Back to Methuselah
George Bernard Shaw

Part 1 out of 7

source text. In this case, apostrophes were omitted in
the essay section but used in the play.


A Metabiological Pentateuch





The Infidel Half Century
The Dawn of Darwinism
The Advent of the Neo-Darwinians
Political Inadequacy of the Human Animal
Cowardice of the Irreligious
Is there any Hope in Education?
Homeopathic Education
The Diabolical Efficiency of Technical Education
Flimsiness of Civilization
Creative Evolution
Voluntary Longevity
The Early Evolutionists
The Advent of the Neo-Lamarckians
How Acquirements are Inherited
The Miracle of Condensed Recapitulation
Heredity an Old Story
Discovery Anticipated by Divination
Corrected Dates for the Discovery of Evolution
Defying the Lightning: a Frustrated Experiment
In Quest of the First Cause
Paley's Watch
The Irresistible Cry of Order, Order!
The Moment and the Man
The Brink of the Bottomless Pit
Why Darwin Converted the Crowd
How we Rushed Down a Steep Place
Darwinism not Finally Refutable
Three Blind Mice
The Greatest of These is Self-Control
A Sample of Lamarcko-Shavian Invective
The Humanitarians and the Problem of Evil
How One Touch of Darwin makes the Whole World Kin
Why Darwin Pleased the Socialists
Darwin and Karl Marx
Why Darwin pleased the Profiteers also
The Poetry and Purity of Materialism
The Viceroys of the King of Kings
Political Opportunism in Excelsis
The Betrayal of Western Civilization
Circumstantial Selection in Finance
The Homeopathic Reaction against Darwinism
Religion and Romance
The Danger of Reaction
A Touchstone for Dogma
What to do with the Legends
A Lesson from Science to the Churches
The Religious Art of the Twentieth Century
The Artist-Prophets
Evolution in the Theatre
My Own Part in the Matter
In the Beginning: B.C. 4004 (In the Garden of Eden)
The Gospel of the Brothers Barnabas: Present Day
The Thing Happens: A.D. 2170
Tragedy of an Elderly Gentleman: A.D. 3000
As Far as Thought Can Reach: A.D. 31,920


The Infidel Half Century


One day early in the eighteen hundred and sixties, I, being then a
small boy, was with my nurse, buying something in the shop of a petty
newsagent, bookseller, and stationer in Camden Street, Dublin, when
there entered an elderly man, weighty and solemn, who advanced to the
counter, and said pompously, 'Have you the works of the celebrated

My own works were at that time unwritten, or it is possible that the
shop assistant might have misunderstood me so far as to produce a copy
of Man and Superman. As it was, she knew quite well what he wanted; for
this was before the Education Act of 1870 had produced shop assistants
who know how to read and know nothing else. The celebrated Buffoon was
not a humorist, but the famous naturalist Buffon. Every literate child
at that time knew Buffon's Natural History as well as Esop's Fables. And
no living child had heard the name that has since obliterated Buffon's
in the popular consciousness: the name of Darwin.

Ten years elapsed. The celebrated Buffoon was forgotten; I had doubled
my years and my length; and I had discarded the religion of my
forefathers. One day the richest and consequently most dogmatic of my
uncles came into a restaurant where I was dining, and found himself,
much against his will, in conversation with the most questionable of his
nephews. By way of making myself agreeable, I spoke of modern thought
and Darwin. He said, 'Oh, thats the fellow who wants to make out that we
all have tails like monkeys.' I tried to explain that what Darwin had
insisted on in this connection was that some monkeys have no tails.
But my uncle was as impervious to what Darwin really said as any
Neo-Darwinian nowadays. He died impenitent, and did not mention me in
his will.

Twenty years elapsed. If my uncle had been alive, he would have known
all about Darwin, and known it all wrong. In spite of the efforts of
Grant Allen to set him right, he would have accepted Darwin as the
discoverer of Evolution, of Heredity, and of modification of species by
Selection. For the pre-Darwinian age had come to be regarded as a Dark
Age in which men still believed that the book of Genesis was a standard
scientific treatise, and that the only additions to it were Galileo's
demonstration of Leonardo da Vinci's simple remark that the earth is
a moon of the sun, Newton's theory of gravitation, Sir Humphry Davy's
invention of the safety-lamp, the discovery of electricity, the
application of steam to industrial purposes, and the penny post. It was
just the same in other subjects. Thus Nietzsche, by the two or three who
had come across his writings, was supposed to have been the first man
to whom it occurred that mere morality and legality and urbanity lead
nowhere, as if Bunyan had never written Badman. Schopenhauer was
credited with inventing the distinction between the Covenant of Grace
and the Covenant of Works which troubled Cromwell on his deathbed.
People talked as if there had been no dramatic or descriptive music
before Wagner; no impressionist painting before Whistler; whilst as to
myself, I was finding that the surest way to produce an effect of daring
innovation and originality was to revive the ancient attraction of long
rhetorical speeches; to stick closely to the methods of Moliere; and to
lift characters bodily out of the pages of Charles Dickens.


This particular sort of ignorance does not always or often matter. But
in Darwin's case it did matter. If Darwin had really led the world at
one bound from the book of Genesis to Heredity, to Modification of
Species by Selection, and to Evolution, he would have been a philosopher
and a prophet as well as an eminent professional naturalist, with
geology as a hobby. The delusion that he had actually achieved this
feat did no harm at first, because if people's views are sound, about
evolution or anything else, it does not make two straws difference
whether they call the revealer of their views Tom or Dick. But later on
such apparently negligible errors have awkward consequences. Darwin was
given an imposing reputation as not only an Evolutionist, but as _the_
Evolutionist, with the immense majority who never read his books.
The few who never read any others were led by them to concentrate
exclusively on Circumstantial Selection as the explanation of all the
transformations and adaptations which were the evidence for Evolution.
And they presently found themselves so cut off by this specialization
from the majority who knew Darwin only by his spurious reputation, that
they were obliged to distinguish themselves, not as Darwinians, but as

Before ten more years had elapsed, the Neo-Darwinians were practically
running current Science. It was 1906; I was fifty; I published my own
view of evolution in a play called Man and Superman; and I found that
most people were unable to understand how I could be an Evolutionist
and not a Neo-Darwinian, or why I habitually derided Neo-Darwinism as
a ghastly idiocy, and would fall on its professors slaughterously in
public discussions. It was in the hope of making me clear the matter up
that the Fabian Society, which was then organizing a series of lectures
on Prophets of the Nineteenth Century, asked me to deliver a lecture
on the prophet Darwin. I did so; and scraps of that lecture, which was
never published, variegate these pages.


Ten more years elapsed. Neo-Darwinism in politics had produced a
European catastrophe of a magnitude so appalling, and a scope so
unpredictable, that as I write these lines in 1920, it is still far from
certain whether our civilization will survive it. The circumstances
of this catastrophe, the boyish cinema-fed romanticism which made it
possible to impose it on the people as a crusade, and especially the
ignorance and errors of the victors of Western Europe when its violent
phase had passed and the time for reconstruction arrived, confirmed a
doubt which had grown steadily in my mind during my forty years public
work as a Socialist: namely, whether the human animal, as he exists at
present, is capable of solving the social problems raised by his own
aggregation, or, as he calls it, his civilization.


Another observation I had made was that goodnatured unambitious men are
cowards when they have no religion. They are dominated and exploited not
only by greedy and often half-witted and half-alive weaklings who will
do anything for cigars, champagne, motor cars, and the more childish and
selfish uses of money, but by able and sound administrators who can do
nothing else with them than dominate and exploit them. Government and
exploitation become synonymous under such circumstances; and the world
is finally ruled by the childish, the brigands, and the blackguards.
Those who refuse to stand in with them are persecuted and occasionally
executed when they give any trouble to the exploiters. They fall into
poverty when they lack lucrative specific talents. At the present moment
one half of Europe, having knocked the other half down, is trying to
kick it to death, and may succeed: a procedure which is, logically,
sound Neo-Darwinism. And the goodnatured majority are looking on
in helpless horror, or allowing themselves to be persuaded by the
newspapers of their exploiters that the kicking is not only a sound
commercial investment, but an act of divine justice of which they are
the ardent instruments.

But if Man is really incapable of organizing a big civilization, and
cannot organize even a village or a tribe any too well, what is the use
of giving him a religion? A religion may make him hunger and thirst for
righteousness; but will it endow him with the practical capacity to
satisfy that appetite? Good intentions do not carry with them a grain of
political science, which is a very complicated one. The most devoted and
indefatigable, the most able and disinterested students of this science
in England, as far as I know, are my friends Sidney and Beatrice Webb.
It has taken them forty years of preliminary work, in the course of
which they have published several treatises comparable to Adam Smith's
Wealth of Nations, to formulate a political constitution adequate to
existing needs. If this is the measure of what can be done in a
lifetime by extraordinary ability, keen natural aptitude, exceptional
opportunities, and freedom from the preoccupations of bread-winning,
what are we to expect from the parliament man to whom political science
is as remote and distasteful as the differential calculus, and to whom
such an elementary but vital point as the law of economic rent is a
_pons asinorum_ never to be approached, much less crossed? Or from the
common voter who is mostly so hard at work all day earning a living that
he cannot keep awake for five minutes over a book?


The usual answer is that we must educate our masters: that is,
ourselves. We must teach citizenship and political science at school.
But must we? There is no must about it, the hard fact being that we must
_not_ teach political science or citizenship at school. The schoolmaster
who attempted it would soon find himself penniless in the streets
without pupils, if not in the dock pleading to a pompously worded
indictment for sedition against the exploiters. Our schools teach the
morality of feudalism corrupted by commercialism, and hold up the
military conqueror, the robber baron, and the profiteer, as models of
the illustrious and the successful. In vain do the prophets who see
through this imposture preach and teach a better gospel: the individuals
whom they convert are doomed to pass away in a few years; and the new
generations are dragged back in the schools to the morality of the
fifteenth century, and think themselves Liberal when they are defending
the ideas of Henry VII, and gentlemanly when they are opposing to them
the ideas of Richard III. Thus the educated man is a greater nuisance
than the uneducated one: indeed it is the inefficiency and sham of the
educational side of our schools (to which, except under compulsion,
children would not be sent by their parents at all if they did not act
as prisons in which the immature are kept from worrying the mature) that
save us from being dashed on the rocks of false doctrine instead of
drifting down the midstream of mere ignorance. There is no way out
through the schoolmaster.


In truth, mankind cannot be saved from without, by schoolmasters or any
other sort of masters: it can only be lamed and enslaved by them. It is
said that if you wash a cat it will never again wash itself. This may or
may not be true: what is certain is that if you teach a man anything he
will never learn it; and if you cure him of a disease he will be unable
to cure himself the next time it attacks him. Therefore, if you want
to see a cat clean, you throw a bucket of mud over it, when it will
immediately take extraordinary pains to lick the mud off, and finally be
cleaner than it was before. In the same way doctors who are up-to-date
(BURGE-LUBIN per cent of all the registered practitioners, and 20 per
cent of the unregistered ones), when they want to rid you of a disease
or a symptom, inoculate you with that disease or give you a drug that
produces that symptom, in order to provoke you to resist it as the mud
provokes the cat to wash itself.

