Popular Science Monthly/Volume 31/October 1887/What Is Evolution?
|WHAT IS EVOLUTION?|||
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, producing equilibrium and stability; the other concerns the progressive movement of the system, as a whole, to higher and higher conditions—the movement of the point of equilibrium itself, by constant slight disturbance and readjustment of parts on a higher plane, with more complex inter-relations. The one concerns the laws of sustentation of the system, the other the laws of evolution. The one concerns things as they are, the other the process by which they become so. Now, Nature as a whole is such a system of correlated parts. Every department and sub-department of Nature, whether it be the solar system or the earth, or the organic kingdom, or human society, or the human body, is such a system of correlated parts, and is therefore subject to evolution. We can best make this thought clear by examples:
1. Take, then, the human body. This complex and beautiful system of correlated and nicely-adjusted parts may be studied in a state of maturity and equilibrium, in which all the organs and functions by action and reaction co-operate to produce perfect stability, health, and physical happiness. This study is physiology. Or else the same may be studied in a state of progressive change. Now, we perceive that the stability is never perfect—the point of equilibrium is ever moving. By the ever-changing number and relative power of the co-operating parts the equilibrium is ever being disturbed, only to be readjusted on a higher plane, with still more beautiful and complex inter-relations. This is growth, development, evolution. Its study is called embryology. 2. Take another example—the solar system. We may study sun, planets, and satellites in their mutual actions and reactions, co-operating to produce perfect equilibrium, stability, beautiful order, and musical harmony. This is the ideal of physical astronomy as embodied in Laplace's "Mécanique Céleste." Or we may study the same in its origin and progressive change. Now, we perceive that equilibrium and stability are never absolutely perfect, but, on the contrary, there is continual disturbance with readjustment on a higher plane—continual introduction of infinitesimal discord, only to enhance the grandeur and complexity of the harmonic relations. This is the nebular hypothesis—the theory of the development of the solar system. It is cosmogony; it is evolution. 3. Again: society may be studied in the mutual play of all its social functions so adjusted as to produce social equilibrium, happiness, prosperity, and good government. This is social statics. But equilibrium and stability are never perfect. Permanent social equilibrium would be social stagnation and decay. Therefore, we must study society also in its onward movement—the equilibrium ever disturbed, only to be readjusted on a higher plane with more and more complexly inter-related parts. This is dynamics—social progress. It is evolution. 4. Again: the earth, as a whole, may be studied in its present forms, and the mutual action of all its parts—lands and seas, mountains and valleys, rivers, gulfs, and bays, currents of air and ocean—and the manner in which all these, by action and reaction, co-operate to produce climates and physical conditions such as we now find them. This is physical geography. Or, we may study the earth in its gradual progress toward its present condition—the changes which have taken place in all these parts, and consequent changes in climate; in a word, the gradual process of becoming what it now is. This is physical geology—it is evolution. 5. Lastly, we may study the whole organic kingdom in its entirety as we now find it—the mutual relation of different classes, orders, genera, and species to each other and to external conditions, and the action and reaction of these in the struggle for life—the geographical distribution of species and their relation to climate and other physical conditions, the whole constituting a complexly adjusted and permanent equilibrium. This is a science of great importance, but one not yet distinctly conceived, much less named. Or, we may study the same in its gradual progressive approach, throughout all geological times, toward the present condition of things, by continual changes in the parts, and therefore disturbance of equilibrium and readjustment on a higher plane with more complex inter-relations. This is development of the organic kingdom. In the popular mind it is, par excellence, evolution.
We might multiply examples without limit. There are the same two points of view on all subjects. As already said, in the one we are concerned with things as they are; in the other, with the process by which they became so. This "law of becoming" in all things—this universal law of progressive inter-connected change—may be called the law of continuity. We all recognize the universal relation of things, gravitative or other, in space. This asserts the universal causal relation of things in time. This is the universal law of evolution.
But it has so happened that in the popular mind the term evolution is mostly confined to the development of the organic kingdom, or the law of continuity as applied to this department of Nature. The reason of this is that this department was the last to acknowledge the supremacy of this law; this is the domain in which the advocates of supernaturalism in the realm of Nature had made their last stand. But it is wholly unphilosophical thus to limit the term. If there be any evolution, par excellence, it is evolution of the individual or embryonic development. This is the clearest, the most familiar, and most easily understood, and therefore the type of evolution. We first take our idea of evolution from this form, and then extend it to other forms of continuous change following a similar law. But, since the popular mind limits the term to development of the organic kingdom, and since, moreover, this is now the battle-ground between the advocates of continuity and discontinuity—of naturalism and supernaturalism in the realm of Nature—what we shall say will have reference chiefly to this department, though we shall illustrate freely by reference to other forms of evolution.
