The Origin of Species

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It is only the backward glance, the gaze up the long vista of the past, that reveals anything alarming. Here the lines converge as they recede into the geological ages, and point to conclusions which, upon the theory, are inevitable, but by no means welcome. The very first step backwards makes the Negro and the Hottentot our blood-relations; — not that reason or Scripture objects to that, though pride may. The next suggests a closer association of our ancestors of the olden time with "our poor relations" of the quadrumanous family than we like to acknowledge.

Fortunately, however,— even if we must account for him scientifically,-man with his two feet stands upon a foundation of his own. Intermediate links between the Bimana and the Quadrumana are lacking altogether; so that, put the genealogy of the brutes upon what footing you will, the four-handed races will not serve for our forerunners;— at least, not until some monkey, live or fossil, is producible with great-toes, instead of thumbs, upon his nether extremities; or until some lucky 'geologist turns up the bones of his ancestor and prototype in France or England, who was so busy "napping the chuckie-stanes" and chipping out flint knives and arrow-beads in the time of the drift, very many ages ago,-before the British Channel existed, says Lyell, 1 — and until these men of the olden time are shown to have worn their great-toes in a divergent and thumblike fashion.

Darwin's 'Origin of Species' Voted Most Influential Academic Book

That would be evidence indeed: but until some testimony of the sort is produced, we must needs believe in the separate and special creation of man, however it may have been with the lower animals and with plants. But, as the author speaks disrespectfully of spontaneous generation, and accepts a supernatural beginning of life on earth, in some form or forms of being which included potentially all that have since existed and are yet to be, he is thereby not warranted to extend his inferences beyond the evidence or the fair probability.

There seems as great likelihood that one special origination should be followed by another upon fitting occasion, such as the introduction of man, as that one form should be transmuted into another upon fitting occasion, as, for instance, in the succession of species which differ from each other only in some details. To compare small things with great in a homely illustration: man alters from time to time his instruments or machines, as new circumstances or conditions may require and his wit suggest.

Minor alterations and improvements he adds to the machine he possesses: he adapts a new rig or a new rudder to an old boat: this answers to variation. If boats could engender, the variations would doubtless be propagated, like those of domestic cattle. In course of time the old ones would be worn out or wrecked; the best sorts would be chosen for each particular use, and further improved upon, and so the primordial boat be developed into the scow, the skiff, the sloop, and other species of water-craft, the very diversification, as well as the successive improvements, entailing the disappearance of many intermediate forms, less adapted to any one particular purpose; wherefore these go slowly out of use, and become extinct species: this is natural selection.

Now let a great and important advance be made, like that of steam-navigation: here, though the engine might be added to the old vessel, yet the wiser and therefore the actual way is to make anew vessel on a modified plan: this may answer to specific creation. Anyhow, the one does not necessarily exclude the other.

Variation and natural selection may play their part, and so may specific creation also. Why not? This leads us to ask for the reasons which call for this new theory of transmutation. The beginning of things must needs lie in obscurity, beyond the bounds of proof, though within those of conjecture or of analogical inference. Why not hold fast to the customary view, that all species were directly, instead of indirectly, created after their respective kinds, as we now behold them,-and that in a manner which, passing our comprehension, we intuitively refer to the supernatural?

The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin

Why this continual striving after "the unattained and dim,"— these anxious endeavors, especially of late years, by naturalists and philosophers of various schools and different tendencies, to penetrate what one of them calls "the mystery of mysteries," the origin of species? To this, in general, sufficient answer may be found in the activity of the human intellect, "the delirious yet divine desire to know," stimulated as it has been by its own success in unveiling the laws and processes of inorganic Nature,-in the fact that the principal triumphs of our age in physical science have consisted in tracing connections where none were known before, in reducing heterogeneous phenomena to a common cause or origin, in a manner quite analogous to that of the reduction of supposed independently originated species to a common ultimate origin,-thus, and in various other ways, largely and legitimately extending the domain of secondary causes.

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Surely the scientific mind of an age which contemplates the solar system as evolved from a common, revolving, fluid mass,— which, through experimental research, has come to regard light, heat, electricity, magnetism, chemical affinity, and mechanical power as varieties or derivative and convertible forms of one force, instead of independent species,— which has brought the so-called elementary kinds of matter, such as the metals, into kindred groups, and raised the question, whether the members of each group may not be mere varieties of one species,- and which speculates steadily in the direction of the ultimate unity of matter, of a sort of prototype or simple element which may be to the ordinary species of matter what the protozoa or component cells of an organism are to the higher sorts of animals and plants,— the mind of such an age cannot be expected to let the old belief about species pass unquestioned.

It will raise the question, how the diverse sorts of plants and animals came to be as they are and where they are, and will allow that the whole inquiry transcends its powers only when all endeavors have failed. Granting the origin to be supernatural, or miraculous even, will not arrest the inquiry. All real origination, the philosophers will say, is supernatural; their very question is, whether we have yet gone back to the origin, and can affirm that the present forms of plants and animals are the primordial, the miraculously created ones.

And even if they admit that, they will still inquire into the order of the phenomena, into the form of the miracle. You might as well expect the child to grow up content with what it is told about the advent of its infant brother. Indeed, to learn that the new-comer is the gift of God, far from lulling inquiry, only stimulates speculation as to how the precious gift was bestowed. That questioning child is father to the man,- is philosopher in short-clothes. Since, then, questions about the origin of species will be raised, and have been raised,— and since the theorizings, however different in particulars, all proceed upon the notion that one species of plant or animal is somehow derived from another, that the different sorts which now flourish are lineal or unlineal descendants of other and earlier sorts,— it now concerns us to ask, What are the grounds in Nature, the admitted facts, which suggest hypotheses of derivation, in some shape or other?

Reasons there must be, and plausible ones, for the persistent recurrence of theories upon this genetic basis. A study of Darwin's book, and a general glance at the present state of the natural sciences, enable us to gather the following as perhaps the most suggestive and influential. We can only enumerate them here, without much indication of their particular bearing. The general fact of variability; the patent fact, that all species vary more or less; that domesticated plants and animals, being in conditions favorable to the production and preservation of varieties, are apt to vary widely; and that by interbreeding, any variety may be fixed into a race, that is, into a variety which comes true from seed.

Many such races, it is allowed, differ from each other in structure and appearance as widely as do many admitted species; and it is practically very difficult, perhaps impossible, to draw a clear line between races and species. Witness the human races, for instance. Wild species also vary, perhaps about as widely as those of domestication, though in different ways. Some of them appear to vary little, others moderately, others immoderately, to the great bewilderment of systematic botanists and zoologists, and their increasing disagreement as to whether various forms shall be held to be original species or marked varieties.

Moreover, the degree to which the descendants of the same stock, varying in different directions, may at length diverge is unknown.

Charles Darwin's use of theology in the Origin of Species.

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by Means of Natural Selection,

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