III. THEOLOGICAL AND SCIENTIFIC THEORIES, OF AN EVOLUTION IN ANIMATED NATURE.
WE have seen, thus far, how there came into the thinking of mankind upon the visible universe and its inhabitants the idea of a creation virtually instantaneous and complete, and of a Creator in human form with human attributes, who spoke matter into existence literally by the exercise of his throat and lips, or shaped and placed it with his hands and fingers.
We have seen that this view came from far; that it existed in the Chaldaeo-Babylonian and Egyptian civilizations, and probably in others of the earliest date known to us; that its main features passed thence into the sacred books of the Hebrews and then into the early Christian Church, by whose theologians it was developed through the Middle Ages and maintained during the modern period.
But, while this idea was thus developed by a succession of noble and thoughtful men through thousands of years, another conception, to all appearance equally ancient, was developed, sometimes in antagonism to it, sometimes mingled with it--the conception of all living beings as wholly or in part the result of a growth process--of an evolution.
This idea, in various forms, became a powerful factor in nearly all the greater ancient theologies and philosophies. For very widespread among the early peoples who attained to much thinking power was a conception that, in obedience to the divine fiat, a watery chaos produced the earth, and that the sea and land gave birth to their inhabitants.
This is clearly seen in those records of Chaldaeo-Babylonian thought deciphered in these latter years, to which reference has already been made. In these we have a watery chaos which, under divine action, brings forth the earth and its inhabitants; first the sea animals and then the land animals--the latter being separated into three kinds, substantially as recorded afterward in the Hebrew accounts. At the various stages in the work the Chaldean Creator pronounces it "beautiful," just as the Hebrew Creator in our own later account pronounces it "good."
In both accounts there is placed over the whole creation a solid, concave firmament; in both, light is created first, and the heavenly bodies are afterward placed "for signs and for seasons"; in both, the number seven is especially sacred, giving rise to a sacred division of time and to much else. It may be added that, with many other features in the Hebrew legends evidently drawn from the Chaldean, the account of the creation in each is followed by a legend regarding "the fall of man" and a deluge, many details of which clearly passed in slightly modified form from the Chaldean into the Hebrew accounts.
It would have been a miracle indeed if these primitive conceptions, wrought out with so much poetic vigour in that earlier civilization on the Tigris and Euphrates, had failed to influence the Hebrews, who during the most plastic periods of their development were under the tutelage of their Chaldean neighbours. Since the researches of Layard, George Smith, Oppert, Schrader, Jensen, Sayce, and their compeers, there is no longer a reasonable doubt that this ancient view of the world, elaborated if not originated in that earlier civilization, came thence as a legacy to the Hebrews, who wrought it in a somewhat disjointed but mainly monotheistic form into the poetic whole which forms one of the most precious treasures of ancient thought preserved in the book of Genesis.
Thus it was that, while the idea of a simple material creation literally by the hands and fingers or voice of the Creator became, as we have seen, the starting-point of a powerful stream of theological thought, and while this stream was swollen from age to age by contributions from the fathers, doctors, and learned divines of the Church, Catholic and Protestant, there was poured into it this lesser current, always discernible and at times clearly separated from it--a current of belief in a process of evolution.
The Rev. Prof. Sayce, of Oxford, than whom no English-speaking scholar carries more weight in a matter of this kind, has recently declared his belief that the Chaldaeo-Babylonian theory was the undoubted source of the similar theory propounded by the Ionic philosopher Anaximander--the Greek thinkers deriving this view from the Babylonians through the Phoenicians; he also allows that from the same source its main features were adopted into both the accounts given in the first of our sacred books, and in this general view the most eminent Christian Assyriologists concur.
It is true that these sacred accounts of ours contradict each other. In that part of the first or Elohistic account given in the first chapter of Genesis the _waters_ bring forth fishes, marine animals, and birds (Genesis, i, 20); but in that part of the second or Jehovistic account given in the second chapter of Genesis both the land animals and birds are declared to have been created not out of the water, but "_out of the ground_" (Genesis, ii, 19).
