RECORD: Spiers, William. 1882. Charles Robert Darwin. Wesleyan-Methodist Magazine 1882 (July): 488-494.

REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed (single key) by AEL Data, corrections by John van Wyhe. RN1

[page] 488



No name in recent times has commanded more attention from the combined religious and scientific worlds than that of Charles Darwin. As a naturalist his observations and researches have raised him to a preeminent position in that department of science, while his theories concerning the Origin of Species and the Descent of Man have for many years excited the continuous thought and criticism of the entire Christian Church.


[page] 489

born at Shrewsbury, February 12th, 1809. His father, Dr. R. W. Darwin, was somewhat distinguished in scientific circles, and his grandfather, Dr. Erasmus Darwin, had attained to great celebrity by his botanical and physiological publications. Charles Darwin, having passed through Shrewsbury School, Edinburgh University, and Christ College, Cambridge, was introduced to the public in connection with the Beagle expedition. During this voyage round the world, Darwin gathered a mass of geological and zoological details which may be regarded as the foundation of all his subsequent labours. On his return, he published some of the results of these observations in his important work on Coral Reefs, in which he showed the real nature of these interesting marine formations. From that date his pen has been most industriously employed in the regions of Geology, Botany, Palæontology and Zoology.

In 1862 he threw new light on the subject of plant life in his Fertilization of Orchids, showing the important part which is played by insects in the transmission of pollen from flower to flower. This was followed up by a similar publication on Cross and Self-Fertilization in the Vegetable Kingdom; and in 1875 he gave to the world the result of fifteen years' painstaking observation in his Insectivorous Plants. The same close and patient study of nature is displayed in the last work of his fertile mind, which the Spectator aptly called The Epic of the Worm. All these publications are now seen to have been but contributions to the doctrine of Natural Selection, with which the name of Darwin is inseparably associated.

This theory was first formally announced in 1859, when the famous and much-criticized Origin of Species made its appearance. The assumption, illustrated and amplified, which runs through this remarkable treatise is, that in the struggle for existence ever going on throughout nature, the strongest or fittest animals and plants have been preserved, while the weakest, or those least adapted to the environments or conditions of their life, became, through long processes, extinct. This is what Darwin meant by 'Natural Selection,' and is accurately enough described in the now popular phrase, 'The survival of the fittest.' To borrow the Author's own words:

The tangled bank, clothed with many plants of many kinds, with birds singing on the bushes, with various insects flitting about, and with worms crawling through the damp earth.... have all been produced by laws acting around us; these laws, taken in the largest sense, being growth, with reproduction; inheritance, which is almost implied by reproduction; variability, from the indirect and direct conditions of life, and from use and disuse; a ratio of increase so high as to lead to a struggle for life, and as a consequence to natural selection, entailing divergence of character and the extinction of less-improved forms. Thus, from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows.'

Intimations more or less distinct had already been given of this theory by various writers from classic times down to the age of La Marck; and Wallace, at about the same timeas Darwin, arrived, by independent researches, at similar conclusions; but it was reserved to the latter to present the subject in its fullest and most detailed form, to illustrate it by facts and observations of the greatest variety, as well as to add to it the charm of subtle and fascinating speculations. The Descent of Man, which appeared in 1871, was but the logical sequel of the Origin of Species. The aim of this book may be understood by one extract: 'The early progenitors of man were once no doubt covered

[page] 490

with hair, both sexes having beards; their ears were pointed and capable of movement, and their bodies were provided with a tail, having the proper muscles.' The satirical epigram humorously describing this new anthropology was not a mere exaggeration:

'There was an ape in the days that were earlier;
Centuries passed, and his hair became curlier,
Centuries more gave a thumb to his wrist,
Then he was man and a Positivist.'

The Darwinian theory, however, is not precisely that Man is descended from the ape, but that the Anthropoids and Man have originated from some common ancestor in remote antiquity. Darwin regards this as less repulsive than the idea that we spring from the savage barbarian who, in many of his customs and habits, seems more degraded even than the Orangutang.

