Darwinism And Teleology

But the essential and most characteristic importance of Darwin and his

work, the reason for which he was called the Newton of biology, and which

makes Darwinism at once interesting and dangerous to the religious

conception of the world, is something quite special and new. It is its

radical opposition to teleology. Du Bois-Reymond, in his witty lecture

"Darwin versus Galiani,"(4) explains the gist of the matter. "Les des de
/> la nature sont pipes" (nature's dice are loaded). Nature is almost always

throwing aces. She brings forth not what is meaningless and purposeless,

but in great preponderance what is full of meaning and purpose. What

"loaded" her dice like this? Even if the theory of descent be true, in

what way does it directly help the purely scientific interpretation of the

world? Would not this evolution from the lowest to the highest simply be a

series of the most astonishing lucky throws of the dice by which in

perplexing "endeavour after an aim," the increasingly perfect, and

ultimately the most perfect is produced? And, on the other hand, every

individual organism, from the Amoeba up to the most complex vertebrate, is,

in its structure, its form, its functions, a stupendous marvel of

adaptation to its end and of co-ordination of the parts to the whole, and

of the whole and its parts to the functions of the organism, the functions

of nutrition, self-maintenance, reproduction, maintenance of the species,

and so on. How account for the adaptiveness, both general and special,

without causae finales, without intention and purposes, without guidance

towards a conscious aim? How can it be explained as the necessary result

solely of causae efficientes, of blindly working causes without a

definite aim? Darwinism attempts to answer this question. And its answer

is: "What appears to us 'purposeful' and 'perfect' is in truth only the

manifold adaptation of the forms of life to the conditions of their

existence. And this adaptation is brought about solely by means of these

conditions themselves. Without choice, without aim, without conscious

purpose nature offers a wealth of possibilities. The conditions of

existence act as a sieve. What chances to correspond to them maintains

itself, gliding through the meshes of the sieve, what does not perishes."

It is an old idea of the naturalistic philosophies, dating from

Empedocles, which Darwin worked up into the theory of "natural selection"

through "the survival of the fittest" "in the struggle for existence." Of

course the assumption necessary to his idea is that the forms of life are

capable of variation, and of continually offering in ceaseless flux new

properties and characters to the sieve of selection, and of being raised

thereby from the originally homogeneous to the heterogeneous, from the

simple to the complex, from the lower to the higher. This is the theory of

descent, and it is, of course, an essential part and the very foundation

of Darwin's theory. But it is the doctrine of descent based upon natural

selection that is Darwinism itself.