Infomotions, Inc.The Reception of the Origin of Species / Huxley, Thomas Henry, 1825-1895



Author: Huxley, Thomas Henry, 1825-1895
Title: The Reception of the Origin of Species
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): darwin; species; lyell; evolution; hypothesis; doctrine; scientific; creation; science; theory
Contributor(s): Teixeira de Mattos, Alexander, 1865-1921 [Translator]
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ON THE RECEPTION OF THE 'ORIGIN OF SPECIES'

by Thomas Henry Huxley

From The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin

edited by Francis Darwin

February, 2000 [Etext #2089]


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ON THE RECEPTION OF THE 'ORIGIN OF SPECIES'

by PROFESSOR THOMAS HENRY HUXLEY

FROM THE LIFE AND LETTERS OF CHARLES DARWIN

EDITED BY FRANCIS DARWIN



ON THE RECEPTION OF THE 'ORIGIN OF SPECIES.'

To the present generation, that is to say, the people a few years
on the hither and thither side of thirty, the name of Charles
Darwin stands alongside of those of Isaac Newton and Michael
Faraday; and, like them, calls up the grand ideal of a searcher
after truth and interpreter of Nature.  They think of him who
bore it as a rare combination of genius, industry, and unswerving
veracity, who earned his place among the most famous men of the
age by sheer native power, in the teeth of a gale of popular
prejudice, and uncheered by a sign of favour or appreciation from
the official fountains of honour; as one who in spite of an acute
sensitiveness to praise and blame, and notwithstanding
provocations which might have excused any outbreak, kept himself
clear of all envy, hatred, and malice, nor dealt otherwise than
fairly and justly with the unfairness and injustice which was
showered upon him; while, to the end of his days, he was ready to
listen with patience and respect to the most insignificant of
reasonable objectors.

And with respect to that theory of the origin of the forms of
life peopling our globe, with which Darwin's name is bound up as
closely as that of Newton with the theory of gravitation, nothing
seems to be further from the mind of the present generation than
any attempt to smother it with ridicule or to crush it by
vehemence of denunciation.  "The struggle for existence," and
"Natural selection," have become household words and every-day
conceptions.  The reality and the importance of the natural
processes on which Darwin founds his deductions are no more
doubted than those of growth and multiplication; and, whether the
full potency attributed to them is admitted or not, no one doubts
their vast and far-reaching significance.  Wherever the
biological sciences are studied, the 'Origin of Species' lights
the paths of the investigator; wherever they are taught it
permeates the course of instruction.  Nor has the influence of
Darwinian ideas been less profound, beyond the realms of Biology. 
The oldest of all philosophies, that of Evolution, was bound hand
and foot and cast into utter darkness during the millennium of
theological scholasticism.  But Darwin poured new life-blood into
the ancient frame; the bonds burst, and the revivified thought of
ancient Greece has proved itself to be a more adequate expression
of the universal order of things than any of the schemes which
have been accepted by the credulity and welcomed by the
superstition of seventy later generations of men.

To any one who studies the signs of the times, the emergence of
the philosophy of Evolution, in the attitude of claimant to the
throne of the world of thought, from the limbo of hated and, as
many hoped, forgotten things, is the most portentous event of the
nineteenth century.  But the most effective weapons of the modern
champions of Evolution were fabricated by Darwin; and the 'Origin
of Species' has enlisted a formidable body of combatants, trained
in the severe school of Physical Science, whose ears might have
long remained deaf to the speculations of a priori philosophers.

I do not think any candid or instructed person will deny the
truth of that which has just been asserted.  He may hate the very
name of Evolution, and may deny its pretensions as vehemently as
a Jacobite denied those of George the Second.  But there it is--
not only as solidly seated as the Hanoverian dynasty, but happily
independent of Parliamentary sanction--and the dullest
antagonists have come to see that they have to deal with an
adversary whose bones are to be broken by no amount of bad words.

Even the theologians have almost ceased to pit the plain meaning
of Genesis against the no less plain meaning of Nature.  Their
more candid, or more cautious, representatives have given up
dealing with Evolution as if it were a damnable heresy, and have
taken refuge in one of two courses.  Either they deny that
Genesis was meant to teach scientific truth, and thus save the
veracity of the record at the expense of its authority; or they
expend their energies in devising the cruel ingenuities of the
reconciler, and torture texts in the vain hope of making them
confess the creed of Science.  But when the peine forte et dure
is over, the antique sincerity of the venerable sufferer always
reasserts itself.  Genesis is honest to the core, and professes
to be no more than it is, a repository of venerable traditions of
unknown origin, claiming no scientific authority and possessing
none.

As my pen finishes these passages, I can but be amused to think
what a terrible hubbub would have been made (in truth was made)
about any similar expressions of opinion a quarter of a century
ago.  In fact, the contrast between the present condition of
public opinion upon the Darwinian question; between the
estimation in which Darwin's views are now held in the scientific
world; between the acquiescence, or at least quiescence, of the
theologians of the self-respecting order at the present day and
the outburst of antagonism on all sides in 1858-9, when the new
theory respecting the origin of species first became known to the
older generation to which I belong, is so startling that, except
for documentary evidence, I should be sometimes inclined to think
my memories dreams.  I have a great respect for the younger
generation myself (they can write our lives, and ravel out all
our follies, if they choose to take the trouble, by and by), and
I should be glad to be assured that the feeling is reciprocal;
but I am afraid that the story of our dealings with Darwin may
prove a great hindrance to that veneration for our wisdom which I
should like them to display.  We have not even the excuse that,
thirty years ago, Mr. Darwin was an obscure novice, who had no
claims on our attention.  On the contrary, his remarkable
zoological and geological investigations had long given him an
assured position among the most eminent and original
investigators of the day; while his charming 'Voyage of a
Naturalist' had justly earned him a wide-spread reputation among
the general public.  I doubt if there was any man then living who
had a better right to expect that anything he might choose to say
on such a question as the Origin of Species would be listened to
with profound attention, and discussed with respect; and there
was certainly no man whose personal character should have
afforded a better safeguard against attacks, instinct with
malignity and spiced with shameless impertinences.

