Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 3.djvu/32

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
22
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
THE DOCTRINE OF NATURAL SELECTION.[1]

NOTWITHSTANDING the objections which are still made to the theory of Natural Selection, on the ground that it is either a pure hypothesis not founded on any demonstrable facts, or a mere truism which can lead to no useful results, we find it year by year sinking deeper into the minds of thinking men, and applied, more and more frequently, to elucidate problems of the highest importance. In the works now before us we have this application made by two eminent writers, one a politician, the other a naturalist, as a means of working out so much of the complex problem of human progress as more especially interests them.

Mr. Bagehot takes for granted that early progress of man which resulted in his separation into strongly-marked races, in his acquisition of language, and of the rudiments of those moral and intellectual faculties which all men possess; and his object is to work out the steps by which he advanced to the condition in which the dawn of history finds him—aggregated into distinct societies known as tribes or nations, subject to various forms of government, influenced by various beliefs and prejudices, and the slave of habits and customs which often seem to us not only absurd and useless, but even positively injurious. Now, every one of these beliefs or customs, or these aggregations of men into groups having some common characteristics, must have been useful at the time they originated; and a great feature of Mr. Bagehot's little book is his showing how even the most unpromising of these, as we now regard them, might have been a positive step in advance when they first appeared. His main idea is, that what was wanted in those early times was some means of combining men in societies, whether by the action of some common belief or common danger, or by the power of some ruler or tyrant. The mere fact of obedience to a ruler was at first much more important than what was done by means of the obedience. So, any superstition or any custom, even if it originated in the grossest delusion, and produced positively bad results, might yet, by forming a bond of union more perfect than any other then existing, give the primitive tribe subject to it such a relative advantage over the disconnected families around them as to lead to their increase and permanent survival in the struggle for ex-

  1. "Physics and Politics; or, Thoughts on the Application of the Principles of 'Natural Selection' and 'Inheritance' to Political Society." By Walter Bagehot. (King & Co., 1872.)
    "Histoire des Sciences et des Savants depuis deux Siècles, suivie d'autres Études sur les Sujets Scientifiques, en particulier sur la Sélection dans l'Espèce Humaine." Par Alphonse de Candolle. (Genève: H. Georg, 1873.)