Now an acute person will ask me why, if this be so, our false education
does not provoke our scholars to find out the truth. My answer is that
it sometimes does. Voltaire was a pupil of the Jesuits; Samuel Butler
was the pupil of a hopelessly conventional and erroneous country parson.
But then Voltaire was Voltaire, and Butler was Butler: that is, their
minds were so abnormally strong that they could throw off the doses of
poison that paralyse ordinary minds. When the doctors inoculate you and
the homeopathists dose you, they give you an infinitesimally attenuated
dose. If they gave you the virus at full strength it would overcome your
resistance and produce its direct effect. The doses of false doctrine
given at public schools and universities are so big that they overwhelm
the resistance that a tiny dose would provoke. The normal student is
corrupted beyond redemption, and will drive the genius who resists out
of the country if he can. Byron and Shelley had to fly to Italy, whilst
Castlereagh and Eldon ruled the roost at home. Rousseau was hunted from
frontier to frontier; Karl Marx starved in exile in a Soho lodging;
Ruskin's articles were refused by the magazines (he was too rich to be
otherwise persecuted); whilst mindless forgotten nonentities governed
the land; sent men to the prison or the gallows for blasphemy and
sedition (meaning the truth about Church and State); and sedulously
stored up the social disease and corruption which explode from time to
time in gigantic boils that have to be lanced by a million bayonets.
This is the result of allopathic education. Homeopathic education has
not yet been officially tried, and would obviously be a delicate
matter if it were. A body of schoolmasters inciting their pupils to
infinitesimal peccadilloes with the object of provoking them to exclaim,
'Get thee behind me, Satan,' or telling them white lies about history
for the sake of being contradicted, insulted, and refuted, would
certainly do less harm than our present educational allopaths do; but
then nobody will advocate homeopathic education. Allopathy has produced
the poisonous illusion that it enlightens instead of darkening. The
suggestion may, however, explain why, whilst most people's minds succumb
to inculcation and environment, a few react vigorously: honest and
decent people coming from thievish slums, and sceptics and realists from
country parsonages.


But meanwhile--and here comes the horror of it--our technical
instruction is honest and efficient. The public schoolboy who is
carefully blinded, duped, and corrupted as to the nature of a society
based on profiteering, and is taught to honor parasitic idleness and
luxury, learns to shoot and ride and keep fit with all the assistance
and guidance that can be procured for him by the most anxiously sincere
desire that he may do these things well, and if possible superlatively
well. In the army he learns to fly; to drop bombs; to use machine-guns
to the utmost of his capacity. The discovery of high explosives is
rewarded and dignified: instruction in the manufacture of the weapons,
battleships, submarines, and land batteries by which they are applied
destructively, is quite genuine: the instructors know their business,
and really mean the learners to succeed. The result is that powers
of destruction that could hardly without uneasiness be entrusted to
infinite wisdom and infinite benevolence are placed in the hands of
romantic schoolboy patriots who, however generous by nature, are by
education ignoramuses, dupes, snobs, and sportsmen to whom fighting is a
religion and killing an accomplishment; whilst political power, useless
under such circumstances except to militarist imperialists in chronic
terror of invasion and subjugation, pompous tufthunting fools,
commercial adventurers to whom the organization by the nation of its own
industrial services would mean checkmate, financial parasites on the
money market, and stupid people who cling to the status quo merely
because they are used to it, is obtained by heredity, by simple
purchase, by keeping newspapers and pretending that they are organs of
public opinion, by the wiles of seductive women, and by prostituting
ambitious talent to the service of the profiteers, who call the tune
because, having secured all the spare plunder, they alone can afford
to pay the piper. Neither the rulers nor the ruled understand high
politics. They do not even know that there is such a branch of knowledge
as political science; but between them they can coerce and enslave
with the deadliest efficiency, even to the wiping out of civilization,
because their education as slayers has been honestly and thoroughly
carried out. Essentially the rulers are all defectives; and there is
nothing worse than government by defectives who wield irresistible
powers of physical coercion. The commonplace sound people submit, and
compel the rest to submit, because they have been taught to do so as
an article of religion and a point of honor. Those in whom natural
enlightenment has reacted against artificial education submit because
they are compelled; but they would resist, and finally resist
effectively, if they were not cowards. And they are cowards because they
have neither an officially accredited and established religion nor a
generally recognized point of honor, and are all at sixes and sevens
with their various private speculations, sending their children perforce
to the schools where they will be corrupted for want of any other
schools. The rulers are equally intimidated by the immense extension
and cheapening of the means of slaughter and destruction. The British
Government is more afraid of Ireland now that submarines, bombs, and
poison gas are cheap and easily made than it was of the German Empire
before the war; consequently the old British custom which maintained a
balance of power through command of the sea is intensified into a terror
that sees security in nothing short of absolute military mastery of the
entire globe: that is, in an impossibility that will yet seem possible
in detail to soldiers and to parochial and insular patriotic civilians.


This situation has occurred so often before, always with the same result
of a collapse of civilization (Professor Flinders Petrie has let out the
secret of previous collapses), that the rich are instinctively crying
'Let us eat and drink; for tomorrow we die,' and the poor, 'How long, O
Lord, how long?' But the pitiless reply still is that God helps those
who help themselves. This does not mean that if Man cannot find the
remedy no remedy will be found. The power that produced Man when the
monkey was not up to the mark, can produce a higher creature than Man if
Man does not come up to the mark. What it means is that if Man is to be
saved, Man must save himself. There seems no compelling reason why he
should be saved. He is by no means an ideal creature. At his present
best many of his ways are so unpleasant that they are unmentionable in
polite society, and so painful that he is compelled to pretend that pain
is often a good. Nature holds no brief for the human experiment: it must
stand or fall by its results. If Man will not serve, Nature will try
another experiment.

What hope is there then of human improvement? According to the
Neo-Darwinists, to the Mechanists, no hope whatever, because improvement
can come only through some senseless accident which must, on the
statistical average of accidents, be presently wiped out by some other
equally senseless accident.


But this dismal creed does not discourage those who believe that the
impulse that produces evolution is creative. They have observed the
simple fact that the will to do anything can and does, at a certain
pitch of intensity set up by conviction of its necessity, create and
organize new tissue to do it with. To them therefore mankind is by no
means played out yet. If the weight lifter, under the trivial stimulus
of an athletic competition, can 'put up a muscle,' it seems reasonable
to believe that an equally earnest and convinced philosopher could 'put
up a brain.' Both are directions of vitality to a certain end. Evolution
shews us this direction of vitality doing all sorts of things: providing
the centipede with a hundred legs, and ridding the fish of any legs at
all; building lungs and arms for the land and gills and fins for the
sea; enabling the mammal to gestate its young inside its body, and the
fowl to incubate hers outside it; offering us, we may say, our choice of
any sort of bodily contrivance to maintain our activity and increase our


Among other matters apparently changeable at will is the duration of
individual life. Weismann, a very clever and suggestive biologist who
was unhappily reduced to idiocy by Neo-Darwinism, pointed out that death
is not an eternal condition of life, but an expedient introduced to
provide for continual renewal without overcrowding. Now Circumstantial
Selection does not account for natural death: it accounts only for the
survival of species in which the individuals have sense enough to decay
and die on purpose. But the individuals do not seem to have calculated
very reasonably: nobody can explain why a parrot should live ten times
as long as a dog, and a turtle be almost immortal. In the case of man,
the operation has overshot its mark: men do not live long enough: they
are, for all the purposes of high civilization, mere children when they
die; and our Prime Ministers, though rated as mature, divide their
time between the golf course and the Treasury Bench in parliament.
Presumably, however, the same power that made this mistake can remedy
it. If on opportunist grounds Man now fixes the term of his life at
three score and ten years, he can equally fix it at three hundred, or
three thousand, or even at the genuine Circumstantial Selection limit,
which would be until a sooner-or-later-inevitable fatal accident makes
an end of the individual. All that is necessary to make him extend his
present span is that tremendous catastrophes such as the late war shall
convince him of the necessity of at least outliving his taste for
golf and cigars if the race is to be saved. This is not fantastic
speculation: it is deductive biology, if there is such a science as
biology. Here, then, is a stone that we have left unturned, and that may
be worth turning. To make the suggestion more entertaining than it would
be to most people in the form of a biological treatise, I have written
Back to Methuselah as a contribution to the modern Bible.

Many people, however, can read treatises and cannot read Bibles. Darwin
could not read Shakespear. Some who can read both, like to learn the
history of their ideas. Some are so entangled in the current confusion
of Creative Evolution with Circumstantial Selection by their historical
ignorance that they are puzzled by any distinction between the two.
For all their sakes I must give here a little history of the conflict
between the view of Evolution taken by the Darwinians (though not
altogether by Darwin himself) and called Natural Selection, and that
which is emerging, under the title of Creative Evolution, as the
genuinely scientific religion for which all wise men are now anxiously


The idea of Evolution, or Transformation as it is now sometimes called,
was not first conceived by Charles Darwin, nor by Alfred Russel Wallace,
who observed the operation of Circumstantial Selection simultaneously
with Charles. The celebrated Buffoon was a better Evolutionist than
either of them; and two thousand years before Buffon was born, the Greek
philosopher Empedocles opined that all forms of life are transformations
of four elements, Fire, Air, Earth, and Water, effected by the two
innate forces of attraction and repulsion, or love and hate. As lately
as 1860 I myself was taught as a child that everything was made out of
these four elements. Both the Empedocleans and the Evolutionists were
opposed to those who believed in the separate creation of all forms
of life as described in the book of Genesis. This 'conflict between
religion and science', as the phrase went then, did not perplex my
infant mind in the least: I knew perfectly well, without knowing that I
knew it, that the validity of a story is not the same as the occurrence
of a fact. But as I grew up I found that I had to choose between
Evolution and Genesis. If you believed that dogs and cats and snakes
and birds and beetles and oysters and whales and men and women were all
separately designed and made and named in Eden garden at the beginning
of things, and have since survived simply by reproducing their kind,
then you were not an Evolutionist. If you believed, on the contrary,
that all the different species are modifications, variations, and
elaborations of one primal stock, or even of a few primal stocks, then
you were an Evolutionist. But you were not necessarily a Darwinian; for
you might have been a modern Evolutionist twenty years before Charles
Darwin was born, and a whole lifetime before he published his Origin of
Species. For that matter, when Aristotle grouped animals with backbones
as blood relations, he began the sort of classification which, when
extended by Darwin to monkeys and men, so shocked my uncle.

Genesis had held the field until the time (1707-1778) of Linnaeus the
famous botanist. In the meantime the microscope had been invented. It
revealed a new world of hitherto invisible creatures called Infusorians,
as common water was found to be an infusion of them. In the eighteenth
century naturalists were very keen on the Infusorian Amoebas, and were
much struck by the way in which the members of this old family behaved
and developed. But it was still possible for Linnaeus to begin a
treatise by saying 'There are just so many species as there were forms
created in the beginning,' though there were hundreds of commonplace
Scotch gardeners, pigeon fanciers, and stock breeders then living who
knew better. Linnaeus himself knew better before he died. In the
last edition of his System of Nature, he began to wonder whether the
transmutation of species by variation might not be possible. Then came
the great poet who jumped over the facts to the conclusion. Goethe said
that all the shapes of creation were cousins; that there must be some
common stock from which all the species had sprung; that it was the
environment of air that had produced the eagle, of water the seal, and
of earth the mole. He could not say how this happened; but he divined
that it did happen. Erasmus Darwin, the grandfather of Charles, carried
the environment theory much further, pointing out instance after
instance of modifications made in species apparently to adapt it to
circumstances and environment: for instance, that the brilliant colors
of the leopard, which make it so conspicuous in Regent's Park, conceal
it in a tropical jungle. Finally he wrote, as his declaration of faith,
'The world has been evolved, not created: it has arisen little by little
from a small beginning, and has increased through the activity of the
elemental forces embodied in itself, and so has rather grown than come
into being at an almighty word. What a sublime idea of the infinite
might of the great Architect, the Cause of all causes, the Father of all
fathers, the Ens Entium! For if we would compare the Infinite, it would
surely require a greater Infinite to cause the causes of effects than to
produce the effects themselves.' In this, published in the year 1794,
you have nineteenth-century Evolution precisely defined. And Erasmus
Darwin was by no means its only apostle. It was in the air then. A
German biologist named Treviranus, whose book was published in 1802,
wrote, 'In every living being there exists a capacity for endless
diversity of form. Each possesses the power of adapting its organization
to the variations of the external world; and it is this power, called
into activity by cosmic changes, which has enabled the simple zoophytes
of the primitive world to climb to higher and higher stages of
organization, and has brought endless variety into nature.' There you
have your evolution of Man from the amoeba all complete whilst Nelson
was still alive on the seas. And in 1809, before the battle of Waterloo,
a French soldier named Lamarck, who had beaten his musket into a
microscope and turned zoologist, declared that species were an illusion
produced by the shortness of our individual lives, and that they were
constantly changing and melting into one another and into new forms as
surely as the hand of a clock is continually moving, though it moves so
slowly that it looks stationary to us. We have since come to think that
its industry is less continuous: that the clock stops for a long time,
and then is suddenly 'put on' by a mysterious finger. But never mind
that just at present.


