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Darwin Correspondence Project

Essay: Design versus necessity

—by Asa Gray


(American Journal of Science and Arts, September, 1860)

D.T.—Is Darwin’s theory atheistic or pantheistic? or, does it tend to atheism or pantheism? Before attempting any solution of this question, permit me to say a few words tending to obtain a definite conception of necessity and design, as the sources from which events may originate, each independent of the other; and we shall, perhaps, best attain a clear understanding of each, by the illustration of an example in which simple human designers act upon the physical powers of common matter.

Suppose, then, a square billiard-table to be placed with its corners directed to the four cardinal points. Suppose a player, standing at the north corner, to strike a red ball directly to the south, his design being to lodge the ball in the south pocket; which design, if not interfered with, must, of course be accomplished. Then suppose another player, standing at the east corner, to direct a white ball to the west corner. This design also, if not interfered with, must be accomplished. Next suppose both players to strike their balls at the same instant, with like forces, in the directions before given. In this case the balls would not pass as before, namely, the red ball to the south, and the white ball to the west, but they must both meet and strike each other in the centre of the table, and, being perfectly elastic, the red ball must pass to the west pocket, and the white ball to the south pocket. We may suppose that the players acted wholly without concert with each other, indeed, they may be ignorant of each other’ s design, or even of each other’s existence; still we know that the events must happen as herein described. Now, the first half of the course of these two balls is from an impulse, or proceeds from a power, acting from design. Each player has the design of driving his ball across the table in a diagonal line to accomplish its lodgment at the opposite corner of the table. Neither designed that his ball should be deflected from that course and pass to another corner of the table. The direction of this second part of the motion must be referred entirely to necessity, which directly interferes with the purpose of him who designed the rectilinear direction. We are not, in this case, to go back to find design in the creation of the powers or laws of inertia and elasticity, after the order of which the deflection, at the instant of collision, necessarily takes place. We know that these powers were inherent in the balls, and were not created to answer this special deflection. We are required, by the hypothesis, to confine attention in point of time, from the instant preceding the impact of the balls, to the time of their arrival at the opposite corners of the table. The cues are moved by design. The impacts are acts from design. The first half of the motion of each ball is under the direction of design. We mean by this the particular design of each player. But, at the instant of the collision of the balls upon each other, direction from design ceases, and the balls no longer obey the particular designs of the players, the ends or purposes intended by them are not accomplished, but frustrated, by necessity, or by the necessary action of the powers of inertia and elasticity, which are inherent in matter, and are not made by any design of a Creator for this special action, or to serve this special purpose, but would have existed in the materials of which the balls were made, although the players had never been born.

I have thus stated, by a simple example in physical action, what is meant by design and what by necessity; and that the latter may exist without any dependence upon the former. If I have given the statement with what may be thought, by some, unnecessary prolixity, I have only to say that I have found many minds to have a great difficulty in conceiving of necessity as acting altogether independent of design.

Let me now trace these principles as sources of action in Darwin’s work or theory. Let us see how much there is of design acting to produce a foreseen end, and thus proving a reasoning and self-conscious Creator; and how much of mere blind power acting without rational design, or without a specific purpose or conscious foresight. Mr. Darwin has specified in a most clear and unmistakable manner the operation of his three great powers, or rather, the three great laws by which the organic power of life acts in the formation of an eye. (See p. 169.) Following the method he has pointed out, we will take a number of animals of the same species, in which the eye is not developed. They may have all the other senses, with the organs of nutrition, circulation, respiration, and locomotion. They all have a brain and nerves, and some of these nerves may be sensitive to light; but have no combination of retina, membranes, humors, etc., by which the distinct image of an object may be formed and conveyed by the optic nerve to the cognizance of the internal perception, or the mind. The animal in this case would be merely sensible of the difference between light and darkness. He would have no power of discriminating form, size, shape, or color, the difference of objects, and to gain from these a knowledge of their being useful or hurtful, friends or enemies. Up to this point there is no appearance of necessity upon the scene. The billiard-balls have not yet struck together, and we will suppose that none of the arguments that may be used to prove, from this organism, thus existing, that it could not have come into form and being without a creator acting to this end with intelligence and design, are opposed by anything that can be found in Darwin’s theory; for, so far, Darwin’s laws are supposed not to have come into operation. Give the animals, thus organized, food and room, and they may go on, from generation to generation, upon the same organic level. Those individuals that, from natural variation, are born with light-nerves a little more sensitive to light than their parents, will cross or interbreed with those who have the same organs a little less sensitive, and thus the mean standard will be kept up without any advancement. If our billiard-table were sufficiently extensive, i. e., infinite, the balls rolled from the corners would never meet, and the necessity which we have supposed to deflect them would never act.

