Monday, November 22, 2010

Samuel Butler’s Improvements to Darwinism

The Essays on Life, Art and Science, by Samuel Butler provide stark criticism against Darwin and his writings on evolution. In the “Deadlock in Darwinism”, Butler by no means attempts to dismantle Darwin’s argument but rather, he intends to improve upon it. Therefore, what must be critiqued of Butler, is whether he achieves this aim or not? In his introduction of the “Deadlock”, Butler makes his position quite clear that he intends to show “how misled and misleading both these distinguished men (Darwin and Wallace) have been”. Furthermore, Butler is hypercritical of Darwin in that he admittedly writes in “the most out-spoken way” believing “their work to have been as mischievous as it as been valuable, and as valuable as it has been mischievous”. 
Instead of Evolution occurring in stages of chance and fortunate accidents, Butler maintains that there is “far too much evidence of design in animal organization to allow of our setting down its marvels to the accumulations of fortunate accident, undirected by will, effort and intelligence”. He is able to make his point by giving his readers a scientific foundation to work off of – such as making reference to Paley’s “Natural Theology” and descriptions of research conducted by men like Malthus and Wallace. Moreover, Butler is correct in his critique on Darwin. He wasn’t the first person to write about Evolution, and what’s more, there was no way that his theory on chance and happy accidents could be proven. However, what Butler has to say in response is just as objective. He claims that cunning plays a part in evolution – that behavior, effort, will and desire will have an effect on how one adapts. His ideas in this sense could be torn down just as easily as Darwin’s for lack of concrete evidence. What we know is that evolution happened. What we don’t know is how it did. How did the Giraffe stretch to become the animal with the longest neck? Is it due to his desire to reach leaves at the top of the tree? Or is the long neck a result of mutation that allowed him to live longer than the rest of his animal competitors? Is it a combination of both? What is strong about Butler’s argument is that it serves to Critique Darwin on his own terms. It is very clear that he read Darwin’s works, and wrote his response accordingly.
But is Butler successful in improving upon Darwin’s theory? The answer is, yes. He took the loopholes in Darwin’s writing and pinpointed them out. And he didn’t merely point a finger, he added something else into the mix that was scientifically backed and just as applicable as what Darwin put forth.  Butler has effectively identified the falsities of Darwinism as it had been accepted by his public and not necessarily broken the ‘deadlock on Darwinism’ but moreover, he has added another avenue to the deadlock through which one might hopefully find their way. 
Katelyn Letkemann

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