Darwin, and After Darwin (Vol. 1 and 3, of 3)
by George John Romanes
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In the first place, the fact that secondary sexual characters of the embellishing kind are so generally restricted to the male sex in itself seems to constitute very cogent proof that, in some way or another, such characters are connected with the part which is played by the male in the act of propagation. Moreover, secondary sexual characters of this kind are of quite as general occurrence as are those of the other kind which have to do with rivalry in battle; and the former are usually of the more elaborate description. Therefore, as there is no doubt that secondary sexual characters of the one order have an immediate purpose to serve in the act of propagation, we are by this close analogy confirmed in our surmise that secondary sexual characters of the other, and still more elaborate, order are likewise so concerned. Moreover, this view of their meaning becomes still further strengthened when we take into consideration the following facts. Namely, (a) secondary sexual characters of the embellishing kind are, as a rule, developed only at maturity; and most frequently during only a part of the year, which is invariably the breeding season: (b) they are always more or less seriously affected by emasculation: (c) they are always, and only, displayed in perfection during the act of courtship: (d) then, however, they are displayed with the most elaborate pains; yet always, and only, before the females: (e) they appear, at all events in many cases, to have the effect of charming the females into a performance of the sexual act; while it is certain that in many cases, both among quadrupeds and birds, individuals of the one sex are capable of feeling a strong antipathy against, or a strong preference for, certain individuals of the opposite sex.

Such are the main lines of evidence in favour of the theory of sexual selection. And although it is enough that some of them should be merely stated as above in order that their immense significance should become apparent, in the case of others a bare statement is not sufficient for this purpose. More especially is this the case as regards the enormous profusion, variety, and elaboration of sexually-embellishing characters which occur in birds and mammals—not to mention several divisions of Arthropoda; together with the extraordinary amount of trouble which, in a no less extraordinary number of different ways, is taken by the male animals to display their embellishments before the females. And even in many cases where to our eyes there is no particular embellishment to display, the process of courtship consists in such an elaborate performance of dancings, struttings, and attitudinizings that it is scarcely possible to doubt their object is to incite the opposite sex. Here, for instance, is a series of drawings illustrating the courtship of spiders. I choose this case as an example, partly because it is the one which has been published most recently, and partly because it is of particular interest as occurring so low down in the zoological scale. I am indebted to the kindness of Mr. and Mrs. Peckham for permission to reproduce these few selected drawings from their very admirable work, which is published by the Natural History Society of Wisconsin, U.S. It is evident at a glance that all these elaborate, and to our eyes ludicrous, performances are more suggestive of incitation than of any other imaginable purpose. And this view of the matter is strongly corroborated by the fact that it is the most brightly coloured parts of the male spiders which are most obtruded upon the notice of the female by these peculiar attitudes—in just the same way as is invariably the case in the analogous phenomena of courtship among birds, insects, &c.

But so great is the mass of material which Darwin has collected in proof of all the points mentioned in the foregoing paragraph, that to attempt anything in the way of an epitome would really be to damage its evidential force. Therefore I deem it best simply to refer to it as it stands in his Descent of Man, concluding, as he concludes,—"This surprising uniformity in the laws regulating the differences between the sexes in so many and such widely separated classes is intelligible if we admit the action throughout all the higher divisions of the animal kingdom of one common cause, namely, sexual selection"; while, as he might well have added, it is difficult to imagine that all the large classes of facts which an admission of this common cause serves to explain, can ever admit of being rendered intelligible by any other theory.

We may next proceed to consider the objections which have been brought against the theory of sexual selection. And this is virtually the same thing as saying that we may now consider Mr. Wallace's views upon the subject.

Reserving for subsequent consideration the most general of these objections—namely, that at best the theory can only apply to the more intelligent animals, and so must necessarily fail to explain the phenomena of beauty in the less intelligent, or in the non-intelligent, as well as in all species of plants—we may take seriatim the other objections which, in the opinion of Mr. Wallace, are sufficient to dispose of the theory even as regards the higher animals.

In the first place, he argues that the principal cause of the greater brilliancy of male animals in general, and of male birds in particular, is that they do not so much stand in need of protection arising from concealment as is the case with their respective females. Consequently natural selection is not so active in repressing brilliancy of colour in the males, or, which amounts to the same thing, is more active in "repressing in the female those bright colours which are normally produced in both sexes by general laws."

Next, he argues that not only does natural selection thus exercise a negative influence in passively permitting more heightened colour to appear in the males, but even exercises a positive influence in actively promoting its development in the males, while, at the same time, actively repressing its appearance in the females. For heightened colour, he says, is correlated with health and vigour; and as there can be no doubt that healthy and vigorous birds best provide for their young, natural selection, by always placing its premium on health and vigour in the males, thus also incidentally promotes, through correlated growth, their superior coloration.

Again, with regard to the display which is practised by male birds, and which constitutes the strongest of all Mr. Darwin's arguments in favour of sexual selection, Mr. Wallace points out that there is no evidence of the females being in any way affected thereby. On the other hand, he argues that this display may be due merely to general excitement; and he lays stress upon the more special fact that moveable feathers are habitually erected under the influence of anger and rivalry, in order to make the bird look more formidable in the eyes of antagonists.

Furthermore, he adduces the consideration that, even if the females are in any way affected by colour and its display on the part of the males, and if, therefore, sexual selection be conceded a true principle in theory, still we must remember that, as a matter of fact, it can only operate in so far as it is allowed to operate by natural selection. Now, according to Mr. Wallace, natural selection must wholly neutralize any such supposed influence of sexual selection. For, unless the survivors in the general struggle for existence happen to be those which are also the most highly ornamented, natural selection must neutralize and destroy any influence that may be exerted by female selection. But obviously the chances against the otherwise best fitted males happening to be likewise the most highly ornamented must be many to one, unless, as Wallace supposes, there is some correlation between embellishment and general perfection, in which case, as he points out, the theory of sexual selection lapses altogether, and becomes but a special case of natural selection.

Once more, Mr. Wallace argues that the evidence collected by Mr. Darwin himself proves that each bird finds a mate under any circumstances—a general fact which in itself must quite neutralize any effect of sexual selection of colour or ornament, since the less highly coloured birds would be at no disadvantage as regards the leaving of healthy progeny.

Lastly, he urges the high improbability that through thousands of generations all the females of any particular species—possibly spread over an enormous area—should uniformly and always have displayed exactly the same taste with respect to every detail of colour to be presented by the males.

Now, without any question, we have here a most powerful array of objections against the theory of sexual selection. Each of them is ably developed by Mr. Wallace himself in his work on Tropical Nature; and although I have here space only to state them in the most abbreviated of possible forms, I think it will be apparent how formidable these objections appear. Unfortunately the work in which they are mainly presented was published several years after the second edition of the Descent of Man, so that Mr. Darwin never had a suitable opportunity of replying. But, if he had had such an opportunity, as far as I can judge it seems that his reply would have been more or less as follows.

