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


I will devote this chapter to the consideration of various miscellaneous objections which have been advanced against my views, as some of the previous discussions may thus be made clearer; but it would be useless to discuss all of them, as many have been made by writers who have not taken the trouble to understand the subject. Thus a distinguished German naturalist has asserted that the weakest part of my theory is, that I consider all organic beings as imperfect: what I have really said is, that all are not as perfect as they might have been in relation to their conditions; and this is shown to be the case by so many native forms in many quarters of the world having yielded their places to intruding foreigners. Nor can organic beings, even if they were at any one time perfectly adapted to their conditions of life, have remained so, when their conditions changed, unless they themselves likewise changed; and no one will dispute that the physical conditions of each country, as well as the number and kinds of its inhabitants, have undergone many mutations.

A critic has lately insisted, with some parade of mathematical accuracy, that longevity is a great advantage to all species, so that he who believes in natural selection "must arrange his genealogical tree" in such a manner that all the descendants have longer lives than their progenitors! Cannot our critics conceive that a biennial plant or one of the lower animals might range into a cold climate and perish there every winter; and yet, owing to advantages gained through natural selection, survive from year to year by means of its seeds or ova? Mr. E. Ray Lankester has recently discussed this subject, and he concludes, as far as its extreme complexity allows him to form a judgment, that longevity is generally related to the standard of each species in the scale of organisation, as well as to the amount of expenditure in reproduction and in general activity. And these conditions have, it is probable, been largely determined through natural selection.

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