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DARWINISM AND DESIGN.
Few subjects excite more interest in thoughtful minds than the influence which modern scientific ideas exert upon religious belief. From many portions of this subject, the plan of THE STUDENT would compel us to abstain. A scientific magazine ought, in our opinion, to be adapted to all seekers of scientific knowledge, without reference to their creeds. There ought on the one hand to be no shrinking from an honest statement of fact or discovery, and on the other, no attempt to make them assist in theological proselytism. Well educated men in all the churches recognize the importance of science, and to be true to our special function, there should, in our pages, be nothing that can separate us from a single honest and earnest inquiry into nature's truth.
But while determined not to deviate from this impartial position, there are aspects of Darwinisim affecting the argument of design in Creation, to which we may advert in the hope of clearing away logical misconceptions.
Darwinisim is only one of several branches of a kind of philosophy long known to students of the historical developments of human thought. The Darwinian apparatus consists in a multitude of facts collected from an immense field of research, and pointing to particular methods by which hereditary changes in the organic world may lead to the preservation or extinction of particular forms. That offspring sometimes vary from the parental type, is beyond dispute ; that such variations are sometimes hereditary, is equally beyond dispute, nor can any one deny that when a modification arises which gives a group of creatures more power to fight their battle of life, they will be benefited thereby, and may multiply and flourish in situations where creatures not so modified would die out. The extent to which Darwin's “Natural Selection” is sufficient to account for the changes that have occurred, is open to question. Laws and principles of which we have as yet no cognizance, may assume an importance we are not prepared for; but no fresh discovery can invalidate the facts on which Darwin and his followers rely. No one who has weeded a garden can doubt the reality of the “battle of life" which he
pourtrays, and no one who has watched insects attacking plants, birds assailing insects, and climate, with its fluctuations, frequently fighting against all, can doubt that the natural world does present a scene of struggle, in which the strongest and the best protected prevail, while the weaker and less protected have to give way.
such terms as “strong” and “weak,” must be understood in a wide sense-a delicately organized plant, for example, may be characterized by the former epithet, when compared with a much more robust vegetable, if it surpasses the latter in power of extracting nutriment from a particular soil, or in withstanding prolonged drought, excess of moisture, or extremes of temperature. But the natural world is not made up of contention and strife, any more than those elements constitute the sum of human society. Natural adaptations of the most varied and wonderful kinds abound, none being more remarkable than those which the Darwinians adduce.
What can be more amazing than the dependence of a flower upon an insect, so that the butterfly, moth, or humble bee is made the carrier of pollen from one corolla to another, and an animal thus provides for the perpetuation of a vegetable race. What savours more of design than the “mimicry” which has been frequently illustrated in our pages, a plan by which a defenceless creature assumes the aspect of a strong one, a delicate creature the appearance of a tough one, or a butterfly when perching on a twig becomes indistinguishable from a dead leaf, and in each case enemies are deceived, and security obtained.
If a new writer desired to compile the most elaborate and convincing series of design arguments, he would have recourse to the Darwinian armoury for the most striking of recently ascertained facts. Why then is Darwinism in many quarters contrasted with and opposed to design ? The answer may be found in the defects of the older forms of the design argument, rather than in any conclusion that logically follows from Darwinian speculations. The fundamental error in the old, and in all popular, as contrasted with scientific, design arguments, is anthropomorphism. Paley's watch indicated a human mechanician as the designer, and he and his followers contemplated natural productions pretty much as if they were contrivances somewhat similar to a watch.
We firmly believe that the average human mind would arrive by methods of natural theology at the conception of, and the belief in, a Deity; but as natural theology is ordinarily pursued in countries already in long possession of the leading religious ideas, natural facts are rarely studied with a view to ascertain whether there is a great superintending mind, but the existence of such a being is assumed, and the facts are studied afterwards. Now, the existence of a Supreme Intelligence, endowed with corresponding power, logically excludes contrivance in the human sense of the word. It is all very
well to show the peculiar conditions of breathing in water,
and to demonstrate how the gill of the fish is adapted to aërate blood under such circumstances, but we must rigidly exclude the notion of difficulty when we speak of Divine action. If a man had to make a piece of apparatus in order that he might oxydize a substance kept in water by means of the air that water contained, and if he had to accomplish this object without letting the water mix with the substance to be oxydized, he would have difficulties to overcome, and his success would be a manifestation of skill. To act with skill is, however, the quality of a finite being, accomplishing something which presents difficulties, and doing it better than many other beings of the same sort could do it, or doing it when others could not do it all. We never speak of a man walking skilfully, if he only walks like ordinary folks, in common situations; but if any one walks well on a narrow wall, or a rope, or on slippery ice, then we recognize superiority, and we talk of skill. Now it is quite clear that if nature is regulated by a Great First Cause, there can, strictly speaking, be no difficulty and no skill in any of her operations. We may look for design and for wisdom, but not for any quality which would reduce Divine operations to the level of human
Many of the older comparative anatomists contented themselves with regarding animal or vegetable organization simply from what is called the teleological point of view. They saw, or fancied they saw, the final cause, or reason why, everything was done. They collected together a great mass of information concerning special adaptations, and it was assumed that no organ, or portion of an animal, not deformed, was without its special use to that particular creature; but plain and palpable facts did not sustain the universal application of this theory. Animals were found with rudimentary parts—bones, for example, which, if developed, might have supported a kangaroo-like pouch-to which no function could be assigned, and in these cases, which are very numerous, the doctrine of special application broke down. Then came theories of "types," and if anything appeared in a creature that was not of any use to it, the explanation was that the creature in question belonged to a group all formed according to "type,” and the rudimentary, or useless part, was put in to make it conform to the typical idea, something like the procedure of the old gardener, who had a particular “ type” of uniformity so strongly in his mind, that having put a naughty boy in one corner, he put a good boy in the opposite one not to damage the design. Further knowledge left the "types" high and dry on the shores of metaphysical abstraction,
and introduced the notion of descent with variations, according to which the occurrence of non-essential, useless, or rudimentary points admits of easy explanation.
