Personal tools
You are here: Home Groups Strefa dla członków PTKr Teoria inteligentnego projektu 1903 Ferdinand S.C. Schiller, "Darwinism and Design Argument" (1903)

Ferdinand S.C. Schiller, "Darwinism and Design Argument" (1903)

Ferdinand S.C. Schiller, "Darwinism and Design Argument", w: tenże, Humanism: Philosophical Essays, London - MacMillan and Co., Limited, New York - The MacMillan Company 1903, chapter VIII, s. 128-156. Originally published in the Contemporary Review for June 1897.




All rights reserved

[PAGE 128]

> Question as to the Value of the Argument from Design in the light of Darwinism. Its theological importance; its intrinsic flaws. The Darwinian explanation of adaptation without adapting, by Variation and Natural Selection. Is it final? I. Natural Selection proves too much; it would apply equally to automata. But if intelligence is wholly inefficacious why was it developed? II. The causes of Variation lie beyond the scope of Darwinism, and to explain Evolution, therefore, other factors must be added. III. Natural Selection does not necessarily lead to change of species, nor exclude degeneration, nor guarantee progression. A variable factor, therefore, must be added. IV. Darwinism does not explain the origin of adaptation, but presupposes it. Nor need the struggle to adapt be more than the preservation of this initial adaptation. The struggle for bare existence brings no growth of adaptation; it is only when intelligence aims at ends and transforms the struggle for life into one for good life that improvement comes. V. The true significance of Darwinism the discovery of Natural Selection. Indefinite variation a methodological assumption justified as a simplifying abstraction. VI. But if it is understood as a description of actual fact, it rules out teleology a priori and quite apart from fact. Teleology and the calculus of probability. Hypothetically it is always possible to postulate a non-teleological context to any apparently teleological event. Per contra it is practically impossible to disprove the teleological interpretation, and ultimately both views are postulations of a will to believe and rest on an act of faith. VII. Summary: Darwinism not incompatible with teleology if its assumptions are taken as methodological, and it is arbitrary to take them as more. It is not necessarily hostile to teleology and even indirectly furthers it by throwing into relief the miracle of progress. Evolutionism not necessarily unteleological. <p>

THE question which is proposed for consideration in the present essay concerns the value of what has been called the Argument from Design, in the light, not so much of

[PAGE 129]

the very various and widely spread modes of thought grouped together under the name of Evolutionism, but rather of the particular form of Evolutionism which has been popularised by the labours of Charles Darwin, and not undeservedly bears his name. In face of the Darwinian theory, and the account it gives of the pedigree of life, are we any longer entitled to entertain the notion that a more than human intelligence has anywhere or in any way contributed to the making of what now exists? Is there any evidence to be found in the constitution or working of any part of nature which directly testifies to a divine creator? These are old questions which, in some form or other, men have probably asked ever since they were men, and will probably continue to ask until they have become beasts or angels. Their practical importance will readily be admitted. For clearly our attitude towards life will be very different, according as we believe it to be inspired and guided by intelligence, or hold it to be the fortuitous product of blind mechanisms, whose working our helpless human intelligence can observe but in no wise control.

Although the Argument from Design has been taken as a rough description of the subject to be treated, it will yet be convenient, at the outset, both to restrict and to expand its scope. It will be restricted in that the discussion will turn exclusively on the argument as based on living nature; it will be expanded, in that that subject will include the question of the action of intelligence generally in producing the present condition of things. That is to say, the possibility that though no traces of a divine intelligence are to be found in the history of the organic world, there has yet to be admitted the action of human and animal intelligence, will not be overlooked. For the world may have been brought into its present shape by intelligent efforts, if not by intelligent direction. We are not bound to assert a divine activity

[PAGE 130]

as soon as we have asserted the activity of intelligence. So it has to be confessed that before the Argument from Design has any theological value, three things have to be shown -- (1) that intelligence, i.e. action directed to a purpose, has been at work; (2) that the intelligence has not been that of any of the admitted existences; and (3) that from its mode of action this intelligence may fairly be deemed divine.

But if it is necessary to draw attention to a leap which the theologian's logic is too apt to commit, it is no less important to point out that the denial of the Argument from Design logically leads much further than its opponents commonly dare to go. For it would seem that a complete denial of design in nature must deny the efficacy of all intelligence as such. A consistently mechanical view has to regard all intelligence as otiose, as an 'epi-phenomenal by-product,' or fifth wheel to the cart, in absence of which the given results would no less have occurred. And so, if this view were the truth, we should have to renounce all effort to direct our fated and ill-fated course adown the stream of time. Our consciousness would be an unmeaning accident. On the other hand, if intelligence played the part in history alleged by the second theory of its action, we might still cherish a hope of steering the bark that carries our fortunes at least into a temporary harbour; if that of the first theory, we might be moved to strain every muscle at the behest of a helmsman who could envisage the goal with unerring eye.

We have, then, three alternatives, of which the old 'Argument from Design' undertook to represent one. It was a simple-minded argument, as befitted a time when the eventful history through which life has passed, and the real intricacy of its phenomena, were as yet scarcely suspected. It contented itself with observing the variety and ingenuity of the means whereby living beings attained their ends. The structure of the eye and the car, the prescience of instinct, the processes of growth and birth, etc., provided it with inexhaustible material for

[PAGE 131]

respectful admiration. Surely all this could not be the result of blind chance, of unintelligent matter -- it proceeded from the hand of God.

In more modern language, the Argument from Design essentially argued from the existence of adaptation to the existence of an adapter. Beings would not have been so admirably fitted for their conditions of life unless they had been intelligently 'fitted' for them. And the adaptations were so wonderful that the adapter must have been divine.

