Crities Of Darwinism

Let us turn now to the other side. What is opposed to Darwinism in the

biological investigations of the experts of to-day is in part simple

criticism of the Darwinian position as a whole or in some of its details,

and in part constructive individual theories and interpretations of the

evolution of organisms.

A. Fleischmann's book, "Die Darwinsche Theorie,"(39) is professedly only

critical. He suggests no
heory of his own as to the evolution of life in

contrast to Darwin's; for, as we have already seen in connection with his

earlier book, "Die Deszendenztheorie," he denies evolution altogether. His

agnostic position is maintained, if possible, more resolutely than before.

Natural science, according to him, must keep to facts. Drawing conclusions

and spinning theories is inexact, and distracts from objective study. The

Darwinian theory of selection seems to him a particularly good example of

this, for it is built up a priori on theories and hypotheses, it stands

apart from experimentation, and it twists facts forcibly to its own ends.

It has, however, to be acknowledged that Fleischmann's book is without any

"apologetic" intentions. It holds equally aloof from teleology. To seek

for purposes and aims in nature he holds to be outside the business of

science, as Kant's "Critique of Judgment" suffices to show. After having

been more than a decade under the charm of the theory of selection,

Fleischmann knows its fascination well, but he now regards it as so

erroneous that no one who wishes to do serious work should concern himself

about it at all. Point by point he follows all the details of Darwin's

work, and seeks to analyse the separate views and theories which go to

make up Darwinism as a whole. Darwin's main example of the evolution of

the modern races of pigeons from one ancestral form, Columba livia, is,

according to Fleischmann, not only unproved but unprovable.(40) For this

itself is not a unified type. The process of "unconscious selection" by

man is obscure, and it is not demonstrable, especially in regard to

pigeon-breeding. It is a hazy idea which cannot be transferred to the

realm of nature. The Malthusian assumption of the necessity of the

struggle for existence is erroneous. Malthus was wrong in his law of

population as applied to human life, and Darwin was still more mistaken

when he transferred it to the organic world in general. It was mere

theory. Statistics should have been collected, and observations instead of

theories should have been sought for. The alleged superabundance of

organisms is not a fact. The marvellously intertwined conditions in the

economy of nature make the proportion of supply and demand relatively

constant. And even when there is actual struggle for existence, advantages

of situation,(41) which are quite indifferent as far as selection is

concerned, are much more decisive than any variational differences. The

theory does not explain the first origin of new characters, which can only

become advantageous when they have attained to a certain degree of

development. As to the illustrations of the influence of selection given

by Darwin, from the much discussed fictitious cases, in which the fleet

stags select the lithe wolf, to the marvellous mutual adaptations of

insects and flowers, Fleischmann objects that there is not even

theoretical justification for any one of them. The spade-like foot of the

mole is not "more useful" than the form of foot which probably preceded it

(cf. Goette), it is merely "different." For when the mole took to

burrowing in the earth and adapting itself to that mode of life, it ipso

facto forfeited all the advantages of living above ground. The postulated

myriads of less well-adapted forms of life are no more to be found to-day

than they are in the fauna and flora of palaeontological times. The famous

giraffe story has already been disposed of by Mivart's objections. As to

the whales, it is objected that the earliest stages of their whalebone and

their exaggerated nakedness can have been of no use, and a series of other

alleged selective effects of "utility" are critically analysed. The

refutation of the most brilliant chapter in the Darwinian theory, that on

protective coloration and mimicry, is very insufficient. A long concluding

chapter sums up the fundamental defects of the Darwinian theory.

For the most part, Fleischmann simply brings forward objections which have

been urged against the theory of selection from the first, either by

naturalists or from other quarters. The chief and the most fatal of these

which are still current are the following: The theory of selection does

not explain the actually existing discontinuity of species. The real

characteristics which distinguish species from species are in innumerable

cases quite indifferent from the point of view of "utility" (Naegeli,

Bateson). "Selection preserves the good and weeds out the bad." But where

does the good come from? (De Vries). The first beginnings of what may

later be useful are almost always useless. The theory of selection might

perhaps explain the useful qualities, but not the superfluous, useless, or

directly injurious characters which actually exist. Confirmation of the

theory of descent may be found in the palaeontological record, but it

affords none of the theory of selection. Natural selection is continually

being neutralised by subsequent inter-crossing and reversion. Natural

selection may indeed prevent degeneration within the limits of the species

by weeding out what is weak and bad, but it is powerless beyond these

limits, and so forth.(42)

These ever-repeated and ever-increasing objections are purely critical. As

this is true of Fleischmann's whole book, it is therefore unsatisfactory.

It leaves everything in the mist, and puts nothing in place of what it

attempts to demolish. But attempts are being made in other quarters,

especially among the Lamarckians, to build up an opposition theory.