Charles Darwin Lectures

The Argument

In its most general principles, Darwin's theory consists of a small number of simple but interconnected, revolutionary discoveries.

1. All populations are characterized by variation—"individual differences." Arise by mutation and by reproduction within a genetic population. VARIATION CORRELATED TO POTENTIAL UTILITY.

2. Those differences tend to be passed on from parent to progeny by presently applicable "laws of heredity." PRINCIPLE OF INHERITANCE LEADING TO DIFFERENTIAL SURVIVAL.

3. Breeders often select certain variations for "desirable" traits and "add them up" by controlling the mating and environment of their population, thereby changing the form of the breed. Such controlled experiments are but a mirror of nature. Nature itself is blind and works by accidental factors in terms of variations that might or might not be useful. Definition: A population is a group of specimens with delimited boundaries which has the ability to reproduce sexually fertile offspring, usually in great bounty. New species arise through geographical isolation and genetic drift resulting in speciation over long periods of time.

4. In nature, as Thomas Malthus has shown, there is a constant struggle to survive against daunting odds. The struggle for existence is driven by scarce resources in which the overpopulation of species causes death, famine, and in humans war, because the environment cannot support redundancy. Too, there is a danger that the environment itself can suffer a catastrophe which cannot support life and its diversity as we know it.

The struggle for existence leads to much death. In other words, populations, not just individuals, must adapt to their environments or perish. Struggle is efficient in culling by extinction those unsuited to adapt to their environment. Man is the only species that kills for pleasure and wages genocidal war for reasons not serving any design of nature that we know of. Freud believed that there is a death instinct, Thanatos, that leads man to be aggressive and is an organic part of his makeup. War is sociobiologically determined, with possible neurobiological underpinnings. That is, Freud's view, which is a continuation of Darwin's view of the struggle for existence, is traceable to Thomas Malthus.

5. In such a struggle, any variation whatsoever that was in any way advantageous to an individual's struggle to survive will be "naturally selected" as the struggle eliminates those individuals who do not possess the favorable characteristic or trait. This is the doctrine of "descent by modification," which through tens of thousands of generations will produce a new species, but first will work through creating new varieties and subspecies. However, the doctrine of continuous variation is still true insofar as we now know that evolution probably does not work by leaps. PRINCIPLE OF DIVERGENCE OF CHARACTER: Natura non facit saltum (Nature does not make leaps).

Evolution is a process over many generations in which change is cumulative—quantity becomes quality. But at times times there is accelerated speciation as in the sudden and dramatic emergence of Homo sapiens over a relatively short pierod of time, 400,000 years. Natural selection and mass mutation merged as the bridging concepts that led to the Neo-Darwinin Synthesis in the 1930s. Evolution now has a sound biological basis.

Darwin's Introduction

The Introduction leads the reader to the question of adaptation, which Darwin sees as the central problem of evolution. He argues that Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Lamarckism cannot explain all cases of adaptation. Lamarckism points out that traits can be acquired, and that this factor accelerates specialization and eventually, speciation. Of course, Darwin realized this doctrine was false in The Origin of Species.

He also points out that simple progressionism, the doctrine that God created stages of development in evolution by spontaneous creation (creationism), does not even address the question of how species become adapted to their environment. Creationism begs the question of how evolution has gaps by this piece of metaphysics. From the outset, Darwin makes it clear that he will be tendering a new mechanism to explain the origin of species by adaptation.

You cannot pass on acquired traits of parents, only their genotype. Evolution proceeds by inherited traits—endless differentiation of forms in a population's genetic pool. Traits have to be transmitted by sexual selection, which is the principle of inheritance; thus, they cannot simply be acquired and somatically passed on as a structural modification.

I. Variation Under Domestication: Reasoning by Analogy

1. Can we have evolution by design? In this argument, Darwin uses the micro-model of man's domestication of animals by conscious design. Of course, this consciousness does not take place in nature. Accident and necessity dominate as a consequence. Nature progresses by means of necessity and accident in fashioning new species. Darwin seeks to establish the fact that animal and plant breeders have been able to produce immense changes within domesticated species, for instance, dogs and cats, so that they might be later convinced that nature can do likewise. There is not a one to one correspondence. Nature produces much more variation, and hence the possibility for speciation, through natural selection as opposed to artificial selection by man with his political agenda in university- and government-sponsored research; the latter entails a managed genetic program for profit. Nature works by an efficient but insensate process of advantaging favorable adaptations to challenges in the environment but internal and external to the organisms and populations involved. The argument is only suggestive and does not have real explanatory power for how nature works out there without man's presence and intervention.

