RECORD: Huxley, Thomas Henry. [c. 1887] [Reminiscence of the reception of the Origin.] CUL-DAR112.B77-B84 Transcribed by Kees Rookmaaker. (Darwin Online, http://darwin-online.org.uk/)
REVISION HISTORY: Transcribed by Kees Rookmaaker, corrections by John van Wyhe 7.2009. RN1
NOTE: Part of this letter appeared in Life and letters 2, pp. 199-204.
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Reproduced with permission of the Syndics of Cambridge University Library.
It would be inappropriate, even if it were possible, to discuss in this place the difficulties and unresolved problems which have puzzled much the Evolutionist, and which will probably continue to puzzle him for many generations to come, in the course of this brief history of the reception of Mr Darwins great work. But there are two or three objections of a more general character based, or supposed to be based, upon philosophical & theological foundations, which were loudly expressed in the early days of the Darwinian controversy and which though they have been answered over & over again arise now & then at the present day.
The most singular of these perhaps immortal fallacies but live on Tithonius-like when sense & reason 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 & the struggle for existence and thus chance 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 & over again, warned his readers that when he uses the word 'spontaneous', he really means
that he is ignorant of the cause & that which is so termed; and where whole theory crumbles to pieces if the uniformity and regularity of natural causation for illuminated past ages is denied — But, probably, the best answer to those who talk of Darwinian meaning the reign of chance is to ask them, what they therefore understand by chance? Do they believe that everything in this universe happens without reason or without a cause? Do they really conceive that every event has no cause and could not have been predicted by every one who had a sufficient insight into the order of nature? If they do, it is they who are the inheritors of pagan superstition and ignorance — and whose mind has never been illumined by a ray of scientific thought. The one cut of faith in the convert to science is the confession of the universality of order & of the absolute validity, in all times & circumstances, of the law of causation. This confession is an act of faith because the validity of such proportions by the nature of the case is not susceptible of proof. But this faith is not blind but reassurable; because it is invariably continued by experience & constitutes the sole trustworthy foundation for all action.
If one of these people in whom this chance worship of one remoter ancestors thus strangely survives should be within reach of the sea, where a heavy gale is blowing, let him betake himself to the shore and watch the scene. Let him note the infinite variety of forms and sizes 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 & scream of the shingle as it is cast up & torn down the beach, or look at the flakes of foam as they drive hither & thither before the wind, or the play of colours, which arouses a gleam of sunshine as it falls upon their myriad component bubbles; surely here, if anywhere, he will say that chance is supreme, and bow 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 and that there is not a curve of the waves; not a note in the howling chorus; not a rainbow-glint in 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 & 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 common 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 & 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 & not living in the is the result of the mutual interaction, according to definite laws, of the forces* possessed by the molecules of which the primitive nebulosity
* I should now like to substitute the word powers for 'forces'
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 in a cold winter's day........
..... The teleological & 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"
That acute champion of Teleology, Paley, saw no difficulty in admitting that the "production of things" may be the results of trains of mechanical disposition paid beforehand by intelligent appointment & kept in action by "power in the centre"†
† Natural Theology Chap 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 — and abstain from nourishing an antagonism which has no logical foundation.
Having got rid the belief in chance* & the disbelief in design as in no sense appurtenances of Evolution, the third libel upon that doctrine, that is in antitheistic, might perhaps be left to shift for itself. But the persistence with which so many people require to draw the plainest consequences from the proposition they profess to accept, renders it advisable to remark that the doctrine of evolution is neither Antitheistic not 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 Hens' egg contains neither cock not Hen; and it is also as certain as any proposition in physics or morals, that if that egg is kept at a proper temperature for three weeks a young cock or hen 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
germ to its full size. Therefore evolution, in the strictest sense is actually going on, in this and analogous cases, in millions & millions of cases wherever living creations exist. Therefore to borrow an argument from Butler as that which use 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, being neither more nor less explicable than that of a chicken, must also be consistent with the existence of a Deity.
The doctrine of Evolution, therefore, does not even come into contact with the doctrine of Theism considered as a philosophical speculation. That with which it does collide & 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 Genesis. There is a great deal of talk and not a little lamentation about the difficulties which physical science has created for 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 of the logical consequences of theism. All the real or imaginary perplexities which flow from the conception of the universe as a necessary 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 necessity follows as surely from the attributes foreknowledge assumed by the theologican 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 & Freewill" not a whit more difficult if their pupil had been educated in a 'Real-schule' and trained in every laboratory in a modern university.
In respect of the great problem of Philosophy the post-Darwinian generation is in one sense exactly where the pre-Darwinian generations have been — They remain insoluble — But the present generation has the enormous advantage of being provided with the means of freeing itself from the tyranny of certain sham solutions.
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Citation: John van Wyhe, editor. 2002-. The Complete Work of Charles Darwin Online. (http://darwin-online.org.uk/)
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