The moment, however, that the want of space or food commences natural selection begins. Here the balls meet, and all future action is governed by necessity. The best forms, or those nerves most sensitive to light, connected with incipient membranes and humors for corneas and lenses, are picked out and preserved by natural selection, of necessity. All cannot live and propagate, and it is a necessity, obvious to all, that the weaker must perish, if the theory be true. Working on, in this way, through countless generations, the eye is at last formed in all its beauty and excellence. It must (always assuming that this theory is true) result from this combined action of natural variation, the struggle for life, and natural selection, with as much certainty as the balls, after collision, must pass to corners of the table different from those to which they were directed, and so far forth as the eye is formed by these laws, acting upward from the nerve merely sensitive to light, we can no more infer design, and from design a designer, than we can infer design in the direction of the billiard-balls after the collision. Both are sufficiently accounted for by blind powers acting under a blind necessity. Take away the struggle for life from the one, and the collision of the balls from the other—and neither of these was designed—and the animal would have gone on without eyes. The balls would have found the corners of the table to which they were first directed.

While, therefore, it seems to me clear that one who can find no proof of the existence of an intelligent Creator except through the evidence of design in the organic world, can find no evidence of such design in the construction of the eye, if it were constructed under the operation of Darwin’s laws, I shall not for one moment contend that these laws are incompatible with design and a self-conscious, intelligent Creator. Such design might, indeed, have coexisted with the necessity or natural selection; and so the billiard-players might have ‘designed the collision of their balls; but neither the formation of the eye, nor the path of the balls after collision, furnishes any sufficient proof of such design in either case.

One, indeed, who believes, from revelation or any other cause, in the existence of such a Creator, the fountain and Source of all things in heaven above and in the earth beneath, will see in natural variation, the struggle for life, and natural selection, only the order or mode in which this Creator, in his ‘own perfect wisdom, sees fit to act. Happy is he who can thus see and adore. But how many are there who have no such belief from intuition, or faith in revelation; but who have by careful and elaborate search in the physical, and more especially in the organic world, inferred, by induction, the existence of God from what has seemed to them the wonderful adaptation of the different organs and parts of the animal body to its, apparently, designed ends! Imagine a mind of this skeptical character, in all honesty and under its best reason, after finding itself obliged to reject the evidence of revelation, to commence a search after the Creator, in the light of natural theology. He goes through the proof for final cause and design, as given in a summary though clear, plain, and convincing form, in the pages of Paley and the “Bridgewater Treatises.” The eye and the hand, those perfect instruments of optical and mechanical contrivance and adaptation, without the least waste or surplusage—these, say Paley and Bell, certainly prove a designing maker as much as the palace or the watch proves an architect or a watchmaker. Let this mind, in this state, cross Darwin’s work, and find that, after a sensitive nerve or a rudimentary hoof or claw, no design is to be found. From this point upward the development is the mere necessary result of natural selection; and let him receive this law of natural selection as true, and where does he find himself? Before, he could refer the existence of the eye, for example, only to design, or chance. There was no other alternative. He rejected chance, as impossible. It must then be a design. But Darwin brings up another power, namely, natural selection, in place of this impossible chance. This not only may, but, according to Darwin, must of necessity produce an eye. It may indeed coexist with design, but it must exist and act and produce its results, even without design. Will such a mind, under such circumstances, infer the existence of the designer—God—when he can, at the same time, satisfactorily account for the thing produced, by the operation of this natural selection? It seems to me, therefore, perfectly evident that the substitution of natural selection, by necessity, for design in the formation of the organic world, is a step decidedly atheistical. It is in vain to say that Darwin takes the creation of organic life, in its simplest forms, to have been the work of the Deity. In giving up design in these highest and most complex forms of organization, which have always been relied upon as the crowning proof of the existence of an intelligent Creator, without whose intellectual power they could not have been brought into being, he takes a most decided step to banish a belief in the intelligent action of God from the organic world. The lower organisms will go next.

