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The Arrival Of The Fit
by [?]

In my youth I once heard the then well-known lecturer Starr King speak on “The Law of Disorder.” I have no recollection of the main thought of his discourse, but can see that it might have been upon the order and harmony that finally come out of the disharmonies of nature and of man. The whole universe goes blundering on, but surely arrives. Collisions and dispersions in the heavens above, and failure and destruction among living things on the earth below, yet here we all are in a world good to be in! The proof that it is good to be in is that we are actually here. It is as if the Creator played his right hand against his left–what one loses the other gains.

It has been aptly said that while Darwin’s theory of natural selection may account for the survival of the fittest, it does not account for the arrival of the fittest. The arrival of the fittest, sooner or later, seems in some way guaranteed by tendencies that are beyond the hit-and-miss method of natural selection.

When we look back over the course of organic evolution, we see the unfolding of a great drama, or tragedy, in which, for millions upon millions of years the sole actors are low and all but brainless forms of life, devouring and devoured, in the old seas. We see, during other millions upon millions of years, a savage carnival of huge bestial forms upon the land, amphibian monsters and dragons of the land and air, devouring and being devoured, a riot of blood and carnage. We see the shifting of land and sea, the folding and crumpling of the earth’s crust, the rise of mountains, the engulfing of forests, a vast destruction of life, immense numbers of animal forms becoming extinct through inability to adapt themselves to new conditions, or from other causes. We see creatures, half beast, half bird, or half dragon, half fish; we see the evolutionary process thwarted or delayed apparently by the hardening or fixing of its own forms. We see it groping its way like a blind man, and experimenting with this device and with that, fumbling, awkward, ineffectual, trying magnitude of body and physical strength first, and then shifting the emphasis to size of brain and delicacy and complexity of nerve-organization, pushing on but gropingly, learning only by experience, regardless of pain and waste and suffering; whole races of sentient beings swept away by some terrestrial cataclysm, as at the end of Palaeozoic and Mesozoic times; prodigal, inhuman, riotous, arming some vegetable growths with spurs and thorns that tear and stab, some insects with stings, some serpents with deadly fangs, the production of pain as much a part of the scheme of things as the production of pleasure; the creative impulse feeling its way through the mollusk to the fish, and through the fish to the amphibian and the reptile, through the reptile to the mammal, and through the mammal to the anthropoid apes, and through the apes to man, then through the rude and savage races of man, the long-jawed, small-brained, Pliocene man, hairy and savage, to the cave-dwellers and stone-implement man of Pleistocene times, and so on to our rude ancestors whom we see dimly at the dawn of history, and thus rapidly upward to the European man of our own era. What a record! What savagery, what thwartings and delays, what carnage and suffering, what an absence of all that we mean by intelligent planning and oversight, of love, of fatherhood! Just a clash of forces, the battle to the strong and the race to the fleet.

It is hard to believe that the course of organic evolution would have eventuated in man and the other higher forms of life without some guiding principle; yet it is equally difficult to believe that the course of any guiding intelligence down the ages would have been strewn with so many failures and monstrosities, so much waste and suffering and delay. Man has not been specially favored by one force or element in nature. Behold the enemies that beset him without and within, and that are armed for his destruction! The intelligence that appears to pervade the organic world, and that reaches its conscious expression in the brain of man, is just as manifest in all the forms of animals and plants that are inimical to him, in all his natural enemies,–venomous snakes and beasts of prey, and insect pests,–as in anything else. Nature is as wise and solicitous for rats and mice as for men. In fact, she has endowed many of the lower creatures with physical powers that she has denied him. Evidently man is only one of the cards in her pack; doubtless the highest one, but the game is not played for him alone.