The Predicament of Evolution
by George McCready Price  (1870-1963) 
(This was ©1925 by Southern Publishing Assoc.)

Chapter Six - Degeneration

A HUNDRED years ago nearly all zoologists and botanists, under the influence of Baron Cuvier, taught a very extreme view of the "fixity" of species. Even fifty years later, in the time of Louis Agassiz, we find the same unreasonable prejudice against admitting the possibility of any noticeable changes among plants and animals since they were originally created. It was because of this doctrine of the extreme "fixity" of species that Cuvier declared all the fossils, without exception, to be "extinct" species. It was in the same narrow spirit that Agassiz declared that all the blind fishes found in caves "were created under the circumstances in which they now live, within the limits over which they now reign, and with the structural peculiarities which now characterize them."

Linnæus (1707-1778), from whom we get our method of the scientific naming of plants and animals, was somewhat less extreme, for he allowed for the effects of degeneration and for those of hybridization. He adopted the word "species" to represent all the individuals which he thought had descended from an originally created pair of animals or an original stock of plants. In the long lapse of time since his day, his names of "species" have in great multitudes of cases been elevated to generic rank, with consequent splitting up into more minute subdivisions, called also "species." Whereas Linnæus declared that the botanist ignores minute varieties, the recognition of these minute varieties and the dignifying of them with specific names has gone merrily on both in botany and in zoology; with the result that, as a general thing, the "species" of Linnæus would correspond about with our "genera."

The Mania for Creating Names

Some fifty years ago, Professor Jordan, a French botanist, gave a strong impetus to this mania for creating new names. He undertook to determine by experiment just how minute are the varieties that will continue to breed true to seed. He found that as a general rule those "minute varieties" which Linnæus had determined to ignore, would continue to come true to seed, just as surely as would the ones which Linnæus had called "species."

Thus for the last half century or so we have had to deal with two kinds of species: (1) the species of Linnaeus, or "Linnaean species," and (2) those of Jordan, or "Jordanian species," the latter being also called "physiological species."

This work of Jordan was long before the rise of Mendelism. With the great stimulus which the latter system has given to breeding experiments, still more minute subdivisions are now found also to keep true to the original type. For example, the U. S. Department of Agriculture recognizes 250 kinds of wheat, "all of which breed true," as Hall and Clements remind us, "and would thus come to be species," if we were to follow Jordan. The authors just quoted from are urging a return to the conception of Linnaeus, and a reversal of the mania for "splitting" which has prevailed for over a generation. They declare that, "if taxonomy is to be either stable or usable, it must rest upon the species concept of Linnaeus and the practice of eminent taxonomists from his time to the present."—"The Phylogenetic Method in Taxonomy" (1923), p. IB. The Carnegie Institution of Washington.


It would thus appear that we have arrived at a sort of box-within-a-box notion of our units of classification. The minute units of Jordan will breed true, as will also the larger units of Linnaeus. Even the latter may not be large enough to include all that have descended from common ancestors. In Chapter III we have seen how H. B. Guppy, the English botanist, advocates the idea that the great families and genera must have appeared first, some time in the long ago, "subsequently breaking up into other genera and species." This view is being strongly supported by many prominent scientists, and appears to me to be in harmony with all that we now know regarding these matters.

Species are evidently not absolutely unchangeable, as was long taught by both scientists and theologians. But before asking ourselves whether the general tendency of these changes which we admit has been upward or downward, we must note some general facts bearing on the subject. Many of my readers are doubtless familiar with the very striking and characteristic types of plants found in the desert parts of the United States. But they are not confined to these regions, any more than the blind fishes and crustaceans are confined to the Mammoth Cave of Kentucky. But as the blind animals found in the caves of Europe, of South America, and of Australia seem to be the modified descendants of the particular types represented in their own particular surroundings, so do the plants and animals of the desert parts of Africa, Asia, and Australia seem quite generally to be the greatly changed representatives of other plants and animals not greatly distant, but living amid more normal surroundings.

