By Arthur William Robinson
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Extra info for God and the World / A Survey of Thought
He conceived that a like process had been carried on by Nature through vast spaces of time, and that it was this picking, choosing, continuing and abandoning of traits and qualities which had resulted in the preservation of the types which it had been best to retain—the reason in all cases being the fitness to correspond effectively to the conditions prescribed by environment. It is important to remember that Darwin never claimed that his doctrine of evolution could account for the occurrence of variations.
He it was who revived the old atomic theory, and determined the weights of the atoms and the proportions in which they are combined into molecules—the smallest particles which could exist in a free condition. By so doing he prepared the way for the subsequent researches of Faraday and Clerk-Maxwell into the properties of electricity and magnetism, and for the investigations by Helmholtz and others into the connexion between electric attraction and chemical affinities. The forerunner of the wonderful advances of modern biology was the French naturalist Lamarck (1809), who, in opposition to the accepted doctrine of separate creations, suggested that all the species of living creatures, not excepting the human, have arisen from older species in the course of long periods of time.
And Darwin, with all his detachment and philosophic calm, was at times deeply affected by the seriousness of the problem which he had done so much to bring into prominence. It is plain that he did his very utmost to retain the hopeful view, and to put the most consoling interpretation he could upon the disquieting facts. He had no difficulty in shewing that the wholesale destruction of living organisms was imperatively necessary. " The truth of this has been demonstrated again and again. A pair of rabbits, for example, would in the most favourable circumstances increase in four or five years to a million.