The dialectic skill of the fathers was easily equal to explaining away this contradiction; but the old current of thought, strengthened by both these legends, arrested their attention, and, passing through the minds of a succession of the greatest men of the Church, influenced theological opinion deeply, if not widely, for ages, in favour of an evolution theory.
But there was still another ancient source of evolution ideas. Thoughtful men of the early civilizations which were developed along the great rivers in the warmer regions of the earth noted how the sun-god as he rose in his fullest might caused the water and the rich soil to teem with the lesser forms of life. In Egypt, especially, men saw how under this divine power the Nile slime brought forth "creeping things innumerable." Hence mainly this ancient belief that the animals and man were produced by lifeless matter at the divine command, "in the beginning," was supplemented by the idea that some of the lesser animals, especially the insects, were produced by a later evolution, being evoked after the original creation from various sources, but chiefly from matter in a state of decay.
This crude, early view aided doubtless in giving germs of a better evolution theory to the early Greeks. Anaximander, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, and, greatest of all, Aristotle, as we have seen, developed them, making their way at times by guesses toward truths since established by observation. Aristotle especially, both by speculation and observation, arrived at some results which, had Greek freedom of thought continued, might have brought the world long since to its present plane of biological knowledge; for he reached something like the modern idea of a succession of higher organizations from lower, and made the fruitful suggestion of "a perfecting principle" in Nature.
With the coming in of Christian theology this tendency toward a yet truer theory of evolution was mainly stopped, but the old crude view remained, and as a typical example of it we may note the opinion of St. Basil the Great in the fourth century. Discussing the work of creation, he declares that, at the command of God, "the waters were gifted with productive power"; "from slime and muddy places frogs, flies, and gnats came into being"; and he finally declares that the same voice which gave this energy and quality of productiveness to earth and water shall be similarly efficacious until the end of the world. St. Gregory of Nyssa held a similar view.
This idea of these great fathers of the Eastern Church took even stronger hold on the great father of the Western Church. For St. Augustine, so fettered usually by the letter of the sacred text, broke from his own famous doctrine as to the acceptance of Scripture and spurned the generally received belief of a creative process like that by which a toymaker brings into existence a box of playthings. In his great treatise on _Genesis_ he says: "To suppose that God formed man from the dust with bodily hands is very childish.... God neither formed man with bodily hands nor did he breathe upon him with throat and lips."
St. Augustine then suggests the adoption of the old emanation or evolution theory, shows that "certain very small animals may not have been created on the fifth and sixth days, but may have originated later from putrefying matter." argues that, even if this be so, God is still their creator, dwells upon such a potential creation as involved in the actual creation, and speaks of animals "whose numbers the after-time unfolded."
In his great treatise on the _Trinity_--the work to which he devoted the best thirty years of his life--we find the full growth of this opinion. He develops at length the view that in the creation of living beings there was something like a growth--that God is the ultimate author, but works through secondary causes; and finally argues that certain substances are endowed by God with the power of producing certain classes of plants and animals.
This idea of a development by secondary causes apart from the original creation was helped in its growth by a theological exigency. More and more, as the organic world was observed, the vast multitude of petty animals, winged creatures, and "creeping things" was felt to be a strain upon the sacred narrative. More and more it became difficult to reconcile the dignity of the Almighty with his work in bringing each of these creatures before Adam to be named; or to reconcile the human limitations of Adam with his work in naming "every living creature"; or to reconcile the dimensions of Noah's ark with the space required for preserving all of them, and the food of all sorts necessary for their sustenance, whether they were admitted by twos, as stated in one scriptural account, or by sevens, as stated in the other.
The inadequate size of the ark gave especial trouble. Origen had dealt with it by suggesting that the cubit was Six times greater than had been supposed. Bede explained Noah's ability to complete so large a vessel by supposing that he worked upon it during a hundred years; and, as to the provision of food taken into it, he declared that there was no need of a supply for more than one day, since God could throw the animals into a deep sleep or otherwise miraculously make one day's supply sufficient; he also lessened the strain on faith still more by diminishing the number of animals taken into the ark--supporting his view upon Augustine's theory of the later development of insects out of carrion.
