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The Deadlock In Darwinism
by [?]

It must be remembered that the passage quoted above occurs on the first page of a preface dated March 1889, when the writer had completed his task, and was most fully conversant with his subject. Nevertheless, it seems indisputable either that he is still confusing evolution with Mr. Darwin’s theory, or that he does not know when his sentences have point and when they have none.

I should perhaps explain to some readers that Mr. Darwin did not modify the main theory put forward, first by Buffon, to whom it indisputably belongs, and adopted from him by Erasmus Darwin, Lamarck, and many other writers in the latter half of the last century and the earlier years of the present. The early evolutionists maintained that all existing forms of animal and vegetable life, including man, were derived in course of descent with modification from forms resembling the lowest now known.

Mr. Darwin went as far as this, and farther no one can go. The point at issue between him and his predecessors involves neither the main fact of evolution, nor yet the geometrical ratio of increase, and the struggle for existence consequent thereon. Messrs. Darwin and Wallace have each thrown invaluable light upon these last two points, but Buffon, as early as 1756, had made them the keystone of his system. “The movement of nature,” he then wrote, “turns on two immovable pivots: one, the illimitable fecundity which she has given to all species: the other, the innumerable difficulties which reduce the results of that fecundity.” Erasmus Darwin and Lamarck followed in the same sense. They thus admit the survival of the fittest as fully as Mr. Darwin himself, though they do not make use of this particular expression. The dispute turns not upon natural selection, which is common to all writers on evolution, but upon the nature and causes of the variations that are supposed to be selected from and thus accumulated. Are these mainly attributable to the inherited effects of use and disuse, supplemented by occasional sports and happy accidents? Or are they mainly due to sports and happy accidents, supplemented by occasional inherited effects of use and disuse?

The Lamarckian system has all along been maintained by Mr. Herbert Spencer, who, in his “Principles of Biology,” published in 1865, showed how impossible it was that accidental variations should accumulate at all. I am not sure how far Mr. Spencer would consent to being called a Lamarckian pure and simple, nor yet how far it is strictly accurate to call him one; nevertheless, I can see no important difference in the main positions taken by him and by Lamarck.

The question at issue between the Lamarckians, supported by Mr. Spencer and a growing band of those who have risen in rebellion against the Charles-Darwinian system on the one hand, and Messrs. Darwin and Wallace with the greater number of our more prominent biologists on the other, involves the very existence of evolution as a workable theory. For it is plain that what Nature can be supposed able to do by way of choice must depend on the supply of the variations from which she is supposed to choose. She cannot take what is not offered to her; and so again she cannot be supposed able to accumulate unless what is gained in one direction in one generation, or series of generations, is little likely to be lost in those that presently succeed. Now variations ascribed mainly to use and disuse can be supposed capable of being accumulated, for use and disuse are fairly constant for long periods among the individuals of the same species, and often over large areas; moreover, conditions of existence involving changes of habit, and thus of organisation, come for the most part gradually; so that time is given during which the organism can endeavour to adapt itself in the requisite respects, instead of being shocked out of existence by too sudden change. Variations, on the other hand, that are ascribed to mere chance cannot be supposed as likely to be accumulated, for chance is notoriously inconstant, and would not purvey the variations in sufficiently unbroken succession, or in a sufficient number of individuals, modified similarly in all the necessary correlations at the same time and place to admit of their being accumulated. It is vital therefore to the theory of evolution, as was early pointed out by the late Professor Fleeming Jenkin and by Mr. Herbert Spencer, that variations should be supposed to have a definite and persistent principle underlying them, which shall tend to engender similar and simultaneous modification, however small, in the vast majority of individuals composing any species. The existence of such a principle and its permanence is the only thing that can be supposed capable of acting as rudder and compass to the accumulation of variations, and of making it hold steadily on one course for each species, till eventually many havens, far remote from one another, are safely reached.