Kinkazzo Burning
~ reflections & disquisitions
It takes both sunshine and rain to make a rainbow...


Charles Darwin
1. CHARLES DARWIN [biography]


Charles Darwin was born on Feb. 12, 1809, The Mount, Shrewsbury, Shropshire, Eng. d. April 19, 1882, Down House, Downe, Kent. His full name is Charles Robert Darwin.

Darwin was an English naturalist renowned for his documentation of evolution and for his theory of its operation, known as Darwinism. His evolutionary theories, propounded chiefly in two works--On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859) and The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871)--have had a profound influence on subsequent scientific thought.

Darwin was the son of Robert Waring Darwin, who had one of the largest medical practices outside of London, and the grandson of the physician Erasmus Darwin, the author of Zoonomia, or the Laws of Organic Life, and of the artisan-entrepreneur Josiah Wedgwood. Darwin thus enjoyed a secure position in the professional upper middle class that provided him with considerable social and professional advantages.

Youth and Education

Darwin's mother died when he was eight years old. Otherwise he enjoyed a golden childhood, cosseted and encouraged by adoring sisters, an older brother, and the large Darwin and Wedgwood clans. He was keenly interested in specimen collecting and chemical investigations, but at the Shrewsbury school, where he was an uninspired student, the headmaster, Dr. Samuel Butler, stressed the classics and publicly rebuked Darwin for wasting his time with chemical experiments.

At age 16 he was sent to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh, where he was repelled by surgery performed without anesthetics. During his two years in Scotland Darwin benefited from friendships with the zoologist Robert Grant, who introduced him to the study of marine animals, and the geologist Robert Jameson, who fed his growing interest in the history of the Earth.

Disappointed by Darwin's lack of enthusiasm for medicine, his father sent him to the University of Cambridge in 1827 to study divinity. At the time Darwin adhered to the conventional beliefs of the Church of England. His academic record at Christ's College was as undistinguished as it had been at Edinburgh.

He socialized considerably with hunting, shooting, riding, and sporting friends. Cambridge did not yet offer a degree in the natural sciences, but, guided by his older cousin William Darwin Fox (an entomologist who inspired in him a lifelong passion for collecting beetles), Darwin met the circle of Cambridge scientists led by the cleric-botanist John Stevens Henslow.

Soon a regular at Henslow's "open houses," Darwin accompanied him on daily walks and became known as "the man who walks with Henslow." Henslow encouraged Darwin's excitement about science and confidence in his own abilities.

On leaving Cambridge in the spring of 1831 Darwin, in preparation for a scientific trip to the Canary Islands, read Alexander von Humboldt's Personal Narrative of Travels to the Equinoctial Regions of the New Continent, a scientific travelogue of a journey to Central and the northern parts of South America. At Henslow's recommendation he accompanied Adam Sedgwick, Woodwardian professor of geology at Cambridge, on a three-week tour of North Wales to learn geologic fieldwork.

In August 1831, at Henslow's recommendation to the Admiralty, Darwin was invited to sail as the unpaid naturalist on HMS Beagle. The ship was to survey the east and west coasts of South America and continue to the Pacific islands to establish a chain of chronometric stations.

Henslow suggested Darwin as both an acute observer and a companion for the aristocratic young captain, Robert FitzRoy. (The Beagle already had a naturalist-surgeon, but one whom FitzRoy found socially unsuitable.) Robert Darwin first refused permission on grounds that it was dangerous and would not advance Charles in his career. But upon the intercession of his brother-in-law, Josiah Wedgwood II, he changed his mind.

On Dec. 27, 1831, Charles Darwin sailed from Plymouth, Eng., on the Beagle, a 10-gun brig that had been refitted as a three-masted bark. The voyage, planned for two years, lasted five, during which Darwin kept meticulous notes and sent back geologic and biologic specimens.

The Voyage of the "Beagle"

In a letter to FitzRoy accepting the post Darwin explained that he expected the voyage to be a "second birth."

There is no doubt that the years he spent exploring the South American continent and the offshore islands of the Galapagos honed his skills as a collector, observer, and theorist.

Often seasick, Darwin rested horizontally in a hammock during the worst motion and spent long periods of time ashore whenever the opportunity arose. He delighted in the exotica of the tropics.

Adventurous, he braved his way through armed political rebellions, rode with the gauchos in Argentina, and on collecting and shooting expeditions justified his earlier devotion to sport.

He joined the crew in towing the ship's boats upstream and once rescued the expedition by running to save a boat from a tidal wave. He seemed to relish danger and was sustained in the considerable discomfort by a lively curiosity.

He wrote to one of his sisters

"We have in truth the world before us. Think of the Andes; the luxuriant forest of the Guayquil, the islands of the South Sea & New South Wales. How many magnificent & characteristic views, how many and curious tribes of men we shall see. What fine opportunities for geology and studying the infinite host of living beings: Is this not a prospect to keep up the most flagging spirit?"

Darwin had brought his own books to augment the ship's extensive library. The most important scientific work was the first volume of Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology, which Henslow had urged him to read though not to believe.

Lyell argued that the face of the Earth had changed gradually over long periods of time through the continuing, cumulative effects of local disturbances, such as eruptions, earthquakes, erosion, and deposition.

Such disturbances had existed in the distant past and could be observed in the present. This view differed dramatically from that held by most contemporary geologists, who hewed to the belief that changes in the face of the Earth resulted from short- lived events of great violence that could raise mountains or flood the entire planet. During the first months of his journey Darwin was converted to Lyell's views by his own observations.

About 1,800 miles southwest of the Canary Islands the Beagle visited São Tiago, a volcanic island in the Cape Verde Islands. From the harbour Darwin saw a band of white rock extending horizontally at a height of about 45 feet above the base of the sea cliffs. The formation was calcareous and contained numerous shells, almost all of which could be found on the coast.

Darwin reasoned that a stream of lava from the ancient volcanoes had flowed over what had been ancient seabed, baking it to form the hard white rock. The whole island had subsequently been heaved up to make the sea cliff from the white band downward. Darwin also realized that the island's surface had been formed by a succession of volcanic events, not a single dramatic one. He discerned an initial subsidence, the settling of the surface around the original craters, its building up from new lava spills from different craters, and further subsidence and building up over a long period of time.

Later, in Chile, Darwin witnessed his first earthquake. He saw the land rise before his eyes. Then, after crossing the Andes in 1835, he wrote to his sister that he could understand "to a certain extent the description & manner of the force, which has elevated this great line of mountains."

He had found fossil shells at an elevation of 12,000 feet, and he theorized that a chain of suboceanic volcanoes had poured forth enormous quantities of lava that formed the Andes through a further process of upheaval and fracturing.