Doubtless this theological necessity was among the main reasons which led St. Isidore of Seville, in the seventh century, to incorporate this theory, supported by St. Basil and St. Augustine, into his great encyclopedic work which gave materials for thought on God and Nature to so many generations. He familiarized the theological world still further with the doctrine of secondary creation, giving such examples of it as that "bees are generated from decomposed veal, beetles from horseflesh, grasshoppers from mules, scorpions from crabs," and, in order to give still stronger force to the idea of such transformations, he dwells on the biblical account of Nebuchadnezzar, which appears to have taken strong hold upon medieval thought in science, and he declares that other human beings had been changed into animals, especially into swine, wolves, and owls.
This doctrine of after-creations went on gathering strength until, in the twelfth century, Peter Lombard, in his theological summary, _The Sentences_, so powerful in moulding the thought of the Church, emphasized the distinction between animals which spring from carrion and those which are created from earth and water; the former he holds to have been created "potentially" the latter "actually."
In the century following, this idea was taken up by St. Thomas Aquinas and virtually received from him its final form. In the _Summa_, which remains the greatest work of medieval thought, he accepts the idea that certain animals spring from the decaying bodies of plants and animals, and declares that they are produced by the creative word of God either actually or virtually. He develops this view by saying, "Nothing was made by God, after the six days of creation, absolutely new, but it was in some sense included in the work of the six days"; and that "even new species, if any appear, have existed before in certain native properties, just as animals are produced from putrefaction."
The distinction thus developed between creation "causally" or "potentially," and "materially" or "formally," was made much of by commentators afterward. Cornelius a Lapide spread it by saying that certain animals were created not "absolutely," but only "derivatively," and this thought was still further developed three centuries later by Augustinus Eugubinus, who tells us that, after the first creative energy had called forth land and water, light was made by the Almighty, the instrument of all future creation, and that the light called everything into existence.
All this "science falsely so called," so sedulously developed by the master minds of the Church, and yet so futile that we might almost suppose that the great apostle, in a glow of prophetic vision, had foreseen it in his famous condemnation, seems at this distance very harmless indeed; yet, to many guardians of the "sacred deposit of doctrine " in the Church, even so slight a departure from the main current of thought seemed dangerous. It appeared to them like pressing the doctrine of secondary causes to a perilous extent; and about the beginning of the seventeenth century we have the eminent Spanish Jesuit and theologian Suarez denouncing it, and declaring St. Augustine a heretic for his share in it.
But there was little danger to the older idea just then; the main theological tendency was so strong that the world kept on as of old. Biblical theology continued to spin its own webs out of its own bowels, and all the lesser theological flies continued to be entangled in them; yet here and there stronger thinkers broke loose from this entanglement and helped somewhat to disentangle others.
At the close of the Middle Ages, in spite of the devotion of the Reformed Church to the letter of Scripture, the revival of learning and the great voyages gave an atmosphere in which better thinking on the problems of Nature began to gain strength. On all sides, in every field, men were making discoveries which caused the general theological view to appear more and more inadequate.
First of those who should be mentioned with reverence as beginning to develop again that current of Greek thought which the system drawn from our sacred books by the fathers and doctors of the Church had interrupted for more than a thousand years, was Giordano Bruno. His utterances were indeed vague and enigmatical, but this fault may well be forgiven him, for he saw but too clearly what must be his reward for any more open statements. His reward indeed came--even for his faulty utterances--when, toward the end of the nineteenth century, thoughtful men from all parts of the world united in erecting his statue on the spot where he had been burned by the Roman Inquisition nearly three hundred years before.
After Bruno's death, during the first half of the seventeenth century, Descartes seemed about to take the leadership of human thought: his theories, however superseded now, gave a great impulse to investigation then. His genius in promoting an evolution doctrine as regards the mechanical formation of the solar system was great, and his mode of thought strengthened the current of evolutionary doctrine generally; but his constant dread of persecution, both from Catholics and Protestants, led him steadily to veil his thoughts and even to suppress them. The execution of Bruno had occurred in his childhood, and in the midst of his Career he had watched the Galileo struggle in all its stages. He had seen his own works condemned by university after university under the direction of theologians, and placed upon the Roman _Index_. Although he gave new and striking arguments to prove the existence of God, and humbled himself before the Jesuits, he was condemned by Catholics and Protestants alike. Since Roger Bacon, perhaps, no great thinker had been so completely abased and thwarted by theological oppression.
