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Saturday, November 22, 2014


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The Vegetable In The Witness Box
By Islip Collyer, 1922



In the Darwinian philosophy there is no place for beauty except as a means to a material end. Darwin openly admitted that, if it could be demonstrated that anything had been rendered beautiful for the pleasure of man or of the Creator, it would be fatal to his theory.

Again we have this problem of what is meant by demonstration and again we are made conscious of an anomaly in the arguments that are used. A tremendous effort is put forth to answer a minor difficulty in the animal world where there seems a fair case for the theory, while a far greater difficulty in the floral creation is completely ignored.

In order to make this part of the argument clear it is necessary to pass under review certain matters which perhaps do not properly come within the scope suggested by our title. It appears that the vegetable world, has often been ignored in the argument. It becomes necessary, therefore, to follow the theory in


connection with the animal world, before it can be put to an effective test.

Everyone has heard of Darwin's book, The Descent of Man, though very few people have read it with serious attention. Even some who claim to be familiar with it make a strategic retreat when they are questioned. The book is largely devoted to an exposition of "sexual selection."

Darwin recognised that some facts in life could not be explained by natural selection. Some creatures are laden with decorations which are so beautiful and elaborate as to call for explanation, but which certainly cannot be accounted for by natural selection. So far from being a help in the struggle for existence they would be positive hindrances.

Take, for instance, the cock's comb or the tail decorations of many birds. In battle these would be obvious hindrances. Darwin fully recognised this and claimed that in such cases sexual selection had been so potent as to overrule the law of survival of the fittest.

Again we must point out that this admission is woefully out of harmony with the extravagant claims made for natural selection as a means for producing nearly all the wonderful adjustments of Nature. If there is such destruction of the unfit -- such rigorous selection as to accomplish such wonders as the production of eyes, ears and wings -- what chance would there be for the birds developing huge combs and unwieldy tails just at the period of life when


they are most inclined to fight? However much the female might be attracted by the decorations, her favours would have no selective effect if the gay bird were killed as soon as he had developed his attractions.

In this, as in so many other cases, the thoughtful student of Darwin must be conscious of a great anomaly. Natural selection is represented as strong to work miracles, or weak enough to be overcome by any other influence, just according to the exigencies of the argument.

This, however, is a small matter compared with the anomaly which appears in connection with the main contention. It is possible that the subject has been treated from other points of view by different thinkers, but the present writer has never read anything to throw the faintest light upon the matter; nor has he ever met a believer in the Evolution theory who could even pretend to suggest a defence of Darwin's position. In the absence of any such defence, it certainly appears that the main argument of The Descent of Man is the most extraordinary intellectual somersault in the history of controversy. It may be interesting to explain the case, even though it involves rather a lengthy excursion outside the strict limits of our subject.

Among the peculiarities of the human race, one of the qualities calling for special explanation is the comparative nakedness of body. It is assumed by Darwin that the slight hairiness of the human body is proof of our animal origin. It is regarded as an inheritance from


a still more hairy ancestor. The reasonableness of this assumption may be disputed. It can be affirmed with some confidence that hair is protection to the skin against chafing, and that it is particularly needed where it is most abundantly provided -- as in the armpits and the groin. There are many devices in Nature which make for creature comfort, though it is difficult to see how they would affect the issue of life and death in the manner necessary to produce a natural selection. We must, however, refuse to be led into bypaths of argument, or the evidence in connection with the strict limits of our subject would be too long delayed.

For the moment we simply need take note of the fact that according to Darwin the slight hairiness of the human body is a survival of a purely animal characteristic. Darwin freely admitted that our comparative nakedness could not be explained by natural selection. To be covered with thick hair or fur would obviously be an advantage in the struggle for existence of any creature living onthe dry land. The wonderful coats of the animal world are supposed to have been produced by that very struggle, and the selection of the fittest arising from it. One could hardly turn round and explain the removal of the coat in the same way. The advantages to be derived from nakedness are not vital, and only, vital matters can influence natural selection. Indeed, man is supposed to have lost his coat before he was sufficiently advanced even to appreciate the social advantages


of removable garments and a washable skin.