Darwin marveled at the whole South American continent, which he read as a vast testing ground for Lyell's ideas. To his cousin William Fox he wrote, "Everything in America is on such a grand scale. The same formations extend for 5 or 600 miles without the slightest change--for such geology one requires 6 league boots."

The data Darwin collected on the Beagle provided him with material for three books on South American geology.

Although his theories of continental change have been superseded by the theory of plate tectonics, his descriptions in letters to Henslow, which Henslow excerpted and read before the Cambridge Philosophical Society and the Geological Society of London, brought him celebrity in scientific circles even before his return.

While still on the voyage he challenged Lyell's view of the formation of coral reefs by volcanic action. Darwin contended that the reefs were part of a process of gradual changes in the Earth's crust resulting from the subsidence of some landmasses and corresponding elevations elsewhere. He explained that coral, which only grows in shallow waters, forms a reef by building up on the seafloor as the floor subsides.

He predicted that if a whole island sank below the ocean's surface, and the coral continued to grow, a reef would turn into an atoll around a lagoon. Lyell was convinced and supported Darwin's reinterpretation, which deep-sea borings in the 20th century have confirmed.

Darwin's geologic ponderings were important for geology and to his scientific development. Many of the rocks he examined contained fossils, and his constant exposure to the evidence of extinct species and the similarity of many of them to living species kept one problem at the fore: By what mechanism did new species replace extinct ones?

During the voyage Darwin developed confidence in his own observations as well as the ability to grasp a problem and work at it steadily. The isolation of the voyage, combined with the exposure to new phenomena, taught him to think for himself within the familiar scientific culture of his time.

He developed a rare combination of strengths: a dedication to careful fact gathering and a propensity to theorize about the facts. His geologic pondering on a continental scale encouraged him to search for universal laws. The voyage of the Beagle transformed Darwin into an independent and adventurous scientist who had the courage to embrace the heretical idea of the transmutation of species.

On the Origin of Species

When Darwin returned to England in 1836 he was welcomed by the scientific fraternity as a colleague and was promptly made a fellow of the Geological Society. The next year he was elected to its governing council.

In 1838 Darwin was elected to the Athenaeum, the exclusive club for men distinguished in literature, art, or science, and in 1839 he was elected to the Royal Society. Through his older brother, Erasmus, he met the historian Thomas Carlyle and the feminist Harriet Martineau. He was also a friend of Charles Babbage, whose computing machine was one of a host of scientific interests.

At this time, however, Darwin began to lead something of a double life. To the world he was busy preparing his Journal of Researches into the Geology and Natural History of the Various Countries Visited by H.M.S. Beagle, which was published in 1839.

This book, modeled in part on von Humboldt's, established the lucid style enlivened by the sharp descriptions that makes all of Darwin's works both accessible and convincing.

Darwin was also preparing his geology books and superintending the analysis and publication by specialists of The Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle (published between 1839 and 1843 with the help of a £1,000 government grant).

Privately Darwin had begun a remarkable series of notebooks in which he initiated a set of questions and answers about "the species problem." He proceeded to collect facts about species through letters and discussions with breeders, gardeners, naturalists, and zookeepers, as well as through extensive reading.

Darwin kept this interest secret while he gathered evidence to substantiate his theory of organic evolution. He was mindful of the fate of other unorthodox scientists. He jotted in his notebook, "Mention persecution of early astronomers--then add chief good of individual scientific men, is to push their science a few years in advance only of their age."

Darwin's ideas were not only scientifically radical but also could have been interpreted as actionable under the laws governing blasphemy and sedition.

England at the time was intensely evangelical, and the natural world was understood as one in which the spirit of God could be seen in the creation of new species of plants and animals that appeared to come into existence to replace those that became extinct. Darwin gradually became intellectually uncomfortable with this view of life as he confronted puzzling evidence.

Upon his return from the voyage Darwin had turned over his specimens to cataloging experts in Cambridge and London. In South America he had found fossils of extinct armadillos that were similar but not identical to the living animals.

Argentina he had seen species vary geographically; for example, the giant ostriches (rheas) on the pampas were replaced to the south in Patagonia by much smaller species, both of which were akin to but different from the African ostrich.

He had been disturbed by the fact that the birds and tortoises of the Galápagos Islands off the western coast of Ecuador tended to resemble species found on the nearby continent, while inhabitants of similar neighbouring islands in the Galapagos had quite different animal populations.

In London Darwin learned that the finches he had brought from the Galápagos belonged to different species, not merely different varieties, as he had originally believed. He also learned that the mockingbirds were of three distinct species and that the Galapagos tortoises represented at least two species and that, like many of the specimens from the archipelago, they were native to the islands but to neither of the American continents.

After Darwin received these reports, his doubts about the fixity of species crystallized into a belief in transmutation. In March 1837 he confided in his notebook that species changed from one place to another or from one era to the next. He continued analyzing his data, searching for a mechanism for this process.

Then in October 1838 Darwin read Thomas Malthus' An Essay on the Principle of Population. Malthus argued that population growth is geometric, while the food supply increases only arithmetically, and thus that population increase is always checked by a limited food supply.

Darwin recalled in his Autobiography his realization that given the struggle for existence everywhere, "favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. . . . The result of this would be the formation of new species. Here, then, I had at last got a theory"--the principle of natural selection--"by which to work."

Darwin's originality extended beyond perceiving the savagery of the natural world. Other scientists and philosophers had noted the brutality of species against species, of the lion devouring the lamb.

Darwin saw competition between individuals of a single species. He recognized that within a local population the individual with, for example, the sharper beak, the longer horn, or the brighter feather might have a better chance to survive and reproduce than other individuals. If such advantageous traits were passed on to new generations, they would eventually be predominant in future populations.

Darwin thus shifted the focus of evolutionary analysis from between to within species. He saw natural selection as the mechanism by which advantageous variations passed on to succeeding generations and by which the traits of individuals that were less competitive gradually disappeared from populations. (Later generations of biologists came to understand variations within a species as variations in the genes of its individual members, and they explained evolution as the action of natural selection upon genes responsible for advantageous traits.)

After he had hit upon natural selection, Darwin was eager to verify it, and he stepped up his inquiries to plant and animal breeders. He hoped to learn from their experience with artificial selection how natural selection worked.

Darwin still faced the problem of divergence--that is, the evolutionary development of dissimilar characteristics in closely related species that have descended from a single organic ancestor. As he had observed during his voyage, divergent species appeared on different landmasses.

Darwin solved this puzzle of geographic distribution by assigning the dissemination of populations of ocean islands to the power of wind and water. The theory of the evolution of species thus solved many puzzles in comparative anatomy, embryology, and paleontology. (For further discussion of the details of Darwin's theory, see evolution; for details of the evolution of humans, see human evolution.)

