"'An illustration will bring this conception home. Suppose a white man to have been wrecked on an island inhabited by negroes, and to have established himself in friendly relations with a powerful tribe, whose customs he has learnt. Suppose him to possess the physical strength, energy, and ability of a dominant white race, and let the food of the island suit his constitution; grant him every advantage which we can conceive a white to possess over the native; concede that in the struggle for existence, his chance of a long life will be much superior to that of the native chiefs; yet from all these admissions there does not follow the conclusion, that after a limited or unlimited number of generations, the inhabitants of the island will be white. Our shipwrecked hero would probably become king; he would kill a great many blacks in the struggle for existence; he would have a great many wives and children . . . In the first generation there will be some dozens of intelligent young mulattoes, much superior in average intelligence to the negroes. We might expect the throne for some generations to be occupied by a more or less yellow king; but can any one believe that the whole island will gradually acquire a white, or even a yellow population? . . . Darwin says, that in the struggle for life a grain may turn the balance in favour of a given structure, which will then be preserved. But one of the weights in the scale of nature is due to the number of a given tribe. Let there be 7000 A's and 7000 B's representing two varieties of a given animal, and let all the B's, in virtue of a slight difference of structure, have the better chance by one-thousandth part. We must allow that there is a slight probability that the descendants of B will supplant the descendants of A; but let there be 7001 A's against 7000 B's at first, and the chances are once more equal, while if there be 7002 A's to start, the odds would be laid on the A's. Thus they stand a greater chance of being killed; but, then, they can better afford to be killed. The grain will only turn the scales when these are very nicely balanced, and an advantage in numbers counts for weight, even as an advantage in structure. As the numbers of the favoured variety diminish, so must its relative advantages increase, if the chance of its existence is to surpass the chance of its extinction, until hardly any conceivable advantage would enable the descendants of a single pair to exterminate the descendants of many thousands, if they and their descendants are supposed to breed freely with the inferior variety, and so gradually lose their ascendancy,'" ("North British Review," June 1867, p. 286 "Genesis of Species," p. 64, and onwards).

Against this it should be remembered that there is always an antecedent probability that several specimens of a given variation would appear at one time and place. This would probably be the case even on Mr. Darwin's hypothesis, that the variations are fortuitous; if they are mainly guided by sense of need and intelligence, it would almost certainly be so, for all would have much the same idea as to their well-being, and the same cause which would lead one to vary in this direction would lead not a few others to do so at the same time, or to follow suit. Thus we see that many human ideas and inventions have been conceived independently but simultaneously. The chances, moreover, of specimens that have varied successfully, intermarrying, are, I think, greater than the reviewer above quoted from would admit. I believe that on the hypothesis that the variations are fortuitous, and certainly on the supposition that they are intelligent, they might be looked for in members of the same family, who would hence have a better chance of finding each other out. Serious as is the difficulty advanced by the reviewer as against Mr. Darwin's theory, it may be in great measure parried without departing from Mr. Darwin's own position, but the "little dose of judgement and reason" removes it, absolutely and entirely. As for the reviewer's shipwrecked hero, surely the reviewer must know that Mr. Darwin would no more expect an island of black men to be turned white, or even perceptibly whitened after a few generations, than the reviewer himself would do so. But if we turn from what "might" or what "would" happen to what "does" happen, we find that a few white families have nearly driven the Indian from the United States, the Australian natives from Australia, and the Maories from New Zealand. True, these few families have been helped by immigration; but it will be admitted that this has only accelerated a result which would otherwise, none the less surely, have been effected.

There is all the difference between a sudden sport, or even a variety introduced from a foreign source, and the gradual, intelligent, and, in the main, steady, growth of a race towards ends always a little, but not much, in advance of what it can at present compass, until it has reached equilibrium with its surroundings. So far as Mr. Darwin's variations are of the nature of "sport," i.e., rare, and owing to nothing that we can in the least assign to any known cause, the reviewer's objections carry much weight. Against the view here advocated, they are powerless.

I cannot here go into the difficulties of the geologic record, but they too will, I believe, be felt to be almost infinitely simplified by supposing the development of structure and instinct to be guided by intelligence and memory, which, even under unstable conditions, would be able to meet in some measure the demands made upon them.