In the first place, Mr. Wallace fails to distinguish between brilliancy and ornamentation—or between colour as merely "heightened," and as distinctively decorative. Yet there is obviously the greatest possible difference between these two things. We may readily enough admit that a mere heightening of already existing coloration is likely enough—at all events in many cases—to accompany a general increase of vigour, and therefore that natural selection, by promoting the latter, may also incidentally promote the former, in cases where brilliancy is not a source of danger. But clearly this is a widely different thing from showing that not only a general brilliancy of colour, but also the particular disposition of colours, in the form of ornamental patterns, can thus be accounted for by natural selection. Indeed, it is expressly in order to account for the occurrence of such ornamental patterns that Mr. Darwin constructed his theory of sexual selection; and therefore, by thus virtually ignoring the only facts which that theory endeavours to explain, Mr. Wallace is not really criticizing the theory at all. By representing that the theory has to do only with brilliancy of colour, as distinguished from disposition of colours, he is going off upon a false issue which has never really been raised[48]. Look, for example, at a peacock's tail. No doubt it is sufficiently brilliant; but far more remarkable than its brilliancy is its elaborate pattern on the one hand, and its enormous size on the other. There is no conceivable reason why mere brilliancy of colour, as an accidental concomitant of general vigour, should have run into so extraordinary, so elaborate, and so beautiful a design of colours. Moreover, this design is only unfolded when the tail is erected, and the tail is not erected in battle (as Mr. Wallace's theory of the erectile function in feathers would require), but in courtship; obviously, therefore, the purpose of the pattern, so to speak, is correlated with the act of courtship—it being only then, in fact, that the general purpose of the whole structure, as well as the more special purpose of the pattern, becomes revealed. Lastly, the fact of this whole structure being so large, entailing not only a great amount of physiological material in its production, but also of physiological energy in carrying about such a weight, as well as of increased danger from impeding locomotion and inviting capture—all this is obviously incompatible with the supposition of the peacock's tail having been produced by natural selection. And such a case does not stand alone. There are multitudes of other instances of ornamental structures imposing a drain upon the vital energies of their possessors, without conferring any compensating benefit from a utilitarian point of view. Now, in all these cases, without any exception, such structures are ornamental structures which present a plain and obvious reference to the relationship of the sexes. Therefore it becomes almost impossible to doubt—first, that they exist for the sake of ornament; and next, that the ornament exists on account of that relationship. If such structures were due merely to a superabundance of energy, as Mr. Wallace supposes, not only ought they to have been kept down by the economizing influence of natural selection; but we can see no reason, either why they should be so highly ornamental on the one hand, or so exclusively related to the sexual relationship on the other.

[48] Note C.

Finally, we must take notice of the fact that where peculiar structures are concerned for purposes of display in courtship, the elaboration of these structures is often no less remarkable than that of patterns where colours are thus concerned. Take, for example, the case of the Bell-bird, which I select from an innumerable number of instances that might be mentioned because, while giving a verbal description of this animal, Darwin does not supply a pictorial representation thereof. The bird, which lives in South America, has a very loud and peculiar call, that can be heard at a distance of two or three miles. The female is dusky-green; but the adult male is a beautiful white, excepting the extraordinary structure with which we are at present concerned. This is a tube about three inches long, which rises from the base of the beak. It is jet black, and dotted over with small downy feathers. The tube is closed at the top, but its cavity communicates with the palate, and thus the whole admits of being inflated from within, when, of course, it stands erect as represented in one of the two drawings. When not thus inflated, it hangs down, as shown in the second figure, which represents the plumage of a young male. (Fig. 124.)

In another species of the genus there are three of these appendages—the two additional ones being mounted on the corners of the mouth. (Fig. 125.) In all species of the genus (four in number) the tubes are inflated during courtship, and therefore perform the function of sexual embellishments. Now the point to which I wish to draw attention is, that so specialized and morphologically elaborate a structure cannot be regarded as merely adventitious. It must have been developed by some definite cause, acting through a long series of generations. And as no other function can be assigned to it than that of charming the female when it is erected in courtship, the peculiarity of form and mechanism which it presents—like the elaboration of patterns in cases where colour only is concerned—virtually compels us to recognise in sexual selection the only conceivable cause of its production.

For these reasons I think that Mr. Wallace's main objection falls to the ground. Passing on to his subsidiary objections, I do not see much weight in his merely negative difficulty as to there being an absence of evidence upon hen birds being charmed by the plumage, or the voice, of their consorts. For, on the one hand, it is not very safe to infer what sentiments may be in the mind of a hen; and, on the other hand, it is impossible to conceive what motive can be in the mind of a cock, other than that of making himself attractive, when he performs his various antics, displays his ornamental plumes, or sings his melodious songs. Considerations somewhat analogous apply to the difficulty of supposing so much similarity and constancy of taste on the part of female animals as Mr. Darwin's theory undoubtedly requires. Although we know very little about the psychology of the lower animals, we do observe in many cases that small details of mental organization are often wonderfully constant and uniform throughout all members of a species, even where it is impossible to suggest any utility as a cause.

Again, as regards the objection that each bird finds a mate under any circumstances, we have here an obvious begging of the whole question. That every feathered Jack should find a feathered Jill is perhaps what we might have antecedently expected; but when we meet with innumerable instances of ornamental plumes, melodious songs, and the rest, as so many witnesses to a process of sexual selection having always been in operation, it becomes irrational to exclude such evidence on account of our antecedent prepossessions.

There remains the objection that the principles of natural selection must necessarily swallow up those of sexual selection. And this consideration, I doubt not, lies at the root of all Mr. Wallace's opposition to the supplementary theory of sexual selection. He is self-consistent in refusing to entertain the evidence of sexual selection, on the ground of his antecedent persuasion that in the great drama of evolution there is no possible standing-ground for any other actor than that which appears in the person of natural selection. But here, again, we must refuse to allow any merely antecedent presumption to blind our eyes to the actual evidence of other agencies having co-operated with natural selection in producing the observed results. And, as regards the particular case now before us, I think I have shown, as far as space will permit, that in the phenomena of decorative colouring (as distinguished from merely brilliant colouring), of melodious song (as distinguished from merely tuneless cries), of enormous arborescent antlers (as distinguished from merely offensive weapons), and so forth—I say that in all these phenomena we have phenomena which cannot possibly be explained by the theory of natural selection; and, further, that if they are to be explained at all, this can only be done, so far as we can at present see, by Mr. Darwin's supplementary theory of sexual selection.

I have now briefly answered all Mr. Wallace's objections to this supplementary theory, and, as previously remarked, I feel pretty confident that, at all events in the main, the answer is such as Mr. Darwin would himself have supplied, had there been a third edition of his work upon the subject. At all events, be this as it may, we are happily in possession of unquestionable evidence that he believed all Mr. Wallace's objections to admit of fully satisfactory answers. For his very last words to science—read only a few hours before his death at a meeting of the Zoological Society—were:

I may perhaps be here permitted to say that, after having carefully weighed, to the best of my ability, the various arguments which have been advanced against the principle of sexual selection, I remain firmly convinced of its truth[49].

[49] Since the above exposition of the theory of sexual selection was written, Mr. Poulton has published his work on the Colours of Animals. He there reproduces some of the illustrations which occur in Mr. and Mrs. Peckham's work on Sexual Selection in Spiders, and furnishes appropriate descriptions. Therefore, while retaining the illustrations, I have withdrawn my own descriptions.

Mr. Poulton has also in his book supplied a resume of the arguments for and against the theory of sexual selection in general. Of course in nearly all respects this corresponds with the resume which is given in the foregoing pages; but I have left the latter as it was originally written, because all the critical part is reproduced verbatim from a review of Mr. Wallace's Darwinism, of a date still earlier than that of Mr. Poulton's book—viz. Contemporary Review, August, 1889.

Concluding Remarks.

I will now conclude this chapter, and with it the present volume, by offering a few general remarks on what may be termed the philosophical relations of Darwinian doctrine to the facts of adaptation on the one hand, and to those of beauty on the other. Of course we are all aware that before the days of this doctrine the facts of adaptation in organic nature were taken to constitute the clearest possible evidence of special design, on account of the wonderful mechanisms which they everywhere displayed; while the facts of beauty were taken as constituting no less conclusive evidence of the quality of such special design as beneficent, not to say artistic. But now that the Darwinian doctrine appears to have explained scientifically the former class of facts by its theory of natural selection, and the latter class of facts by its theory of sexual selection, we may fitly conclude this brief exposition of the doctrine as a whole by considering what influence such naturalistic explanations may fairly be taken to exercise upon the older, or super-naturalistic, interpretations.