Yet such was the portion of one of the kindest and truest men
that it was ever my good fortune to know; and years had to pass
away before misrepresentation, ridicule, and denunciation, ceased
to be the most notable constituents of the majority of the
multitudinous criticisms of his work which poured from the press. 
I am loth to rake any of these ancient scandals from their well-
deserved oblivion; but I must make good a statement which may
seem overcharged to the present generation, and there is no piece
justificative more apt for the purpose, or more worthy of such
dishonour, than the article in the 'Quarterly Review' for July,
1860.  (I was not aware when I wrote these passages that the
authorship of the article had been publicly acknowledged. 
Confession unaccompanied by penitence, however, affords no ground
for mitigation of judgment; and the kindliness with which Mr.
Darwin speaks of his assailant, Bishop Wilberforce (vol.ii.), is
so striking an exemplification of his singular gentleness and
modesty, that it rather increases one's indignation against the
presumption of his critic.)  Since Lord Brougham assailed Dr.
Young, the world has seen no such specimen of the insolence of a
shallow pretender to a Master in Science as this remarkable
production, in which one of the most exact of observers, most
cautious of reasoners, and most candid of expositors, of this or
any other age, is held up to scorn as a "flighty" person, who
endeavours "to prop up his utterly rotten fabric of guess and
speculation," and whose "mode of dealing with nature" is
reprobated as "utterly dishonourable to Natural Science."  And
all this high and mighty talk, which would have been indecent in
one of Mr. Darwin's equals, proceeds from a writer whose want of
intelligence, or of conscience, or of both, is so great, that, by
way of an objection to Mr. Darwin's views, he can ask, "Is it
credible that all favourable varieties of turnips are tending to
become men;" who is so ignorant of paleontology, that he can talk
of the "flowers and fruits" of the plants of the carboniferous
epoch; of comparative anatomy, that he can gravely affirm the
poison apparatus of the venomous snakes to be "entirely separate
from the ordinary laws of animal life, and peculiar to
themselves;" of the rudiments of physiology, that he can ask,
"what advantage of life could alter the shape of the corpuscles
into which the blood can be evaporated?"  Nor does the reviewer
fail to flavour this outpouring of preposterous incapacity with a
little stimulation of the odium theologicum.  Some inkling of the
history of the conflicts between Astronomy, Geology, and
Theology, leads him to keep a retreat open by the proviso that he
cannot "consent to test the truth of Natural Science by the word
of Revelation;" but, for all that, he devotes pages to the
exposition of his conviction that Mr. Darwin's theory
"contradicts the revealed relation of the creation to its
Creator," and is "inconsistent with the fulness of his glory."

If I confine my retrospect of the reception of the 'Origin of
Species' to a twelvemonth, or thereabouts, from the time of its
publication, I do not recollect anything quite so foolish and
unmannerly as the 'Quarterly Review' article, unless, perhaps,
the address of a Reverend Professor to the Dublin Geological
Society might enter into competition with it.  But a large
proportion of Mr. Darwin's critics had a lamentable resemblance
to the 'Quarterly' reviewer, in so far as they lacked either the
will, or the wit, to make themselves masters of his doctrine;
hardly any possessed the knowledge required to follow him through
the immense range of biological and geological science which the
'Origin' covered; while, too commonly, they had prejudiced the
case on theological grounds, and, as seems to be inevitable when
this happens, eked out lack of reason by superfluity of railing.

But it will be more pleasant and more profitable to consider
those criticisms, which were acknowledged by writers of
scientific authority, or which bore internal evidence of the
greater or less competency and, often, of the good faith, of
their authors.  Restricting my survey to a twelvemonth, or
thereabouts, after the publication of the 'Origin,' I find among
such critics Louis Agassiz ("The arguments presented by Darwin in
favor of a universal derivation from one primary form of all the
peculiarities existing now among living beings have not made the
slightest impression on my mind."

"Until the facts of Nature are shown to have been mistaken by
those who have collected them, and that they have a different
meaning from that now generally assigned to them, I shall
therefore consider the transmutation theory as a scientific
mistake, untrue in its facts, unscientific in its method, and
mischievous in its tendency."--Silliman's 'Journal,' July, 1860,
pages 143, 154.  Extract from the 3rd volume of 'Contributions to
the Natural History of the United States.'); Murray, an excellent
entomologist; Harvey, a botanist of considerable repute; and the
author of an article in the 'Edinburgh Review,' all strongly
adverse to Darwin.  Pictet, the distinguished and widely learned
paleontogist of Geneva, treats Mr. Darwin with a respect which
forms a grateful contrast to the tone of some of the preceding
writers, but consents to go with him only a very little way.  ("I
see no serious objections to the formation of varieties by
natural selection in the existing world, and that, so far as
earlier epochs are concerned, this law may be assumed to explain
the origin of closely allied species, supposing for this purpose
a very long period of time."