Darwin recognised distinctly that natural selection could not explain our supposed loss of clothes. He thought, however, that the change could be explained by sexual selection. He thus regarded our general nakedness as a "secondary sexual character," like the beard of a man or the gay plumage male bird.

It is important to bear this in mind when we put the argument to a test, for it is in this connection that Darwin threw his extraordinary somersault.

Having laid down the premises as to the possibility sexual selection accounting for changes which would not be of value in the struggle for existence, Darwin proceeded to mass the details of evidence that can be drawn from Nature. In this of observing and gathering facts he has had few rivals. As an attentive reader plods through page after page of the book, he cannot withhold a tribute of admiration for the painstaking labours of the scientist. The songs of birds, the love calls of other animals, gay plumage the elaborately arranged fur -- all suc matters are brought forward in formidable array as an overwhelming army of arguments. In each case, it is shown that the secondary sexual characteristics are most pronounced just where we should expect to find them if they have been selected in the manner Darwin suggested. Repeatedly it is shown that the female does the selecting and the quality selected is, in consequence most pronounced in the male. It is only passed on in minor degree to


the sex which makes the choice. Darwin proves conclusively that with nearly all creatures, the male is the vigorous one -- inconstant, of course -- but not particular in the choice of a partner. It is the female that is coy and hard to please. The female bird selects a partner with a good voice, and this choice of the most proficient males during many generations results in the male birds being the singers. The female selects the most pleasing plumage and the result is that the male bird has the gay feathers. The female chooses; the male is chosen and the quality selected is naturally passed on most to the sex which is the subject of this artistic selection.

Such, at least, is the argument which is enforced with insistent reiteration in Darwin's thesis. It is sustained until we come to the final application, and then, in the most amazing way the whole argument is turned upside down. One of the principal qualities to be explained is the relative nakedness of body of a human being. It is still the female who chooses. It is still the male who is chosen, but the quality which is supposed to have been selected is far more pronounced in the one who makes choice than in the one who is chosen. This is a complete reversal of the order insisted on by Darwin in all his illustrations.

The only answer to this difficulty that the present writer has ever heard was a doubtful suggestion by an Evolutionist that possibly there might be some measure of choice the other way. What a hopeless last defence! Imagine primitive man as the Evolu


tionists picture him, just emerging from the brute. No restraint, either moral or prudential. No laws either religious or social. The birth rate of the sexes about equal. Would the family of primitive woman be restricted by the coyness and asthetic daintiness of primitive man!!!? The fact is that the argument failed completely, just at the crucial point. It is possible to establish some sort of case for selection by the female as Darwin presented it, but when we come to the point for which the argument is wanted -- that is in connection with humanity -- it applies in exactly the wrong way. Surely every thoughtful man will perceive how this line of reasoning could be pressed home with merciless logic if we cared to go further into details.

Another anomaly in the case is in connection with the matter of "inheritance at corresponding ages." Darwin continually insisted on this as a law of Nature. He regarded all secondary sexual characters as the result of sexual selection all in harmony with this law of "inheritance at corresponding ages." He repeats this phrase many times.

We can quite agree that all true secondary sexual characters become manifest at the age of puberty. The bright colours of butterflies, the bright plumage and full combs; of birds, the powers of song, and so right up to the human plane, the distinguishing signs of manhood. All these characters are manifest at the age of puberty. If our ancestors were all as hairy as monkeys, and if our relative nakedness of body were


the outcome of sexual selection, surely on the basis of Darwin's insistent claims regarding "inheritance at corresponding ages" we should expect babies to be hairy like monkeys. The relative nakedness would come at the age of puberty. The facts are, of course, exactly the opposite.

It is not desirable that this matter should be pursued further here. It is rather off the proper line of our subject, and perhaps some will think that it is an unpleasant interlude. It may be interesting and useful, however, as presenting an important line of criticism which, so far as the writer is aware, has not been touched hitherto. It may also be useful as showing the efforts that have been made to explain some natural phenomena in the animal kingdom, and paving the way for a very important argument to be drawn from the vegetable world.