VI. THEORIES OF ORGANIC EVOLUTION
"The whole question," says Chambers, "stands thus: For the theory of universal order—that is, order as presiding in both the origin and administration of the world—we have the testimony of a vast number of facts in nature, and this one in addition—that whatever is left from the domain of ignorance, and made undoubted matter of science, forms a new support to the same doctrine. The opposite view, once predominant, has been shrinking for ages into lesser space, and now maintains a footing only in a few departments of nature which happen to be less liable than others to a clear investigation. The chief of these, if not almost the only one, is the origin of the organic kingdoms. So long as this remains obscure, the supernatural will have a certain hold upon enlightened persons. Should it ever be cleared up in a way that leaves no doubt of a natural origin of plants and animals, there must be a complete revolution in the view which is generally taken of the relation of the Father of our being.
"This prepares the way for a few remarks on the present state of opinion with regard to the origin of organic nature. The great difficulty here is the apparent determinateness of species. These forms of life being apparently unchangeable, or at least always showing a tendency to return to the character from which they have diverged, the idea arises that there can have been no progression from one to another; each must have taken its special form, independently of other forms, directly from the appointment of the Creator. The Edinburgh Review writer says, 'they were created by the hand of God and adapted to the conditions of the period.' Now it is, in the first place, not certain that species constantly maintain a fixed character, for we have seen that what were long considered as determinate species have been transmuted into others. Passing, however, from this fact, as it is not generally received among men of science, there remain some great difficulties in connection with the idea of special creation. First we should have to suppose, as pointed out in my former volume, a most startling diversity of plan in the divine workings, a great general plan or system of law in the leading events of world-making, and a plan of minute, nice operation, and special attention in some of the mere details of the process. The discrepancy between the two conceptions is surely overpowering, when we allow ourselves to see the whole matter in a steady and rational light. There is, also, the striking fact of an ascertained historical progress of plants and animals in the order of their organization; marine and cellular plants and invertebrated animals first, afterwards higher examples of both. In an arbitrary system we had surely no reason to expect mammals after reptiles; yet in this order they came. The writer in the Edinburgh Review speaks of animals as coming in adaptation to conditions, but this is only true in a limited sense. The groves which formed the coal-beds might have been a fitting habitation for reptiles, birds, and mammals, as such groves are at the present day; yet we see none of the last of these classes and hardly any traces of the two first at that period of the earth. Where the iguanodon lived the elephant might have lived, but there was no elephant at that time. The sea of the Lower Silurian era was capable of supporting fish, but no fish existed. It hence forcibly appears that theatres of life must have remained unserviceable, or in the possession of a tenantry inferior to what might have enjoyed them, for many ages: there surely would have been no such waste allowed in a system where Omnipotence was working upon the plan of minute attention to specialities. The fact seems to denote that the actual procedure of the peopling of the earth was one of a natural kind, requiring a long space of time for its evolution. In this supposition the long existence of land without land animals, and more particularly without the noblest classes and orders, is only analogous to the fact, not nearly enough present to the minds of a civilized people, that to this day the bulk of the earth is a waste as far as man is concerned.
"Another startling objection is in the infinite local variation of organic forms. Did the vegetable and animal kingdoms consist of a definite number of species adapted to peculiarities of soil and climate, and universally distributed, the fact would be in harmony with the idea of special exertion. But the truth is that various regions exhibit variations altogether without apparent end or purpose. Professor Henslow enumerates forty-five distinct flowers or sets of plants upon the surface of the earth, notwithstanding that many of these would be equally suitable elsewhere. The animals of different continents are equally various, few species being the same in any two, though the general character may conform. The inference at present drawn from this fact is that there must have been, to use the language of the Rev. Dr. Pye Smith, 'separate and original creations, perhaps at different and respectively distinct epochs.' It seems hardly conceivable that rational men should give an adherence to such a doctrine when we think of what it involves. In the single fact that it necessitates a special fiat of the inconceivable Author of this sand-cloud of worlds to produce the flora of St. Helena, we read its more than sufficient condemnation. It surely harmonizes far better with our general ideas of nature to suppose that, just as all else in this far-spread science was formed on the laws impressed upon it at first by its Author, so also was this. An exception presented to us in such a light appears admissible only when we succeed in forbidding our minds to follow out those reasoning processes to which, by another law of the Almighty, they tend, and for which they are adapted."