Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/15

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.

five in number, namely: a germ, nutritive matter, air, water, heat, the four latter undoubtedly existing in the interior of all animals."[1] Dr. Leidy affirms his belief that very slight modifications of these essential conditions of life were sufficient to produce the vast variety of living beings upon the globe. The theory of derivation based upon the principles of natural selection demands the following admissions: that species vary, that peculiarities are transmitted or inherited, that a greater number of individuals perish than survive, and that the physical features of the earth are now and have been constantly changing, and that precisely the same conditions never recur. These are admitted facts. Now comes the theoretical part of natural selection, namely, that the varieties which survive are those which are more in harmony with the environments of the time. These propositions, with minor ones, form the theory of Darwin. Lamarck and others had recognized the gradual enhancement of varieties into species, but had not struck the key-note of natural selection, though Wells in the beginning of the century had clearly recognized it in a pertinent example. If we look impartially at these propositions, we need no demonstration to prove the inheritance of characters the most minute, and even the perpetuation of the most subtile features.

On general principles, too, the proposition, that those individuals best adapted to their surroundings survive, need only be stated to be accepted by a reasonable mind. In truth, to deny it would be to deny, as Alphonse de Candolle says, that a round stone would roll down-hill faster and farther than a flat one. Indeed, this eminent botanist affirms that natural selection is neither a theory nor an hypothesis, but the explanation of a necessary fact. The constant physical changes in the past and present condition of the world are incontrovertibly established. It seems, then, that the prime question resolves itself into whether each species as a whole has something inherent which prompts it to vary irrespective of its environments, or whether a correlation can be established between the variation of species and certain physical conditions inducing these variations, and here let me add that of all groups of animals from species through genera to higher divisions, that group of individuals recognized as a species has the most tangible existence. And, as a proof of this, there need only be mentioned the fact that many naturalists, while regarding species as clearly distinct, have on the other hand looked upon classification as an artificial method to facilitate the study, and hence the innumerable schemes and the successive interpolation of subclasses, sub-orders, sub-families, and sub-genera, which simply circumscribed smaller proofs than had before been recognized.

The rapid multiplication of some of these groups has already formed a serious obstacle to the study of systematic zoölogy.

What would good Dr. Mitchell have said if he could have foreseen

  1. "Proceedings of the Philosophical Academy," vol. iii., p. 7.