Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

With such structures as the above lamellæ of horn or whalebone, habit or use can have done little or nothing, as far as we can judge, towards their development. On the other hand, the transportal of the lower eye of a flat-fish to the upper side of the head, and the formation of a prehensile tail, may be attributed almost wholly to continued use, together with inheritance. With respect to the mamma of the higher animals, the most probable conjecture is that primordially the cutaneous glands over the whole surface of a marsupial sack secreted a nutritious fluid; and that these glands were improved in function through natural selection, and concentrated into a confined area, in which case they would have formed a mamma. There is no more difficulty in understanding how the branched spines of some ancient Echinoderm, which served as a defence, became developed through natural selection into tridactyle pedicellaria, than in understanding the development of the pincers of crustaceans, through slight, serviceable modifications in the ultimate and penultimate segments of a limb, which was at first used solely for locomotion. In the avicularia and vibracula of the Polyzoa we have organs widely different in appearance developed from the same source; and with the vibracula we can understand how the successive gradations might have been of service. With the pollinia of orchids, the threads which originally served to tie together the pollen-grains, can be traced cohering into caudicles; and the steps can likewise be followed by which viscid matter, such as that secreted by the stigmas of ordinary flowers, and still subserving nearly but not quite the same purpose, became attached to the free ends of the caudicles;-all these gradations being of manifest benefit to the plants

in question. With respect to climbing plants, I need not repeat what has been so lately said.

It has often been asked, if natural selection be so potent, why has not this or that structure been gained by certain species, to which it would apparently have been advantageous? But it is unreasonable to expect a precise answer to such questions, considering our ignorance of the past history of each species, and of the conditions which at the present day determine its numbers and range. In most cases only general reasons, but in some few cases special reasons, can be assigned. Thus to adapt a species to new habits of life, many co-ordinated modifications are almost indispensable, and it may often have happened that the requisite parts did not vary in the right manner or to the right degree. Many species must have been prevented from increasing in numbers through destructive agencies, which stood in no relation to certain structures, which we imagine would have been gained through natural selection from appearing to us advantageous to the species. In this case, as the struggle for life did not depend on such structures, they could not have been acquired through natural selection. In many cases complex and long-enduring conditions, often of a peculiar nature, are necessary for the development of a structure; and the requisite conditions may seldom have concurred. The belief that any given structure, which we think, often erroneously, would have been beneficial to a species, would have been gained under all circumstances through natural selection, is opposed to what we can understand of its manner of action. Mr. Mivart does not deny that natural selection has effected something; but he considers it as “ demonstrably insufficient” to account for

the phenomena which I explain by its agency. His chief arguments have now been considered, and the others will hereafter be considered. They seem to me to partake little of the character of demonstration, and to have little weight in comparison with those in favour of the power of natural selection, aided by the other agencies often specified. I am bound to add, that some of the facts and arguments here used by me, have been advanced for the same purpose in an able article lately published in the Medico-Chirurgical Review.'

At the present day almost all naturalists admit evolution under some form. Mr. Mivart believes that species change through “an internal force or tendency," about which it is not pretended that anything is known. That species have a capacity for change will be admitted by all evolutionists; but there is no need, as it seems to me, to invoke any internal force beyond the tendency to ordinary variability, which through the aid of selection by man has given rise to many well-adapted domestic races, and which through the aid of natural selection would equally well give rise by graduated steps to natural races or species. The final result will generally have been, as already explained, an advance, but in some few cases a retrogression, in organisation.

Mr. Mivart is further inclined to believe, and some naturalists agree with him, that new species manifest themselves “ with suddenness and by modifications appearing at once.” For instance, he supposes that the differences between the extinct three-toed Hipparion and the horse arose suddenly. He thinks it difficult to believe that the wing of a bird " was developed in any other way than by a comparatively sudden modification of a marked and important kind;" and apparently he

would extend the same view to the wings of bats and pterodactyles. This conclusion, which implies great breaks or discontinuity in the series, appears to me improbable in the highest degree.

Every one who believes in slow and gradual evolution, will of course admit that specific changes may have been as abrupt and as great as any single variation which we meet with under nature, or even under domestication. But as species are more variable when domesticated or cultivated than under their natural conditions, it is not probable that such great and abrupt variations have often occurred under nature, as are known occasionally to arise under domestication. Of these latter variations several may be attributed to reversion; and the characters which thus reappear were, it is probable, in many cases at first gained in a gradual manner. A still greater number must be called monstrosities, such as six-fingered men, porcupine men, Ancon sheep, Niata cattle, &c.; and as they are widely different in character from natural species, they throw very little light on our subject. Excluding such cases of abrupt variations, the few which remain would at best constitute, if found in a state of nature, doubtful species, closely related to their parental types.

My reasons for doubting whether natural species have changed as abruptly as have occasionally domestic races, and for entirely disbelieving that they have changed in the wonderful manner indicated by Mr. Mivart, are as follows. According to our experience, abrupt and strongly marked variations occur in our domesticated productions, singly and at rather long intervals of time. If such occurred under nature, they would be liable, as formerly explained, to be lost by accidental

causes of destruction and by subsequent inter-crossing; and so it is known to be under domestication, unless abrupt variations of this kind are specially preserved and separated by the care of man. Hence in order that a new species should suddenly appear in the manner supposed by Mr. Mivart, it is almost necessary to believe, in opposition to all analogy, that several wonderfully changed individuals appeared simultaneously within the same district. This difficulty, as in the case of unconscious selection by man, is avoided on the theory of gradual evolution, through the preservation of a large number of individuals, which varied more or less in any favourable direction, and of the destruction of a large number which varied in an opposite manner.

That many species have been evolved in an extremely gradual manner, there can hardly be a doubt. The species and even the genera of many large natural families are so closely allied together, that it is difficult to distinguish not a few of them. On every continent in proceeding from north to south, from lowland to upland, &c., we meet with a host of closely related or representative species; as we likewise do on certain distinct continents, which we have reason to believe were formerly connected. But in making these and the following remarks, I am compelled to allude to subjects hereafter to be discussed. Look at the many outlying islands round a continent, and see how many of their inhabitants can be raised only to the rank of doubtful species. So it is if we look to past times, and compare the species which have just passed away with those still living within the same areas; or if we compare the fossil species embedded in the sub-stages of the same geclogical formation. It is indeed manifest that multitudes of species

« AnteriorContinuar »