Of course we are not shut up to these alternatives. The dilemma does not exhaust all the possibilities of the case; for may it not have been that man, once a highly-endowed being, has gradually sunk, by the debasing influence of ignorance and lust, to the worse than bestial condition in which he is occasionally found? A moral being who has once thrown down his purity, and yielded his 'members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity,' may conceivably degenerate into a state as degraded as that in which we find the Hottentots or the Aborigines of Australia. Indeed, Darwin might have reversed his genealogical process, and instead of travelling from the Ascidian to Man, might just as easily and logically have descended from Man to the Sea-squirt.

The obvious demand which the opponent of Darwin's hypothesis will make is for some direct, tangible evidence of the former existence of the hairy, long-tailed progenitors of the human race. If it be only a misconception of Darwinism that prompts the enquiry for 'the missing link,' at any rate it is fair to ask for 'missing links.' Historic time gives no proof of the transmutation of species, but at the most only shows a few variations amongst individuals. Geologic records present overwhelming evidence of the persistence of types throughout incalculable periods of time. The Foraminifera of the chalk formation are identical in structure with those now dredged up from the bottom of the sea; and Professor Dawson declares that his Eozoon, the very earliest of animals as yet discovered, is of the highest type of Foraminifera, showing that life has degenerated rather than improved. I have in my Geological collection fossilized crustaceans which have persisted to the present day from the lower Cambrian Age, which, till Professor Dawson discovered his Eozoon Canadense in the Laurentian beds, was regarded as containing the petrified forms of the oldest animals. It is easy to say that types vary only when the conditions of existence vary. What evidence is there that the conditions of existence vary in such a way as to promote the gradual improvement of life? To say that the upward tendency of animal existence requires us to believe this, is to ask us to reason in a circle, for it is as much as to say that improved conditions ameliorate life, while improved life shows that the conditions have become more favourable. Geology, as Sir Charles Lyell conceived it, goes on the assumption that laws which are now in process, explain all that can be found in the appearances of the earth's strata. Moreover, the fact that there are innumerable forms of life which have remained

[page] 491

unchanged through all the Geologic Ages till now, is astrong presumption against the idea of wholesale amelioration of the conditions of life which the evolutionist is compelled to contend for. Amongst my fossils is a Trilobite belonging to the Silurian age, almost the earliest in which animal remains are found, the eyes of which prove, as Buckland pointed out, that light acted on the optic lenses in that infinitely remote period just as it does now. There is far more evidence to show that the environment has not materially altered, than that it has; for in addition to the strong presumption derived from the persistence of types, there is the direct argument gathered from the consideration that a change of environment implies external force; which is not a property of matter.

The harbour of the Darwinian is the imperfection of the Geologic record, and curiously enough this very refuge is one that affords to the adherents of rival theories their greatest security. While Darwin arbitrarily constructs the 'early progenitor' of man out of the characteristics common to the Anthropoids and the human species; and while Haeckel, who pushes the doctrine of evolution to its furthest limits, fills up the gaps between Man and the 'nebular haze' of Laplace with imaginary animals, which he supposes will be dug out of the earth's bowels eventually; their opponents point out that every new geological discovery only reveals more clearly how wide are the differences between the species and genera of animals which the evolutionist has to explain.

For instance, later Geology has shown, more distinctly than was ever before conceived, how complete is the division between the crustaceans of the Cambrian and the vertebrates of the Silurian periods. The backbone is a most essential feature in the anatomy of higher animals, and yet here, immediately succeeding the Cambrian formation, with no trace of a spine in any of its fossils, is the Silurian formation, whose animals all at once exhibit a perfectly-formed backbone.

