Science from an Easy Chair

BoD E-Short (Verlag)
  • 1. Auflage
  • |
  • erschienen am 14. April 2020
  • |
  • 461 Seiten
E-Book | ePUB mit Wasserzeichen-DRM | Systemvoraussetzungen
978-3-7519-0762-0 (ISBN)
The delight which is experienced by those who discover new things in the various branches of science is, no doubt, very great. To reveal to other men processes, properties, existences in the natural world hitherto unsuspected, or, if suspected, yet eluding the grasp of man, is to do something which gives to him who does it a sense that he is of value in the world-a sense which will uphold him and enable him to endure adversity, and even persecution, with equanimity. But there is, perhaps, a greater and more vivid satisfaction for those who do or make great and splendid things which all men can see, and for which all men are grateful. The great artist-poet, painter, builder, or musician-has this satisfaction, and so also has the man who, by a combination of personal energy and clearness of intellectual vision, applies scientific knowledge to the accomplishment of great public works, and to the acquirement of that control by mankind of the natural conditions hostile to human progress which we may call, as did Lord Bacon, "the establishing of the kingdom of man."
1. Auflage
  • Englisch
  • 3,27 MB
978-3-7519-0762-0 (9783751907620)




It seems ill-mannered, if not ill-natured, that the year of the centenary of Charles Darwin's birth should have been chosen by owners of anonymous pens in order to alarm the public mind with the preposterous statement that his celebrated and universally accepted theory of the origin of the species or kinds of plants and animals by natural selection, or "the survival of favoured races in the struggle for life," is undermined and discredited. Such a statement once coolly made in the public Press is necessarily believed by a large number of uninformed readers, and, like all calumny, is none the less relished by the foolish, and, for the moment, none the less harmful, because it is baseless.

Those who seek to belittle Darwin's theory show, whenever they venture to enter into particulars, that they do not know what Darwin's theory is. They confuse it with other theories, and even imagine that some enthusiastic Darwinians who have tried to add a chapter here or there to Darwin's doctrine, are opponents of the great theory. Let me briefly state what that theory is:

It rests on three groups of facts-matters of observation, which are not theory or guess work at all-but admitted by every one and demonstrated every day. These are-(1) Living things, each in its kind, produce a far larger number of young than can possibly grow up to maturity, since the kind of food and the situation necessary to each kind are limited and already occupied. Only one oyster embryo out of every five million produced (the reader may refer to p. 137 on this subject) grows up through all the successive stages of youth to the adult state. The total number of a species of animal or plant on the whole area where it is found does not increase. Even in those which produce a small number of young, there is great destruction, and taking all the individuals into consideration, only a single pair of young arrive at maturity to replace their parents. There is no exception to the rule that every organic being naturally multiplies at so high a rate that, if not destroyed, the progeny of a single pair would soon cover the earth. The elephant is reckoned the slowest breeder of known animals; it commences to breed at 30 years of age, dies at 100, and has six young in the interval. After 750 years, supposing all the offspring of a single pair fulfilled the rule and were not destroyed in an untimely way, there would be nearly nineteen million elephants alive descended from the first pair. There is then no doubt as to the enormous excess in the production of young living things, nor as to their necessary competition with one another of the most severe and inexorable kind; nor again as to the necessary death, in many species, of hundreds and thousands, for every one which survives to maturity and in its turn breeds.

(2) The second great fact is that among all the young born to a pair of parents, no two are exactly alike, nor are any exactly like their parents; nor are any two taken from all produced by all parents of that species exactly alike. They all resemble their parents at the corresponding age, in a general way and even very closely; but the resemblance is far from amounting to identity. This is called "variation." It is familiar to us all in the case of the organism which we know best, and observe most closely, namely, man. It is also a matter of common observation in the case of dogs, cats, horses, and other domesticated animals. Many of these "variations" are exhibited in points of size, proportion, and colour, which are easily noted at once by the eye. But "variation" is really a deep-seated thing, and depends on causes which lie below the surface. We know that the offspring of men and of animals and of plants, give evidence of variations in what we call constitution, tendency, temperament, aptitude, strength, and that the colour, and even size of this or that part, are really only indications of a deep-seated difference in the living chemistry, the forces of nutrition and growth which reside in the living substance. The fact that many thousands of a species may be born and only a few survive, means therefore that many thousand varieties, often varieties not readily measured by the eye, are produced in each generation, from which a few individuals are in some way "selected" for survival.

