Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/55

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45
UNSOLVED PROBLEMS OF SCIENCE.

The gravest objection to the doctrine of natural selection was expressed by Weismann in a paper published a few months ago, not as agreeing to the objection, but as resisting it; and therefore his language may be taken as an impartial statement of the difficulty. "We accept natural selection," he says, "not because we are able to demonstrate the process in detail, not even because we can with more or less ease imagine it, but simply because we must—because it is the only possible explanation that we can conceive. We must assume natural selection to be the principle of the explanation of the metamorphoses, because all other apparent principles of explanation fail us, and it is inconceivable that there could yet be another capable of explaining the adaptation of organisms without assuming the help of a principle of design,"

There is the difficulty. We can not demonstrate the process of natural selection in detail; we can not even, with more or less ease, imagine it. It is purely hypothetical. No man, so far as we know, has ever seen it at work. An accidental variation may have been perpetuated by inheritance, and in the struggle for existence the bearer of it may have replaced, by virtue of the survival of the fittest, his less improved competitors; but, as far as we know, no man or succession of men have ever observed the whole process in any single case, and certainly no man has recorded the observation. Variation by artificial selection, of course, we know very well; but the intervention of the cattle breeder and the pigeon fancier is the essence of artificial selection. It is effected by their action in crossing, by their skill in bringing the right mates together to produce the progeniture they want. But in natural selection who is to supply the breeder's place? Unless the crossing is properly arranged, the new breed will never come into being. What is to secure that the two individuals of opposite sexes in the primeval forest, who had been both accidentally blessed with the same advantageous variation, shall meet, and transmit by inheritance that variation to their successors? Unless this step is made good, the modification will never get a start; and yet there is nothing to insure that step, except pure chance. The law of chances takes the place of the cattle breeder and the pigeon fancier. The biologists do well to ask for an immeasurable expanse of time. if the occasional meetings of advantageously varied couples from age to age are to provide the pedigree of modifications which unite us to our ancestor the jellyfish. Of course the struggle for existence, and the survival of the fittest, would in the long run secure the predominance of the stronger breed over the weaker. But it would be of no use in setting the improved breed going. There would not be time. No possible variation which is known to our experience, in the short time that elapses in a single life between the moment of maturity and the