The Predicament of Evolution
by George McCready Price  (1870-1963) 
(This was ©1925 by Southern Publishing Assoc.)
 
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Chapter Ten - An Appeal

THE evolution doctrine has now existed long enough to produce certain conditions in the intellectual world that must be taken into account in any comprehensive study of the questions considered in the preceding pages. The evolution doctrine has become an "orthodoxy"; any disbelief of it, or any opposition to it, has become a "heresy." To those who are acquainted with the history of human thought during the past twenty centuries, these terms at once become ominous. But the really ominous character of the present situation becomes evident when we realize that this modern scientific "orthodoxy" is running strictly true to form, and is already showing most of the characteristics of the established "orthodoxies" of the past.
The time has long since passed when it was only some clergymen with some obvious theological objections who openly opposed the scheme of organic evolution in its entirety. I have among my personal acquaintances many highly trained scientists, men who stand at the head of departments in well-recognized colleges and universities, who have definitely outgrown the older views on these subjects that they once held, or that were taught them when they themselves were students. And these men have outgrown the evolution theory because they have learned of scientific facts, important facts, facts that one can see and measure and photograph, facts that, so far as they are concerned, make any further belief in organic evolution appear like mere superstition.

But are such men allowed to voice their objections to this theory? Are they permitted to express their newly found convictions in the various scientific societies to which they may belong? Or are they permitted to publish their present views in the columns of any of the "reputable" scientific journals?

True Science Muzzled
 

Not at all. These men are compelled to witness in silence all manner of abusive attacks and false statements against the views that they have been forced by facts to believe is the truth; they must even keep quiet under open attacks against their personal characters and reputations. Our opponents can attack us to their hearts' content through the recognized scientific journals; but we are seldom if ever allowed two inches of space for a reply.

Yet the scientific bodies of America and Europe are constantly preaching about the necessity of "academic freedom of teaching," or Lehrfreiheit, to use the German word. Is there any wonder that for many of us this unfair discrimination and patent injustice has become quite intolerable, or that the boasted freedom of research and of scientific discussion seems like a hollow mockery?

The doctrine of organic evolution has not been settled once for all, like the rotundity of the earth or the falsity of perpetual motion. The facts brought forward in the preceding pages (which have been stated in more detail in the other published works of the present writer) show that there is at least a large body of solid scientific facts on the other side. And it is not candid nor scientific, it is not fair to the persons who believe in the reliability of these facts, to rule these facts everlastingly out of court and deny them any right to be discussed in the "orthodox" scientific journals. Sooner or later these matters must be discussed. Facts like these cannot forever be ignored with lofty contempt. When these facts ultimately are brought out to the light of day, some reputations may suffer eclipse that now loom very large in the scientific world, when it becomes evident that these men have really become dogmatic and intolerant reactionaries, unwilling to discuss or to have discussed any facts that are clearly at variance with that creed which they had formulated as the shibboleth of scientific orthodoxy.

Self-Appointed Censors

These self-appointed censors of modern scientific discussion affect to complain because the present writer (as they say) is not a well-recognized specialist in some narrow field of original research; though probably, if I were such a specialist, they would bluntly advise me to stick to my little department and not indulge in generalizations about the entire field of biological science.

But may I be permitted to remind those who thus complain about me (and who thus seek to make a personal matter out of what ought to be a purely objective discussion of the facts involved), that the founders of the evolution doctrine were not specialists, as we now understand the term. Darwin, and Wallace, and Spencer were certainly not specialists; they ranged over the entire field of natural science. Not one of them was a toucher of bright-eyed, keen-witted college students who are extremely reluctant to take generalizations like that of evolution on mere authority, and who have the inconvenient habit of criticizing the logic of a train of reasoning that does not seem do them to be sound. If Huxley may be called a college specialist in a certain sense of the word, his specialty certainly was not of a character that entitled him to be regarded as an expert throughout the entire world of plant and animal life, which is the ground covered by the theory of organic evolution. But Darwin and Wallace and Spencer had no hesitation in ranging at will over the entire field of natural science, as known in their day; though the first was merely a well-travelled country gentleman with a hobby, the second, a half-educated specimen collector, and the third a clever armchair philosopher with a bad case of cacoethes scribendi. None of these was aware of breaking any scientific, ethical code by his attempts to frame general philosophic conclusions from a survey of all the facts within his knowledge, even though we now see that in every single department of science his knowledge was pitifully meager and inadequate, as compared with the facts that we now possess.

Had They Only Known

Consider for a moment the subjects of heredity and variation, about which these founders of evolution wrote so voluminously. How completely ignorant were they of all the real laws of heredity and the behavior of variations, as revealed by the modern science of genetics, following the path marked out for the scientific world by Gregor Mendel. In the department of astronomy and astronomical physics, the nebular hypothesis of Kant and La Place was still considered a reasonable and fairly accurate account of the probable origin of the solar system. Utterly ignorant of the revolutionary facts which have since been revealed to us under the title of radioactivity, these pioneers of materialistic evolution could calmly assume the past eternity of matter, in confidence that no scientific facts would ever be discovered to refute such an idea. Yet we now know that they were mistaken, and that matter (as we know it) cannot have existed from eternity; it must have had a beginning, just as truly and just as inevitably as organic life must have had a beginning. It should also be expressly noted that Darwin had made the theory of organic evolution "a going concern," as J. Arthur Thomson expresses it, long years before spontaneous generation was definitely refuted; so that in a certain sense it may be said that all the founders of evolution were ignorant of the profound truth that life can come only from antecedent life of a similar kind. In other words, evolution was to a certain extent founded on a belief in spontaneous generation.
 