The idea of organic evolution was not new. It had been suggested a generation earlier by Erasmus Darwin and in France by Buffon, Montesquieu, Maupertuis, Diderot, and most recently Lamarck. Lamarck had drawn the first evolutionary diagram--a ladder leading from unicellular organisms to man.

But none of these earlier evolutionists had presented either a mechanism or persuasive evidence for the process. Lamarck offered the hypothesis that spontaneous generation occurs constantly, that organisms possess an "inner feeling" toward perfection, and that the traits an animal acquires to adapt to a changing environment are passed on to its descendants.

Though lack of an apparent mechanism of inheritance eventually prompted him to accept the latter idea, Darwin's theory was rooted in direct observation and an attempt to discover universal laws. His evolutionary sketch was a branching tree, not a single ladder.

Above all, Darwin rejected the prevailing view that organisms are perfectly adapted to their environment. He viewed the natural world, instead, as caught in an incessant struggle between competing individuals that have different degrees of fitness. Others had seen struggles but always between species, never within them.

By moving the battle from interspecies struggles to intraspecies competition, Darwin introduced the concept of populations--that is, localized groups consisting of members of a given species in which each individual differs from its sibling. He recognized that it is the competition within a species leading to the survival of individuals with adaptationally advantageous traits that eventually brings about the evolution of a new species.

By 1842 Darwin was confident enough in his theory to draft a short sketch, and in 1844 he composed a longer version, which he showed to his friend, the botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker. Wary of presenting his theory to the public, Darwin spent the next decade concentrating on a treatise on barnacles, in which he hinted but did not actually say that species were the product of natural selection. In the meantime the intellectual atmosphere in England altered and discussions about evolution became commonplace.

Darwin still withheld publishing his thesis. When he would have determined that the time was ripe is impossible to know, but the decision was removed from him when on June 18, 1858, he received from Alfred Russel Wallace, a naturalist working in the Malay Archipelago, a paper that perfectly summarized the theory that Darwin had been elaborating for 20 years.

Disheartened by this apparent preemption of his life's work, Darwin was saved by his friends and confidants, Lyell, Hooker, and T.H. Huxley, who arranged for a joint paper by Darwin and Wallace to be read to the Linnean Society of London on July 1, 1858.

Darwin then began work on what he called an "abstract" of the larger manuscript that he had begun two years earlier. This abstract, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life, was published on Nov. 24, 1859.

The first edition sold out immediately, and by 1872 the work had run through six editions. The theory was accepted quickly in most scientific circles. With the exception of holdouts like his old colleague Adam Sedgwick and individuals such as the biologist Richard Owen, who attacked Darwin personally, most opposition was from the clergy.

They realized that the theory of evolution was inconsistent with a literal interpretation of the book of Genesis. Orthodox Christians felt threatened by the suggestion that the natural (or living) world worked according to laws as did the physical world.

There was no place in Darwin's world for divine intervention, nor was mankind placed in a position of superiority vis-à-vis the rest of the animal world. Darwin saw man as part of a continuum with the rest of nature, not separated by divine injunction.

After the publication of the Origin, Darwin continued to write, while friends, especially Huxley, defended the theory before the public.

In June 1860 at the Oxford meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Huxley confronted the bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, who had been coached by Richard Owen. Wilberforce patronized Huxley, asking whether it was through his father or his mother that he was descended from an ape.

Darwin and his ancestor
Huxley replied that he was not ashamed of having descended from an ape but would be ashamed of an ancestor who used gifts of eloquence in the service of falsehoods. Huxley and Hooker annihilated Wilberforce's position at the Oxford debate and continued spreading what was tantamount to a gospel of evolution.

Darwin completed the elucidation of his theory in his next three books, which were all continuations of the Origin. In The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication (1868), Darwin proposed his hypothesis of pangenesis (an ill-founded attempt to account for the acquisition of hereditary characteristics, a process eventually explained in the development of cell biology and genetics).

Darwin met the issue of human evolution head-on in The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871), in which he elaborated on the controversial subject only alluded to in the Origin.

He expanded the scope of evolution to include moral and spiritual as well as physical traits and underscored man's psychological as well as physiological similarities to the great apes, predicting, "the time will before long come when it will be thought wonderful that naturalists, who were well acquainted with the comparative structure and development of man and other animals, should have believed that each was the work of a separate act of creation."

The second half of the book elaborated upon the theory of sexual selection. Darwin observed that in some species males battle other males for access to certain females. But in other species, such as peacocks, there is a social system in which the females select males according to such qualities as strength or beauty.

Twentieth-century biologists have expanded this theory to the selection by females of males who can contribute toward the survival of their offspring; i.e., female selection secures traits that make the next generation more competitive.

Although Darwin's description of female choice was roundly rejected by most scientists at the time, he adamantly defended this insight until the end of his life. While not universally accepted today, the theory of female choice has many adherents among evolutionary biologists.

The last of Darwin's sequels to the Origin, The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals (1872), was an attempt to erase the last barrier presumed to exist between human and nonhuman animals--the idea that the expression of such feelings as suffering, anxiety, grief, despair, joy, love, devotion, hatred, and anger is unique to human beings.

Darwin connected studies of facial muscles and the emission of sounds with the corresponding emotional states in man and then argued that the same facial movements and sounds in nonhuman animals express similar emotional states. This book laid the groundwork for the study of ethology, neurobiology, and communication theory in psychology.

Later Works

Throughout his career Darwin wrote two kinds of books--those with a broad canvas, such as the evolution quartet, and those with a narrow focus, such as the treatise on barnacles. His interests shifted over the years from geology to zoology to botany.

In these later works, however, he included theoretical interpretation, whereas his earlier works had contained mostly data. In On the Various Contrivances by Which British and Foreign Orchids Are Fertilised by Insects (1862) he demonstrated that plants exhibit complicated characteristics that are adaptive and that increase the survival of a species.

One such characteristic, for example, is cross-pollination (the mechanism by which pollen is transferred from one flower to another).

In explaining the interdependence of bees and orchids, Darwin noted that flowers that are pollinated by the wind have little colour, while those that need to attract insects have brightly coloured petals and sweet-smelling nectaries.

In The Different Forms of Flowers on Plants of the Same Species (1877) he observed that flowers in some species differ in the lengths of their anthers and styles, which is another adaptation for cross-pollination.

Darwin experimented in his garden at Down House in Kent where he raised two large beds of Linaria vulgaris, one from cross-pollinated and the other from self-pollinated seeds, both of which he obtained from the same parent plant. He observed, "To my surprise, the crossed plants when fully grown were plainly taller and more vigorous than the self-fertilized ones."

He continued horticultural experiments for another 12 years on 57 species and described his results in The Effects of Cross and Self Fertilization in the Vegetable Kingdom (1876).

