Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Darwin: Difficulties on Theory

Darwin devoted an entire chapter (Chapter VI) to Difficulties on Theory. This is a remarkable chapter since it addresses head-on the most serious objections to his theory of natural selection.

We'd like to think that this behavior—bringing up objections to your ideas—is standard operating procedure for most scientists but, alas, it is a lost art. You would be hard pressed to find a modern science book where an author makes an effort to address criticisms in a fair and rational manner.
Long before having arrived at this part of my work, a crowd of difficulties will have occurred to the reader. Some of them are so grave that to this day I can never reflect on them without being staggered; but, to the best of my judgment, the greater number are only apparent, and those that are real are not, I think, fatal to my theory.

These difficulties and objections may be classed under the following heads:-Firstly, why, if species have descended from other species by insensibly fine gradations, do we not everywhere see innumerable transitional forms? Why is not all nature in confusion instead of the species being, as we see them, well defined?

Secondly, is it possible that an animal having, for instance, the structure and habits of a bat, could have been formed by the modification of some animal with wholly different habits? Can we believe that natural selection could produce, on the one hand, organs of trifling importance, such as the tail of a giraffe, which serves as a fly-flapper, and, on the other hand, organs of such wonderful structure, as the eye, of which we hardly as yet fully understand the inimitable perfection?

Thirdly, can instincts be acquired and modified through natural selection? What shall we say to so marvellous an instinct as that which leads the bee to make cells, which have practically anticipated the discoveries of profound mathematicians?

Fourthly, how can we account for species, when crossed, being sterile and producing sterile offspring, whereas, when varieties are crossed, their fertility is unimpaired?
The rest of the chapter is a discussion of possible explanations to account for the first two difficulties. The two others are addressed in separate chapters (Chaper VII: Instinct and Chapter VIII: Hybridism).

1 comment :

  1. Could one possibly say that Darwin devoted two chapters to (principal) objections, "Laws of Variation" to objections/alternatives/ competitors to natural selection, and then "Difficulties on Theory" to objections to the theory of common descent by natural selection?