"With regard to simple varieties and closely allied species, I
believe that Mr. Darwin's theory may explain many things, and
throw a great light upon numerous questions."--'Sur l'Origine de
l'Espece.  Par Charles Darwin.'  'Archives des Sc. de la
Bibliotheque Universelle de Geneve,' pages 242, 243, Mars 1860.) 
On the other hand, Lyell, up to that time a pillar of the anti-
transmutationists (who regarded him, ever afterwards, as Pallas
Athene may have looked at Dian, after the Endymion affair),
declared himself a Darwinian, though not without putting in a
serious caveat.  Nevertheless, he was a tower of strength, and
his courageous stand for truth as against consistency, did him
infinite honour.  As evolutionists, sans phrase, I do not call to
mind among the biologists more than Asa Gray, who fought the
battle splendidly in the United States; Hooker, who was no less
vigorous here; the present Sir John Lubbock and myself.  Wallace
was far away in the Malay Archipelago; but, apart from his direct
share in the promulgation of the theory of natural selection, no
enumeration of the influences at work, at the time I am speaking
of, would be complete without the mention of his powerful essay
'On the Law which has regulated the Introduction of New Species,'
which was published in 1855.  On reading it afresh, I have been
astonished to recollect how small was the impression it made.

In France, the influence of Elie de Beaumont and of Flourens--the
former of whom is said to have "damned himself to everlasting
fame" by inventing the nickname of "la science moussante" for
Evolutionism (One is reminded of the effect of another small
academic epigram.  The so-called vertebral theory of the skull is
said to have been nipped in the bud in France by the whisper of
an academician to his neighbour, that, in that case, one's head
was a "vertebre pensante."),--to say nothing of the ill-will of
other powerful members of the Institut, produced for a long time
the effect of a conspiracy of silence; and many years passed
before the Academy redeemed itself from the reproach that the
name of Darwin was not to be found on the list of its members. 
However, an accomplished writer, out of the range of academical
influences, M. Laugel, gave an excellent and appreciative notice
of the 'Origin' in the 'Revue des Deux Mondes.'  Germany took
time to consider; Bronn produced a slightly Bowdlerized
translation of the 'Origin'; and 'Kladderadatsch' cut his jokes
upon the ape origin of man; but I do not call to mind that any
scientific notability declared himself publicly in 1860. 
(However, the man who stands next to Darwin in his influence on
modern biologists, K.E. von Baer, wrote to me, in August 1860,
expressing his general assent to evolutionist views.  His phrase,
"J'ai enonce les memes idees...que M. Darwin" (volume ii.) is
shown by his subsequent writings to mean no more than this.) 
None of us dreamed that, in the course of a few years, the
strength (and perhaps I may add the weakness) of "Darwinismus"
would have its most extensive and most brilliant illustrations in
the land of learning.  If a foreigner may presume to speculate on
the cause of this curious interval of silence, I fancy it was
that one moiety of the German biologists were orthodox at any
price, and the other moiety as distinctly heterodox.  The latter
were evolutionists, a priori, already, and they must have felt
the disgust natural to deductive philosophers at being offered an
inductive and experimental foundation for a conviction which they
had reached by a shorter cut.  It is undoubtedly trying to learn
that, though your conclusions may be all right, your reasons for
them are all wrong, or, at any rate, insufficient.

On the whole, then, the supporters of Mr. Darwin's views in 1860
were numerically extremely insignificant.  There is not the
slightest doubt that, if a general council of the Church
scientific had been held at that time, we should have been
condemned by an overwhelming majority.  And there is as little
doubt that, if such a council gathered now, the decree would be
of an exactly contrary nature.  It would indicate a lack of
sense, as well as of modesty, to ascribe to the men of that
generation less capacity or less honesty than their successors
possess.  What, then, are the causes which led instructed and
fair-judging men of that day to arrive at a judgment so different
from that which seems just and fair to those who follow them? 
That is really one of the most interesting of all questions
connected with the history of science, and I shall try to answer
it.  I am afraid that in order to do so I must run the risk of
appearing egotistical.  However, if I tell my own story it is
only because I know it better than that of other people.

I think I must have read the 'Vestiges' before I left England in
1846; but, if I did, the book made very little impression upon
me, and I was not brought into serious contact with the 'Species'
question until after 1850.  At that time, I had long done with
the Pentateuchal cosmogony, which had been impressed upon my
childish understanding as Divine truth, with all the authority of
parents and instructors, and from which it had cost me many a
struggle to get free.  But my mind was unbiassed in respect of
any doctrine which presented itself, if it professed to be based
on purely philosophical and scientific reasoning.  It seemed to
me then (as it does now) that "creation," in the ordinary sense
of the word, is perfectly conceivable.  I find no difficulty in
imagining that, at some former period, this universe was not in
existence; and that it made its appearance in six days (or
instantaneously, if that is preferred), in consequence of the
volition of some pre-existent Being.  Then, as now, the so-called
a priori arguments against Theism; and, given a Deity, against
the possibility of creative acts, appeared to me to be devoid of
reasonable foundation.  I had not then, and I have not now, the
smallest a priori objection to raise to the account of the
creation of animals and plants given in 'Paradise Lost,' in which
Milton so vividly embodies the natural sense of Genesis.  Far be
it from me to say that it is untrue because it is impossible.  I
confine myself to what must be regarded as a modest and
reasonable request for some particle of evidence that the
existing species of animals and plants did originate in that way,
as a condition of my belief in a statement which appears to me to
be highly improbable.

And, by way of being perfectly fair, I had exactly the same
answer to give to the evolutionists of 1851-8.  Within the ranks
of the biologists, at that time, I met with nobody, except Dr.
Grant, of University College, who had a word to say for
Evolution--and his advocacy was not calculated to advance the
cause.  Outside these ranks, the only person known to me whose
knowledge and capacity compelled respect, and who was, at the
same time, a thorough-going evolutionist, was Mr. Herbert
Spencer, whose acquaintance I made, I think, in 1852, and then
entered into the bonds of a friendship which, I am happy to
think, has known no interruption.  Many and prolonged were the
battles we fought on this topic.  But even my friend's rare
dialectic skill and copiousness of apt illustration could not
drive me from my agnostic position.  I took my stand upon two
grounds:  firstly, that up to that time, the evidence in favour
of transmutation was wholly insufficient; and secondly, that no
suggestion respecting the causes of the transmutation assumed,
which had been made, was in any way adequate to explain the
phenomena.  Looking back at the state of knowledge at that time,
I really do not see that any other conclusion was justifiable.

