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A General View Of Evolution

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The True Evolutionary Forces are Life Elements.

Like many other explanations and interpretations, the theory of Life as an entity or special agent has passed through alternate periods of acceptance and rejection. We find the history of this theory fairly stated in Tyndall's essay on Vitality which was written in 1865 and is now published in Fragments of Science:

"The origin, growth, and energies of living things are subjects which have always engaged the attention of thinking men. To account for them it was usual to assume a special agent, free to a great extent from the limitations observed among the powers of inorganic nature. This agent was called the vital force; and, under its influence, plants and animals were supposed to collect their materials and to assume determinate forms. Within the last few years, however, our ideas of vital processes have undergone profound modifications; and the interest and even disquietude which the change has excited are amply evidenced by the discussions and protests which are now common regarding the phenomena of vitality. In tracing these phenomena through all their modifications, the most advanced philosophers of the present day declare that they ultimately arrive at a single source of power, from which all vital energy is derived; and the disquieting circumstance is that this source is not the direct fiat of a super-natural agent, but a reservoir of what, if we do not accept the creed of Zoroaster, must be regarded as inorganic force. In short, it is considered as proved that all the energy which we derive from plants and animals is drawn from the sun."

A very similar statement is made by John Fiske in Cosmic Philosophy, Vol. I., page 422 :

"The hypothesis of a vital principle is now as completely discarded as the hypothesis of phlogiston in chemistry. No biologist with' a reputation to lose would for a moment think of defending it."

The following is quoted from Haeckel's History of Creation, Vol. I., page 330:

"We can demonstrate the infinitely manifold and complicated physical and chemical properties of the albuminous bodies to be the real cause of organic or vital phenomena."

Dr. Harald Hoffding states the aim of modern physiologists as follows, in Outlines of Psychology, page 57:

"The aim of modern physiology is to conceive all organic processes as physical or chemical."

Also on page 10 of the same work, Dr. Hoffding states :

"Modern physiology interprets the phenomena of organic life by means of physical and chemical laws. An appeal to Vital Force or to the intervention of mind, it does not recognize as an explanation of organic phenomena."

Quotations might be multiplied showing a period of rejection of the theory of Vital Force. However, mechanical causes and physical forces do not suffice to explain phenomena fully, and the tendency to make a new and more thorough investigation of "Life" is becoming manifest in the scientific world. As proof of this, note the following;

Quotation from Life and Matter, by Sir Oliver Lodge, page 119 :

"The view concerning Life which I have endeavored to express is that it is neither matter nor energy, nor even a function of matter or of energy, but it is something belonging to a different category; that by some means, at present unknown, it is able to interact with the material world for a time, but that it can also exist in some sense independently; although in that condition of existence it is by no means apprehensible by our senses. It is dependent on matter for its phenomenal appearance—for its manifestation to us here and now, and for all its terrestrial activities; but otherwise I conceive that it is independent, that its essential existence is continuous and permanent, though its interactions with matter are discontinuous and temporary; and I conjecture that it is subject to a law of evolution—that a linear advance is open to it—whether it be in its phenomenal or in its occult state."

From page 173 :

"Life may be something not only ultra-terrestrial, but even immaterial, something outside our present categories of matter and energy; as real as they are but different, and utilizing them for its own purpose. What is certain is that life possesses the power of vitalizing the complex material aggregates which exist on this planet, and of utilizing their energies for a time to display itself amid terrestrial surroundings ; and then it seems to disappear or evaporate whence it came. It is perpetually arriving and perpetually disappearing. While it is here, if it is at a sufficiently high level, the animated material body moves about and strives after many objects, some worthy, some unworthy; it acquires thereby a certain individuality, a certain character. It may realize itself, moreover, becoming conscious of its own mental and spiritual existence; and it then begins to explore the Mind which, like its own, it conceives must underlie the material fabric—half displayed, half concealed, by the environment, and intelligible only to a kindred spirit. Thus the scheme of law and order dimly dawns on the nascent soul and it begins to form clear conceptions of truth, goodness, and beauty; it may achieve something of permanent value as a work of art or of literature ; it may enter regions of emotion and may evolve ideas of the loftiest kind; it may degrade itself to low degrees, or it may soar until it is almost divine."

From page 143:

"My contention then is—and in this contention I am practically speaking for my brother physicists—that whereas life or mind can neither generate energy nor directly exert force, yet it can cause matter to exert force on matter, and so can exercise guidance and control : it can so prepare any scene of activity, by arranging the position of existing material, and timing the liberation of existing energy, as to produce results concordant with an idea or scheme or intention : it can, in short, 'aim' and `fire.' "

The publication of this work, Life and Matter, by Sir Oliver Lodge, in 1905, marks an epoch in scientific thought. Darwin, Huxley, Tyndall, Lyell and Spencer have dropped their work in an unfinished state, as all, who follow them will do in their turn. Instead of progress being ended with the passing of these justly famous men, additions are constantly being made to the world's store of knowledge by those who will be just as famous in their turn. Furthermore, the pendulum of thought is swinging the other way, from Materialism to Scientific Idealism.