To begin with the facts of adaptation, we must first of all observe that the Darwinian doctrine is immediately concerned with these facts only in so far as they occur in organic nature. With the adaptations—if they can properly be so called—which occur in all the rest of nature, and which go to constitute the Cosmos as a whole so wondrous a spectacle of universal law and perfect order, this doctrine is but indirectly concerned. Nevertheless, it is of course fundamentally concerned with them to the extent that it seeks to bring the phenomena of organic nature into line with those of inorganic; and therefore to show that whatever view we may severally take as to the kind of causation which is energizing in the latter we must now extend to the former. This is usually expressed by saying that the theory of evolution by natural selection is a mechanical theory. It endeavours to comprise all the facts of adaptation in organic nature under the same category of explanation as those which occur in inorganic nature—that is to say, under the category of physical, or ascertainable, causation. Indeed, unless the theory has succeeded in doing this, it has not succeeded in doing anything—beyond making a great noise in the world. If Mr. Darwin has not discovered a new mechanical cause in the selection principle, his labour has been worse than in vain.

Now, without unduly repeating what has already been said in Chapter VIII, I may remark that, whatever we may each think of the measure of success which has thus far attended the theory of natural selection in explaining the facts of adaptation, we ought all to agree that, considered as a matter of general reasoning, the theory does certainly refer to a vera causa of a strictly physical kind; and, therefore, that no exception can be taken to the theory in this respect on grounds of logic. If the theory in this respect is to be attacked at all, it can only be on grounds of fact—namely, by arguing that the cause does not occur in nature, or that, if it does, its importance has been exaggerated by the theory. Even, however, if the latter proposition should ever be proved, we may now be virtually certain that the only result would be the relegation of all the residual phenomena of adaptation to other causes of the physical order—whether known or unknown. Hence, as far as the matter of principle is concerned, we may definitely conclude that the great naturalistic movement of our century has already brought all the phenomena of adaptation in organic nature under precisely the same category of mechanical causation, as similar movements in previous centuries have brought all the known phenomena of inorganic nature: the only question that remains for solution is the strictly scientific question touching the particular causes of the mechanical order which have been at work.

So much, then, for the phenomena of adaptation. Turning next to those of beauty, we have already seen that the theory of sexual selection stands to these in precisely the same relation as the theory of natural selection does to those of adaptation. In other words, it supplies a physical explanation of them; because, as far as our present purposes are concerned, it may be taken for granted, or for the sake of argument, that inasmuch as psychological elements enter into the question the cerebral basis which they demand involves a physical side.

There is, moreover, this further point of resemblance between the two theories: neither of them has any reference to inorganic nature. Therefore, with the charm or the loveliness of landscapes, of earth and sea and sky, of pebbles, crystals, and so forth, we have at present nothing to do. How it is that so many inanimate objects are invested with beauty—why it is that beauty attaches to architecture, music, poetry, and many other things—these are questions which do not specially concern the biologist. If they are ever to receive any satisfactory explanation in terms of natural causation, this must be furnished at the hands of the psychologist. It may be possible for him to show, more satisfactorily than hitherto, that all beauty, whenever and wherever it occurs, is literally "in the eyes of the beholder"; or that objectively considered, there is no such thing as beauty. It may be—and in my opinion it probably is—purely an affair of the percipient mind itself, depending on the association of ideas with pleasure-giving objects. This association may well lead to a liking for such objects, and so to the formation of what is known as aesthetic feeling with regard to them. Moreover, beauty of inanimate nature must be an affair of the percipient mind itself, unless there be a creating intelligence with organs of sense and ideals of beauty similar to our own. And, apart from any deeper considerations, this latter possibility is scarcely entitled to be regarded as a probability, looking to the immense diversities in those ideals among different races of mankind. But, be this as it may, the scientific problem which is presented by the fact of aesthetic feeling, even if it is ever to be satisfactorily solved, is a problem which, as already remarked, must be dealt with by psychologists. As biologists we have simply to accept this feeling as a fact, and to consider how, out of such a feeling as a cause, the beauty of organic nature may have followed as an effect.

Now we have already seen how the theory of sexual selection supposes this to have happened. But against this theory a formidable objection arises, and one which I have thought it best to reserve for treatment in this place, because it serves to show the principal difference between Mr. Darwin's two great generalizations, considered as generalizations in the way of mechanical theory. For while the theory of natural selection extends equally throughout the whole range of organic nature, the theory of sexual selection has but a comparatively restricted scope, which, moreover, is but vaguely defined. For it is obvious that the theory can only apply to living organisms which are sufficiently intelligent to admit of our reasonably accrediting them with aesthetic taste—namely, in effect, the higher animals. And just as this consideration greatly restricts the possible scope of the theory, as compared with that of natural selection, so does it render undefined the zoological limits within which it can be reasonably employed. Lastly, this necessarily undefined, and yet most important limitation exposes the theory to the objection just alluded to, and which I shall now mention.

The theory, as we have just seen, is necessarily restricted in its application to the higher animals. Yet the facts which it is designed to explain are not thus restricted. For beauty is by no means restricted to the higher animals. The whole of the vegetable world, and the whole of the animal world at least as high up in the scale as the insects, must be taken as incapable of aesthetic feeling. Therefore, the extreme beauty of flowers, sea-anemones, corals, and so forth, cannot possibly be ascribed to sexual selection.

Now, with regard to this difficulty, we must begin by excluding the case of the vegetable kingdom as irrelevant. For it has been rendered highly probable—if not actually proved—by Darwin and others, that the beauty of flowers and of fruits is in large part due to natural selection. It is to the advantage of flowering plants that their organs of fructification should be rendered conspicuous—and in many cases also odoriferous,—in order to attract the insects on which the process of fertilization depends. Similarly, it is to the advantage of all plants which have brightly coloured fruits that these should be conspicuous for the purpose of attracting birds, which eat the fruits and so disseminate the seed. Hence all the gay colours and varied forms, both of flowers and fruits, have been thus adequately explained as due to natural causes, working for the welfare, as distinguished from the beauty, of the plants. For even the distribution of colours on flowers, or the beautiful patterns which so many of them present, are found to be useful in guiding insects to the organs of fructification.

Again, the green colouring of leaves, which lends so much beauty to the vegetable world, has likewise been shown to be of vital importance to the physiology of plant-life; and, therefore, may also be ascribed to natural selection. Thus, there remains only the forms of plants other than the flowers. But the forms of leaves have also in many cases been shown to be governed by principles of utility; and the same is to be said of the branching structure which is so characteristic of trees and shrubs, since this is the form most effectual for spreading out the leaves to the light and air. Here, then, we likewise find that the cause determining plant beauty is natural selection; and so we may conclude that the only reason why the forms of trees which are thus determined by utility appeal to us as beautiful, is because we are accustomed to these the most ordinary forms. Our ideas having been always, as it were, moulded upon these forms, aesthetic feeling becomes attached to them by the principle of association. At any rate, it is certain that when we contemplate almost any forms of plant-structure which, for special reasons of utility, differ widely from these (to us) more habitual forms, the result is not suggestive of beauty. Many of the tropical and un-tree-like plants—such as the cactus tribe—strike us as odd and quaint, not as beautiful. Be this however as it may, I trust I have said enough to prove that in the vegetable world, at all events, the attainment of beauty cannot be held to have been an object aimed at, so to speak, for its own sake. Even if, for the purposes of argument, we were to suppose that all the forms and colours in the vegetable world are due to special design, there could be no doubt that the purpose of this design has been in chief part a utilitarian purpose; it has not aimed at beauty exclusively for its own sake. For most of such beauty as we here perceive is plainly due to the means adopted for the attainment of life-preserving ends, which, of course, is a metaphorical way of saying that it is probably due to natural selection[50].

[50] The beauty of autumnal tints in fading leaves may possibly be adduced per contra. But here we have to remember that it is only some kinds of leaves which thus become beautiful when fading, while, even as regards those that do, it is not remarkable that their chlorophyll should, as it were, accidentally assume brilliant tints while breaking down into lower grades of chemical constitution. The case, in fact, is exactly parallel to those in the animal kingdom which are considered in the ensuing paragraphs.