2. Almost immediately, we encounter Darwin's pre-Mendelian theory of variation and inheritance. Gregor Mendel said a gene can cause multiple traits and vice versa: single traits can be traced to various genes. Dominant and recessive genes can never be lost until a species becomes extinct because its behaviors are not economical and efficient in terms of its adaptation to the environment.

3. So, Darwin contends, individual variation is attributable to the direct effect of changed conditions on the reproductive process. This acceleration of the processes in nature he believes will illuminate why domesticated species evidence more variability than wild ones. By manipulation, scientists, naturalists, and today geneticists can "improve" variation, survivability, and reproductive potential by engineering the environment and selecting the most desired breeders, that is by sexual selection. These breeds would revert if set free in the wild or more likely die because they have a nonadaptable makeup.

4. However, we realize out scale is too small to compare to nature. Natural history covers four billion years of evolution, while breeding is relatively recent and its methodology in no way can compare in sophistication and complexity to the laws of nature. The laboratory with its controlled variables only can abstract a pale likeness of nature, not its infinite diversity. Even by computer simulation, we can never approximate the richness of nature's surprises. Accidents cannot be programmed because the program would have to run for a transfinite amount of time not available to the normal, human lifespan for study and analysis.

5. Since the laws of inheritance were largely unknown to science at that time, we turn to the practical experience of the breeders. Breeders can produce new variations and eventually new species will evolve, but in limited, arbitrary ways. Nature produces new species not by human designs but by a universal process whose purposes are unknown.

6. A stable "species" is not an archetype, but merely a "moment" in the uninterrupted change that constitutes the natural world. It is not a controlled experiment like that of biologists, naturalists, and geneticists. Hence, we have again the principle of continuous variation.

7. The last point is that breeders produce these new breeds by "selecting" from the range of variation that is always there and "adding it up in a direction" by controlled mating. Again, nature itself has no such director. Nature's experiments are natural, not artificially contrived to suit man's vanity and manipulation of the ecology for profit.

II. Variation Under Nature

1. Here Darwin established that there is an adequate amount of variation in "individual differences" in nature to provide the raw material for a more efficient and stable selection process than breeding, which tends to produce "freaks" of nature that could never survive in nature itself.

2. At the next stage, he indicates that naturalists are quite aware that certain varieties tend to be found in certain locales and climates, and that they admit varieties have a common descent. Hence, successful species are the ones that have large populations distributed over large territories. They often migrate to offshore islands and produce many subspecies suited to the ecology of their respective niches in nature. There are two conflicting views of evolution: punctuated equilibrium versus gradualism. The gradualist viewpoint is the dominant one.

3. Then, he introduced the notion that well-marked varieties are "incipient species," again making the point that the term species is conditional because it is a matter of a perpetual process as well as a moment in a reproductive population in a locality. There are no barriers for new species evolving other than geographical limits. The genetic pool, with its varieties, is limitless. Severe competition results as the more alike a species' population; consequently the members with the slightest advantage will prevail and reproduce by sexual selection of the fittest. PRINCIPLE OF ADAPTATIONISM.

III. The Struggle for Existence

1. Here Darwin introduced the idea, adapted from Thomas Malthus's On Population, that all species tend to overproduce with respect to resources, thereby creating severe competition for resources. This thesis can be misapplied, and it is called Social Darwinism. It does not necessarily hold for man and the world's cultures. Social Darwinism was used to justify unjust political and social policies practiced by ruthless capitalists, who themselves did not play by their own rules. We have the example of Hitler's genocide of the Jews; of course at the war's end the Aryan nation did not prove to be the fittest. Nuremburg Racial Laws illustrate a pseudo-science because there are no Jewish or Aryan genes, simply Social Darwinism gone insane in a totalitarian system.

2. It is critical to make the connection with Darwin's earlier analogy: we must see what replaces the eye and hand of the breeder in nature. Consciousness in the laboratory is replaced by chance, struggle, necessity, and death in random sequences in nature. The theory of evolution does not predict who either individually or as a population will survive, only that all species at some time disappear, transcended by new, revolutionary variations as a supra-species or novel species.

