rfhe complete record of the history of the horse was not established till well after 1859.

In document Determinist theories and politics : the example of social Darwinism (Page 141-153)

What I have been suggesting so far is that

1. rfhe complete record of the history of the horse was not established till well after 1859.

- 1 3 4- g r o w i n g g e o g r a p h i c a l w i d t h w h i c h t h e d i s c o v e r i e s o f t h e s e v e n t e e n t h a n d e i g h t e e n t h c e n t u r i e s b r o u g h t f o r t h , an d t h e new i n t e r e s t i n t h e n a t u r a l s c i e n c e s w h i c h e n a b l e d men t o r e c o g n i z e t h e s e f i n d s f o r w h a t t h e y w e r e a nd n o t a s mere c u r i o s i t i e s . As e x p l o r a t i o n t a u g h t men more an d more a b o u t t h e f l o r a a n d f a u n a o f t h e e a r t h , b e l i e f i n t h e d o c t r i n e o f a f i x e d a n d u n c h a n g i n g num ber o f s p e c i e s s t o o d i n j e o p a r d y . F u r t h e r m o r e , w i t h more a n d more s a m p l e s t o s t u d y , i t beca me a b u n d a n t l y c l e a r t h a t t h e d i s t i n c t i o n s among s p e c i e s w e r e by no means c l e a r c u t . Even d u r i n g t h e p e r i o d o f t h e E n l i g h t e n m e n t , when t h e e v i d e n c e was a d m i t t e d l y g r o w i n g b u t was s t i l l

i n f i n i t e l y s h o r t o f d e c i s i v e , s p e c u l a t i o n ofl t h e p o s s i b i l i t y o f e v o l u t i o n was a l r e a d y g r o w i n g . As e a r l y a s 1754. D i d e r o t s a i d : " W e n i f R e v e l a t i o n t e a c h e s us t h a t s p e c i e s l e f t t h e h a n d s o f t h e C r e a t o r a s t h e y a r e now, t h e p h i l o s o p h e r who g i v e s h i m s e l f up t o c o n j e c t u r e comes t o t h e c o n c l u s i o n t h a t l i f e h a s a l w a y s ha d i t s e l e m e n t s s c a t t e r e d i n t h e mass o f i n o r g a n i c m a t t e r ; t h a t i t f i n a l l y came a b o u t t h a t t h e s e e l e m e n t s u n i t e d ; t h a t t h e embryo f o r m e d o f t h i s u n i o n h a s p a s s e d t h r o u g h a n i n f i n i t u d e o f o r g a n i z a t i o n a n d d e v e l o p m e n t ; t h a t i t ha s a c q u i r e d , i n s u c c e s s i o n , movement, s e n s a t i o n , i d e a s , t h o u g h t , r e f l e c t i o n , c o n s c i e n c e , e m o t i o n s , s i g n s , g e s t u r e s , a r t i c u l a t i o n , l a n g u a g e , l a w s , a n d f i n a l l y t h e s c i e n c e s

- 135- and a r t s ; t h a t m i l l i o n s o f y e a r s h a v e e l a p s e d d u r i n g e a c h o f t h e p h a s e s o f d e v e l o p m e n t , a n d t h a t t h e r e a r e s t i l l new d e v e l o p m e n t s t o b e t a k e n w h i c h a r e a s y e t unknown 1 t o u s . " I do n o t know w h e t h e r S p e n c e r e v e r r e a d t h i s . T h e g e o l o g i c a l p r e c e d e n t t h u s had a d o u b l e s i g n i f i c a n c e . I t s u g g e s t e d t h e h y p o t h e s i s t h a t p l a n t and a n i m a l s p e c i e s , l i k e t h e e a r t h i t s e l f , w e r e c o n s t a n t l y e x p o s e d t o f o r c e s o r a g e n c i e s w h i c h e f f e c t e d c h a n g e s , and t h a t t h e s e m o d i f i c a t i o n s d e v e l o p e d s u c c e s s i v e l y * c o n t i n u o u s l y a n d c u m u l a t i v e l y . The r e l a t i o n w h i c h t h e tw o s c i e n c e s came t o b e a r t o e a c h o t h e r i s w e l l i l l u s t r a t e d i n t h i s p a s s a g e f ro m B a r w i n : " B a t t l e w i t h i n b a t t l e mjist e v e r b e r e c u r r i n g w i t h v a r y i n g s u c c e s s ; a n d y e t i n t h e l o n g ■ \ r u n f o r c e s a r e s o n i c e l y b a l a n c e d , t h a t t h e f a c e o f n a t u r e r e m a i n s u n i f o r m f o r l o n g p e r i o d s o f t i m e . . . N e v e r t h e l e s s , s p p r o f o u n d i s o u r i g n o r a n c e , a n d s o h i g h o u r p r e s u m p t i o n , t h a t we m a r v e l when we h e a r o f t h e e x t i n c t i o n o f a n o r g a n i c b e i n g ; a n d a s we do n o t s e e t h e c a u s e , we i n v o k e c a t a c l y s m s t o d e s o l a t e t h e w o r l d o r i n v e n t l a w s on t h e 1 d u r a t i o n o f t h e f o r m s o f l i f e l "

