On the Origin of Species HTML version

Miscellaneous Objections To The Theory Of Natural
Longevity -- Modifications not necessarily simultaneous -- Modifications apparently of
no direct service -- Progressive development -- Characters of small functional
importance, the most constant -- Supposed incompetence of natural selection to account
for the incipient stages of useful structures -- Causes which interfere with the acquisition
through natural selection of useful structures -- Gradations of structure with changed
functions -- Widely different organs in members of the same class, developed from one
and the same source -- Reasons for disbelieving in great and abrupt modifications.
I will devote this chapter to the consideration of various miscellaneous objections which
have been advanced against my views, as some of the previous discussions may thus be
made clearer; but it would be useless to discuss all of them, as many have been made by
writers who have not taken the trouble to understand the subject. Thus a distinguished
German naturalist has asserted that the weakest part of my theory is, that I consider all
organic beings as imperfect: what I have really said is, that all are not as perfect as they
might have been in relation to their conditions; and this is shown to be the case by so
many native forms in many quarters of the world having yielded their places to intruding
foreigners. Nor can organic beings, even if they were at any one time perfectly adapted to
their conditions of life, have remained so, when their conditions changed, unless they
themselves likewise changed; and no one will dispute that the physical conditions of each
country, as well as the number and kinds of its inhabitants, have undergone many
A critic has lately insisted, with some parade of mathematical accuracy, that longevity is
a great advantage to all species, so that he who believes in natural selection "must arrange
his genealogical tree" in such a manner that all the descendants have longer lives than
their progenitors! Cannot our critics conceive that a biennial plant or one of the lower
animals might range into a cold climate and perish there every winter; and yet, owing to
advantages gained through natural selection, survive from year to year by means of its
seeds or ova? Mr. E. Ray Lankester has recently discussed this subject, and he concludes,
as far as its extreme complexity allows him to form a judgment, that longevity is
generally related to the standard of each species in the scale of organisation, as well as to
the amount of expenditure in reproduction and in general activity. And these conditions
have, it is probable, been largely determined through natural selection.
It has been argued that, as none of the animals and plants of Egypt, of which we know
anything, have changed during the last three or four thousand years, so probably have
none in any part of the world. But, as Mr. G.H. Lewes has remarked, this line of
argument proves too much, for the ancient domestic races figured on the Egyptian
monuments, or embalmed, are closely similar or even identical with those now living; yet
all naturalists admit that such races have been produced through the modification of their
original types. The many animals which have remained unchanged since the
commencement of the glacial period, would have been an incomparably stronger case, for
these have been exposed to great changes of climate and have migrated over great