Definition of Evolution.— Evolution is (I) continuous progressive change, (II) according to certain laws, (III) and by means of resident forces. It may doubtless be defined in other and perhaps better terms, but this suits our purposes best. Embryonic development is the type of evolution. It will be admitted that this definition is completely realized in this process. The change here is certainly continuously progressive; it is according to certain well-ascertained laws; it is by forces (vital forces) resident in the egg itself. Is, then, the process of change in the organic kingdom throughout geologic times like this? Does it correspond to the definition given above? Does it also deserve the name of evolution? We shall see.
I. Every individual animal body—say man's—has become what it now is by a gradual process. Commencing as a microscopic spherule of living but apparently unorganized protoplasm, it gradually added cell to cell, tissue to tissue, organ to organ, and function to function; thus becoming more and more complex in the mutual action of its correlated parts, as it passed successively through the stages of germ, egg, embryo, and infant, to maturity. This ascending series of genetically connected stages is called the embryonic or Ontogenic series.
There is another series the terms of which are coexistent, and which, therefore, is not in any sense a genetic or development series, but which it is important to mention, because to some degree similar to and illustrative of the last. Commencing with the lowest unicelled microscopic organisms, and passing up to the animal scale, as it now exists, we find a series of forms similar, though not identical, with the last. Here, again, we find cell added to cell, tissue to tissue, organ to organ, and function to function, the animal body becoming more and more complex in structure, in the mutual action of its correlated parts, and the mutual action with the environment, until we reach the highest complexity of structure and of internal and external relations only in the highest animals. This ascending series may be called the natural history series; or the classification or Taxonomic series. The terms of this series are, of course, not genetically connected; at least, not directly so connected. In what way they are connected, and how the series comes to be similar to the last, we shall see by-and-by.
Finally, there is still a third series, the grandest and most fundamental of all, but only recently recognized, and therefore still imperfectly known. Commencing with the earliest organisms, the very dawn of life, in the very lowest rocks, and passing onward and upward through Eozoic, Palæozoic, Mesozoic, Cenozoic, to the Psychozoic or present time, we again find first the lowest forms, and then successively forms more and more complex in structure, in the interaction of correlated parts and in interaction with the environment, until we reach the most complex internal and external relations, and therefore the highest structure only in the present time. This series we will call the geological or phylogenic series. According to the evolution theory, the terms of this series also are genetically connected. It is, therefore, an evolution series. Furthermore, it is the most fundamental of the three series, because it is the cause of the other two. The Ontogenic series is like it because it is a brief recapitulation, through heredity, as it were from memory, of its main points. The Taxonomic series is like it because the rate of advance along different lines was different in every degree, and therefore every stage of the advance is still represented in a general way among existing forms. Some of these points will be explained more fully in connection with the evidences of the truth of evolution.
It will be admitted, then, that we find progressive change in organic forms throughout geological times. This is the first point in the definition of evolution.