I call your special attention to Lamarck, because later on there were
Neo-Lamarckians as well as Neo-Darwinians. I was a Neo-Lamarckian.
Lamarck passed on from the conception of Evolution as a general law to
Charles Darwin's department of it, which was the method of Evolution.
Lamarck, whilst making many ingenious suggestions as to the reaction
of external causes on life and habit, such as changes of climate,
food supply, geological upheavals and so forth, really held as his
fundamental proposition that living organisms changed because they
wanted to. As he stated it, the great factor in Evolution is use and
disuse. If you have no eyes, and want to see, and keep trying to see,
you will finally get eyes. If, like a mole or a subterranean fish, you
have eyes and dont want to see, you will lose your eyes. If you like
eating the tender tops of trees enough to make you concentrate all your
energies on the stretching of your neck, you will finally get a long
neck, like the giraffe. This seems absurd to inconsiderate people at the
first blush; but it is within the personal experience of all of us that
it is just by this process that a child tumbling about the floor becomes
a boy walking erect; and that a man sprawling on the road with a bruised
chin, or supine on the ice with a bashed occiput, becomes a bicyclist
and a skater. The process is not continuous, as it would be if mere
practice had anything to do with it; for though you may improve at each
bicycling lesson _during_ the lesson, when you begin your next lesson
you do not begin at the point at which you left off: you relapse
apparently to the beginning. Finally, you succeed quite suddenly, and do
not relapse again. More miraculous still, you at once exercise the new
power unconsciously. Although you are adapting your front wheel to your
balance so elaborately and actively that the accidental locking of your
handle bars for a second will throw you off; though five minutes before
you could not do it at all, yet now you do it as unconsciously as you
grow your finger nails. You have a new faculty, and must have created
some new bodily tissue as its organ. And you have done it solely by
willing. For here there can be no question of Circumstantial Selection,
or the survival of the fittest. The man who is learning how to ride
a bicycle has no advantage over the non-cyclist in the struggle for
existence: quite the contrary. He has acquired a new habit, an automatic
unconscious habit, solely because he wanted to, and kept trying until it
was added unto him.


But when your son tries to skate or bicycle in his turn, he does not
pick up the accomplishment where you left it, any more than he is born
six feet high with a beard and a tall hat. The set-back that occurred
between your lessons occurs again. The race learns exactly as the
individual learns. Your son relapses, not to the very beginning, but to
a point which no mortal method of measurement can distinguish from the
beginning. Now this is odd; for certain other habits of yours, equally
acquired (to the Evolutionist, of course, all habits are acquired),
equally unconscious, equally automatic, are transmitted without any
perceptible relapse. For instance, the very first act of your son
when he enters the world as a separate individual is to yell with
indignation: that yell which Shakespear thought the most tragic and
piteous of all sounds. In the act of yelling he begins to breathe:
another habit, and not even a necessary one, as the object of breathing
can be achieved in other ways, as by deep sea fishes. He circulates his
blood by pumping it with his heart. He demands a meal, and proceeds at
once to perform the most elaborate chemical operations on the food he
swallows. He manufactures teeth; discards them; and replaces them with
fresh ones. Compared to these habitual feats, walking, standing upright,
and bicycling are the merest trifles; yet it is only by going through
the wanting, trying process that he can stand, walk, or cycle, whereas
in the other and far more difficult and complex habits he not only does
not consciously want nor consciously try, but actually consciously
objects very strongly. Take that early habit of cutting the teeth: would
he do that if he could help it? Take that later habit of decaying and
eliminating himself by death--equally an acquired habit, remember--how
he abhors it! Yet the habit has become so rooted, so automatic, that he
must do it in spite of himself, even to his own destruction.

We have here a routine which, given time enough for it to operate, will
finally produce the most elaborate forms of organized life on Lamarckian
lines without the intervention of Circumstantial Selection at all. If
you can turn a pedestrian into a cyclist, and a cyclist into a pianist
or violinist, without the intervention of Circumstantial Selection, you
can turn an amoeba into a man, or a man into a superman, without it. All
of which is rank heresy to the Neo-Darwinian, who imagines that if
you stop Circumstantial Selection, you not only stop development but
inaugurate a rapid and disastrous degeneration.

Let us fix the Lamarckian evolutionary process well in our minds. You
are alive; and you want to be more alive. You want an extension of
consciousness and of power. You want, consequently, additional organs,
or additional uses of your existing organs: that is, additional habits.
You get them because you want them badly enough to keep trying for them
until they come. Nobody knows how: nobody knows why: all we know is that
the thing actually takes place. We relapse miserably from effort to
effort until the old organ is modified or the new one created, when
suddenly the impossible becomes possible and the habit is formed. The
moment we form it we want to get rid of the consciousness of it so as
to economize our consciousness for fresh conquests of life; as all
consciousness means preoccupation and obstruction. If we had to think
about breathing or digesting or circulating our blood we should have
no attention to spare for anything else, as we find to our cost when
anything goes wrong with these operations. We want to be unconscious of
them just as we wanted to acquire them; and we finally win what we want.
But we win unconsciousness of our habits at the cost of losing our
control of them; and we also build one habit and its corresponding
functional modification of our organs on another, and so become
dependent on our old habits. Consequently we have to persist in them
even when they hurt us. We cannot stop breathing to avoid an attack of
asthma, or to escape drowning. We can lose a habit and discard an organ
when we no longer need them, just as we acquired them; but this process
is slow and broken by relapses; and relics of the organ and the habit
long survive its utility. And if other and still indispensable habits
and modifications have been built on the ones we wish to discard, we
must provide a new foundation for them before we demolish the old one.
This is also a slow process and a very curious one.


The relapses between the efforts to acquire a habit are important
because, as we have seen, they recur not only from effort to effort in
the case of the individual, but from generation to generation in the
case of the race. This relapsing from generation to generation is an
invariable characteristic of the evolutionary process. For instance,
Raphael, though descended from eight uninterrupted generations of
painters, had to learn to paint apparently as if no Sanzio had ever
handled a brush before. But he had also to learn to breathe, and digest,
and circulate his blood. Although his father and mother were fully grown
adults when he was conceived, he was not conceived or even born fully
grown: he had to go back and begin as a speck of protoplasm, and to
struggle through an embryonic lifetime, during part of which he was
indistinguishable from an embryonic dog, and had neither a skull nor a
backbone. When he at last acquired these articles, he was for some time
doubtful whether he was a bird or a fish. He had to compress untold
centuries of development into nine months before he was human enough
to break loose as an independent being. And even then he was still so
incomplete that his parents might well have exclaimed 'Good Heavens!
have you learnt nothing from our experience that you come into the world
in this ridiculously elementary state? Why cant you talk and walk and
paint and behave decently?' To that question Baby Raphael had no answer.
All he could have said was that this is how evolution or transformation
happens. The time may come when the same force that compressed the
development of millions of years into nine months may pack many more
millions into even a shorter space; so that Raphaels may be born
painters as they are now born breathers and blood circulators. But they
will still begin as specks of protoplasm, and acquire the faculty of
painting in their mother's womb at quite a late stage of their embryonic
life. They must recapitulate the history of mankind in their own
persons, however briefly they may condense it.

Nothing was so astonishing and significant in the discoveries of the
embryologists, nor anything so absurdly little appreciated, as this
recapitulation, as it is now called: this power of hurrying up into
months a process which was once so long and tedious that the mere
contemplation of it is unendurable by men whose span of life is
three-score-and-ten. It widened human possibilities to the extent of
enabling us to hope that the most prolonged and difficult operation of
our minds may yet become instantaneous, or, as we call it, instinctive.
It also directed our attention to examples of this packing up of
centuries into seconds which were staring us in the face in all
directions. As I write these lines the newspapers are occupied by the
exploits of a child of eight, who has just defeated twenty adult chess
players in twenty games played simultaneously, and has been able
afterwards to reconstruct all the twenty games without any apparent
effort of memory. Most people, including myself, play chess (when they
play it at all) from hand to mouth, and can hardly recall the last move
but one, or foresee the next but two. Also, when I have to make an
arithmetical calculation, I have to do it step by step with pencil and
paper, slowly, reluctantly, and with so little confidence in the result
that I dare not act on it without 'proving' the sum by a further
calculation involving more ciphering. But there are men who can neither
read, write, nor cipher, to whom the answer to such sums as I can do
is instantly obvious without any conscious calculation at all; and the
result is infallible. Yet some of these natural arithmeticians have but
a small vocabulary; are at a loss when they have to find words for any
but the simplest everyday occasions; and cannot for the life of them
describe mechanical operations which they perform daily in the course of
their trade; whereas to me the whole vocabulary of English literature,
from Shakespear to the latest edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica,
is so completely and instantaneously at my call that I have never had
to consult even a thesaurus except once or twice when for some reason I
wanted a third or fourth synonym. Again, though I have tried and failed
to draw recognizable portraits of persons I have seen every day for
years, Mr Bernard Partridge, having seen a man once, will, without more
strain than is involved in eating a sandwich, draw him to the life. The
keyboard of a piano is a device I have never been able to master; yet Mr
Cyril Scott uses it exactly as I use my own fingers; and to Sir Edward
Elgar an orchestral score is as instantaneously intelligible at sight as
a page of Shakespear is to me. One man cannot, after trying for years,
finger the flute fluently. Another will take up a flute with a newly
invented arrangement of keys on it, and play it at once with hardly a
mistake. We find people to whom writing is so difficult that they prefer
to sign their name with a mark, and beside them men who master systems
of shorthand and improvise new systems of their own as easily as they
learnt the alphabet. These contrasts are to be seen on all hands, and
have nothing to do with variations in general intelligence, nor even
in the specialized intelligence proper to the faculty in question: for
example, no composer or dramatic poet has ever pretended to be able to
perform all the parts he writes for the singers, actors, and players who
are his executants. One might as well expect Napoleon to be a fencer, or
the Astronomer Royal to know how many beans make five any better than
his bookkeeper. Even exceptional command of language does not imply the
possession of ideas to express; Mezzofanti, the master of fifty-eight
languages, had less to say in them than Shakespear with his little Latin
and less Greek; and public life is the paradise of voluble windbags.

All these examples, which might be multiplied by millions, are cases in
which a long, laborious, conscious, detailed process of acquirement has
been condensed into an instinctive and unconscious inborn one. Factors
which formerly had to be considered one by one in succession are
integrated into what seems a single simple factor. Chains of hardly
soluble problems have coalesced in one problem which solves itself
the moment it is raised. What is more, they have been pushed back (or
forward, if you like) from post-natal to pre-natal ones. The child
in the womb may take some time over them; but it is a miraculously
shortened time.

The time phenomena involved are curious, and suggest that we are either
wrong about our history or else that we enormously exaggerate the
periods required for the pre-natal acquirement of habits. In the
nineteenth century we talked very glibly about geological periods, and
flung millions of eons about in the most lordly manner in our reaction
against Archbishop Ussher's chronology. We had a craze for big figures,
and positively liked to believe that the progress made by the child in
the womb in a month was represented in prehistoric time by ages and
ages. We insisted that Evolution advanced more slowly than any snail
ever crawled, and that Nature does not proceed by leaps and bounds. This
was all very well as long as we were dealing with such acquired habits
as breathing or digestion. It was possible to believe that dozens of
epochs had gone to the slow building up of these habits. But when we
have to consider the case of a man born not only as an accomplished
metabolist, but with such an aptitude for shorthand and keyboard
manipulation that he is a stenographer or pianist at least five sixths
ready-made as soon as he can control his hands intelligently, we
are forced to suspect either that keyboards and shorthand are older
inventions than we suppose, or else that acquirements can be assimilated
and stored as congenital qualifications in a shorter time than we think;
so that, as between Lyell and Archbishop Ussher, the laugh may not be
with Lyell quite so uproariously as it seemed fifty years ago.