There is undoubtedly some evidence which looks towards Darwin's doctrine of descent. In the American Tertiary beds, fossil remains of the horse-family have been discovered by Professor Marsh, which are supposed to show that our horse is descended from an animal which had five digits, what we call the hoof being only the nail on one of them. There certainly is a remarkable gradation in form from the Eocene to the Pliocene example of this tribe; and yet if the hoof be left out of consideration, there is as wide a gap between the modern horse and its immediate ancestor, so-called, as there is between the tiger and the cat. Other 'found links' have to do with the anatomical structure of the human body, a kind of evidence whose force it is easy to exaggerate. Similarity of structure may not signify more than that the same Being created all things, and chose in many instances to follow out a similarity of plan or unity of design. In certain leading features the pictures of Raphael resemble one another; but that only shows their common authorship, not their development from one another. LaMarck thinks that modifications of structure are to be explained by propensities. The swan by continual ducking under the water lengthens its neck. Why, then, does not the swan's neck go on lengthening? And if intellectual needs' enlarge the brain, why is it that savages have brains and capacities far beyond the conditions of their existence, and which by a, little education lead to the most rapid and remarkable growth of mental power? This surely proves

[page] 492

that man was once something better than he now is in the lowest human types, and has not altogether lost the capacity for noble life which once he exercised in perfection.

Into the subtleties of the embryonic argument for the Evolution theory it is not necessary to go, inasmuch as this is a later development of the Darwinian theory; but it may be remarked that the strength of this kind of evidence depends exclusively on the assumption that the ova of all animals are alike in their elements; whereas, it is far more legitimate to aver that their subsequent developments into forms so diverse is a sufficient proof of their difference of composition. It is no objection to this to say that no such difference can be detected; there are so many things in the world that are altogether beyond the scope of human observation and perception.

It would be interesting to follow out the bearing of Darwin's anthropology on the anatomical peculiarities of the human frame, and to observe how it is applied by Herbert Spencer and others to self-consciousness, the growth of the moral faculty, the development of social institutions, and the belief in God; and to attempt to answer the question which is frequently being asked, as to whether it is possible to hold any views similar to Darwin's on the subject of man's origin, consistently with Christian faith and doctrine; but this would require considerable space.

Let it not be supposed that we are about to make any effort to reconcile the ordinary interpretations of the Scriptures with the unproved assumptions of science. Remembering how ridiculous some good men have made themselves in endeavouring to show that the limestone formation was deposited by Noah's Deluge, and bearing in mind also that geology itself is in a state of transition—so that the dawn of life, after having been pushed back to the Silurian, then to the Cambrian, and only recently to the Laurentian formations, is now, by some who speak as with authority, being looked for in the Graphite of the very earliest rocks—we are convinced that the Christian's strength is to 'sit still.' We need fuller knowledge of what the earth's crust and the mysteries of life have to reveal to us, and we need also more accurate interpretations of some parts of Scripture, before anything like a definitive harmony between Revelation and Science may be feasibly attempted.

There is nothing in Darwin's method that is opposed to a belief in the existence of a Divine Creator. He does not begin, as Haeckel and others do, with the cosmic vapour theory of Kant and Laplace, but he assumes organization and life as his starting-point. Behind the Sea-squirt there is room for an intelligent Creator; and, as Kingsley remarked, even evolution implies an Evolver. In his Descent of Man (p. 65), Darwin observes 'that there exists a Creator and Ruler of the universe has been affirmed by the highest intellects that have ever lived;' and the very last sentence of that treatise runs thus: 'There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several forms, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning, endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been and are being evolved.' What he means by the phrase, 'into a few forms or into one,' is illustrated by another of his sentences: 'I cannot doubt that the theory of descent, with modification, embraces all the members of the same class. I believe that animals have descended

[page] 493

from at most only four or five progenitors, and plants from an equal or lesser number.'

Not so guardedly, nor so wisely, does he continue: 'Analogy would lead me one step further, namely, to the belief that all animals and plants have descended from some one prototype; but this inference is chiefly grounded on analogy, and it is immaterial whether or not it be accepted.' We hold that it is material, in the highest degree, which of these alternatives is held; but Darwin gives us in the next sentence what no doubt was his sober view in this respect: 'The case is different with the members of each great class, as the vertebrata, the articulata, etc.; for here we have distinct evidence that all have descended from a single parent.'