When Mr. Mivart deals with evolution and ethics, I am afraid that I differ from him even more widely than I have done from Mr. Darwin. He writes ("Genesis of Species," p. 234): "That 'natural selection' could not have produced from the sensations of pleasure and pain experienced by brutes a higher degree of morality than was useful; therefore it could have produced any amount of 'beneficial habits,' but not abhorrence of certain acts as impure and sinful."

Possibly "natural selection" may not be able to do much in the way of accumulating variations that do not arise; but that, according to the views supported in this volume, all that is highest and most beautiful in the soul, as well as in the body, could be, and has been, developed from beings lower than man, I do not greatly doubt. Mr. Mivart and myself should probably differ as to what is and what is not beautiful. Thus he writes of "the noble virtue of a Marcus Aurelius" (p. 235), than whom, for my own part, I know few respectable figures in history to whom I am less attracted. I cannot but think that Mr. Mivart has taken his estimate of this emperor at second-hand, and without reference to the writings which happily enable us to form a fair estimate of his real character.

Take the opening paragraphs of the "Thoughts" of Marcus Aurelius, as translated by Mr. Long:-

"From the reputation and remembrance of my father [I learned] modesty and a manly character; from my mother, piety and beneficence, abstinence not only from evil deeds, but even from evil thoughts. . . . From my great-grandfather, not to have frequented public schools, and to have had good teachers at home, and to know that on such things a man should spend liberally . . . From Diognetus . . . [I learned] to have become intimate with philosophy, . . . and to have written dialogues in my youth, and to have desired a plank bed and skin, and whatever else of the kind belongs to the Greek discipline. . . . From Rusticus I received the impression that my character required improvement and discipline;" and so on to the end of the chapter, near which, however, it is right to say that there appears a redeeming touch, in so far as that he thanks the gods that he could not write poetry, and that he had never occupied himself about the appearance of things in the heavens.

Or, again, opening Mr. Long's translation at random I find (p. 37):-

"As physicians have always their instruments and knives ready for cases which suddenly require their skill, so do thou have principles ready for the understanding of things divine and human, and for doing everything, even the smallest, with a recollection of the bond that unites the divine and human to one another. For neither wilt thou do anything well which pertains to man without at the same time having a reference to things divine; nor the contrary."

Unhappy one! No wonder the Roman empire went to pieces soon after him. If I remember rightly, he established and subsidised professorships in all parts of his dominions. Whereon the same befell the arts and literature of Rome as befell Italian painting after the Academic system had taken root at Bologna under the Caracci. Mr. Martin Tupper, again, is an amiable and well-meaning man, but we should hardly like to see him in Lord Beaconsfield's place. The Athenians poisoned Socrates; and Aristophanes--than whom few more profoundly religious men have ever been born--did not, so far as we can gather, think the worse of his countrymen on that account. It is not improbable that if they had poisoned Plato too, Aristophanes would have been well enough pleased; but I think he would have preferred either of these two men to Marcus Aurelius.

I know nothing about the loving but manly devotion of a St. Lewis, but I strongly suspect that Mr. Mivart has taken him, too, upon hearsay.

On the other hand, among dogs we find examples of every heroic quality, and of all that is most perfectly charming to us in man.

As for the possible development of the more brutal human natures from the more brutal instincts of the lower animals, those who read a horrible story told in a note, pp. 233, 234 of Mr. Mivart's "Genesis of Species," will feel no difficulty on that score. I must admit, however, that the telling of that story seems to me to be a mistake in a philosophical work, which should not, I think, unless under compulsion, deal either with the horrors of the French Revolution--or of the Spanish or Italian Inquisition.

For the rest of Mr. Mivart's objections, I must refer the reader to his own work. I have been unable to find a single one, which I do not believe to be easily met by the Lamarckian view, with the additions (if indeed they are additions, for I must own to no very profound knowledge of what Lamarck did or did not say), which I have in this volume proposed to make to it. At the same time I admit, that as against the Darwinian view, many of them seem quite unanswerable.


Samuel Butler

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