II. We have shown continuously progressive change in organic forms during the whole geologic history of the earth, similar in a general way to that observed in embryonic development. We wish now to show that the laws of change are similar in the two cases. What, then, are the laws of succession of organic forms in geologic times? I have been accustomed to formulate them thus: a. The law of differentiation; b. The law of progress of the whole; c. The law of cyclical movement. We will take up these and explain them successively, and then, afterward, show that they are also the laws of embryonic development, and therefore the laws of evolution:
a. It is a most significant fact, to which attention was first strongly directed by Louis Agassiz, that the earliest representatives of any group, whether class, order, or family, were not what we would now call typical representatives of that group; but, on the contrary, they were, in a wonderful degree, connecting links; that is, that along with their distinctive classic, ordinal, or family characters they possessed also other characters which connected them closely with other classes, orders, or families, now widely distinct, without connecting links or intermediate forms. For example: The earliest vertebrates were fishes, but not typical fishes. On the contrary, they were fishes so closely birds as we now know them. They were, on the contrary, birds so reptilian in character, that there is still some doubt whether bird-characters or reptilian characters predominate in the mixture, and therefore whether they ought to be called reptilian birds or bird-like reptiles. From this common stem, the more specialized modern reptiles branched off in one direction and typical birds in another, and intermediate forms became extinct; until, now, the two classes stand widely apart, without apparent genetic connection. This subject will be more fully treated hereafter, and other examples given. These two will be sufficient now to make the idea clear.by many characters with amphibian reptiles, that we hardly know whether to call some of them reptilian fishes, or fish-like reptiles. From these, as from a common vertebrate stem, were afterward separated, by slow changes from generation to generation, in two directions, the typical fishes and the true reptiles. So, also, to take another example, the first birds were far different from typical
Such early forms combining the characters of two or more groups, now widely separated, were called by Agassiz connecting types, combining types, synthetic types, and sometimes prophetic types; by Dana, comprehensive types; and by Huxley, generalized types. They are most usually known now as generalized types, and their widely-separated outcomes specialized types. Thus, in general, we may say that the widely-separated groups of the present day, when traced back in geological times, approach one another more and more until they finally unite to form common stems, and these in their turn unite to form a common trunk. From such a common trunk, by successive branching and rebranching, each branch taking a different direction, and all growing wider and wider apart (differentiation), have been gradually generated all the diversified forms which we see at the present day. The last leafy ramifications—flower-bearing and fruit-bearing— of this tree of life, are the fauna and flora of the present epoch. The law might be called the law of ramification, of specialization of the parts, and diversification of the whole.
b. Many imagine that progress is the one law of evolution; in fact, that evolution and progress are coextensive and convertible terms. They imagine that in evolution the movement must be upward and onward in all parts; that degeneration is the opposite of evolution. This is far from the truth. There is, doubtless, in evolution, progress to higher and higher planes; but not along every line, nor in every part: for this would be contrary to the law of differentiation. It is only progress of the whole organic kingdom in its entirety. We can best make this clear by an illustration. A growing tree branches and again branches in all directions, some branches going upward, some sidewise, and some downward—anywhere, everywhere, for light and air; but the whole tree grows ever taller in its higher branches, larger in the circumference of its outstretching arms, and more diversified in structure. Even so the tree of life, by the law of differentiation, branches and rebranches continually in all directions—some branches going upward to higher planes (progress), some pushing horizontally, neither rising nor sinking, but only going farther from the generalized origin (specialization); some going downward (degeneration), anywhere, everywhere, for an unoccupied place in the economy of Nature, but the whole tree grows ever higher in its highest parts, grander in its proportions, and more complexly diversified in its structure.
It may be well to pause here a moment to show how this mistaken identification of evolution with progress alone, without modification by the more fundamental laws of differentiation, has given rise to misconceptions in the popular and even in the scientific mind. The biologist is continually met with the question, "Do you mean to say that any one of the invertebrates, such, for instance, as a spider, may eventually, in the course of successive generations, become a vertebrate, or that a dog or a monkey is on the highway to become a man?" By no means. There is but one straight and narrow way to the highest—in evolution as in ail else, and few there be that have found it in fact, probably two or three only at every step. The animals mentioned above have diverged from that way. In their ancestral history, they have missed the golden opportunity, if they ever had it. It is easy to go on in the way they have chosen, but impossible to get back on the ascending trunk-line. To compare again with the growing tree, only one straight trunk-line leads upward to the terminal bud. A branch once separated must grow its own way, if it grow at all.
Of the same nature is the mistake of some extreme evolutionists, such as Dr. Bastian and Professor Haeckel, and of nearly all anti-evolutionists, viz., that of imagining that the truth of evolution and that of spontaneous generation must stand or fall together. On the contrary, if life did once arise spontaneously from any lower forces, physical or chemical, by natural process, the conditions necessary for so extraordinary a change could hardly be expected to occur but once in the history of the earth. They are, therefore, now, not only unproducible, but unimaginable. Such golden opportunities do not recur. Evolution goes only onward. Therefore, the impossibility of the derivation of life from non-life now, is no more an argument against such a derivation once, than is the hopelessness of a worm ever becoming a vertebrate now, an argument against the derivative origin of vertebrates. Doubtless if life were now extinguished from the face of the earth, it could not again be rekindled by any natural process known to us; but the same is probably true of every step of evolution. If any class—for example, mammals—were now destroyed, it could not be reformed from any other class now living. It would be necessary to go back to the time and condition of the separation of this class from the reptilian stem. Therefore, the falseness of the doctrine of abiogenesis, so far from being any argument against evolution, is exactly what a true conception of evolution and knowledge of its laws would lead us to expect.
