Saturday, 7 March 2015


[An Exposition of the Fallacies in the Hypothesis of Mr. Darwin, by C. R. Bree, M.D., F.Z.S. London : Longmans.]

PROBABLY the name of no writer on scientific subjects is better known throughout the world at the present time than that of the author of the "Origin of Species" and the "Descent of Man." Not merely because his books deal mainly with the animals which are joint inhabitants with ourselves of the earth, and are replete with entertaining anecdote and narrative, but also because they contain an hypothesis which is calculated to disturb in no slight degree the self-satisfied and complacent frame of mind with which we regard the inferior or brute creation, conscious of the superiority which, for all we know to the contrary, is our birthright. It might be expected that any one who should publish a statement that man's immediate ancestor was in all probability an ape—and, what is worse, "show incontestably that he had some grounds for the opinion—would meet with a storm of opposition, from the great mass of humanity, and even from a very large number of those specialists who from their acquirements and intelligence were best capable of weighing the evidence placed before them. As a matter of course, when Darwin published his hypothesis the outraged feelings of the community found vent in an avalanche of wordy pamphlets containing much of the odium theologicum, little argument, and no facts. But against the storm Mr. Darwin showed a bold front, and now numbers a very large following. It is only natural that it should be so ; for Mr. Darwin brings great scientific attainments, laborious collection of facts, and undoubted honesty of purpose to bear upon the statements he has to advance on the side of his theory. One by one his opponents, if not completely defeated, have at least failed to demolish his hypothesis, and a similar fate would appear to be in store for Dr. Bree, who considers the time "opportune for a review of the whole subject, and in venturing upon the task, proposes to treat it in a spirit of pure scientific investigation."     

But so far from being a "pure scientific " examination of the Darwinian hypothesis, Dr. Bree's exposition of its " fallacies " covers a far wider field, and argues " the subject in reference to an issue ten times more important than the knowledge of man's biological history." Perhaps it is impossible to dispute the propositions of Mr. Darwin in their full bearing without bringing Revelation into the controversy; and a writer who does this well, and does it fairly, will be sure to obtain a wide circle of readers for his book. Whether this will be the case with the volume issued by Dr. Bree remains to be seen ; but in venturing to doubt it we can offer reasons which are furnished by the book itself. On the very first page we find it stated that Dr. Hooker, in the well-known address to the British Association at Norwich in 1868, asserted that "so far from 'natural selection' being a thing of the past, it is an accepted doctrine with every philosophical naturalist." This statement Dr. Bree characterises as a " sweeping assertion," and proceeds to point out its inaccuracy. Now it is in the highest degree necessary that any attempted " exposition" of Darwin's fallacies should be based on facts ; but so far from this being the case with Dr. Bree's work we find at the very outset a "misquotation," and several pages devoted to the correction of an error which only exists in the imagination of the author. Most persons would have thought that before occupying several pages in refuting a statement made by Dr. Hooker, Dr. Bree would have at least taken, the pains to see that he had not made a mistake, even if he could not generously credit Dr. Hooker with truthfulness. So far from saying "every philosophical naturalist," according to the authorised report Dr. Hooker said "almost every philosophical naturalist"—a qualification which brings the assertion of the ex-president within the confines of fact, and renders worse than useless the pages Dr. Bree devotes to the correction of the supposed error ; for even in these he misquotes or misunderstands Mr. St. George Mivart, making the talented author of the "Genesis of Species" say the direct contrary of what he really did say. Blunders of so stupid a nature as these inevitably create a suspicion in the minds of unbiased renders, and lead them to look upon the arguments of the author with distrust.