No Fossil Desert Plants

But it is a very remarkable and a very instructive fact that the fossiliferous strata do not contain any traces of these desert forms. If we judge the ancient world only by the plants and animals found in the stratified rocks, there were no deserts in existence, just as there were no extreme temperatures even in the arctic regions. Says Dr. D. T. Mac Dougal, Director of the Department for Botanical Research of the Carnegie Institution of Washington: "No fossil remains of desert plants have yet been recovered. Some of the forms which have the aspect of xerophytes [desert plants] must have grown in moist regions by reason of their method of reproduction."—"Outlines of Geologic History," p. 297.

Now it does not seem reasonable to me that these desert plants could have existed in the ancient world without leaving some fossils for us to discover. Nor does it seem reasonable that these plants were created after the great world catastrophe revealed by the New Geology, expressly for their present peculiar surroundings. The only other possible view is that these desert forms (and I would include the animals as well) are merely the modified descendants of some ancestral forms that were perhaps so different that they would pass as separate species, possibly as distinct genera. In other words, we are to suppose that some modern normal plants and animals and these peculiar desert kinds have both alike descended from some common originals.

Let us take another class of facts. Geology has very clearly proved that the world before the Deluge (I am now speaking in terms of the New Geology) had a very remarkably mild climate all over, that is, mild temperatures extended into the extreme polar latitudes. We find plenty of fossils of oaks, elms, birches, hiagnolias, grapevines, sequoias, even palms and other semi-tropical trees, away within the Arctic Circle. Not only so; but we also find many coral limestones in these localities, proving that the ocean was as mild and warm as the land climate. Moreover, we find that these conditions prevailed without interruption throughout all the period of time shown by the fossils; as A. R. Wallace expresses it, throughout the entire geological series "we find one uniform climatic aspect of the fossils." This means that this mild, springlike climate prevailed uninterruptedly, until the great change came that brought in the modern conditions.

Accordingly, there must be many animals (and some plants) now living in the two polar regions which must have become greatly modified to adapt themselves to these new, strange conditions. We might regard the reindeer, glutton, and musk ox as having been originally adapted to the cooler mountain tops or tablelands of the ancient world. But, taken as a whole, we must suppose that our present floras and faunas of the polar regions are the modified descendants of other plants and animals of the ancient world which were originally accustomed to vastly other environmental conditions.

From all this we are compelled to draw the same lesson that we have already drawn from a study of the denizens of the desert. In both extreme conditions we find a multitude of plants and animals that must have descended from others that were undoubtedly so different in both appearance and in habits that scientists would feel compelled to place the two in separate species, probably in separate genera. This conclusion seems to me unavoidable. Multitudes of living organisms have undergone very striking changes, in passing from the ancient world to our modern one.

The Origin of Human Races

Accordingly, we are compelled to believe in the origin of many distinct "species" by some sort of natural process within the period of time covered by human life; for it is a well authenticated fact that man lived before the great world-changes which are revealed to us by geology.

But some equally well established facts regarding the human race itself have a very important bearing upon the problem we are here considering. Fifty or seventy-five years ago, Louis Agassiz and many other scientists taught that the human race is not a unit, but that it is made from several original stocks. This is the theory of the Pre-Adamites, which was widely taught about the third quarter of the nineteenth century. We have discarded this error; yet the problem of the great diversity in the races of mankind is still unsolved. For several races of mankind are quite as distinct from each other as are many "species" among animals and plants. Undoubtedly there has been more mixture of these races of man than there seems to be now going on between the various species of animals and plants. But even among the latter many recent writers think that hybridization has played an important part in producing new "species."
But the problem now before us is, How did these distinct races of mankind originate in the first place?

The evolutionists try to solve this problem by postponing it. They push the origin of these races so far back into an imaginary past that the obscurity of the shadow acts as a substitute for clearness of thinking. But time is not the essential factor in the case. Profane history in authentic form does not go back of about B.C. 3000. Yet back at this historic dawn we find the more distinct races of mankind pictured on the monuments of Egypt with all the exactness of form and even of color which are so well known to us today. Evidently the formation of distinct races had then already taken place; yet this is so early after the great world-disaster that one wonders how this separation into distinct races could have come about; and the five thousand years since that time seem to have added nothing to the distinctness of this separation.