In those days I had never even heard of Treviranus' 'Biologie.' 
However, I had studied Lamarck attentively and I had read the
'Vestiges' with due care; but neither of them afforded me any
good ground for changing my negative and critical attitude.  As
for the 'Vestiges,' I confess that the book simply irritated me
by the prodigious ignorance and thoroughly unscientific habit of
mind manifested by the writer.  If it had any influence on me at
all, it set me against Evolution; and the only review I ever have
qualms of conscience about, on the ground of needless savagery,
is one I wrote on the 'Vestiges' while under that influence.

With respect to the 'Philosophie Zoologique,' it is no reproach
to Lamarck to say that the discussion of the Species question in
that work, whatever might be said for it in 1809, was miserably
below the level of the knowledge of half a century later.  In
that interval of time the elucidation of the structure of the
lower animals and plants had given rise to wholly new conceptions
of their relations; histology and embryology, in the modern
sense, had been created; physiology had been reconstituted; the
facts of distribution, geological and geographical, had been
prodigiously multiplied and reduced to order.  To any biologist
whose studies had carried him beyond mere species-mongering in
1850, one-half of Lamarck's arguments were obsolete and the other
half erroneous, or defective, in virtue of omitting to deal with
the various classes of evidence which had been brought to light
since his time.  Moreover his one suggestion as to the cause of
the gradual modification of species--effort excited by change of
conditions--was, on the face of it, inapplicable to the whole
vegetable world.  I do not think that any impartial judge who
reads the 'Philosophie Zoologique' now, and who afterwards takes
up Lyell's trenchant and effectual criticism (published as far
back as 1830), will be disposed to allot to Lamarck a much higher
place in the establishment of biological evolution than that
which Bacon assigns to himself in relation to physical science
generally,--buccinator tantum.  (Erasmus Darwin first promulgated
Lamarck's fundamental conceptions, and, with greater logical
consistency, he had applied them to plants.  But the advocates of
his claims have failed to show that he, in any respect,
anticipated the central idea of the 'Origin of Species.')

But, by a curious irony of fate, the same influence which led me
to put as little faith in modern speculations on this subject, as
in the venerable traditions recorded in the first two chapters of
Genesis, was perhaps more potent than any other in keeping alive
a sort of pious conviction that Evolution, after all, would turn
out true.  I have recently read afresh the first edition of the
'Principles of Geology'; and when I consider that this remarkable
book had been nearly thirty years in everybody's hands, and that
it brings home to any reader of ordinary intelligence a great
principle and a great fact--the principle, that the past must be
explained by the present, unless good cause be shown to the
contrary; and the fact, that, so far as our knowledge of the past
history of life on our globe goes, no such cause can be shown
(The same principle and the same fact guide the result from all
sound historical investigation.  Grote's 'History of Greece' is a
product of the same intellectual movement as Lyell's
'Principles.')--I cannot but believe that Lyell, for others, as
for myself, was the chief agent for smoothing the road for
Darwin.  For consistent uniformitarianism postulates evolution as
much in the organic as in the inorganic world.  The origin of a
new species by other than ordinary agencies would be a vastly
greater "catastrophe" than any of those which Lyell successfully
eliminated from sober geological speculation.

In fact, no one was better aware of this than Lyell himself. 
(Lyell, with perfect right, claims this position for himself.  He
speaks of having "advocated a law of continuity even in the
organic world, so far as possible without adopting Lamarck's
theory of transmutation"...

"But while I taught that as often as certain forms of animals and
plants disappeared, for reasons quite intelligible to us, others
took their place by virtue of a causation which was beyond our
comprehension; it remained for Darwin to accumulate proof that
there is no break between the incoming and the outgoing species,
that they are the work of evolution, and not of special
creation...

"I had certainly prepared the way in this country, in six
editions of my work before the 'Vestiges of Creation' appeared in
1842 [1844], for the reception of Darwin's gradual and insensible
evolution of species."--'Life and Letters,' Letter to Haeckel,
volume ii. page 436.  November 23, 1868.)  If one reads any of
the earlier editions of the 'Principles' carefully (especially by
the light of the interesting series of letters recently published
by Sir Charles Lyell's biographer), it is easy to see that, with
all his energetic opposition to Lamarck, on the one hand, and to
the ideal quasi-progressionism of Agassiz, on the other, Lyell,
in his own mind, was strongly disposed to account for the
origination of all past and present species of living things by
natural causes.  But he would have liked, at the same time, to
keep the name of creation for a natural process which he imagined
to be incomprehensible.

In a letter addressed to Mantell (dated March 2, 1827), Lyell
speaks of having just read Lamarck; he expresses his delight at
Lamarck's theories, and his personal freedom from any objection
based on theological grounds.  And though he is evidently alarmed
at the pithecoid origin of man involved in Lamarck's doctrine, he
observes:--

"But, after all, what changes species may really undergo!  How
impossible will it be to distinguish and lay down a line, beyond
which some of the so-called extinct species have never passed
into recent ones."

