"LYSENKO, VIEWS OF NATURE AND
REDUCTIONIST BIOLOGY AS A KHRUSCHEVITE
First published in pamphlet format in Toronto; September 1993.
PART 1 - (section 2 in web-edition)
DARWIN'S DIFFERENCES WITH
LAMARCK - SOFT, BLENDING INHERITANCE OR HARD SEGREGATING INHERITANCE
At this stage, it may be useful to delineate how and
in what way, Darwin's theory of evolution differed from that of Lamarck.
Darwin went to great lengths to demonstrate that his theory was indeed
quite different from that of Lamarck. Mayr as a strong modern day Darwinist,
holds that there is one fundamental feature that distinguishes Lamarck
from Darwin :
"The crucial difference.. between Darwin's and Lamarck's
mechanisms of evolution is that for Lamarck the environment and its changes
had priority. They produced needs and activities in the organism and these
in turn , caused adaptational variation. For Darwin random variation was
present first, and the ordering action of the environment ("natural selection")
followed afterwards. Hence the variation was not caused by environment
either directly or indirectly."
But this is not seen directly, or at least consistently,
from Darwin's own words. In fact Darwin saw a greater complexity than Mayr
allows him. Especially useful in his argument for natural selection was
his knowledge and understanding of domestic, or "artificial" selection.
The first chapter of "The Origins", is "Variation under Domestication",
and here he reviews the historic importance from Pliny onwards of artificial
selection. He then freely admits the complexity of the causes of variation,
particularly given the absence as he puts its of the "laws governing inheritance,"
Mayr, Ibid, p.354.
"To sum up on the origin of our domestic races of animals
and plants, Changed conditions of life are of the highest importance in
causing variability, both by acting directly on the organisation, and indirectly
by affecting the reproductive system. It is not probable that variability
is an inherent and necessary contingent under all circumstances. The greater
or less force of inheritance and reversion, determine whether variations
shall endure. Variability is governed by many unknown laws, of which correlated
growth is probably the most important. Something , but how much we do not
know, may be attributed to the definite action of the conditions of life.
Some perhaps a great, effect may be attributed to the increased use or
disuse of parts. The final result is thus rendered infinitely complex."
Darwin in proposing a widely applicable mechanism for
evolution, in natural selection, achieved a monumental intellectual feat.
But as concerns the mechanism for inheritance, he was unsure of himself.
Here he adopted elements of even Lamarckism, which is surprising given
that he held Lamarck in such contempt.
Charles Darwin, Ibid, p.57.
Before we discuss Darwin's actual views, we should
briefly clarify the terms:
SOFT INHERITANCE VERSUS HARD
The terms themselves are redolent of how much credence they
are given by those that initiate terminology in the field! The connotations
of "soft" with meaningless, and in the 1990's "flakiness" are self-evident.
But the essential difference is that "soft" inheritance implies a reliance
on mechanisms that involved interaction in very direct way with the environment
"The belief that either the environment or "use versus
disuse", or both, would affect the heritable qualities of characters was
universally held almost to the end of the 19 th century. This belief is
usually referred to by the words: "Inheritance of Acquired Characters"..
The basic idea underlying this belief is that the genetic materials itself
is pliable, or "soft". For this theory it does not matter whether the genetic
material changes slowly or fast, nor whether it changes directly or via
"acquired characteristics"; what matters is that the genetic material is
believed not to be constant, not unchangeable not hard.. Soft inheritance
was so universally accepted, that it not until after 1850 that.. the first
attempts were made to justify it and work out its mechanisms by Darwin,
Spencer, and Haeckel."
Blending inheritance has been met with before. This is the
basic understanding that held down to Mendel's day, that the heredity of
the progeny was somehow an amalgam of the whole genetic potential and environmental
encounters of both the parents.
Mayr, Ibid, p.687.
BLENDING INHERITANCE and SEGREGATION
And related to these notions are the terms :
This can not of course explain why features of one parent
predominate over features of the other parent, in the progeny. This can
be explained by the notion of segregation of characters. All this phrase
means is that there is a separation of inheritance properties, for each
of the various characters of the parent. This latter was in particular
the contribution of Mendel to genetics, and is discussed later.
