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Theories of Evolution and their Application to Human Affairs

Nature volume 113, pages 667669 (10 May 1924) | Download Citation



PROF. HOLMES'S book consists of a collection of essays on evolutionary theories and their application to human affairs, several of which originally appeared in certain American monthly magazines. The chapters on evolution are chiefly valuable as reflecting the currents of opinion which are passing in the minds of American biologists at the present time. They do not contain any thorough and critical analysis of the subject, nor do they recognise the importance of recent experimental work. But it is of interest to notice that Prof. Holmes sees clearly that “natural selection” cannot be a final explanation of evolution. Natural selection undoubtedly works, but there is a “beyond “which is unexplained, namely, the cause of the variations on which it works. Prof. Holmes rej ects the Lamarckian explanation on the ground that “the majority of biologists are not Lamarckists.” He seems unaware that the essential point in the Lamarckian theory has been experimentally demonstrated by three different observers, namely, Kammerer in Vienna, Durkhem in Breslau, and Pavlov in Moscow, whilst his own country men, Guyer and Smith, have furnished proof that an alteration in a bodily organ can effect a corresponding change in the germ cell, which is the basis of Lamarckism. It is true that Prof. Carr-Saunders and Mr. J. S. Huxley attempted to repeat Guyer and Smith's experiments and obtained a negative result, and founding on this have explained Guyer and Smith's results as due to chance. But Prof. Carr-Saunders and Mr. Huxley varied ike conditions of the experiment, and their confident negation appears rather foolish in the light of renewed researches by Guyer and Smith on fresh material, in which they not only confirm all their previous discoveries, but also considerably oextend them. The scepticism of biologists on the Lamarckian question is entirely due to their neglect patiently and make themselves acquainted with the work that has been done on the subject.

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