Now, it is easy to see that in this shape the Argument from Design has several weak points quite apart from the attacks which Darwinism has made on it. (1) The thought of evolution, of a cosmic process, revealing itself in the course of time, the thought that lends grandeur and strength to the modern versions of the ancient plea, was entirely foreign to it. Consequently it took the process of adapting, whereby the adaptation arose to be instantaneous and complete. Consequently it was sadly perplexed by the fact that many adaptations were far from perfect. When Helmholtz pointed out the optical defects of the eye, and the ease with which they might have been remedied, the defenders of the old teleology were at a loss to answer a sacrilegious but exceedingly awkward criticism. They could not admit what now the teleological evolutionist may say without wincing -- viz. that the adaptations in themselves, and as they now exist, form a somewhat imperfect and insufficient testimony to divine agency, and no testimony at all for a divine omnipotence. And, (2) it was not shown that animal intelligence might not have constructed the adaptations actually found. That suggestion could be ruled out only so long as the belief in the fixity of species prevailed; but it became far more tenable so soon as practically unlimited time was allowed to intelligent effort to reach the degree of adaptation exhibited. And so there was nothing for it but to ascribe to the direct contrivance of the Deity every adaptation and every instinct found in the organic world, to burden, for

[PAGE 132]

example, the divine conscience with the fiendish ingenuity with which a sphex-wasp stings into helplessness the caterpillars it has selected to be the living food of its young. The defence of the divine intelligence, in short, was maintained at a ruinous expense to the divine benevolence.

Thus the old Argument from Design was in a bad way even before Darwinism appeared upon the scene with pretensions to deliver the coup de grâce. Darwin himself, it is true, did not assert that no adapter existed. But he did what was more effective; he suggested an alternative way in which adaptation might have arisen. This was not immediately fatal to the theory of intelligent effort as such; for in human beings, at least, that theory was generally admitted as a vera causa, and so could be co-ordinated with the Darwinian explanation. But it did leave the theory of an inferred divine adapter in the logically indefensible position of being an additional and superfluous explanation of facts already sufficiently explained in other ways.

Darwin's alternative consisted in showing that the existence of adaptations is conceivable and possible, although there has been neither an adapter nor any process of active adapting, but merely a sifting or eliminating of the 'unfitter.' To show this, he required only two of the postulates of his theory -- (a) the existence of variability in living organisms; and (b) the struggle for existence among them leading to the survival of the fitter, or comparatively fit, and the elimination of the unfitter, or comparatively unfit. The variability of organisms was further conceived as of such a character as to lead to what were called 'accidental' variations in every direction. This was to indicate that no special tendency to vary in any direction more than in any other was to be assumed, and that the causes of variation, which Darwin forbore to investigate, did not favour one sort of variation rather than another. Darwin, therefore, supposed nature to start with an indefinitely large supply of variations, some adaptive, the immensely greater number not.These

[PAGE 133]

were sifted by the process of Natural Selection, which eliminated the non-adapted and ill-adapted, so that only the fit survived, and after a time organisms would be, in a general way, adapted to their conditions of life. The process by which these adaptations arose, therefore, was a purely mechanical one, and did not imply any intelligence. The sifting of variations by natural selection would no more imply a purposive ordering than the successive depositing of lighter and lighter detritus as a river flows out into the sea.

The anti-teleologically minded, to whom the support which biological facts had seemed to give to the belief in design had long been hateful, were naturally delighted with this easy and obvious way of disposing of the appearance of intelligent adaptation. They loudly proclaimed the disappearance of the Argument from Design, and even their critics only ventured to object that Darwinism had substituted one kind of teleology for another, and made the good (or survival) of the organism determine the conduct adopted by the race. That was a poor consolation, and, in my opinion, an illusory one. For it is not for the sake of the organism's good that the conduct is adopted, but it so happens that conduct can only become prevalent when it has survival - value, and that the prevalent conduct and that adapted to the conditions of life must coincide. In reality the process is not teleological, but purely mechanical. This appears quite clearly if it is supposed to act upon beings conceived to be devoid of all intelligence, and it turns out that it acts equally well. If animals were mere automata, their variations would be sifted by natural selection in just the same way, and it is quite possible and legitimate to apply Darwinian methods of argument to astronomical physics and the chemistry of the elements.

But if the Darwinian assumptions are equally applicable to automata, they are, ultimately and in principle, just as fatal to the view that animal intelligence plays any part at all in the history of life as they are to the belief in its divine direction, and this logical implication is already

[PAGE 134]

appearing in the ultra-Darwinian writings. It is quite consistent of them to speak of the 'omnipotence' of natural selection and to reject or minimise all other possible factors, like intelligent effort, use and disuse, physical and chemical conditions, etc., as directive forces in Organic Evolution.

If, then, Variation and Natural Selection are the alpha and omega of the matter, and adequate to account for all the facts, it would seem to be beyond doubt that there is no longer any place for any sort of teleological argument. Nevertheless, it may reasonably be contended that this inference would be entirely erroneous, for the reasons to be presently set forth.

I. The case with which the Darwinian argument dispenses with all intelligence as a factor in survival excites suspicion. It is proving too much to show that adaptation might equally well -- i.e. as completely, if not as rapidly-have arisen in automata. For we are strongly persuaded that we ourselves are not automata, and strive hard to adapt ourselves. In us at least, therefore, intelligent effort is a source of adaptation. And the same will surely be admitted in the case of the higher animals. How far down the possibility of such intelligent co-operation in a greater or less degree is admissible, depends very much on people's preconceived notions; but we are, at all events, unable to fix any definite inferior limit beyond which influence of intelligence cannot penetrate. Intelligence, therefore, is a vera causa as a source of adaptations at least co-ordinate with Natural Selection, and this can be denied only if it is declared inefficacious everywhere, if all living beings, ourselves included, are declared to be automata.

But should this be attempted -- and it would seem to be involved, e.g. in the assumption of 'psychophysical parallelism' -- a peculiar difficulty arises on the basis of the Darwinian theory itself. If intelligence has no efficacy in promoting adaptation -- i.e. if it has no survivalvalue, how comes it to be developed at all? On the Darwinian assumptions only those qualities can be

[PAGE 135]

developed which have a value for survival. This must be true also of intelligence, which, consequently, cannot be mere surplusage.

