Progress, far from consisting in change, depends
on retentiveness.... Those who cannot remember
the past are condemned to repeat it.
We now move from the events that led to the violent introduction of socialism in France to the tranquillity of England, where a wary eye was being kept on the activities across the English Channel. It was, after all, in mid-nineteenth century England that Darwin introduced his theory of evolution, and it might be asked why the theory was accepted in Victorian England and not in republican France. In the last chapter we saw that it was the French socialist government itself, with its centralization of power in each of the various departments, that militated against the introduction of new ideas once a paradigm or set of ideas had become established. Cuvier and his Bible-based Creation theory cast a long and posthumous shadow over French science for almost the entire nineteenth century until evolution, as a respectable scientific theory, was finally endorsed by such men as Marcellin Boule, director of the Institut de paléontology humaine and associate of the prestigious Museum d'Histoire Naturalle, Paris.
The situation in England at the end of the eighteenth century was in
complete contrast to that in France. Britain had been a Protestant country
divorced from ties with Rome since the early 1500s. With an awakening interest
in the world about them, adventurous men had set up trading empires in
other lands, while others in the mother country had sought to change the
time-honored ways of manufacturing. New ideas were free to develop. The
Industrial Revolution began in the 1700s and brought great prosperity to
a few and a lot of misery to many, but it was at least bloodless, and England
became the greatest nation on earth.
John Wesley, 1703-91. Preaching to thousands under
the sky, Wesley sparked a revival that prevented the
French socialist revolution from spilling over
into England. (Painting by N. Hone, 1766;
National Portrait Gallery, London)
|Often omitted from history books is the fact that the Industrial Revolution brought in its wake an evangelistic revival in England, led by such notables as John Wesley (1703-91), founder of the Methodist movement. Beginning in the eighteenth century and continuing throughout the nineteenth, many people experienced something that assured them that the Bible was true, and they found no reason to doubt its miracles, including the Creation account in Genesis. So many people were affected that there were difficulties finding accommodation in the established churches for all the people. By the time eighteen-year-old Alexandrina Victoria became queen of England, in 1837, the country had already been "Victorian" for at least twenty years, so much had the Methodist evangelical revival changed the social habits of the country. Gradually, however, the dead hand of tradition and ritual started to creep into the churches, and a cult of respectability and hypocrisy began to replace secular corruption as the sin of the age. Nevertheless, according to many historians, had it not been for the evangelical revival in England, the bloodshed and turmoil of the French Revolution might well have spilled across the English Channel (Bready 1926; Halévy 1937, 10; Lecky 1888, 2:600). In any event, there is no doubt that these revivals later caused much opposition to Darwin and his followers.|
While the French Revolution, and earlier the American Revolution, were
acting out their destinies, influential forces at work in England were
not only largely responsible for the Industrial Revolution, but were actively
sowing the seeds of socialism. It has been acknowledged by Musson and Robinson
(1969) and Schofield (1963) that the Lunar Society of Birmingham, which
was active from about 1764 to 1800 and never had more than fourteen members,
was the most influential group of men in England. This group's influence
continued long afterwards under the banner of The Royal Society. In an
article on the Lunar Society, Lord Richie-Calder (1982) refers to the men
it brought together as a company of "merchants of light",
a description used for just such a society in Francis Bacon's New Atlantis,
more than a century earlier (Webster 1924).
The Lunar Society got its name from the fact that it met monthly at the
time of the full moon. Included as its members were such names as Erasmus
Darwin, who was Charles Darwin's grandfather; John Wilkinson, a cannon
maker; James Watt of steam engine fame; Matthew Boulton, a manufacturer;
Joseph Priestly, a chemist; Josiah Wedgwood, founder of the famous pottery
business; and Benjamin Franklin, a correspondent in the American colonies.
These men recognized that knowledge was power, and by pooling information
from various activities and investigations, they were responsible for a
number of scientific discoveries that served as the driving force for the
|Perhaps equally as important as these noble efforts, however, was the common bond that brought them together. First, six of the members had been educated at Edinburgh University (more will be said of this establishment and these individuals in Chapter Five). Second, it was the socialist ideals of this coterie that bonded them within a royalist society, and it was actually their political views that got them into trouble. Their leanings were definitely on the side of the revolutionaries in the American Revolution of 1776, just as they were on the side of the revolutionaries during the French Revolution in 1789. Benjamin Franklin's role as member of the Lunar Society was that of shuttle diplomat between the French and English Utopian idealists. Erasmus Darwin was an active supporter of the Jacobin cause. James Watt's son had been denounced by Edmund Burke in the British House of Commons as a French agent. Another member, Richard Edgeworth, had collaborated with Rousseau in writing a book on the education of children. Joseph Priestley had been a vigorous supporter of the revolutionary French National Assembly. When fellow member James Keir held a dinner to celebrate the second anniversary of the fall of the Bastille, the Christian community was aggravated to the point that it took matters into its own hands and burned down Priestley's house and his Unitarian meeting hall. Priestley was forced into exile in America (Holt 1931; Huxley 1882; Priestley 1782).||
Benjamin Franklin, 1706-90. Socialist sympathizer
and shuttle diplomat, Franklin moved between
revolutionaries Voltaire and Rousseau in Paris and
members of the Lunar Society in England.
(Engraving after the painting by Alonzo Chappel;
Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library Board)
Joseph Priestley, 1733-1804. Fiery evangelist for
the Unitarian Church, Priestley was exiled to the
United States, not for his work as a scientist
but for his socialist views. (Engraving by W.
Holl after a painting by Gilbert Stewart;
Academy of Medicine, Toronto)
| We have already seen in Chapter One that the objectives of the
French Revolution were to rid society of church and king, at the root of
which stood the Bible, which they ceremonially burned while proclaiming
reason the goddess of the new republic. With a strong Bible-believing community
in England, there was little hope of driving the people to revolution against
God and king; however, it may be argued that those who wished to see an
English Utopia attempted to bring about the social change in a more subtle
Creating doubt and disbelief in long-cherished ideas is a psychological
approach used successfully today to introduce new ideas, or new products,
to society. The method is as old as mankind. The Bible was recognized as
the greatest obstacle to the socialists' aims, and generating disbelief
in it was assuredly the most effective way of changing public opinion.