Again, the following remarkable passage occurs in the postscript
of a letter addressed to Sir John Herschel in 1836:--

"In regard to the origination of new species, I am very glad to
find that you think it probable that it may be carried on through
the intervention of intermediate causes.  I left this rather to
be inferred, not thinking it worth while to offend a certain
class of persons by embodying in words what would only be a
speculation."  (In the same sense, see the letter to Whewell,
March 7, 1837, volume ii., page 5:--

"In regard to this last subject [the changes from one set of
animal and vegetable species to another]...you remember what
Herschel said in his letter to me.  If I had stated as plainly as
he has done the possibility of the introduction or origination of
fresh species being a natural, in contradistinction to a
miraculous process, I should have raised a host of prejudices
against me, which are unfortunately opposed at every step to any
philosopher who attempts to address the public on these
mysterious subjects."  See also letter to Sedgwick, January 12,
1838 ii. page 35.)  He goes on to refer to the criticisms which
have been directed against him on the ground that, by leaving
species to be originated by miracle, he is inconsistent with his
own doctrine of uniformitarianism; and he leaves it to be
understood that he had not replied, on the ground of his general
objection to controversy.

Lyell's contemporaries were not without some inkling of his
esoteric doctrine.  Whewell's 'History of the Inductive
Sciences,' whatever its philosophical value, is always worth
reading and always interesting, if under no other aspect than
that of an evidence of the speculative limits within which a
highly-placed divine might, at that time, safely range at will. 
In the course of his discussion of uniformitarianism, the
encyclopaedic Master of Trinity observes:--

"Mr. Lyell, indeed, has spoken of an hypothesis that 'the
successive creation of species may constitute a regular part of
the economy of nature,' but he has nowhere, I think, so described
this process as to make it appear in what department of science
we are to place the hypothesis.  Are these new species created by
the production, at long intervals, of an offspring different in
species from the parents?  Or are the species so created produced
without parents?  Are they gradually evolved from some embryo
substance?  Or do they suddenly start from the ground, as in the
creation of the poet?...

"Some selection of one of these forms of the hypothesis, rather
than the others, with evidence for the selection, is requisite to
entitle us to place it among the known causes of change, which in
this chapter we are considering.  The bare conviction that a
creation of species has taken place, whether once or many times,
so long as it is unconnected with our organical sciences, is a
tenet of Natural Theology rather than of Physical Philosophy." 
(Whewell's 'History,' volume iii. page 639-640 (Edition 2,
1847.))

The earlier part of this criticism appears perfectly just and
appropriate; but, from the concluding paragraph, Whewell
evidently imagines that by "creation" Lyell means a preternatural
intervention of the Deity; whereas the letter to Herschel shows
that, in his own mind, Lyell meant natural causation; and I see
no reason to doubt (The following passages in Lyell's letters
appear to me decisive on this point:--

To Darwin, October 3, 1859 (ii, 325), on first reading the
'Origin.'

"I have long seen most clearly that if any concession is made,
all that you claim in your concluding pages will follow.

"It is this which has made me so long hesitate, always feeling
that the case of Man and his Races, and of other animals, and
that of plants, is one and the same, and that if a vera causa be
admitted for one instant, [instead] of a purely unknown and
imaginary one, such as the word 'creation,' all the consequences
must follow."

To Darwin, March 15, 1863 (volume ii. page 365).

"I remember that it was the conclusion he [Lamarck] came to about
man that fortified me thirty years ago against the great
impression which his arguments at first made on my mind, all the
greater because Constant Prevost, a pupil of Cuvier's forty years
ago, told me his conviction 'that Cuvier thought species not
real, but that science could not advance without assuming that
they were so.'"

To Hooker, March 9, 1863 (volume ii. page 361), in reference to
Darwin's feeling about the 'Antiquity of Man.'

"He [Darwin] seems much disappointed that I do not go farther
with him, or do not speak out more.  I can only say that I have
spoken out to the full extent of my present convictions, and even
beyond my state of FEELING as to man's unbroken descent from the
brutes, and I find I am half converting not a few who were in
arms against Darwin, and are even now against Huxley."  He speaks
of having had to abandon "old and long cherished ideas, which
constituted the charm to me of the theoretical part of the
science in my earlier day, when I believed with Pascal in the
theory, as Hallam terms it, of 'the arch-angel ruined.'"

See the same sentiment in the letter to Darwin, March 11, 1863,
page 363:--

"I think the old 'creation' is almost as much required as ever,
but of course it takes a new form if Lamarck's views improved by
yours are adopted.") that, if Sir Charles could have avoided the
inevitable corollary of the pithecoid origin of man--for which,
to the end of his life, he entertained a profound antipathy--he
would have advocated the efficiency of causes now in operation to
bring about the condition of the organic world, as stoutly as he
championed that doctrine in reference to inorganic nature.

The fact is, that a discerning eye might have seen that some form
or other of the doctrine of transmutation was inevitable, from
the time when the truth enunciated by William Smith that
successive strata are characterised by different kinds of fossil
remains, became a firmly established law of nature.  No one has
set forth the speculative consequences of this generalisation
better than the historian of the 'Inductive Sciences':--

"But the study of geology opens to us the spectacle of many
groups of species which have, in the course of the earth's
history, succeeded each other at vast intervals of time; one set
of animals and plants disappearing, as it would seem, from the
face of our planet, and others, which did not before exist,
becoming the only occupants of the globe.  And the dilemma then
presents itself to us anew:--either we must accept the doctrine
of the transmutation of species, and must suppose that the
organized species of one geological epoch were transmuted into
those of another by some long-continued agency of natural causes;
or else, we must believe in many successive acts of creation and
extinction of species, out of the common course of nature; acts
which, therefore, we may properly call miraculous."  (Whewell's
'History of the Inductive Sciences.'  Edition ii., 1847, volume
iii. pages 624-625.  See for the author's verdict, pages 638-39.)