It must therefore be admitted that Darwinism is demonstrably wrong and refutes itself, if it seeks to deny the possibility of purposive adaptation and to regard all adaptation as the result of a mechanical natural selection. If, however, intelligence is re-admitted as a vera causa, there arises at least a possibility that other intelligence besides that of the known living beings may have been operative in the world's history.

II. We may scrutinise the initial assumptions of Darwinism from which the anti-teleological consequences flowed. We may ask whether variation is really as 'indefinite' and 'accidental' as represented. Is it really so impossible to say anything about its causes?

We are here entering on a battlefield of science where the reputations of experts are still being made and unmade. Hence it behoves a philosopher to be careful. Nevertheless one may venture to make some remarks on the general aspects of the question, and to assert that the matter cannot possibly be left where Darwinism would leave it. Thus (1) Darwinism puts aside the question of the origin of variations. They are 'accidental,' that is, beyond the pale of inquiry. Yet it seems to be a perfectly good and legitimate scientific question to ask -whence these variations? What, in Professor E. D. Cope's parlance, was the origin of the fittest ? how, in Dr. J. G. Schurman's words, do you account for the arrival as well as for the survival of the fittest. [Ethical Import of Danvinism, p. 78.]

(2) Darwinism assumes the occurrence of indefinite variation in every direction. That assumption is, as we shall see, essential and quite justifiable as a methodological device in examining the facts and in working out the theory of Natural Selection; but we have a perfect right to ask whether it is actually itself a fact. That is, the study of the variations which actually occur is a perfectly legitimate one, and as initiated -- e.g., in Bateson's recent

[PAGE 136]

work on the subject [Materials for the Study of Variation]-- it very distinctly suggests that variation is frequently discontinuous, and that it is to these discontinuous 'sports' rather than to the accumulation of slight differences that we have to look for the origin of many new species.

In both these respects, then, the non-Darwinian evolutionists seek to penetrate deeper into the nature of Organic Evolution than Darwin needed to do when he established the reality and importance of Natural Selection, and when Darwin's followers speak of the 'omnipotence of Natural Selection,' they fail to observe that their opponents have really turned their flank. For while they do not deny the reality of Natural Selection, they go on to solve problems which, on the basis of Darwinism, cannot be discussed. Hence the Darwinians have not really any logical locus standi -- e.g., in many of their objections to the Lamarckian' factors in evolution. Biologists must be left a free hand in their attempts to determine the nature and source of the variations actually occurring, and in their theories to account for them. If, after admitting the existence of natural selection, they go on to say that variations are not indefinite and their causes not indeterminable, Darwinian orthodoxy has no right to interfere. Or if it mistakenly does try to interfere, its defeat is certain. For it is practically certain that some influences which can only be called 'Lamarckian' must affect both the number and the character of the variations. Living organisms are subject to the general physical and chemical laws of nature, and these render variations in certain directions practically impossible. It is very probable also that they produce certain definite effects upon the organisms exposed to them, and thus give a definite direction to variation. Thus the force of gravity imposes limits on the size to which organisms can grow upon the earth; high and low temperatures produce definite effects upon all living tissue. Starvation also will stunt the growth of all organisms. The efficacy, then, of these additional factors in determining both what sort of

[PAGE 137]

variations can occur, and in what directions organisms can vary, can hardly be disputed. Yet this admission would seem to be a sufficient refutation of the extreme claim that Natural Selection alone is competent to account for everything and exhausts the list of the factors in organic evolution which are logically admissible.

It follows that if the Darwinian factors are not an adequate and complete account of what really happens, we are at liberty to supplement them by any additional factors we may require. Some such factors, such as geographical isolation, are, of course, admitted even by the ultra-Darwinians; others, like sexual selection and the inherited effects of use and disuse, were adopted by Darwin himself; others, again, like the sensibility of organisms and their conscious efforts to attain their ends are at least tolerated as worth discussing. What part, if any, these factors actually play in the history of organisms is still sub judice and cannot here be determined. It is enough for the present argument that Darwinism is not entitled to bar them out a priori as methodologically inadmissible. For if they are not inadmissible, a breach is made in the iron barrier with which the original conception of a mechanically complete Darwinism shut out every possibility of teleology. It is so far attenuated that it can no longer reject a priori the suggestion of the possibility of one more teleological factor, viz. of a purposive direction of the course of variation. Such a purposive direction would still be hard to prove, because its action would be cloaked under a mass of other causes of variation, and because it would perhaps only display itself clearly in the occurrence of variations leading on to new species or new eras; but it would no longer be unthinkable, and that would be no slight step towards a teleology.

III. It has been shown so far that if Darwinism is, as may easily be done, made into a dogmatic denial of the share of intelligence in Organic Evolution and of the admissibility of determinable causes, of a limited number, and of a definite direction of variations, it is demonstrably wrong; we shall go on to assert that in any form it

[PAGE 138]

leaves unexplained the main point, the very point it was invented to explain, viz. Organic Evolution itself. That may seem a startling statement when one remembers that what led Darwin to propound his theory was precisely the evidence for Organic Evolution, the evidence of the descent of the existing forms of life from widely different ancestors. Yet the statement is made under a due sense of responsibility and with a full intention of proving it.