Turning, then, to the animal kingdom below the level of insects, here we are bound to confess that the beauty which so often meets us cannot reasonably be ascribed either to natural or to sexual selection. Not to sexual selection for the reasons already given; the animals in question are neither sufficiently intelligent to possess any aesthetic taste, nor, as a matter of fact, do we observe that they exercise any choice in pairing. Not to natural selection, because we cannot here, as in the case of vegetables, point to any benefit as generally arising from bright colours and beautiful forms. On the principles of naturalism, therefore, we are driven to conclude that the beauty here is purely adventitious, or accidental. Nor need we be afraid to make this admission, if only we take a sufficiently wide view of the facts. For, when we do take such a view, we find that beauty here is by no means of invariable, or even of general, occurrence. There is no loveliness about an oyster or a lob-worm; parasites, as a rule, are positively ugly, and they constitute a good half of all animal species. The truth seems to be, when we look attentively at the matter, that in all cases where beauty does occur in these lower forms of animal life, its presence is owing to one of two things—either to the radiate form, or to the bright tints. Now, seeing that the radiate form is of such general occurrence among these lower animals—appearing over and over again, with the utmost insistence, even among groups widely separated from one another by the latest results of scientific classification—seeing this, it becomes impossible to doubt that the radiate form is due to some morphological reasons of wide generality. Whether these reasons be connected with the internal laws of growth, or to the external conditions of environment, I do not pretend to suggest. But I feel safe in saying that it cannot possibly be due to any design to secure beauty for its own sake. The very generality of the radiate form is in itself enough to suggest that it must have some physical, as distinguished from an aesthetic, explanation; for, if the attainment of beauty had here been the object, surely it might have been even more effectually accomplished by adopting a greater variety of typical forms—as, for instance, in the case of flowers.

Coming then, lastly, to the case of brilliant tints in the lower animals, Mr. Darwin has soundly argued that there is nothing forced or improbable in the supposition that organic compounds, presenting as they do such highly complex and such varied chemical constitutions, should often present brilliant colouring incidentally. Considered merely as colouring, there is nothing in the world more magnificent than arterial blood; yet here the colouring is of purely utilitarian significance. It is of the first importance in the chemistry of respiration; but is surely without any meaning from an aesthetic point of view. For the colour of the cheeks, and of the flesh generally, in the white races of mankind, could have been produced quite as effectually by the use of pigment—as in the case of certain monkeys. Now the fact that in the case of blood, as in that of many other highly coloured fluids and solids throughout the animal kingdom, the colour is concealed, is surely sufficient proof that the colour, if regarded from an aesthetic point of view, is accidental. Therefore, when, as in other cases, such colouring occurs upon the surface, and thus becomes apparent, are we not irresistibly led to conclude that its exhibition in such cases is likewise accidental, so far as any question of aesthetic design is concerned?

I have now briefly glanced at all the main facts of organic nature with reference to beauty; and, as a result, I think it is impossible to resist the general conclusion, that in organic nature beauty does not exist as an end per se. All cases where beauty can be pointed to in organic nature are seemingly due—either to natural selection, acting without reference to beauty, but to utility; to sexual selection, acting with reference to the taste of animals; or else to sheer accident. And if this general conclusion should be held to need any special verification, is it not to be found in the numberless cases where organic nature not only fails to be beautiful, but reveals itself as the reverse. Not again to refer to the case of parasites, what can be more unshapely than a hippopotamus, or more generally repulsive than a crocodile? If it be said that these are exceptions, and that the forms of animals as a rule are graceful, the answer—even apart from parasites—is obvious. In all cases where the habits of life are such as to render rapid locomotion a matter of utilitarian necessity, the outlines of an animal must be graceful—else, whether the locomotion be terrestrial, aerial, or aquatic, it must fail to be swift. Hence it is only in such cases as that of the hippopotamus, rhinoceros, elephant, crocodile, and so forth, where natural selection has had no concern in developing speed, that the accompanying accident of gracefulness can be allowed to disappear. But if beauty in organic nature had been in itself what may be termed an artistic object on the part of a divine Creator, it is absurd to suggest that his design in this matter should only have been allowed to appear where we are able to detect other and very good reasons for its appearance.

* * * * *

Thus, whether we look to the facts of adaptation or to those of beauty, everywhere throughout organic nature we meet with abundant evidence of natural causation, while nowhere do we meet with any independent evidence of supernatural design. But, having led up to this conclusion, and having thus stated it as honestly as I can, I should like to finish by further stating what, in my opinion is its logical bearing upon the more fundamental tenets of religious thought.

As I have already observed at the commencement of this brief exposition, prior to the Darwinian theory of organic evolution, the theologian was prone to point to the realm of organic nature as furnishing a peculiarly rich and virtually endless store of facts, all combining in their testimony to the wisdom and the beneficence of the Deity. Innumerable adaptations of structures to functions appeared to yield convincing evidence in favour of design; the beauty so profusely shed by living forms appeared to yield evidence, no less convincing, of that design as beneficent. But both these sources of evidence have now, as it were, been tapped at their fountain-head: the adaptation and the beauty are alike receiving their explanation at the hands of a purely mechanical philosophy. Nay, even the personality of man himself is assailed; and this not only in the features which he shares with the lower animals, but also in his god-like attributes of reason, thought, and conscience. All nature has thus been transformed before the view of the present generation in a manner and to an extent that has never before been possible: and inasmuch as the change which has taken place has taken place in the direction of naturalism, and this to the extent of rendering the mechanical interpretation of nature universal, it is no wonder if the religious mind has suddenly awakened to a new and a terrible force in the words of its traditional enemy—Where is now thy God?

This is not the place to discuss the bearings of science on religion[51]; but I think it is a place where one may properly point out the limits within which no such bearings obtain. Now, from what has just been said, it will be apparent that I am not going to minimise the change which has been wrought. On the contrary, I believe it is only stupidity or affectation which can deny that the change in question is more deep and broad than any single previous change in the whole history of human thought. It is a fundamental, a cosmical, a world-transforming change. Nevertheless, in my opinion, it is a change of a non-theistic, as distinguished from an a-theistic, kind. It has rendered impossible the appearance in literature of any future Paley, Bell, or Chalmers; but it has done nothing in the way of negativing that belief in a Supreme Being which it was the object of these authors to substantiate. If it has demonstrated the futility of their proof, it has furnished nothing in the way of disproof. It has shown, indeed, that their line of argument was misjudged when they thus sought to separate organic nature from inorganic as a theatre for the special or peculiar display of supernatural design; but further than this it has not shown anything. The change in question therefore, although greater in degree, is the same in kind as all its predecessors: like all previous advances in cosmological theory which have been wrought by the advance of science, this latest and greatest advance has been that of revealing the constitution of nature, or the method of causation, as everywhere the same. But it is evident that this change, vast and to all appearance final though it be, must end within the limits of natural causation itself. The whole world of life and mind may now have been annexed to that of matter and energy as together constituting one magnificent dominion, which is everywhere subject to the same rule, or method of government. But the ulterior and ultimate question touching the nature of this government as mental or non-mental, personal or impersonal, remains exactly where it was. Indeed, this is a question which cannot be affected by any advance of science, further than science has proved herself able to dispose of erroneous arguments based upon ignorance of nature. For while the sphere of science is necessarily restricted to that of natural causation which it is her office to explore, the question touching the nature of this natural causation is one which as necessarily lies without the whole sphere of such causation itself: therefore it lies beyond any possible intrusion by science. And not only so. But if the nature of natural causation be that of the highest order of known existence, then, although we must evidently be incapable of conceiving what such a Mind is, at least we seem capable of judging what in many respects it is not. It cannot be more than one; it cannot be limited either in space or time; it cannot be other than at least as self-consistent as its manifestations in nature are invariable. Now, from the latter deduction there arises a point of first-rate importance in the present connexion. For if the so-called First Cause be intelligent, and therefore all secondary causes but the expression of a supreme Will, in as far as such a Will is self-consistent, the operation of all natural causes must be uniform,—with the result that, as seen by us, this operation must needs appear to be what we call mechanical. The more unvarying the Will, the more unvarying must be this expression thereof; so that, if the former be absolutely self-consistent, the latter cannot fail to be as reasonably interpreted by the theory of mindless necessity, as by that of ubiquitous intention. Such being, as it appears to me, the pure logic of the matter, the proof of organic evolution amounts to nothing more than the proof of a natural process. What mode of being is ultimately concerned in this process—or in what it is that this process ultimately consists—is a question upon which science is as voiceless as speculation is vociferous.