c. The movement of evolution has ever been onward and upward, it is true, but not at a uniform rate in the whole, and especially in the parts. On the contrary, it has plainly moved in successive cycles. The tide of evolution rose ever higher and higher, without ebb, but it nevertheless came in successive waves, each higher than the preceding, and overborne by the succeeding. These successive cycles are the dynasties or reigns of Agassiz, and ages of Dana; the reign of mollusks, the reign of fishes, of reptiles, of mammals, and finally of man. During the early Palæozoic times (Cambrian and Silurian) there were no vertebrates. But never in the history of the earth were mollusks of greater size, number, and variety of form than then. They were truly the rulers of these early seas. In the absence of competition of still higher animals, they had things all their own way, and therefore grew into a great monopoly of power. In the later Palæozoic (Devonian) fishes were introduced. They increased rapidly in size, number, and variety; and being of higher organization they quickly usurped the empire of the seas, while the mollusca dwindled in size and importance, and sought safety in a less conspicuous position. In the Mesozoic times, reptiles, introduced a little earlier, finding congenial conditions and an unoccupied place above, rapidly increased in number, variety, and size, until sea and land seemed to have swarmed with them. Never before or since have reptiles existed in such numbers, in such variety of form, or assumed such huge proportions; nor have they ever since been so highly organized as then. They quickly became rulers in every realm of Nature—rulers of the sea, swimming reptiles; rulers of the land, walking reptiles; and rulers of the air, flying reptiles. In the unequal contest, fishes therefore sought safety in subordination. Meanwhile mammals were introduced in the Mesozoic, but small in size, low in type (marsupials), and by no means able to contest the empire with the great reptiles. But in the Cenozoic (Tertiary) the condition apparently becoming favorable for their development, they rapidly increased in number, size, variety, and grade of organization, and quickly overpowered the great reptiles, which almost immediately sank into the subordinate position in which we now find them, and thus found comparative safety. Finally, in the Quaternary, appeared man, contending doubtfully for a while with the great mammals, but soon (in Psychozoic) acquiring mastery through superior intelligence. The huge and dangerous mammals were destroyed and are still being destroyed; the useful animals and plants were preserved and made subservient to his wants; and all things on the face of the earth are being readjusted to the requirements of his rule. In all cases it will be observed that the rulers were such because, by reason of strength, organization, and intelligence, they were fitted to rule. There is always room at the top. To illustrate again by a growing tree: This successive culmination of higher and higher classes may be compared to the flowering and fruiting of higher and higher branches. Each uppermost branch, under the genial heat and light of direct sunshine, received in abundance by reason of position, grew rapidly, flowered and fruited; but quickly dwindled when overshadowed by still higher branches, which in their turn, monopolized for a time the precious sunshine.
But observe, furthermore: when each ruling class declined in importance, it did not perish, but continued in a subordinate position. Thus, the whole organic kingdom became not only higher and higher in its highest forms, but also more and more complex in its structure and in the interaction of its correlated parts. The whole process and its result is roughly represented in the accompanying diagram (Fig. 1), in
which A B represents the course of geological time, and the curve, the rise, culmination, and decline of successive dominant classes.
