Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What ever else Mr. Darwin was, he was not a Charles-Darwinian

The first time I read Deadlock on Darwinism, it was as though Samuel Butler had a personal vendetta against him; the tone was bitter with a tinge animosity.  After a second glance at the essay, Butler comes across as a passionate critic who simply wants to make the truth know.  Darwin was not the only scientist on Butler’s chopping block, he also took a close look at Wallace and treated him in just the same manner by saying their theories were both as mischievous as valuable. The major difference he made between the two was that Wallace’s writings on the theory of Natural Selection was easier to understand since he had no intention of speaking of evolution itself.  Moreover, Butler mentions how Darwin did not modify the main theory of evolution but had a way of making it come off as though it was his.  Samuel Butler praised Darwin for making his theory, as well as evolution, available to the general public knowing that the chance of them looking beyond the indisputable facts was improbable.

Although Butler made sure to point out Darwin’s lack of recognition to the real father of evolution, Buffon, as well as his grandfather, Erasmus Darwin- who before his grandson, believed that all organisms came from a single ancestor as well- he came back as to say Darwin wasn’t the first to do so.  Specifically, Butler mentions the invention of the steam engine as well as the microscope; in his exact words, “…the man who made the first teakettle did not foresee the steam engine.”()  From these examples he’s saying how all ideas come from someone previous, even if that person did not know its manifestation into something great; great ideas are an accumulation of smaller ideas.  The difference between Darwin and Thomas Savery, the inventory of the first steam engine, is that Darwin obviously knew the men who had contributed to evolution; one of the men was his grandfather!

Another problem Butler had with Darwin’s theory was his ability to contradict himself such as in the case of natural selection and use and disuse.  Samuel Butler disagreed with Darwin having both modes of evolution in one book as though it was the same theory.  Natural Selection suggests an accidental process where as use and disuses is the eventual loss or enhancement of a feature; which is by no means accidental.

A third critique on Darwin’s theory made by Butler was the transfer of genetic material from parent to offspring.  He proposed pangenesis which, in layman’s terms, says that injuries were passed through generations; he hypothesized that all cells were able to contribute in reproduction.  Butler compared this to Professor Weismann’s theory which said that it is diseases that are transferred to offspring through reproductive cells; this is similar to observations made by Mendel.  Weismann’s theory was based on experiments and numerous subjects where as Darwin’s few examples seemed to be rare coincidences.

All in all, Charles Darwin had a theory; a theory is not perfect it’s simply an idea that is to be scrutinized.  Butler was simply speculating a theory by pointing out the flaws with an intellectual view; he obviously knew this area of science considerably.  The most significant point Butler makes which proves that this essay was not a personal stab at Darwin was distinguishing between Darwinism and Darwin himself by saying, “…what ever else Mr. Darwin was, he was not a Charles-Darwinian.”

Butler, Samuel.  Essay on Life, Art and Science: Deadlock on Darwinism.  London: Ballantyne, Hanson & Co, 1908.  Print.

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