3. There is also the point that the struggle is most intense between members of the same species or closely aligned species. This reality keeps selection focused, and also illuminates why we rarely encounter obvious "links" between species for they have been rendered extinct. PRINCIPLE OF NATURAL SELECTION THROUGH DIVERGENCE OF CHARACTER. At any moment though in a species history, changes are imperceptible.

IV. Natural Selection or the Survival of the Fittest

1. Natural selection is the principal description of Darwin's mechanism of evolution. His research has been borne out by paleontologists, biologists, and geneticists, as well as by contemporary natural historians. Natural selection or survival of the fittest proves to be more accurate in its activities as time operates more efficiently over many generations, even millions, and large geographical areas. Nature does not exhibit the constraints of the laboratory.

2. With respect to sexual selection, Darwin stresses that reproduction and not merely survival is the crucial point. He also helps to explain selection of traits that might not appear immediately useful. For instance, there might be a subtle change in form that does not come into play with respect to adaptation until many generations later. In a sense, nature creates a reserve pool of genes (variations) to allow for later modification of a species to apply to changed circumstances of life.

3. Hence, "fittest" is an unfortunate term, for, in the final analysis, much of what happens in nature is blind luck, accidental, and random, or even dictated by necessity.

4. Darwin is f two minds about the benefits of isolation of species, for reasons that have to do with his understanding of inheritance as a primarily "blending" phenomenon of continuous variation. On the one hand, isolation assists specialization because it keeps populations small and prevents crossbreeding and sterilization—both events that can constrain the most useful of variations. On the other hand, a small isolated population means lower variability, which would tend to retard the process of structural modification and the emergence of novel forms necessary to adapt to a future drastic change in the environment.

5. Last, we have the tree branching diagram of evolution in The Origin of Species. The most significant factor here is that Darwin’s tree has no central trunk or root of evolution. Ultimately, we evolved from one primordial organism. No record in geology of this leap from inorganic to organic matter. God?—Yes, Darwin pro forma states there is an initial creator who then leaves the universe. The laws of evolution work out their logic independent of a divinity.

There is no record in geology of this leap from inorganic to organic matter. No one branch can be singled out as the main line of development because each is adapting in its own way to the environmental changes it encounters in the course of its migrations often in total isolation and ignorance from other relatively independent developments. There is no way the human race can be seen as the goal toward which the evolution of the whole animal kingdom has been evolving.

6. In the end, all species tend toward extinction because the environment changes more quickly than the species can adapt, in particular man. His wars, for example, are becoming ever more destructive because of technology, while his learning curve remains static. By Darwinian logic, we are doomed. Can we reverse this trend by altering genes (instinctual traits) for aggressiveness? Or would their removal actually take away something useful?

The trait of aggressiveness helps us build great civilizations. We need some aggressiveness to be competitive; otherwise, Freud's death instinct would lead to individual and communal passivity and an anxious depression in the face of life's and civilization's challenges. The human species might die earlier if there were genetic engineering, than if left simply exposed to the chance calamities and advantages offered by nature. As Freud would say later, life and death force struggle into an interminable, open-ended dynamic, yet death/nature prevails.

In conclusion, an individual to qualify as a viable research entity in the theory of evolution may be defined as evidencing five properties: birth; stability; reproduction; senescence, and death with the possibility of difference. This working definition of an entity can be applied at several levels of interaction: the gene; individual; and the species.

VI. Classifying Humans in the Schematic of Evolution

At the level of alysis of the individual, the choosing of mates, or sexual selection, has a decisive long-term effect on a population and its collective makeup of heritable traits. Mate choosing causes divergence of characteristics in a species. Over time, cumulative inherited characteristics allow for the development of novel subspecies, particularly abetted by the adaptation to changing environments. Environments evolve, too. In a sense, species and ecologies co-evolve. The ability to reproduce in great numbers is a key indicator to the ultimate success of a species. There has to be cooperation as well as competition with the nurturing of offspring. In sexual selection, parenting is a key investment in the new generation, affecting its capacity to survive into maturity. So, individuals not only survive but their traits or genes in their offspring. To have a successful species, there must be production of efficient traits (in the genome), however slight the advantages to be passed on. So, a successfully reproducing population group, driven by sexual selection, defines the species. The likelihood of survival is not predetermined in any sense.