Darwin put forward his theory as an account of the origin of species -- it is asserted that there is nothing in that theory in itself to account for the origination of species. At least, in the sense that Darwinism formulates causes which would logically lead to the evolution of new forms of life. The Darwinian factors only state certain conditions under which organisms have evolved, but they contain nothing that would necessarily cause them to evolve. They simply state that Natural Selection is a general condition under which all life exists, whether it evolves or not. It is equally applicable to species which change and species which do not. Every form of life is continually subject to the action of Natural Selection, weeding out the notfit and promoting the survival of the fit. But it does not follow that any particular form of life will be transformed. The conditions of success may be so various and so variable that on the whole no possible variation can obtain the victory over any other, and as a whole the species remains as it was. Let us illustrate the way in which a species under natural selection may yet persist unchanged. Suppose there is in a definite area an animal, say an anemone, which has a certain range of temperature and is variable, so that while the mass of the species is violet, it tends to vary in the direction both of blue and of red. Suppose, further, that the blue variety can stand the cold best and the red the heat, while the violet is intermediate in these respects. Now suppose a succession of unusually cold seasons. Clearly the blue anemones will flourish at the expense of the violet, and the red will nearly die out. Next suppose a succession of warm seasons; clearly the red will recover

[PAGE 139]

their strength and the preponderance of the blue will be reduced. At the end of the cycle, red, blue, and violet will very likely exist in their original proportions. That is, though the Darwinian factors, variability and natural selection, have been fully and continually operative, the species has not changed. Such a case, though I have intentionally chosen an imaginary one, is not merely hypothetical; it is illustrated by a small but sufficient number of persistent species which have remained unchanged from very early geological times. Darwin himself [Origin of Species, ii. pp. 83, 90, 117] mentions the Nautilus, the Lingula, and the order of the Foraminifera, antique stick-in-the-muds literally and metaphorically, which are the Chinese of the animal world and have persisted without change from the Laurentian and Silurian ages. And over shorter periods a similar persistence under Natural Selection is the normal condition of the organic world. Indeed, specific stability is a much commoner result of Natural Selection than Evolution.

And further, not only are the Darwinian factors perfectly compatible with a changeless persistence of species, but they are equally well satisfied by change in a direction which is the reverse of that which is actually found to prevail. For not merely progressive evolution but also degeneration may come about under the impartial operation of variability and Natural Selection. Under certain circumstances the more lowly organised may be the fitter -- i.e. the better adapted to cope with the conditions of life that prevail at the time; and then the higher must either die out or degenerate. Hence biologists are familiar with countless instances of degeneration everywhere. We ourselves are degenerate in far more obvious and undeniable ways than sensationalists like Nordau contend. We have lost our fur -- all except a few patches on the head -- our ancestral tails, our pineal eye, our sturdy claws and prehensile toes, the tapering tips of our ears and the graceful power of attentively pricking them up; the vermiform appendix indeed remains as a

[PAGE 140]

joy to the evolutionist and a profit to the doctor, but to the patient the useless and dangerous relic of a damnosa hereditas. And all this degeneration has taken place under the action of Natural Selection.

Not but what there has also been much progression, and that in the aggregate its amount has far exceeded that of degeneration. That is just the reason why we speak of the history of life as an evolution. Life has been on the whole progressive; but progress and retrogression have both been effected under the same 'law' of Natural Selection. How, then, can the credit of that result be ascribed to Natural Selection? Natural Selection is equally ready to bring about degeneration or to leave things unchanged. How, then, can it be that which determines which of the three possible (and actual) cases shall be realised? Let us grant that Natural Selection is a permanent condition of life, from which no beings can at any time escape. But for that very reason it cannot be the principle of differentiation which decides which of the alternative courses the evolution of life will in fact pursue. It cannot be Natural Selection that causes one species to remain stationary, another to degenerate, a third to develop into a higher form. The constant pressure which it exercises on organisms does not in the least explain the actual course of evolution any more than the constant pressure of the atmosphere determines the direction in which we walk. The cause of the particular changes which have led to the existing forms of life cannot be found in an unchanging law of all life; it must be sought in forces whose intermittent action has made an instrument of Natural Selection.

It is clear, then, that to explain the changes which have resulted in the existing forms of life some variable factor has to be added to Natural Selection. And as to the nature of that factor Darwinism, qua Darwinism, tells us nothing. There may have been one or more of them, they may have been of all sorts. They may have been nothing more recondite than climatic changes or geographical isolation, to mention two of Darwin's favourite

[PAGE 141]

explanations when Natural Selection stands in need of something to help it out in order that it may proceed to the origination of species. Now clearly these causes of the transmutation of species, and others that might be instanced, are under the proper conditions adequate to produce new species -- though there is no apparent reason why they should so predominantly produce higher species -- but that does not concern us here. The point to be emphasised is that these additional factors lie beyond the scope of the peculiarly Darwinian factors, which can have nothing to say on the question whether they are to be accepted or rejected. As long as the action of Natural Selection as a permanent and universal condition of life is conceded, there is nothing further to be said by the Darwinian theory. If, then, there is no other scientific objection to it, the notion of a purposive direction of variation becomes admissible. Nay, it would be possible to combine a belief in special creation with that in Natural Selection, and claim that while Natural Selection alone could not give rise to a new species, Natural Selection plus special creation might account for the distribution and succession of species. We should thus reach the paradoxical result, that whereas Natural Selection was expressly invented to supersede special creation, there is no necessity to regard the two theories as incompatible! I mention this paradox merely to illustrate by it the helplessness of mere Natural Selection and the necessity of appealing to subsidiary theories in order to account for the facts of Organic Evolution.

Of course, there is an abundance of such subsidiary theories, and many of them are quite unteleological. One may, for instance, continue to object to teleology on a variety of general grounds. Only those objections will not be specially grounded in Darwinism, and so far as the latter goes, it will not be possible to rule out the supposition that the process of Evolution may be guided by an intelligent design.

IV. A further logical limitation of Darwinism is of a still more fundamental character. We have seen that

[PAGE 142]

Darwinism can supply no theory of the origin of Variation. Nor does it necessarily lead to the transmutation of species. Nor does it as such involve a growth of adaptation or yield an adequate account of Progress. But more than all this, it does not even give an account of the origin of adaptation. A little reflection will show that a certain amount of adaptation must always be conceived to preexist before Natural Selection can begin to operate, the amount, namely, which is requisite to enable the organisms to exist, out of which the 'fit' are subsequently to be selected. There must be an existence of the fit before there can be a survival of the fitter, and beings must be capable of existing at all before the question of their living better and surviving can be raised. Hence the initial degree of adaptation needed for the existence of organisms in the world together must always be presupposed by the Darwinian theory. It must renounce therefore its claim to have accounted for adaptation as such, and so to have wholly superseded the teleological argument.