The atheist will say, Wait a little. Some future Darwin will show how the simple forms came necessarily from inorganic matter. This is but another step by which, according to Laplace, “the discoveries of science throw final causes further back.”


A.G.—It is conceded that, if the two players in the supposed case were ignorant of each other’s presence, the designs of both were frustrated, and from necessity. Thus far it is not needful to inquire whether this necessary consequence is an unconditional or a conditioned necessity, nor to require a more definite statement of the meaning attached to the word necessity as a supposed third alternative.

But, if the players knew of each other’s presence, we could not infer from the result that the design of both or of either was frustrated. One of them may have intended to frustrate the other’s design, and to effect his own. Or both may have been equally conversant with the properties of the matter and the relation of the forces concerned (whatever the cause, origin, or nature, of these forces and properties), and the result may have been according to the designs of both.

As you admit that they might or might not have designed the collision of their balls and its consequences the question arises whether there is any way of ascertaining which of the two conceptions we may form about it is the true one. Now, let it be remarked that design can never be demonstrated. Witnessing the act does not make known the design, as we have seen in the case assumed for the basis of the argument. The word of the actor is not proof; and that source of evidence is excluded from the cases in question. The only way left, and the only possible way in cases where testimony is out of the question, is to infer the design from the result, or from arrangements which strike us as adapted or intended to produce a certain result, which affords a presumption of design. The strength of this presumption may be zero, or an even chance, as perhaps it is in the assumed case; but the probability of design will increase with the particularity of the act, the specialty of the arrangement or machinery, and with the number of identical or yet more of similar and analogous instances, until it rises to a moral certainty—i. e., to a conviction which practically we are as unable to resist as we are to deny the cogency of a mathematical demonstration. A single instance, or set of instances, of a comparatively simple arrangement might suffice. For instance, we should not doubt that a pump was designed to raise water by the moving of the handle. Of course, the conviction is the stronger, or at least the sooner arrived at, where we can imitate the arrangement, and ourselves produce the result at will, as we could with a pump, and also with the billiard-balls.

And here I would suggest that your billiard-table, with the case of collision, answers well to a machine. In both a result is produced by indirection—by applying a force out of line of the ultimate direction. And, as I should feel as confident that a man intended to raise water who was working a pumphandle, as if he were bringing it up in pailfuls from below by means of a ladder, so, after due examination of the billiard-table and its appurtenances, I should probably think it likely that the effect of the rebound was expected and intended no less than that of the immediate impulse. And a similar inspection of arrangements and results in Nature would raise at least an equal presumption of design.

You allow that the rebound might have been intended, but you require proof that it was. We agree that a single such instance affords no evidence either way. But how would it be if you saw the men doing the same thing over and over? and if they varied it by other arrangements of the balls or of the blow, and these were followed by analogous results? How if you at length discovered a profitable end of the operation, say the winning of a wager? So in the counterpart case of natural selection: must we not infer intention from the arrangements and the results? But I will take another case of the very same sort, though simpler, and better adapted to illustrate natural selection; because the change of direction—your necessity—acts gradually or successively, instead of abruptly.

Suppose I hit a man standing obliquely in my rear, by throwing forward a crooked stick, called a boomerang. How could he know whether the blow was intentional or not? But suppose I had been known to throw boomerangs before; suppose that, on different occasions, I had before wounded persons by the same, or other indirect and apparently aimless actions; and suppose that an object appeared to be gained in the result—that definite ends were attained—would it not at length be inferred that my assault, though indirect, or apparently indirect, was designed?

To make the case more nearly parallel with those it is brought to illustrate, you have only to suppose that, although the boomerang thrown by me went forward to a definite place, and at least appeared to subserve a purpose, and the bystanders, after a while, could get traces of the mode or the empirical law of its flight, yet they could not themselves do anything with it. It was quite beyond their power to use it. Would they doubt, or deny my intention, on that account? No: they would insist that design on my part must be presumed from the nature of the results; that, though design may have been wanting in any one case, yet the repetition of the result, and from different positions and under varied circumstances, showed that there must have been design.

