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Saturday, November 22, 2014


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The Vegetable In The Witness Box
By Islip Collyer, 1922



In connection with almost all matters there are harmful extremes, and the truth lies somewhere between them. It is so with Evolution and Creation. There is the extreme of those who say there is no such thing as Evolution, and there is the extreme of those who, in effect, say that there is nothing else. It would be well if the distinction between the moderate central position and the two extremes could be borne in mind. Not only is a belief in a kind of Evolution quite consistent with a recognition of Creation, but it is a logical sequence of such recognition. It would be impossible to conceive of a world of life, ordered by an intelligent Creator, which should exclude the possibility of variation or development. Imagine all men like perfect twins, quite indistinguishable from each other. Intelligence would decree that with all forms of life


there should be infinite variety, within the bounds of its created capacity. The growth of the adult from the infant, the development of a chicken from an egg, and the improvement of a species by artificial selection, are all instances of Evolution; but in all these cases the full potentialities are innate from the beginning. It is an Evolution within the created capacity. It is thus quite possible to evolve a strong horse from a weak one; but quite another matter to evolve a horse of any kind from nothing at all.

Before enquiring whether certain facts in Nature can be explained on the principles of Evolution, it is necessary to have plainly before the mind what motive power this theory has at its disposal, and, therefore, I will briefly enumerate the principal facts on which Darwin relies. It has been said that he taught the existence of an innate principle of development in all organic beings, tending to improve them. As a matter of fact, he only mentioned this idea in order distinctly to dissociate himself from it. Indeed, such an innate law of development would simply mean Creation by Evolution, and would, therefore, hardly be regarded as a scientific conception. It has been said that according to Darwin, the need for a faculty developed the faculty; but this is rather a misleading statement of the case, bordering on the lines of the above- nientioned error. It would be more correct to say that he believed that if a faculty became absolutely necessary, all creatures which did not possess it would perish. If two animals possessed the faculty, and ten


million did not, the ten million would perish and the two survive. I think we can hardly dispute such a proposition as that.

Darwin believed that there was in all living organisms a tendency to vary, and just as man has taken advantage of this fact to develop different breeds and varieties suited to his purpose or fancy, so Darwin believed that Nature had acted in a slower but surer way to develop breeds suited to her own conditions. Thus man acts by artificial selection to preserve variations in his animals which are of advantage to man. Nature acts by natural selection to preserve variations which are of advantage to the animals themselves. It is claimed that many more creatures are born than can possibly survive, and this leads to a struggle for existence, in which the weakest perish and the "fittest" survive. A variation harmful to the creature will hamper it in the struggle for existence, and ensure a final extinction of all that vary in that way, while on the other hand, a profitable variation, however slight, will give to the creatures which will develop it an advantage in the struggle for existence which will enable them to survive, and pass on their advantages to a numerous progeny. Isolation from various causes will enable varieties to evolve on divergent lines and under new conditions, thus accentuating the differences and producing fresh species, and this weeding out and development carried on for an enormous length of time will produce changes and improvements as much greater than the changes


effected by the artificial selection of man, as the history of the earth is greater than the history of man.

The fittest to survive are, of course, those most capable of surviving; whether from their strength, ferocity, armament, hardiness, cunning, or fecundity and there are very many trifling causes which might determine both the manner in which certain creatures might vary, and their capacity to survive.

Another extremely important consideration in the doctrine of Evolution is the use and disuse of parts. It is a fact in Nature that no one can deny, that the use of an organism tends to develop it, while disuse allows it to decay. We need only think of the blacksmith's arms, the cyclist's legs, and the pianist's lithesome fingers, to recognise that this is a principle of Nature which is every day being exemplified. It is a fact quite in harmony with the idea of special Creation, and it certainly does not find a parallel in machines which man is able to make. It might be claimed, without straining the point, that the law of development by use is an evidence of God. The Evolutionist, however, without attempting to explain the fact, regards it as a great assistance to Natural Selection.

Sexual selection is also supposed to have played an important part. By this is meant the selection of favoured or attractive individuals by the opposite sex, and the consequent more numerous progeny of those animals which proved fascinating. Sometimes superior strength or armament would be directly passed on in


this way, as male animals frequently struggle for the possession of the females, and those which are victorious naturally have the more numerous offspring.

These are the principal forces on which Darwin relied for his theory of Evolution, but there are, of course, many minor influences which he supposed would largely affect the development of all organic beings. In his interesting works he brings forward multitudes of facts, some pointing in one direction, and some in another, and with admirable candour endeavours to meet the difficulties which he encounters. He brings forward strange instances of variations, co-related growths, and reversion to type, but the main argument is on the basis of the principles here briefly described. Too many births, accidental variations, struggle for existence, survival of the fittest, and the development of parts and sexual selection, carried on during an immense period of time. Weak ones weeded out century after century, and profitable variations, however slight, preserved. Struggle with creatures of the same species, and struggle with species widely different, with famine and with pestilence, with fire and with flood. No better parentage than the forces of Nature from the time millions of years ago when the earth was first cool enough to live on, and apparently no better object than to continue the struggle until the earth is too cold to sustain life any longer.

Such is the theory that has done much to shake religious faith, and which in a subtle way will do


much more. Such is the theory which is now taught us in our science books, our cyclopaedies, and our papers; and gardeners are, I suppose, amongst others, called upon to accept in theory a doctrine which they will assuredly never put into practice.

It is important to note that the Natural Selection theory is distinctly atheistic. Some readers may object to this statement as Darwin was not an atheist in the ordinary sense of that ugly word. Atheism, however, simply means "without God," and Darwin did most emphatically rely on Natural Selection to explain Nature without God. Even man himself is regarded as the product of a million chances, so that the most trifling causes in the early days of life on earth might have turned the forces of Nature in another direction, and man would never have appeared.

It was the Natural Selection theory that made Darwin confess that the old arguments in favour of a belief in God had lost all their force so far as he was concerned. All creatures are regarded as the victims of natural laws which operate without any ultimate design, and which are no more interested in men than in maggots. The variations of the creatures are regarded as purely accidental, and the preservation of profitable variations is a natural. consequence of the selfish struggle for life.

It is against this Natural Selection theory that I now write. It is totally unable to explain the variety and the perfection of the vegetable world. One might be a practical gardener and believe in Evolution ; but


it seems to me impossible for anyone to be an intelligent cultivator of the soil and to accept the Natural Selection theory propounded by Charles Darwin.