The above Three Laws are Laws of Evolution.—These three laws we have shown are distinctly recognizable in the succession of organic forms in the geological history of the earth. They are, therefore, undoubtedly the general laws of succession. Are they also laws of evolution? Are they also discoverable in embryonic development, the type of evolution? They are, as we now proceed to show:
In reproduction the new individual appears: 1. As a germ-cell—a single microscopic living cell.' 2. Then, by growth and multiplication of cells, it becomes an egg. This may be characterized as an aggregate of similar cells, and therefore is not yet differentiated into tissues and organs. In other words, it is not yet visibly organized; for organization may be defined as the possession of different parts, performing different functions, and all co-operating for one given end, viz., the life and well-being of the organism. 3. Then commences the really characteristic process of development, viz., differentiation or diversification. The cells are at first all alike in form and function, for all are globular in form, and each performs all the functions necessary for life. From this common point now commences development in different directions, which may be compared to a branching and rebranching, with more and more complex results, according as the animal is higher in the scale of organization and advances toward a state of maturity. First, the cell-aggregate (egg) separates into three distinct layers of cells, called ecto-blast, endo-blast, and meso-blast. These by further differentiation form the three fundamental groups of organs and functions, viz., the nervous system, the nutritive system, and the blood system: the first presiding over the exchange of force or influence, by action and reaction with the environment, and between the different parts of the organism; the second presiding over the exchange of matter with the environment, by absorption and elimination; the third presiding over exchanges of matter between different parts of the organism. The first system of functions and organs may be compared to a system of telegraphy, foreign and domestic; the second to foreign commerce; the third to an internal carrying-trade. Following out any one of these groups in higher animals, say the nervous system, it quickly differentiates again into two sub-systems, viz., cerebro-spinal and ganglionic, each having its own distinctive functions, which we can not stop to explain. Then the cerebro-spinal again differentiates into voluntary and reflex systems. All of these have meanwhile separated into sensory and motor centers and fibers. Then, taking only the sensory fibers, these again are differentiated into five special senses, each having a wholly different function. Then, finally, taking any one of these, say the sense of touch or feeling, this again is differentiated into many kinds of fibers, each responding to a different impression, some to heat, others to cold, still others to pressure, etc. We have taken the nervous system; but the same differentiation and redifferentiation takes place in all other systems, and is carried to higher and higher points according to the position in the scale of the animal which is to be formed.
Or, to vary the mode of presentation a little, the cells of the original aggregate, commencing all alike, immediately begin to take on different forms in order to perform different functions. Some cells take on a certain form and aggregate themselves to form a peculiar tissue which we call muscle, and which does nothing else, can do nothing else, than contract under stimulus. Another group of cells take on another peculiar form and aggregate themselves to form another and very different tissue, viz., nervous tissue, which does nothing and can do nothing but carry influence back and forth between the great external world and the little world of consciousness within. Still another group of cells take still another form and aggregate to form still another tissue, viz., the epithelial, whose only function is to absorb nutritive and eliminate waste matters. Thus, by differentiation of form and limitation of function, or division of labor, the different parts of the organism are bound more and more closely together by mutual dependence, and the whole becomes more and more distinctly individuated, and separation of parts becomes more and more a mutilation, and finally becomes impossible without death. This process, as already said, reaches its highest point only in the later stages of development of the highest animals.
The law of progress is, of course, admitted to be a law of ontogeny; but observe here, also, it is true only of the whole and not necessarily of all the parts, except from the point of view of the whole. Thus, for example, starting all from a common form or generalized type, some cells advance to the dignity of brain-cells, whose function is somehow connected with the generation or at least the manifestation of thought, will, and emotion; other cells descend to the position of kidney-cells, whose sole function is the excretion of urine. But here, also, the highest cells are successively higher, and the whole aggregate is successively nobler and more complex. It is again a branching and rebranching in every direction, some going upward, some downward, some horizontally, anywhere, everywhere, to increase the complexity of relations internal and external, and therefore to elevate the plane of the whole.
Lastly, the law of cyclical movement is also a law of ontogeny and therefore of evolution. This law, however, is less fundamental than the other two, and is, therefore, less conspicuous in the ontogenic than in the phylogenic series. It is conspicuous only in the later stages of ontogeny and in other higher kinds of evolution, such as social evolution. For example, in the ontogenic development of the body and mind from childhood to manhood we have plainly successive culminations and declines of higher and higher functions. In bodily development we have culminating first the nutritive functions, then the reproductive and muscular, and lastly the cerebral. In mental development we have culmination first of the receptive and retentive faculties in childhood, then of imaginative and æsthetic faculties in youth and young manhood; then of the reflective and elaborative faculties—the faculties of productive work in mature manhood; and, finally, the moral and religious sentiments in old age. The first gathers, and stores materials; the second vivifies and makes them plastic building materials; the third uses them in actual constructive work—in building the temple of science and philosophy; and the fourth dedicates that temple only to noblest purposes.
Observe here, also, that when each group of faculties culminates and declines it does not perish, but only becomes subordinate to the next higher dominant group, and the whole psychical organism becomes not only higher and higher in its highest parts, but also more and more complex in its structure and in the interaction of its correlated parts.