Dr. Whewell decides in favour of the latter conclusion.  And if
any one had plied him with the four questions which he puts to
Lyell in the passage already cited, all that can be said now is
that he would certainly have rejected the first.  But would he
really have had the courage to say that a Rhinoceros tichorhinus,
for instance, "was produced without parents;" or was "evolved
from some embryo substance;" or that it suddenly started from the
ground like Milton's lion "pawing to get free his hinder parts." 
I permit myself to doubt whether even the Master of Trinity's
well-tried courage--physical, intellectual, and moral--would have
been equal to this feat.  No doubt the sudden concurrence of
half-a-ton of inorganic molecules into a live rhinoceros is
conceivable, and therefore may be possible.  But does such an
event lie sufficiently within the bounds of probability to
justify the belief in its occurrence on the strength of any
attainable, or, indeed, imaginable, evidence?

In view of the assertion (often repeated in the early days of the
opposition to Darwin) that he had added nothing to Lamarck, it is
very interesting to observe that the possibility of a fifth
alternative, in addition to the four he has stated, has not
dawned upon Dr. Whewell's mind.  The suggestion that new species
may result from the selective action of external conditions upon
the variations from their specific type which individuals
present--and which we call "spontaneous," because we are ignorant
of their causation--is as wholly unknown to the historian of
scientific ideas as it was to biological specialists before 1858. 
But that suggestion is the central idea of the 'Origin of
Species,' and contains the quintessence of Darwinism.

Thus, looking back into the past, it seems to me that my own
position of critical expectancy was just and reasonable, and must
have been taken up, on the same grounds, by many other persons. 
If Agassiz told me that the forms of life which had successively
tenanted the globe were the incarnations of successive thoughts
of the Deity; and that he had wiped out one set of these
embodiments by an appalling geological catastrophe as soon as His
ideas took a more advanced shape, I found myself not only unable
to admit the accuracy of the deductions from the facts of
paleontology, upon which this astounding hypothesis was founded,
but I had to confess my want of any means of testing the
correctness of his explanation of them.  And besides that, I
could by no means see what the explanation explained.  Neither
did it help me to be told by an eminent anatomist that species
had succeeded one another in time, in virtue of "a continuously
operative creational law."  That seemed to me to be no more than
saying that species had succeeded one another, in the form of a
vote-catching resolution, with "law" to please the man of
science, and "creational" to draw the orthodox.  So I took refuge
in that "thatige Skepsis" which Goethe has so well defined; and,
reversing the apostolic precept to be all things to all men, I
usually defended the tenability of the received doctrines, when I
had to do with the transmutationists; and stood up for the
possibility of transmutation among the orthodox--thereby, no
doubt, increasing an already current, but quite undeserved,
reputation for needless combativeness.

I remember, in the course of my first interview with Mr. Darwin,
expressing my belief in the sharpness of the lines of demarcation
between natural groups and in the absence of transitional forms,
with all the confidence of youth and imperfect knowledge.  I was
not aware, at that time, that he had then been many years
brooding over the species-question; and the humorous smile which
accompanied his gentle answer, that such was not altogether his
view, long haunted and puzzled me.  But it would seem that four
or five years' hard work had enabled me to understand what it
meant; for Lyell ('Life and Letters,' volume ii. page 212.),
writing to Sir Charles Bunbury (under date of April 30, 1856),
says:--

"When Huxley, Hooker, and Wollaston were at Darwin's last week
they (all four of them) ran a tilt against species--further, I
believe, than they are prepared to go."

I recollect nothing of this beyond the fact of meeting Mr.
Wollaston; and except for Sir Charles' distinct assurance as to
"all four," I should have thought my "outrecuidance" was probably
a counterblast to Wollaston's conservatism.  With regard to
Hooker, he was already, like Voltaire's Habbakuk, "capable du
tout" in the way of advocating Evolution.

As I have already said, I imagine that most of those of my
contemporaries who thought seriously about the matter, were very
much in my own state of mind--inclined to say to both Mosaists
and Evolutionists, "a plague on both your houses!" and disposed
to turn aside from an interminable and apparently fruitless
discussion, to labour in the fertile fields of ascertainable
fact.  And I may, therefore, further suppose that the publication
of the Darwin and Wallace papers in 1858, and still more that of
the 'Origin' in 1859, had the effect upon them of the flash of
light, which to a man who has lost himself in a dark night,
suddenly reveals a road which, whether it takes him straight home
or not, certainly goes his way.  That which we were looking for,
and could not find, was a hypothesis respecting the origin of
known organic forms, which assumed the operation of no causes but
such as could be proved to be actually at work.  We wanted, not
to pin our faith to that or any other speculation, but to get
hold of clear and definite conceptions which could be brought
face to face with facts and have their validity tested.  The
'Origin' provided us with the working hypothesis we sought. 
Moreover, it did the immense service of freeing us for ever from
the dilemma--refuse to accept the creation hypothesis, and what
have you to propose that can be accepted by any cautious
reasoner?  In 1857, I had no answer ready, and I do not think
that any one else had.  A year later, we reproached ourselves
with dullness for being perplexed by such an inquiry.  My
reflection, when I first made myself master of the central idea
of the 'Origin,' was, "How extremely stupid not to have thought
of that!"  I suppose that Columbus' companions said much the same
when he made the egg stand on end.  The facts of variability, of
the struggle for existence, of adaptation to conditions, were
notorious enough; but none of us had suspected that the road to
the heart of the species problem lay through them, until Darwin
and Wallace dispelled the darkness, and the beacon-fire of the
'Origin' guided the benighted.