It is evident that the evolutionary process is a hereditary one, or,
to put it less drily, that human life is continuous and immortal. The
Evolutionists took heredity for granted. So did everybody. The human
mind has been soaked in heredity as long back as we can trace its
thought. Hereditary peers, hereditary monarchs, hereditary castes and
trades and classes were the best known of social institutions, and in
some cases of public nuisances. Pedigree men counted pedigree dogs and
pedigree horses among their most cherished possessions. Far from being
unconscious of heredity, or sceptical, men were insanely credulous about
it: they not only believed in the transmission of qualities and habits
from generation to generation, but expected the son to begin mentally
where the father left off.

This belief in heredity led naturally to the practice of Intentional
Selection. Good blood and breeding were eagerly sought after in human
marriage. In dealing with plants and animals, selection with a view to
the production of new varieties and the improvement and modification of
species had been practised ever since men began to cultivate them. My
pre-Darwinian uncle knew as well as Darwin that the race-horse and the
dray-horse are not separate creations from the Garden of Eden, but
adaptations by deliberate human selection of the medieval war-horse to
modern racing and industrial haulage. He knew that there are nearly
two hundred different sorts of dogs, all capable of breeding with one
another and of producing cross varieties unknown to Adam. He knew that
the same thing is true of pigeons. He knew that gardeners had spent
their lives trying to breed black tulips and green carnations and
unheard-of orchids, and had actually produced flowers just as strange
to Eve. His quarrel with the Evolutionists was not a quarrel with the
evidence for Evolution: he had accepted enough of it to prove Evolution
ten times over before he ever heard of it. What he repudiated was
cousinship with the ape, and the implied suspicion of a rudimentary
tail, because it was offensive to his sense of his own dignity, and
because he thought that apes were ridiculous, and tails diabolical when
associated with the erect posture. Also he believed that Evolution was
a heresy which involved the destruction of Christianity, of which, as
a member of the Irish Church (the pseudo-Protestant one), he conceived
himself a pillar. But this was only his ignorance; for man may deny his
descent from an ape and be eligible as a churchwarden without being any
the less a convinced Evolutionist.


What is more, the religious folk can claim to be among the pioneers of
Evolutionism. Weismann, Neo-Darwinist though he was, devoted a long
passage in his History of Evolution to the Nature Philosophy of Lorenz
Oken, published in 1809. Oken defined natural science as 'the science
of the everlasting transmutations of the Holy Ghost in the world.' His
religion had started him on the right track, and not only led him to
think out a whole scheme of Evolution in abstract terms, but guided his
aim in a significantly good scientific shot which brought him within the
scope of Weismann. He not only defined the original substance from which
all forms of life have developed as protoplasm, or, as he called it,
primitive slime (_Urschleim_), but actually declared that this slime
took the form of vesicles out of which the universe was built. Here was
the modern cell morphology guessed by a religious thinker long before
the microscope and the scalpel forced it on the vision of mere
laboratory workers who could not think and had no religion. They worked
hard to discover the vital secrets of the glands by opening up dogs
and cutting out the glands, or tying up their ducts, or severing their
nerves, thereby learning, negatively, that the governors of our vital
forces do not hold their incessant conversations through the nerves,
and, positively, how miserably a horribly injured dog can die, leaving
us to infer that we shall probably perish likewise if we grudge our
guineas to Harley Street. Lorenz Oken _thought_ very hard to find out
what was happening to the Holy Ghost, and thereby made a contribution of
extraordinary importance to our understanding of uninjured creatures.
The man who was scientific enough to see that the Holy Ghost is a
scientific fact got easily in front of the blockheads who could only
sin against it. Hence my uncle was turning his back on very respectable
company when he derided Evolution, and would probably have recanted and
apologized at once had anybody pointed out to him what a solecism he was

The metaphysical side of Evolution was thus no novelty when Darwin
arrived. Had Oken never lived, there would still have been millions of
persons trained from their childhood to believe that we are continually
urged upwards by a force called the Will of God. In 1819 Schopenhauer
published his treatise on The World as Will, which is the metaphysical
complement to Lamarck's natural history, as it demonstrates that the
driving force behind Evolution is a will-to-live, and to live, as Christ
said long before, more abundantly. And the earlier philosophers, from
Plato to Leibniz, had kept the human mind open for the thought of
the universe as one idea behind all its physically apprehensible


All this, remember, is the state of things in the pre-Darwin period,
which so many of us still think of as a pre-evolutionary period.
Evolutionism was the rage before Queen Victoria came to the throne. To
fix this chronology, let me repeat the story told by Weismann of the
July revolution in Paris in 1830, when the French got rid of Charles the
Tenth. Goethe was then still living; and a French friend of his called
on him and found him wildly excited. 'What do you think of the great
event?' said Goethe. 'The volcano is in eruption; and all is in flames.
There can no longer be discussion with closed doors.' The Frenchman
replied that no doubt it was a terrible business; but what could they
expect with such a ministry and such a king? 'Stuff!' said Goethe: 'I
am not thinking of these people at all, but of the open rupture in
the French Academy between Cuvier and St Hilaire. It is of the utmost
importance to science,' The rupture Goethe meant was about Evolution,
Cuvier contending that there were four species, and St Hilaire that
there was only one.

From 1830, when Darwin was an apparently unpromising lad of twenty-one,
until 1859, when he turned the world upside down by his Origin of
Species, there was a slump in Evolutionism. The first generation of its
enthusiasts was ageing and dying out; and their successors were being
taught from the Book of Genesis, just as Edward VI was (and Edward VII
too, for that matter). Nobody who knew the theory was adding anything to
it. This slump not only heightened the impression of entire novelty when
Darwin brought the subject to the front again: it probably prevented
him from realizing how much had been done before, even by his own
grandfather, to whom he was accused of being unjust. Besides, he was
not really carrying on the family business. He was an entirely original
worker; and he was on a new tack, as we shall see presently. And he
would not in any case have thought much, as a practical naturalist, of
the more or less mystical intellectual speculations of the Deists of
1790-1830. Scientific workers were very tired of Deism just then. They
had given up the riddle of the Great First Cause as insoluble, and were
calling themselves, accordingly, Agnostics. They had turned from the
inscrutable question of Why things existed, to the spade work of
discovering What was really occurring in the world and How it really

With all his attention bent in this new direction, Darwin soon noticed
that a good deal was occurring in an entirely unmystical and even
unmeaning way of which the older speculative Deist-Evolutionists had
taken little or no account. Nowadays, when we are turning in weary
disgust and disillusion from Neo-Darwinism and Mechanism to Vitalism and
Creative Evolution, it is difficult to imagine how this new departure of
Darwin's could possibly have appealed to his contemporaries as exciting,
agreeable, above all as hopeful. Let me therefore try to bring back
something of the atmosphere of that time by describing a scene, very
characteristic of its superstitions, in which I took what was then
considered an unspeakably shocking part.


One evening in 1878 or thereabouts, I, being then in my earliest
twenties, was at a bachelor party of young men of the professional class
in the house of a doctor in the Kensingtonian quarter of London. They
fell to talking about religious revivals; and an anecdote was related of
a man who, having incautiously scoffed at the mission of Messrs Moody
and Sankey, a then famous firm of American evangelists, was subsequently
carried home on a shutter, slain by divine vengeance as a blasphemer.
A timid minority, without quite venturing to question the truth of the
incident--for they naturally did not care to run the risk of going home
on shutters themselves--nevertheless shewed a certain disposition to
cavil at those who exulted in it; and something approaching to an
argument began. At last it was alleged by the most evangelical of the
disputants that Charles Bradlaugh, the most formidable atheist on the
Secularist platform, had taken out his watch publicly and challenged the
Almighty to strike him dead in five minutes if he really existed and
disapproved of atheism. The leader of the cavillers, with great heat,
repudiated this as a gross calumny, declaring that Bradlaugh had
repeatedly and indignantly contradicted it, and implying that the
atheist champion was far too pious a man to commit such a blasphemy.
This exquisite confusion of ideas roused my sense of comedy. It was
clear to me that the challenge attributed to Charles Bradlaugh was a
scientific experiment of a quite simple, straightforward, and proper
kind to ascertain whether the expression of atheistic opinions really
did involve any personal risk. It was certainly the method taught in the
Bible, Elijah having confuted the prophets of Baal in precisely that
way, with every circumstance of bitter mockery of their god when he
failed to send down fire from heaven. Accordingly I said that if the
question at issue were whether the penalty of questioning the theology
of Messrs Moody and Sankey was to be struck dead on the spot by an
incensed deity, nothing could effect a more convincing settlement of it
than the very obvious experiment attributed to Mr Bradlaugh, and that
consequently if he had not tried it, he ought to have tried it. The
omission, I added, was one which could easily be remedied there and
then, as I happened to share Mr Bradlaugh's views as to the absurdity of
the belief in these violent interferences with the order of nature by a
short-tempered and thin-skinned supernatural deity. Therefore--and at
that point I took out my watch.

The effect was electrical. Neither sceptics nor devotees were prepared
to abide the result of the experiment. In vain did I urge the pious to
trust in the accuracy of their deity's aim with a thunderbolt, and the
justice of his discrimination between the innocent and the guilty. In
vain did I appeal to the sceptics to accept the logical outcome of their
scepticism: it soon appeared that when thunderbolts were in question
there were no sceptics. Our host, seeing that his guests would vanish
precipitately if the impious challenge were uttered, leaving him alone
with a solitary infidel under sentence of extermination in five minutes,
interposed and forbade the experiment, pleading at the same time for
a change of subject. I of course complied, but could not refrain from
remarking that though the dreadful words had not been uttered, yet, as
the thought had been formulated in my mind, it was very doubtful whether
the consequences could be averted by sealing my lips. However, the rest
appeared to feel that the game would be played according to the rules,
and that it mattered very little what I thought so long as I said
nothing. Only the leader of the evangelical party, I thought, was a
little preoccupied until five minutes had elapsed and the weather was
still calm.


Another reminiscence. In those days we thought in terms of time and
space, of cause and effect, as we still do; but we do not now demand
from a religion that it shall explain the universe completely in terms
of cause and effect, and present the world to us as a manufactured
article and as the private property of its Manufacturer. We did then. We
were invited to pity the delusion of certain heathens who held that
the world is supported by an elephant who is supported by a tortoise.
Mahomet decided that the mountains are great weights to keep the world
from being blown away into space. But we refuted these orientals by
asking triumphantly what the tortoise stands on? Freethinkers asked
which came first: the owl or the egg. Nobody thought of saying that
the ultimate problem of existence, being clearly insoluble and even
unthinkable on causation lines, could not be a causation problem. To
pious people this would have been flat atheism, because they assumed
that God must be a Cause, and sometimes called him The Great First
Cause, or, in still choicer language, The Primal Cause. To the
Rationalists it would have been a renunciation of reason. Here and there
a man would confess that he stood as with a dim lantern in a dense fog,
and could see but a little way in any direction into infinity. But he
did not really believe that infinity was infinite or that the eternal
was also sempiternal: he assumed that all things, known and unknown,
were caused.