[51] The best treatise on this subject is Prof. Le Conte's Evolution and its Relation to Religious Thought (Appleton & Co. 1888).

But, it may still be urged, surely the principle of natural selection (with its terrible basis in the struggle for existence) and the principle of sexual selection (with its consequence in denying beauty to be an end in itself) demonstrate that, if there be design in nature, such design at all events cannot be beneficent. To this, however, I should again reply that, just as touching the major question of design itself, so as touching this minor question of the quality of such design as beneficent, I do not see how the matter has been much affected by a discovery of the principles before us. For we did not need a Darwin to tell us that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth together in pain. The most that in this connexion Darwin can fairly be said to have done is to have estimated in a more careful and precise manner than any of his predecessors, the range and the severity of this travail. And if it be true that the result of what may be called his scientific analysis of nature in respect of suffering is to have shown the law of suffering even more severe, more ubiquitous, and more necessary than it had ever been shown before, we must remember at the same time how he has proved, more rigidly than was ever proved before, that suffering is a condition to improvement—struggle for life being the raison d'etre of higher life, and this not only in the physical sphere, but also in the mental and moral.

Lastly, if it be said that the choice of such a method, whereby improvement is only secured at the cost of suffering, indicates a kind of callousness on the part of an intelligent Being supposed to be omnipotent, I confess that such does appear to me a legitimate conclusion—subject, however, to the reservation that higher knowledge might displace it. For, as far as matters are now actually presented to the unbiased contemplation of a human mind, this provisional inference appears to me unavoidable—namely, that if the world of sentient life be due to an Omnipotent Designer, the aim or motive of the design must have been that of securing a continuous advance of animal improvement, without any regard at all to animal suffering. For I own it does not seem to me compatible with a fair and honest exercise of our reason to set the sum of animal happiness over against the sum of animal misery, and then to allege that, in so far as the former tends to balance—or to over-balance—the latter, thus far is the moral character of the design as a whole vindicated. Even if it could be shown that the sum of happiness in the brute creation considerably preponderates over that of unhappiness—which is the customary argument of theistic apologists,—we should still remain without evidence as to this state of matters having formed any essential part of the design. On the other hand, we should still be in possession of seemingly good evidence to the contrary. For it is clearly a condition to progress by survival of the fittest, that as soon as organisms become sentient selection must be exercised with reference to sentiency; and this means that, if further progress is to take place, states of sentiency must become so organized with reference to habitual experience of the race, that pleasures and pains shall answer respectively to states of agreement and disagreement with the sentient creature's environment. Those animals which found pleasure in what was deleterious to life would not survive, while those which found pleasure in what was beneficial to life would survive; and so eventually, in every species of animal, states of sentiency as agreeable or disagreeable must approximately correspond with what is good for the species or bad for the species. Indeed, we may legitimately surmise that the reason why sentiency (and, a fortiori, conscious volition) has ever appeared upon the scene at all, has been because it furnishes—through this continuously selected adjustment of states of sentiency to states of the sentient organism—so admirable a means of securing rapid, and often refined, adjustments by the organism to the habitual conditions of its life[52]. But, if so, not only is this state of matters a condition to progress in the future; it is further, and equally, a consequence of progress in the past.

[52] See Mental Evolution in Animals, pp. 110-111.

However, be this as it may, from all that has gone before does it not become apparent that pleasure or happiness on the one hand, and pain or misery on the other, must be present in sentient nature? And so long as they are both seen to be equally necessary under the process of evolution by natural selection, we have clearly no more reason to regard the pleasure than the pain as an object of the supposed design. Rather must we see in both one and the same condition to progress under the method of natural causation which is before us; and therefore I cannot perceive that it makes much difference—so far as the argument for beneficence is concerned—whether the pleasures of animals outweigh their pains, or vice versa.

Upon the whole, then, it seems to me that such evidence as we have is against rather than in favour of the inference, that if design be operative in animate nature it has reference to animal enjoyment or well-being, as distinguished from animal improvement or evolution. And if this result should be found distasteful to the religious mind—if it be felt that there is no desire to save the evidences of design unless they serve at the same time to testify to the nature of that design as beneficent,—I must once more observe that the difficulty thus presented to theism is not a difficulty of modern creation. On the contrary, it has always constituted the fundamental difficulty with which natural theologians have had to contend. The external world appears, in this respect, to be at variance with our moral sense; and when the antagonism is brought home to the religious mind, it must ever be with a shock of terrified surprise. It has been newly brought home to us by the generalizations of Darwin; and therefore, as I said at the beginning, the religious thought of our generation has been more than ever staggered by the question—Where is now thy God? But I have endeavoured to show that the logical standing of the case has not been materially changed; and when this cry of Reason pierces the heart of Faith, it remains for Faith to answer now, as she has always answered before—and answered with that trust which is at once her beauty and her life—Verily thou art a God that hidest thyself.




While stating in the text, and in a necessarily general way, the evidence which is yielded by palaeontology to the theory of organic evolution, I have been desirous of not overstating it. Therefore, in the earlier paragraphs of the chapter, which deal with the most general heads of such evidence, I introduced certain qualifying phrases; and I will now give the reasons which led me to do so.

Of all the five biological sciences which have been called into evidence—viz. those of Classification, Morphology, Embryology, Palaeontology, and Geographical Distribution—it is in the case of palaeontology alone that any important or professional opinions still continue to be unsatisfied. Therefore, in order that justice may be done to this line of dissent, I have thought it better to deal with the matter in a separate Appendix, rather than to hurry it over in the text. And, as all the difficulties or objections which have been advanced against the theory of evolution on grounds of palaeontology must vary, as to their strength, with the estimate which is taken touching the degree of imperfection of the geological record, I will begin by adding a few paragraphs to what has already been said in the text upon this subject.

First, then, as to the difficulties in the way of fossils being formed at all. We have already noticed in the text that it is only the more or less hard parts of organisms which under any circumstances can be fossilized; and even the hardest parts quickly disintegrate if not protected from the weather on land, or from the water on the sea-bottom. Moreover, as Darwin says, "we probably take a quite erroneous view when we assume that sediment is being deposited over nearly the whole bed of the sea, at a rate sufficiently quick to embed and preserve fossil remains. Throughout an enormously large proportion of the ocean, the bright blue tint of the water bespeaks its purity. The many cases on record of a formation conformably covered, after an immense interval of time, by another and a later formation, without the underlying bed having suffered in the interval any wear and tear, seem explicable only on the view of the bottom of the sea not rarely lying for ages in an unaltered condition." Next, as regards littoral animals, he shows the difficulty which they must have in becoming fossils, and gives a striking example in several of the existing species of a sub-family of cirripedes (Chthamalinae), "which coat the rocks all over the world in infinite numbers," yet, with the exception of one species which inhabits deep water, no vestige of any of them has been found in any tertiary formation, although it is known that the genus Chthamalus existed through the Chalk period. Lastly, "with respect to the terrestrial productions which lived through the secondary and palaeozoic periods, it is superfluous to state our evidence is fragmentary in an extreme degree. For instance, until recently not a land shell was known belonging to either of these vast periods," with one exception; while, "in regard to mammiferous remains, a glance at the historical table in Lyell's Manual will bring home the truth, how accidental and rare has been their preservation, far better than pages of detail. Nor is their rarity surprising, when we remember how large a proportion of the bones of tertiary mammals have been discovered either in caves or in lacustrine deposits; and that not a cave or true lacustrine bed is known belonging to the age of our secondary or palaeozoic formations."

But perhaps of even more importance than all these known causes which prevent the formation of fossils, is the existence of unknown causes which make for the same result. For example, the Flysch-formation is a formation of several thousand feet in thickness (as much as 6000 in some places), and it extends for at least 300 miles from Vienna to Switzerland; moreover, it consists of shale and sandstone. Therefore, alike in respect of time, space, and character, it is just such a formation as we should expect to find highly rich in fossils; yet, "although this great mass has been most carefully searched, no fossils, except a few vegetable remains, have been found."