Casting doubt on such stories as the Virgin birth and the Resurrection
was too blatant, but by reaching into the very foundations of the Bible,
the accounts of the Creation and the Flood, more subtle means could be
employed. After all, the time frame in which this was alleged to have taken
place was so long ago that it was quite beyond any proof. Without proof
for a short period of Creation and development and a catastrophe on the
magnitude of the Flood, there could also be no proof for a long period
producing the same results by natural causes. Thus the expanded time frame
would nicely remove the judgmental intervention of God as an explanation,
for instance, of the Flood. Whether members of the Lunar Society and lesser
lights actually reasoned this way might be worth further research; there
is circumstantial evidence that forcefully indicates that this may have
been the case. Other revolutionary aspirants in England at the time included
Robert Owen (1969) and the Prince of Wales (Webster 1969, 32), each having
his own private motives for wishing to see social change. Nevertheless,
the historical facts remain undisputed: First, the members of this influential
group were on intimate terms with their French socialist contemporaries
Voltaire and Rousseau (Richie-Calder 1982, 142). Second, as we shall see
later in this chapter, Charles Lyell, writing only thirty years after Voltaire's
death, effectively cast doubt on the Genesis account of the Flood by expanding
the time frame. Darwin himself commented on these very facts in 1873:
Lyell is most firmly convinced that he has shaken the faith in the Deluge far more efficiently by never having said a word against the Bible than if he had acted otherwise... I have read lately Morley's Life of Voltaire and he insists strongly that direct attacks on Christianity (even when written with the powerful force and vigor of Voltaire) produce little permanent effect; real good seems only to follow the slow and silent side attacks. (Parenthesis in original. Himmelfarb 1968, 387.)
Further relevant pieces of information fall into place. The founder of the Lunar Society, Erasmus Darwin, had in 1794 written a book called Zoönomia in which he outlined his theory of evolution, anticipating not only Lamarck's ideas but even the theory of natural selection; this book had the distinction of being placed on the Catholic Index; its popularity among independent thinkers was thus assured (King-Hele 1977). Such books as Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology (1830-33), Robert Chambers' Vestiges (1845), and others throughout the nineteenth century did promote evolutionary ideas, and each of these evolutionary works emphasized the expanded time frame. The literal belief in the Genesis account of the Flood and later the Creation did decline and socialism was introduced, but it took much longer than any conspirators could have anticipated. An actual conspiracy is not being suggested, however, but rather a deeper motivation that lies hidden in the recesses of the human mind and one to which kindred spirits gravitate. Many of the historical characters who were concerned one way or the other with the establishment of Darwin's theory in the nineteenth century were sincere Christians who wanted to harmonize Scripture and the natural sciences. However, there were others, known by their writings, who welcomed any occasion to rid themselves of any obligation to an "ancient Jewish book". The observation that there is within some a deep resentment of the idea that God should intervene in the affairs of men is as old as mankind. This resentment is not always openly admitted but usually manifests itself as a denial of supernaturalism under a cloak of rationalism and science. This resentment forms a common, though usually unspoken, bond, and can be found as often within the church as without.
In this chapter we want to take an enlightened look at some of the individuals
who provided the foundation on which the most important theory in modern
science rests and to which history has bestowed the credit upon Charles
Thomas Robert Malthus, 1766-1834.
Deceived by a story of the goats and dogs,
he laid the foundation for social Darwinism.
(Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library Board)
| Thomas Robert Malthus
According to Keynes (1933, 99), at the age of three weeks Robert Malthus was kissed by two fairy godfathers, the French radical Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Scottish skeptic David Hume, who thereby bestowed upon the child their combined intellectual gifts. From Keynes' leftist viewpoint, this act of dedication was the finest thing that could have happened to young Robert. Both Rousseau and Hume were occasional visitors to the Malthus home and were held in great respect by Robert's father, David. The socialist and irreligious influence continued to his teenage years by private education under Gilbert Wakefield, an heretical clergyman who was later imprisoned for supporting the French revolutionaries. Upon entering Cambridge University he found himself under the tutorship of an intimate of Joseph Priestley. It was with this consistency of influence in his formative years that the future "father of social science" grew up.
Graduating from Cambridge with a degree in mathematics, Malthus entered the Anglican Church as a curate. As was often the case at that time, his elected vocation had nothing to do with religious convictions but, as in the case of Charles Darwin almost half a century later, was seen as a secure position from which he could pursue intellectual or sporting interests. He eventually reentered the cloistered halls of Cambridge, emerging when almost forty to be appointed professor of modern history and political economy at the new East India College in Haileybury. His position had the distinction of being the first chair of political economy to be established in England. There he passed a peaceful and uneventful life, lecturing and writing until he died in 1834. Malthus had no connections with the Lunar Society or the Royal Society, but he was in frequent correspondence with the French social reformers.
Malthus would never have had a place in history had it not been for the publication, in 1798, of his Essay on the Principle of Population and the expanded version that appeared in five subsequent editions. Apart from the usual textbook explanations (Simpkins 1974), the incident that inspired him to write the Essay in the first place is little known. According to Polanyi (1957), Malthus received the following account, ascribed to Townsend by the French mathematician and revolutionary Condorcet. The scene is Robinson Crusoe's island in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Chile. On this island Juan Fernandez landed a few goats to provide meat in case of future visits. The goats multiplied and became a convenient store of food for the privateers, mostly English, who were molesting Spanish trade. In order to destroy the food supply, the Spanish authorities landed a dog and a bitch which also, in the course of time, greatly multiplied and diminished the number of goats. "Then a new kind of balance was restored," wrote Townsend. "The weakest of both species were among the first to pay the debt of nature; the most active and vigorous preserved their lives." To which he added: "It is the quantity of food which regulates the number of the human species." Townsend then applied this principle to his suggested reform of the Poor Law. The Poor Law in England was instituted so that the poor should never go hungry, but also that they should be compelled to work. Townsend pointed out that the usual legal methods of compelling the poor to work were accompanied by much trouble, violence, and noise; "hunger will tame the fiercest animals" and, among the poor, "will teach them civility, obedience and subjection" while "goading them on to labour" (Polanyi 1957, 112). Fortunately for the British poor, Townsend's reforms were never introduced, but Malthus became quite enthusiastic with this approach, as we shall see.
The story of the goats and dogs certainly inspired thinkers like Malthus and later Charles Darwin but, as Polanyi points out, it was only a half-truth. Juan Fernandez duly landed the goats, but there is no record that the dogs were ever landed. Even if dogs had been landed, Polanyi argues, the goats inhabit inaccessible rocks while the beaches were teeming with fat seals -- much more engaging prey for wild dogs. Nevertheless, Malthus believed he was in possession of one of nature's secret principles, and he was prompted to reply to the French socialist proposals for a Utopian government. One such socialist, Condorcet, maintained that the ideal government was one that provided social and economic equality for all men, because this best suited man's nature and would most quickly lead to universal happiness. Malthus showed in his Essay that a Utopia of this sort would be self-defeating, since, with the approach of ideal conditions, the resulting idleness would lead to an unbridled birth rate, and the burden of population would soon outstrip the food supply. He expressed these thoughts in a concise mathematical manner that appears to have a genuine ring of truth about it, yet nature refuses to conform to such simplistic equations. He said: "Population when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence increases only in an arithmetic ratio" (Malthus 1878, 6).