Hence it was that I found myself one day towards the end of the
eighteen-seventies in a cell in the old Brompton Oratory arguing with
Father Addis, who had been called by one of his flock to attempt my
conversion to Roman Catholicism. The universe exists, said the father:
somebody must have made it. If that somebody exists, said I, somebody
must have made him. I grant that for the sake of argument, said the
Oratorian. I grant you a maker of God. I grant you a maker of the maker
of God. I grant you as long a line of makers as you please; but an
infinity of makers is unthinkable and extravagant: it is no harder to
believe in number one than in number fifty thousand or fifty million; so
why not accept number one and stop there, since no attempt to get behind
him will remove your logical difficulty? By your leave, said I, it is as
easy for me to believe that the universe made itself as that a maker of
the universe made himself: in fact much easier; for the universe visibly
exists and makes itself as it goes along, whereas a maker for it is a
hypothesis. Of course we could get no further on these lines. He rose
and said that we were like two men working a saw, he pushing it forward
and I pushing it back, and cutting nothing; but when we had dropped the
subject and were walking through the refectory, he returned to it for a
moment to say that he should go mad if he lost his belief. I, glorying
in the robust callousness of youth and the comedic spirit, felt quite
comfortable and said so; though I was touched, too, by his evident

These two anecdotes are superficially trivial and even comic; but there
is an abyss of horror beneath them. They reveal a condition so utterly
irreligious that religion means nothing but belief in a nursery bogey,
and its inadequacy is demonstrated by a toy logical dilemma, neither
the bogey nor the dilemma having anything to do with religion, or being
serious enough to impose on or confuse any properly educated child
over the age of six. One hardly knows which is the more appalling: the
abjectness of the credulity or the flippancy of the scepticism. The
result was inevitable. All who were strong-minded enough not to be
terrified by the bogey were left stranded in empty contemptuous
negation, and argued, when they argued at all, as I argued with Father
Addis. But their position was not intellectually comfortable. A member
of parliament expressed their discomfort when, objecting to the
admission of Charles Bradlaugh into parliament, he said 'Hang it all, a
man should believe in something or somebody.' It was easy to throw the
bogey into the dustbin; but none the less the world, our corner of the
universe, did not look like a pure accident: it presented evidences of
design in every direction. There was mind and purpose behind it. As the
anti-Bradlaugh member would have put it, there must be somebody behind
the something: no atheist could get over that.


Paley had put the argument in an apparently unanswerable form. If you
found a watch, full of mechanism exquisitely adapted to produce a series
of operations all leading to the fulfilment of one central purpose of
measuring for mankind the march of the day and night, could you believe
that it was not the work of a cunning artificer who had designed and
contrived it all to that end? And here was a far more wonderful thing
than a watch, a man with all his organs ingeniously contrived, cords and
levers, girders and kingposts, circulating systems of pipes and valves,
dialysing membranes, chemical retorts, carburettors, ventilators, inlets
and outlets, telephone transmitters in his ears, light recorders and
lenses in his eye: was it conceivable that this was the work of chance?
that no artificer had wrought here? that there was no purpose in this,
no design, no guiding intelligence? The thing was incredible. In vain
did Helmholtz declare that 'the eye has every possible defect that can
be found in an optical instrument, and even some peculiar to itself,'
and that 'if an optician tried to sell me an instrument which had all
these defects I should think myself quite justified in blaming
his carelessness in the strongest terms, and sending him back his
instrument.' To discredit the optician's skill was not to get rid of the
optician. The eye might not be so cleverly made as Paley thought, but it
was made somehow, by somebody.

And then my argument with Father Addis began all over again. It was
easy enough to say that every man makes his own eyes: indeed the
embryologists had actually caught him doing it. But what about the very
evident purpose that prompted him to do it? Why did he want to see, if
not to extend his consciousness and his knowledge and his power? That
purpose was at work everywhere, and must be something bigger than the
individual eye-making man. Only the stupidest muckrakers could fail to
see this, and even to know it as part of their own consciousness. Yet to
admit it seemed to involve letting the bogey come back, so inextricably
had we managed to mix up belief in the bogey's existence with belief in
the existence of design in the universe.


Our scornful young scientific and philosophic lions of today must not
blame the Church of England for this confusion of thought. In 1562 the
Church, in convocation in London 'for the avoiding of diversities of
opinions and for the establishment of consent touching true religion,'
proclaimed in their first utterance, and as an Article of Religion,
that God is 'without body, parts, or passions,' or, as we say, an _Elan
Vital_ or Life Force. Unfortunately neither parents, parsons, nor
pedagogues could be induced to adopt that article. St John might say
that 'God is spirit' as pointedly as he pleased; our Sovereign Lady
Elizabeth might ratify the Article again and again; serious divines
might feel as deeply as they could that a God with body, parts, and
passions could be nothing but an anthropomorphic idol: no matter: people
at large could not conceive a God who was not anthropomorphic: they
stood by the Old Testament legends of a God whose parts had been seen by
one of the patriarchs, and finally set up as against the Church a God
who, far from being without body, parts, or passions, was composed of
nothing else, and of very evil passions too. They imposed this idol
in practice on the Church itself, in spite of the First Article, and
thereby homeopathically produced the atheist, whose denial of God was
simply a denial of the idol and a demonstration against an unbearable
and most unchristian idolatry. The idol was, as Shelley had been
expelled from Oxford for pointing out, an almighty fiend, with a petty
character and unlimited power, spiteful, cruel, jealous, vindictive,
and physically violent. The most villainous schoolmasters, the most
tyrannical parents, fell far short in their attempts to imitate it.
But it was not its social vices that brought it low. What made it
scientifically intolerable was that it was ready at a moment's notice to
upset the whole order of the universe on the most trumpery provocation,
whether by stopping the sun in the valley of Ajalon or sending an
atheist home dead on a shutter (the shutter was indispensable because
it marked the utter unpreparedness of the atheist, who, unable to save
himself by a deathbed repentance, was subsequently roasted through all
eternity in blazing brimstone). It was this disorderliness, this refusal
to obey its own laws of nature, that created a scientific need for its
destruction. Science could stand a cruel and unjust god; for nature was
full of suffering and injustice. But a disorderly god was impossible. In
the Middle Ages a compromise had been made by which two different orders
of truth, religious and scientific, had been recognized, in order that a
schoolman might say that two and two make four without being burnt for
heresy. But the nineteenth century, steeped in a meddling, presumptuous,
reading-and-writing, socially and politically powerful ignorance
inconceivable by Thomas Aquinas or even Roger Bacon, was incapable of
so convenient an arrangement; and science was strangled by bigoted
ignoramuses claiming infallibility for their interpretation of the
Bible, which was regarded, not as a literature nor even as a book, but
partly as an oracle which answered and settled all questions, and partly
as a talisman to be carried by soldiers in their breast pockets or
placed under the pillows of persons who were afraid of ghosts. The tract
shops exhibited in their windows bullet-dinted testaments, mothers'
gifts to their soldier sons whose lives had been saved by it; for the
muzzle-loaders of those days could not drive a projectile through so
many pages.


This superstition of a continual capricious disorder in nature, of a
lawgiver who was also a lawbreaker, made atheists in all directions
among clever and lightminded people. But atheism did not account for
Paley's watch. Atheism accounted for nothing; and it was the business of
science to account for everything that was plainly accountable. Science
had no use for mere negation: what was desired by it above all things
just then was a demonstration that the evidences of design could be
explained without resort to the hypothesis of a personal designer. If
only some genius, whilst admitting Paley's facts, could knock the brains
out of Paley by the discovery of a method whereby watches could happen
without watchmakers, that genius was assured of such a welcome from the
thought of his day as no natural philosopher had ever enjoyed before.

The time being thus ripe, the genius appeared; and his name was Charles
Darwin. And now, what did Darwin really discover?

Here, I am afraid, I shall require once more the assistance of the
giraffe, or, as he was called in the days of the celebrated Buffoon,
the camelopard (by children, cammyleopard). I do not remember how this
animal imposed himself illustratively on the Evolution controversy; but
there was no getting away from him then; and I am old-fashioned enough
to be unable to get away from him now. How did he come by his long neck?
Lamarck would have said, by wanting to get at the tender leaves high
up on the tree, and trying until he succeeded in wishing the necessary
length of neck into existence. Another answer was also possible: namely,
that some prehistoric stockbreeder, wishing to produce a natural
curiosity, selected the longest-necked animals he could find, and bred
from them until at last an animal with an abnormally long neck was
evolved by intentional selection, just as the race-horse or the fantail
pigeon has been evolved. Both these explanations, you will observe,
involve consciousness, will, design, purpose, either on the part of the
animal itself or on the part of a superior intelligence controlling its
destiny. Darwin pointed out--and this and no more was Darwin's famous
discovery--that a third explanation, involving neither will nor purpose
nor design either in the animal or anyone else, was on the cards. If
your neck is too short to reach your food, you die. That may be the
simple explanation of the fact that all the surviving animals that feed
on foliage have necks or trunks long enough to reach it. So bang goes
your belief that the necks must have been designed to reach the food.
But Lamarck did not believe that the necks were so designed in the
beginning: he believed that the long necks were evolved by wanting
and trying. Not necessarily, said Darwin. Consider the effect on the
giraffes of the natural multiplication of their numbers, as insisted on
by Malthus. Suppose the average height of the foliage-eating animals is
four feet, and that they increase in numbers until a time comes when all
the trees are eaten away to within four feet of the ground. Then the
animals who happen to be an inch or two short of the average will die
of starvation. All the animals who happen to be an inch or so above
the average will be better fed and stronger than the others. They will
secure the strongest and tallest mates; and their progeny will survive
whilst the average ones and the sub-average ones will die out. This
process, by which the species gains, say, an inch in reach, will repeat
itself until the giraffe's neck is so long that he can always find
food enough within his reach, at which point, of course, the selective
process stops and the length of the giraffe's neck stops with it.
Otherwise, he would grow until he could browse off the trees in the
moon. And this, mark you, without the intervention of any stockbreeder,
human or divine, and without will, purpose, design, or even
consciousness beyond the blind will to satisfy hunger. It is true that
this blind will, being in effect a will to live, gives away the whole
case; but still, as compared to the open-eyed intelligent wanting and
trying of Lamarck, the Darwinian process may be described as a chapter
of accidents. As such, it seems simple, because you do not at first
realize all that it involves. But when its whole significance dawns on
you, your heart sinks into a heap of sand within you. There is a hideous
fatalism about it, a ghastly and damnable reduction of beauty and
intelligence, of strength and purpose, of honor and aspiration, to such
casually picturesque changes as an avalanche may make in a mountain
landscape, or a railway accident in a human figure. To call this Natural
Selection is a blasphemy, possible to many for whom Nature is nothing
but a casual aggregation of inert and dead matter, but eternally
impossible to the spirits and souls of the righteous. If it be no
blasphemy, but a truth of science, then the stars of heaven, the showers
and dew, the winter and summer, the fire and heat, the mountains and
hills, may no longer be called to exalt the Lord with us by praise;
their work is to modify all things by blindly starving and murdering
everything that is not lucky enough to survive in the universal struggle
for hogwash.


Thus did the neck of the giraffe reach out across the whole heavens and
make men believe that what they saw there was a gloaming of the gods.
For if this sort of selection could turn an antelope into a giraffe, it
could conceivably turn a pond full of amoebas into the French
Academy. Though Lamarck's way, the way of life, will, aspiration, and
achievement, remained still possible, this newly shewn way of hunger,
death, stupidity, delusion, chance, and bare survival was also possible:
was indeed most certainly the way in which many apparently intelligently
designed transformations had actually come to pass. Had I not preluded
with the apparently idle story of my revival of the controversial
methods of Elijah, I should be asked how it was that the explorer who
opened up this gulf of despair, far from being stoned or crucified as
the destroyer of the honor of the race and the purpose of the world, was
hailed as Deliverer, Savior, Prophet, Redeemer, Enlightener, Rescuer,
Hope Giver, and Epoch Maker; whilst poor Lamarck was swept aside as a
crude and exploded guesser hardly worthy to be named as his erroneous
forerunner. In the light of my anecdote, the explanation is obvious. The
first thing the gulf did was to swallow up Paley, and the Disorderly
Designer, and Shelley's Almighty Fiend, and all the rest of the
pseudo-religious rubbish that had blocked every upward and onward path
since the hopes of men had turned to Science as their true Savior. It
seemed such a convenient grave that nobody at first noticed that it was
nothing less than the bottomless pit, now become a very real terror. For
though Darwin left a path round it for his soul, his followers presently
dug it right across the whole width of the way. Yet for the moment,
there was nothing but wild rejoicing: a sort of scientific mafficking.
We had been so oppressed by the notion that everything that happened in
the world was the arbitrary personal act of an arbitrary personal god
of dangerously jealous and cruel personal character, so that even the
relief of the pains of childbed and the operating table by chloroform
was objected to as an interference with his arrangements which he would
probably resent, that we just jumped at Darwin. When Napoleon was asked
what would happen when he died, he said that Europe would express its
intense relief with a great 'Ouf!': Well, when Darwin killed the god who
objected to chloroform, everybody who had ever thought about it said
'Ouf!' Paley was buried fathoms deep with his watch, now fully accounted
for without any divine artificer at all. We were so glad to be rid of
both that we never gave a thought to the consequences. When a prisoner
sees the door of his dungeon open, he dashes for it without stopping to
think where he shall get his dinner outside. The moment we found that we
could do without Shelley's almighty fiend intellectually, he went into
the gulf that seemed only a dustbin with a suddenness that made our own
lives one of the most astonishing periods in history. If I had told that
uncle of mine that within thirty years from the date of our conversation
I should be exposing myself to suspicions of the grossest superstition
by questioning the sufficiency of Darwin; maintaining the reality of the
Holy Ghost; declaring that the phenomenon of the Word becoming Flesh
was occurring daily, he would have regarded me as the most extravagant
madman our family had ever produced. Yet it was so. In 1906 I might
have vituperated Jehovah more heartily than ever Shelley did without
eliciting a protest in any circle of thinkers, or shocking any public
audience accustomed to modern discussion; but when I described Darwin
as 'an intelligent and industrious pigeon fancier,' that blasphemous
levity, as it seemed, was received with horror and indignation. The tide
has now turned; and every puny whipster may say what he likes about
Darwin; but anyone who wants to know what it was to be a Lamarckian
during the last quarter of the nineteenth century has only to read Mr
Festing Jones's memoir of Samuel Butler to learn how completely even a
man of genius could isolate himself by antagonizing Darwin on the one
hand and the Church on the other.