Darwin's attitude to Inheritance of acquired characters
became intertwined with his theory of evolution. In fact he varied in his
opinion, and was unable finally to firmly endorse one or other of the two
alternatives : Hard or Soft Inheritance. He actually adopted elements of
In his "Origin", he adduces three
means by which variation is generated, ie. three interactions of the environment
and heredity :
1. Direct effect of the Environment.
At the time of his first writing, and then in the
first editions of the "Origin", he was inclined to underplay the role of
environment, at least as his own later words seems to indicate; In 1862
: he wrote to Hooker :
"My present work is leading me to believe rather more
in the direct action of physical condition,"
and by 1878 he admitted :
"I probably underrated the power of external conditions
in the earlier edition of the Origin."
To Galton he wrote in 1875,
"Every year I come to attribute more and more to such
agency (modification by 'use and disuse' during the life of the individual
In the later editions of the Origins, he still sees something
inherent in animals and plants that is distinct to the environment. So
he says :
See Mayr Ibid, p. 690-691.
"When a variation is of the slightest use to any being
, we cannot tell how much to attribute to the accumulative action of natural
selection, and how much to the definite actions of the conditions of life..
Instances could be given of similar varieties being produced from the same
species under external conditions of life as different as can be conceived;
and on the other hand, of dissimilar varieties being produced under apparently
the same external conditions.. Such considerations as these incline me
to lay less weight on the direct action of the surrounding conditions than
on a tendency to vary, due to the cause of which we are quite ignorant."
In the very next sentence, he then subsumes natural selection
itself as a part of the environment, and takes away the "internal force"
of variation :
Origins, Ibid, p.132.
"In one sense the conditions of life may be said not
only to cause variability, either directly or indirectly, but likewise
to include natural section, for the conditions determine whether this or
that variety will survive."
This seems to betoken an understandable confusion,
given the state of knowledge then.
Origins, Ibid, p.132.
2. The Effect of Use and Disuse.
The notion of Use and Disuse of body parts can obviously
be useful to notions of acquired characters. For Darwin, of all the data
that he sifted thorough in evidence for soft inheritance :
"None was as important to him as the effect of use and
disuse. It was the study of domestic animals which led him to adopt this
Darwin was so strongly convinced of the importance of this
factor that he devoted to its discussion a whole section (p.134-139) of
chapter V of the Origin. As examples he discusses the reduction of wings
in flightless birds, the loss of anterior tarsi in dung beetles, winglessness
in beetles of Madeira, the reduction of eyes in moles and other burrowing
mammals, and the loss of eyes and pigment in cave animals. Regarding rudimentary
organs in general, Darwin states, 'I believe that disuse has been the main
'There can be little doubt that use in our domestic animals
strengthens and enlarges certain parts and disuse diminishes them; and
that such modifications are inherited (Origin:134).'
Use and disuse.. Is of importance only if one believes
in an inheritance of acquired characters. This Darwin affirms repeatedly.
He describes how the constant milking of cows leads to an inherited increase
in the size of the udder. Darwin is quite positive:
'Modifications (caused by use and disuse) are inherited.'
Mayr points out that :
Mayr, Ibid, p.691.
"The modern evolutionist has no difficulty in explaining
all alleged effects of disuse as due to a relaxation of stabilizing selection,
often reinforced by counterselection forces.. His thinking was still so
much conditioned by pre-Darwinian concepts that he sometimes interpreted
plant breeders had persuaded Darwin to accept a far greater phenotypic
plasticity in animals than is actually found.."
It is odd that Mayr should chastise Darwin for "over familiarity"
with breeders, since it was his association with their craft that shaped
his appreciation of Natural Selection.
Mayr, Ibid. p. 692.
Nonetheless, what is the evidence for Use and Disuse?
It is likely indeed that the actions of selective forces are adequate to
explain many of those phenomena that troubled Darwin.
3. Darwin's Theory of Pangenesis
Darwin proposed, under the pressures and difficulties
he had been labouring with, in trying to explain variation and its passage
into evolution, that there were fundamental particles he termed "pangenes-or
This was, De Vries pointed out, the first modern theory
of particle based inheritance (particulate
bearers of heredity).
"The hypothesis of pangenesis" (envisages that.. the
transmission of heritable qualities, as well as the guidance of development,
is caused by individually different, very small, and hence invisible particles,
the so-called gemmules. Each kind of cell in the body is represented by
its own kind of gemmule; the mosaic of characteristics in hybrids is due
to the mixing of parental gemmules; and the facts of reversion to ancestral
characteristics, a phenomenon which greatly fascinated Darwin, is due to
the activation of previously dormant gemmules.. To (enable) use and disuse
on peripheral organs ( hands, skin, eyes, brain) to be communicated to
the reproductive organs.. darwin proposed a "transportation hypothesis".
