Species, Origin of
Species, Origin Of The immutability of species that is the law that no really distinct kind of plant or animal is capable, by any process, whether natural or artificial, of being transformed into another, beyond the non-essential limits of what are technically denominated "varieties" — is no less a doctrine of Scripture (where it appears to be contained in the emphatic expression למַינוֹ, "after its kind," constantly appended to the statement of each successive creative act in the first chapter of Genesis) than a conclusion of sound inductive science.
Each animal and plant has an ancestry of its own; and relationship by descent is admittedly that which constitutes identity of species — that is to say) all the animals of the world (and the same may be said of plants) which have descended from the same pair of ancestors belong to the same species. That there are many apparently different species of animals now in existence is obvious. But the question has been mooted whether this distinction of species is a reality in nature, or whether all animals may not be lineally descended from one, or, at all events, a few original stocks. Geology teaches us that no animals of a higher order than zoophytes, mollusks, and crustaceans were inhabitants of our globe up to the close of the Silurian era; that the fish then, for the first time, made its appearance, and afterwards the reptile, in the Carboniferous era, and then the mammal, at a later period, in the Tertiary. Were the different species of zoophytes, mollusks, and crustaceans of the Silurian ages and those of the succeeding and present eras all of them the offspring of one pair, or of different pairs of ancestors, whose descendants had become thus varied by the operation of time and the changed conditions of life? Again, were the various species of fishes, reptiles, and mammals descendants from their severally respective pairs of ancestors, or were they all of them lineal descendants of the previously existing inferior orders of animals of the Silurian and its preceding eras, and all thus related in blood to each other? If the various species had each their own separate first parents and lineage, them each of those ancestors must have been produced by a separate act of creative power, or, as it has been termed, by a separate creative fiat, similar to that which kindled the first spark of life in the first living creature that stirred within the precincts of our planet; and thus the Creator must have been ever present with his work, renewing it with life in the various species of animals and plants with which it has from the beginning been supplied. On the other hand, philosophers have been found to insist that all the animals (and plants also) in the world, including man himself, have descended from one simple organism, and the operation of the preordained laws of nature, without the interference of the Deity.
In 1774 lord Monboddo, a Scotch jurist, hazarded the proposition that man is but a highly developed baboon, a proposition which has since made his name the laughing stock of the literary world. About the close of the last century two French philosophers (De Maillet and La Marck) endeavored to establish the proposition that all the higher orders of animals and plants have been derived, by the immutable laws of nature, from the firstborn and lowest items in the scale of physical life; and that life itself is producible, by the agency of caloric and electricity from dead matter. They also held that all the qualities and functions of animals have been developed by natural instinct and a tendency to progressive improvement; and that organization was the result of function, and not function of organization. Their theory of life, therefore, was that the zoophyte, which was developed out of something still more simple, expanded itself into a mollusk or crustacean; that the crustacean was developed into a fish, fishes into reptiles and birds, and these again into quadruped mammals, and the mammal into man.
This theory, so dishonoring to God and degrading to man, was at once rejected as an absurdity by the common sense of mankind. It was, however, revived, with a little variation, by the author of The Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (Lond. 1844), who in that work reviewed the whole world of life which has been supplied by geology and natural history, and insists that "the various organic forms that are to be found upon the earth are bound up in one — a fundamental unity pervades and embraces all, collecting them from the humblest lichen up to the highest mammifer in one system, the whole creation of which must have depended upon one law or decree of the Almighty, though it did not all come forth at one time. The idea of a separate creation for each must appear totally inadmissible;" and he argues that "the whole train of animated beings, from the simplest and oldest up to the highest and most recent, are thus to be regarded as a series of advances of the principle of development, that have depended upon external physical circumstances to which the resulting animals are appropriate." As to the origin of vitality, he suggests that the first step in the creation of life upon this planet was a chemico-electric operation, by which simple germinal vesicles were produced, and that the advance from the simplest form of being to the most complicated was through the medium of the ordinary process of generation. But in a few years the experiments of naturalists exploded that theory.
These speculations, whimsical and absurd in conception, but at the same time most mischievous in tendency, have therefore long since been rejected by the most enlightened of our philosophers, basing their arguments on purely scientific principles and inductive reasoning. Prof. Sedgwick, in his preface to the studies of the University of Cambridge, p. 128, has declared that geology, "as a plain succession of monuments and facts, offers one firm cumulative argument against the hypothesis of development." Agassiz, Cuvier, and Hugh Miller have been equally strong in their condemnation of the theory of the transition of species.