Indeed, it may be questioned whether it ever involves any growth of adaptation, or does more than describe the means by which an already existing adaptation is preserved through changes in the conditions of existence. It is clear that a thing must be before it can be selected. And to be, it must always be adapted to the conditions of existence. It cannot be said to grow better adapted, unless it actually manages to exist more copiously, or fully, or easily. But can this be said to be true of the ordinary Darwinian version of the history of organisms? Is it true that they have grown better adapted, and are better able to survive? Is not the struggle for existence, now as ever, a struggle for a bare livelihood? It boots not to suggest that many or most of the beings who now just manage to exist would have lived in comfort in a former age; for apart from the dubious truth of the assertion, it is clear the fitness of each being must be measured by its ability to exist under the conditions of its own time and place.

What seems to happen is rather this: we start with

[PAGE 143]

adaptation, with a sufficient equilibrium between the organism and its conditions of life to allow of its existence (for a season). But this equilibrium is constantly endangered by the changes in its conditions of life; hence there is constant need for an adaptive response to these changes, for novelty of adaptation. This response some somehow manage to effect, and so survive; the rest do not, and therefore perish. And it is this process which we dignify with the name of Natural Selection. But it is the name only for the mechanism which just keeps alive the sacred fire of life; it neither lights it nor improves its radiance. Nor do we come upon any incontestable traces of improvement until we come upon the traces of intelligence. It is only with beings that aim at ends, conceive goods and frame ideals of better living, that there begins that funding of the power over life which renders possible the pursuit, not of mere life, but of good life, and transfigures the struggle for existence by an ethical ideal. Natural Selection is a universal condition of life, but it is not for us a model or a guide. It is non-moral and relieves us of no moral responsibility; it remains within our power to mould it well or ill.

V. It will, perhaps, be objected that in the anxiety to invalidate the anti-teleological implications of Darwinism we have gone too far, and denied its whole scientific importance. For what is the value of Natural Selection if it does not explain Evolution? Such a result is too monstrously paradoxical to be accepted as the outcome of any argument, however solid it may seem.

This objection should be welcomed by anticipation, because it leads on to a discussion of the real scientific value of the Darwinian theory, and in so doing traces to its real source the prima facie conflict between Darwinism and teleology. In reality there is not involved in anything that has been said any disparagement of Darwin's tireless scientific labour, nor does anything that has been said in the slightest detract from the permanent value and immense importance of his work. What is disputed is not the valuable part of his work, nor the true meaning

[PAGE 144]

of his theory, and these remain intact when a misinterpretation of his theory and a misapplication of his results are controverted.

What, then, is the true significance of Darwin's work? It is to have established once and for all the reality, universality, and importance of Natural Selection as a condition of organic life. That has been its main achievement rather than the refutation of crude theories of creation and teleclogy, or even the assignment of an all-sufficient cause for the changes of organic forms. It is somewhat difficult to establish this view by direct citation from the utterances either of Darwin or of the other leading Darwinians, for the reason that Darwin stumbled upon Natural Selection in the endeavour to prove Evolution, and never was greatly interested in, or even competent to discuss, the logic of his theory. Hence its fundamental conceptions are introduced quite innocently and without formal definition, as if their meaning could not possibly be mistaken; hence, also, terms like 'indefinite,' 'endless,' 'fortuitous,' sometimes only mean, respectively, 'not obviously limited,' 'in sufficient quantities,' and 'unexplored'; sometimes, as will be shown presently, they seem, quite unconsciously, to mean much more.2 This state of things, is, however, explained when we remember that there is abundant autobiographical evidence that Darwin himself elaborated his theory in support of evolutionism against creationism, and by concrete examples rather than by abstract deductions; for by such methods he would naturally not become fully conscious of its logical implications. Hence the extraction of the logical root of the Darwinian theory becomes a matter of philosophical interpretation which may be represented somewhat as follows.

Suspecting Natural Selection to play a part in the Evolution of life, Darwin had to determine what part of the total effect was due to the factor which he called

[PAGE 145]

Natural Selection. To solve that problem he adopted, no doubt instinctively, the method by which all scientific investigation proceeds in dealing with a complicated problem. That method is that of abstraction, of abstraction as a means of simplification. We isolate the factor of which we seek to determine the value by taking cases in which the other factors may be supposed to neutralise each other, and so to be irrelevant to the result. Our result is abstract, but, if the analysis has been carefully done, it is applicable to the concrete facts.

That is precisely what Darwin did. The phenomena of life are immensely complicated, and there was ample reason to suppose that they were affected by all sorts of influences. To lay bare the effect of Natural Selection, it was necessary to simplify them by constructing an ideal case from which other influences might be excluded.

That is the logical significance of the fundamental assumptions of Darwinism. Darwin knew that organisms varied. He did not know how much, or in what direction. But if there was a definite direction about the variation of organisms, this clearly might in various ways retard or accelerate the action of Natural Selection, and would in any event cloak it. It is obvious, for example, that if a race of elephants tend to vary in the direction of whiteness, then, though that variety may be weaker and less well equipped for the struggles of life, there will always be a certain supply of not-yet-eliminated white elephants.3 Again the fate of the variety will be widely different, according as men consider them unlucky and kill them, or sacred and watch over them with especial care.

In order, therefore, to avoid the initial complications introduced by a possible tendency of variation in a definite direction, it was logically necessary for Darwin to assume that as a whole Variation had no definite direction. Variations occurred of all sorts, advantageous, disadvantageous, and indifferent, hence, as a whole,

[PAGE 146]

Variation was indefinite. Darwin, that is, did not facilitate his task by supposing a mass of favourable variations to give Natural Selection a good start; favourable variations were no commoner than they would have been if they had been drawn at random from an indefinite supply of possible variations of all sorts.

