Back to Methuselah eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 408 pages of information about Back to Methuselah.

This superstition of a continual capricious disorder in nature, of a lawgiver who was also a lawbreaker, made atheists in all directions among clever and lightminded people.  But atheism did not account for Paley’s watch.  Atheism accounted for nothing; and it was the business of science to account for everything that was plainly accountable.  Science had no use for mere negation:  what was desired by it above all things just then was a demonstration that the evidences of design could be explained without resort to the hypothesis of a personal designer.  If only some genius, whilst admitting Paley’s facts, could knock the brains out of Paley by the discovery of a method whereby watches could happen without watchmakers, that genius was assured of such a welcome from the thought of his day as no natural philosopher had ever enjoyed before.

The time being thus ripe, the genius appeared; and his name was Charles Darwin.  And now, what did Darwin really discover?

Here, I am afraid, I shall require once more the assistance of the giraffe, or, as he was called in the days of the celebrated Buffoon, the camelopard (by children, cammyleopard).  I do not remember how this animal imposed himself illustratively on the Evolution controversy; but there was no getting away from him then; and I am old-fashioned enough to be unable to get away from him now.  How did he come by his long neck?  Lamarck would have said, by wanting to get at the tender leaves high up on the tree, and trying until he succeeded in wishing the necessary length of neck into existence.  Another answer was also possible:  namely, that some prehistoric stockbreeder, wishing to produce a natural curiosity, selected the longest-necked animals he could find, and bred from them until at last an animal with an abnormally long neck was evolved by intentional selection, just as the race-horse or the fantail pigeon has been evolved.  Both these explanations, you will observe, involve consciousness, will, design, purpose, either on the part of the animal itself or on the part of a superior intelligence controlling its destiny.  Darwin pointed out—­and this and no more was Darwin’s famous discovery—­that a third explanation, involving neither will nor purpose nor design either in the animal or anyone else, was on the cards.  If your neck is too short to reach your food, you die.  That may be the simple explanation of the fact that all the surviving animals that feed on foliage have necks or trunks long enough to reach it.  So bang goes your belief that the necks must have been designed to reach the food.  But Lamarck did not believe that the necks were so designed in the beginning:  he believed that the long necks were evolved by wanting and trying.  Not necessarily, said Darwin.  Consider the effect on the giraffes of the natural multiplication of their numbers, as insisted on by Malthus.  Suppose the average height of the foliage-eating animals is four feet, and that they increase in numbers until a time comes when all

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