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|14 - Recapitulation and Conclusion||14-03 - Causes of the general belief in the immutability of species||40||
If we admit that the geological record is imperfect in an extreme degree, then such facts as the record gives, support the theory of descent with modification.
New species have come on the stage slowly and at successive intervals; and the amount of change, after equal intervals of time, is widely different in different groups.
The extinction of species and of whole groups of species, which has played so conspicuous a part in the history of the organic world, almost inevitably follows on the principle of natural selection; for old forms will be supplanted by new and improved forms.
Neither single species nor groups of species reappear when the chain of ordinary generation has once been broken.
The gradual diffusion of dominant forms, with the slow modification of their descendants, causes the forms of life, after long intervals of time, to appear as if they had changed simultaneously throughout the world.
The fact of the fossil remains of each formation being in some degree intermediate in character between the fossils in the formations above and below, is simply explained by their intermediate position in the chain of descent.
The grand fact that all extinct organic beings belong to the same system with recent beings, falling either into the same or into intermediate groups, follows from the living and the extinct being the offspring of common parents.
As the groups which have descended from an ancient progenitor have generally diverged in character, the progenitor with its early descendants will often be intermediate in character in comparison with its later descendants; and thus we can see why the more ancient a fossil is, the oftener it stands in some degree intermediate between existing and allied groups.
Recent forms are generally looked at as being, in some vague sense, higher than ancient and extinct forms; and they are in so far higher as the later and more improved forms have conquered the older and less improved organic beings in the struggle for life.
|14 - Recapitulation and Conclusion||14-01 - Recapitulation of the difficulties on the theory of Natural Selection||40||
Turning to geographical distribution, the difficulties encountered on the theory of descent with modification are grave enough.
All the individuals of the same species, and all the species of the same genus, or even higher group, must have descended from common parents; and therefore, in however distant and isolated parts of the world they are now found, they must in the course of successive generations have passed from some one part to the others.
We are often wholly unable even to conjecture how this could have been effected.
Yet, as we have reason to believe that some species have retained the same specific form for very long periods, enormously long as measured by years, too much stress ought not to be laid on the occasional wide diffusion of the same species; for during very long periods of time there will always be a good chance for wide migration by many means.
A broken or interrupted range may often be accounted for by the extinction of the species in the intermediate regions.
It cannot be denied that we are as yet very ignorant of the full extent of the various climatal and geographical changes which have affected the earth during modern periods; and such changes will obviously have greatly facilitated migration.
As an example, I have attempted to show how potent has been the influence of the Glacial period on the distribution both of the same and of representative species throughout the world.
We are as yet profoundly ignorant of the many occasional means of transport.
With respect to distinct species of the same genus inhabiting very distant and isolated regions, as the process of modification has necessarily been slow, all the means of migration will have been possible during a very long period; and consequently the difficulty of the wide diffusion of species of the same genus is in some degree lessened.
|14 - Recapitulation and Conclusion||14-02 - Recapitulation of the general and special circumstances in its favour||40||
If then we have under nature variability and a powerful agent always ready to act and select, why should we doubt that variations in any way useful to beings, under their excessively complex relations of life, would be preserved, accumulated, and inherited?
Why, if man can by patience select variations most useful to himself, should nature fail in selecting variations useful, under changing conditions of life, to her living products?
What limit can be put to this power, acting during long ages and rigidly scrutinising the whole constitution, structure, and habits of each creature, -- favouring the good and rejecting the bad?
I can see no limit to this power, in slowly and beautifully adapting each form to the most complex relations of life.
The theory of natural selection, even if we looked no further than this, seems to me to be in itself probable.
|14 - Recapitulation and Conclusion||14-05 - Effects of its adoption on the study of Natural history||40||
Embryology will reveal to us the structure, in some degree obscured, of the prototypes of each great class.
When we can feel assured that all the individuals of the same species, and all the closely allied species of most genera, have within a not very remote period descended from one parent, and have migrated from some one birthplace; and when we better know the many means of migration, then, by the light which geology now throws, and will continue to throw, on former changes of climate and of the level of the land, we shall surely be enabled to trace in an admirable manner the former migrations of the inhabitants of the whole world.
Even at present, by comparing the differences of the inhabitants of the sea on the opposite sides of a continent, and the nature of the various inhabitants of that continent in relation to their apparent means of immigration, some light can be thrown on ancient geography.
The noble science of Geology loses glory from the extreme imperfection of the record.
The crust of the earth with its embedded remains must not be looked at as a well-filled museum, but as a poor collection made at hazard and at rare intervals.
The accumulation of each great fossiliferous formation will be recognised as having depended on an unusual concurrence of circumstances, and the blank intervals between the successive stages as having been of vast duration.
But we shall be able to gauge with some security the duration of these intervals by a comparison of the preceding and succeeding organic forms.
We must be cautious in attempting to correlate as strictly contemporaneous two formations, which include few identical species, by the general succession of their forms of life.