Perhaps more effective than the snappy formula were the figures he gave as an example. He suggested that the population was increasing every twenty-five years at the geometrical rate of 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256..., while the food supply was increasing during the same time at the rate of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9.... The population in this example is seen to double every twenty-five years, while the food supply, expressed in, say, tons of wheat or acres of cultivated land, increases by only a uniform increment each generation. Malthus pointed out that if the process were not interfered with, in three centuries the ratio of population to food supply would be 4,096 to 13 and so on in proportions that any reader could easily deduce for himself (Malthus 1878, 6). The figures rivet the attention, but a moment's thought reveals that Malthus had been too conservative. He had not taken into account the additional mouths to feed in the generations living at the same time, raising the spectre of starving humanity, standing cheek by jowl on every available square foot of dry land.
The figures in the table in Appendix A have been derived from those given by Malthus and show the number of persons to be supported by each unit of subsistence. For example, if the subsistence column is in "cultivated acres", then in the first generation each acre only has to support one person, whereas three centuries later the same acre has to support 315 people.
Three centuries is a very short time in the history of the earth, and Malthus recognized that other powerful factors must be restricting an otherwise unbridled population growth. (More will be said of population growth in Chapter Twelve.) In the first edition of his Essay, Malthus proposed that the most important controlling factor was the availability of food, while misery and vice were the natural consequences whenever the family size exceeded the breadwinner's capacity to feed it. He defined misery as nature's way of providing the limitation and included famine and plague as examples. Vice, on the other hand, was man's way of limiting the population, and he included contraception, infanticide, and warfare among the evil outworkings of the human mind. One of the ironies of modern times is that the term "Malthusian" has become a euphemism for those who advocate birth control as one of the principal means of limiting the population, whereas Malthus himself strenuously condemned birth control methods, for "promiscuous intercourse, unnatural affections, violations of the marriage bed and improper arts to conceal the consequences of irregular connections, are preventive checks that clearly come under the head of vice" (Malthus 1878, 8). He rather loosely suggested abstinence by late marriage as the solution to the population problem (Malthus 1878, 396, passim).
Malthus was severely criticized for his very depressing views when they
were first published, principally on the grounds that he saw man as a bestial
brute whose passions were only kept in check by misery -- in short, he
had not credited man with any measure of dignity. Accordingly, he collected
more data and issued a revised and expanded second edition in 1803, in
which he introduced as a major category two other factors, which he called
"preventive check" and "positive check": the former limited the birth rate
and the latter enhanced the death rate by shortening or removing lives.
By "preventive check" Malthus did not mean contraception but moral or self-restraint;
this factor, however, had the effect of undermining the very principle
with which he had first set out because, regardless of the reasons for
"self or moral restraint", a preventive check could and does easily supersede
the effect of food supply. The decline in birth rate in times of war or
unemployment, for example, is well known. Man was not, therefore, the brutal
beast that Malthus had first claimed, although this image of man still
remained steadfast in his mind, as is evident from his statements relating
to the poor in the sixth edition of his Essay:
Instead of recommending cleanliness to the poor, we should encourage contrary habits. In our towns we should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague. In the country, we should build our villages near stagnant pools, and particularly encourage settlements in all marshy and unwholesome situations. But above all, we should reprobate [condemn strongly] specific remedies for ravaging diseases; and those benevolent, but much mistaken men, who have thought they were doing a service to mankind by projecting schemes for the total extirpation of particular disorders (Malthus 1878, 412).
Malthus concluded with a recommendation for "positive checks" among the poor:
We are bound in justice and honour formally to disclaim the right of the poor to support. To this end, I should propose a regulation be made declaring that no child born... should ever be entitled to parish assistance... The [illegitimate] infant is comparatively speaking, of little value to society, as others will immediately supply its place... All children beyond what would be required to keep up the population to this [desired] level, must necessarily perish, unless room be made for them by the deaths of grown persons (Malthus 1878, 411, 430-1).
This somewhat bourgeois approach to social problems coming from an ordained Anglican clergyman may cause surprise today but did not do so in the early years of England's Industrial Revolution. A few moralists raised an eyebrow or two, but there was not the great outcry that might have been expected, especially from the barons of industry who depended on a vast supply of cheap labor.
The second edition of the Essay, widely circulated and reproduced in succeeding years, has given Malthus his posthumous reputation as the "pioneer" of the social sciences. His work has been eulogized by the most eminent economists as "the first thorough application of the inductive method to social science". For example, economist Lord Keynes (1883-1946), under whose monetary policies the West has labored since World War II, regarded Malthus as something of a genius; Keynes seemingly adopted him as his alter ego. Darwin and his circle regarded Malthus as the master of logic, and, as we shall see, the principles embodied in the Essay form a vital part of Darwin's theory.
So much for Malthusian logic and its acceptance by the weightiest of authorities. Who then would have the temerity to question it? It has, in fact, been questioned many times and perhaps most cogently by Himmelfarb (1955), to whom this section of the chapter is indebted. To return to the jingle once more, it is seen that Malthus contended that there is a discrepancy between the rate at which population multiplies and the rate at which sustenance for that population can increase. When he wrote his Essay in 1798 there was no real data to work from; the first national census in Britain was taken in 1801. But even the 1801 census data could not help, since this was a single event and could not be used to determine the rate of population growth. Malthus had actually based his vital formula on a selection of population figures taken at random from a variety of unreliable sources. He had made assumptions and approximations and juggled the figures until they came out neatly as the difference between a series of geometric and arithmetic progressions.
The increasing series of numerals, of course, appear very precise and scientific; after all, "figures cannot lie" or, to quote another source, "The mathematical basis for the Malthus argument is as certain as the multiplication table" (Himmelfarb 1955, 55). It was quite impossible for Malthus to estimate how much land was totally or partially uncultivated, how much was fertile, and what it could produce in tons of food per acre, and so on. Even the time between generations was quite uncertain, so that the evidence to support his thesis was extremely speculative; all that can properly be said is that on paper, populations will tend to expand to fill the allotted space. That is not all, however. Not only was the evidence faulty and inconclusive but the very nature of the theory precludes the possibility of obtaining the evidence to prove it. If the population can never exceed the food supply, it can never be known that it is in fact the food supply that checks the population. For instance, other factors could check the population before the limit of the food supply is reached, and Malthus conceded "moral restraint" as one of these factors.
