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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 53

Mr. Darwin's Confession of Error

Mr. Darwin's Confession of Error.

There is a reverse side to arguments drawn from these sources. Superfluous organs have been among the chief stumbling blocks to Natural Selection, and absolutely compelled Mr. Darwin to modify his application of that law. What power can the struggle for life have had upon the amazingly beautiful plumage of birds, upon the exquisite forms and colours of shells, and a million other qualities which give the animal and vegetable kingdoms the kaleidoscope characters of boundless change. In his "Descent of Man," Vol. I., Mr. Darwin views certain classes of unused organs as a grave obstacle to the acceptance of his theory: "I now admit," he says, "after reading the essay by Nageli on plants, and the remarks by various authors with respect to animals, more especially those recently made by Professor Broca, that in earlier editions of my 'Origin of Species' I probably attributed too much page 28 to the action of Natural Selection, or the survival of the fittest. I had not formerly considered the existence of many structures which appear to be, as far as we can judge, neither beneficial nor injurious, and this I believe to be one of the greatest oversights as yet detected in my work" And again, "No doubt, man as well as every other animal, presents structures, which as far as we can judge with our little knowledge, are not now of any service to him, nor have been so during any former period of his existence either in relation to his general conditions of life, or of one sex to the other. Such structures cannot be accounted for by any form of selection, or by the inherited effects of the use and disuse of parts."

"Oh, but," we hear from some one who loves to shelter himself under a great name rather than exercise his own intelligence, "if the theory, instead of finding its evidences plainly written upon every page in the Book of Nature, has to depend upon a maze of vague and contradictory speculations, trivialities, and arguments which, on the confession of evolutionists, tell as much one way as the other, how comes it that any scientific man has accepted the doctrine?" Well, it is not altogether a new discovery that there have always been men who would believe anything rather than admit the possibility of a direct intervention of Deity in the government of the Cosmos. If, however, the query is intended to imply that Danvinism has secured the general concurrence of the scientific world, we join issue at once. Cuvier, Agassiz, and Von Baer, each a giant in the world of science, have already been quoted writing with crushing force against it. We might add Dawson, George Jeffreys, Dana, Oscar Peschel, Wyville Thompson, and a host of others. But let Mr. Darwin himself speak of the acceptance his views had secured after being twenty years before the public. Writing in l879, little more than two years before his death, he says (vide Introduction to the "DellCent of Man"): "At least, a large number of naturalists must admit that species are the modified descendants of other species, and this especially holds good with the younger and rising naturalists. The greater number accept the agency of natural selection; though some urge—whether with justice, the future must decide—that I have greatly overrated its importance. Of the older and honoured chiefs in natural science, many, unfortunately, art still opposed to Evolution in every form." Even among the advocates of Darwinism there are two or three sects running widely different theories, and occasionally abusing each other in no measured terms. We have heard Darwin; now, what does Hæckel, his chief apostle in Gennany, say? Lashing out violently in reply to an atack which Professor Virchow made upon unscientific theories in a recent address delivered before the German pathologist at Munich, Professor H[unclear: re]ckel states:—"In no other page 29 city in Germany Evolution in general, and Darwinism in particular, been so little valued, so utterly misunderstood, and treated with such sovereign disdain as in Berlin. . . . Of all conspicuous naturalists of Berlin, only one [Alexander Braun, a botanist] accepted the doctrine of t transmutation from the beginning with sincere warmth and full conviction." The feeling in France was best attested by Mr. Darwin's double rejection—in 1870 and 1872—when proposed as a member of the French Academy.