Moreover, in the way your case is stated, it seems to concede the most important half of the question, and so affords a presumption for the rest, on the side of design. For you seem to assume an actor, a designer, accomplishing his design in the first instance. You—a bystander—infer that the player effected his design in sending the first ball to the pocket before him. You infer this from observation alone. Must you not from a continuance of the same observation equally infer a common design of the two players in the complex result, or a design of one of them to frustrate the design of the other? If you grant a designing actor, the presumption of design is as strong, or upon continued observation of instances soon becomes as strong, in regard to the deflection of the balls, or variation of the species, as it was for the result of the first impulse or for the production of the original animal, etc.

But, in the case to be illustrated, we do not see the player. We see only the movement of the balls. Now, if the contrivances and adaptations referred to really do “prove a designer as much as the palace or the watch proves an architect or a watchmaker”—as Paley and Bell argue, and as your skeptic admits, while the alternative is between design and chance—then they prove it with all the proof the case is susceptible of, and with complete conviction. For we cannot doubt that the watch had a watchmaker. And if they prove it on the supposition that the unseen operator acted immediately—i.e., that the player directly impelled the balls in the directions we see them moving, I insist that this proof is not impaired by our ascertaining that he acted mediately—i.e., that the present state or form of the plants or animals, like the present position of the billiard-balls, resulted from the collision of the individuals with one another, or with the surroundings. The original impulse, which we once supposed was in the line of the observed movement, only proves to have been in a different direction; but the series of movements took place with a series of results, each and all of them none the less determined, none the less designed.

Wherefore, when, at the close, you quote Laplace, that “the discoveries of science throw final causes farther back,” the most you can mean is, that they constrain us to look farther back for the impulse. They do not at all throw the argument for design farther back, in the sense of furnishing evidence or presumption that only the primary impulse was designed, and that all the rest followed from chance or necessity.

Evidence of design, I think you will allow, everywhere is drawn from the observation of adaptations and of results, and has really nothing to do with anything else, except where you can take the word for the will. And in that case you have not argument for design, but testimony. In Nature we have no testimony; but the argument is overwhelming.

Now, note that the argument of the olden time—that of Paley, etc., which your skeptic found so convincing—was always the argument for design in the movement of the balls after deflection. For it was drawn from animals produced by generation, not by creation, and through a long succession of generations or deflections. Wherefore, if the argument for design is perfect in the case of an animal derived from a long succession of individuals as nearly alike as offspring is generally like parents and grandparents, and if this argument is not weakened when a variation, or series of variations, has occurred in the course, as great as any variations we know of among domestic cattle, how then is it weakened by the supposition, or by the likelihood, that the variations have been twice or thrice as great as we formerly supposed, or because the variations have been “picked out,” and a few of them pre served as breeders of still other variations, by natural selection?

Finally let it be noted that your element of necessity has to do, so far as we know, only with the picking out and preserving of certain changing forms, i. e., with the natural selection. This selection, you may say, must happen under the circumstances. This is a necessary result of the collision of the balls; and these results can be predicted. If the balls strike so and so, they will be deflected so and so. But the variation itself is of the nature of an origination. It answers well to the original impulse of the balls, or to a series of such impulses. We cannot predict what particular new variation will occur from any observation of the past. Just as the first impulse was given to the balls at a point out of sight, so the impulse which resulted in the variety or new form was given at a point beyond observation, and is equally mysterious or unaccountable, except on the supposition of an ordaining will. The parent had not the peculiarity of the variety, the progeny has. Between the two is the dim or obscure region of the formation of a new individual, in some unknown part of which, and in some wholly unknown way, the difference is intercalated. To introduce necessity here is gratuitous and unscientific; but here you must have it to make your argument valid.