So much then for the difficulty, so to speak, which nature experiences in the manufacture of fossils. Probably not one per cent. of the species of animals which have inhabited the earth has left a single individual as a fossil, whereby to record its past existence.

But of even more importance than this difficulty of making fossils in the first instance, is the difficulty of preserving them when they are made. The vast majority of fossils have been formed under water, and a large proportional number of these—whether the animals were marine, terrestrial, or inhabitants of fresh water—have been formed in sedimentary deposits either of sand, gravel, or other porous material. Now, where such deposits have been afterwards raised into the air for any considerable time—and this has been more or less the case with all deposits which are available for exploration—their fossiliferous contents will have been, as a general rule, dissolved by the percolation of rain-water charged with carbonic acid. Similarly, sea-water has recently been found to be a surprisingly strong solvent of calcareous material: hence, Saturn-like, the ocean devours her own progeny as far as shells and bones of all kinds are concerned—and this to an extent of which we have probably no adequate conception.

Of still greater destructive influence, however, than these solvent agencies in earth and sea, are the erosive agencies of both. Any one who watches the pounding of the waves upon the shore; who then observes the effect of it upon the rocks broken into shingle, and on the shingle reduced to sand; who, looking behind him at the cliffs, sees there the evidence of the gradual advance of this all-pulverising power—an advance so gradual that no yard of it is accomplished until within that yard the "white teeth" have eaten well into the "bowels of the earth"; who then reflects that this process is going on simultaneously over hundreds of thousands of miles of coast-lines throughout the world; and who finally extends his mental vision from space to time, by trying dimly to imagine what this ever-roaring monster must have consumed during the hundreds of millions of years that slowly rising and slowly sinking continents have exposed their whole areas to her jaws; whoever thus observes and thus reflects must be a dull man, if he does not begin to feel that in the presence of such a destroyer as this we have no reason to wonder at a frequent silence in the testimony of the rocks.

But although the erosive agency of the sea is thus so inconceivably great, it is positively small if compared with erosive agencies on land. The constant action of rain, wind, and running water, in wearing down the surfaces of all lands into "the dust of continents to be"; the disintegrating effects on all but the very hardest rocks of winter frosts alternating with summer heats; the grinding power of ice in periods of glaciation; and last, but not least, the wholesale melting up of sedimentary formations whenever these have sunk for any considerable distance beneath the earth's surface:—all these agencies taken together constitute so prodigious a sum of energies combined through immeasureable ages in their common work of destruction, that when we try to realise what it must amount to, we can scarcely fail to wonder, not that the geological record is highly imperfect, but that so much of the record has survived as we find to have been the case. And, if we add to these erosive and solvent agencies on land the erosive and solvent agencies of the sea, we may almost begin to wonder that anything deserving the name of a geological record is in existence at all.

That such estimates of the destructive powers of nature are not mere matters of speculative reasoning may be amply shown by stating one single fact, which, like so many others where the present subject is concerned, we owe to the generalizations of Darwin. Plutonic rocks, being those which have emerged from subterranean heat of melting intensity, must clearly at some time or another have lain beneath the whole thickness of sedimentary deposits, which at that time occupied any part of the earth's surface where we now find the Plutonic rocks exposed to view. Or, in other words, wherever we now find Plutonic rocks at the surface of the earth, we must conclude that all the sedimentary rocks by which they were covered when in a molten state have since been entirely destroyed; several vertical miles of the only kinds of rocks in which fossils can possibly occur must in all such cases have been abolished in toto. Now, in many parts of the world metamorphic rocks—which have thus gradually risen from Plutonic depths, while miles of various other rock-formations have been removed from their now exposed surfaces—cover immense areas, and therefore testify by their present horizontal range, no less than by their previously vertical depth, to the enormous scale on which a total destruction has taken place of everything that once lay above them. For instance, the granitic region of Parime is at least nineteen times the size of Switzerland; a similar region south of the Amazon is probably larger than France, Spain, Italy, and Great Britain all put together; and, more remarkable still, over the area of the United States and Canada, granitic rocks exceed in the proportion of 19 to 12-1/2 the whole of the newer Palaeozoic formations. Lastly, after giving these examples, Darwin adds the important consideration, that "in many regions the metamorphic and granitic rocks would be found much more widely extended than they appear to be, if all the sedimentary beds were removed which rest unconformably on them, and which could not have formed part of the original mantle under which they were crystallized."

The above is a brief condensation of the already condensed statement which Darwin has given of the imperfection of the geological record; but I think it is enough to show, in a general way, how precarious must be the nature of any objections to the theory of evolution which are founded merely upon the silence of palaeontology in cases where, if the record were anything like complete, we should be entitled to expect from it some positive information. But, as we have seen in the text, imperfect though the record be, in as far as it furnishes positive information at all, this is well-nigh uniformly in favour of the theory; and therefore, even on grounds of palaeontology alone, it appears to me that Darwin is much too liberal where he concludes his discussion by saying,—"Those who believe that the geological record is in any degree perfect, will undoubtedly at once reject the theory." If in any measure reasonable, such persons ought rather to examine their title to such a belief; and even if they disregard the consensus of testimony which is yielded by all the biological sciences to the theory of evolution, they ought at least to hold their judgment in suspense until they shall have not only set against the apparently negative testimony which is yielded by geology its unquestionably positive testimony, but also well considered the causes which may—or rather must—have so gravely impaired the geological record.

However, be this as it may, I will now pass on to consider the difficulties and objections which have been brought against the theory on grounds of palaeontology.

These may be classified under four heads. First, the absence of varietal links between allied species; second, the sudden appearance of whole groups of species—not only as genera and families, but even sometimes as orders and classes—without any forms leading up to them; third, the occurrence of highly organized types at much lower levels of geological strata than an evolutionist would antecedently expect; and, fourth, the absence of fossils of any kind lower down than the Cambrian strata.

Now all these objections depend on estimates of the imperfection of the geological record much lower than that which is formed by Darwin. Therefore I have arranged the objections in their order of difficulty in this respect, or in the order that requires successively increasing estimates of the imperfection of the record, if they are to be successively answered.

I think that the first of them has been already answered in the text, by showing that even a very moderate estimate of the imperfection of the record is enough to explain why intermediate varieties, connecting allied species, are but comparatively seldom met with. Moreover it was shown that in some cases, where shells are concerned, remarkably well-connected series of such varieties have been met with. And the same applies to species and genera in certain other cases, as in the equine family.

But no doubt a greater difficulty arises where whole groups of species and genera, or even families and orders, appear to arise suddenly, without anything leading up to them. Even this the second difficulty, however, admits of being fully met, when we remember that in very many cases it has been proved, quite apart from the theory of descent, that superjacent formations have been separated from one another by wide intervals of time. And even although it often happens that intermediate deposits which are absent in one part of the world are present in another, we have no right to assume that such is always the case. Besides, even if it were, we should have no right further to assume that the faunas of widely separated geographical areas were identical during the time represented by the intermediate formation. Yet, unless they were identical, we should not expect the fossils of the intermediate formation, where extant, to yield evidence of what the fossils would have been in this same formation elsewhere, had it not been there destroyed. Now, as a matter of fact, "geological formations of each region are almost invariably intermittent"; and although in many cases a more or less continuous record of past forms of life can be obtained by comparing the fossils of one region and formation with those of another region and adjacent formations, it is evident (from what we know of the present geographical distribution of plants and animals) that not a few cases there must have been where the interruption of the record in one region cannot be made good by thus interpolating the fossils of another region. And we must remember it is by selecting the cases where this cannot be done that the objection before us is made to appear formidable. In other words, unless whole groups of new species which are unknown in formation A appear suddenly in formation C of one region (X), where the intermediate formation B is absent; and unless in some other region (Y), where B is present, the fossiliferous contents of B fail to supply the fossil ancestry of the new species in A (X); unless such a state of matters is found to obtain, the objection before us has nothing to say. But at best this is negative evidence; and, in order to consider it fairly, we ought to set against it the cases where an interposition of fossils found in B (Y) does furnish the fossil ancestry of what would otherwise have been an abrupt appearance of whole groups of new species in A (X). Now such cases are neither few nor unimportant, and therefore they deprive the objection of the force it would have had if the selected cases to the contrary were the general rule.