Whether the particular shape which the doctrine of evolution, as
applied to the organic world, took in Darwin's hands, would prove
to be final or not, was, to me, a matter of indifference.  In my
earliest criticisms of the 'Origin' I ventured to point out that
its logical foundation was insecure so long as experiments in
selective breeding had not produced varieties which were more or
less infertile; and that insecurity remains up to the present
time.  But, with any and every critical doubt which my sceptical
ingenuity could suggest, the Darwinian hypothesis remained
incomparably more probable than the creation hypothesis.  And if
we had none of us been able to discern the paramount significance
of some of the most patent and notorious of natural facts, until
they were, so to speak, thrust under our noses, what force
remained in the dilemma--creation or nothing?  It was obvious
that, hereafter, the probability would be immensely greater, that
the links of natural causation were hidden from our purblind
eyes, than that natural causation should be incompetent to
produce all the phenomena of nature.  The only rational course
for those who had no other object than the attainment of truth,
was to accept "Darwinism" as a working hypothesis, and see what
could be made of it.  Either it would prove its capacity to
elucidate the facts of organic life, or it would break down under
the strain.  This was surely the dictate of common sense; and,
for once, common sense carried the day.  The result has been that
complete volte-face of the whole scientific world, which must
seem so surprising to the present generation.  I do not mean to
say that all the leaders of biological science have avowed
themselves Darwinians; but I do not think that there is a single
zoologist, or botanist, or palaeontologist, among the multitude
of active workers of this generation, who is other than an
evolutionist, profoundly influenced by Darwin's views.  Whatever
may be the ultimate fate of the particular theory put forth by
Darwin, I venture to affirm that, so far as my knowledge goes,
all the ingenuity and all the learning of hostile critics have
not enabled them to adduce a solitary fact, of which it can be
said, this is irreconcilable with the Darwinian theory.  In the
prodigious variety and complexity of organic nature, there are
multitudes of phenomena which are not deducible from any
generalisations we have yet reached.  But the same may be said of
every other class of natural objects.  I believe that astronomers
cannot yet get the moon's motions into perfect accordance with
the theory of gravitation.

It would be inappropriate, even if it were possible, to discuss
the difficulties and unresolved problems which have hitherto met
the evolutionist, and which will probably continue to puzzle him
for generations to come, in the course of this brief history of
the reception of Mr. Darwin's great work.  But there are two or
three objections of a more general character, based, or supposed
to be based, upon philosophical and theological foundations,
which were loudly expressed in the early days of the Darwinian
controversy, and which, though they have been answered over and
over again, crop up now and then to the present day.

The most singular of these, perhaps immortal, fallacies, which
live on, Tithonus-like, when sense and force have long deserted
them, is that which charges Mr. Darwin with having attempted to
reinstate the old pagan goddess, Chance.  It is said that he
supposes variations to come about "by chance," and that the
fittest survive the "chances" of the struggle for existence, and
thus "chance" is substituted for providential design.

It is not a little wonderful that such an accusation as this
should be brought against a writer who has, over and over again,
warned his readers that when he uses the word "spontaneous," he
merely means that he is ignorant of the cause of that which is so
termed; and whose whole theory crumbles to pieces if the
uniformity and regularity of natural causation for illimitable
past ages is denied.  But probably the best answer to those who
talk of Darwinism meaning the reign of "chance," is to ask them
what they themselves understand by "chance"?  Do they believe
that anything in this universe happens without reason or without
a cause?  Do they really conceive that any event has no cause,
and could not have been predicted by any one who had a sufficient
insight into the order of Nature?  If they do, it is they who are
the inheritors of antique superstition and ignorance, and whose
minds have never been illumined by a ray of scientific thought. 
The one act of faith in the convert to science, is the confession
of the universality of order and of the absolute validity in all
times and under all circumstances, of the law of causation.  This
confession is an act of faith, because, by the nature of the
case, the truth of such propositions is not susceptible of proof. 
But such faith is not blind, but reasonable; because it is
invariably confirmed by experience, and constitutes the sole
trustworthy foundation for all action.

If one of these people, in whom the chance-worship of our remoter
ancestors thus strangely survives, should be within reach of the
sea when a heavy gale is blowing, let him betake himself to the
shore and watch the scene.  Let him note the infinite variety of
form and size of the tossing waves out at sea; or of the curves
of their foam-crested breakers, as they dash against the rocks;
let him listen to the roar and scream of the shingle as it is
cast up and torn down the beach; or look at the flakes of foam as
they drive hither and thither before the wind; or note the play
of colours, which answers a gleam of sunshine as it falls upon
the myriad bubbles.  Surely here, if anywhere, he will say that
chance is supreme, and bend the knee as one who has entered the
very penetralia of his divinity.  But the man of science knows
that here, as everywhere, perfect order is manifested; that there
is not a curve of the waves, not a note in the howling chorus,
not a rainbow-glint on a bubble, which is other than a necessary
consequence of the ascertained laws of nature; and that with a
sufficient knowledge of the conditions, competent physico-
mathematical skill could account for, and indeed predict, every
one of these "chance" events.

A second very common objection to Mr. Darwin's views was (and
is), that they abolish Teleology, and eviscerate the argument
from design.  It is nearly twenty years since I ventured to offer
some remarks on this subject, and as my arguments have as yet
received no refutation, I hope I may be excused for reproducing
them.  I observed, "that the doctrine of Evolution is the most
formidable opponent of all the commoner and coarser forms of
Teleology.  But perhaps the most remarkable service to the
Philosophy of Biology rendered by Mr. Darwin is the
reconciliation of Teleology and Morphology, and the explanation
of the facts of both, which his views offer.  The teleology which
supposes that the eye, such as we see it in man, or one of the
higher vertebrata, was made with the precise structure it
exhibits, for the purpose of enabling the animal which possesses
it to see, has undoubtedly received its death-blow. 
Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that there is a wider
teleology which is not touched by the doctrine of Evolution, but
is actually based upon the fundamental proposition of Evolution. 
This proposition is that the whole world, living and not living,
is the result of the mutual interaction, according to definite
laws, of the forces (I should now like to substitute the word
powers for "forces.") possessed by the molecules of which the
primitive nebulosity of the universe was composed.  If this be
true, it is no less certain that the existing world lay
potentially in the cosmic vapour, and that a sufficient
intelligence could, from a knowledge of the properties of the
molecules of that vapour, have predicted, say the state of the
fauna of Britain in 1869, with as much certainty as one can say
what will happen to the vapour of the breath on a cold winter's
day...