I am well aware that in describing the effect of Darwin's discovery on
naturalists and on persons capable of serious reflection on the nature
and attributes of God, I am leaving the vast mass of the British public
out of account. I have pointed out elsewhere that the British nation
does not consist of atheists and Plymouth Brothers; and I am not now
going to pretend that it ever consisted of Darwinians and Lamarckians.
The average citizen is irreligious and unscientific: you talk to him
about cricket and golf, market prices and party politics, not about
evolution and relativity, transubstantiation and predestination. Nothing
will knock into his head the fateful distinction between Evolution as
promulgated by Erasmus Darwin, and Circumstantial (so-called Natural)
Selection as revealed by his grandson. Yet the doctrine of Charles
reached him, though the doctrine of Erasmus had passed over his head.
Why did not Erasmus Darwin popularize the word Evolution as effectively
as Charles?

The reason was, I think, that Circumstantial Selection is easier to
understand, more visible and concrete, than Lamarckian evolution.
Evolution as a philosophy and physiology of the will is a mystical
process, which can be apprehended only by a trained, apt, and
comprehensive thinker. Though the phenomena of use and disuse, of
wanting and trying, of the manufacture of weight lifters and wrestlers
from men of ordinary strength, are familiar enough as facts, they are
extremely puzzling as subjects of thought, and lead you into metaphysics
the moment you try to account for them. But pigeon fanciers, dog
fanciers, gardeners, stock breeders, or stud grooms, can understand
Circumstantial Selection, because it is their business to produce
transformation by imposing on flowers and animals a Selection From
Without. All that Darwin had to say to them was that the mere chapter of
accidents is always doing on a huge scale what they themselves are doing
on a very small scale. There is hardly a laborer attached to an English
country house who has not taken a litter of kittens or puppies to the
bucket, and drowned all of them except the one he thinks the most
promising. Such a man has nothing to learn about the survival of the
fittest except that it acts in more ways than he has yet noticed; for he
knows quite well, as you will find if you are not too proud to talk to
him, that this sort of selection occurs naturally (in Darwin's sense)
too: that, for instance, a hard winter will kill off a weakly child as
the bucket kills off a weakly puppy. Then there is the farm laborer.
Shakespear's Touchstone, a court-bred fool, was shocked to find in the
shepherd a natural philosopher, and opined that he would be damned for
the part he took in the sexual selection of sheep. As to the production
of new species by the selection of variations, that is no news to your
gardener. Now if you are familiar with these three processes: the
survival of the fittest, sexual selection, and variation leading to new
kinds, there is nothing to puzzle you in Darwinism.

That was the secret of Darwin's popularity. He never puzzled anybody. If
very few of us have read The Origin of Species from end to end, it is
not because it overtaxes our mind, but because we take in the whole case
and are prepared to accept it long before we have come to the end of
the innumerable instances and illustrations of which the book mainly
consists. Darwin becomes tedious in the manner of a man who insists
on continuing to prove his innocence after he has been acquitted. You
assure him that there is not a stain on his character, and beg him to
leave the court; but he will not be content with enough evidence: he
will have you listen to all the evidence that exists in the world.
Darwin's industry was enormous. His patience, his perseverance, his
conscientiousness reached the human limit. But he never got deeper
beneath or higher above his facts than an ordinary man could follow
him. He was not conscious of having raised a stupendous issue, because,
though it arose instantly, it was not his business. He was conscious of
having discovered a process of transformation and modification which
accounted for a great deal of natural history. But he did not put it
forward as accounting for the whole of natural history. He included it
under the heading of Evolution, though it was only pseudo-evolution at
best; but he revealed it as _a_ method of evolution, not as _the_ method
of evolution. He did not pretend that it excluded other methods, or
that it was the chief method. Though he demonstrated that many
transformations which had been taken as functional adaptations (the
current phrase for Lamarckian evolution) either certainly were or
conceivably might be due to Circumstantial Selection, he was careful
not to claim that he had superseded Lamarck or disproved Functional
Adaptation. In short, he was not a Darwinian, but an honest naturalist
working away at his job with so little preoccupation with theological
speculation that he never quarrelled with the theistic Unitarianism into
which he was born, and remained to the end the engagingly simple and
socially easy-going soul he had been in his boyhood, when his elders
doubted whether he would ever be of much use in the world.


Not so the rest of us intellectuals. We all began going to the devil
with the utmost cheerfulness. Everyone who had a mind to change, changed
it. Only Samuel Butler, on whom Darwin had acted homeopathically,
reacted against him furiously; ran up the Lamarckian flag to the
top-gallant peak; declared with penetrating accuracy that Darwin had
'banished mind from the universe'; and even attacked Darwin's personal
character, unable to bear the fact that the author of so abhorrent a
doctrine was an amiable and upright man. Nobody would listen to him. He
was so completely submerged by the flowing tide of Darwinism that when
Darwin wanted to clear up the misunderstanding on which Butler was
basing his personal attacks, Darwin's friends, very foolishly and
snobbishly, persuaded him that Butler was too ill-conditioned and
negligible to be answered. That they could not recognize in Butler a
man of genius mattered little: what did matter was that they could not
understand the provocation under which he was raging. They actually
regarded the banishment of mind from the universe as a glorious
enlightenment and emancipation for which he was ignorantly ungrateful.
Even now, when Butler's eminence is unchallenged, and his biographer, Mr
Festing Jones, is enjoying a vogue like that of Boswell or Lockhart, his
memoirs shew him rather as a shocking example of the bad controversial
manners of our country parsonages than as a prophet who tried to head
us back when we were gaily dancing to our damnation across the rainbow
bridge which Darwinism had thrown over the gulf which separates life and
hope from death and despair. We were intellectually intoxicated with the
idea that the world could make itself without design, purpose, skill,
or intelligence: in short, without life. We completely overlooked the
difference between the modification of species by adaptation to their
environment and the appearance of new species: we just threw in the word
'variations' or the word 'sports' (fancy a man of science talking of
an unknown factor as a sport instead of as _x_!) and left them to
'accumulate' and account for the difference between a cockatoo and a
hippopotamus. Such phrases set us free to revel in demonstrating to the
Vitalists and Bible worshippers that if we once admit the existence of
any kind of force, however unintelligent, and stretch out the past to
unlimited time for such force to operate accidentally in, that force may
conceivably, by the action of Circumstantial Selection, produce a world
in which every function has an organ perfectly adapted to perform it,
and therefore presents every appearance of having been designed, like
Paley's watch, by a conscious and intelligent artificer for the purpose.
We took a perverse pleasure in arguing, without the least suspicion
that we were reducing ourselves to absurdity, that all the books in the
British Museum library might have been written word for word as they
stand on the shelves if no human being had ever been conscious, just
as the trees stand in the forest doing wonderful things without

And the Darwinians went far beyond denying consciousness to trees.
Weismann insisted that the chick breaks out of its eggshell
automatically; that the butterfly, springing into the air to avoid the
pounce of the lizard, 'does not wish to avoid death; knows nothing about
death,' what has happened being simply that a flight instinct evolved by
Circumstantial Selection reacts promptly to a visual impression produced
by the lizard's movement. His proof is that the butterfly immediately
settles again on the flower, and repeats the performance every time the
lizard springs, thus shewing that it learns nothing from experience,
and--Weismann concludes--is not conscious of what it does.

It should hardly have escaped so curious an observer that when the cat
jumps up on the dinner table, and you put it down, it instantly jumps
up again, and finally establishes its right to a place on the cloth by
convincing you that if you put it down a hundred times it will jump up a
hundred and one times; so that if you desire its company at dinner you
can have it only on its own terms. If Weismann really thought that
cats act thus without any consciousness or any purpose, immediate or
ulterior, he must have known very little about cats. But a thoroughgoing
Weismannite, if any such still survive from those mad days, would
contend that I am not at present necessarily conscious of what I am
doing; that my writing of these lines, and your reading of them, are
effects of Circumstantial Selection; that I heed know no more about
Darwinism than a butterfly knows of a lizard's appetite; and that the
proof that I actually am doing it unconsciously is that as I have spent
forty years in writing in this fashion without, as far as I can see,
producing any visible effect on public opinion, I must be incapable of
learning from experience, and am therefore a mere automaton. And
the Weismannite demonstration of this would of course be an equally
unconscious effect of Circumstantial Selection.


Do not too hastily say that this is inconceivable. To Circumstantial
Selection all mechanical and chemical reactions are possible, provided
you accept the geologists' estimates of the great age of the earth, and
therefore allow time enough for the circumstances to operate. It is true
that mere survival of the fittest in the struggle for existence plus
sexual selection fail as hopelessly to account for Darwin's own life
work as for my conquest of the bicycle; but who can prove that there
are not other soulless factors, unnoticed or undiscovered, which only
require imagination enough to fit them to the evolution of an automatic
Jesus or Shakespear? When a man tells you that you are a product of
Circumstantial Selection solely, you cannot finally disprove it. You can
only tell him out of the depths of your inner conviction that he is a
fool and a liar. But as this, though British, is uncivil, it is wiser to
offer him the counter-assurance that you are the product of Lamarckian
evolution, formerly called Functional Adaptation and now Creative
Evolution, and challenge him to disprove _that_, which he can no more
do than you can disprove Circumstantial Selection, both forces being
conceivably able to produce anything if you only give them rope enough.
You may also defy him to act for a single hour on the assumption that he
may safely cross Oxford Street in a state of unconsciousness, trusting
to his dodging reflexes to react automatically and promptly enough
to the visual impression produced by a motor bus, and the audible
impression produced by its hooter. But if you allow yourself to defy him
to explain any particular action of yours by Circumstantial Selection,
he should always be able to find some explanation that will fit the case
if only he is ingenious enough and goes far enough to find it. Darwin
found several such explanations in his controversies. Anybody who really
wants to believe that the universe has been produced by Circumstantial
Selection co-operating with a force as inhuman as we conceive magnetism
to be can find a logical excuse for his belief if he tries hard enough.


The stultification and damnation which ensued are illustrated by a
comparison of the ease and certainty with which Butler's mind moved to
humane and inspiring conclusions with the grotesque stupidities and
cruelties of the idle and silly controversy which arose among the
Darwinians as to whether acquired habits can be transmitted from parents
to offspring. Consider, for example, how Weismann set to work on that
subject. An Evolutionist with a live mind would first have dropped the
popular expression 'acquired habits,' because to an Evolutionist there
are no other habits and can be no others, a man being only an amoeba
with acquirements. He would then have considered carefully the process
by which he himself had acquired his habits. He would have assumed that
the habits with which he was born must have been acquired by a similar
process. He would have known what a habit is: that is, an Action
voluntarily attempted until it has become more or less automatic and
involuntary; and it would never have occurred to him that injuries or
accidents coming from external sources against the will of the victim
could possibly establish a habit; that, for instance, a family could
acquire a habit of being killed in railway accidents.

