by George McCready Price (1870-1963)
(This was ©1925 by Southern Publishing Assoc.)
PUBLIC DOMAIN - FREE to Copy & Use
Chapter Three - The Biological Blind Alley
THE present situation in the biological sciences is so peculiar that I shall not depend upon my own unsupported statements. I shall let some of the leading scientists themselves state the facts. In this way the reader can judge for himself regarding the predicament in which the evolution doctrine is today. I shall begin with some men who are advocates of Mendelism; for, strange to say, there are some scientists who are almost violently opposed to the use of Mendelism in studying evolutionary problems.
Bateson, in his Australian address before the British Association in
"The student of genetics knows that the time for the development of theory is not yet. He would rather stick to the seed-pan and the incubator. . . . Every theory of evolution must be such as to accord with the facts of physics and chemistry, a primary necessity to which our predecessors paid small heed. For them the unknown was a rich mine of possibilities on which they could freely draw. For us it is rather an impenetrable mountain out of which the truth can be chipped in rare and isolated fragments."
"We cannot see how the differentiation into species came about. Variation of many kinds, often considerable, we daily witness, but no origin of species. . . . Meanwhile, though our faith in evolution stands unshaken, we have no acceptable account of the origin of 'species.'"—Science, Jan. 20, 1922.
Elsewhere in this same address Bateson dwelt upon the fact that he could
still believe in the general idea of evolution "in dim outline," and only
by a sort of act of faith in the testimony he supposed has been furnished
us by geology,— a feature which will be considered later. But he proceeded
"That particular and essential bit of the theory of evolution which is concerned with the origin and nature of species, remains utterly mysterious. We no longer feel as we used to do, that the process of variation, now contemporaneously occurring, is the beginning of a work which needs merely the element of time for its completion; for even time cannot complete that which has not yet begun."
"I notice that certain writers who conceive themselves to be doing a service to Darwinism, take thereupon occasion to say that they expected as much, and that from the first they had disliked the whole thing. I would remind them that the class of evidence to which we were appealing was precisely that to which Darwin and every other previous evolutionist had appealed."— Nature, May 10, 1924.
But Bateson, while one of the most prominent biologists of the world,
is not the only one who is expressing these sentiments. Dr. D. H. Scott,
the botanist, in his address before the British Association in 1921, gave
us the following:
A Generation that knows not Darwin
"For the moment, at all events, the Darwinian period is past; we can no longer enjoy the comfortable assurance, which once satisfied so many of us, that the main problem had been solved — all is again in the melting-pot. By now, in fact, a new generation has grown up that knows not Darwin." —Nature, Sept. 29, 1921.
The following is the opinion of J. P. Lotsy, the Holland botanist:
"Phytogeny, e. g., reconstruction of what has happened in the past, is no science, but a product of fantastic speculations."—"Evolution by Means of Hybridization" (1916), p. 140.
"Those who know that I have spent a considerable part of my life in efforts to trace the phytogeny of the vegetable kingdom, will know that this is not written down lightly; nobody cares to destroy his own efforts."—Ibid.
No wonder F. O. Bower, Professor of Botany in the University of Glasgow, in commenting on these and similar remarks, says that "at the present moment we seem to have reached a phase of negation" with respect to the attempts of the botanists to trace out lines of evolutionary descent. And he adds: "I believe that a similar negative attitude is also to be found among those who pursue zoological science."—Nature, March 8, 1924.
These remarkable statements, be it noted, are not from obscure men, nor are they fished up from the musty science of two or three generations ago. They are from men who are in this year of grace, 1925, standing in the very forefront of modern progress.
Darwin's Theory Shattered
If now we return to the strictly biological phase of the subject, we
have the statement of Vernon Kellogg that since the time of Charles Darwin,
"the two most important explanations of evolution current in Darwin's time;
namely, Lamarck-ism, or the inheritance of acquired characters, and Darwinism,
or natural and sexual selection, have been weakened rather than strengthened
as sufficient causes of evolution."
No Abstract Life
In speaking here of the "larger groups," I am not referring simply to the phyla, the classes, and the orders, but to the families and the great sub-families. These, it seems to me, are the original biological units. Regarding their origin, I can see nothing but a real original creation, just as we must postulate a real creation for the origin of life. As I have pointed out elsewhere, there is no such thing as "life" in the abstract; we know of life only in the shape of living individuals. And in speaking of the origin of the first forms of life we must postulate the simultaneous beginning of a sufficient number of diverse forms of both plants and animals to make a balanced web of life, so that under the principle of interdependence a sufficient variety would be in existence to make a balance among all the various forms. These original groups, which must have been simultaneously started at some one time, in order to insure the continuance of the organic world as a going concern, could not, it seems to me, have been anything less than the families.
It is interesting to note that Dr. H. B. Guppy, the English botanist, advocates almost the very same thing. This view, as. stated and indorsed by Dr. J. C. Willis, in his recent book "Age and Area" (1922), is that: "Evolution did not proceed from individual to variety, from variety to species, from species to genus, and from genus to family, but inversely; the great families and genera appearing at a very early period, and subsequently breaking up into other genera and species."—Page 221.
1. P. Lotsy, in his cleverly written and racy volume, has shown how much can be explained on the principle of hybridization. If we put this with the theory of Guppy and Willis, and with all that we have learned about Mendelism, it seems to me very easy to account for all our present diversity of plants and animals. Only, we must suppose a real creation for all the great original families, both of the plants and of the animals.
Says D. H. Scott, in his latest book, "We know nothing whatever of the origin of the angiospermous families, so the field is open to speculation."—"Extinct Plants and Problems of Evolution," 1924, p. 217. No; not to speculation, but to a belief in a real creation, as described in the first chapter of the Bible.
For if this is true of all the angiosperm plants, it is just as true of all the other families of the plants, and equally true of the family types among the animals.
The absolute necessity for such a primal creation will appear more evident after we have considered the modern discoveries in geology, which will be presented in Chapters V and VI.
Preferring Speculation to Experimentation
Before closing this chapter it will be well for us to look briefly at
the two opposite views regarding Mendelism. The one side are saying in
a mournful tone that Mendelism has proved a sore disappointment, so far
as helping to a better understanding of organic evolution is concerned.
There we have the whole present situation. Certain men who are intensely interested in trying to prove organic evolution complain that Mendelism has led them only into a cul-de-sac, a blind alley; and they repudiate all breeding tests, preferring to "stick to speculative methods," which are "incapable of being tested either by experiment or by calculation." The advocates of Mendelism say, on the other hand, that this new method of experimental breeding is "the only tool we at present possess which is capable of putting evolutionary theories to experimental test." But I think the enemies of Mendelism are wise. They have tried Mendelism as a key to organic evolution, and have found that by its assistance they are only running up a cul-de-sac, a blind alley. Hence they have become cautious; they prefer to "stick to speculative methods."
Shall we not do well to say that modern biology is proving the utter
bankruptcy of the theory of organic evolution?
"We cannot see how the
differentiation into species