Near the close of the same century another great thinker, Leibnitz, though not propounding any full doctrine on evolution, gave it an impulse by suggesting a view contrary to the sacrosanct belief in the immutability of species--that is, to the pious doctrine that every species in the animal kingdom now exists as it left the hands of the Creator, the naming process by Adam, and the door of Noah's ark.
His punishment at the hands of the Church came a few years later, when, in 1712, the Jesuits defeated his attempt to found an Academy of Science at Vienna. The imperial authorities covered him with honours, but the priests--ruling in the confessionals and pulpits--would not allow him the privilege of aiding his fellow-men to ascertain God's truths revealed in Nature.
Spinoza, Hume, and Kant may also be mentioned as among those whose thinking, even when mistaken, might have done much to aid in the development of a truer theory had not the theologic atmosphere of their times been so unpropitious; but a few years after Leibnitz's death came in France a thinker in natural science of much less influence than any of these, who made a decided step forward.
Early in the eighteenth century Benoist de Maillet, a man of the world, but a wide observer and close thinker upon Nature, began meditating especially upon the origin of animal forms, and was led into the idea of the transformation of species and so into a theory of evolution, which in some important respects anticipated modern ideas. He definitely, though at times absurdly, conceived the production of existing species by the modification of their predecessors, and he plainly accepted one of the fundamental maxims of modern geology--that the structure of the globe must be studied in the light of the present course of Nature.
But he fell between two ranks of adversaries. On one side, the Church authorities denounced him as a freethinker; on the other, Voltaire ridiculed him as a devotee. Feeling that his greatest danger was from the orthodox theologians, De Maillet endeavoured to protect himself by disguising his name in the title of his book, and by so wording its preface and dedication that, if persecuted, he could declare it a mere sport of fancy; he therefore announced it as the reverie of a Hindu sage imparted to a Christian missionary. But this strategy availed nothing: he had allowed his Hindu sage to suggest that the days of creation named in Genesis might be long periods of time; and this, with other ideas of equally fearful import, was fatal. Though the book was in type in 1735, it was not published till 1748--three years after his death.
On the other hand, the heterodox theology of Voltaire was also aroused; and, as De Maillet had seen in the presence of fossils on high mountains a proof that these mountains were once below the sea, Voltaire, recognising in this an argument for the deluge of Noah, ridiculed the new thinker without mercy. Unfortunately, some of De Maillet's vagaries lent themselves admirably to Voltaire's sarcasm; better material for it could hardly be conceived than the theory, seriously proposed, that the first human being was born of a mermaid.
Hence it was that, between these two extremes of theology, De Maillet received no recognition until, very recently, the greatest men of science in England and France have united in giving him his due. But his work was not lost, even in his own day; Robinet and Bonnet pushed forward victoriously on helpful lines.
In the second half of the eighteenth century a great barrier was thrown across this current--the authority of Linnaeus. He was the most eminent naturalist of his time, a wide observer, a close thinker; but the atmosphere in which he lived and moved and had his being was saturated with biblical theology, and this permeated all his thinking.
He who visits the tomb of Linnaeus to-day, entering the beautiful cathedral of Upsala by its southern porch, sees above it, wrought in stone, the Hebrew legend of creation. In a series of medallions, the Almighty--in human form--accomplishes the work of each creative day. In due order he puts in place the solid firmament with the waters above it, the sun, moon, and stars within it, the beasts, birds, and plants below it, and finishes his task by taking man out of a little hillock of "the earth beneath," and woman out of man's side. Doubtless Linnaeus, as he went to his devotions, often smiled at this childlike portrayal. Yet he was never able to break away from the idea it embodied. At times, in face of the difficulties which beset the orthodox theory, he ventured to favour some slight concessions. Toward the end of his life he timidly advanced the hypothesis that all the species of one genus constituted at the creation one species; and from the last edition of his _Systema Naturae_ he quietly left out the strongly orthodox statement of the fixity of each species, which he had insisted upon in his earlier works. But he made no adequate declaration. What he might expect if he openly and decidedly sanctioned a newer view he learned to his cost; warnings came speedily both from the Catholic and Protestant sides.