Observe, again, the necessity laid upon us by this law—the necessity of continued evolution to the end. Childhood, beautiful childhood, can not remain—it must quickly pass. If, with the decline of its characteristic faculties, the next higher group characteristic of youth do not increase and become dominant, then the glory of life is already past and deterioration begins. Have we not all seen sad examples of this? Youth, glorious youth, must also pass. If the next higher group of reflective and elaborative faculties do not arise and dominate, then progressive deterioration of character commences here—thenceforward the whole nature becomes coarse, as we so often see in young men, or else shrivels and withers, as we so often see in young women. Finally, manhood, strong and self-relying manhood, must also pass. If the moral and religious sentiments have not been slowly growing and gathering strength all along, and do not now assert their dominance over the whole man, then commences the final and saddest decline of all, and old age becomes the pitiable thing we so often see it. But, if the evolution have been normal throughout; if the highest moral and religious nature have been gathering strength through all and now dominates all, then the psychic evolution rises to the end—then the course of life is like a wave rising and cresting only at the moment of its dissolution, or, like the course of the sun, if not brightest at least most glorious in its setting. And thus—may we not hope?—the glories of the close of a well-spent life become the pledge and harbinger of an eternal to-morrow.
We have thus far illustrated the three laws of succession of organic forms by ontogeny, because this is the type of evolution; but they may be illustrated also by other forms of evolution. Next to the development of the individual, undoubtedly the progress of society furnishes the best illustration of these laws.
Commencing with a condition in which each individual performs all necessary social functions, but very imperfectly; in which each individual is his own shoemaker and tailor, and house-builder and farmer, and therefore all persons are socially alike; as society advances, the constituent members begin to diverge, some taking on one social function and some another, until in the highest stages of social organization this diversification or division and subdivision of labor reaches its highest point, and each member of the aggregate can do perfectly but one thing. Thus, the social organism becomes more and more strongly bound together by mutual dependence and separation becomes mutilation. I do not mean to say that this extreme is desirable, but only that an approach to this is a natural law of social development. Is not this the law of differentiation?
So also progress is here, as in other forms of evolution—a progress of the whole, but not necessarily of every part. Some members of the social aggregate advance upward to the dignity of statesmen, philosophers, and poets; some advance downward to the position of scavengers and sewer-cleaners. But the highest members are progressively higher, and the whole aggregate is progressively grander and more complex, in structure and functions.
So, again, the law of cyclical movement is equally conspicuous here. Society everywhere advances, not uniformly, but by successive waves, each higher than the last; each urged by a newer and higher social force, and embodying a new and higher phase of civilization. Again: as each phase declines, its characteristic social force is not lost, but becomes incorporated into the next higher phase as a subordinate principle, and thus the social organism as a whole becomes not only higher and higher, but also more and more complex in the mutual relations of its interacting social forces.
Let us not be misunderstood, however. There is undoubtedly in social evolution something more and higher than we have described, but which does not concern us here, except to guard against misconstruction. There is in society a voluntary progress wholly different from the evolution we have been describing. In true or material evolution natural law works for the betterment of the whole utterly regardless of the elevation of the individual, and the individual contributes to the advance of the whole quite unconsciously while striving only for his own betterment. This unconscious evolution by natural law inherited from the animal kingdom is conspicuous enough in society, especially in its early stages, but we would make a great mistake if we imagined, as some do, that this is all. Besides the unconscious evolution by natural laws, inherited from below, there is a higher evolution, inherited from above, indissolubly connected with man's spiritual nature—a conscious, voluntary striving of the best members of the social aggregate for the betterment of the whole—a conscious, voluntary striving both of the individual and of society toward a recognized ideal. In the one kind of evolution the fittest are those most in harmony with the environment, and which therefore always survive; in the other, the fittest, are those most in harmony with the ideal, and which often do not survive. The laws of this free voluntary progress are little understood. They are of supreme importance, but do not specially concern us here.
The three laws above mentioned might be illustrated equally well by all other forms of evolution. We have selected only those which are most familiar. They may, therefore, be truly called the laws of evolution. We have shown that they are the laws of succession of organic forms.
III. Thus far in our argument I suppose that most well-informed men will raise no objection. It will be admitted, I think, even by those most bitterly opposed to the theory of evolution, that there has been throughout the whole geological history of the earth an onward movement of the organic kingdom to higher and higher levels. It will be admitted, also, that there is a grand and most significant resemblance between the course of development of the organic kingdom and the course of embryonic development—between the laws of succession of organic forms and the laws of ontogenic evolution. But there is another essential element in ontogenic evolution. It is that the forces or causes of evolution are natural; that they reside in the thing developing and in the reacting environment. This we know is true of embryonic development; is it true also of the geologic succession of organic forms? It is true of ontogeny; is it true also of phylogeny? If not, then only by a metaphor can we call the process of change in the organic kingdom throughout geological history an evolution. This is the point of discussion, and not only of discussion, but, alas! of heated and even angry dispute. The field of discussion is thus narrowed to this third point only.