I agree that, judging from the past, it is not improbable that variation itself may be hereafter shown to result from physical causes. When it is so shown, you may extend your necessity into this region, but not till then. But the whole course of scientific discovery goes to assure us that the discovery of the cause of variation will be only a resolution of variation into two factors: one, the immediate secondary cause of the changes, which so far explains them; the other an unresolved or unexplained phenomenon, which will then stand just where the product, variation, stands now, only that it will be one step nearer to the efficient cause.

This line of argument appears to me so convincing, that I am bound to suppose that it does not meet your case. Although you introduced players to illustrate what design is, it is probable that you did not intend, and would not accept, the parallel which your supposed case suggested. When you declare that the proof of design in the eye and the hand, as given by Paley and Bell, was convincing, you mean, of course, that it was convincing, so long as the question was between design and chance, but that now another alternative is offered, one which obviates the force of those arguments, and may account for the actual results without design. I do not clearly apprehend this third alternative.

Will you be so good, then, as to state the grounds upon which you conclude that the supposed proof of design from the eye, or the hand, as it stood before Darwin’s theory was promulgated, would be invalidated by the admission of this new theory?


D.T.—As I have ever found you, in controversy, meeting the array of your opponent fairly and directly, without any attempt to strike the body of his argument through an unguarded joint in the phraseology, I was somewhat surprised at the course taken in your answer to my statement on Darwin’s theory. You there seem to suppose that I instanced the action of the billiard balls and players as a parallel, throughout, to the formation of the organic world. Had it occurred to me that such an application might be supposed to follow legitimately from my introduction of this action, I should certainly have stated that I did not intend, and should by no means accede to, that construction. My purpose in bringing the billiard-table upon the scene was to illustrate, by example, design and necessity, as different and independent sources from which results, it might indeed be identical results, may be derived. All the conclusions, therefore, that you have arrived at through this misconception or misapplication of my illustration, I cannot take as an answer to the matter stated or intended to be stated by me. Again, following this misconception, you suppose the skeptic (instanced by me as revealing through the evidence of design, exhibited in the structure of the eye, for its designer, God) as bringing to the examination a belief in the existence of design in the construction of the animals as they existed up to the moment when the eye was, according to my supposition, added to the heart, stomach, brain, etc. By skeptic I, of course, intended one who doubted the existence of design in every organic structure, or at least required proof of such design. Now, as the watch may be instanced as a more complete exhibition of design than a flint knife or an hour-glass, I selected, after the example of Paley, the eye, as exhibiting by its complex but harmonious arrangements a higher evidence of design and a designer than is to be found in a nerve sensitive to light, or any mere rudimentary part or organ. I could not mean by skeptic one who believed in design so far as a claw, or a nerve sensitive to light, was concerned, but doubted all above. For one who believes in design at all will not fail to recognize it in a hand or an eye. But I need not extend these remarks, as you acknowledge in the sequel to your argument that you may not have suited it to the case as I have stated it.

You now request me to “state the grounds upon which I conclude that the supposed proof of design from the eye and the hand, as it stood before Darwin’s theory was promulgated, is invalidated by the admission of that theory.” It seems to me that a sufficient answer to this question has already been made in the last part of my former paper; but, as you request it, I will go over the leading points as there given, with more minuteness of detail.

