"The theory which Darwin and Wallace and the rest produced in order to get rid of mind in the universe was, as we have seen, called 'Natural Selection'."
With this statement a leading Catholic writer some years ago began the second of a series of articles in a Catholic paper, and more recently another Catholic controversialist has accused Darwin of being vain and untrue to his own real convictions, and since such declarations are making Catholics as a body the. laughing stock of non-Catholics who have taken the trouble to find out the truth of the case, and therefore doing the Catholic cause an untold amount of harm, it is high time that Catholics too looked into the matter.
The proper way to do this is, of course, to read not only the chief works of Darwin and of Wallace, but also accounts of their lives, and to consider these in the light of scientific, especially of biological knowledge as it then was. Here we can deal with but a few of the facts which stand out without any shadow of a doubt, and which if the appraisements quoted above be correct need a lot of explaining.
Their Religion Alfred Russell Wallace, whose death is well within the memory of many thousands of people, was a constant church-goer, even in his old age. Charles -Darwin was a regular contributoi to the funds of missionary societies. Darwin's letters represent him as being at the very worst an agnostic and refusing to discuss a problem which he feels is beyond the reach of anyone who has not given it years of thought if indeed it be not entirely beyond man's intellect.
More than this. He expressly states that the absolute necessity for what theists call God was particularly strong in his mind while he was writing the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.
Darwin's Own Words This is emphasised in the following extract from his Autobiography: "Another source of conviction in the existence of God, connected with reason, and not with the feelings, impresses me as having much weight. This follows from the extreme difficulty, or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe, including man, with his capacity of looking far backwards and far into futurity, as the result of blind chance or necessity. When thus reflecting I feel compelled to look to a First Cause having an intelligent mind in some degree analogous to that of man and I deserve to be called a theist. This conclusion was strong in my mind about the time as far as I remember when I wrote the 'Origin of Species,' and it is since that time that it has very gradually and with many fluctuations, become weaker. But then arises the doubt, can the mind of man, which has, as I fully believe, been developed from a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animals, be trusted when it draws such Lyle and a host cid ice fly.. Wal lace must have been,.,_what fools Hooker, grand conclusions. I cannot pretend to problems. The mystery of the beginning throw the least light on such abstruse of all things is insoluble by us; and I for What incomparablae:catonrisanh: aindileaWfaolrone must be content to remain an agnostic." theit! What a coinstate that e de hir o the n theit! What a coinstate that 'n a moment, aofDiniviilnees isted Mind ; away in apart, Darwin, the wWallace's, at honvorid! ideas e de hir o the t the !T c. in,.. 1. that Darwin .soth Mr, er .narity and intellectual dishonesty, and so to a consideration of the beginning of the idea of Natural Selection.
This first began to take form, he tells us, in 1838, three years after his four years' voyage on the Beagle, during which he collected voluminous scientific, especially geological and biological, data, and as the result of his reading Malthus on population.
In 1842 he summarised in a pencil memorandum of thirty-five pages the ideas which had developed. In 1856, eighteen years after the idea had first seemed to offer a solution to the problem of evolution, and during which he had marshalled thousands of observations bearing on the problem, he submitted some two hundred and thirty pages of manuscript to his great friend Hooker. In this one of the fundamental postulates depends on what he calls "Chance Variation in a Single Character," and it is the word "chance" which has proved the stumbling-block to so many anti-Darwinians, for they have quite unjustifiably identified Darwin's "chance" with the "blind chance" of Ernpedocles, whereas it clearly depends on laws, though Darwin does not pretend to know what these are. (As we have seen above, his correspondence shows that he feels that they are extra-mundane.) In 1858 Darwin received from Wallace, who was away in the East, a letter enclosing a communication to be made before the Royal Society at Darwin's discretion. His feelings can be better imagined than described when on opening this communication he found it to consist of a statement of the theory upon which he himself had been working for twenty years.
Self-Sacrifice What did this vain unscrupulous charlatan do under these remarkable circumstances, at a time when it would have been quite simple to destroy the documents, all knowledge of which he could have denied later on if the need arose?
He took them to Hooker fully prepared to place them before the Royal Society without making any mention of his own work, and it was only because of Hooker's insistence that what amounted to a joint communication was made, and the theory of the Evolution of Species by means of Natural Selection was made public under the names of both Darwin and Wallace. How many of Darwin's critics would be big enough to make a sacrifice of anything like this magnitude?
(Professor Renouf, in the conclusion to his article, to be published next week, discusses various Catholic reactions to the teaching of Darwin and Wallace.)