But these problems are minor compared with the internal contradiction in the theory that Darwin and others failed to recognize, although it was discerned by Karl Marx (Padover 1979, 157). In focusing his attention on "population" as the human population, Malthus overlooked the fact that if humans multiply geometrically, then so do all the plants and animals that provide for human subsistence. The whole equation is then seen to be entirely spurious as are all the numbers that at first sight appeared so convincing. In practice, neither men, plants, nor animals multiply geometrically, but their rate of increase depends on the respective checks imposed by the environment on their expansion. The entire ecosystem, including man, is, or was, as we are beginning to find out now, in a very delicately balanced harmony far removed from the depressing "eat-or-be-eaten" struggle for survival envisioned by Malthus. Malthusian "logic" may now be seen to be a pseudoscience, and, not surprisingly, it is a controversial issue in the sense that some will believe it and be blinded to its deficiencies, while others can see it for what it is and are shocked by the excesses to which it leads; population control by legal abortion (a "positive check") is just one example.
We shall see in later chapters that the maxim on which Malthus based
his thinking was what later became the "survival of the fittest" theme.
The notion can be traced from Condorcet to Malthus, to Spencer, to Wallace,
and to Darwin. It eventually mushroomed out to influence men such as Adolf
Hitler, but we should be reminded that it all began in the tale of the
goats and dogs.
In the previous chapter we saw how Georges Cuvier, arising phoenix-like from the fires of the French Revolution, had given the nineteenth century his theory of creation. The great advantage of this catastrophist theory, as it came to be called, was that it was respectable to the church; it appeared not to do violence to the Scriptures, while at the same time it seemed to account for the fossil evidence as it was then known. It allowed, as Cuvier thought, four or five catastrophe-repopulation cycles prior to the catastrophe before the last one -- the final catastrophe being the Genesis Flood. This allowed the six thousand or so years for the biblical record, as required by the orthodox view. The overall age of the earth in this theory, however, could be a million years or more, as all the mountain building and repopulation of the earth would seem to indicate from the fossil record.
The catastrophist theory was presented to the world in 1812. In the years following, as further geological evidence accumulated from the Paris basin where Cuvier had suggested four or five catastrophes, it became evident that there had been at least twenty-one. This began to exercise the credulity somewhat to think that the Creator had erased his creation twenty-one times in order to get it right on the twenty-second!
And there were other problems. It was becoming difficult to account for all those fossil creatures that disappeared then reappeared with each cycle, then others that appeared only once never to appear again; and why was it that some fossils were found distributed in a great many places and others were only found in a single location? Cuvier died in 1832, and it was about this time that the theory encountered some of these very serious difficulties; fortune declared it to be an opportune moment to introduce a new concept in England at the hand of Charles Lyell, which, as it turned out, was almost as revolutionary as the theory Darwin announced thirty years later.
Charles Lyell was born, the first of ten children to well-to-do Christian parents in Scotland in 1797. When he was young, the family moved to Hampshire in the south of England at the insistence of his mother who was concerned about Scottish drinking habits. Young Charles was sent to Oxford University to study the classics and the law and was subsequently called to the bar in 1825 when he was twenty-eight. He practiced law for only a couple of years because of two handicaps: poor eyesight and a slight speech impediment. He decided to give up the practice of law and pursue his interest as an amateur scientist. A wealthy father who left him financially independent made the decision an easy one.
Lyell's interest in geology began in 1817 when he was a classics student at Oxford and, out of interest, attended some lectures by Professor William Buckland. Buckland taught about rocks, land features and past catastrophes in terms of evidences for the Genesis Flood. In the early 1800s, there was no science of geology as we know it today. During his studies of the Greek and Latin writers Lyell had read Strabo's Geographica written in the first century. Strabo believed that it was "proper to derive our explanations [of earth's history] from things which are obvious, and in some measure of daily occurrence -" This Roman writer also thought that continents had elevated and subsided in the past (Lyell 1830, 1:18-19). Lyell's interest in the natural sciences heightened when, in 1823, he made a summer trip to Paris where he met fellow student Constant Prévost who worked under Georges Cuvier. Prévost disagreed with Cuvier's rising sea levels and believed as Strabo did that we "deduce what has been from what is." Lyell thus learned much of Cuvier's teaching from Prévost as well as much criticism of it.
Six years elapsed between Prévost's visit to England and the
publication of Lyell's influential book Principles of Geology. During
those six years Lyell had read James Hutton's
Theory of the Earth
published thirty years earlier. Hutton's ideas were based on the assumption
that the natural processes of the past were the same as those seen today.
Precisely the same idea as taught by Strabo eighteen centuries earlier
and echoed by Constant Prévost. Hutton's approach was so much more
rational and avoided those embarrassing biblical miracles. Hutton's theory
later became known as "uniformitarianism" and was opposed at that time
by the "catastrophists." As a Christian, Lyell also felt embarrassed by
having to accept Noah and his ark and was more confident with Hutton's
view. Eventually, he made Hutton's doctrine his personal creed or bias
in which catastrophes of the past played no significant part in earth's
history. Some two centuries earlier Francis Bacon had pointed out that
the proper study of nature demands that the investigator first clear his
mind of bias otherwise he is likely to see only those evidences that support
his preconception. Charles Lyell is a good example of someone falling into
this well-known trap.
Lyell's Inspiration: James Hutton
James Hutton was born in 1726 and died the year Lyell was born, in 1797.
He was a Scotsman of no mean intellect, having graduated from the universities
of Edinburgh, Leiden (Holland), and Paris. These were the best universities
of their day for the study of science, particularly Edinburgh and Leiden,
since they were not under the restraint of a theological affiliation. Although
Hutton had a Quaker background, the biblical miracles were particularly
disturbing to him especially that of Noah, his ark and the necessity for
them by the Genesis claim that the Flood was global. He eventually became
a deist. On the matter of origins he argued that the earth's history could
best be discovered from the earth itself rather than from questionable
Jewish records. He thought that the bent and twisted rock formations and
the fossil remains of extinct creatures could be more rationally explained
as simply the result of natural processes over a long period of time rather
than a catastrophic process all taking but a few months, as taught in the
Mosaic record. Waves of the sea erode cliffs and beaches, winds wear away
rocks and, it is assumed, whole mountains, given a sufficient length of
time. Hutton's Theory of the Earth was published in 1795 and provided
an expanded time frame that made no appeal to supernatural events for the
earth's early history. The theme throughout was that present-day events
are the key to the past; however, this was not accepted in his own time,
and he was charged with atheism by the Royal Irish Academy (Playfair 1970).
The charge upset him so that he became ill and actually went to his deathbed
two years later, laboring under this odium (Eyles 1972).
James Hutton, 1726-97. Attempted to expand
the time frame of the past by assuming there were
no major catastrophes in the earth's early history.
Engraving after Sir Joshua Raeburn.
(Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library Board)
Charles Lyell, 1797-1875. Shown here about 1830,
Lyell carried Hutton's banner more successfully
than Hutton himself and prepared the foundation
for today's geological and biological sciences.
(Engraving after George Richmond; Thomas
Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto)
In 1828 Charles Lyell, then aged 31, and his friend Roderick Murchison (1792-1871) began an extensive geological tour through France and Italy. Murchison had to return to England but Lyell continued on to Sicily and by January 11, 1829, had landed in Naples. It was in the Bay of Naples near the water's edge at Pozzuoli that Lyell saw the celebrated ruins of the Roman Temple of Jupiter Serapis. Only three of the temple columns remained but it was the markings half-way up these columns that produced in Lyell a moment of revelation. The monument was so important to him that an engraving of it appears as the frontispiece to volume one of every edition of his Principles of Geology. First published in 1830, the reader has to wait until page 449 to find a description of the Temple and its significance.
Trained as a lawyer, Charles Lyell, became the foreign correspondent for the Geological Society of London and his function was to network with the French and German geological societies. From Cuvier's work he understood that there were approximately twenty-one different layers of sedimentary rock beneath the streets of Paris. Cuvier thought that these had been produced by four floods, the last one being the Genesis Flood. Nevertheless, it was difficult to see how four floods could deposit twenty-one different mineral layers, that is, limestone, sandstone, shale etc. From the data gathered by Lyell from the various French and German Societies it quickly became evident to everyone that the order of strata beneath Paris was closely similar to the order of strata beneath the United Kingdom. After Murchison's visit to Russia in 1840, the picture broadened with the sedimentary layers more or less in the same order from Dublin to Moscow. Since that time, several specific strata have been traced as continuous layers extending virtually around the entire earth. Good evidence for a global flood.
In Lyell's day most people believed in the Genesis Flood and Cuvier's theory of rising sea levels was popular. However, for even one such flood to leave sufficient sediment it would necessarily mean being sustained over thousands of years, and that flood would be global. Further, ever since the time of Strabo, anyone could find marine fossils on mountain tops indicating that at least one such global flood had submerged "even the highest hills." This was the common thinking in 1829 when Lyell visited the Temple of Serapis. He was opposed to what rising sea levels meant but here at Pozzuoli the rising sea level theory and all its supernatural implications could be dismissed by an entirely different mechanism that provided the same evidence. Perhaps Strabo was right.
The Temple columns had, at a uniform level, markings in their marble
surfaces caused by the marine bivalve lithodomi. These little shelled
sea creatures secrete an acid that dissolves a cavity in the rock surfaces
into which they can safely hide. The Temple had clearly not been built
below sea level but these holes showed that it had subsequently spent some
time beneath the sea. In his description of the Temple area given in his
of Geology he states, "the relative level of land and sea has changed
twice at Pozzuoli since the Christian era."(Lyell 1830, 1:449). Lyell's
careful wording reflects his legal training. The change in level at Pozzuoli
was over twenty feet and it had happened within a few centuries and not
over thousands of years. Lyell was happy to see by the local terrain that
the sea level had not risen but, in fact, it was the land that had sunk.
This was a turning-point revelation to him and is the reason the Temple
finds its place as the frontispiece to his Principles of Geology.
He suggested that this event had taken place about 1538 when the nearby
volcano, Monte Nuovo, had exploded. He then marshaled together other examples
of volcanic action or earthquakes having caused the local terrain to sink
and to rise. In 1834 he made a trip to Sweden and became convinced that
it was rising and sinking continents that had resulted in multiple local
floods in the past. There was no need for global floods or Noah and his
ark; these could comfortably be dismissed or allegorized away. This became
an essential part of his doctrine of uniformitarianism yet it was based
upon local evidences such as that at the Temple of Serapis. Lyell's many
critics, the catastrophists, pointed out that volcanoes and earthquakes
were inadequate to explain the rising and sinking of entire continents.
To this day, geologists and those who teach them seem to be divided, some
believe the sea levels actually rose perhaps without thinking through the
implications, others believe the land sank making an appeal today to plate
tectonics. Either way of course, the continental land surfaces would still
receive their sediments from the sea. The problem is glossed over when
teaching unsuspecting geological students how the continents received the
sediments by use of the expression, "transgression and regression of the
sea." It sounds very much like Lyell's obfuscation, "the relative level
of land and sea has changed."
|Lyell was a Christian and, like Hutton before him, had difficulty accepting the biblical miracles. In particular, the account of the Genesis Flood was just too great a step of belief for him to accept as having been global. Lyell's problem is a common one and has little to do with the magnitude of the catastrophe but rather a diminished view of God. Thus, in Lyell's worldview enormous catastrophes in Earth's history were virtually a threat to his belief system. Yet, he had to admit that there had been catastrophes in the past. Indeed, he had lived through one when he was a youth of eighteen. In 1815 Mt. Tambora on the island of Sumbawa off the coast of Java, exploded and to this day remains the greatest volcanic explosion in recorded history. It was ten times greater than that of the volcano, Krakatoa, which exploded in the same area in 1883 (Stommel, 1983; Winchester, 2003, 283). In both of these catastrophes, thousands lost their lives and the earth's atmosphere was so affected by the dust that, in the case of the incident of 1815, the world saw no summer the following year. The result was severe starvation in many areas and enormous stock market problems. Lyell mentioned the Mt. Tambora catastrophe in the first edition of his Principles of Geology (1830,1:403) and retained the account in the eighth revised edition yet he remained convinced that catastrophes played no significant part in geological history. Thankfully, modern geology is now prepared to admit that there have been huge catastrophes in the past but are careful to add that while the effects have often been far reaching they are, nevertheless, isolated in time. Lyell set the pattern for this type of argument by appealing to vast geological ages. Catastrophes can then effectively become downgraded to virtual insignificance with respect to earth's history. The question of geological time is discussed further in some detail in Chapters Eleven and Twelve.||
Roman Temple of Serapis at Pozzuoli looking East. Waters of the
Mediterranean in the foreground. Note markings on the columns.
Charles Lyell issued his Principles of Geology in three volumes
over a period of three years with the first volume in 1830. He wrote it
for the wider market of the intelligent layman rather than the academic
elite. It turned out to be well written and contained some cute little
wood engravings making the work popular. Later, to ensure reaching younger
minds with the doctrine of uniformitarianism, he wrote a student textbook
based upon his Principles of Geology and entitled The Elements
of Geology. However, from his first writings to his last the weakness
of his argument remained, that is, there was really no satisfactory mechanism
for the rising and sinking of entire continents or, for that matter, the
multiple risings of sea levels. Nevertheless, Lyell's works served well
to turn the public mindset away from biblical miracles and judgments. After
a couple of generations washed in Lyellian geology, even seminary teaching
has down graded the Genesis Flood from global to merely local; perhaps
between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers.
Lyell, William Smith and the Geologic Column
The Industrial Revolution in England began about 1760 and was driven by steam. Steam was produced by coal and England had been very well endowed with fine coal seams. Investors of the day had every good reason to find sources of coal thus money was the great inducement to study rocks and fossils. One vital problem, however, was to get the coal to the market, that is, to the steam engines in the factories and to the pottery and iron-making furnaces. Railways had not yet been introduced and, with the successes of the British Navy, the thinking of the day concluded that water-filled canals be constructed to enable barges of coal to be "navigated," that is, sailed from pit to furnace. It was no simple matter to select the best route for a canal: It had to be perfectly level from end to end, water-tight and at some point located near a river or lake to allow the system to be filled and occasionally topped-up. James Brindley (1716-1772) was the first English canal engineer. His canals were brilliant and when asked how he knew where to cut them, he replied that he would go to sleep and it would all come to him in a dream! Brindley was succeeded by other canal engineers, including William Smith (1769-1839). Quite different from the gentlemen of the Geological Society of whom only a few bothered to go and look at the rocks, Smith was a "hands on" man who actually got his hands dirty grubbing about among the rocks. Experience had taught him that shells of certain small marine crustaceans were, in an orderly way, associated with the different strata. He came to rely upon these fossils to help him follow the strata and in 1815 produced the first geological map of England based upon them. Lyell and the Geological Society were aware of Smith's use of fossils and of the French work by Gerard Deshayes (1795-1875) who had produced a list of over 7,000 different sea shells about equally divided between living and extinct species.
During his visit to Italy in 1829 Lyell had also studied the marine
shells in the Italian sedimentary strata and conceived the idea of dividing
this geological system into three or four groups, characterized by the
proportion of recent to extinct species. The assumption was that over the
span of earth's history extinction of the original creation had been slowly
taking place. At the same time, some believed that re-creations had occurred
either by some sort of transmutation (evolution) mechanism or by the Divine
hand. The strata were thus sorted into those that contained only extinct
marine shells, those that contained modern shells and those having mixed
proportions in between. Lyell consulted with others at the Geological Society
and they eventually settled upon the names to gives these groups of fossils:
Eocene for the completely extinct species representing the dawn or earliest
epoch in earth's history. Pliocene for the most recent epoch represented
by the living species and Miocene for the intermediate epoch having mixed
fossils. These terms are still used although they now represent only a
small part, the tertiary period (major part of the Cenozoic era in the
modern system), of the grand system used to name the various sedimentary
rocks. These marine shells, often quite small, are known as "index fossils"
and allow the modern geologist to follow any particular rock strata. Lyell
occupied the second half of volume three of Principles of Geology
issued in 1833 describing this system of nomenclature. While Lyell's geologic
column and today's grander version is a vital part of every geologist's
training, there is a philosophical subtlety inherent within this system
that should be made clear to the reader. It was assumed that the rising
order of the index fossils reflects the time in which they were deposited,
that is, the oldest at the bottom and the recent at the top. This is not
necessarily the case, however, because there are at least three mechanisms
known to geologists that will sort minerals, and presumably marine crustaceans,
simultaneously. By any one of these mechanisms stratification occurs very
rapidly effectively producing the same evidence in weeks that are assumed
to have taken millions of years. Nevertheless, the earth sciences identify
each stratum with a particular index fossil and that stratum immediately
assumes the declared age of the fossil. Although in a practical sense the
age of the rock makes little or no difference to the geologist, the system
is based upon circular reasoning whereby the fossil order is said to be
the evidence for process (evolution) over time. This is then held to be
prime evidence for process over time. In fact, index fossils show no evidence
of evolution but they do show evidence for extinction. There is more about
"index fossils" in Chapter four, sub-section What Kind of Rock is That?
Lyell and Darwin
Charles Lyell had been attacked by the catastrophists for replacing
rising and falling sea levels by rising and falling continents. The attack
was driven more by the need to maintain biblical faith than by science.
Consequently, any new evidence for continental elevation was therefore
of greatest interest to him. Seemingly, right on cue, young Charles Darwin
had witnessed just such a happening when an extensive elevation of the
coast of Chile occurred following the earthquake at Concepcion in February
1835. The area involved was said to be twice as large as the Black Sea.
Within a month of the return of Darwin from his five-year voyage, Lyell
had invited him to his house and the life-long friendship of the two men,
Darwin then 27 and Lyell 39, began in October 1836. Darwin had amassed
a great deal of biological evidence in favor of the transmutation or evolution
of the species as well as geological data but his understanding of geology
came mostly from a copy of Lyell's Principles of Geology. On the
other hand, Lyell had also traveled widely and had acquired a great deal
of geological experience yet his knowledge of biology was rather limited.
The two men thus had much information to share. Although Darwin had taken
a degree in theology his Christian faith was certainly less than that of
Charles Lyell. Lyell strongly believed in the biblical fixity of species
while Darwin had virtually given up on this while working on his theory
of transmutation. When the two men had a disagreement it was over this
issue. Finally, in 1863, three years after Darwin had published his
of Species, Lyell gave up the struggle to maintain his faith in the
fixity of species and accepted Darwin's transmutation. The full implications
of accepting transmutation came slowly to Lyell. First, it meant accepting
that mankind was included as part of the animal species; eventually, it
meant denying divine creation and ultimately the Creator Himself. Lyell,
now Sir Charles Lyell, a quiet man with rather poor eyesight and king-maker
to Darwin, died in 1875 and was buried in London's Westminster Abbey near
Sir Isaac Newton.
Alfred Russel Wallace, 1823-1913. An
exceptional naturalist dogged by bad
luck. (National Portrait Gallery, London)
| Alfred Russel Wallace
During the past century, literally hundreds of books have been written about Darwin and his theory of evolution. In providing historic background, authors usually spend some time with Lyell, while only passing mention is made of the Essay by Malthus, and very seldom are any details given. Wallace, for instance, is brought in simply as an agent provocateur to spur Darwin into publishing his masterpiece. Sometimes Wallace is mentioned by an author as codiscoverer of the theory, which allows the author to extol Darwin's gracious nature in sharing the discovery with an unknown. However, his name is then quickly forgotten; in fact, shortly after its inception as the Darwin-Wallace theory, the name Wallace was dropped, for reasons that will soon become apparent. Thereafter, the theory of evolution has always been associated exclusively with Darwin's name although in recent years there has been a move on the part of some within the scientific establishment to drop Darwin's name and elevate the theory to the "law of evolution" by fiat rather than by facts. Be that as it may, it seems that the theory of evolution, as it was announced to the world by Darwin, is something of an illegitimate brainchild; there appears to be a great deal of doubt about the actual father. Much of this part of the chapter is indebted to Brackman (1980), who has shown that there are very good reasons for crediting Wallace for the revelation that provided the missing key to unlock the puzzle of evolution. Brackman has patiently outlined the details of a bizarre set of circumstances in which Darwin's friends, Lyell and Joseph Hooker, conspired to secure priority and credit for the theory for Darwin himself. Others have suggested that the key to the puzzle originated with Lyell, who then persuaded Wallace to send it to Darwin with the intention of prompting Darwin to publish. Whatever the truth of the matter, the theory certainly originated in the muddy waters of intrigue and the confession of a "delicate arrangement"; Darwin's key correspondence that would resolve the doubts is conspicuously absent (Brackman 1980, xi). All these details, however, may be left for others to unravel since their exposure to the light of day does tend to cause true Darwinians to be rather defensive.
