Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 31.djvu/741

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THE

POPULAR SCIENCE

MONTHLY.



OCTOBER, 1887.




WHAT IS EVOLUTION?[1]

By Professor JOSEPH LE CONTE.

EVERY one is familiar with the main facts connected with the development of an egg. We all know that it begins as a microscopic germ-cell, then grows into an egg, then organizes into a chick, and finally grows into a cock; and that the whole process follows some general, well-recognized law. Now, this process is evolution. It is more — it is the type of all evolution. It is that from which we get our idea of evolution, and without which there would be no such word. Whenever and wherever we find a process of change more or less resembling this, and following laws similar to those determining the development of an egg, we call it evolution.

Evolution as a, process is not confined to one thing, the egg, nor as a doctrine is it confined to one department of science — biology. The process pervades the whole universe, and the doctrine concerns alike every department of science — yea, every department of human thought. It is literally one half of all science. Therefore, its truth or falseness, its acceptance or rejection, is no trifling matter, affecting only one small corner of the thought-realm. On the contrary, it affects profoundly the foundations of philosophy, and therefore the whole domain of thought. It determines the whole attitude of the mind toward Nature and God.

I have said evolution constitutes one half of all science. This may seem to some a startling proposition. I stop to make it good.

Every system of correlated parts may be studied from two points of view, which give rise to two departments of science, one of which — and the greater and more complex — is evolution. The one concerns changes within the system by action and reaction between the parts,

  1. From advance sheets of Professor Le Conte's work on "Evolution and its Relation to Religious Thought," in preparation by D. Appleton & Co.