The History of the Evolutionary Concept

The various theories of ev­olution held by the West­ern world have been attempts to solve the problem of life.

H. G. HADLEY, M.D., Washington, D.C

The various theories of ev­olution held by the West­ern world have been attempts to solve the problem of life by considering life as an or­ganized energy engaged in a struggle against entropy. Life, then, seems to be a coordination of infinitely active molecules composed of a linkage of small living forces and against which all things are working to­gether toward dissolution.

John Ray believed that the world con­sisted of a constant set number of inani­mate bodies which never changed, and that none were destroyed, and no more could be produced. These minute bodies were in­divisible and were the ultimate particles that formed nature's productions by their various combinations. He thought that the growth of plants and animals was due to a "plastick principle" that God used in pro­ducing these effects in His works of provi­dence.'

Aristotle, in his conception of the great chain of being, believed that the sun and stars were eternal and divine, and there­fore unchanging. From Aristotle's idea of the permanency of nature, the belief in final causes and the argument from design, the tendency for modern theories has been to swing to the other extreme. Every state of the system of matter in motion was thought to result irresistibly from its pred­ecessors. He considered that the arrange­ment of the planets was the effect of laws of motion, and believed that the various species of extinct animals were the result of the permanent tendency of things to change.' Galileo thought that the earth had become noble and admirable by reason of so many different alterations.' He also treated time as a dimension, so that motion was not a substantial change. It became neutral and the quantity could be meas­ured independently of the moving body.

Kant believed in divine superintendence because nature, even in chaos, seemed to proceed regularly and according to order.' He believed that matter formed itself in accordance with established laws and that the well-ordered whole was produced, un­der the regulation of the established laws of motion, from a world which was in chaos in the beginning.' Spencer had considered that mental processes were a means of adaptation to environment and that men­tal processes being similar to other life processes, had, in the same manner, under­gone a progressive evolution.'

Darwin did not mention man in The Origin of Species except by inference in stating that light would be thrown on the origin of man and his history. Man, in evolutionary theory, might finally become the "business manager for the cosmic proc­ess of evolution." ' The neo-Darwinists, such as the biologist Sir Julian Huxley, believed that man, the highest product of organic evolution, would eventually con­trol evolution itself.' The result of Dar­win's reasoning, however, made the crea­ture that David thought of as "little lower than the angels," to become but little higher than the animal.

Thomas Huxley believed in the pro­phetic vision of the Hebrew Bible, but ac­cepted it only as a form of moral intuition­ism.' Darwin believed that religion was born in the fears of primeval man, and that the idea of a universal and beneficent Creator arose after a long development of culture and that this resulted in an ad­vance of morality. He also recognized, how­ever, that the conviction of a man's mind, which had developed from the lower ani­mals, would not be trustworthy.

Darwin faced the terrifying prospect of our planetary system perishing in the far-off future, but he never foresaw that the progress of man's intellect might cause him to perish by his own acts. He looked to future generations for "virtue to become triumphant," expecting the good and moral habits to become fixed by inheritance, after which the struggle between the higher and lower impulses would lessen."

The planned society of man at this time seems less inviting, in its grim reality, than when it was only a dream. The realism of the conflicts of nations and races apparently does not raise man to even higher levels of culture. At present it is threaten­ing to destroy the whole human race as modern science is becoming increasingly preoccupied with developing even more dreadful weapons of annihilation.

Lyell thought that the development of man's reason proved the "ever increasing dominion of mind over matter." He re­fused to accept natural selection as the cause of evolution and thought if natural selection is confounded with creational laws, we either deify secondary causes or immeasurably exaggerate their influence.' Lyell also thought that Lamarck had re­nounced his belief in the high geneology of his species and looked forward as if in com­pensation to the future perfectibility of man in his physical, intellectual, and moral attributes.'

Darwin's belief was that selection was not an occasional or a sporadic process, but an omnipresent power." He recognized that variations are not adaptive, therefore no trend could occur without selective ac­tion. He then personified the selective power of the environment as an outside agency. He thought that while man might accomplish effects by selection, there would be no limits to what a being with penetra­tion could effect during whole geological periods." Although Malthus had statistics for his theory in only one country, the United States, Darwin applied "the doc­trine of Malthus with tenfold force" and introduced his hypothesis of random variation, struggle for existence, and adaptive selection by the environment. He believed this means of selection to be incomparably truer than any produced by the feeble, ca­pricious, misdirected, and ill-adapted selec­tion of man." He thought that natural se­lection could develop instincts, and that if complicated instincts could thus be produced, complicated organs could result as well.

Darwin believed that from death, fam­ine, and the struggle for existence, the most exalted end—the creation of the higher animals—had directly proceeded." His argument was based on general considera­tions rather than upon absolute proofs. He admitted that "when we descend to details, we cannot prove that one species has changed and we cannot prove that the sup­posed changes are beneficial." "

Darwin rejected Lamarck's solution of a natural tendency toward progression with a power of adaptive response. Instead, he relied upon the influence of selected variations that favored the survival of the or­ganisms exhibiting them; and Herschel, likewise, did not accept the principle of arbitrary and causal variation to account for the organic world."