At a time when eminent prelates of the older Church were eulogizing debauched princes like Louis XV, and using the unspeakably obscene casuistry of the Jesuit Sanchez in the education of the priesthood as to the relations of men to women, the modesty of the Church authorities was so shocked by Linnaeus's proofs of a sexual system in plants that for many years his writings were prohibited in the Papal States and in various other parts of Europe where clerical authority was strong enough to resist the new scientific current. Not until 1773 did one of the more broad-minded cardinals --Zelanda--succeed in gaining permission that Prof. Minasi should discuss the Linnaean system at Rome.
And Protestantism was quite as oppressive. In a letter to Eloius, Linnaeus tells of the rebuke given to science by one of the great Lutheran prelates of Sweden, Bishop Svedberg. From various parts of Europe detailed statements had been sent to the Royal Academy of Science that water had been turned into blood, and well-meaning ecclesiastics had seen in this an indication of the wrath of God, certainly against the regions in which these miracles had occurred and possibly against the whole world. A miracle of this sort appearing in Sweden, Linnaeus looked into it carefully and found that the reddening of the water was caused by dense masses of minute insects. News of this explanation having reached the bishop, he took the field against it; he denounced this scientific discovery as "a Satanic abyss" (_abyssum Satanae_), and declared "The reddening of the water is _not_ natural," and "when God allows such a miracle to take place Satan endeavours, and so do his ungodly, self-reliant, self-sufficient, and worldly tools, to make it signify nothing." In face of this onslaught Linnaeus retreated; he tells his correspondent that "it is difficult to say anything in this matter," and shields himself under the statement "It is certainly a miracle that so many millions of creatures can be so suddenly propagated," and "it shows undoubtedly the all-wise power of the Infinite."
The great naturalist, grown old and worn with labours for science, could no longer resist the contemporary theology; he settled into obedience to it, and while the modification of his early orthodox view was, as we have seen, quietly imbedded in the final edition of his great work, he made no special effort to impress it upon the world. To all appearance he continued to adhere to the doctrine that all existing species had been created by the Almighty "in the beginning," and that since "the beginning" no new species had appeared.
Yet even his great authority could not arrest the swelling tide; more and more vast became the number of species, more and more incomprehensible under the old theory became the newly ascertained facts in geographical distribution, more and more it was felt that the universe and animated beings had come into existence by some process other than a special creation "in the beginning," and the question was constantly pressing, "By _what_ process?"
Throughout the whole of the eighteenth century one man was at work on natural history who might have contributed much toward an answer to this question: this man was Buffon. His powers of research and thought were remarkable, and his gift in presenting results of research and thought showed genius. He had caught the idea of an evolution in Nature by the variation of species, and was likely to make a great advance with it; but he, too, was made to feel the power of theology.
As long as he gave pleasing descriptions of animals the Church petted him, but when he began to deduce truths of philosophical import the batteries of the Sorbonne were opened upon him; he was made to know that "the sacred deposit of truth committed to the Church" was, that "in the beginning God made the heavens and the earth" and that "all things were made at the beginning of the world." For his simple statement of truths in natural science which are to-day truisms, he was, as we have seen, dragged forth by the theological faculty, forced to recant publicly, and to print his recantation. In this he announced, "I abandon everything in my book respecting the formation of the earth, and generally all which may be contrary to the narrative of Moses."
But all this triumph of the Chaldeo-Babylonian creation legends which the Church had inherited availed but little.
For about the end of the eighteenth century fruitful suggestions and even clear presentations of this or that part of a large evolutionary doctrine came thick and fast, and from the most divergent quarters. Especially remarkable were those which came from Erasmus Darwin in England, from Maupertuis in France, from Oken in Switzerland, and from Herder, and, most brilliantly of all, from Goethe in Germany.