Here he developed the theme that there are hereditary advantages in having two sexes in both the plant and animal kingdoms--to ensure cross-fertilization, which, as he knew from experiments, produced healthier, more vigorous offspring.

A younger Darwin, from the Galapagos period

Darwinism is the concept of organic evolution, from a common ancestor, by means of natural selection. The theory was popularized by its namesake, English naturalist Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882 --- see above). Darwin's theory first appeared in his book, On the Origin of Species in 1859. Later, Darwin expanded his evolutionary model to include humans. He discussed the scientific importance of man's antiquity in his other major work, The Descent of Man.

Darwin was not the first scientist to propose a theory of evolution. Even Darwin's own grandfather, English physician and naturalist Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), gained fame for this theories of organic development. Relying on much of the pioneering work of his contemporaries in the fields of geology and biology, and upon his own observations of animal populations he made while circumnavigation the globe as ship's naturalist aboard the H.M.S. BeagleDarwin set forth to explain the inter-linking of all organic life and the processes by which new species were created.

Darwinism holds that evolution is the product of an ongoing struggle of species to better adapt to their environment. Individual specimen that best adapted survived to reproduce and replace less-suited individuals. This phenomenon was dubbed "survival of the fittest", or natural selection. In this way, Darwin believed that traits of maximum adaptiveness were transferred to future generations of the animal population. Since Darwin's theory preceded the discovery of the modes of genetic heredity, Darwin erroneously ascribed the passing down of traits as a function of the blood. He hypothesized that infinitesimal transmutations untimely resulted in larger changes, and eventually speciation. Darwin further concluded that unexpressed traits and variants could be diluted out of a population.

One of the initial criticisms of Darwinism was its inability to explain why species remained static. Transmutation, as Darwin explained it, could have resulted in seemingly infinite varieties of organisms. In later works, Darwin further addressed these questions of variation by attributing the conservation of specific characteristics within a species population to selected breeding.

When writing about his observations, Darwin often described the natural world in terms of reminiscent of the society to which he was accustomed. Some historians believe that this use of familiar terminology and cultural patterns left Darwin's theories vulnerable to the numerous layman re-interpretations to which the more philosophical aspects of the theory became subject. Darwin's ideas about members of natural species populations embattled in an ongoing struggle for existence, and the triumph of the "survival of the fittest", was later applied to social theory. So-called Social Darwinism was used to justify the dominion of some men over others, and was the philosophical backbone of modern imperialism. Darwin resented appropriation of his works by social theorists, and considered it a misinterpretation of his scientific theory [see below on Marxism et al.].

Darwinism became widely popular among most contemporary scientists. The discovery, however, of genetic laws of heredity called into question Darwin's interpretation of natural selection. Darwinism briefly fell out of favor in the late 1800s before enjoying renewed acceptance after being revised to explain its evolutionary mechanisms in genetic terms. This modern synthesis became known as Neo-Darwinism.

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Now, let’s see some parallels...


~Darwin’s Gradualism
~No Progress?
~Marxism and Darwinism
~Darwin and Malthus
~Social Darwinism

Darwin’s Gradualism

"It is sometimes said that the standpoint of dialectics is identical with that of evolution. There can be no doubt that these two methods have points of contact. Nevertheless, between them there is a profound and important difference which, it must be admitted, is far from favouring the teaching of evolution. Modern evolutionists introduce a considerable admixture of conservatism into their teaching. They want to prove that there are no leaps either in nature or in history. Dialectics, on the other hand, knows full well that in nature and also in human thought and history leaps are inevitable. But it does not overlook the undeniable fact that the same uninterrupted process is at work in all phases of change. It only endeavours to make clear to itself the series of conditions under which gradual change must necessarily lead to a leap." (Plekhanov)

Darwin regarded the pace of evolution as a gradual process of orderly steps. It proceeded at a constant rate. He adhered to Linnaeus’ motto: "Nature does not make leaps." This conception was reflected elsewhere in the scientific world, most notably with Darwin’s disciple, Charles Lyell, the apostle of gradualism in the field of geology. Darwin was so committed to gradualism, that he built his whole theory on it. "The geological record is extremely imperfect," stated Darwin, "and this fact will to a large extent explain why we do not find interminable varieties, connecting together all the extinct and existing forms of life by the finest graduated steps. He who rejects these views on the nature of the geological record, will rightly reject my whole theory." This Darwinism gradualism was rooted in the philosophical views of Victorian society. From this ‘evolution’ all the leaps, abrupt changes and revolutionary transformations are eliminated. This anti-dialectical outlook has held sway over the sciences to this present day. "A deeply rooted bias of Western thought predisposes us to look for continuity and gradual change," says Gould.

However, these views have given rise to a heated controversy. The present fossil record is full of gaps. It reveals long term trends, but they are also very jerky. Darwin believed that these jerks were due to the gaps in the record. Once the missing pieces were discovered, it would reveal a gradual smooth evolution of the natural world. Or would it? Against the gradualist approach, palaeontologists Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould have put forward a theory of evolution called punctuated equilibria, suggesting that the fossil record is not as incomplete as had been thought. The gaps could reflect what really occurred. That evolution proceeds with leaps and jumps, punctuated with long periods of steady, gradual development.

"The history of life is not a continuum of development, but a record punctuated by brief, sometimes geologically instantaneous, episodes of mass extinction and subsequent diversification," says Gould. Rather than a gradual transition, "modern multicellular animals make their first uncontested appearance in the fossil record some 570 million years ago—and with a bang, not a protracted crescendo. This ‘Cambrian explosion’ marks the advent (at least into direct evidence) of virtually all major groups of modern animals—and all within the minuscule span, geologically speaking, of a few million years."

Gould also points to the feature that the boundaries of geological time coincide with turning points in the evolution of life. This conception of evolution comes very close to the Marxist view. Evolution is not some smooth, gradual movement from lower to higher. Evolution takes place through accumulated changes which burst through in a qualitative change, through revolutions and transformations. Almost a century ago, the Marxist George Plekhanov polemicised against the gradual conception of evolution:

"German idealist philosophy," he noted, "decisively revolted against such a misshapen conception of evolution. Hegel bitingly ridiculed it, and demonstrated irrefutably that both in nature and in human society leaps constituted just as essential a stage of evolution as gradual quantitative changes. ‘Changes in being,’ he says, ‘consists not only in the fact that one quantity passes into another quantity, but also that quality passes into quality, and vice versa. Each transition of the latter kind represents an interruption in gradualness, and gives the phenomenon a new aspect, qualitatively distinct from the previous one.’"