During this same period, covering the two or three decades immediately following the publication of the "Origin of Species" (1859), the Lamarckian theory of the inheritance of acquired characters was almost universally taken for granted; Darwin taught this theory down to his dying day, and the longer he lived the more did he seem to rely upon this theory of Lamarck to help out his own private patent of natural selection. Finally, during this pioneer period, natural selection was actually supposed to be capable of originating and developing organs and instincts, and even distinctly new types of life, instead of being, as we now know, merely a negative force that kills off those animals and plants which do not happen to be adapted to their environments.

An Age of Evolutionary Apologists

Since Darwin and Huxley and Spencer went to their graves, a constant succession of revolutionary discoveries in various departments of science has kept busy a new generation of apologists, who have tried to tell us how the old masters would have reconciled their theories with these new discoveries. We are now in the midst of the period of the evolutionary apologists; it is being everywhere proclaimed that the old views still remain unshaken in spite of all these discoveries. The disappointment felt because of Mendelism's failure to confirm the theory of gradual progressive change, has been a very bitter one; but the evolutionists have put on a bold face and have kept on assuring one another that these new discoveries in genetics have not disturbed the long established theory of organic evolution somehow; it has only changed our views of how this organic development has come about.

"Passing the Buck"

There are certain modern conditions that help to account for the present anomalous situation. Chief among these conditions is the undue specialization now prevailing in almost all departments of natural science. The specialist in ecology or in cryptogamic botany, for instance, may realize that, while variation and descent with modification may well account for the derivation of most species under a genus, or indeed for most of the genera under a family, the theory will nevertheless give us no glimmer of a hint of any method by which the great families themselves can be accounted for. Yet he thinks that the zoologists have made out a far better case, and that they can without doubt trace the ancestry of such animals as the horse, the elephant, or the rhinoceros by means of their fossil representatives. The zoologist, in turn, relies upon the accuracy of the alleged historical order in which these fossils lived one after another, which he thinks the paleontologist has scientifically established. And the paleontologist, though quite well aware of the purely artificial way in which the alleged "horses" of the Tertiary beds have been assembled from various scattered localities and arranged in such collections as those of the Natural History Museum, New York City, in a supposed historical order, thinks that the rules of strict logic must not be too strongly insisted upon in a case of this kind, and that anyway these animals just must have lived in about this order of sequence. He takes refuge in the idea that the early pioneers of the science of geology really and actually proved the relative historical order in which the various types of life occurred in the long ago: and he thinks there cannot be anything very unscientific after all in modern paleontologists filling in the mere details, even though this act of filling in the details is a more or less arbitrary and artificial arrangement of the fossils concerned.
 

But as for the general theory of evolution, the paleontologist is quite confident that the geneticist has proved abundant instances of transformism, or the natural origin of species; and thus he passes the problem along to the latter. But the student of genetics is quite disillusioned, so far as his own specialty is concerned; he is quite aware of the difficulties in the way of reading organic evolution (in the broader sense) from the facts of heredity and breeding, as known in his department; but he passes the problem around again to the geologist and the paleontologist. As a concrete example of the latter, we have Thomas Hunt Morgan declaring: "The direct evidence furnished by fossil remains is by all odds the strongest evidence that we have in favor of organic evolution.""A Critique of the Theory of Evolution," p. 24.

Is Evolution a Closed Question?

And so this game of "passing the buck" goes merrily on, each specialist realizing full well that in his own particular department the theory has become quite problematical, to say the least. But each supposes that his neighbor specialists have worked out abundant evidences of the general theory in their departments. And this feeling of confidence in the general results of all modern research is from time to time confirmed by the pontifical declaration of some such man as Henry Fairfield Osborn, who poses as a general broadcaster for all the other men engaged in the study of this problem. For these broadcasters keep assuring their fellow workers that the theory of organic development is absolutely victorious along the whole line at the present day.

It thus happens that, while a knowledge of minute particulars in all departments of natural science has been increasing rapidly and enormously during recent years, yet the increasing tendency toward strict specialization has helped to maintain the status quo with regard to the broad generalization known as the theory of evolution. As we know, this theory arose long before the day of the strict specialist in any department of botany or zoology; today the very profusion of the accumulations made by the crowds of modern specialists tends to make it almost impossible for any one person adequately to survey the entire field of plant and animal life, as was done two generations ago by Darwin, Huxley, and Spencer. Thus the wide generalizations formulated by these pioneers are still regarded as the only valid ones for this particular phase of biology. For it now seems to be forbidden by the unwritten ethics of modern science for any one to attempt to revise this theory in the light of modern discoveries; the general truth of organic development somehow is regarded as a closed question, though criticism of the how of the process is still permissible. Thus by the very inertia of hosts of venerable names, a generalization made long ago in utter ignorance of multitudes of facts as we now know them, has become an established "orthodoxy"; a vogue of strict specialization now forbids any one taking a broad survey of the entire problem, except as he merely recounts the conclusions of his fellow specialists; and so the theory of evolution still maintains its ground, defying all efforts to discredit it, or even any effort to evaluate again its claims in the light of our entire modern scientific knowledge.

"Let there be Light"

What the present situation cries out for is a full and free discussion of all the basic ideas of the theory, and particularly the geological facts. "Let there be light" ought to be the demand of every one who is in any way interested in seeing our modern world get at the real facts regarding the origin of things. The time for free and open discussion has come. Assuredly the cause of Christianity, with its belief in a literal creation and its denial of the theory of organic development, has nothing to fear from such an open and full discussion. On the contrary, it courts such discussion, being assured that many beliefs which now claim to be scientific will be found to be mere superstitions.

Stronger than money, stronger than armies, stronger than all the forces of men and demons against it, is a divine idea whose time has come. This idea is here. The time has arrived.

"Then to side with truth is noble,
When we share her wretched crust,
Ere her cause bring fame and profit,
And 'tis prosperous to be just."


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