Similarly, in order to avoid the complicating question whether these variations were not produced by definite causes, and so tended in a definite direction, Darwin said in effect -- Let us suppose these indefinite variations to be accidental. That is, let us waive the question of where they came from. And in this way he arrived at the assumption of indefinite accidental variation on which his theory proceeded.

It is clear, then, that this essential assumption of Darwinism was originally methodological, that it was a simplification of the facts assumed for purposes of analysis and easier calculation. This is, of course, an everyday procedure in all the sciences, and if a methodological assumption has been skilfully selected, it does excellent service. Now Darwin's assumption was an exceedingly skilful one: for whether or not it was true that Variation was absolutely indefinite and void of direction, it yet ordinarily seemed sufficiently indefinite to enable the ideal theoretical case to throw a most instructive light upon the actual facts.

Perhaps the character of the assumption of indefinite variation is best illustrated by a parallel methodological fiction which has also played a great part in history. I refer to the assumption of 'the economic man' in political economy. In order to build up the science of wealth, the early economists disentangled the primary laws of wealth-production by the methodological assumption of the 'economic man.' They said: Let us consider man as a wealth-producing animal; let us suppose, therefore, that the production of wealth is his sole object in life. In that case the economic man must be taken as (1) absolutely laborious, as never distracted from his work by emotional indisposition or laziness, as a perfect

[PAGE 147]

wealth-producing machine; (2) he must be taken as absolutely intelligent, as always using the best means to his end, as knowing how to use his labour to best advantage, and how to sell its products in the most advantageous manner; (3) he must be taken as absolutely selfish, as absolutely disregardful of any consideration but that of how he could acquire the largest possible amount of wealth. Having thus simplified economic facts, let us see what will happen. And they proceeded to build up the science of abstract economics. When it was objected to them that their methodological assumption, the economic man, did not exist in reality, the wiser among them replied: 'Of course we know that, but the conditions of actual business are sufficiently close to what they would be under our ideal conditions to have much light thrown on them by the latter.' And they gave thereby a clue through the labyrinth of facts to the economists who succeeded them, and were able by means of it to calculate the effects in various departments of the inaccuracy of the methodological assumption of the 'economic man.'

Now 'the economic man' is an exact parallel to the accidental' and 'indefinite' variation of Darwin. They are both methodological assumptions, travesties of the truth, if taken as full and complete accounts of the actual facts, epoch-making and indispensable organa of science, if properly used. And the parallel extends still further. As philosophers are well aware, there is everywhere in the sciences a tendency to forget that methodological assumptions are not necessarily true because they are useful,4 a tendency to assert as a fact what was at first assumed as an abstraction and a fiction for greater convenience in examining the facts. Alike in ordinary life and in science we are almost without exception given over, not to the adoration of an unknown god, but to the worship of forgotten abstractions and methodological

[PAGE 148]

fictions, and happy is he who can avoid bending the knee to such bogeys.

And this idolatry leads to terrible confusions, as these very cases show. When 'the economic man' is taken seriously, and made a practical ideal, he leads to results which are incompatible with the maintenance of political and social cohesion, and with the sanctity of moral laws. And he provokes a reaction even worse than himself in the direction of revolutionary socialism.

So, too, with the Darwinian assumption. When it is taken as a fact and as the last word on the subject of evolution, it leaves no room for the Argument from Design, and leads to consequences entirely inconsistent with any teleology. Moreover, the misrepresentation of the principle of indefinite variation is a very easy and common one, and has been adopted in this very article in exhibiting the conflict between Darwinism and teleology. But, once it is recognised as a misinterpretation, as a case of confusing a method of examining facts with the facts themselves, the danger of any further conflict is averted.

It remains to give practical confirmation of this interpretation of the real meaning of the Darwinian principle. To do so, it may be pointed out, in the first place, that Darwin assumed the indefiniteness of Variation initially upon utterly insufficient evidence, or, rather, upon no relevant evidence at all. For he was not in the position to make any positive statements about the variations that actually occurred, and had not had the time to study them exhaustively. In fact, it is only in these days that the actual facts of Variation are beginning to be observed and recorded, and many generations of workers will probably pass away before it will be possible to state with approximate certainty what variations actually take place, and can be conceived as likely to take place. If, then, Darwin's knowledge of Variation were to be regarded as the logical basis for asserting Variation to be in fact indefinite, the foundations of Darwinism would have been extremely insecure, and Darwin ought to have begun with an exhaustive study of variations before broaching

[PAGE 149]

his theory. Did he, as was to be expected from so exceptionally cautious an inquirer, subject himself to this preliminary investigation? He did nothing of the sort. He simply pointed to the known variety of variations as approximately illustrative of his conception of 'indefinite variation,' and went ahead. I can find nothing more formal than a request5 that 'the endless number of slight variations and individual differences occurring in our domestic productions, and in a lesser degree in those under nature, be borne in mind.' In other words, he did not attempt to prove the existence of indefinite variation in its literal sense; he took it for granted for the methodological reasons aforesaid. Was it wrong to do this? Not unless science is deprived of the right of making methodological assumptions. And the practical justification of Darwin's procedure is seen in the fact that his theory has in the ripeness of time provided a guiding thread and an impetus to the study of facts that might otherwise long have eluded the grasp of science.

VI. That the facts of Organic Evolution really play a very small part in producing the speculative bearing of Darwinism will appear also if we inquire into the reason of its anti-teleological action as commonly understood.

For it turns out that the destructive action of Darwinism is a by-product of the theory which lurked in the innocent-looking phrase, 'indefinite variation.'

We have seen that, as a method of investigating the facts, that phrase is thoroughly defensible; but then in that shape it does not really touch the question of teleology at all. For if the variations are only called indefinite in order to determine the working of Natural Selection, then the possibility of their purposive occurrence is not thereby excluded.