The discussion of this question has been recently revived by the publication of Dr. Darwin's Origin of Species. In this work an attempt has been made to solve the mystery of the creation of life by seeking to establish the proposition that every species has been produced by generation from previously existing species. Darwin's hypothesis (for it is nothing more) is, that, as man, acting on the principle of selection, causes different animals and plants to produce varieties, so in nature there is a similar power of selection, originated and carried on by the struggle of life, which tends to produce and perpetuate, by the operation of a natural law, varieties of organisms as distinct as those which man creates among domesticated animals and plants. It must be conceded that, by the principle of natural selection, we can account for the origin of many varieties of the same species; but that is far short of the proposition that an accumulation of inherited varieties may constitute a specific difference. No facts have yet been established to warrant the inference that because man can produce varieties of species by selection among domesticated animals, he could produce, or that nature has produced, by the application of the same principle,. essentially distinct species. There has always, in the case of domesticated animals and plants, been a limit to man's power to produce varieties, in like manner as, in the operations of nature, the sterility of hybrids has raised a barrier against the multiplication of species which cannot be passed.
Darwin believes that animals have descended from at most only four or five progenitors, and adds that analogy would lead him one step further, viz. to the belief that all animals and plants have descended from one prototype, and that "the probability is that all the organic beings that have ever lived upon the. earth have descended from some one primordial form into which life was first breathed." This admits that life has been produced upon our planet by one, if not more, divine creative fiat; and such being the case, it is more reasonable, as well as more natural, to account for the appearance of distinct species from time to time by the exercise of similar acts of divine power than by a vain endeavor to link together animals in relationship by descent that are wholly dissimilar in organization, and in all the habits, propensities, and instincts of their lives.
It is admitted that the position is not confirmed by geological evidence, inasmuch as the many intermediate links which must necessarily have existed between the various species are not found in the geological formations. There is no such finely graduated organic chain revealed by geology; for the groups of animals, as they existed, are as distinct and well defined in those ancient records as they are at the present day. To meet this admitted difficulty, Darwin is driven to allege "the extreme imperfection of the geological record," arising, as he states, "from an extremely incomplete examination of existing strata, and the small proportion which those existing strata bear to those others which have been deposited, and removed or swept away by denudation." These are mere gratuitous assumptions, put forth without foundation, to prop up a failing theory. No well informed geologist will be found to admit that imperfections could exist in the geological record to an extent sufficient to account for the absence of so many forms of life as must, if Darwin's theory be true, have been in existence at some period of the world's history. Moreover, his suggestion that every past and present organism has descended from three or four original forms requires us to suppose that life must have existed in the planet long before the deposition of the Cambrian and Silurian rocks, in which the first groups of life appear, and that the rocks in which these remains were deposited have been either removed or transformed. This hypothesis not only receives no countenance from the records of geology, but is contradicted by all the evidence which they supply. So many startling concessions required to uphold this theory of the production of species by natural selection, without the direct intervention of the creative power of the Almighty, are sufficient to justify its rejection, even if the more direct arguments to which we have referred were wanting. SEE CREATION.