...The teleological and the mechanical views of nature are not,
necessarily, mutually exclusive.  On the contrary, the more
purely a mechanist the speculator is, the more firmly does he
assume a primordial molecular arrangement of which all the
phenomena of the universe are the consequences, and the more
completely is he thereby at the mercy of the teleologist, who can
always defy him to disprove that this primordial molecular
arrangement was not intended to evolve the phenomena of the
universe."  (The "Genealogy of Animals" ('The Academy,' 1869),
reprinted in 'Critiques and Addresses.')

The acute champion of Teleology, Paley, saw no difficulty in
admitting that the "production of things" may be the result of
trains of mechanical dispositions fixed beforehand by intelligent
appointment and kept in action by a power at the centre ('Natural
Theology,' chapter xxiii.), that is to say, he proleptically
accepted the modern doctrine of Evolution; and his successors
might do well to follow their leader, or at any rate to attend to
his weighty reasonings, before rushing into an antagonism which
has no reasonable foundation.

Having got rid of the belief in chance and the disbelief in
design, as in no sense appurtenances of Evolution, the third
libel upon that doctrine, that it is anti-theistic, might perhaps
be left to shift for itself.  But the persistence with which many
people refuse to draw the plainest consequences from the
propositions they profess to accept, renders it advisable to
remark that the doctrine of Evolution is neither Anti-theistic
nor Theistic.  It simply has no more to do with Theism than the
first book of Euclid has.  It is quite certain that a normal
fresh-laid egg contains neither cock nor hen; and it is also as
certain as any proposition in physics or morals, that if such an
egg is kept under proper conditions for three weeks, a cock or
hen chicken will be found in it.  It is also quite certain that
if the shell were transparent we should be able to watch the
formation of the young fowl, day by day, by a process of
evolution, from a microscopic cellular germ to its full size and
complication of structure.  Therefore Evolution, in the strictest
sense, is actually going on in this and analogous millions and
millions of instances, wherever living creatures exist. 
Therefore, to borrow an argument from Butler, as that which now
happens must be consistent with the attributes of the Deity, if
such a Being exists, Evolution must be consistent with those
attributes.  And, if so, the evolution of the universe, which is
neither more nor less explicable than that of a chicken, must
also be consistent with them.  The doctrine of Evolution,
therefore, does not even come into contact with Theism,
considered as a philosophical doctrine.  That with which it does
collide, and with which it is absolutely inconsistent, is the
conception of creation, which theological speculators have based
upon the history narrated in the opening of the book of Genesis.

There is a great deal of talk and not a little lamentation about
the so-called religious difficulties which physical science has
created.  In theological science, as a matter of fact, it has
created none.  Not a solitary problem presents itself to the
philosophical Theist, at the present day, which has not existed
from the time that philosophers began to think out the logical
grounds and the logical consequences of Theism.  All the real or
imaginary perplexities which flow from the conception of the
universe as a determinate mechanism, are equally involved in the
assumption of an Eternal, Omnipotent and Omniscient Deity.  The
theological equivalent of the scientific conception of order is
Providence; and the doctrine of determinism follows as surely
from the attributes of foreknowledge assumed by the theologian,
as from the universality of natural causation assumed by the man
of science.  The angels in 'Paradise Lost' would have found the
task of enlightening Adam upon the mysteries of "Fate,
Foreknowledge, and Free-will," not a whit more difficult, if
their pupil had been educated in a "Real-schule" and trained in
every laboratory of a modern university.  In respect of the great
problems of Philosophy, the post-Darwinian generation is, in one
sense, exactly where the prae-Darwinian generations were.  They
remain insoluble.  But the present generation has the advantage
of being better provided with the means of freeing itself from
the tyranny of certain sham solutions.

The known is finite, the unknown infinite; intellectually we
stand on an islet in the midst of an illimitable ocean of
inexplicability.  Our business in every generation is to reclaim
a little more land, to add something to the extent and the
solidity of our possessions.  And even a cursory glance at the
history of the biological sciences during the last quarter of a
century is sufficient to justify the assertion, that the most
potent instrument for the extension of the realm of natural
knowledge which has come into men's hands, since the publication
of Newton's 'Principia,' is Darwin's 'Origin of Species.'

It was badly received by the generation to which it was first
addressed, and the outpouring of angry nonsense to which it gave
rise is sad to think upon.  But the present generation will
probably behave just as badly if another Darwin should arise, and
inflict upon them that which the generality of mankind most hate
--the necessity of revising their convictions.  Let them, then,
be charitable to us ancients; and if they behave no better than
the men of my day to some new benefactor, let them recollect
that, after all, our wrath did not come to much, and vented
itself chiefly in the bad language of sanctimonious scolds.  Let
them as speedily perform a strategic right-about-face, and follow
the truth wherever it leads.  The opponents of the new truth will
discover, as those of Darwin are doing, that, after all, theories
do not alter facts, and that the universe remains unaffected even
though texts crumble.  Or, it may be, that, as history repeats
itself, their happy ingenuity will also discover that the new
wine is exactly of the same vintage as the old, and that (rightly
viewed) the old bottles prove to have been expressly made for
holding it.





End of Project Gutenberg's ON THE RECEPTION OF THE 'ORIGIN OF SPECIES'
by Thomas Henry Huxley


Colophon

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