Two men among these thinkers must be especially mentioned--Treviranus in Germany and Lamarck in France; each independently of the other drew the world more completely than ever before in this direction.
From Treviranus came, in 1802, his work on biology, and in this he gave forth the idea that from forms of life originally simple had arisen all higher organizations by gradual development; that every living feature has a capacity for receiving modifications of its structure from external influences; and that no species had become really extinct, but that each had passed into some other species. From Lamarck came about the same time his _Researches_, and a little later his _Zoological Philosophy_, which introduced a new factor into the process of evolution--the action of the animal itself in its efforts toward a development to suit new needs--and he gave as his principal conclusions the following:
1. Life tends to increase the volume of each living body and of all its parts up to a limit determined by its own necessities.
2. New wants in animals give rise to new organs.
3. The development of these organs is in proportion to their employment.
4. New developments may be transmitted to offspring.
His well-known examples to illustrate these views, such as that of successive generations of giraffes lengthening their necks by stretching them to gather high-growing foliage, and of successive generations of kangaroos lengthening and strengthening their hind legs by the necessity of keeping themselves erect while jumping, provoked laughter, but the very comicality of these illustrations aided to fasten his main conclusion in men's memories.
In both these statements, imperfect as they were, great truths were embodied--truths which were sure to grow.
Lamarck's declaration, especially, that the development of organs is in ratio to their employment, and his indications of the reproduction in progeny of what is gained or lost in parents by the influence of circumstances, entered as a most effective force into the development of the evolution theory.
The next great successor in the apostolate of this idea of the universe was Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. As early as 1795 he had begun to form a theory that species are various modifications of the same type, and this theory he developed, testing it at various stages as Nature was more and more displayed to him. It fell to his lot to bear the brunt in a struggle against heavy odds which lasted many years.
For the man who now took up the warfare, avowedly for science but unconsciously for theology, was the foremost naturalist then living--Cuvier. His scientific eminence was deserved; the highest honours of his own and other countries were given him, and he bore them worthily. An Imperial Councillor under Napoleon; President of the Council of Public Instruction and Chancellor of the University under the restored Bourbons; Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour, a Peer of France, Minister of the Interior, and President of the Council of State under Louis Philippe; he was eminent in all these capacities, and yet the dignity given by such high administrative positions was as nothing compared to his leadership in natural science. Science throughout the world acknowledged in him its chief contemporary ornament, and to this hour his fame rightly continues. But there was in him, as in Linnaeus, a survival of certain theological ways of looking at the universe and certain theological conceptions of a plan of creation; it must be said, too, that while his temperament made him distrust new hypotheses, of which he had seen so many born and die, his environment as a great functionary of state, honoured, admired, almost adored by the greatest, not only in the state but in the Church, his solicitude lest science should receive some detriment by openly resisting the Church, which had recaptured Europe after the French Revolution, and had made of its enemies its footstool--all these considerations led him to oppose the new theory. Amid the plaudits, then, of the foremost church-men he threw across the path of the evolution doctrines the whole mass of his authority in favour of the old theory of catastrophic changes and special creations.
Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire stoutly withstood him, braving non-recognition, ill-treatment, and ridicule. Treviranus, afar off in his mathematical lecture-room at Bremen, seemed simply forgotten.
But the current of evolutionary thought could not thus be checked: dammed up for a time, it broke out in new channels and in ways and places least expected; turned away from France, it appeared especially in England, where great paleontologists and geologists arose whose work culminated in that of Lyell. Specialists throughout all the world now became more vigorous than ever, gathering facts and thinking upon them in a way which caused the special creation theory to shrink more and more. Broader and more full became these various rivulets, soon to unite in one great stream of thought.
In 1813 Dr. Wells developed a theory of evolution by natural selection to account for varieties in the human race. About 182O Dean Herbert, eminent as an authority in horticulture, avowed his conviction that species are but fixed varieties. In 1831 Patrick Matthews stumbled upon and stated the main doctrine of natural selection in evolution; and others here and there, in Europe and America, caught an inkling of it.
