Darwinism In The Strict Sense

It remains for us to consider what is essentially Darwinian in Darwinism,

namely, the theory of natural selection as the determining factor in

evolution. For, given the reality of evolution and descent, and that

transformations from one form to another, from lower to higher, have

really taken place, what was the guiding and impelling factor in

evolution, what forced it forwards and upwards? It is here that the real

lem of Darwinism begins. Only from this point onwards does the

doctrine of evolution, which is not in itself necessarily committed to any

theory of the factors, become definitely Darwinian or anti-Darwinian. And

it is this problem that is mainly concerned in the discussions taking

place to-day as to whether Darwin was right, or whether Darwinism as a

hypothesis has not broken down.

The most characteristic feature of Darwin's theory was "natural

teleology," that is, the explanation of what is apparently full of purpose

and plan in the world, purely as the necessary consequence of very simple

conditions, without purpose or any striving after an aim. He sought to

show that evolution and ascent can be realised through purely "natural"

causes, that this world of life, man included, must have come about, but

not because it was intended so to do. In this sense, indeed, his doctrine

is an attempt to do away with teleology. But in another sense it is so

even more emphatically. The world, and especially the world of life, is

undoubtedly full of what is de facto purposive. The living organism, as

a whole and in every one of its parts, is marvellously adapted to the end

of performing its functions, maintaining its own life and reproducing.

Every single living being is a miracle of inexhaustible adaptations to an

end. Whence came these? They, too, are products, unsought for, unintended,

and yet necessary, and coming about "of themselves," that is without

teleological or any supernatural guiding principles. To eliminate purpose

and the purposive creating and guiding activity of transcendental

principles from interpretations of nature, and to introduce purely

naturalistic principles--"principles of chance," if we understand chance in

this connection not as opposed to necessity, but to plan and purpose--this

is the aim of the Darwinian theory. And it only becomes definitely

anti-theological because it is anti-teleological.

The conclusions which Darwin arrived at as to the factors in the

transformation of species, and in the production of "adaptations," have

been in part supported by the specialists he influenced, in part

strengthened, but in part modified and even reversed, so that a great

crisis has come about in regard to Darwinism in the strict sense--a crisis

which threatens to be fatal to it. We must here attempt to take a general

survey of the state of the question and to define our own position.

Darwin's interpretation is well known. It is the theory of the natural

selection of the best adapted through the struggle for existence, which is

of itself a natural selection, and results in the sifting out of

particular forms and of higher forms. Darwin's thinking follows the course

that all anti-teleological thought has followed since the earliest times.

In bringing forth the forms of life, nature offers, without choice or aim

or intention, a wealth of possibilities. The forms which happen to be best

adapted to the surrounding conditions of life maintain themselves, and

reproduce; the others perish, and are eliminated (survival of the

fittest). Thus arises adaptation at first in the rough, but gradually in

more and more minute detail. This adaptation, brought about by chance,

gives the impression of intelligent creative purpose.

In Darwin this fundamental mode of naturalistic interpretation took, under

the influence of the social-economic theories of Malthus, the special form

of natural selection by means of the struggle for existence, in

association with the assumption of unlimited and fluctuating variability

in the forms of life. All living beings have a tendency to increase in

number without limit. But the means of subsistence and other conditions of

existence do not increase at the same rate; they are relatively constant.

Thus competition must come about. Any organism that is, by fortuitous

variation, more favourably equipped than its fellows maintains itself and

reproduces itself; the less favoured perish. For all things living are

exposed to enemies, to untoward circumstances, and the like. Every

individual favoured above its rivals persists, and can transmit to its

descendants its own more favourable, more differentiated, more highly

equipped character. Thus evolution is begun, and is forced on into the

ever more diverse and ever "higher."

To Darwin this struggle for existence and this selection according to

utility seemed, at any rate, the chief factor in progress. He did, indeed,

make some concessions to the Lamarckian principle that new characters may

be acquired by increased use, and to other "secondary" principles. But

these are of small importance as compared with his main factor.