On the other hand, let us take the phrase as a description of an actual fact. If there are an indefinite number of variations, and if they tend in an indefinite number of directions, it follows that the variations in any

[PAGE 150]

one direction will not be more than an infinitesimal portion of the whole. It is not necessary, therefore, to adduce any special cause for those particular variations; they need not be regarded as due to anything more than chance, that is, to causes which do not in any intelligent way discriminate in their favour. That advantageous variations should occasionally occur is no more remarkable, or in need of explanation, than that by throwing dice long enough we should occasionally throw sixes. If, then, indefinite variation be an actual fact, no special intelligence need be assumed to account even for the most abnormal variation. In other words, a principle has been adopted which rules out the hypothesis of intelligent direction a priori, if we forget or fail to perceive that indefinite variation is a methodological assumption. And being a priori, the principle would rule out the hypothesis whatsoever the facts were, and however much they might suggest the action of intelligence. Intelligence is nonsuited by the way in which the question is put, and irrespective of the facts of the case.

Yet all this is due to nothing more mysterious than an application of the calculus of probabilities, for, as all who are even slightly familiar with that calculus are aware, even the most improbable result may be expected to occur if a sufficiency of cases be given. It is highly improbable, for example, that any one should, by fair dealing, acquire a hand containing thirteen trumps at whist. But if he had played some 640,000,000,000 hands, he might fairly expect to hold all the trumps on one occasion. Everything that happens may be due to chance, and no matter how improbabilities are multiplied, we never altogether eliminate the infinitesimal probability that everything is due to chance. Supposing we were to try to persuade an obstinate materialist that our conduct was dictated by a purpose and due to intelligence, and was not the action of an automatic mechanism which had by some strange chance put on a delusive appearance of purposiveness. However intelligently we acted, we could not convince our adversary, if he were permitted

[PAGE 151]

to regard our action as one out of a series of actions displaying no intelligence. He would cheerfully admit that the action seemed intelligent, and by itself would justify the inference to a real intelligence behind it. But he would urge, if I take it as the one intelligent action out of an indefinite number of unintelligent actions, there is nothing in it that need cause surprise or calls for the assumption of real intelligence. We might try to convince him by multiplying the symptoms of intelligence, but in vain. For, though he would admit the growing improbability of such a continuous series of apparently purposive actions, he could still expand the context of non-purposive actions rapidly enough to maintain his theory of their chance origination.6

If, therefore, an indefinite number of non-adaptive variations be really granted, no adaptations, however numerous and complete, can ever prove an intelligent cause of variation. Even if all the known facts testified aloud to the operation of an adapting intelligence, the Darwinian assumption might still be used to disprove all teleology, if unbounded license were given for the invention of hypothetical variations! Now, of course it is not contended that variations as known are all obviously adaptive; it is claimed rather that we do not know enough about them to say what their actual character is. But it must most strenuously be asserted that the Darwinian theory cannot be quoted as destructive of the action of purposive intelligence in organic evolution until the occurrence of indefinite variation has been raised from the position of a methodological device to that of an incontestable fact.

And even then it may be doubted whether the fortuitous character of the facts could ever be rendered incontestable. To defy refutation by the facts the teleologist has merely to adopt a device analogous to that of his opponent. Just as the latter could always assume a non-teleological extension of what seemed a teleological ordering, so the former can always assume a secret

[PAGE 152]

teleology within the seeming chance. This he can do in several ways; most thoroughly by assuming that the order purposed exactly coincided with the results of a fortuitous distribution, and was intended so to do. This ingenuity, however, would somewhat overreach itself. It would have to conceive the intelligence immanent in the world's order as one aiming at concealment. For our only method of discriminating between the results of 'design' and 'chance' is to observe a deviation from the fortuitous distribution (which betrays no preference for any particular result) in the direction of what may be conceived as a more valuable result. Hence in the case supposed, the deviation being nil, we should have no reason to suspect the presence of intelligence. And generally, one would have to hold that a supposition which rendered the results of 'design' and 'chance' undistinguishable abolished also the difference between the two conceptions; a world governed by such an intelligence would be no better than one wholly due to 'chance.'7 By supposing, therefore, that the 'design' makes no difference, the teleologist would defeat his purpose.

But he can assume the intelligent deviation to be of whatever magnitude the facts demand, and by assuming it to be small enough he can suppose a purposively guided order which mimics chance, just as the antiteleologist could explain 'design' as a mimicry by chance. And so he can conceive a (really) teleological order infinitesimally different from one merely fortuitous, and the mere tabulation of statistics will never decide its actual character. The mere record of the throws will never tell us that once in a hundred throws the dice came up sixes by intelligent design (of a nefarious kind). And yet that single throw might have sufficed to win the game! Now in the history of Organic Evolution the really valuable events which help on progress are certainly of the extremest rarity. It is only once in an aon that

[PAGE 153]

an 'accidental' variation distinguishes itself from a myriad others by lifting organic structure permanently on to a higher plane. It is only once in centuries that a genius is born who does the same for social progress: the great events in history are utterly unique, and turn the course of things so thoroughly that they need never be repeated. But all uniqueness makes a mock of Science, which 'explains' by finding uniformities.

Hence the teleological and the anti-teleological interpretation of events will never decide their conflict by appealing to the facts: for in the facts each finds what it wills and comes prepared to see. And yet the facts will not wholly bear out either, so long as they present traces of what we can describe as disorder in the one case, or order in the other. The decision therefore needs an act of choice; it eminently calls for the exercise of our 'will to believe' ; it rests, like all the ultimate assumptions of our knowledge, upon an act of faith.

VII. The position, then, is this: I. If we take the Darwinian assumptions as methodological, they are perfectly legitimate, most fruitful and valuable, and establish the fundamental biological law of Natural Selection. But there is no conflict with the belief in teleology, and the Argument from Design remains unimpaired.