"Evolution" and "revolution" are two sides of the same process. In rejecting gradualism, Gould and Eldredge have sought an alternative explanation of evolution, and have been influenced by dialectical materialism. Gould’s paper on "Punctuated Equilibria" draws parallels with the materialist conception of history. Natural selection theory is a good explanation of how species get better at doing what they do, but provides an unsatisfactory explanation for the formation of new species. The fossil record shows six major mass extinctions took place at the beginning and end of the Cambrian period (600 million and 500 million years ago respectively), and the ends of the Devonian (345 million years ago), the Permian (225 million), the Triassic (180 million) and the Cretaceous (63 million). A qualitatively new approach is needed to explain this phenomenon.

The evolution of a new species is marked by the evolution of a genetic make-up that allows members of the new species to breed with each other, but not with members of other species. New species arise from a branching off from ancestral stocks. That is, as Darwin explained, one species descended from another species. The tree of life shows that more than one species can be traced back to one ancestral stock. Humans and chimpanzees are different species, but had one common extinct ancestor. Change from one species into another takes place rapidly between two stable species. This transformation does not take place in one generation or two, but over possibly hundreds of thousands of years. As Gould comments: "This may seem like a long time in the framework of our lives, but it is a geological instant…If species arise in hundreds or thousands of years and then persist, largely unchanged, for several million, the period of their origin is a tiny fraction of one percent of their total duration."

The key to this change lies in geographical separation, where a small population has become separated from the main population at its periphery. This form of speciation, called triallopac, allows a rapid evolution to take place. As soon as an ancestral species is separated, the inter-breeding stops. Any genetic changes build up separately. However, in the smaller population, genetic variations can spread very quickly in comparison to the ancestral group. This can be brought about by natural selection responding to changing climatic and geographical factors. As the two populations diverge, they eventually reach a point where two species are formed. Quantitative changes have given rise to a qualitative transformation. If they ever meet in the future, then so genetically divergent are they, that they are unable to breed successfully; either their offspring will be sickly or sterile. Eventually, similar species with the same way of life, would tend to compete, leading eventually to the extinction of the least successful.

As Engels commented: "The organic process of development, both of the individual and of species, by differentiation, is the most striking test of rational dialectics." Again, "The further physiology develops, the more important for it becomes these incessant, infinitely small changes, and hence the more important for it also the consideration of differences within identity, and the old abstract standpoint of formal identity, that an organic being is to be treated as something simply identical with itself, as something constant, becomes out of date." Engels then concludes: "If there the individuals which become adapted survive and develop into a new species by continually increasing adaption, while the other more stable individuals die away and finally die out, and with them the imperfect intermediate stages, then this can and does proceed without any Malthusianism, and if the latter should occur at all it makes no change to the process, at most it can accelerate it."

Gould correctly says that the theory of punctuated equilibria is not in contradiction to the main tenet of Darwinism, natural selection, but, on the contrary, enriches and strengthens Darwinism. Richard Dawkins in his book The Blind Watchmaker attempts to down-grade Gould and Eldredge’s recognition of dialectical change in nature. He sees little difference between "real" Darwinian gradualism and "punctuated equilibria." He states: "The theory of punctuated equilibrium is a gradualist theory, albeit it emphasises long periods of stasis intervening between relatively short bursts of gradualistic evolution. Gould has misled himself by his own rhetorical emphasis…" Dawkins then concludes, "in reality, all are ‘gradualists.’"

Dawkins criticises the punctuationists for attacking and misrepresenting Darwin. He says we need to see Darwin’s gradualism in its context—as an attack on creationism. "Punctuationists, then, are really just as gradualist as Darwin or any other Darwinian; they just insert long periods of stasis between spurts of gradual evolution." But this is not a secondary difference, it is the essence of the matter. To criticise the weakness of Darwinism is not to undermine its unique contribution, but to synthesise it with an understanding of real change. Only then can Darwin’s historic contribution be fully rounded out as an explanation of natural evolution. As Gould correctly says, "The modern theory of evolution does not require gradual change. In fact, the operation of Darwinian processes should yield what we see in the fossil record. It is gradualism that we must reject, not Darwinism."


The fundamental thrust of Gould’s argument is undoubtedly correct. What is more problematical is his idea that evolution does not travel an inherently progressive path:

"Increasing diversity and multiple transitions seem to reflect a determined and inexorable progression toward higher things," states Gould. "But the palaeontological record supports no such interpretation. There has been no steady progress in the higher development of organic design. For the first two thirds to five-sixths of life’s history, monerans alone inhabited the earth, and we detect no steady progress from ‘lower’ to ‘higher’ prokaryotes. Likewise, there has been no addition of basic designs since the Cambrian explosion filled our biosphere (although we can argue for limited improvement within a few designs—vertebrates and vascular plants, for example)."

Gould argues, particularly in his book, Wonderful Life, that the number of animal phyla (basic body plans) was greater soon after the "Cambrian explosion" than today. He says diversity has not increased and there are no long-term trends in evolution, and the evolution of intelligent life is accidental.

Here it seems to us that Eric Lerner’s criticisms of Gould are correct:

"Not only is there a huge difference between the contingencies that lead to the evolution of a particular species and a long-term trend in evolution, such as towards greater adaptability or intelligence, but Gould rests his case on facts that are an example of just such a trend!" says Lerner. "Over time, evolution has tended to concentrate more and more on specific modes of development. Nearly all chemical elements were in existence ten billion years ago or more. The types of compounds vital to life—DNA, RNA, proteins, and so on—were all present on earth some four billion years ago. The main kingdoms of life—animals, plants, fungi, and bacteria—have existed for two billion years; there have been no new ones in that time. As Gould shows, the main phyla have existed for six hundred million years, and the major orders (a lower grouping) for about four hundred million years.

"As evolution has sped up, it has become more and more specific, and the earth has been transformed by the social evolution of a single species, our own. This is exactly the sort of long-term trend that Gould, despite his great contribution to evolutionary theory, is ideologically determined to ignore. Yet it exists, as does the trend towards intelligence."

The fact that evolution has resulted in greater complexity, from lower organisms to higher ones, leading to human beings with large brains capable of the most complex tasks, is proof of its progressive character. That does not mean that evolution takes place in a straight ascending line, as Gould correctly argues; there are breaks, retrogressions, and pauses within the general progress of evolution. Although natural selection takes place in response to environmental changes (even of a local character), it nevertheless has led to greater complexity of life forms. Certain species have adapted to their environment and have existed in that form for millions of years. Other species have become extinct having lost out in competition with other more advanced models. That is the evidence of the evolution of life over the past 3.5 billion years.