But no one outside of a circle apparently uninfluential cared for these things: the Church was serene: on the Continent it had obtained reactionary control of courts, cabinets, and universities; in England, Dean Cockburn was denouncing Mary Somerville and the geologists to the delight of churchmen; and the Rev. Mellor Brown was doing the same thing for the edification of dissenters.
In America the mild suggestions of Silliman and his compeers were met by the protestations of the Andover theologians headed by Moses Stuart. Neither of the great English universities, as a rule, took any notice of the innovators save by sneers.
To this current of thought there was joined a new element when, in 1844, Robert Chambers published his _Vestiges of Creation_. The book was attractive and was widely read. In Chambers's view the several series of animated beings, from the simplest and oldest up to the highest and most recent, were the result of two distinct impulses, each given once and for all time by the Creator. The first of these was an impulse imparted to forms of life, lifting them gradually through higher grades; the second was an impulse tending to modify organic substances in accordance with external circumstances; in fact, the doctrine of the book was evolution tempered by miracle--a stretching out of the creative act through all time--a pious version of Lamarck.
Two results followed, one mirth-provoking, the other leading to serious thought. The amusing result was that the theologians were greatly alarmed by the book: it was loudly insisted that it promoted atheism. Looking back along the line of thought which has since been developed, one feels that the older theologians ought to have put up thanksgivings for Chambers's theory, and prayers that it might prove true. The more serious result was that it accustomed men's minds to a belief in evolution as in some form possible or even probable. In this way it was provisionally of service.
Eight years later Herbert Spencer published an essay contrasting the theories of creation and evolution--reasoning with great force in favour of the latter, showing that species had undoubtedly been modified by circumstances; but still only few and chosen men saw the significance of all these lines of reasoning which had been converging during so many years toward one conclusion.
On July 1, 1858, there were read before the Linnaean Society at London two papers--one presented by Charles Darwin, the other by Alfred Russel Wallace--and with the reading of these papers the doctrine of evolution by natural selection was born. Then and there a fatal breach was made in the great theological barrier of the continued fixity of species since the creation.
The story of these papers the scientific world knows by heart: how Charles Darwin, having been sent to the University of Cambridge to fit him for the Anglican priesthood, left it in 1831 to go upon the scientific expedition of the Beagle; how for five years he studied with wonderful vigour and acuteness the problems of life as revealed on land and at sea--among volcanoes and coral reefs, in forests and on the sands, from the tropics to the arctic regions; how, in the Cape Verde and the Galapagos Islands, and in Brazil, Patagonia, and Australia he interrogated Nature with matchless persistency and skill; how he returned unheralded, quietly settled down to his work, and soon set the world thinking over its first published results, such as his book on _Coral Reefs,_ and the monograph on the _Cirripedia_; and, finally, how he presented his paper, and followed it up with treatises which made him one of the great leaders in the history of human thought.
The scientific world realizes, too, more and more, the power of character shown by Darwin in all this great career; the faculty of silence, the reserve of strength seen in keeping his great thought--his idea of evolution by natural selection--under silent study and meditation for nearly twenty years, giving no hint of it to the world at large, but working in every field to secure proofs or disproofs, and accumulating masses of precious material for the solution of the questions involved.
To one man only did he reveal his thought--to Dr. Joseph Hooker, to whom in 1844, under the seal of secrecy, he gave a summary of his conclusions. Not until fourteen years later occurred the event which showed him that the fulness of time had come--the letter from Alfred Russel Wallace, to whom, in brilliant researches during the decade from 1848 to 1858, in Brazil and in the Malay Archipelago, the same truth of evolution by natural selection had been revealed. Among the proofs that scientific study does no injury to the more delicate shades of sentiment is the well-known story of this letter. With it Wallace sent Darwin a memoir, asking him to present it to the Linnaean Society: on examining it, Darwin found that Wallace had independently arrived at conclusions similar to his own--possibly had deprived him of fame; but Darwin was loyal to his friend, and his friend remained ever loyal to him. He publicly presented the paper from Wallace, with his own conclusions; and the date of this presentation--July 1, 1858--separates two epochs in the history, not merely of natural science, but of human thought.
