Charles Darwin: The Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection


If it could be demonstrated that any complex organ existed, which could not possibly have been formed by numerous, successive, slight modifications, my theory would absolutely break down. But I can find out no such case. No doubt many organs exist of which we do not know the transitional grades, more especially if we look to much-isolated species, around which, according to the theory, there has been much extinction. Or again, if we take an organ common to all the members of a class, for in this latter case the organ must have been originally formed at a remote period, since which all the many members of the class have been developed; and in order to discover the early transitional grades through which the organ has passed, we should have to look to very ancient ancestral forms, long since become extinct.

We should be extremely cautious in concluding that an organ could not have been formed by transitional gradations of some kind. Numerous cases could be given among the lower animals of the same organ performing at the same time wholly distinct functions; thus in the larva of the dragon-fly and in the fish Cobites the alimentary canal respires, digests, and excretes. In the Hydra, the animal may be turned inside out, and the exterior surface will then digest and the stomach respire. In such cases natural selection might specialise, if any advantage were thus gained, the whole or part of an organ, which had previously performed two functions, for one function alone, and thus by insensible steps greatly change its nature. Many plants are known which regularly produce at the same time differently constructed flowers; and if such plants were to produce one kind alone, a great change would be effected with comparative suddenness in the character of the species. It is, however, probable that the two sorts of flowers borne by the same plant were originally differentiated by finely graduated steps, which may still be followed in some few cases.

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