The Great Dispersion

The believer in the Bible will very reasonably connect this formation of the distinct races of mankind with the great Dispersion, as recorded in the eleventh chapter of Genesis. Such a segregation of mankind into several distinct races would assist in accomplishing the same purpose as the confusion of tongues and the compulsory dispersion of the separated units of the race, which was (as stated in the Bible) to insure the peopling of the entire earth, and to prevent the formation of a great, crushing, centralized world-despotism, which was even then threatening to stifle the free development of human liberty.

But these facts regarding mankind throw much light upon the problem of the origin of "species" among both plants and animals. It was a completely desolated earth that lay out before the survivors of that great world-disaster. Even the animals that had survived must have felt the extreme of hardship and privation, as they spread abroad. But —

"The world was all before them, where to choose
Their place of rest, and Providence their guide."

That tendency toward "adaptation" that we see every-where among living organisms, could not fail to produce very quickly great changes in the animals and plants, resulting in a great multiplication of different kinds, or "species" in the more restricted sense of this word. Just as we see millions of cells busily engaged in healing a wound or in combating a disease, so we know that this same Power behind nature was here intent on helping the world as a whole, which had been terribly wounded and was sick almost to death. Evidently it was in this way that much of the great diversity was produced which we see around us among the plants and the animals.

Down or Up?

But we must now inquire what the general tendency has been in these changes; has there been advancement or retrogression, development or degeneration?

Undoubtedly there have been great numbers of changes in both the animal and the vegetable kingdoms which are quite neutral in these respects. Many products of hybridization or of mutation cannot be said to tend either up or down.

 And yet, as we compare our present larger animals, such as the bear, the lion, the elephant, the hippopotamus, the elk, or the beaver, and hundreds of others might be mentioned, with those superb "giants of the prime" that we find as fossils in the Pleistocene beds of all the continents, we cannot be blind to the marked evidences of degeneracy among the modern kinds. This is not confined to the mammals; it is an almost universal phenomenon throughout the animal kingdom. As Sir William Dawson has expressed it, "All things left to themselves seem to degenerate."

We meet the same tendency toward degeneration when we look at mankind, and compare the present with the past. True, we do not have as positive knowledge of the kinds of mankind that lived before the Deluge as we have of the animals. We do not have any fossil human remains that we can positively identify as representing the real antediluvian race. A few ambiguous specimens here and there need further confirmation. But we do have some splendid specimens of mankind very early after the great world changes represented by the geological deposits. The Cro-Magnon race, found in central France, were many of them six feet four or five inches tall, and splendidly proportioned, with noble skulls. Sir Arthur Keith declares that this race "was the finest the world has ever seen." H. F. Osborn recently declared that in native intellectual capacity they were doubtless equal, if not superior, to the best among modern peoples.
The Noble Ancients

These men were the wonderful artists whose carvings and paintings adorn the many ancient caves of southern France. In many of their surroundings and habits of life they were undoubtedly what we would term barbarians; for they were living amid very hard and trying surroundings. But in native ability, both of body and of mind, they were among the select of all history, as is proved by their skeletons and their skulls.

Such specimens as that of Neanderthal, Heidelberg, and Piltdown, were evidently the degenerate offshoots of this more favored race; and they may very likely have all lived more or less contemporaneously. At any rate, we know positively that the Cro-Magnon race was very ancient. There is much less evidence for the great antiquity of some of the others, except the degenerate condition of the jaws and skulls, which, though very strong evidence in the mind of an evolutionist, is hardly convincing to others. As for the notorious Java skull, I do not consider it either ancient or yet a human skull at all. It is probably the skull of a gibbon.

Regarding the Los Angeles skeletons recently discovered, we are not yet sufficiently familiar with all the facts involved to enable us to pronounce definitely.

But from all these facts, we learn that degeneracy and not progressive evolution has dogged the footsteps of all created forms, including man himself.