In addition to these considerations, the following, some of which are of a more special kind, appear to me so important that I will quote them almost in extenso.

We continually forget how large the world is, compared with the area over which our geological formations have been carefully examined: we forget that groups of species may elsewhere have long existed, and have slowly multiplied, before they invaded the ancient archipelagoes of Europe and the United States. We do not make due allowance for the intervals of time which have elapsed between our consecutive formations,—longer perhaps in many cases than the time required for the accumulation of each formation. These intervals will have given time for the multiplication of species from some one parent form; and, in the succeeding formation, such groups of species will appear as if suddenly created.

I may here recall a remark formerly made, namely, that it might require a long succession of ages, to adapt an organism to some new and peculiar line of life, for instance, to fly through the air; and consequently that the transitional form would often long remain confined to some one region; but that, when this adaptation had once been effected, and a few species had thus acquired a great advantage over other organisms, a comparatively short time would be necessary to produce many divergent forms, which would spread rapidly and widely throughout the world....

In geological treatises, published not many years ago, mammals were always spoken of as having abruptly come in at the commencement of the tertiary series. And now one of the richest known accumulations of fossil mammals belongs to the middle of the secondary series; and true mammals have been discovered in the new red sandstone at nearly the commencement of this great series. Cuvier used to urge that no monkey occurred in any tertiary stratum; but now extinct species have been discovered in India, South America, and in Europe as far back as the miocene stage. Had it not been for the rare accident of the preservation of footsteps in the new red sandstone of the United States, who would have ventured to suppose that, no less than at least thirty kinds of bird-like animals, some of gigantic size, existed during that period? Not a fragment of bone has been discovered in these beds. Not long ago palaeontologists maintained that the whole class of birds came suddenly into existence during the eocene period; but now we know, on the authority of Professor Owen, that a bird certainly lived during the deposition of the upper green-sand. And still more recently that strange bird, the Archeopteryx ... has been discovered in the oolitic slates of Solenhofen. Hardly any recent discovery shows more forcibly than this, how little we as yet know of the former inhabitants of the world.

I may give another instance, which, from having passed under my own eyes, has much struck me. In a memoir on Fossil Sessile Cirripedes, I stated that, from the number of existing and extinct tertiary species; from the extraordinary abundance of the individuals of many species all over the world from the Arctic regions to the equator, inhabiting various zones of depths from the upper tidal limits to 50 fathoms; from the perfect manner in which specimens are preserved in the oldest tertiary beds; from the ease with which even a fragment of a valve can be recognized; from all these circumstances, I inferred that had sessile cirripedes existed during the secondary periods, they would certainly have been preserved and discovered; and as not one species had then been discovered in beds of this age, I concluded that this great group had been suddenly developed at the commencement of the tertiary series. This was a sore trouble to me, adding as I thought one more instance of the abrupt appearance of a great group of species. But my work had hardly been published, when a skilful palaeontologist, M. Bosquet, sent me a drawing of a perfect specimen of an unmistakeable sessile cirripede, which he had himself extracted from the chalk of Belgium. And, as if to make the case as striking as possible, this sessile cirripede was a Chthamalus, a very common, large, and ubiquitous genus, of which not one specimen has as yet been found even in any tertiary stratum. Still more recently, a Pyrgoma, a member of a distinct sub-family of sessile cirripedes, has been discovered by Mr. Woodward in the upper chalk; so that we now have abundant evidence of the existence of this group of animals during the secondary period.

The case most frequently insisted on by palaeontologists of the apparently sudden appearance of a whole group of species, is that of the teleostean fishes, low down, according to Agassiz, in the Chalk period. This group includes the large majority of existing species. But certain Jurassic and Triassic forms are now commonly admitted to be teleostean; and even some palaeozoic forms have been thus classed by one high authority. If the teleosteans had really appeared suddenly in the northern hemisphere, the fact would have been highly remarkable; but it would not have formed an insuperable difficulty, unless it could likewise have been shown that at the same period the species were suddenly and simultaneously developed in other quarters of the world. It is almost superfluous to remark that hardly any fossil fish are known from south of the equator; and by running through Pictet's Palaeontology it will be seen that very few species are known from several formations in Europe. Some few families of fish now have a confined range; the teleostean fish might formerly have had a similarly confined range, and after having been largely developed in some one sea, might have spread widely. Nor have we any right to suppose that the seas of the world have always been so freely open from south to north as they are at present. Even at this day, if the Malay Archipelago were converted into land, the tropical parts of the Indian Ocean would form a large and perfectly enclosed basin, in which any great group of marine animals might be multiplied; and here they would remain confined, until some of the species became adapted to a cooler climate, and were enabled to double the southern capes of Africa or Australia, and thus reach other and distant seas.

From these considerations, from our ignorance of the geology of other countries beyond the confines of Europe and the United States; and from the revolution in our palaeontological knowledge effected by the discoveries of the last dozen years, it seems to me to be about as rash to dogmatize on the succession of organic forms throughout the world, as it would be for a naturalist to land for five minutes on some one barren point in Australia, and then to discuss the number and range of its productions[53].

[53] Origin of Species, 282-5.

In view of all the foregoing facts and considerations, it appears to me that the second difficulty on our list is completely answered. Indeed, even on a moderate estimate of the imperfection of the geological record, the wonder would have been if many cases had not occurred where groups of species present the fictitious appearance of having been suddenly and simultaneously created in the particular formations where their remains now happen to be observable.

Turning next to the third objection, there cannot be any question that every here and there in the geological series animals occur of a much higher grade zoologically than the theory of evolution would have expected to find in the strata where they are found. At any rate, speaking for myself, I should not have antecedently expected to meet with such highly differentiated insects as butterflies and dragonflies in the middle of the Secondaries: still less should I have expected to encounter beetles, cockroaches, spiders, and May-flies in the upper and middle Primaries—not to mention an insect and a scorpion even in the lower. And I think the same remark applies to a whole sub-kingdom in the case of Vertebrata. For although it is only the lowest class of the sub-kingdom which, so far as we positively know, was represented in the Devonian and Silurian formations, we must remember, on the one hand, that even a cartilaginous or ganoid fish belongs to the highest sub-kingdom of the animal series; and, on the other hand, that such animals are thus proved to have abounded in the very lowest strata where there is good evidence of there having been any forms of life at all. Lastly, the fact that Marsupials occur in the Trias, coupled with the fact that the still existing Monotremata are what may be termed animated fossils, referring us by their lowly type of organization to some period enormously more remote,—these facts render it practically certain that some members of this very highest class of the highest sub-kingdom must have existed far back in the Primaries.

These things, I say, I should not have expected to find, and I think all other evolutionists ought to be prepared to make the same acknowledgment. But as these things have been found, the only possible way of accounting for them on evolutionary principles is by supposing that the geological record is even more imperfect than we needed to suppose in order to meet the previous objections. I cannot see, however, why evolutionists should be afraid to make this acknowledgment. For I do not know any reason which would lead us to suppose that there is any common measure between the distances marked on our tables of geological formations, and the times which those distances severally represent. Let the reader turn to the table on page 163, and then let him say why the 30,000 feet of so-called Azoic rocks may not represent a greater duration of time than does the thickness of all the Primary rocks above them put together. For my own part I believe that this is probably the case, looking to the enormous ages during which these very early formations must have been exposed to destructive agencies of all kinds, now at one time and now at another, in different parts of the world. And, of course, we are without any means of surmising what ranges of time are represented by the so-called Primeval rocks, for the simple reason that they are non-sedimentary, and non-sedimentary rocks cannot be expected to contain fossils.