2. If we take the Darwinian assumption as representing a fact, it is certainly destructive of all teleology. But the fact is not established and is open to grave doubts on scientific grounds, while its destruction of the teleological argument is simply a foregone conclusion a priori.

3. If, while admitting that indefinite variation has not been shown to exist, we yet contend that it is the sole working assumption by which the facts can be investigated, and that the possibility of a purposive guidance must be rigidly excluded from Science, we simply beg the question. For certainly, if all the evidence is to be interpreted in accordance with such canons, no evidence for teleology can ever be found. One need not object to people wearing blue spectacles if they like -- they are in fact

[PAGE 154]

often useful, if not ornamental -- but it is ludicrous to maintain that everything is blue because we insist on looking through the spectacles.

This ought to constitute a sufficiently explicit answer to the question, Is Darwinism, properly understood, necessarily hostile to teleology? Not only have we been able to answer that question by an emphatic negative, but we have uncovered the source of the misunderstanding which led to the question. We might go on to raise rather the opposite question, and ask, Does Darwinism in any, way tend to strengthen the Argument from Design and the belief in teleology? That would, perhaps, be asking too much; its services in this respect seem to be mostly of an indirect sort. It is often invigorating to be attacked, especially when the assault can be successfully repulsed, and perhaps in this sense the Argument from Design is the stronger for having been impugned in the name of Darwinism.

More can perhaps be extracted from another point brought out by Darwinism -- viz., from the fact that Natural Selection is a universal law of life operating indifferently, whether there is stagnation, degeneration, or progression. From this it may be inferred that the ghastly law of struggle for existence, the cruel necessity which engages every living thing in almost unceasing warfare, while not itself the cause of progression, is yet capable of being rendered subservient to the cause of progression. The progress, the adaptations, actually found, are certainly not due to Natural Selection: yet neither does Natural Selection form an obstacle to their occurrence. Nay, we may conjecture that the power which makes for progress, a power which we may divine to work for nobler ends, is lord also of Natural Selection, and can render it a pliable instrument of its purpose, a sanction to enforce the law of progress, a goad to urge on laggards.

What that power may be Darwinism cannot directly tell us. Before we could ascribe to it a pronouncedly teleological character, we should have to measure our strength against a number of possible factors in Organic

[PAGE 155]

Evolution as I mechanical' as Darwinism. But I believe it could be shown that all these mechanical laws of Evolution, from Spencer's law of differentiation downwards, fail just where Darwinism pure and simple failed -- viz., in accounting for the historical fact of progress. Either, therefore, we should have to admit that an as yet unformulated mechanical law of Evolution accounted for progression, or that it was due to an agency of a different order, to the guidance of an intelligent and purposive activity. It may be suggested, however, that a critical examination of the current mechanical theories of Evolution must distinctly strengthen the belief that there has been operative in the history of life an intelligent force to which we must ascribe the progression and direction of the process of Evolution. And inasmuch as Darwinism occupies a leading place among these mechanical theories, its examination will greatly conduce to that result.

We have discussed so far only mechanical theories of Evolution. But in itself Evolution is not necessarily bound to be mechanical; it is perfectly possible to regard it as the gradual working out of a divine purpose. And once we adopt the evolutionist standpoint, it is clear that the Argument from Design is materially and perceptibly strengthened. (I) Positively, because Evolutionism lets us as it were behind the scenes and shows us how means are adapted to ends in the gradual process of Evolution. This renders easier and more comprehensible the belief underlying all teleology in a power that intelligently adapts means to ends. (2) Negatively, Evolutionism greatly weakens the objection to the teleological argument based on the imperfection of existing adaptations. We are no longer compelled to proclaim everything already perfect; it suffices that we can find nourishment for the faith that everything is being made perfect.

If, then, Evolutionism strengthens the Argument from Design, the latter indirectly owes a debt of gratitude to the theories which have facilitated the adoption of the Evolutionist standpoint. And among these Darwinism stands pre-eminent. Evolutionism was as old as one of

[PAGE 156]

the earliest of Greek philosophies;8 but it was not until Darwinism made it a household word that it could force its way into the consciousness of men at large. And as a philosopher who regards Evolutionism in some form as affording the most hopeful method of approaching the mystery of existence, I am inclined to hold that when historical perspective has cleared away the molehills we have made into mountains, it will be here that will be found Darwin's most momentous and enduring service to knowledge and to mankind.

> 1 Published in the <em>Contemporary Review<em> for June 1897. It had been my intention to have followed this paper up with discussions of other scientific views of Evolution (which explains my success in avoiding so much as the mention of Prof. Weismann's name), and finally to attempt the philosophic formulation of the conception of Progress which the current science assumes and the current metaphysic denies, without comprehending its nature. But dis aliter visum, and the paper (to which § IV. and the end of § VI. are additions), seemed worth including even as a fragment. For a discussion of the ultimate philosophic significance of Teleology, cp. Personal Idealism, pp. 118-121.
> 2 Similarly Darwinian discussions of the definition of 'higher' and 'lower,' of the persistence of lower forms and of the source of progression generally find refuge in our immense ignorance of the past, and exhibit only the reluctance of their authors to tie themselves down to precise formulations. -- Cp. <strong>Origin of Species<strong>, ii. pp. 117, 151, 243, 274. Wallace, Darwinism, p. 120.
> 3 It is supposed that albinos tend to be produced by in-breeding, and hence the supply is always kept up in spite of Natural Selection.<br> 4 Even so excellent a thing as Pragmatism may be overdone! In fact it usually is, by its critics and in popular thinking, when methodological assumptions of limited applicability are mistaken for absolute truths.
> 5 <strong>Origin of Species<strong>, i. p. 97.

6 Cp. pp. 71-72.

7 Cp. James, Varieties of Religious Experience, pp. 443-447, and Philosophical Conceptions and Practical Results, pp. 9-11.
> 8 That of Anaximander: see Mind! p. 129.<br>

Document Actions
« September 2023 »