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The Deadlock In Darwinism
by [?]

It is obvious that the having fatally impaired the theory of his predecessors could not warrant Mr. Darwin in claiming, as he most fatuously did, the theory of evolution. That he is still generally believed to have been the originator of this theory is due to the fact that he claimed it, and that a powerful literary backing at once came forward to support him. It seems at first sight improbable that those who too zealously urged his claims were unaware that so much had been written on the subject, but when we find even Mr. Wallace himself as profoundly ignorant on this subject as he still either is, or affects to be, there is no limit assignable to the ignorance or affected ignorance of the kind of biologists who would write reviews in leading journals thirty years ago. Mr. Wallace writes:–

“A few great naturalists, struck by the very slight difference between many of these species, and the numerous links that exist between the most different forms of animals and plants, and also observing that a great many species do vary considerably in their forms, colours and habits, conceived the idea that they might be all produced one from the other. The most eminent of these writers was a great French naturalist, Lamarck, who published an elaborate work, the Philosophie Zoologique, in which he endeavoured to prove that all animals whatever are descended from other species of animals. He attributed the change of species chiefly to the effect of changes in the conditions of life–such as climate, food, etc. and especially to the desires and efforts of the animals themselves to improve their condition, leading to a modification of form or size in certain parts, owing to the well-known physiological law that all organs are strengthened by constant use, while they are weakened or even completely lost by disuse . . .

“The only other important work dealing with the question was the celebrated ‘Vestiges of Creation,’ published anonymously, but now acknowledged to have been written by the late Robert Chambers.”

None are so blind as those who will not see, and it would be waste of time to argue with the invincible ignorance of one who thinks Lamarck and Buffon conceived that all species were produced from one another, more especially as I have already dealt at some length with the early evolutionists in my work, “Evolution, Old and New,” first published ten years ago, and not, so far as I am aware, detected in serious error or omission. If, however, Mr. Wallace still thinks it safe to presume so far on the ignorance of his readers as to say that the only two important works on evolution before Mr. Darwin’s were Lamarck’s Philosophie Zoologique and the “Vestiges of Creation,” how fathomable is the ignorance of the average reviewer likely to have been thirty years ago, when the “Origin of Species” was first published? Mr. Darwin claimed evolution as his own theory. Of course, he would not claim it if he had no right to it. Then by all means give him the credit of it. This was the most natural view to take, and it was generally taken. It was not, moreover, surprising that people failed to appreciate all the niceties of Mr. Darwin’s “distinctive feature” which, whether distinctive or no, was assuredly not distinct, and was never frankly contrasted with the older view, as it would have been by one who wished it to be understood and judge upon its merits. It was in consequence of this omission that people failed to note how fast and loose Mr. Darwin played with his distinctive feature, and how readily he dropped it on occasion.

It may be said that the question of what was thought by the predecessors of Mr. Darwin is, after all, personal, and of no interest to the general public, comparable to that of the main issue–whether we are to accept evolution or not. Granted that Buffon, Erasmus Darwin, and Lamarck bore the burden and heat of the day before Mr. Charles Darwin was born, they did not bring people round to their opinion, whereas Mr. Darwin and Mr. Wallace did, and the public cannot be expected to look beyond this broad and indisputable fact.