The History of the Evolutionary Concept

The History of the Evolutionary Concept (Concluded)

The evolutionary theory, instead of solv­ing the origin of all things, is actually an evolution of thought; a mutation of ideas, and a natural selection of theory with adaptation to the philosophy of time.

H. G. HADLEY, M.D., Washington, D.C

One great difficulty the sci­entists found was in the question of lost species, as they were unwilling to admit that any should become ex­tinct because that would seem to make the universe imper­fect.' Thomas Jefferson was among those who believed that nature's economy could allow no race of animals to become extinct.'

Cuvier held the theory that there had occurred a series of geological upheavals where "the thread of operation is broken, the march of nature changed," to com­promise the requirements of science with traditionalism.'

Newton sought to develop a single phi­losophy of nature from the two somewhat opposite views of Boyle and Ray, the idea that nature, while a self-contained system of motion and matter, was still created by an omnipresent, omnipotent God. As sci­entists attempted to explain the produc­tion of new species on earth by chance and struggle, it seemed that the uniformity in the planetary system also should be al­lowed the effect of choice.'

Boyle's theory was that, although the uni­verse was once formed by God and upheld by Him, all phenomena as seen today were physically produced by the mechanical properties of the parts of matter.' Wells, in 1818, thought that nature had fitted each variety efficiently for its geographical hab­itation.

Thomas Wright believed that the sun might be governed by a still more active force and that the "stars themselves are subject to no other direction than that which moves the whole machine of na­ture." 0 While observed changes in the heavens were few and difficult of interpreta­tion, the changes on the earth's surface were so marked that Franklin commented that it was "a wreck of a world we live in."

 The interpretations made of these observa­tions were an attempt to reconcile the evo­lutionary concept of the geological find­ings with the general belief in scriptural inspiration. Thomas Burnet somehow for­got that the Scripture represented the Del­uge as a punishment inflicted upon man­kind and instead attempted to explain that the whole train of cause and effect was divinely synchronized with the events of human history. He was willing to take any amount of time to accomplish the observed changes. "Take a million, 'tis all one . . . more time, and the same effect still follows."'

Because changes of death and decay were observed in the earth, it was thought by some that the same must occur in the celes­tial bodies. Hooke thought that there was a continual decay tending to a final dis­solution, "not only of terrestial beings, but of celestial, even of the sun, moon and stars and of the heavens themselves." The notion of perpetual change in nature was not at first linked with the idea of per­petual progress. Buffon put aside Scripture, the account of the Deluge, and tried to explain all change by the system of matter in motion. He tried to find the answer in the observed daily workings of nature rather than in cataclysmic events. He thought that natural operation could create new continents.'

As volcanic action and the forces of water appeared responsible for the observed dis­turbances of the earth, the problem of the antiquity of the earth was raised. Buffon developed the theory of epochs to explain the various changes found in earth's geo­logical strata." Arduino believed in the con­ception of the uniformity of nature's operations in the earth's surface and that hap­penings in the remotest ages produced the effects seen abundantly in every region of the earth. The forces of water seemed, to some, to have a greater effect than the forces of fire, and Werner held that there must have been a "mighty inundation which rose to a height equal perhaps to the highest mountains."

In the year of Buffon's death, 1788, Hut­ton developed the theory of uniformity which stated that by "examining things present we have data from which to reason with regard to what has been." He believed that processes formed a regulative and pre­serving system of matter in motion and found "no vestige of a beginning—no prospect of an end." " He thought there were no powers to be admitted, except those of which we know the principle, and that no extraordinary events could be allowed to explain common experiences. The powers of nature could not, therefore, be employed to destroy the very object of these powers. Nature could not, therefore, act in violation of the observed order and subvert the purpose to be seen in the system of created things." Kirwan objected to the view of this world as false and imperfect, because that could imply the formation of a future earth." He had a somewhat materialistic view of nature, for he con­ceived the light in Genesis 1:2 as coming from erupting volcanoes."

The theory that the final cause of all the vast revolution on the globe was for the purpose of the maintenance of human life, met the obstacle of the fact that the means was often entirely out of proportion to the end. Many who attempted to demon­strate the presence of a natural system thought they were tracing out means ordained by God to provide a setting for human activities. However, they actually substituted a general force operated by law and considered the findings to be the result of the entire system of matter in motion. This was the natural consequence of limiting themselves to the observation of fact." They were willing to allow time, and thought that the individual who found himself limited by the lack of time and space forgot that the riches of nature reject all limitation."

The evolutionary theory, instead of solv­ing the origin of all things, is actually an evolution of thought; a mutation of ideas, and a natural selection of theory with adaptation to the philosophy of time. This was an attempt to rationalize materialism and substitute the laws of matter in mo­tion for the laws of God, and resulted from the desire to find a method of permanent progress without recognizing the moral aspects of the power of choice.

Thomas Huxley recognized that those who spoke of the "ethics of evolution" were fanatical in thinking that the law of the jungle would result in the "ethical progress of society." " It is now realized that war is not evolution, but a disease and a result of pathological thinking.


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

2 Thos. Jefferson, Notes on Virginia, III, Member Ameri­can Academy of Arts and Sciences, pp. 427, 1904.

3 Georges Guvier, Essay on the Theory of the Earth (New York: 1818), p. 44.

4 Isaac Newton, OPticks, 4th ed. (London: 1730), p. 376.

5 Robert Boyle, The Excellence and Grounds of the Mechanical Philosophy, 4th ed. (London: 1730), p. 376.

6 Thos. WrightAn Original Theory on New Hypothesis of the Universe ('London: 1750), pp. 51, 52.

7 Thos. Burnet, The Sacred Theory of the Earth, 7th ed. (London: 1759), pp. 47-49.

8 Robert Hooke, Posthumous Works, Richard Waller, ed. (London: 1705), pp. 435, 436.

9 Comte Georges Louis Leclerc de Buffon, Natural His­tory,   trans. Smellie, 3d ed., pp. 365, 366.

10 ________________ , Les Epoques de la Nature (Paris: 1780), pp.  3, 4.

11 Giovanni Arduino, Sagio Fisico-meneralogico de Lytho­gonia, e Orognosia (Venice: 1775), p. 201,

12 J. F. d'Aubuisson, An Account of the Basalts of Saxony, trans. P. Neill (Edinburgh: 1814), pp. 239, 240.

13 James Hutton, Theory of the Earth, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: 17951, pp. 19, 22.

14 Ibid., vol. 2, pp. 200, 547.

15 Ibid., vol. 1, pp. 200, 209.

16 Richard Kirwan, Geological Essays (London: 1799).

17 Georges Cuvier and Alexandre Bronquiart, Essai sur la Geographie Mineralogique des Environs de Paris (Paris: 1811), P. 253.

18 John Playfair, The Work of John Playfair, James G. Playfair, ed., vol. 1 (Edinburgh: 1822), pp. 147, 148.

19 Thomas Huxley, Evolution and Ethics and Other Es­says (New York: 1896), p. 83.

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H. G. HADLEY, M.D., Washington, D.C

December 1963

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