The origin of species, like all origination, like the institution of any other natural state or order, is beyond our immediate ken. We see or may learn how things go on; we can only frame hypotheses as to how they began.
Two hypotheses divide the scientific world, very unequally, upon the origin of the existing diversity of the plants and animals which surround us. One assumes that the actual kinds are primordial; the other, that they are derivative. One, that all kinds originated supernaturally and directly as such, and have continued unchanged in the order of Nature; the other, that the present kinds appeared in some sort of genealogical connection with other and earlier kinds, that they became what they now are in the course of time and in the order of Nature.
Or, bringing in the word species, which is well defined as “the perennial succession of individuals,” commonly of very like individuals—as a close corporation of individuals perpetuated by generation, instead of election—and reducing the question to mathematical simplicity of statement: species are lines of individuals coming down from the past and running on to the future; lines receding, therefore, from our view in either direction. Within our limited observation they appear to be parallel lines, as a general thing neither approaching to nor diverging from each other.
The first hypothesis assumes that they were parallel from the unknown beginning and will be to the unknown end. The second hypothesis assumes that the apparent parallelism is not real and complete, at least aboriginally, but approximate or temporary; that we should find the lines convergent in the past, if we could trace them far enough; that some of them, if produced back, would fall into certain fragments of lines, which have left traces in the past, lying not exactly in the same direction, and these farther back into others to which they are equally unparallel. It will also claim that the present lines, whether on the whole really or only approximately parallel, sometimes fork or send off branches on one side or the other, producing new lines (varieties), which run for a while, and for aught we know indefinitely when not interfered with, near and approximately parallel to the parent line. This claim it can establish; and it may also show that these close subsidiary lines may branch or vary again, and that those branches or varieties which are best adapted to the existing conditions may be continued, while others stop or die out. And so we may have the basis of a real theory of the diversification of species and here indeed, there is a real, though a narrow, established ground to build upon But as systems of organic Nature, both doctrines are equally hypotheses, are suppositions of what there is no proof of from experience, assumed in order to account for the observed phenomena, and supported by such indirect evidence as can be had.