Wednesday, 20 November 2013

AN APOSTLE OF EVOLUTION.

"Last Words on Evolution," translated from the German of Ernst Haeckel by Joseph McCabe; A. Owen & Co., London (received from George Robertson & Co.Proprietary).—
Haeckel is one or the great names of the nineteenth century; and his work practically ended with it, as did Ibsen's; but the old professor of Jena— not so very old as men go nowadays, for he was born in 1834— lives on, and takes a deep interest in his favourite subjects. Invitations to deliver public lectures are so frequent that he keeps a printed form for use in declining, but last year he was induced to give three addresses in Berlin; and with them, he definitely declares, his public career closes. It happens most fortunately that they are brief, clear, and unusually free from technicalities. As translated by Mr. McCabe, whom Sir Oliver Lodge has styled "The apostle of Haeckel" in England, this book gives in 100 pages on admirable insight into the whole question as it stands to-day. It consists largely of retrospect, with, a little gentle contempt for any adversaries still remaining. The general question the author regards as settled and now beyond discussion. At the Stettin conference in 1863 Haeckel was almost the only German scientific man who would accept Darwin's full theory of evolution — "the dream of an after-dinner nap," as one of them styled if. Time has brought its revenges, and any opponent now can easily be dismissed as unscientific.
— British Triumphs. —
There is a certain patriotic pleasure in finding the work of English men of science acclaimed at each step. The theory of evolution itself was, alter being tentatively raised by the Frenchman Lamarck, brought into the light once and for all in 1859 by Charles Darwin, with the support of his own, quite original theory of natural selection The claim of Alfred Russell Wallace be practically contemporary solving of the riddle of creation, is another well known point. It was Thomas Huxley who, in 1863. definitely faced the question of the extension of evolution to man, which Darwin had at first explicitly avoided, but soon adopted. Richard Owen is another British name in the list of those who, as biologists, forged fresh weapons for Darwinism; and Professor Haeckel extols the less widely known Nuttall for his recent work in patient experiment in the transfusion of blood, which now seems to prove that man and tho anthropoid apes have a real affinity in blood relationship as well as in anatomy, and that their blood cells will mix without a struggle, while the cells of animals of distinct families, or of man and other animals, will not: —

Even now, in the controversy over this important ape question, amateurs and biased anthropologists often repeat the false statement that the gap between man and the anthropoid ape is not yet filled up, and the "missing link" not yet discovered. This is a most perverse statement, and can only arise either from ignorance or the anatomical, embryological, and paleontological facts, or incompetence to interpret them aright. As a fact, the morphological chain that stretches from the lemurs to the earlier western apes, from these to the eastern tailed apes, and to the tailess anthropoid apes, and from these direct to man, is now uninterrupted and clear. It would be more plausible to speak of missing links between the earliest lemurs and their marsupial ancestors, or between the latter and their monotreme ancestors. But even these gaps are unimportant, because comparative anatomy and embryology, with the support of palaeontology, have dissipated all doubt as to the unity of the mammalian stem. It is ridiculous to expect palaeontology to furnish an unbroken series of positive data when we remember how scanty and imperfect its material is. . . . As has been pointed out ever and over again by distinguished supporters of this opinion, the proofs of it are exceptionally clear and simple, much clearer and simpler than they are in regard to many other mammals. Thus, for instance, the origin of the elephants, the armadilloes, the sirena, or the whales is a much more difficult problem than the origin of man.
— Virchow and the Church.—
The opposition to Darwinism in the 'sixties came from two curiously inconsistent camps. The position is oddly paralleled by that of the totalizator in Australia to day, the enemies of which are two parties without any other idea in common— bookmakers, who are its rivals, and anti-gamblers, who hate betting in any form. The scientific men, as already mentioned, were slow to accept the full idea of evolution, but they soon came round to it, and Rudolf Virchow was among the first. The great biologist, however, recanted in 1877, just as other people were coming round to the new doctrine. Even the gentle Darwin called his conduct "shameful," and Haeckel has clearly never forgiven it. The church naturally hailed Virchow's reactionary move with delight, though a more determined opponent of ecclesiastical creeds never lived. And now there is a strong tendency on the part of the church to compromise on the question— to accept evolution in some modified form. It is this movement, in fact, which has roused Haeckel to one more public declaration. He is quite definite. "The childish conceptions of this extra-mundane God, who is set over against the world as an independent being, the personal creator, maintainer, and ruler of all things, are quite incompatible with advanced science." Small wonder that a large section of modern German philosophy clamours to go "back to Kant," who taught that science affords no support to the doctrines of immortality of the soul and a personal God, but yet that we might well believe in them without proof. Protestants will read Haeckel with mixed feelings. He declares that his philosophy is opposed only to "those lower forms of religion that are based on superstition and ignorance," and forthwith he makes a terrific onslaught on "Romanism or Ultramontanism, that pitiful caricature of pure Christianity." His most earnest assertion is that Germany is coming under the domination of Rome once more — that "Luther would turn in his grave if he could see the predominance of the papacy, the deadly enemy of Protestant Germany." Small wonder that the lectures which make up the book were publicly denounced as a "desecration" of the venerable hall in which they were delivered. Of enlightened Protestantism the old battle-horse is tolerant. "Science is quite irreconcilable with the mystic and supernatural Christian beliefs, but it fully recognises the high ethical value of Christian morality." His last word to mankind is that "we find God in natural law itself. The will of God is at work in every falling drop of rain and every growing crystal, in the scent of the rose, and the spirit of man." This is a valuable book, for the strong mind of one who can think for himself.

 The Register 25 August 1906,

No comments: