1902 Encyclopedia > Biology > Evolution. The Origin of Species. The Causes of Variation.

(Part 21)

Evolution. The Origin of Species. The Causes of Variation.

Of the causes which have led to the origination of living matter, then, it may be said that we know absolutely nothing. But postulating the existence of living matter endowed with that power of hereditary transmission, and with that tendency to vary which is found in all such matter, Mr. Darwin has shown good reasons for believing that the interaction between living matter and surrounding conditions, which results in the survival of the fittest, is sufficient to account for the gradual evolution of plants and animals from their simplest to their most complicated forms, and for the known phenomena of Morphology, Physiology, and Distribution.

Mr. Darwin has further endeavored to give a physical explanation of hereditary transmission by his hypothesis of Pangenesis; while he seeks for the principal, if not the only, cause of variation in the influence of changing conditions.

It is on this point that the chief divergence exists among those who accept the doctrine of Evolution in its general outlines. Three views may be taken of the causes of variation:-

a. In virtue of its molecular structure, the organism may tend to vary. This variability may either be indefinite, or may be limited to certain directions by intrinsic conditions. In the former case, the result of the struggle for existence would be the survival of the fittest among an indefinite number of varieties; in the latter case, it would be the survival of the fittest among a certain set of varieties, the nature and number of which would be predetermined by the molecular structure of the organism.

b. The organism may have no intrinsic tendency to vary, but variation may be brought about by the influences of conditions external to it. And in this case also, the variability induced may be either indefinite or defined by intrinsic limitation.

c. The two former cases may be combined, and variation may to some extent depend upon intrinsic, and to some extent upon extrinsic, conditions.

At present it can hardly be said that such evidence as would justify the positive adoption of any one of these views exists.

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