In any stage of the life cycle cells may throw off gemmules that 'circulate
freely throughout the system, and when supplied with proper nutriment multiply
by self division, subsequently becoming developed into cells like those
from which they were derived..".. Finally in :
For later Darwinians, pangenesis became an eyesore upon the
peaceful landscape of slowly changing naturally selecting forces. It largely
became labelled as a Darwinian folly due to the age in which he lived.
He was forced by desperation, so the view goes, to resort to pangenesis
because of the ignorance of Mendelian genetics. But as we discuss later,
the inviolability of the Gene Banks does not seem to be nearly as clear
cut as the later Darwinists hoped.
'variations caused by the direct action of changed conditions..
the tissues of the body, according to the doctrine of pangenesis, are directly
affected by the new conditions, and consequently throw off modified gemmules,
which are transmitted with their newly acquired peculiarities to the offspring."
From Mayr, Ibid. p.694; p.693.
Thus pangenesis was an attempt by Darwin to understand
environmental influences. After the boom of molecular biology, converting
environmental signals into an organism's gene expression is now considered
a critical step in controlling the organism's milieu. This hormonal and
chemical milieu does not respect the boundary guarding the genome.
Under Darwin we have so far only described Darwin's delay
in publishing, the concept of Natural selection itself, and Darwin's confusion
on sources of variation and their interactions with the environment.
To examine the nature of change in biology, we will now
explore three controversial areas within the
scope of Darwin's thoughts. All show some distortions introduced by later
students of Darwin. But actually two topics show two important distortions
that Darwin himself introduced. Both reflected his bias towards respectability
and bourgeois status. These are the notions of gradualness and the notions
of Malthusian competition.
GRADUALNESS AND NATURAL SELECTION
In biology as well as society, Darwin thought that
slowly wrought change was more likely to be permanent.
"Darwin had a rather low opinion of the evolutionary
importance of discontinuous variation. The occurrence of variant individuals
who in some character rather strikingly differ from their parents and siblings,
and indeed- from all other members of their population is mentioned only
casually. When Fleeming Jenkin attacked him in 1867, Darwin reduced the
number of references to this even more."
Many of his disciples agreed. In particular, Weissman
Mayr, Ibid, p.543.
"Weismann was as convinced a gradualist as Darwin :
But Darwin was also warned by some followers. Interestingly,
T.H.Huxley, his most staunch and belligerent
ally against anti-evolutionists cautioned him :
'An abrupt transformation of a species is inconceivable,
because it would render the species incapable of existence."
Cited, Mayr, Ibid, p.543.
"Thomas Henry Huxley, Darwin's bulldog.. enjoined
Darwin to tread lightly with his insistence that evolution must always
be gradual and progressive :
In fact Darwin himself was aware of a central contradiction
'You have loaded yourself with an unnecessary difficulty
in adopting 'Natura non facit saltum' so unreservedly".
Letter to Darwin, 1859. Cited, N.Eldredge "Time Frames"
Princeton, 1989. p.27.
"Yet.. Darwin actually admitted that the known facts
of the geological record spoke out against his major prediction : that
evolution on the whole must be slow, steady, gradual and progressive."
Darwin wrote in the "Origins", in its Ist Edition, p.
N.Eldredge, "Time Frames" Princeton, p.28.
"I have attempted to show that the geological record
is extremely imperfect; that only a small portion of the globe has been
geologically explored with care; that only certain classes of organic beings
have been largely preserved in a fossil state; that the number both of
specimens and of species, preserved in our museums, is absolutely as nothing
compared with the incalculable number of generations which must have passed
away even during a certain formation; that, owing to subsidence being necessary
for the accumulation of fossiliferous deposits thick enough to resist future
degradation, enormous intervals of time have elapsed between the successive
formations; that there has probably been more extinction during the periods
of elevation, and during the latter the record will have been least perfectly
kept; that each single formation has not been continuously deposited; that
the duration of each formation is, perhaps, short compared with the average
duration of specific forms; that migration has played an important part
in the first appearance of new forms in anyone area and formation; that
widely ranging species ate those which have varied the most, and have oftener
given rise to new species; and that varieties have at first often been
local. All these causes taken conjointly, must have tended to make the
geological record extremely imperfect , and will to a large extent explain
why we do not find interminable varieties, connecting together all the
extinct and existing forms of life by the finest graduated steps.. He who
rejects these views on the nature of the geological record will rightly
reject my whole theory."
