Everybody nowadays talks about evolution. Like electricity, the cholera germ, woman’s rights, the great mining boom, and the Eastern Question, it is ‘in the air.’ It pervades society everywhere with its subtle essence; it infects small-talk with its familiar catchwords and its slang phrases; it even permeates that last stronghold of rampant Philistinism, the third leader in the penny papers. Everybody believes he knows all about it, and discusses it as glibly in his everyday conversation as he discusses the points of racehorses he has never seen, the charms of peeresses he has never spoken to, and the demerits of authors he has never read. Everybody is aware, in a dim and nebulous semi-conscious fashion, that it was all invented by the late Mr. Darwin, and reduced to a system by Mr. Herbert Spencer—don’t you know?—and a lot more of those scientific fellows. It is generally understood in the best-informed circles that evolutionism consists for the most part in a belief about nature at large essentially similar to that applied by Topsy to her own origin and early history. It is conceived, in short, that most things ‘growed.’ Especially is it known that in the opinion of the evolutionists as a body we are all of us ultimately descended from men with tails, who were the final offspring and improved edition of the common gorilla. That, very briefly put, is the popular conception of the various points in the great modern evolutionary programme.
It is scarcely necessary to inform the intelligent reader, who of course differs fundamentally from that inferior class of human beings known to all of us in our own minds as ‘other people,’ that almost every point in the catalogue thus briefly enumerated is a popular fallacy of the wildest description. Mr. Darwin did not invent evolution any more than George Stephenson invented the steam-engine, or Mr. Edison the electric telegraph. We are not descended from men with tails, any more than we are descended from Indian elephants. There is no evidence that we have anything in particular more than the remotest fiftieth cousinship with our poor relation the West African gorilla. Science is not in search of a ‘missing link’; few links are anywhere missing, and those are for the most part wholly unimportant ones. If we found the imaginary link in question, he would not be a monkey, nor yet in any way a tailed man. And so forth generally through the whole list of popular beliefs and current fallacies as to the real meaning of evolutionary teaching. Whatever most people think evolutionary is for the most part a pure parody of the evolutionist’s opinion.