Let us, then, suppose a skeptic, one who is yet considering and doubting of the existence of God, having already concluded that the testimony from any and all revelation is insufficient, and having rejected what is called the a priori arguments brought forward in natural theology, and pertinaciously insisted upon by Dr. Clark and others, turning as a last resource to the argument from design in the organic world. Voltaire tells him that a palace could not exist without an architect to design it. Dr. Paley tells him that a watch proves the design of a watchmaker. He thinks this very reasonable, and, although he sees a difference between the works of Nature and those of mere human art, yet if he can find in any organic body, or part of a body, the same adaptation to its use that he finds in a watch, this truth will go very far toward proving, if it is not entirely conclusive, that, in making it, the powers of life by which it grew were directed by an intelligent, reasoning master. Under the guidance of Paley he takes an eye, which, although an optical, and not a mechanical instrument like the watch, is as well adapted to testify to design. He sees, first, that the eye is transparent when every other part of the body is opaque. Was this the result of a mere Epicurean or Lucretian “fortuitous concourse” of living “atoms”? He is not yet certain it might not be so. Next he sees that it is spherical, and that this convex form alone is capable of changing the direction of the light which proceeds from a distant body, and of collecting it so as to form a distinct image within its globe. Next he sees at the exact place where this image must be formed a curtain of nerve-work, ready to receive and convey it, or excite from it, in its own mysterious way, an idea of it in the mind. Last of all, he comes to the crystalline lens. Now, he has before learned that without this lens an eye would by the aqueous and Vitreous humors alone form an image upon the retina, but this image would be indistinct from the light not being sufficiently refracted, and likewise from having a colored fringe round its edges. This last effect is attributable to the refrangibility of light, that is, to some of the colors being more refracted than others. He likewise knows that more than a hundred years ago Mr. Dollond having found out, after many experiments, that some kinds of glass have the power of dispersing light, for each degree of its refraction, much more than other kinds, and that on the discovery of this fact he contrived to make telescopes in which he passed the light through two object-glasses successively, one of which he made of crown and one of flint glass, so ground and adapted to each other that the greater dispersion produced by the substance of one should be corrected by the smaller dispersion of the other. This contrivance corrected entirely the colored images which had rendered all previous telescopes very imperfect. He finds in this invention all the elements of design, as it appeared in the thought and action of a human designer. First, conjecture of certain laws or facts in optics. Then, experiment proving these laws or facts. Then, the contrivance and formation of an instrument by which those laws or facts must produce a certain sought result.

Thus enlightened, our skeptic turns to his crystalline lens to see if he can discover the work of a Dollond in this. Here he finds that an eye, having a crystalline lens placed between the humors, not only refracts the light more than it would be refracted by the humors alone, but that, in this combination of humors and lens, the colors are as completely corrected as in the combination of Dollond’s telescope. Can it be that there was no design, no designer, directing the powers of life in the formation of this wonderful organ? Our skeptic is aware that, in the arts of man, great aid has been, sometimes, given by chance, that is, by the artist or workman observing some fortuitous combination, form, or action, around him. He has heard it said that the chance arrangement of two pairs of spectacles, in the shop of a Dutch optician, gave the direction for constructing the first telescope. Possibly, in time, say a few geological ages, it might in some optician’s shop have brought about a combination of flint and crown glass which, together, should have been achromatic. But the space between the humors of the eye is not an optician’ s shop where object-glasses of all kinds, shapes, and sizes, are placed by chance, in all manner of relations and positions. On the hypothesis under which our skeptic is making his examination—the eye having been completed in all but the formation of the lens—the place which the lens occupies when completed was filled with parts of the humors and plane membrane, homogeneous in texture and surface, presenting, therefore, neither the variety of the materials nor forms which are contained in the optician’s shop for chance to make its combinations with. How, then, could it be cast of a combination not before used, and fashioned to a shape different from that before known, and placed in exact combination with all the parts before enumerated, with many others not even mentioned? He sees no parallelism of condition, then, by which chance could act in forming a crystalline lens, which answers to the condition of an optician’s shop, where it might be possible in many ages for chance to combine existing forms into an achromatic object-glass.

Considering, therefore, the eye thus completed and placed in its bony case and provided with its muscles, its lids, its tear-ducts, and all its other elaborate and curious appendages, and, a thousand times more wonderful still, without being encumbered with a single superfluous or useless part, can he say that this could be the work of chance? The improbability of this is so great, and consequently the evidence of design is so strong, that he is about to seal his verdict in favor of design, when he opens Mr. Darwin’s book.

There he finds that an eye is no more than a vital aggregation or growth, directed, not by design nor chance, but moulded by natural variation and natural selection, through which it must, necessarily, have been developed and formed. Particles or atoms being aggregated by the blind powers of life, must become under the given conditions, by natural variation and natural selection, eyes, without design, as certainly as the red billiard-ball went to the west pocket, by the powers of inertia and elasticity, without the design of the hand that put it in motion. (See Darwin, p. 169.)

