False Biology And Fatalism -- By: John T. Gulick
BSac 65:258 (April 1908) p. 358
False Biology And Fatalism1
Herbert Spencer rests his denial of the freedom of the human will on the biological assumption that all vital activities are predetermined by activities in the environment.2 In his “Principles of Biology,” sections 169 and 170, we read: “At first, changes in the amounts and combinations of external inorganic forces, astronomic, geologic, and meteorologic were the only causes of the successive changes undergone by organisms. In time, however, the action of organisms on one another became new sources of organic modifications.” And again: “That there may be continuous changes in organism, there must be continuous changes in incident forces.”
It is evident that if our natural powers and our present conditions are so determined by the environment that we can produce but one set of actions, then no effort on our part, either individual or collective, can in the least affect the result; for we cannot change our circumstances without acting, and our actions are already determined by our circumstances.
We now raise the question, whether the assumption on which Herbert Spencer founds his philosophy, and which has been accepted without question by many biologists, is in accord with the facts of biology.
BSac 65:258 (April 1908) p. 359
Is it true that change in the character of the selection affecting any organic group is wholly determined by change in the activities surrounding the group? Or can change in the Selection be initiated and maintained through change in the organism, without any change in the environment?
External nature furnishes the means and the occasions but not the cause. Can anything be surer than that through the activities of the organism changes in its relations to the environment are often produced; and that through these changes the character of its survival is changed, and so the character of its selection? It is by virtue of its power to strive for the continuance of its life that an organism is an organism; and selection is the direct result of varying degrees of survival in the exercise of this power. We see, therefore, that the doctrine, common amongst a certain class of evolutionists, that the environment makes the organism, rests on a false assumption. One cause of this assumption has been the habit of speaking of the transforming power of selection as if it were quite distinct from the power of variation; whereas the diversity of survival, which is diversity of selection, is the direct result of the varying adaptation of the organism. The transforming power of selection is the direct res...
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