The reason for Gould’s emphatic rejection of the notion of progress in evolution has more to do with social and political reasons than strictly scientific ones. He knows that the idea of evolutionary progress and "higher species" have been systematically misused in the past in order to justify racism and imperialism—the alleged superiority of the white man was supposed to give the nations of Europe the right to seize the land and wealth of the "lesser breeds without the law" in Africa and Asia. As late as the 1940s respectable men of science were still publishing "evolutionary trees" showing the white man on top, with the black and other "races" on separate and lower branches, a little higher than the gorillas and chimpanzees. When questioned about his rejection of the notion of progress in evolution as "noxious," Gould justified himself as follows:

"‘Progress is not intrinsically and logically noxious,’ he replied. ‘It’s noxious in the context of Western cultural traditions.’ With roots going back to the seventeenth century, progress as a central social ethic reached its height in the nineteenth century, with the industrial revolution and Victorian expansionism, Steve explained. Fears of self-destruction in recent decades, either militarily inflicted or through pollution, have dulled the eternal optimism of the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nevertheless, the assumed inexorable march of scientific discovery and economic growth continue to fuel the idea that progress is a good and natural part of history. ‘Progress has been a prevailing doctrine in the interpretation of historical sequence,’ Steve continued, ‘and since evolution is the grandest history of all, the notion of progress immediately got transferred to it. You are aware of some of the consequences of that.’"

One can sympathise with Gould’s reaction to such ignorant and reactionary rubbish. It is also true that terms like "progress" may not be ideal from a strictly scientific point of view when applied to evolution. There is always the risk that it could imply a teleological approach, that is, the conception of nature as operating according to a preestablished plan, worked out by a Creator. However, as usual, the reaction has swung too far the other way. If the word progress is inadequate, it could be substituted by, say, complexity. Can it be denied that there has been real development in living organisms since the first single-celled animals until now?

There is no need to return to the old one-sided view of Man, the culminating point of evolution, in order to accept that the past 3.5 billion years of evolution has not just meant change, but actual development, passing from simpler forms to more complex living systems. The fossil record bears witness to this. For example, the dramatic increase in average brain size with the evolution of mammals from reptiles, some 230 million years ago. Similarly, there was a qualitative leap in brain size with the emergence of humans, and this, in turn, did not take place as a smooth quantitative process, but as a series of leaps, with homo habilis, homo erectus, homo neanderthalis, and finally homo sapiens, representing decisive turning points.

There is no reason to suppose that evolution has reached its limit, or that human beings will experience no further development. The process of evolution will continue, although it will not necessarily take the same form as in the past. Profound changes in the social environment, including genetic engineering, can modify the process of natural selection, giving human beings for the first time the possibility of determining their own evolution, at least to some degree. This will open up an entirely new chapter in human development, especially in a society guided by the free and conscious decisions of men and women, and not the blind play of market forces and the animal struggle for survival.


"The kinds of values upheld in Marxist doctrine are almost diametric opposites from those which emerge from a scientific approach on our present terms." (Roger Sperry, winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize for Medicine.)

"The church takes her stand against the inroads of chaos and the twentieth century gods of Progress and a materialistic world-view…Genesis then rings true as ever, whether one follows an evolutionary account of biological origins or not." (Blackmore and Page, Evolution: the Great Debate)

Using the method of dialectical materialism, Marx and Engels were able to discover the laws that govern history and the development of society in general. Unconsciously using a similar method, Charles Darwin was able to uncover the laws of evolution of plants and animals. "Darwin applied a consistent philosophy of materialism to his interpretation of nature," states palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould. "Matter is the ground of all existence; mind, spirit, and God as well, are just words that express the wondrous results of neuronal complexity."

Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution revolutionised our outlook on the natural world. Before him, the prevailing view amongst scientists was that species were immutable, having been created by God for specific functions in nature. Some accepted the idea of evolution, but in a mystical form, directed by vital forces which left room for the decisive intervention of the Supreme Being. Darwin represents a decisive break with this idealist outlook. For the first time, primarily though not exclusively through a process of natural selection, evolution provided an explanation of how species have changed over billions of years, from the simplest forms of unicellular organisms to the most complex forms of animal life, including ourselves. Darwin’s revolutionary contribution was to discover the mechanism that brought about change, thereby putting evolution on a firm scientific basis.

There is a rough analogy here with the role played by Marx and Engels in the field of the social sciences. Long before them, others had recognised the existence of the class struggle. But not until Marx’s analysis of the Labour Theory of Value and the development of historical materialism, was it possible to provide this phenomenon with a scientific explanation. Marx and Engels gave enthusiastic support to Darwin’s theory which provided confirmation for their ideas, as applied to nature. On 16th January, 1861, Marx wrote to Lassalle: "Darwin’s book is very important and serves me as a natural scientific basis for the class struggle in history. One has to put up with the crude English method of development, of course. Despite all deficiencies, not only is the death-blow dealt here for the first time to ‘teleology’ in the natural sciences but its rational meaning is empirically explained."

Darwin’s Origin of Species appeared in 1859, the same year that Marx published his Preface to the Critique of Political Economy, which fully rounded out the materialist conception of history. Darwin had worked out the theory of natural selection more than twenty years earlier, but refrained from publication for fear of the reaction to his materialist views. Even then, he only referred to human origins with the phrase "light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history." Only when he could not hide them any longer was The Descent of Man published in 1871. Such were its disquieting ideas, Darwin was rebuked for publishing "at a moment when the sky of Paris was red with the incendiary flames of the Commune." He studiously avoided the question of religion, although he clearly had rejected Creationism. In 1880, he wrote: "It seems to me (rightly or wrongly) that direct arguments against Christianity and Theism hardly have any effect on the public; and that freedom of thought will best be promoted by that gradual enlightening of human understanding which follows the progress of science. I have therefore always avoided writing about religion and have confined myself to science."

Darwin’s materialist conception of nature was a revolutionary break-through in providing a scientific conception of evolution. However, Marx was by no means uncritical of Darwin. In particular, he criticised his "crude English method" and showed how Darwin’s deficiencies were based upon the influences of Adam Smith and Malthus. Lacking a definite philosophical standpoint, Darwin inevitably fell under the influence of the prevailing ideology of the times. The Victorian English middle class prided themselves on being practical men and women, with a gift for making money and "getting on in life." The "survival of the fittest," as a description of natural selection, was not originally used by Darwin, but by Herbert Spencer in 1864. Darwin was not concerned with progress in Spencer’s sense—human progress based on the elimination of the "unfit"—and was unwise to adopt his phrase. Likewise, the phrase "struggle for existence" was used by Darwin as a metaphor, but it was distorted by conservatives, who used Darwin’s theories for their own end. To Social Darwinists, the most popular catchwords of the Darwinian "survival of the fittest" and "struggle for existence", when applied to society suggested that nature would ensure the best competitors in a competitive situation would win, and that this process would lead to continuing improvement. It followed from this that all attempts to reform social processes were efforts to remedy the irremediable, and that, as they interfered with the wisdom of nature, they could lead only to degeneration. As Dobzhansky put it:

"Since Nature is ‘red in tooth and claw,’ it would be a big mistake to let our sentiments interfere with Nature’s intentions by helping the poor, the weak, and the generally unfit to the point where they will be as comfortable as the rich, the strong, and the fit. In the long run, letting Nature reign will bring the greatest benefits. ‘Pervading all Nature we may see at work a stern discipline which is a little cruel that it may be very kind,’ wrote Herbert Spencer."