Huxley indeed almost prophesied this coming change. In the volume of essays entitled, Hume with Helps to the Study of Berkeley, he says :

"It is worth any amount of trouble to . . . know by one's own knowledge the great truth . . . that the honest and rigorous following up of the argument which leads us to `materialism' inevitably carries us beyond it" (p. 251).

"To sum up. If the materialist affirms that the universe and all its phenomena are resolvable into matter and motion, Berkeley replies, True; but what you call matter and motion are known to us only as forms of consciousness; their being is to be conceived or known; and the existence of a state of consciousness, apart from a thinking mind, is a contradiction in terms.

"I conceive that this reasoning is irrefragable. And, therefore, if I were obliged to choose between absolute materialism and absolute idealism, I should feel compelled to accept the latter alternative" (p. 279).

Huxley was dissatisfied with the irreconcilable positions of the two schools of thought, due to the imperfect knowledge of both, for he says in concluding the volume above referred to :

"For the Idealist, not content with declaring the truth that our knowledge is limited to facts of consciousness, affirms the wholly unprovable proposition that nothing exists beyond these and the substance of mind. And, on the other hand, the Materialist, holding by the truth that, for anything that appears to the contrary, material phenomena are the causes of mental phenomena, asserts his unprovable dogma, that material phenomena and the sub-stance of matter are the sole primary existences" (p. 318).

Thus it is evident that each School has been contending for certain facts, but also for unscientific deductions. If the facts which each School has discovered are united and the unscientific deductions are eliminated, we will undoubtedly find that the facts do not need any reconciliation, for the universe is one. And the unscientific deductions will be forgotten in the larger and more satisfactory view which includes all that is worth preserving, namely, Truth.

In other words, Scientific Materialism and Scientific Idealism united will be just this, pure Science. The truths of the School of "Materialism" and the truths of the School of "Idealism" are both materialistic and idealistic in their natures. They have a material body and an ideal meaning. This Ideal is the self-realization of the purpose for which the material body was created. Every material body has an ideal fulfilment. This ideal fulfilment is prophesied by its own organism. Whatever any individual is capable of becoming through the highest possible opportunity, that is his ideal realization.

It is an undoubted fact, that every normal animal and human being possesses something which is not found in any chemical analysis of its physical body living or dead, namely, Individual Intelligence. It is agreed with the Materialist that psychological capacities depend upon physiological functions. But no examination of physical organisms has ever explained Intelligence, Love, Aspiration, Goodness, Devotion, Truthfulness, Patriotism. These capacities transcend physical limitations. They depend upon the introduction of Elements which transcend all physical and chemical analysis. Now it is in order to examine the Life Elements in nature.

This entire New Reading of the Facts of Evolution is based upon observation of the action of Life Elements which are apparently qualified to select chemical materials of the proper degree of refinement and to combine them for organisms of various capacities and powers. These Life Elements are also seemingly qualified to integrate these material elements into individual forms, each of which thereafter has an individual experience. These Life Elements impart an individual and separate Life to each organism, whether plant, animal or human. These Life Elements must be intelligent for they produce organisms adapted, to some extent at least, to the environment in which they are introduced. These Life Elements must be intelligent for they impart an individual intelligence to the higher organisms thus integrated and endowed with capacities and powers. These Life Elements must have a moral nature or be under moral control for they are continually manifesting possibilities for effecting improvements in every type and individual, under favorable conditions.

This New Reading presents the idea of progressive efforts and embodiments of an Intelligence resident in the Life Elements rather than in the physical forms or chemical materials. A succession of endeavors made by Life Elements is an explanation of the origin of species and the variations of species, which is very different from that of "Darwinism," or from descent by ordinary generation from antecedent types of a lower order of intelligence and power.

"Darwinism" gives no explanation of any intelligent or organic capacity which could have enabled lower forms of life to produce higher ones. It does not even attempt to do so. It may be true that one species has descended from another and lower species through ordinary generation : But this would not explain the method of producing the results attained. This would not explain the Intelligence which guided and controlled the evolution. The fact remains incontrovertible that no species has within itself any approach to an intention, design, capacity or ability to plan and produce any species higher than itself. However, we find in species successive manifestations of Intelligent Life Elements which explain methods and results to an extent far beyond "Darwinism." Again, we find that nature can and will explain nature.

This New Reading supplies factors which are not included in the current theory, or "Darwinism." It explains phenomena to a much greater extent. It accounts for variations. It also accounts for rudimentary forms and vestigial structures as so many imperfect or abortive attempts of forces which are neither omnipotent nor omniscient.

The New Reading accounts for adaptation to environment; it also accounts for the seeking of new environments and for the transforming of old environments, where adaptation does not give satisfaction. In short, the New Reading accounts for evolution as the method adopted by Life Elements seeking progressive results with more or less intelligence.

The New Reading accounts for acquired characteristics as the attainments made by individuals in response to intelligent and moral demands of their own natures. Thus the efforts of the creative or causative forces of nature are supplemented by the efforts of the individuals thus endowed with potential energy and intelligence.

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