1 . Qu ot e d "from D i d e r o t * a 'ftease»es s u r 1*i n t e r p r e t a t i o n d e l a ~ n a t u r e by s c o o n i n P e r s o n s , QP• c I t . , p . 1 1 . 2, T he O r i g i n of S p e c i e s by_ Mea n s o f N a t u r a l Se l e c t i o n , o r t h e P r e s e r v a t i o n o f F a v o u r e d Races i n t h e S t r u g g l e f o r L i f e , 6 t h . e d i t i o n , 1 8 ^ 2 , r e p r i n t e d 1895 b y tfohn M u r r a y , L o n d o n , p . 5 3 . ( A l l f u t u r e q u o t a t i o n s a r e f ro m t h i s e d . a n d p r i n t i n g u n l e s s o t h e r w i s e s t a t e d . )

136-

All that was now required was an hypothesis to account for the fact and form of modification, an

hypothesis as to the forces or agencies which effected the observed changes. It had also to be an hypothesis

strong enough to offset the shortcomings of the

geologioal evidence. With these two qualifications, such an hypothesis coulcl at least begin to contend with the other obstacles in the way of the acceptance of an

evolutionary view. Without them, it would be lost, and the order was a stiff one to fill.

The first attempts in this direction were made by Buffon. Buffon was born in the same year,17C7, as

Linnaeus. It is interesting that the greatest exponent of the old olassifacatory and static approach to natural science should be a contemporary of the pioneer of the new view of nature as being in process - or rather, of

the dynamic view which was a revival from certain classical thinkers. It may even be significant in this connexion that Buffon wrote in French, his Histoire Naturelle being the first important v/ork in biology that was not written in Latin.

Buffon was converted to Transformism by his study of comparative botany, and he also presented a history of the earth in which the appearance and distribution of various species were correlated with successive geological epochs.

- 137-

Thong h Buffon did not reach a position which can be

called fully evolutionary r the displeasure off the Court and of official religion would have made him hesitate in expressing it anyway - he did open up lines of

thinking which had a direct and important influence on his successors. Seeking to look at living things as a whole, Buff on regarded spermatozoa as the the substance

from which all individuals were made up. This prepared the way for doctrines of changes in species as such, not only in individual mambers; and of community of descent, of common ancestors for different species. Buffon held that species were altered by the influence of external conditions, such as changes in climatic conditions, and that the adaptations to the new conditions achieved in one generation were somehow passed on to their progeny, by inherited memory or instinct.

A similar view was entertained by Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus in his Zoonomia (1794), who went

further than Buffon in defending a common origin for all living things in a single, simple organism: All animals, he thought, "have alike been produced from a similar

1

living filament." He also thought that the changes were induced by outside agencies and that they were passed on

-138 -

to the offspring by a conscious process of imitation. This view of the inheritance of acquired character­ istics was developed by Lamarck. He also sought to argue that there is a continuity among a}.} plant and animal species, that the boundary lines between species are quite abritrary, and that they are only a function of our ignorance, since, he believed, the extension of knowledge would fill up the apparent gaps dividing the incomplete number of species we know. This led Lamarck too to the belief that species may change and to the view that environment induces the changes. (Incidentally, Lamarck mollified religious susceptibilities by pointing out that there could be no objection to representing God as ordaining the creation of numerous species successively rather than one at a time.)

So far, we have seen the common belief among these men in the possibility of specific changes, occurring

over a period of time in response to outside stimuli, and the perpetuation of such changes in offspring. These were the essential ingredients of Transformism or the Development Hypothesis, the notion that what i3 involved is a matter of adaptation to environment. The importance

of Lamarck, however, is that he went far beyond his

predecessors in asking the questions, how are variations caused, and how can changes in external conditions induce

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ohanges in species? His a n s w e r w a s the doctrine of use

inheritance. Under a l t e r e d conditions, L a m a r c k argued,

new demands ar e m a d e on certain organs w h i c h change or

develop in order to fulfil the n e w function imposed on

them. Disuse*cn the other hand, led to t h e stunting of

other organs, to t h e i r vestigial survival, or their

disappearance* T h i s was the first attempt to establish

a law to account for the g r o wing evidence against the

fixity of species an d at the same time to suggest a

plausible framework for that evidence, a f r a m e w o r k w h i c h

could bridge the gaps in it. Furthermore, it was a

scientific law, not a met a p h y s i c a l or theological

deliverance*

But still the d o o t r i n e of evolution was not accepted,

let;alone proved. L a m a r c k ’s hypothesis was not v e r y w e l l

substantiated: it cut sharply ac r o s s religious beliefs:

and his leading disciple, Geoffroy St.Hilaire,brought

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