Darwin beardless

"Population, when unchecked, increases in a geometrical ratio. Subsistence only increases in an arithmetical ratio." (Thomas Robert Malthus, The Principle of Population.)

The laissez faire economics of Adam Smith may have given Darwin an insight into natural selection, but as Engels remarked: "Darwin did not know what a bitter satire he wrote on mankind, and especially on his countrymen, when he showed that free competition, the struggle for existence, which the economists celebrate as the highest historical achievement, is the normal state of the Animal Kingdom." (75) Darwin was inspired by Malthus’s Essay on Population written in 1798. This theory purports to show that population grows geometrically and food supplies only arithmetically, unless checked by famine, war, disease, or restraint. It was shown to be false.

Unlike Spencer, Darwin understood "fitness" in relation only to a given environment, not to an absolute scale of perfection. In fact, neither of the two terms with which Darwin’s name is chiefly associated, "evolution" and "survival of the fittest," occurs in early editions of The Origins, where his key ideas are expressed by the words "mutability" and "natural selection." On the 18th June 1862, Marx wrote to Engels: "Darwin, whom I have looked up again, amuses me when he says he is applying the ‘Malthusian’ theory also to plants and animals, as if with Mr. Malthus the whole point were not that he does not apply the theory to plants and animals but only to human beings—and with geometrical progression—as opposed to plants and animals." Engels also rejected Darwin’s crude description or jargon, and says: "Darwin’s mistake lies precisely in lumping together in ‘natural selection’ or the ‘survival of the fittest’, two absolutely separate things:

"1. Selection by the pressure of over-population, where perhaps the strongest survive in the first place, but where the weakest in many respects can also do so.

"2. Selection by greater capacity of adaption to altered circumstances, where the survivors are better suited to these circumstances, but where this adaption as a whole can mean regress just as well as progress (for adaption to parasitic life is always regress).

"The main thing: that each advance in organic evolution is at the same time a regression, fixing one-sided evolution and excluding evolution along many other directions. This, however, (is) a basic law."

Clearly, there exists a struggle for survival—though not in the Spencerian sense—in nature where scarcity exists, or danger to the members of a species through predators. "However great the blunder made by Darwin in accepting the Malthusian theory so naively and uncritically," says Engels, "nevertheless anyone can see at the first glance that no Malthusian spectacles are required to perceive the struggle for existence in nature—the contradiction between the countless host of germs which nature so lavishly produces and the small number of those which ever reach maturity, a contradiction which in fact for the most part finds its solution in a struggle for existence—often of extreme cruelty."

Many species produce vast numbers of seeds or eggs to maximise their survival rate, particularly in the early years of life. On the other hand, the human species has survived in other ways, as its development is very slow, and where a great deal of energy and effort is invested in raising very few, late maturing offspring. Our advantage lies within our brain, and its capacity for learning and generalisation. Our population growth is not controlled by the death of large numbers of our offspring, and so cannot be compared crudely to other species.

History itself provides the final answer to Malthus. A. N. Whitehead has pointed out that from the tenth to the 20th century, a continually rising population in Europe was accompanied by generally rising living standards. This cannot be squared with the Malthusian theory, even if the question of "checks" is introduced, a means of "delaying the inevitable outcome." A thousand years should be sufficient to demonstrate the correctness or otherwise of any theory. "The plain truth," as Whitehead says, "is that during this period and over that area (i.e., Europe) the so-called checks were such that the Malthusian Law represented a possibility, unrealised and of no importance."

Whitehead points out that the alleged "checks" were not even in proportion to the density of the population. For example, the plagues were mainly the result, not of population size, but of bad sanitation. Not birth control, but soap, water, and proper drains would have been the remedy. The Thirty Years War cut the population of Germany by half—quite a drastic "check" on population growth. The war had several causes, but excessive population has never been mentioned as one of them. Nor, to the best of our knowledge, has it played a noticeable role in any of the other wars in which European history is so rich. For example, the peasant uprisings at the end of the Middle Ages in France, Germany and England were not caused by excess population. As a matter of fact, they occurred precisely at a time when the population had been decimated by the Black Death. At the beginning of the 16th century, Flanders was thickly populated, yet enjoyed far higher living standards than Germany, where the grinding poverty of the peasants contributed to the Peasants’ War.

Malthus’ theories are worthless from a scientific point of view but have consistently served as an excuse for the most inhuman application of so-called market policies. In the Irish potato famine of the 1840s, as a result of which the population of Ireland was reduced from over 8 million to 4.5 million, the English landlords in Ireland continued to export wheat. Following sound free market principles, the "Liberal" government in London refused to introduce any measure which might interfere with free trade or prices, and cancelled the supply of cheap maize to the Irish, therefore condemning millions to death by starvation. The Malthusian principles of the English government were defended by Charles Grenville, secretary to the Privy Council thus:

"…The state of Ireland is to the last degree deplorable, and enough to induce despair: such general disorganisation and demoralisation, a people with rare exceptions besotted with obstinacy and indolence, reckless and savage—all from high to low intent on doing as little and getting as much as they can, unwilling to rouse and exert themselves, looking to this country for succour, and snarling at the succour which they get; the masses brutal, deceitful and idle, the whole state of things contradictory and paradoxical. While menaced with the continuance of famine next year, they will not cultivate the ground, and it lies unsown and untilled. There is no doubt that the people never were so well off on the whole as they have been this year of famine. Nobody will pay rent, and the savings banks are overflowing. With the money they get from our relief funds they buy arms instead of food, and then shoot the officers who are sent over to regulate the distribution of relief. While they crowd to the overseers with demands for employment, the landowners cannot produce hands, and sturdy beggars calling themselves destitute are apprehended with large sums in their pockets. 28th November, 1846."

The real state of affairs was described by Doctor Burritt, who was horrified to see men working on roads with their limbs swollen to almost twice their normal size. The body of a twelve year old boy was "swollen to nearly three times its usual size and had burst the ragged garment which covered him." Near a place called Skull, "we passed a crowd of 500 people, half naked and starving. They were waiting for soup to be distributed amongst them. They were pointed out to us, and as I stood looking with pity and wonder at so miserable a scene, my conductor, a gentleman residing at East Skull and a medical man, said to me: ‘Not a single one of those you now see will be alive in three weeks: it is impossible.’…The deaths here average 40 to 50 daily. Twenty bodies were fortunate in getting buried at all. The people build themselves up in their cabins, so that they may die together with their children and not be seen by passers-by."