And yet Weismann began to investigate the point by behaving like the
butcher's wife in the old catch. He got a colony of mice, and cut off
their tails. Then he waited to see whether their children would be born
without tails. They were not, as Butler could have told him beforehand.
He then cut off the children's tails, and waited to see whether the
grandchildren would be born with at least rather short tails. They were
not, as I could have told him beforehand. So with the patience and
industry on which men of science pride themselves, he cut off the
grandchildren's tails too, and waited, full of hope, for the birth of
curtailed great-grandchildren. But their tails were quite up to the
mark, as any fool could have told him beforehand. Weismann then gravely
drew the inference that acquired habits cannot be transmitted. And yet
Weismann was not a born imbecile. He was an exceptionally clever and
studious man, not without roots of imagination and philosophy in him
which Darwinism killed as weeds.

How was it that he did not see that he was not experimenting with habits
or characteristics at all? How had he overlooked the glaring fact that
his experiment had been tried for many generations in China on the feet
of Chinese women without producing the smallest tendency on their part
to be born with abnormally small feet? He must have known about the
bound feet even if he knew nothing of the mutilations, the clipped ears
and docked tails, practised by dog fanciers and horse breeders on many
generations of the unfortunate animals they deal in. Such amazing
blindness and stupidity on the part of a man who was naturally
neither blind nor stupid is a telling illustration of what Darwin
unintentionally did to the minds of his disciples by turning their
attention so exclusively towards the part played in Evolution by
accident and violence operating with entire callousness to suffering and

A vital conception of Evolution would have taught Weismann that
biological problems are not to be solved by assaults on mice. The
scientific form of his experiment would have been something like this.
First, he should have procured a colony of mice highly susceptible to
hypnotic suggestion. He should then have hypnotized them into an
urgent conviction that the fate of the musque world depended on
the disappearance of its tail, just as some ancient and forgotten
experimenter seems to have convinced the cats of the Isle of Man. Having
thus made the mice desire to lose their tails with a life-or-death
intensity, he would very soon have seen a few mice born with little or
no tail. These would be recognized by the other mice as superior
beings, and privileged in the division of food and in sexual selection.
Ultimately the tailed mice would be put to death as monsters by their
fellows, and the miracle of the tailless mouse completely achieved.

The objection to this experiment is not that it seems too funny to be
taken seriously, and is not cruel enough to overawe the mob, but simply
that it is impossible because the human experimenter cannot get at the
mouse's mind. And that is what is wrong with all the barren cruelties of
the laboratories. Darwin's followers did not think of this. Their only
idea of investigation was to imitate 'Nature' by perpetrating violent
and senseless cruelties, and watch the effect of them with a paralyzing
fatalism which forbade the smallest effort to use their minds instead of
their knives and eyes, and established an abominable tradition that the
man who hesitates to be as cruel as Circumstantial Selection itself is a
traitor to science. For Weismann's experiment upon the mice was a mere
joke compared to the atrocities committed by other Darwinians in their
attempts to prove that mutilations could not be transmitted. No doubt
the worst of these experiments were not really experiments at all, but
cruelties committed by cruel men who were attracted to the laboratory by
the fact that it was a secret refuge left by law and public superstition
for the amateur of passionate torture. But there is no reason to suspect
Weismann of Sadism. Cutting off the tails of several generations of mice
is not voluptuous enough to tempt a scientific Nero. It was a mere piece
of one-eyedness; and it was Darwin who put out Weismann's humane and
sensible eye. He blinded many another eye and paralyzed many another
will also. Ever since he set up Circumstantial Selection as the creator
and ruler of the universe, the scientific world has been the very
citadel of stupidity and cruelty. Fearful as the tribal god of the
Hebrews was, nobody ever shuddered as they passed even his meanest and
narrowest Little Bethel or his proudest war-consecrating cathedral as we
shudder now when we pass a physiological laboratory. If we dreaded and
mistrusted the priest, we could at least keep him out of the house; but
what of the modern Darwinist surgeon whom we dread and mistrust ten
times more, but into whose hands we must all give ourselves from time
to time? Miserably as religion had been debased, it did at least still
proclaim that our relation to one another was that of a fellowship
in which we were all equal and members one of another before the
judgment-seat of our common father. Darwinism proclaimed that our true
relation is that of competitors and combatants in a struggle for mere
survival, and that every act of pity or loyalty to the old fellowship is
a vain and mischievous attempt to lessen the severity of the struggle
and preserve inferior varieties from the efforts of Nature to weed them
out. Even in Socialist Societies which existed solely to substitute
the law of fellowship for the law of competition, and the method of
providence and wisdom for the method of rushing violently down a steep
place into the sea, I found myself regarded as a blasphemer and an
ignorant sentimentalist because whenever the Neo-Darwinian doctrine was
preached there I made no attempt to conceal my intellectual contempt for
its blind coarseness and shallow logic, or my natural abhorrence of its
sickening inhumanity.


As there is no place in Darwinism for free will, or any other sort
of will, the Neo-Darwinists held that there is no such thing as
self-control. Yet self-control is just the one quality of survival value
which Circumstantial Selection must invariably and inevitably develop in
the long run. Uncontrolled qualities may be selected for survival and
development for certain periods and under certain circumstances. For
instance, since it is the ungovernable gluttons who strive the hardest
to get food and drink, their efforts would develop their strength and
cunning in a period of such scarcity that the utmost they could do would
not enable them to over-eat themselves. But a change of circumstances
involving a plentiful supply of food would destroy them. We see this
very thing happening often enough in the case of the healthy and
vigorous poor man who becomes a millionaire by one of the accidents of
our competitive commerce, and immediately proceeds to dig his grave with
his teeth. But the self-controlled man survives all such changes of
circumstance, because he adapts himself to them, and eats neither as
much as he can hold nor as little as he can scrape along on, but as much
as is good for him. What is self-control? It is nothing but a highly
developed vital sense, dominating and regulating the mere appetites. To
overlook the very existence of this supreme sense; to miss the obvious
inference that it is the quality that distinguishes the fittest to
survive; to omit, in short, the highest moral claim of Evolutionary
Selection: all this, which the Neo-Darwinians did in the name of Natural
Selection, shewed the most pitiable want of mastery of their own
subject, the dullest lack of observation of the forces upon which
Natural Selection works.


The Vitalist philosophers made no such mistakes. Nietzsche, for example,
thinking out the great central truth of the Will to Power instead of
cutting off mouse-tails, had no difficulty in concluding that the final
objective of this Will was power over self, and that the seekers after
power over others and material possessions were on a false scent.

The stultification naturally became much worse as the first Darwinians
died out. The prestige of these pioneers, who had the older evolutionary
culture to build on, and were in fact no more Darwinian in the modern
sense than Darwin himself, ceased to dazzle us when Huxley and Tyndall
and Spencer and Darwin passed away, and we were left with the smaller
people who began with Darwin and took in nothing else. Accordingly, I
find that in the year 1906 I indulged my temper by hurling invectives at
the Neo-Darwinians in the following terms.

'I really do not wish to be abusive; but when I think of these poor
little dullards, with their precarious hold of just that corner of
evolution that a blackbeetle can understand--with their retinue of
twopenny-halfpenny Torquemadas wallowing in the infamies of the
vivisector's laboratory, and solemnly offering us as epoch-making
discoveries their demonstrations that dogs get weaker and die if you
give them no food; that intense pain makes mice sweat; and that if you
cut off a dog's leg the three-legged dog will have a four-legged puppy,
I ask myself what spell has fallen on intelligent and humane men
that they allow themselves to be imposed on by this rabble of dolts,
blackguards, impostors, quacks, liars, and, worst of all, credulous
conscientious fools. Better a thousand times Moses and Spurgeon [a then
famous preacher] back again. After all, you cannot understand Moses
without imagination nor Spurgeon without metaphysics; but you can be a
thorough-going Neo-Darwinian without imagination, metaphysics,
poetry, conscience, or decency. For "Natural Selection" has no moral
significance: it deals with that part of evolution which has no purpose,
no intelligence, and might more appropriately be called accidental
selection, or better still, Unnatural Selection, since nothing is
more unnatural than an accident. If it could be proved that the whole
universe had been produced by such Selection, only fools and rascals
could bear to live.'


Yet the humanitarians were as delighted as anybody with Darwinism at
first. They had been perplexed by the Problem of Evil and the Cruelty of
Nature. They were Shelleyists, but not atheists. Those who believed in
God were at a terrible disadvantage with the atheist. They could not
deny the existence of natural facts so cruel that to attribute them to
the will of God is to make God a demon. Belief in God was impossible to
any thoughtful person without belief in the Devil as well. The painted
Devil, with his horns, his barbed tail, and his abode of burning
brimstone, was an incredible bogey; but the evil attributed to him was
real enough; and the atheists argued that the author of evil, if he
exists, must be strong enough to overcome God, else God is morally
responsible for everything he permits the Devil to do. Neither
conclusion delivered us from the horror of attributing the cruelty of
nature to the workings of an evil will, or could reconcile it with our
impulses towards justice, mercy, and a higher life.

A complete deliverance was offered by the discovery of Circumstantial
Selection: that is to say, of a method by which horrors having every
appearance of being elaborately planned by some intelligent contriver
are only accidents without any moral significance at all. Suppose a
watcher from the stars saw a frightful accident produced by two crowded
trains at full speed crashing into one another! How could he conceive
that a catastrophe brought about by such elaborate machinery, such
ingenious preparation, such skilled direction, such vigilant industry,
was quite unintentional? Would he not conclude that the signal-men were

Well, Circumstantial Selection is largely a theory of collisions: that
is, a theory of the innocence of much apparently designed devilry. In
this way Darwin brought intense relief as well as an enlarged knowledge
of facts to the humanitarians. He destroyed the omnipotence of God for
them; but he also exonerated God from a hideous charge of cruelty.
Granted that the comfort was shallow, and that deeper reflection was
bound to shew that worse than all conceivable devil-deities is a blind,
deaf, dumb, heartless, senseless mob of forces that strike as a tree
does when it is blown down by the wind, or as the tree itself is struck
by lightning. That did not occur to the humanitarians at the moment:
people do not reflect deeply when they are in the first happiness of
escape from an intolerably oppressive situation. Like Bunyan's pilgrim
they could not see the wicket gate, nor the Slough of Despond, nor the
castle of Giant Despair; but they saw the shining light at the end of
the path, and so started gaily towards it as Evolutionists.

And they were right; for the problem of evil yields very easily to
Creative Evolution. If the driving power behind Evolution is omnipotent
only in the sense that there seems no limit to its final achievement;
and if it must meanwhile struggle with matter and circumstance by
the method of trial and error, then the world must be full of its
unsuccessful experiments. Christ may meet a tiger, or a High Priest
arm-in-arm with a Roman Governor, and be the unfittest to survive under
the circumstances. Mozart may have a genius that prevails against
Emperors and Archbishops, and a lung that succumbs to some obscure and
noxious property of foul air. If all our calamities are either accidents
or sincerely repented mistakes, there is no malice in the Cruelty
of Nature and no Problem of Evil in the Victorian sense at all. The
theology of the women who told us that they became atheists when they
sat by the cradles of their children and saw them strangled by the hand
of God is succeeded by the theology of Blanco Posnet, with his 'It was
early days when He made the croup, I guess. It was the best He could
think of then; but when it turned out wrong on His hands He made you and
me to fight the croup for Him.'