Dr. Bree divides his subject under the different heads of the " physical," the "physico-psychical," and the "variation and natural selection" arguments, and though possibly, standing on the ground he occupies, he has the  advantage of Mr. Darwin, he has certainly not used his advantage in the best or most conclusive manner. He furnishes us with a frontispiece showing in an illustrative form the "Descent of man after Darwin's theory," in which we find the protozoa of the unknown past as derived from "inferential protoplasm,"  or from the meteoric "mass" of Sir William Thompson, which he brackets as "very inferential." From this protozoa the diagram takes us to the ascidian-like larva which is Darwin's starting point (an inferred organism), and then, the " descent" goes from the Amphioxus or Lancelet, the first "so-called vertebrate," through the Sturgeon to the Lepidosiren—or amphibious reptile. We then come to the first break, for here we have to "infer" a line of reptiles ending in another "inferred organism "—an early implacental mammal which carries on the "descent " to the Ornithorynchus and the Kangaroo ; but here two organisms are wanting—the "implacental progenitor of the first placental mammal, and "man's ancient ancestor, with cocked ears and tail, prehensile feet, both sexes bearded and hirsute, males with great canine teeth." Surely "man's ancestor " is out of place here ; for the descent continues through the lemur, the Simiadæ and the old world monkeys to the " so-called man-like ape." Here the great break occurs which separates the lowest type of man from the highest animal—a link in the chain, which has to be supplied by an "ape-like man" before Mr. Darwin's theory can connect man with the apes. On this point Dr. Bree says: "It must be obvious to the most superficial observer what an enormous amount of mere guessing is made use of in such a pedigree. Still more clear is the fact that, even supposing the present state of science justified apparent plausibility in the indicated line, the science of to-morrow may send such guesses into a totally different direction. [It may also prove the correctness of Darwin's hypothesis, ] Mr. Darwin starts with guess No. 1 ; he then jumps over almost the whole class of vertebrate animals, to arrive at what he calls the first vertebrate animal—a form which has very little in common with the sub-kingdom it is placed in, but naturalists do not, in fact, know what to do with it. He then passes through cartilaginous fishes, to guesses Nos. 2 and 3, as regards the amphibia and reptiles. Then an animal new to science, the early progenitor of implacental mammals, forms guess 4. He cannot keep the platypus or the kangaroo in the direct line, but he makes them minister to guess 5, in being the lines to the implacental forefather of lemurs, leaving out the great class of birds. He then jumps to the Lemuridæ at a bound, leaving all the principal families of mammals out of the line altogether. Here he makes enormous guess No. 6, about man's early progenitor, who had cocked ears, a tail, prehensile feet, both sexes covered with hair and wearing beards. From the lemurs he pusses to the Simiadæ, and follows the Catarrhine (or old world) group of monkeys, and has to make another huge guess  (No. 7) in order to get into the line an imaginary creature he calls an 'ape-like man,' who leads him to the summit of existence—man. Nothing displays more the real ignorance of science or the extreme baldness and improbabilities of Mr. Darwin's hypothesis than a table like this." Dr. Bree has not omitted any of the defects of the theory, and it is very probable that "intelligent thinkers and men of education and high mental culture " will shake their heads and become disbelievers in natural science founded upon such a basis. "The Chance of [the remains of ] some of these variations being found in the different gravels or fresh-water formations above the tertiaries must be very great. And yet not one single variation, not one single specimen of a being between a monkey and a man has ever been found. Neither in the gravel, nor the drift clay, nor the fresh water beds, nor in the tertiaries   below them, has there ever been discovered the remains of any member of the missing families between the monkey and the man, as assumed to have existed by Mr. Darwin. . . . . The celebrated Neanderthal skull belongs confessedly to this remote period (the bronze and stone ages), and yet presents, although it may have been the skull of an idiot, immense differences from the highest known anthropomorphous ape." These intermediate forms, too, must have been in great numbers, and the changes which the ape's skull must have undergone would alone have taken a vast time ; it is strange, therefore, if the Darwinian hypothesis has any foundation in fact, that remains  of these intermediate forms have not been discovered. Dr. Bree also examines the various points in the hypothesis, and step by step refutes them, as he considers ; but it is, of course, on the main point referred to above that his position is strongest. He quotes largely from the numerous articles published against the hypothesis, and devotes a chapter to the principle of "least action" as propounded by Dr. Haughton in lectures which will be found in Vol. XIII. It is needless to say that he makes use of every fact that bears in any way against the hypothesis, but into even a few of those fragments of his argument we cannot here follow him. And yet this is not the book to counteract the Darwinian tendencies of the majority of scientific men, nor a safe and trustworthy guide or exponent of the "fallacies" of "natural selection" suited to the requirements of the general public. If Dr. Bree had confined himself to the main points and defects of the theory, his work, might have been accepted as a popular exposition of some of the so-called "fallacies," but even then it would have been necessary to avoid misquotation and misconception. As it is, his book teems with errors. Speaking of Mr. Mivart's doctrine of evolution we are told that it is offered "as a means of reconciling scientific and religious thought, and of bringing together the two lines which, Mr. Spencer remarks, are running parallel and gradually approaching each other." This extraordinary statement is illustrated by a diagram—two lines nearer at one end than the other, but certainly not parallel. Speaking of the vivid colours of birds, Dr. Bree says, they are produced by striæe of figments which "decompose the light and enable the feathers to absorb the most brilliant rays and so commingle them as to yield the most beautiful tints." In an appendix Dr, Bree reproduces a large portion, of M. Flouren's criticism of Darwin's " Origin of Species," but appears to have forgotten the replies to it notably Professor Huxley's in the Naturalists' Magazine.

Many minds have been unsettled by the hypothesis Of Darwin, and the acceptance it has met with in scientific circles in different countries, but we cannot think that Dr. Bree's book will do much to quiet those who have been disturbed by the "suggestion" that their reason and their intellect have been derived from a monkey—however far back in time it may be when the gap which now separates man from the ape was bridged over. They are already aware of the great defects in the hypothesis, but the minor points and details upon which Mr. Darwin has built are not to be set aside so easily, and if the connecting links should ever be discovered, few, indeed, would be his opponents, and weaker still their arguments. In the meantime. Mr. Darwin has been refused admission to the French Academy as a foreign correspondent because, according to a correspondent of Les Mondes, "the science of those of his books which have made his chief title to fame—the 'Origin of Species,' and still more the 'Descent of Man' —is not science, but a mass of assertions and absolutely gratuitous hypotheses, often evidently fallacious. This kind of publication and these theories are a bad example, which a body which respects itself cannot encourage."—English Mechanic.

Empire 21 October 1872,

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