Darwin and Modern Science: Essays in Commemoration of the Centenary of the Birth of Charles Darwin and of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Publication of the Origin of Species

By A. C. Seward | Go to book overview

VIII
CHARLES DARWIN AS AN ANTHROPOLOGIST

BY ERNST HAECKEL.

Professor of Zoology in the University of Jena.

THE great advance that anthropology has made in the second half of the nineteenth century is due, in the first place, to Darwin's discovery of the origin of man. No other problem in the whole field of research is so momentous as that of "Man's place in nature," which was justly described by Huxley ( 1863) as the most fundamental of all questions. Yet the scientific solution of this problem was impossible until the theory of descent had been established.

It is now a hundred years since the great French biologist Jean Lamarck published his Philosophie Zoologique. By a remarkable coincidence the year in which that work was issued, 1809, was the year of the birth of his most distinguished successor, Charles Darwin. Lamarck had already recognised that the descent of man from a series of other Vertebrates -- that is, from a series of Ape-like Primates -- was essentially involved in the general theory of transformation which he had erected on a broad inductive basis; and he had sufficient penetration to detect the agencies that had been at work in the evolution of the erect bimanous man from the arboreal and quadrumanous ape. He had, however, few empirical arguments to advance in support of his hypothesis, and it could not be established until the further development of the biological sciences -- the founding of comparative embryology by Baer ( 1828) and of the cell-theory by Schleiden and Schwann ( 1838), the advance of physiology under Johannes Müller ( 1833), and the enormous progress of palaeontology and comparative anatomy between 1820 and 1860 -- provided this necessary foundation. Darwin was the first to coordinate the ample results of these lines of research. With no less comprehensiveness than discrimination he consolidated them as a basis of a modified theory of descent, and associated with them his own theory of natural selection, which we take to be distinctive of "Darwinism" in the

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