Another humanitarian interest in Darwinism was that Darwin popularized
Evolution generally, as well as making his own special contribution to
it. Now the general conception of Evolution provides the humanitarian
with a scientific basis, because it establishes the fundamental equality
of all living things. It makes the killing of an animal murder in
exactly the same sense as the killing of a man is murder. It is
sometimes necessary to kill men as it is always necessary to kill
tigers; but the old theoretic distinction between the two acts has been
obliterated by Evolution. When I was a child and was told that our dog
and our parrot, with whom I was on intimate terms, were not creatures
like myself, but were brutal whilst I was reasonable, I not only did not
believe it, but quite consciously and intellectually formed the opinion
that the distinction was false; so that afterwards, when Darwin's views
were first unfolded to me, I promptly said that I had found out all that
for myself before I was ten years old; and I am far from sure that my
youthful arrogance was not justified; for this sense of the kinship of
all forms of life is all that is needed to make Evolution not only a
conceivable theory, but an inspiring one. St Anthony was ripe for the
Evolution theory when he preached to the fishes, and St Francis when
he called the birds his little brothers. Our vanity, and our snobbish
conception of Godhead as being, like earthly kingship, a supreme class
distinction instead of the rock on which Equality is built, had led us
to insist on God offering us special terms by placing us apart from and
above all the rest of his creatures. Evolution took that conceit out of
us; and now, though we may kill a flea without the smallest remorse, we
at all events know that we are killing our cousin. No doubt it shocks
the flea when the creature that an almighty Celestial Flea created
expressly for the food of fleas, destroys the jumping lord of creation
with his sharp and enormous thumbnail; but no flea will ever be so
foolish as to preach that in slaying fleas Man is applying a method of
Natural Selection which will finally evolve a flea so swift that no man
can catch him, and so hardy of constitution that Insect Powder will have
no more effect on him than strychnine on an elephant.


The Humanitarians were not alone among the agitators in their welcome to
Darwin. He had the luck to please everybody who had an axe to grind. The
Militarists were as enthusiastic as the Humanitarians, the Socialists as
the Capitalists. The Socialists were specially encouraged by Darwin's
insistence on the influence of environment. Perhaps the strongest moral
bulwark of Capitalism is the belief in the efficacy of individual
righteousness. Robert Owen made desperate efforts to convince England
that her criminals, her drunkards, her ignorant and stupid masses, were
the victims of circumstance: that if we would only establish his new
moral world we should find that the masses born into an educated and
moralized community would be themselves educated and moralized. The
stock reply to this is to be found in Lewes's Life of Goethe. Lewes
scorned the notion that circumstances govern character. He pointed
to the variety of character in the governing rich class to prove the
contrary. Similarity of circumstance can hardly be carried to a more
desolating dead level than in the case of the individuals who are born
and bred in English country houses, and sent first to Eton or Harrow,
and then to Oxford or Cambridge, to have their minds and habits formed.
Such a routine would destroy individuality if anything could. Yet
individuals come out from it as different as Pitt from Fox, as Lord
Russell from Lord Gurzon, as Mr Winston Churchill from Lord Robert
Cecil. This acceptance of the congenital character of the individual
as the determining factor in his destiny had been reinforced by the
Lamarckian view of Evolution. If the giraffe can develop his neck by
wanting and trying, a man can develop his character in the same way. The
old saying, 'Where there is a will, there is a way,' condenses Lamarck's
theory of functional adaptation into a proverb. This felt bracingly
moral to strong minds, and reassuringly pious to feeble ones. There was
no more effective retort to the Socialist than to tell him to reform
himself before he pretends to reform society. If you were rich, how
pleasant it was to feel that you owed your riches to the superiority
of your own character! The industrial revolution had turned numbers
of greedy dullards into monstrously rich men. Nothing could be more
humiliating and threatening to them than the view that the falling of a
shower of gold into their pockets was as pure an accident as the falling
of a shower of hail on their umbrellas, and happened alike to the just
and unjust. Nothing could be more flattering and fortifying to them than
the assumption that they were rich because they were virtuous.

Now Darwinism made a clean sweep of all such self-righteousness. It
more than justified Robert Owen by discovering in the environment of an
organism an influence on it more potent than Owen had ever claimed. It
implied that street arabs are produced by slums and not by original sin:
that prostitutes are produced by starvation wages and not by feminine
concupiscence. It threw the authority of science on the side of the
Socialist who said that he who would reform himself must first reform
society. It suggested that if we want healthy and wealthy citizens we
must have healthy and wealthy towns; and that these can exist only in
healthy and wealthy countries. It could be led to the conclusion that
the type of character which remains indifferent to the welfare of its
neighbors as long as its own personal appetite is satisfied is the
disastrous type, and the type which is deeply concerned about its
environment the only possible type for a permanently prosperous
community. It shewed that the surprising changes which Robert Owen had
produced in factory children by a change in their circumstances which
does not seem any too generous to us nowadays were as nothing to the
changes--changes not only of habits but of species, not only of species
but of orders--which might conceivably be the work of environment acting
on individuals without any character or intellectual consciousness
whatever. No wonder the Socialists received Darwin with open arms.


Besides, the Socialists had an evolutionary prophet of their own, who
had discredited Manchester as Darwin discredited the Garden of Eden.
Karl Marx had proclaimed in his Communist Manifesto of 1848 (now
enjoying Scriptural authority in Russia) that civilization is an
organism evolving irresistibly by circumstantial selection; and he
published the first volume of his Das Kapital in 1867. The revolt
against anthropomorphic idolatry, which was, as we have seen, the secret
of Darwin's success, had been accompanied by a revolt against the
conventional respectability which covered not only the brigandage and
piracy of the feudal barons, but the hypocrisy, inhumanity, snobbery,
and greed of the bourgeoisie, who were utterly corrupted by an
essentially diabolical identification of success in life with big
profits. The moment Marx shewed that the relation of the bourgeoisie to
society was grossly immoral and disastrous, and that the whited wall of
starched shirt fronts concealed and defended the most infamous of all
tyrannies and the basest of all robberies, he became an inspired prophet
in the mind of every generous soul whom his book reached. He had said
and proved what they wanted to have proved; and they would hear nothing
against him. Now Marx was by no means infallible: his economics, half
borrowed, and half home-made by a literary amateur, were not, when
strictly followed up, even favorable to Socialism. His theory of
civilisation had been promulgated already in Buckle's History of
Civilization, a book as epoch-making in the minds of its readers as Das
Kapital. There was nothing about Socialism in the widely read first
volume of Das Kapital: every reference it made to workers and
capitalists shewed that Marx had never breathed industrial air, and had
dug his case out of bluebooks in the British Museum. Compared to Darwin,
he seemed to have no power of observation: there was not a fact in Das
Kapital that had not been taken out of a book, nor a discussion that had
not been opened by somebody else's pamphlet. No matter: he exposed the
bourgeoisie and made an end of its moral prestige. That was enough: like
Darwin he had for the moment the World Will by the ear. Marx had, too,
what Darwin had not: implacability and a fine Jewish literary gift,
with terrible powers of hatred, invective, irony, and all the bitter
qualities bred, first in the oppression of a rather pampered young
genius (Marx was the spoilt child of a well-to-do family) by a social
system utterly uncongenial to him, and later on by exile and poverty.
Thus Marx and Darwin between them toppled over two closely related
idols, and became the prophets of two new creeds.


But how, at this rate, did Darwin succeed with the capitalists too? It
is not easy to make the best of both worlds when one of the worlds is
preaching a Class War, and the other vigorously practising it. The
explanation is that Darwinism was so closely related to Capitalism that
Marx regarded it as an economic product rather than as a biological
theory. Darwin got his main postulate, the pressure of population on
the available means of subsistence, from the treatise of Malthus
on Population, just as he got his other postulate of a practically
unlimited time for that pressure to operate from the geologist Lyell,
who made an end of Archbishop Ussher's Biblical estimate of the age
of the earth as 4004 B.C. plus A.D. The treatises of the Ricardian
economists on the Law of Diminishing Return, which was only the
Manchester School's version of the giraffe and the trees, were all very
fiercely discussed when Darwin was a young man. In fact the discovery in
the eighteenth century by the French Physiocrats of the economic
effects of Commercial Selection in soils and sites, and by Malthus of
a competition for subsistence which he attributed to pressure of
population on available subsistence, had already brought political
science into that unbreathable atmosphere of fatalism which is the
characteristic blight of Darwinism. Long before Darwin published a line,
the Ricardo-Malthusian economists were preaching the fatalistic Wages
Fund doctrine, and assuring the workers that Trade Unionism is a vain
defiance of the inexorable laws of political economy, just as the
Neo-Darwinians were presently assuring us that Temperance Legislation is
a vain defiance of Natural Selection, and that the true way to deal with
drunkenness is to flood the country with cheap gin and let the fittest
survive. Cobdenism is, after all, nothing but the abandonment of trade
to Circumstantial Selection.

It is hardly possible to exaggerate the importance of this preparation
for Darwinism by a vast political and clerical propaganda of its moral
atmosphere. Never in history, as far as we know, had there been such a
determined, richly subsidized, politically organized attempt to persuade
the human race that all progress, all prosperity, all salvation,
individual and social, depend on an unrestrained conflict for food and
money, on the suppression and elimination of the weak by the strong,
on Free Trade, Free Contract, Free Competition, Natural Liberty,
Laisser-faire: in short, on 'doing the other fellow down' with impunity,
all interference by a guiding government, all organization except police
organization to protect legalized fraud against fisticuffs, all
attempt to introduce human purpose and design and forethought into the
industrial welter, being 'contrary to the laws of political economy.'
Even the proletariat sympathized, though to them Capitalist liberty
meant only wage slavery without the legal safeguards of chattel slavery.
People were tired of governments and kings and priests and providences,
and wanted to find out how Nature would arrange matters if she were let
alone. And they found it out to their cost in the days when Lancashire
used up nine generations of wage slaves in one generation of their
masters. But their masters, becoming richer and richer, were very well
satisfied, and Bastiat proved convincingly that Nature had arranged
Economic Harmonies which would settle social questions far better than
theocracies or aristocracies or mobocracies, the real _deus ex machina_
being unrestrained plutocracy.


Thus the stars in their courses fought for Darwin. Every faction drew a
moral from him; every catholic hater of faction founded a hope on him;
every blackguard felt justified by him; and every saint felt encouraged
by him. The notion that any harm could come of so splendid an
enlightenment seemed as silly as the notion that the atheists would
steal all our spoons. The physicists went further than the Darwinians.
Tyndall declared that he saw in Matter the promise and potency of all
forms of life, and with his Irish graphic lucidity made a picture of a
world of magnetic atoms, each atom with a positive and a negative pole,
arranging itself by attraction and repulsion in orderly crystalline
structure. Such a picture is dangerously fascinating to thinkers
oppressed by the bloody disorders of the living world. Craving for purer
subjects of thought, they find in the contemplation of crystals and
magnets a happiness more dramatic and less childish than the happiness
found by the mathematicians in abstract numbers, because they see in the
crystals beauty and movement without the corrupting appetites of fleshly
vitality. In such Materialism as that of Lucretius and Tyndall there
is a nobility which produces poetry: John Davidson found his highest
inspiration in it. Even its pessimism as it faces the cooling of the
sun and the return of the ice-caps does not degrade the pessimist: for
example, the Quincy Adamses, with their insistence on modern democratic
degradation as an inevitable result of solar shrinkage, are not
dehumanized as the vivisectionists are. Perhaps nobody is at heart fool
enough to believe that life is at the mercy of temperature: Dante was
not troubled by the objection that Brunetto could not have lived in the
fire nor Ugolino in the ice.

But the physicists found their intellectual vision of the world
incommunicable to those who were not born with it. It came to the public
simply as Materialism; and Materialism lost its peculiar purity and
dignity when it entered into the Darwinian reaction against Bible
fetichism. Between the two of them religion was knocked to pieces; and
where there had been a god, a cause, a faith that the universe was
ordered however inexplicable by us its order might be, and therefore a
sense of moral responsibility as part of that order, there was now an
utter void. Chaos had come again. The first effect was exhilarating:
we had the runaway child's sense of freedom before it gets hungry and
lonely and frightened. In this phase we did not desire our God back
again. We printed the verses in which William Blake, the most religious
of our great poets, called the anthropomorphic idol Old Nobodaddy, and
gibed at him in terms which the printer had to leave us to guess from
his blank spaces. We had heard the parson droning that God is not
mocked; and it was great fun to mock Him to our hearts' content and not
be a penny the worse. It did not occur to us that Old Nobodaddy, instead


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