Let us lay before our skeptic the way in which we may suppose that Darwin would trace the operation of life, or the vital force conforming to these laws. In doing this we need not go through with the formation of the several membranes, humors, etc., but take the crystalline lens as the most curious and nicely arranged and adapted of all the parts, and as giving, moreover, a close parallel, in the end produced, to that produced by design, by a human designer, Dollond, in forming his achromatic object-glass. If it can be shown that natural variation and natural selection were capable of forming the crystalline lens, it will not be denied that they were capable of forming the iris, the sclerotica, the aqueous humors, or any and all the other parts. Suppose, then, that we have a number of animals, with eyes yet wanting the crystalline. In this state the animals can see, but dimly and imperfectly, as a man sees after having been couched. Some of the offspring of these animals have, by natural variation, merely a portion of the membrane which separates the aqueous from the vitreous humor a little thickened in its middle part, a little swelled out. This refracts the light a little more than it would be refracted by a membrane in which no such swelling existed, and not only so, but, in combination with the humors, it corrects the errors of dispersion and makes the image somewhat more colorless. All the young animals that have this swelled membrane see more distinctly than their parents or brethren. They, therefore, have an advantage over them in the struggle for life. They can obtain food more easily; can find their prey, and escape from their enemies with greater facility than their kindred. This thickening and rounding of the membrane goes on from generation to generation by natural variation; natural selection all the while “picking out with unerring skill all the improvements, through countless generations,” until at length it is found that the membrane has become a perfect crystalline lens. Now, where is the design in all this? The membrane was not thickened and rounded to the end that the image should be more distinct and colorless; but, being thickened and rounded by the operation of natural variation, inherent in generation, natural selection of necessity produced the result that we have seen. The same result was thus produced of necessity, in the eye, that Dollond came at, in the telescope, with design, through painful guessing, reasoning, experimenting, and forming.

Suppose our skeptic to believe in all this power of natural selection; will he now seal up his verdict for design, with the same confidence that he would before he heard of Darwin? If not, then “the supposed proof from design is invalidated by Darwin’s theory.”


A.G.—Waiving incidental points and looking only to the gist of the question, I remark that the argument for design as against chance, in the formation of the eye, is most convincingly stated in your argument. Upon this and upon numerous similar arguments the whole question we are discussing turns. So, if the skeptic was about to seal his verdict in favor of design, and a designer, when Darwin’s book appeared, why should his verdict now be changed or withheld? All the facts about the eye, which convinced him that the organ was designed, remain just as they were. His conviction was not produced through testimony or eyewitness, but design was irresistibly inferred from the evidence of contrivance in the eye itself.

Now, if the eye as it is, or has become, so convincingly argued design why not each particular step or part of this result? If the production of a perfect crystalline lens in the eye—you know not how—as much indicated design as did the production of a Dollond achromatic lens—you understand how—then why does not “the swelling out” of a particular portion of the membrane behind the iris—caused you know not how—which, by “correcting the errors of dispersion and making the image somewhat more colorless,” enabled the “young animals to see more distinctly than their parents or brethren,” equally indicate design—if not as much as a perfect crystalline, or a Dollond compound lens, yet as much as a common spectacle-glass?

Darwin only assures you that what you may have thought was done directly and at once was done indirectly and successively. But you freely admit that indirection and succession do not invalidate design, and also that Paley and all the natural theologians drew the arguments which convinced your skeptic wholly from eyes indirectly or naturally produced.

Recall a woman of a past generation and show her a web of cloth; ask her how it was made, and she will say that the wool or cotton was carded, spun, and woven by hand. When you tell her it was not made by manual labor, that probably no hand has touched the materials throughout the process, it is possible that she might at first regard your statement as tantamount to the assertion that the cloth was made without design. If she did, she would not credit your statement. If you patiently explained to her the theory of carding-machines, spinning-jennies, and power-looms, would her reception of your explanation weaken her conviction that the cloth was the result of design? It is certain that she would believe in design as firmly as before, and that this belief would be attended by a higher conception and reverent admiration of a wisdom, skill, and power greatly beyond anything she had previously conceived possible.

Wherefore, we may insist that, for all that yet appears, the argument for design, as presented by the natural theologians, is just as good now, if we accept Darwin’s theory, as it was before that theory was promulgated; and that the skeptical juryman, who was about to join the other eleven in a unanimous verdict in favor of design, finds no good excuse for keeping the court longer waiting.