But, it will be answered, the 30,000 feet of Azoic rocks, lying above the Primeval, are sedimentary to some extent: they are not all completely metamorphic: yet they are all destitute of fossils. This is the fourth and last difficulty which has to be met, and it can only be met by the considerations which have been advanced by Lyell and Darwin. The former says:—

The total absence of any trace of fossils has inclined many geologists to attribute the origin of the most ancient strata to an azoic period, or one antecedent to the existence of organic beings. Admitting, they say, the obliteration, in some cases, of fossils by plutonic action, we might still expect that traces of them would oftener be found in certain ancient systems of slate, which can scarcely be said to have assumed a crystalline structure. But in urging this argument it seems to be forgotten that there are stratified formations of enormous thickness, and of various ages, some of them even of tertiary date, and which we know were formed after the earth had become the abode of living creatures, which are, nevertheless, in some districts, entirely destitute of all vestiges of organic bodies[54].

[54] Elements of Geology, p. 587.

He then proceeds to mention sundry causes (in addition to plutonic action) which are adequate to destroy the fossiliferous contents of stratified rocks, and to show that these may well have produced enormous destruction of organic remains in these oldest of known formations.

Darwin's view is that, during the vast ages of time now under consideration, it is probable that the distribution of sea and land over the earth's surface has not been uniformly the same, even as regards oceans and continents. Now, if this were the case, "it might well happen that strata which had subsided some miles nearer to the centre of the earth, and which had been pressed on by an enormous weight of superincumbent water, might have undergone far more metamorphic action than strata which have always remained nearer to the surface. The immense areas in some parts of the world, for instance in South America, of naked metamorphic rocks, which must have been heated under great pressure, have always seemed to me to require some special explanation; and we may perhaps believe that we see, in these large areas, the many formations long anterior to the Cambrian epoch in a completely metamorphosed and denuded condition[55]." The probability of this view he sustains by certain general considerations, as well as particular facts touching the geology of oceanic islands, &c.

[55] Origin of Species, p. 289.

On the whole, then, it seems to me but reasonable to conclude, with regard to all four objections in question, as Darwin concludes with regard to them:—

For my part, following out Lyell's metaphor, I look at the geological record as a history of the world imperfectly kept, written in a changing dialect; of this history we possess the last volume alone, relating only to two or three countries. Of this volume, only here and there a short chapter has been preserved; and of each page only here and there a few lines. Each word of the slowly-changing language, more or less different in the successive chapters, may represent the forms of life, which are entombed in our consecutive formations, and which falsely appear to us to have been abruptly introduced. On this view, the difficulties above discussed are greatly diminished, or even disappear[56].

[56] Ibid.

As far as I can see, the only reasonable exception that can be taken to this general view of the whole matter, is one which has been taken from the side of astronomical physics.

Put briefly, it is alleged by one of the highest authorities in this branch of science, that there cannot have been any such enormous reaches of unrecorded time as would be implied by the supposition of there having been a lost history of organic evolution before the Cambrian period. The grounds of this allegation I am not qualified to examine; but in a general way I agree with Prof. Huxley in feeling that, from the very nature of the case, they are necessarily precarious,—and this in so high a degree that any conclusions raised on such premises are not entitled to be deemed formidable[57].

[57] See Lay Sermons, Lecture on Geological Reform.

* * * * *

Turning now to plants, the principal and the ablest opponent of the theory of evolution is here unquestionably Mr. Carruthers[58]. The difficulties which he adduces may be classified under three heads, as follows:—

[58] See especially the following Presidential addresses:—Geol. Assoc. Nov. 1876; Section D. Brit. Assoc., 1886; Lin. Soc., 1890.

1. There is no evidence of change in specific forms of existing plants. Not only are the numerous species of plants which have been found in Egyptian mummies indistinguishable from their successors of to-day; but, what is of far more importance, a large number of our own indigenous plants grew in Great Britain during the glacial period (including under this term the warm periods between those of successive glaciations), and in no one case does it appear that any modification of specific type has occurred. This fact is particularly remarkable as regards leaves, because on the one hand they are the organs of plants which are most prone to vary, while on the other hand they are likewise the organs which lend themselves most perfectly to the process of fossilization, so that all details of their structure can be minutely observed in the fossil state. Yet the interval since the glacial period, although not a long one geologically speaking, is certainly what may be called an appreciable portion of time in the history of Dicotyledonous plants since their first appearance in the Cretaceous epoch. Again, if we extend this kind of enquiry so as to include the world as a whole, a number of other species of plants dating from the glacial epoch are found to tell the same story—notwithstanding that, in the opinion of Mr. Carruthers, they must all have undergone many changes of environment while advancing before, and retreating after, successive glaciations in different parts of the globe. Or, to quote his own words:—"The various physical conditions which of necessity affected these {41} species in their diffusion over such large areas of the earth's surface in the course of, say, 250,000 years, should have led to the production of many varieties; but the uniform testimony of the remains of this considerable pre-glacial flora, as far as the materials admit of a comparison, is that no appreciable change has taken place."

2. There is no appearance of generalized forms among the earliest plants with which we are acquainted. For example, in the first dry land flora—the Devonian—we have representatives of the Filices, Equisetaceae, and Lycopodiaceae, all as highly specialized as their living representatives, and exhibiting the differential characters of these closely related groups. Moreover, these plants were even more highly organized than their existing descendants in regard to their vegetative structure, and in some cases also in regard to their reproductive organs. So likewise the Gymnosperms of that time show in their fossil state the same highly organized woody structure as their living representatives.

3. Similarly, and more generally, the Dicotyledonous plants, which first appear in the Cretaceous rocks, appear there suddenly, without any forms leading up to them—notwithstanding that "we know very well the extensive flora of the underlying Wealden." Moreover, we have all the three great divisions of the Dicotyledons appearing together, and so highly differentiated that all the species are referred to existing genera, with the exception of a very few imperfectly preserved, and therefore uncertain fragments.

Such being the facts, we may begin by noticing that, even at first sight, they present different degrees of difficulty. Thus, I cannot see that there is much difficulty with regard to those in class 2. Only if we were to take the popular (and very erroneous) view of organic evolution as a process which is always and everywhere bound to promote the specialization of organic types—only then ought we to see any real difficulty in the absence of generalized types preceding these existing types. Of course we may wonder why still lower down in the geological series we do not meet with more generalized (or ancestral) types; but this is the difficulty number 3, which we now proceed to examine.

Concerning the other two difficulties, then, the only possible way of meeting that as to the absence of any parent forms lower down in the geological series is by falling back—as in the analogous case of animals—upon the imperfection of the geological record. Although it is certainly remarkable that we should not encounter any forms serving to connect the Dicotyledonous plants of the Chalk with the lower forms of the underlying Wealden, we must again remember that difficulties thus depending on the absence of any corroborative record, are by no means equivalent to what would have arisen in the presence of an adverse record—such, for instance, as would have been exhibited had the floras of the Wealden and the Chalk been inverted. But, as the case actually stands, the mere fact that Dicotyledonous plants, where they first occur, are found to have been already differentiated into their three main divisions, is in itself sufficient evidence, on the general theory of evolution, that there must be a break in the record as hitherto known between the Wealden and the Chalk. Nor is it easy to see how the opponents of this theory can prove their negative by furnishing evidence to the contrary. And although such might justly be deemed an unfair way of putting the matter, were this the only case where the geological record is in evidence, it is not so when we remember that there are numberless other cases where the geological record does testify to connecting links in a most satisfactory manner. For in view of this consideration the burden of proof is thrown upon those who point to particular cases where there is thus a conspicuous absence of transitional forms—the burden, namely, of proving that such cases are not due merely to a break in the record. Besides, the break in the record as regards this particular case may be apparent rather than real. For I suppose there is no greater authority on the pure geology of the subject than Sir Charles Lyell, and this is what he says of the particular case in question. "If the passage seem at present to be somewhat sudden from the flora of the Lower or Neocomian to that of the Upper Cretaceous period, the abruptness of the change will probably disappear when we are better acquainted with the fossil vegetation of the uppermost tracts of the Neocomian and that of the lowest strata of the Gault, or true Cretaceous series[59]."

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