So long as this, which has now come to be generally known as "the evolution theory" of creation, was advocated only by men either hostile or indifferent to revelation, the theological world could well afford to leave it to purely scientific treatises for a solution or refutation. But of late we regret to see it has crept insidiously into favor with some professedly religious writers, who do not seem to see anything in it inconsistent with the Christian idea of creation. For example, an eminent scientist, in the Methodist Quarterly Review for April, 1877, art. 5, commits himself substantially to it, and even defends it, although with the qualifying remark that it cannot be said to have been "demonstrated." His arguments in its favor are drawn from three classes of facts: first, geology discloses a series of gradually variant, types, with many gaps, indeed, between, yet on the whole corresponding to such a system of evolution from lower to higher forms; secondly, links are constantly discovered between genera formerly supposed to be widely separated, showing a transition from one to the other; thirdly, the embryo of every animal actually passes successively through the various stages indicated by the evolution theory. All this, that writer thinks, renders it "now far safer to accept the hypothesis than to reject it." It may seem presumptuous for theologians, who are usually spoken of contemptuously by the professional scientist, to judge in this matter; but as the writer referred to further. thinks that "if it is safer for the scientist, it is safer for the Christian," we feel authorized to question both the premise and the conclusion of that demand. For, in the first place, scientists themselves have not fully accepted the theory. Even the learned writer quoted only claims for it the authority of a "hypothesis." It, seems to us that it will be ample time for "scientists" to make such demands when they shall have proved their theories, and that they have no right to urge their crude and unsettled hypotheses upon other people. In the second place, they should remember that this is not purely a scientific question; it is rather a historical, if not a, theological one, which science has volunteered to determine in its own fashion. The Christian or the believer in an inspired account of creation has no difficulty in explaining to his own satisfaction the origin of species: he attributes it to the direct creative act of God, continued in the lineal propagation from the initial pair or pairs of each kind. If the scientist finds any fault with this, let him first resolve his doubts, and make out a system harmoniously, fully, and definitely determined according to the boasted accuracy and certainty of his own method, before he challenges the adherence of others. In the third place, let him modestly and gratefully call to mind the many illustrious names of Christian theologians who have been, and still are, more or less eminent as scientists also, and whose opinion might at least be invoked before a final verdict is made up and published as binding upon the rest of the world. Nay, more, let him consider that intelligent parties standing somewhat outside of the immediate discussion are generally better prepared, because more cool and less committed, and actually occupying a broader field of view, to come to a just conclusion on such mooted points when the evidence is conflicting, and chiefly of a moral and cumulative character, than those immediately engaged in the dispute. We, therefore, say, emphatically, let the naturalist pursue his investigations, gather and analyze all the facts, even speculate, if he pleases, on their bearings; and then present the whole for the candid and general judgment of the educated world, exclusive of invidious classification. In short, common sense must determine in this, as in every extensive generalization. A jury of plain, practical men is most competent to decide an issue, although the testimony of experts may be needed in the evidence.
Let us now bestow a few words upon the facts arrayed above as warranting a concurrence in the evolution theory. We are ourselves amazed that the acute and learned writer who clearly presents them did not perceive their utter insufficiency as proof of the position taken. The evidence from geology is little more than that from the various orders of animated beings now observed upon the face of the earth. The only difference, if any, is that they do not seem to have been all simultaneous or synchronal; nor are those now extant to be found all in one habitat. The first and second arguments, therefore, resolve themselves substantially into one, and this has the great flaw of the supposition the begging of the main question in reality that the many missing links will yet be found, or, if not found, still once existed. The third argument is parallel, but still weaker, because in the embryo we have the actual stages, again, with many and notable gaps, but they are found to be incapable of that arrest at any particular point which the theory supposes. The germ of each animal in generation must go on immediately to its complete development, or perish at once as an abortion. None can stop short of its peculiar type, nor go beyond it. In fine, the fact patent to every observer, and one which, to the common mind, disposes of this whole speculation, is that each species regularly and inevitably propagates substantially its own pattern, with no such variations as the three classes of phenomena referred to exhibit; or else refuses to reproduce permanent organisms at all. The grand fallacy in the evolution argument — even as a presumption (and we might truly call it such in more than one sense) — is the mistaking of analogy for identity. A similar law of progress is seen in all God's works; but this does not prove, nor even render it probable, that each step was historically developed out of the preceding. Wherever we have been able to record the process, the succession of order has been found to be maintained, but there has been a break in the genetic production of the individuals. The same mistake has been committed by those who confound the geological cycles with the "days" of the demiurgic week. Resemblances in plan have been thought to prove historical identity. SEE GEOLOGY.
Accordingly, a recent writer, Mr. A. De Quatrefages, professor of anthropology in the Museum of Natural History at Paris, who may be taken as the representative of moderate conservatism in the scientific disputes about the origin of species, but whose eminent position as an anthropologist has been fully recognized by Mr. Huxley, is decidedly opposed to evolutionary ideas; he draws out an elaborate argument to prove that, in his opinion, "species is a reality." Many readers, therefore, will turn with especial interest to the division of his subject in which he examines in succession the theories of Darwin, Hackel, Vogt, Wallace, Naudin, and others. The antiquity of the human species; how the globe was peopled, and races formed; their physical, mental, and moral characteristics: such is the program of the twenty-sixth volume of the "International Scientific Series" entitled The Human Species (Lond. 1879). See also Biblioth. Sacra, Oct. 1857; Meth. Quar. Rev. Oct. 1861.