Alfred Russel Wallace was the eighth of nine children, born in 1823, in a small town near the Welsh border in England. His parents were devout members of the Church of England, but there is little evidence that he had ever been exposed to the Bible, and later in life he reacted rather strongly against the church. The home atmosphere was one of domestic tranquility and penury; in fact, penury was a fate he seemed to have inherited from his father, and it haunted him throughout his ninety years. Wallace's life history is reminiscent of Lamarck's; both were able men but continually dogged by misfortune and poverty, and both were quickly forgotten after their death. Wallace had a very humble upbringing in contrast to the other natural history notables of his day, yet he became "the greatest tropical naturalist of his time", to quote the late president of the prestigious Linnean society (Brackman 1980, 38). After a brief span of surveying for one of the many new railway lines in England, he set out at the age of twenty-five, with his friend Henry Bates, for the jungles of South America to collect rare beetles and insects for collectors in England; the date was 1848. In nineteenth century England natural history was the great outdoor hobby, and there were many establishments where one could buy butterfly and beetle collections, rock samples, and fossils. After four years in the jungles of South America, alone for most of the time, Wallace returned to England by boat; while en route home, it caught fire and sank, taking his entire four years' work with it!
Undaunted and ever the optimist, Wallace then set out for the Malay archipelago and remained in the Malayan jungles alone, except for his native helpers, for the next eight years, returning to England finally in 1862 at the age of thirty-nine. During his absence the income from his extensive Malayan collections had been parlayed into a modest fortune by his London agent; however, shortly after he returned to settle into married domesticity, he unwisely transferred his investments and promptly lost his entire source of income and security. For the remainder of his life, he never obtained gainful employment but, like Mr. McCawber, was very hopeful that something would turn up. On his fifty-eighth birthday something actually did turn up -- a government pension for 200 pounds a year. He was most grateful for this and thanked Darwin who had interceded with the government on his behalf. However, the 200 pounds should be put in perspective; that same year the Darwin household spent 223 pounds just for meat! Brackman has pointed out that Darwin's success in securing the pension for Wallace was an act of expiation for the sordid conspiracy to obtain priority twenty-three years previously (Brackman 1980, 290).
Wallace had been writing and publishing throughout his prolonged unemployment and had acquired a healthy reputation as a great naturalist, but there were two factors that militated against his being completely accepted into the circle of the scientific elite. Class was a very real sociological barrier in nineteenth century England, and Wallace had had the misfortune to have been bom on the "the wrong side of the tracks". The university education had become a way of crossing the barrier, but at that time the opportunity was largely a matter of being born into a family of sufficient means and connections. In contrast to Darwin, or even Thomas Huxley who had only just made it across the class barrier, Wallace had none of these attributes.
The second factor had to do with Wallace's "dark side"; he dabbled with
spiritism; this activity more than anything else caused him to be alienated
from the scientific circle. During his early travels in the Amazon, Wallace
had befriended the Indians and had been allowed to enter into some of their
black arts. At the time he dismissed much of this activity as heathen superstition.
However, upon his return to England he found there was a fashionable interest
in the occult and, carried out in the more genteel Victorian setting, he
plunged into table-rapping and oui-ja boards with enthusiasm. Many well-known
Victorians such as Conan Doyle, John Ruskin, and Lord Tennyson were also
involved with spiritism and frequented seances, but Wallace evidently went
too far and exposed himself to ridicule by becoming actively involved in
the Society for Psychical Research. Colp (1977, 44) notes that Darwin had
been introduced to some of the black arts during his five years spent on
the Beagle but it seems his involvement was never at the level of that
of Wallace and he remained a skeptic to the end of his days.
As Wallace's name became more closely associated with society's fringe
element it was not politic to leave it associated with the fledgling Darwin-Wallace
theory and his name was dropped quickly and quietly; Darwin was surely
not displeased to see the theory become his very own. Finally in 1875,
Wallace completed his divorce from the scientific camp by his book Miracles
and Modern Spiritism, in which he confessed experiential reasons for
his beliefs. Later his ideas entered further into the realm of the bizarre
as he became interested in politics and adopted some extreme Utopian socialist
views in which he advocated state ownership of all private property. Wallace
was perhaps unwittingly supporting the views of Karl Marx who, at that
time, wasliving out his last days in London.
|So much for Wallace the man, but what of the part he played in the theory of evolution? Wallace had read Lyell's Principles of Geology, which was abundantly furnished with examples illustrating the principles of uniformitarianism. He had read how the fossil evidence implied a succession of life forms, from the simplest in the early ages to the most complex in the more recent ages. Lyell had proposed that the earth was continuing to go through a slow but continual change and that the living things were also going through a slow and gradual change in response to the changing environment. The fossil record had shown that many creatures had become extinct, but those that had survived had continued to diversify into other species becoming more organized, so that there appeared to be a progression of scale into the most recent geological record. Lyell was reluctant to say publicly that one species could become another, but for Wallace, who had no religious convictions concerning the fixity of species by divine creation, it was a relatively simple matter to assume that if sufficient variation occurred in response to, say, a prolonged and drastic change in the climate, then the creatures that responded would become an entirely new species. For example, a primitive mouse might have taken to living in trees, jumping from branch to branch. Over the generations those successors born with loose skin were better able to float through the air and so were selected for survival, eventually to become the flying mouse or bat. Presumably the ones that didn't make it as flyers landed the hard way and became extinct. Darwin, reasoning along these same lines, thought the lemur was the bat's ancestor (Darwin 1859, 181).||
Alfred Russel Wallace at the turn of the century.
Half of his life wasted by his involvement with
spiritism, he later adopted extreme socialist views.
(Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library Board)
During his expedition to Sarawak in the Malay archipelago, Wallace published a paper, in 1855, entitled On the Law Which Has Regulated the Introduction of New Species. It was concisely written and enumerated ten facts dealing with such observations as the geographical distribution of species. It also set out the entire theory of evolution, except for how the species change. The question of how was never far from Wallace's mind as he wrote in his 1855 paper: "To discover how the extinct species have from time to time been replaced by new ones down to the very latest geological period, is the most difficult, and at the same time the most interesting problem in the natural history of the earth" (Brackman 1980, 319).
Wallace's "Sarawak law", as it came to be called, basically said that "every species had come into existence coincident both in time and space (geographic distribution) with a pre-existing closely allied species" (Brackman 1980, 314). This is exactly what the modern theory of evolution teaches in saying, for example, that man has evolved from some ancestral (preexisting) ape. By this time, Charles Lyell and Charles Darwin had become friends. Upon reading Wallace's publication it was evident to both that here was a serious threat to priority of publication of the work that Darwin had been struggling with for more than twenty years.
Exactly three years after writing his Sarawak law, Wallace became ill
on the small island of Ternate in the Molaccas between New Guinea and Borneo.
The date was February 1858 and, as he recorded in his diary, he had an
intermittent fever. One night during his illness he recalled the Essay
Malthus, which he had read some years before. Suddenly it all became clear
in a moment's revelation:
It occurred to me to ask the question, Why do some die and some live? And the answer was clearly, that on the whole the best fitted lived. From the effects of disease the most healthy escaped; from enemies the strongest, the swiftest or the most cunning; from famine the best hunters or those with the best digestion; and so on.
Then I at once saw, that the ever present variability of all living things would furnish the material from which, by the mere weeding out of those less adapted to actual conditions, the fittest alone would continue the race.
There suddenly flashed upon me the idea of the survival of the fittest. The more I thought it over, the more I became convinced that I had at length found the long-sought-for law of nature that solved the problems of the Origin of Species (Brackman 1980, 199).
A few days later Wallace wrote out his Ternate paper, which he entitled On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely From the Original Type. This was the document that contained the long-sought-for key to the theory of evolution: survival of the fittest was the mechanism, the how, by which the process operated (Brackman 1980, 326). The Ternate paper contained, in complete form, what is today known as the Darwinian theory of evolution, and Darwin received a copy from Wallace in June 1858; twelve months later Darwin published the book for which he is best known, On the Origin of Species. Even this title was taken from Wallace's Ternate paper, but Wallace's name was only mentioned in three minor places within the text. Brackman (1980) brings together good circumstantial evidence to show that Darwin was guilty of plagiarism, but more will be said of this in Chapter Five.
Before taking a close look at what is really being said as the foundation for Wallace's theory -- later known as Darwin's theory -- it might be helpful to summarize what has been said so far:
1. Malthus saw man as the brute-beast and argued that disease, famine, infanticide, and warfare were legitimate checks on human population and should not be discouraged.
2. Lyell rejected catastrophes, including the Genesis Flood, by expanding the time frame for events in the past. In this way what was previously seen as evidence of a single great catastrophe could now be seen as evidence of slow, natural processes working for millions of years. Lyell also said that the fossil record shows an interrupted ascending order of complexity of life forms. He proposed that the rock units be placed in order of their fossil content in an imaginary column -- the geologic column.
3. Wallace rejected the Genesis fixity of species and adopted Lyell's picture of the ascending order of complexity in the fossil record. He proposed that in response to Lyell's slowly changing environment, some species would be selected out to survive, whereas others, which either did not respond or faced too much competition for survival, would become extinct. He saw the survival of the fittest principle implied by Malthus as the mechanism for natural selection, whereby the species that adapt favorably to the environment survive to produce the next generation.
As we have seen, Malthus' argument not only contains an internal contradiction but it is not supported by the facts. Man is not the brute-beast but is a moral being and exercises self-restraint. Nature, far from being the bloody battlefield ringing with animal cries of "eat or be eaten", is a delicately balanced harmony that preserves a stable population. Biologists today recognize this and are slightly embarrassed by Tennyson's famous line about "Nature red in tooth and claw" (Tennyson 1974, 105). The fact is that the life of animals shows two major tendencies: one towards aggressiveness and the other towards cooperation, and the cooperative aspect is far more common than we have been led to believe. Kropotkin (1939) has documented a great many cases of mutual aid among animals.
The reasoning in the Lyell-Wallace statements contains a number of assumptions and two tautologies or circular arguments. These will be dealt with in greater detail in Chapters Four and Six, but it would be well to introduce them at this point.
1. It was assumed that processes we see going on today in nature have been going on at a similar rate in the past and that very long times were necessary to accommodate the natural slow-acting processes.
2. It was assumed that the layered rocks were built up slowly by the deposition of sediment from water, and it was further assumed that rising and sinking of the continents took place to account for the multiple layers of sediment.
3. The imperfection of the geologic record was an assumption based on the premise that if it were perfect, the record would clearly show that it had been formed by uniformitarian principles.
4. The ascending fossil order assumes a greater perfection in the human mind and in the pages of textbooks than it does in fact; in practice it is extremely fragmentary and parts are often reversed or missing.
5. It was an assumption that the relatively small variation possible within a species could, with sufficient time, be continued to become a major variation, and cross the boundaries of genera, order, and class.
6. Extending this assumption further, it was assumed that all life forms are related to each other by common ancestors and that life has progressed from the simple to the complex.
The theory of evolution as proposed by Darwin is now seen to stand on a series of assumptions, but that is not all; there are two tautologies. The first states that the ascending fossil order has been caused by evolution, and then, though usually not in the same place, it is said that evolution is shown to be true by the ascending fossil order. This is simply saying the same thing twice and is based on an assumption, because the same fossil evidence could be interpreted in terms of a catastrophe taking place over a short period of time. The second tautology is Wallace's revelation concerning the key to the mechanism of evolution. Darwin had sought in vain for it for more than twenty years, and then it all seemed so simple and obvious: natural selection was caused by survival of the fittest. The argument proposed that the fittest individuals in a population (defined as those who leave the most offspring) will leave the most offspring. There are variants on this theme that are discussed learnedly in the esoteric language of science, but when reduced to simple words all are found to be nothing more than circular arguments.
So much for the principles on which the theory of evolution is founded.
It should not be surprising, then, when we find that what was taught as
fact yesterday is untrue today. Further, we should not be surprised to
learn that there is to this time no agreement on the mechanism for evolution
and several quite divergent schools of opinion; this shifting ground is
the natural outcome of having a foundation based on assumptions and tautologies.
In Chapter Five we will see the part Darwin played in raising this rather
shaky structure. First, however, in Chapter Four we will take a close look
at some of the earth's features to see just how well the hard evidence
supports Lyell's uniformitarian geology.