The important point to be observed is that Darwin is at least a Theist, and seems to accept the doctrine of special acts of creation. He takes a Creator for granted; and it is as easy to start out with that assumption, as to take for granted the eternal existence of an atom. But though Darwin was professedly a Theist, it is impossible to reconcile his views on the descent of man with the Bible-teaching concerning human sin and redemption. No Christian will care to contend that all the infinite forms of life were originated by special acts of creative energy; it is enough that all great types or classes of animals should have come into existence by the processes of laws which were originally set in action by the Creator; but if man is only a higher brute, made what he is by circumstances and conditions, what becomes of human responsibility, the doctrine of the fall, and of the Atonement? Whatever science may point to as regards the origin of species amongst the mere animals, it certainly can do no more than theorize and speculate on the subject of man's descent. The protohippus may have been discovered, but the protohomus is as yet a mere creature of the imagination, as purely mythical as Professor Huxley's Bathybius Haeckelii.

Mr. Dallinger, from whom many have hoped for an utterance on a matter concerning which few would be able to speak with greater authority or with less of bias, has not yet dealt publicly with it in more than a partial and tentative manner. He has only given us the briefest indication of what views might be entertained by the Christian student of science on these momentous problems. He suggests that God interposed to give molecules; then vital force; then intellect, or soul, to man. He says: 'Man may have reached a certain physical condition through processes of evolution natural in themselves, although Divinely set up and continued; but this is almost wholly inferential.'

Is it not entirely so? It is as intellectually easy to admit a special creation of man, as to suppose that the soul, the faculty of speech and of thought, and all the otherattributes which exalt humanity above the brute, were engrafted in, or superinduced upon, some rather fine specimen of gorilla. Besides, even tins concession to the extreme Darwinians will not satisfy them; nor does it explain the fact that animal instinct and human reason never approach each other from the side of the brute, but only from the side of the debased man. Sir John Lubbock's notion about the ape crossed in love, or pining with hunger or cold, being the explanation of man's dread concerning the future, and so on to all other religious sentiments, does not agree with facts; for apes continue to be disappointed and to suffer want, but do not grow religious. No theory

[page] 494

can live except in so far as it agrees with facts which cannot otherwise be explained. It was thus that the laws of gravitation, the undulatory theory of light, and the splendid inductions of Faraday, maintained their ground and won universal acceptance. The path of true science is strewn with the bleached bones of slain hypotheses, and evolutionism. will die unless it is shown to be based on realities. At present a fictitious and exaggerated importance attaches to the Darwinian theories; but now that the great quadrilateral of evolutionism is breaking up, Darwin gone, Spencer broken down, Tyndall an old man, and Huxley attacked on all sides, it may be there is setting in a reaction from the extreme views which though not by any means held by Darwin, are yet maintained by some of bis most prominent disciples.

Perhaps another 'Abraham of scientific men,' as Tyndall calls Darwin, may arise before long, and demonstrate from the very facts which men of science are now laboriously accumulating, that 'God created man in His own image;' but that by the growing dominion of passion and lust, his nature degenerated until he lost even the consciousness of his divine origin; and perhaps, in some instances, becoming so degraded by ignorance as to forget the power of language and with it to lose even the organ of speech; preserving scarcely anything of the nature of humanity save some likeness to its physical form. This, at any rate, is as legitimate an hypothesis as that man has descended (ascended ?) from a hairy, long-tailed progenitor; it explains facts which that theory ignores; it takes account of the religious faculty in man, his highest and noblest endowment; and it is far more capable of being harmonized with the well-proven truths of modern Science, as well as with the sacred and venerable beliefs of Christianity, than the extreme and atheistic forms which the evolution theory has in some quarters assumed.

This document has been accessed 1578 times

Return to homepage

Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (

File last updated 9 October, 2012