(3) The third great fact is that though there is variation, amongst all the offspring in each generation, there is also a continual and definite inheritance by offspring of the qualities and structure of their parents to a degree which altogether preponderates over the variations. To put it in another way, we all know that every parental organism transmits to its young not only the qualities and structure of the species, or of the race, or of the family, but also transmits its own peculiarities or variations in which it departed from its parents, and from its brothers and sisters. This is best illustrated by our daily experience of human families.

These facts being admitted, and abundantly illustrated and traced in detail by years of observation and experimental breeding in all kinds of living things by hundreds of careful observers who have published the records of their studies, we come to the step where Darwin makes use of supposition or hypothesis. The question is, "Does the one which, out of the thousands of slightly different varieties, survives-do so by haphazard? or is there a necessarily acting state of things which selects that one special variety for survival?" Gardeners and breeders of pigeons, dogs, and cattle deliberately select the variations which they desire, breed from them, and so carry on by inheritance the special variation-whilst they ruthlessly destroy or restrain from breeding the numerous other variations in their "stock" which they do not desire. "If," said Darwin, "there is any necessarily selective mechanism in Nature which could act as the breeder does, new varieties might be 'naturally' selected, and changes of form and appearance naturally established, which in the course of long ages would amount to such marked differences as separate what we call one species from another." He showed that there is a natural mechanism of the required kind. "Since," he says, "the competition among the members of any one kind or species for a place in life is so very severe, and the hostile circumstances so varied, and since all the competing offspring differ by 'variation' ever so little from one another, those varieties which are better suited in even the smallest degree to hold their own not merely in fighting with the others, but in withstanding injurious influences, in escaping enemies, and in procuring food, will be the ones which will survive, when a large number of cases, many thousands, extending over a large area and many years, are considered. Those which are 'best fitted' to get through the exceedingly numerous dangers and difficulties of life will be the survivors." Hence we get the survival of the fit-the fit variations-by natural selection in the struggle for life. This, it will be observed, is an inference, and not a direct observation.

So long as the conditions remain practically or effectively unchanged, the animal or plant already "fitted" to them will be succeeded by those of its offspring which most resemble it in the essential points of "fitness." But we know that in the course of ages, more or less rapidly, climates change, land emerges from the sea, islands join continents, continents become scattered islands, animals and plants migrate into regions previously uninhabited by them. As such changes gradually come on, the natural selection of favoured varieties will necessarily lead to the survival of others than those previously favoured, other variations better suited to the new conditions will survive.

The natural selection of favoured variations would not amount to much, were the variations not perpetuated by transmission to the young which they produce. This, it is common knowledge [see (3)], does take place. It is known also that a variation so established is as a result of the regular process of variation presented in larger volume or emphasised in character in some individuals of subsequent generations, and by continued "natural selection" it may become more and more a prominent or dominant feature of the race.

So far, the only assumption made by Mr. Darwin is that any or some of the endless variations which occur in all the offspring of wild plants and animals, in various combinations and degree in each individual, can be sufficiently important to determine the survival or non-survival of the organisms possessing them. That is a matter which has been largely studied and discussed. The verdict of those who have studied on the spot (as Darwin himself did) the teeming life of the tropics, the insects, birds, and plants of those regions, is that we are justified in considering that small variations are sufficiently important to turn the scale in favour of survival or non-survival. It is not easy for a man who is not a determined naturalist, constantly observing the ways of wild living things, to appreciate the evidence as to the efficacy of small variations, even were I able here to submit it to him. It is to be found in the published works of an army of investigators. In any case it is granted that effective variations-whether small or great-occur in nature, and that natural selection favours and perpetuates the new and fitter variety to the exclusion of the less fit.

The real difficulty to most people comes in the supposition next made by Mr. Darwin-namely, that this slow process of change by natural selection of...

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