Descent with variation, the struggle for existence, and the “survival of the fittest,” may all be portions of a grand scheme, definite in design and certain of accomplishment, although they do not coincide with anthropomorphic conceptions of a Divine plan. Those who oppose the new philosophy,—or the old philosophy in its new form, if that phrase be preferred—talk of nature being in the Darwinian conception a series of "trials and experiments," through which, after many failures, success is reached. We do not propose to enter into elaborate argument to show the fallacy of this statement, but it is worth while to consider that the incidents wrongfully named “trials and experiments” do not involve limitations of knowledge and power so much as was done by the “contrivances ” of the old design argument. Anxiety for final results and impatience at going through intermediate stages belong to man as a finite being, and if he imputes similar thoughts and feelings to the Deity, he may make a gross mistake.
If a man undertakes to make pins or shoes, he would be deemed to fail, if thousands of his productions stopped short of completion, but who can suppose that nature fails because myriads of seeds never come to plants, and thousands of animals die in the early stages of their existence ?
Scientific discoveries not only link other organic structures of our globe together as one great unity; they show our earth itself to be but a portion of some still greater unity, exemplifying a Divine thought too vast for us to grasp, and yet essential to be known before we can tell the meaning of the constituent parts. The "success of nature"-- if we may use a term so objectionably anthropomorphic — is evidently not moulded according to human notions. We do not understand, for example, why the civilization of the human family has been so slow; we cannot tell why races are allowed to die out without reaching any high point of development; why nations have decayed, and other nations risen upon their ruins. If we talk of “experiment” when we speculate on doctrines of development, we might as well apply the term to the introduction of numerous savage tribes, their location under various circumstances, and to their rare and occasional emergence into civilized life. Or we might speak of “experiments” in our modern European countries in which multitudes of individuals struggle against various difficulties, and a large proportion fail. Surely we
may assume, that for reasons which the limitations of our knowledge prevent us from understanding, the natural plan requires a bound. less development of life in all forms, and in all stages, and with changes ever going on. We can see a large amount of happiness and enjoyment scattered broadcast among the beings susceptible of such sensations, and we notice also, suffering, decay, and what we call premature death. No one supposes that the mouse enjoys being tormented by the cat, or that the man enjoys the failure of his hopes, but all vicissitudes are contemplated by the religious faculties as leading to, or connected with some ultimate good. Natural theology must not be discouraged or surprised, because it meets in the organic world with puzzles similar to those which it encounters in the moral world, and doctrines of development must not be accused of introducing difficulties which are not peculiar to it, but which no mode of philosophizing can avoid, and which we cannot expect to solve while the known and the unknown stand in the relation of a little star and a great dark sky.
That certain animals see because they have eyes, and that birds fly because they have wings, are statements not inconsistent with the doctrines of final causes, though it is easy to place them in opposition to the common assertion that the animals in question were endowed with eyes in order that they might see, and that the birds were gifted with wings in order that they might fly. To perfect the design argument when it is applied to elucidate a system of descent with modifications, struggles with life-conditions, and survival of the fittest, we have to show reasons for believing that the changes which occur in the organic world, follow a law, or set of laws, indi. cative of intelligence, and capable of working out beneficial results. At present, the physiological laws which determine the condition under which offspring faithfully transmit or depart from the peculiarities of the parental type are unknown, and it is only a very small portion of the natural plan that comes within our cognizance. So that we cannot expect to have clear information as to either purposes or conclusions. Darwin observes, “however much we may wish it, we cannot blindly follow Professor Asa Gray in his belief, that variation has been led ' along certain beneficial lines like a stream along definite and useful lines of irrigation.' assume that each particular variation was from the beginning of all time preordained, the plasticity of organization which leads to many injurious deviations of structure, as well as that redundant power of reproduction which invariably leads to a struggle for existence, and as a consequence to the selection or