There was no more reason for these people to die of hunger than it is for millions to starve today, while farmers are paid not to grow food in the European Union and USA. They are not victims of the laws of nature, but of the laws of the market.

From the beginning, Marx and Engels denounced the false theories of Malthusianism. Answering the arguments of "Parson Malthus," in a letter to Lange dated 29th March 1865 Engels wrote: "The pressure of population is not upon the means of subsistence but upon the means of employment; mankind could multiply more rapidly than modern bourgeois society can demand. To us a further reason for declaring this bourgeois society a barrier to development which must fall."

The introduction of machinery, new scientific techniques and fertilisers means that world food production can easily keep abreast of population growth. The spectacular growth in the productivity of agriculture is taking place when the proportion of the population involved in it continues to fall. The extension of the agricultural efficiency already attained in the advanced countries to the entire farming world would yield a huge increase in production. Only a very small part of the vast biological productivity of the ocean is used at present. Hunger and starvation exist mainly due to the destruction of food surpluses to keep up the price of food and the need to maintain the profit levels of the agro-monopolies.

The widespread hunger in the so-called Third World is not the product of "natural selection," but very definitely a man-made problem. Not the "survival of the fittest," but greed for profits of a handful of big banks and monopolies is what condemns millions to a life of desperate poverty and actual starvation. Just to pay back the interest on their accumulated debts, the poorest countries are compelled to grow cash crops for export, including rice, cocoa and other food, which could be used to feed their own people. In 1989, Sudan was still exporting food, while its people starved to death. In Brazil, it is estimated that about 400,000 children die of hunger every year. Yet Brazil is one of the biggest exporters of food. The same discredited ideas continue to re-surface from time to time, as an attempt is made to blame the nightmare conditions of the Third World on the fact that there are "too many people" (meaning black, yellow and brown people). The fact that, in the absence of pensions, poor peasants need to have as many children as possible (especially sons) to keep them in old age, is conveniently ignored. Poverty and ignorance causes the so-called "population problem." As living standards and education increase, the growth in population tends to fall automatically. Meanwhile, the potential for increased food production is immense, and is being held down artificially in order to boost the profits of a few wealthy farmers in Europe, Japan and the USA. The scandal of mass starvation in the late 20th century is even more repugnant because it is unnecessary.


Although they greatly admired Darwin, Marx and Engels were by no means uncritical of his theories. Engels understood that Darwin’s ideas would be later refined and developed—a fact confirmed by the development of genetics. He wrote to Lavrov in November 1875: "Of the Darwinian doctrine I accept the theory of evolution, but Darwin’s method of proof (struggle for life, natural selection) I consider only a first, provisional, imperfect expression of a newly discovered fact." And again in his book Anti-D�hring: "The theory of evolution itself is however still in a very early stage, and it therefore cannot be doubted that further research will greatly modify our present conceptions, including strictly Darwinian ones, of the process of the evolution of species"

Engels sharply criticised Darwin’s one-sidedness as well as the Social Darwinism that was to follow. "Hardly was Darwin recognised," states Engels, "before these same people saw everywhere nothing but struggle. Both views are justified within narrow limits, but both are equally one-sided and prejudiced…Hence, even in regard to nature, it is not permissible one-sidely to inscribe only ‘struggle’ on one’s banners. But it is absolutely childish to desire to sum up the whole manifold wealth of historical evolution and complexity in the meagre and one-sided phrase ‘struggle for life.’ That says less than nothing." He then goes on to explain the roots of this error: "The whole Darwinian theory of the struggle for life is simply the transference from society to organic nature of Hobbes’ theory of Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes (the war of each against all—ed.), and of the bourgeois economic theory of competition, as well as the Malthusian theory of population. When once this feat has been accomplished (the unconditional justification for which, especially as regards the Malthusian theory, is still very questionable), it is very easy to transfer these theories back again from natural history to the history of society, and altogether too naive to maintain that thereby these assertions have been proved as eternal natural laws of society."

The Social Darwinian’s parallels with the animal world fitted in with the prevailing racist arguments that human character was based upon the measurement of men’s skulls. For D. G. Brinton, "the European or white race stands at the head of the list, the African or Negro at its foot" (1890). Cesare Lombroso, an Italian physician, in 1876, argued that born criminals were essentially apes, a throw-back in evolution. It was part of the desire to explain human behaviour in terms of innate biology—a tendency which can still be observed today. The ‘struggle for survival’ was seen as innate in all animals including man, and served to justify war, conquest, profiteering, imperialism, racialism, as well as the class structure of capitalism. It is the fore runner of the cruder varieties of sociobiology and the theories of the Naked Ape. After all, was it not W. S. Gilbert whose satire proclaimed:

"Darwinian Man, though well-behaved,
At best is only a monkey shaved!"

Darwin stressed that "Natural Selection has been the most, but not the exclusive, means of modification." He explained that the adaptive changes in one part can lead to modifications of other features that have no bearing on survival. However, as opposed to the idealist conception of life, epitomised by the Creationists, the Darwinians scientifically explained how life evolved on the planet. It was a natural process which can be explained by the laws of biology, and the interaction of organisms with their environment. Independently of Darwin, another naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace, had also constructed the theory of natural selection. This prompted Darwin to go into print after more than twenty years delay. However, an essential difference between Darwin and Wallace, was that Wallace believed all evolutionary change or modification to be determined solely by natural selection. But the rigid hyper-selectionist Wallace would end up rejecting natural selection when it concerned the brain and intellect, concluding that God had intervened to construct this unique creation!

Darwin explained that the evolution of life, with its rich and varied forms, was an inevitable consequence of the reproduction of life itself. Firstly, like breeds like, with minor variations. But secondly, all organisms tend to produce more offspring than survive and breed. Those offspring which have the greatest chance of survival are those more equipped to adapt to their surroundings, and, in turn, their offspring will tend to be more like them. The characteristics of these populations will, over time, increasingly adapt to their environment. In other words, the "fittest" survive and spread their favoured characteristics through populations. In nature, Darwinian evolution is a response to changing environments. Nature "selects" organisms with characteristics best able to adapt to its surroundings. "Evolution by natural selection," says Gould, "is no more than a tracking of these changing environments by differential preservation of organisms better designed to live in them." Thus, natural selection directs the course of evolutionary change. This discovery by Darwin was described by Leon Trotsky as "the highest triumph of the dialectic in the whole field of organic matter."

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