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A Counter-Criticism
by [?]

[First published in The Nineteenth Century, for February, 1888.]

While I do not concur in sundry of the statements and conclusions contained in the article entitled “A Great Confession,” contributed by the Duke of Argyll to the last number of this Review, yet I am obliged to him for having raised afresh the question discussed in it. Though the injunction “Rest and be thankful,” is one for which in many spheres much may be said–especially in the political, where undue restlessness is proving very mischievous; yet rest and be thankful is an injunction out of place in science. Unhappily, while politicians have not duly regarded it, it appears to have been taken to heart too much by naturalists; in so far, at least, as concerns the question of the origin of species.

The new biological orthodoxy behaves just as the old biological orthodoxy did. In the days before Darwin, those who occupied themselves with the phenomena of life, passed by with unobservant eyes the multitudinous facts which point to an evolutionary origin for plants and animals; and they turned deaf ears to those who insisted on the significance of these facts. Now that they have come to believe in this evolutionary origin, and have at the same time accepted the hypothesis that natural selection has been the sole cause of the evolution, they are similarly unobservant of the multitudinous facts which cannot rationally be ascribed to that cause; and turn deaf ears to those who would draw their attention to them. The attitude is the same; it is only the creed which has changed.

But, as above implied, though the protest of the Duke of Argyll against this attitude is quite justifiable, it seems to me that many of his statements cannot be sustained. Some of these concern me personally, and others are of impersonal concern. I propose to deal with them in the order in which they occur.

* * * * *

On page 144 the Duke of Argyll quotes me as omitting “for the present any consideration of a factor which may be distinguished as primordial;” and he represents me as implying by this “that Darwin’s ultimate conception of some primordial ‘breathing of the breath of life’ is a conception which can be omitted only ‘for the present.'” Even had there been no other obvious interpretation, it would have been a somewhat rash assumption that this was my meaning when referring to an omitted factor; and it is surprising that this assumption should have been made after reading the second of the two articles criticised, in which this factor omitted from the first is dealt with: this omitted third factor being the direct physico-chemical action of the medium on the organism. Such a thought as that which the Duke of Argyll ascribes to me, is so incongruous with the beliefs I have in many places expressed that the ascription of it never occurred to me as possible.

Lower down on the same page are some other sentences having personal implications, which I must dispose of before going into the general question. The Duke says “it is more than doubtful whether any value attaches to the new factor with which he [I] desires to supplement it [natural selection]”; and he thinks it “unaccountable” that I “should make so great a fuss about so small a matter as the effect of use and disuse of particular organs as a separate and a newly-recognised factor in the development of varieties.” I do not suppose that the Duke of Argyll intended to cast upon me the disagreeable imputation, that I claim as new that which all who are even slightly acquainted with the facts know to be anything rather than new. But his words certainly do this. How he should have thus written in spite of the extensive knowledge of the matter which he evidently has, and how he should have thus written in presence of the evidence contained in the articles he criticizes, I cannot understand. Naturalists, and multitudes besides naturalists, know that the hypothesis which I am represented as putting forward as new, is much older than the hypothesis of natural selection–goes back at least as far as Dr. Erasmus Darwin. My purpose was to bring into the foreground again a factor which has, I think, been of late years improperly ignored; to show that Mr. Darwin recognized this factor in an increasing degree as he grew older (by showing which I should have thought I sufficiently excluded the supposition that I brought it forward as new); to give further evidence that this factor is in operation; to show there are numerous phenomena which cannot be interpreted without it; and to argue that if proved operative in any case, it may be inferred that it is operative on all structures having active functions.