In the following year, 1859, came the first instalment of his work in its fuller development--his book on _The Origin of Species_. In this book one at least of the main secrets at the heart of the evolutionary process, which had baffled the long line of investigators and philosophers from the days of Aristotle, was more broadly revealed. The effective mechanism of evolution was shown at work in three ascertained facts: in the struggle for existence among organized beings; in the survival of the fittest; and in heredity. These facts were presented with such minute research, wide observation, patient collation, transparent honesty, and judicial fairness, that they at once commanded the world's attention. It was the outcome of thirty years' work and thought by a worker and thinker of genius, but it was yet more than that--it was the outcome, also, of the work and thought of another man of genius fifty years before. The book of Malthus on the _Principle of Population_, mainly founded on the fact that animals increase in a geometrical ratio, and therefore, if unchecked, must encumber the earth, had been generally forgotten, and was only recalled with a sneer. But the genius of Darwin recognised in it a deeper meaning, and now the thought of Malthus was joined to the new current. Meditating upon it in connection with his own observations of the luxuriance of Nature, Darwin had arrived at his doctrine of natural selection and survival of the fittest.
As the great dogmatic barrier between the old and new views of the universe was broken down, the flood of new thought pouring over the world stimulated and nourished strong growths in every field of research and reasoning: edition after edition of the book was called for; it was translated even into Japanese and Hindustani; the stagnation of scientific thought, which Buckle, only a few years before, had so deeply lamented, gave place to a widespread and fruitful activity; masses of accumulated observations, which had seemed stale and unprofitable, were made alive; facts formerly without meaning now found their interpretation. Under this new influence an army of young men took up every promising line of scientific investigation in every land. Epoch-making books appeared in all the great nations. Spencer, Wallace, Huxley, Galton, Tyndall, Tylor, Lubbock, Bagehot, Lewes, in England, and a phalanx of strong men in Germany, Italy, France, and America gave forth works which became authoritative in every department of biology. If some of the older men in France held back, overawed perhaps by the authority of Cuvier, the younger and more vigorous pressed on.
One source of opposition deserves to be especially mentioned--Louis Agassiz.
A great investigator, an inspired and inspiring teacher, a noble man, he had received and elaborated a theory of animated creation which he could not readily change. In his heart and mind still prevailed the atmosphere of the little Swiss parsonage in which he was born, and his religious and moral nature, so beautiful to all who knew him, was especially repelled by sundry evolutionists, who, in their zeal as neophytes, made proclamations seeming to have a decidedly irreligious if not immoral bearing. In addition to this was the direction his thinking had received from Cuvier. Both these influences combined to prevent his acceptance of the new view.
He was the third great man who had thrown his influence as a barrier across the current of evolutionary thought. Linnaeus in the second half of the eighteenth century, Cuvier in the first half, and Agassiz in the second half of the nineteenth--all made the same effort. Each remains great; but not all of them together could arrest the current. Agassiz's strong efforts throughout the United States, and indeed throughout Europe, to check it, really promoted it. From the great museum he had founded at Cambridge, from his summer school at Penikese, from his lecture rooms at Harvard and Cornell, his disciples went forth full of love and admiration for him, full of enthusiasm which he had stirred and into fields which he had indicated; but their powers, which he had aroused and strengthened, were devoted to developing the truth he failed to recognise; Shaler, Verrill, Packard, Hartt, Wilder, Jordan, with a multitude of others, and especially the son who bore his honoured name, did justice to his memory by applying what they had received from him to research under inspiration of the new revelation.
Still another man deserves especial gratitude and honour in this progress--Edward Livingston Youmans. He was perhaps the first in America to recognise the vast bearings of the truths presented by Darwin, Wallace, and Spencer. He became the apostle of these truths, sacrificing the brilliant career on which he had entered as a public lecturer, subordinating himself to the three leaders, and giving himself to editorial drudgery in the stimulation of research and the announcement of results.
In support of the new doctrine came a world of new proofs; those which Darwin himself added in regard to the cross-fertilization of plants, and which he had adopted from embryology, led the way, and these were followed by the discoveries of Wallace, Bates, Huxley, Marsh, Cope, Leidy, Haeckel, Muller, Gaudry, and a multitude of others in all lands.
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