Page images
PDF
EPUB

ve

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

there is no way of escaping from it. Each creature will tend to become more and more improved in life, and this improvement will lead to the gradual advancement of the organization of beings throughout the world,' and the direction of this improvement will be, 'by an advancement of the brain for intellectual purposes.'

Let not Mr Darwin's disciples then wince at the conclusion of this their system. It may take a long time to effect it, a period perhaps as long or longer than that which has elapsed from the Silurian era to the present day, but in the end all creatures will be rational as men: the volvox globator may, after an incalculable series of changes, finish his career by taking the chair of mental and moral philosophy, a sponge may become a professor of geology, and even a gander, that * animal of whose aptitude to mutability Mr Darwin most despairs, may nib his own quills, and sit down to write a learned volume of a new exposition of nature.

But the Theory has its exigencies, and as is often the case in a deviation from probability, a further advance into the improbable becomes unavoidable. Thus Natural Selection has been compelled to take into association the Struggle for Life, which some might be disposed to think could be dispensed with : for it would be argued, why in the case of the improvement of a plant or animal does it follow as a necessary consequence that all the unimproved beings of the cognate species must perish ? Supposing that Natural Selection were to produce a new species of violet, why must all the old-fashioned violets be forth with exterminated ? would not the world be large enough for the two sorts of flowers ? or granting the formation of a ** The goose secins to have a singularly inflexible organization' (43).

It is probable that there is scarcely an organized being that has not some antagonist to its prosperity; but, nevertheless, the weakest as well as the strongest thrive and prosper; the lion and the hare, the eagle and the wren, the shark and the pilchard keep their ancient positions in the ranks of life ; accidents, disappointments, and dangers may sometimes be their lot, but extermination of their species is wholly improbable.

In the sea where a vast majority of the inhabitants are carnivorous, the principle of destruction is most active, one species preying on another in a series of slaughters ; but slaughter is not extermination, and though it may go on at a frightful rate, if numbers are counted, yet in the end the balance of life will remain the same. Few animals can suffer so largely from numerous enemies as the herring, hundreds of millions are devoured by other fishes and by the birds, and hundreds of millions are captured by man. This, if called a struggle for existence, (a struggle in which there is no resistance or effort of any sort,) will always have a certain termination. The herring will be victorious, and the race will not be exterminated.

And how is this ? the animal has not been improved in any wonderful way to enable it to confront its dangerous destiny, it has no defensive or offensive apparatus, it is easily captured, and in certain seasons is apparently indifferent to its pursuers, allowing them to approach, without any effort to escape; it is a simple unarmed animal, neg.

US se

petitors, but an injury mutually inflicted by all the trees on one another. In all the vast woods of Nature's domain, or in those planted by man, who ever heard of this struggle issuing in a newly-invented tree qualified to master all its competitors ? Myriads of trees perish, after a hard and precarious existence, for want of space, but no new rival springs up to exter. minate them,

lected by Natural Selection, and left to take its chance, and yet it flourishes amazingly, and will flourish.

Mr Darwin does indeed himself acknowledge that the forces are so nearly balanced that the face of Nature remains uniform for a long period of time, i.e. till it is changed. But how could this balance be sustained for a • long period of time,' that is, for all the time we know anything of, if all were left to a blind accident, and there had been no calculation in contriving the antagonistic principles of life and destruction ?

If there is a balance that has, for unknown ages, preserved the order of Nature in its just proportions, surely this must be the result of some profound calculation which could grapple with the whole abstruse problem, the unknown number of which was to be found only in futurity; for if Natural Selection, which is in fact identical with chance, be supposed to have produced the destroyers, how is it possible to imagine that at the end of thousands of years, there should be no mistake, and that the face of Nature should remain uniform. This is believing in the old story of the atoms of Epicurus, and their accidental wisdom. Natural Selection acts for the benefit of indi. viduals only, and has no general plan for the good of all, of this we are frequently reminded, but here is a system of events at any rate, if plan it may not be called, which has, in spite of infinite combinations and contrarieties, and circumstances which no ordinary foresight could take into calculation, brought out undiminished and unimpaired, through all the hazards of time, the original harmony of Nature.

If for a moment we think of all destructive genera of animals, all of which, according to the theory, have been produced fortuitously by Natural Selection, the chances would be almost infinite against all these creatures having been turned out loose into Nature by mere accident, to live by destruction, and yet at the end of ages appearing to be neither too many nor too few.

Here then again we say, and we shall still have to repeat it, that Mr Darwin proposes an intelligent and sagacious scheme without an intellect that could have devised it; we are told that the balance is well-poised, but there is no mind to inspect or maintain the balance; and a wonderful problem has been solved without calculation.

We are told that “the modified offspring from the more highly improved branches in the line of descent will, it is probable, often take the place of, and so destroy, the earlier and less improved branches' (125); but how can Mr Darwin undertake to say that any animal is less improved' than it ought to be; and what does he mean by improving animals ? Is there any animal not rightly and adequately organized for the position it occupies in Nature ? What animal will Mr Darwin name which needs improvement, in what respect is it deficient, and what improvement would he suggest ? Nay, has he not himself said, when pressed by another argument, 'Who will pretend that he knows the natural history of any organic being sufficiently well to say whether any particular change would be to its advantage?' (139); and in another passage, where he is still harder pressed, he, for the occasion, abandons his Theory, and comes round to our side of the question: What advantage would it be to an intestinal worm, or even to an earth-worm, to be highly organized ?' (135). This is just what we ask, and applying this question to the whole scale of being, we ask what advantage would it be to improve the organization of a tapir, a pig, a camel, a bustard, an ostrich, or any of those animals which we have seen transformed in this theory ?

But mark the inconsistency! Though Mr Darwin can ask these questions of common sense when it suits his purpose, yet he tells us, in plain contradiction to these sentiments, that “the ultimate result will be that each creature will tend to become more and more improved in relation to its condition of life. This improvement will inevitably lead to the gradual advancement of the organization of the greater number of beings throughout the world’ (133).

If this general improvement should ever take place, when all creatures will thus be advanced to the limits of perfectibility, there will be no more Natural Selection, for she will have done her work, and consequently there will be no more Struggle for Life. Creatures will not be waging battle within battle to maintain their position, and in fact all the destroyers will disappear, and they will be transformed into some superior position by an advancement of the brain for intellectual purposes' (134), and even the intestinal worm will perhaps be in a fair way to study logic and propound theories.

Such are the bright prospects which this system holds out to us!

We have then enough before us to understand that the whole system is based on the progressive improvement of organization, and that without this, the ingeniously constructed fabric would fall immediately into ruins. The basis however rests on three assumptions.

1. That the phenomena of life are accidental.

SES

« PreviousContinue »