As Eldredge comments :
Cited By Eldredge, Ibid, p.26.
"Darwin clearly links his theory with the expectation
that the fossil record of life's evolution should be crammed with examples
of intermediate forms.. He remarked (p.280) :
Darwin went into great and lengthy dispute with his fiercest
critics on this point. Even his allies as mentioned, had to be re-reminded
frequently of the correct view. Huxley had correctly anticipated Mr.Mivart's
"But just in proportion as this process of extermination
has acted on an enormous scale, so must the number of intermediate varieties,
which have formerly existed on the earth be truly enormous. Why then is
not every geological formation and every stratum full of such intermediate
links ? Geology assuredly does not reveal any such finely graduated organic
chain; and this perhaps, is the most obvious and gravest objection which
can be urged against my theory. The explanation lies as I believe, in the
extreme imperfection of the fossil record."
N.Eldredge. "Time Frames". Princeton, 1989. p.26.
"Mr. Mivart is further inclined to believe, and some
naturalists agree with him, that new species manifest themselves "with
suddenness and by modifications appearing at once." For instance, he supposes
that the differences between the extinct three-toes Hipparion and the horse
arose suddenly. He thinks it difficult to believe that the wing of a bird
"was developed in any other way than by a comparatively sudden modification
of a marked and important kind"; and apparently he would extend the same
view to the wings of bats and pterodactyls. This conclusion, which implies
great breaks or discontinuity in the series, appears to me improbably in
the highest degree."
And why are such changes improbable? Because Darwin replies,
rapid changes produce "monstrosities" of no use to evolutionary change
Darwin, 6th Edition "Origin", Ibid, p.224-6.
"Every one who believes in slow and gradual evolution,
will of course admit that specific changes may have been as abrupt and
as great as any single variation which we meet with under nature, or even
under domestication. But as species are more variable when domesticated
or cultivated than under their natural conditions, it is not probable that
such great and abrupt variations have often occurred under nature, as are
known occasionally to arise under domestication. Of these latter variations
several may be attributed to reversion; and the characters which thus reappear
were, it is probably, in many cases at first gained in a gradual manner.
A still greater number must be called monstrosities, such as six fingered
men, porcupine, men, Ancon sheep, Niata cattle, &c; and as they are
widely different in character from natural species, they throw very little
light on our subject. Excluding such cases of abrupt variation, the few
which remain would at best constitute, if found in a statue of nature,
doubtful species, closely related to their parental types."
Darwin is now of course forced to once more counterpose
Natural Selection against artificial or Societal selection. Again he argues
that Natural is more efficient. Because it allows the logical development
of species because slow change by degree allows reproductive partners to
Darwin, Ibid, p.224-6.
"My reasons for doubting whether natural species have
changed as abruptly as have occasionally domestic races, and for entirely
disbelieving that they have changed in the wonderful manner indicated by
Mr.Mivart, are as follows. According to our experience, abrupt and strongly
marked variations occur in our domesticated productions, singly and at
rather long intervals of time. If such occurred under nature, they would
be liable, as formerly explained, to be lost by accidental causes of destruction
and by subsequent inter-crossing; and so it is known to be under domestication,
unless abrupt variations of this kind are specially preserved and separated
by the care of man. Hence in order that a new species should suddenly appear
in the manner supposed by Mr.Mivart, it is almost necessary to believe,
in opposition to all analogy, that several wonderfully changed individuals
appear simultaneously within the same district. This difficulty, as in
the case of unconscious selection by man, is avoided on the theory of gradual
evolution, through the preservation of a large number of individuals, which
varied more or less in any favourable direction, and of the destruction
of a large number which varied in an opposite manner."
Having built his central argument, Darwin now forgets
the cautions he himself expressed in the First Edition of the evidence
in the fossil record and warms to his slow theme :
"That many species have been evolved in an extremely
gradual manner, there can hardly be a doubt. The species and even the genera
of many large natural families are so closely allied together, that it
is difficult to distinguish not a few of them. On every continent in proceeding
from north to south, from lowland to upland, &c, we meet with a host
of closely related or representative species; as we likewise do on certain
distinct continents, which we have reason to believe were formerly connected.
