The Evolution Debate, 1813-1870 - Vol. 9

By David Knight; Charles Darwin et al. | Go to book overview

VI.

THE PHILOSOPHY OF BIRDS' NESTS.

Instinct or Reason in the Construction of Birds' Nests.

BIRDS, we are told, build their nests by instinct, while man constructs his dwelling by the exercise of reason. Birds never change, but continue to build for ever on the self-same plan; man alters and improves his houses continually. Reason advances; instinct is stationary.

This doctrine is so very general that it may almost be said to be universally adopted. Men who agree on nothing else, accept this as a good explanation of the facts. Philosophers and poets, metaphysicians and divines, naturalists and the general public, not only agree in believing this to be probable, but even adopt it as a sort of axiom that is so self-evident as to need no proof, and use it as the very foundation of their speculations on instinct and reason. A belief so general; one would think, must rest on indisputable facts, and be a logical deduction from them. Yet I have come to the conclusion that not only is it very doubtful, but absolutely erroneous; that it not only deviates widely from the truth, but is in almost every particular exactly opposed to it. I believe, in short, that birds do not build their nests by instinct; that man does not con-

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