However, man is the only species who has altered his possibilities for future success by adversely altering his environment. Global warming is the critical variable, as it will have a significant impact on millions of species and survival rates by radically affecting their climates. A climate is an ecology or niche for the species that can be altered by man to create the Sixth Extinction—the one attributable to man’s hubris and greed alone. There is a moral component in sexual selection. As more people, particularly those who are highly educated, voluntarily abstain from sexual reproduction, that decision over generations alters the gene pool, probably favorably to the poor nations. The Malthusian principle of population kicks in, with increasing population pressures on limited resources causing war, famine, and disease in a nuclear age where even the most developmentally challenged states can produce weapons of mass destruction.

VI. Classifying Humans in the Schematic of Evolution

Kingdom of Animals: Organism eating other organisms in the food chain.

Phylum of Chordates: Internal skeletons.

Class of Mammals: Vertebrates that have hair and nurture their young.

Order of Primates: Mammals with large brains.

Family of Hominids: Large brains, canines and walk erect.

Genus Homo: Hominids with especially large brains who make tools and who have other signs of culture—Homo habilis, Homo erectus, and Homo sapiens. Man ultimately conquers nature with fire, tools, and language/culture. There develops a surplus in agriculture: civilizations tame the rivers (the Nile as an example); social division of labor between hereditary warrior kings and their priestly caste versus the worker drones who are either farmers or slave labor. Population explodes as the farmers displace the hunters and gatherers or nomadic groups who cannot compete to maintain their territory.

Species of Homo sapiens: modern human beings are writing laws for collectivities; and civilization is based on surplus population organized by a state apparatus. This cultural mechanism (memetics) allows for a priestly/warrior caste to regulate surpluses of food with the advent of farming controlled by bureaucracy. Population takes off. The warriors defend the territory against raiding nomads, and the priests preserve knowledge and make the laws, sanctified by taboos and totems, whose psychodynamics Freud had outlined. He had described the primal Oedipal conflict, which leads to sexual involution and a species' consciousness through phylogenetic transmission of the incest taboo—enabling civilization.

Reservations about The Origin of Species

The theory of evolution has been misapplied by scientists, social scientists, and an assortment of writers who wanted to define the social order by inappropriately borrowing terminology from Darwin. Darwin was ethical. He did not believe that his theory of evolution or survival of the fittest through natural selection related to the social ills of a capitalist society. His theory related only to nature and the origin of species.

Certain writers have taken his work out of context to justify abusive labor practices in the larger society. They say there is a "natural" struggle between individuals, races, classes, and nations, which leads to totalitarianism in its worst manifestation. The worst example is Hitler's doctrine of Lebensraum, in which he said his Aryan nation of Germans would have to expand toward the East in a war of extermination. There is no such entity as an Aryan nation; Germans have a diverse gene pool much as do the Jews and Slavs. It is pseudoscience. Hence, nationalism plus imperialism plus racism equals total war, in which there is a final struggle for the fittest to survive. Well, the Germans did not. They disproved their own worldview.

The world is overpopulated to a degree, but it is a fallacy to think that it is fatal to a nation. If a nation is producing, we can never have too many people; actually, it is more a liability to have too few people.

Manchester political economy or laissez-faire capitalism believed there are "iron" laws of economics to be ruthlessly applied in culling out people who cannot compete. You must keep people poor to make them virtuous—otherwise, the penalty is extinction. The rich are rich because they are chosen by God. Self-serving ideology, circular reasoning in which post facto you impute falsely a virtue in merely having been the most unethical and ruthless in having outmaneuvered and undercut your competition.

William Graham Sumner: the rich are chosen by a natural selection process of the survival of the fittest in a struggle for existence that cannot be mitigated by outside forces like the state, charitable institutions, the church, and so forth. There is no cooperation, only competition and crass greed. This description is Social Darwinism.

Capitalists are hypocrites—they eliminated rivals, namely fellow capitalists and unions. They did not allow for free competition, but worked for monopoly and union busting.

Peter Kropotkin wrote Mutual Aid in 1902. He saw mutual aid and mutual support among animals, who kill other animals only for food. Nature is economical and efficient in its maintenance of a food chain that did not allow for carnage or waste on the scale Homo sapiens have introduced as a qualitatively different variable in nature. Kropotkin said love, conscience, and solidarity allow us to coexist; otherwise there would be ceaseless war. There is an element of beneficence in which you produce what you need for use value only and there is an exchange of property, when there are surpluses, for mutual benefit. You restore to nature what you take out. Locke had this idea, too.

Man is finite, for there are no absolutes in the human world. Once you can accept that naked fact, you have attained maturity and an internal peace of mind. There will be no divine intervention to rectify any sufferings; it is childlike to think so. So said Freud.