Darwin could not see how, if natural selection was effective, a higher intelligence could direct the course of variation. He could not harmonize the misery of the world with the idea that the world devel­oped according to predesigned plan. He looked at everything as resulting from de­signed laws and that all details, whether good or bad, resulted from the working out of the laws of chance. He felt that the vari­ations that exist could not be divinely or­dained, for there were many which did not need any requirement of change. There was actually no room for genuine chance in Darwin's view of nature, for everything to him was the result of fixed laws. Darwin's theory was directly contradictory to the pre­vailing theology when he wrote that the whole world, living and not living, was the result of mutual interaction, according to definite laws of the forces possessed by the molecules of which the primitive nebulos­ity of the universe was composed."

Monboddo believed that it was man's greatest glory that from the savage state in which the orangutan lives he should, by his own sagacity and industry, have arrived at the state in which we now see him." Lamarck thought that a race of apes, im­pelled by the need to dominate and to see far and wide, might acquire the informa­tion and capabilities of man.' Even Horace had written that when "living things first crawled on earth's surface, dumb brute beasts, they fought for their acorns and their lair with nails and fists, and then with clubs . . . until they discovered lan­guage . . . they began to build cities and to frame laws."

Lamarck attempted to arrange animals according to the complexity of their inter­nal organization to show the path that na­ture followed in giving existence to the different races of beings.' His theory that "progress achieved in perfecting organiza­tion is never lost" favored teleology rather than an evolution of life which simply re­sulted from material causes, and that adap­tation directed change.'

Darwin's grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, believed that nature existed in a state of "perpetual improvement by laws impressed on the atoms of matter by the great cause of causes." Thus, he offered a gospel of cosmic progress through which Christians might build a better life on earth in exchange for the hope of salvation in the next world. He thought that animals rose from one liv­ing filament endowed with animality and had the powers of acquiring new parts by the "first great cause." 27

Cuvier wished to harmonize the two conflicting existing theories of nature; the first, considered final causes as the condi­tions of existence, and variety an expres­sion of divine activity. The particular forms were supposed to be derived from creation's initial pattern upon which the original structures of the world were con­structed once and for all times. The second was that a system of material particles of the Newtonian hypothesis, moving in space and time, maintained and controlled the phenomena of the world. These, in turn, produced the changing configurations of the environment to which organic forms must adapt to survive. Survival, however, does not ensure progress or define its qual­ity. Actually, natural selection is not the survival of the fittest, but the survival of those who manage to survive. While he was committed to the doctrine of a fixed crea­tion, he believed that nature actively pro­duced a variety of living creatures.'

(To be continued)


1 John Ray. Three Physio-Theological Discourses, 3t1 ed., (London: 1713), pp. 149-154.

2 P. S. La Plau, The System of the World, Trans. H. H. Harte (Dublin: 1830), pp. 332, 333.

3 Galileo Galilei, Mathematical Collections and Transla­tions, Thos. Salisbury, ed. (London: 1661), p. 25.

4 Immanuel Kant, Universal Natural History and Theory of the Heavens, Kant's Cosmogony, William Hastil, Trans. (Glasgow: 1902), p. 26.

5 Ibid.

6 Herbert Spencer, The Principles of Psychology (London:. 1855), p. 529.

7 Theo. Dobzhansky. The Biological Basis of Human Freedom (New York: 1956), pp. 87, 88.

8 Sir Julian Huxley, Evolution in Action (New York: 1957) p. 116.

9 Thomas Huxley, Science and Hebrew Tradition Essays (New York: 1910), pp. 160, 161.

10 Charles Darwin, Descent of Man, Second ed. (New York: 1886), p. 125.

11 Sir Charles Lyell. Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man (London: 1863), p.412.

12 Ibid. p. 469.

13 Lyell, Principles of Geology, vol. 2. (London: 1832), pp. 20, 21.

14 Francis Darwin Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (New York: 1898); p. 234.

15 Charles Darwin, The Foundations of the Origins of Species, Essays written in 1842 and 1844, Francis Darwin, ed. (Cambridge. England: 1909), pp. 85-87.

16 Ibid., p. 95.

17 Ibid., p. 254.

18 Francis Darwin, Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, vol. 1, p. 210.

19 Sir John F. W. Herschel, Physical Geography of the Globe (Edinburgh: 1861), p. 12.

20 Thomas Huxley, Life and Letters on the Reception of the Origin of Species, Leonard Huxley, ed. (London: 1913), pp. 354, 555.

21- Conway Zirkle, "Natural History Before the Origin of Species," .Proceedings of American Philosophical Society, 84, pp. 435, 436, 1941.

22 Lord James Burnet Monboddo. Of the Origin and Progress of Language, 2d ed. (Edinburgh: 1773-1792), pp. 360, 361.

23 Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet Chevalier de Lamarck, Philosophic Zoologique, vol. 1 (Paris: 1809), p. 357.

24 Horace, Satires 1, Trans. E. C. Wikham (Oxford: 19031. pp. 99-106.

25 Lamarck, Histoire Naturelle, vol. 1 (Paris: 1815-1822), p. 382.

26 Lamarck, Philosophic Zoologique, vol. 1 (Paris: 1809), p. 101.

27 Erasmus Darwin, Zoonomia or the Laws of Organic Life (Philadelphia: 1818), pp. 400, 401.

28 Georges Cuvier. Essay on the Theory of the Earth, Robt. Jameson, ed. (New York: 1818), pp. 118, 119.

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H. G. HADLEY, M.D., Washington, D.C

November 1963

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