Before stating the two opposite views of the cause of evolution, it is necessary to remind the reader that when the evolutionist speaks of the forces that determine progressive changes in organic forms as resident or inherent, all that he means, or ought to mean, is that they are resident in the same sense as all natural forces are resident; in the same sense that the vital forces of the embryo are resident in the embryo, or that the forces of the development of the solar system according to the nebular or any other cosmogonic hypotheses are resident in that system. In other words, they mean only that they are natural, not supernatural. This does not, of course, touch that deeper, that deepest of all questions, viz., the essential nature and origin of natural forces; how far they are independent and self-existent, and how far they are only modes of divine energy. This is a question of philosophy, not of science.
As already stated, all will admit a grand resemblance between the stages of embryonic development and those of the development of the organic kingdom. This was first brought out clearly by Louis Agassiz, and is, in fact, the greatest result of his life-work. All admit, also, that the embryonic development is a natural process. Is the development of the organic kingdom also a natural process? All biologists of the present day contend that it is; all the old-school naturalists, with Agassiz at their head, and all anti-evolutionists of every school, contend that it is not. We take Agassiz as the type of this school, because he has most fully elaborated and most distinctly formulated this view. As formulated by him, it has stood in the minds of many as an alternative and substitute for evolution.
According to the evolutionists, all organic forms, whether species, genera, families, orders, classes, etc., are variable, and, if external conditions favor, these variations accumulate in one direction and gradually produce new forms, the intermediate links being usually destroyed or dying out. According to Agassiz, the higher groups, such as genera, families, orders, etc., are indeed variable by the introduction of new species, but species are the ultimate elements of classification, and, like the ultimate elements of chemistry, are unchangeable; and, therefore, the speculations of the evolutionist concerning the transmutation of species are as vain as were the speculations of the alchemists concerning the transmutation of metals—that the origin of man, for example, from any lower species is as impossible as the origin of gold from any baser metal. Both sides admit frequent change of species during geological history, but one regards the change as a change by gradual transmutation of one species into another through successive generations and by natural process, the other as change by substitution of one species for another by direct supernatural creative act. Both admit the gradual development of the organic kingdom as a whole through stages similar to those of embryonic development; but the one regards the whole process as natural, and therefore strictly comparable to embryonic development, the other as requiring frequent special interference of creative energy, and therefore comparable rather to the development of a building under the hand and according to the preconceived plan of an architect—a plan, in this case, conceived in eternity and carried out consistently through infinite time. It is seen that the essential point of difference is this: The one asserts the variability of species (if conditions favor, and time enough is given) without limit; the other asserts the permanency of specific forms, or their variability only within narrow limits. The one asserts the origin of species by "descent with modifications"; the other, the origin of species by "special act of creation." The one asserts the law of continuity (i.e., that each stage is the natural outcome of the immediately preceding stage) in this, as in every other department of Nature; the other asserts that the law of continuity (i.e., of cause and effect) does not hold in this department; that the links of the chain of changes are discontinuous, the connection between them being intellectual, not physical.
So much for sharp contrasting characterization of the two views, necessary for clear understanding of much that is to follow.
- From advance sheets of Professor Le Conte's work on "Evolution and its Relation to Religious Thought," in preparation by D. Appleton & Co.
- The term chorology, used by Haeckel, nearly covers the ground.
- Ontos-gennao (individual-making, or genesis of the individual).
- Taxis, nomos (relating to science of arrangement).
- This statement is general; it will be modified hereafter.
- Phule-gennao (kind-making); genesis of the race.
- This formulation of the laws of organic succession was given by me in 1860, before I knew anything of either Darwin's or Spencer's evolution. They were my own mode of formulating Agassiz's views.
- Genesis without previous life—spontaneous generation.
- Fishes were first introduced in the later Silurian, but became dominant in the Devonian.
- Amphibians were introduced in the Carboniferous, but true reptiles not until the Permian.
- Of course I mean downward in social function. Individually the scavenger may be nobler than the statesman.