Evolution Toward What?

The Beagle Record: Selections from the Original Pictorial Records and Written Accounts of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle

edited by Richard Darwin Keynes
Cambridge University Press, 409 pp., $75.00

Darwin and the Beagle

by Alan Moorehead
Penguin Books, 224 pp., $9.95 (paper)

Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation

by Neal C. Gillespie
University of Chicago Press, 202 pp., $16.50

The Darwinian Revolution

by Michael Ruse
University of Chicago Press, 320 pp., $20.00

Somatic Selection and Adaptive Evolution

by E. J. Steele
Williams and Wallace International (Toronto), 91 pp., $14.95

Patterns of Evolution

edited by Arthur Hallam
Elsevier, 592 pp., $83.00

It is interesting that the scientific discovery that has had the greatest influence on human thought has no practical use whatever. Darwin’s demonstration that there was a time when no men existed and that we are directly descended from animals provided a whole set of new problems about the nature and limitations of religion, philosophy, and science. Yet the history of the origins of the new science of biology is still not fully understood. Did it grow out of the earlier sciences? Are we sure even today that it is an exact science, conforming to the same principles as the others? The progress of astronomy, physics, and chemistry has been charted through the centuries. But biology is a subject so recent and yet so extensive that we find it hard to see when it started or indeed where it begins and ends today. All thinking depends on the brain, so can there be boundaries between philosophy and biology? Conversely all living things consist of molecules, so does the study of life derive its fundamental principles from those of physics and chemistry? Some biologists enthusiastically say “Yes,” while others revile them as “reductionists.” Such thoughts lead us to basic metaphysical problems about whether there are fundamental laws of the universe and if so how much can human beings know about them.

These were questions that were being discussed before Darwin, as the books under review amply show. Evidence that evolution has occurred did not answer them, indeed made them more acute by blurring the old distinctions between man and the rest of nature. The growth of knowledge since then has made it quite certain that evolution has occurred and we now have some insights into its nature. It is often said that evolution has no direction, but it seems to me that the understanding that we now have of living processes shows clearly that the striving of organisms to maintain their improbable state has been the cause of an overall change that can be called progressive. The evidence for this comes from many sources. Knowledge of the repeated changes of ancient climates explains why so many creatures have become extinct. Others have then been stimulated by the new conditions to acquire fresh information that has allowed them to survive. As a result there has been, over the years, an increase in living things of information and complexity of structure and behavior.

It is true that molecular biologists have raised new problems about evolution and their focus on mutation has led to emphasis on what Jacques Monod has called Chance and Necessity. These biochemical workers are very ingenious but they should not be allowed the last word about evolution. They mostly work with bacteria and the nature of their methods forces them to consider single substances, or few of them, such as DNA or proteins. Biologists and paleontologists who study the lives of whole complicated creatures, living and extinct, emphasize other factors besides chance, and they nearly all find evidence of…

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