But in making these and the following remarks, I am compelled to allude
to subjects hereafter to be discussed. Look at the main outlying islands
round a continent, and see how many of their inhabitants can be raised
only to the rank of doubtful species. So it is if we look to past times,
and compare the species which have just passed away with those still living
within the same areas; or if we compare the fail species embedded in the
sub-stages of the same geological formation. It is indeed manifest that
multitude of species are related in the closest manner to other species
that still exist, or have lately existed; and it will hardly be maintained
that such species have been developed in an abrupt or sudden manner. Nor
should it be forgotten, when we look to the special parts of allied species,
instead of to distinct species, that numerous and wonderfully find gradations
can be traced, connecting together widely different structures.. Many large
groups of facts are intelligible only on the principle that species have
been evolved by very small steps. For instance, the fact that the species
included in the larger genera are more closely related to each other, and
present a greater number of varieties than do the species in the smaller
genera. The former are also grouped in little clusters, like varieties
round species, and they present other analogies with varieties, as was
shown in our second chapter. On this same principle we can understand how
it is that specific characters are more variable than generic characters;
and how the parts which are developed in a extraordinary degree or manner
are more variable than other parts of the same species. Many analogous
facts, all pointing in the same direction, could be added."
Then as if in penance he now remembers the fossil evidence
but excuses it with the claim that the "data doesn't fit because the data
is poor". Every scientist has certainly heard if not used themselves this
worn theme! :
"One class of facts, however, namely, the sudden appearance
of new and distinct forms of life in our geological formations supports
at first sight the belief in abrupt development. But the value of this
evidence depends entirely on the perfection of the geological record, in
relation to periods remote in the history of the world. If the record is
as fragmentary as many geologists strenuously assert, there is nothing
strange in the new forms appearing as if suddenly developed."
And now Darwin caps his argument combining embryological
observation of "insensible fine steps" with a firm ridicule of those inclined
to believe in "prodigious.. realms of miracle" :
"Unless we admit transformation as prodigious as those
advocated by Mr. Mivart, such as the sudden development of the wings of
birds or bats, or the sudden conversion of a Hipparion into a horse, hardly
any light is thrown by the belief in abrupt modifications on the deficiency
of connecting links in our geological formations. But against the belief
in such abrupt changes, embryology enters a strong protest. It is notorious
that the wings of birds and bats, and the legs of horses or other quadrupeds,
are undistinguishable at an early embryonic period, and that they become
differentiated in insensibly fine steps. Embryological resemblances of
all kinds can be accounted for, as we shall hereafter see, by the progenitors
of our existing species having varied after early youth, and having transmitted
their newly acquired characters to their offspring, as a corresponding
age. The embryo is thus left almost unaffected, and serves as a record
of the past condition of the species..
It is fair to leave it, that on this issue also - Darwin
was in some confusion. However, the clear social bias favouring a sloth
like change to a lighting like convulsive change can be discerned in Darwin's
life and social behaviour.
He who believes that some ancient form was transformed
suddenly through an internal force or tendency into, for instance, one
furnished with wings, will be almost compelled to assume, in opposition
to all analogy, that many individuals varied simultaneously.. He will be
forced to admit that these great and sudden transformations have left no
trace of their action on the embryo. To admit all this is, as it seems
to me, to enter into the realms of miracle, and to leave those of Science."
Many biologists have begun to re-consider the views of
the more rapid changers. The modern day biologists who have re-challenged
the slower dogma include Niles Eldredge and Stephen Jay Gould. These
workers, having discovered inconsistencies between findings from experimental
work with and the old slow dogma, have renewed older critiques. These have
been amplified into a new view of the rapidity of evolutionary change.
We touch on them briefly later.
MISUSE OF THE NOTION OF STRUGGLE
Darwin certainly did absorb fully the Victorian ideas
of an individual bitter struggle for existence, ideas that were exemplified
in the works of the Reverend Thomas Malthus. Indeed Darwin's own words
showed the depth of Malthus's influence. He said that he had a revelatory
experience when he read Malthus, because he suddenly saw how nature
struggled. Malthus was an economist working for the British East India
Company, who had a bleak message :
"More mouths, more poor, more demands for welfare - a
This basic argument was accompanied by an assertion that
the resources of food and environment could only arithmetically increase,
whilst the population could increase by a geometric progression. Thus poverty
was a natural law, and nothing could be done to alleviate its root cause.
Desmond and Moore, Ibid, p.153.
Of course, with these views Malthusianism became a great
ideological spur towards erecting the new Workhouses (called Bastilles
by their inhabitants) for the working class. The New Poor Law workhouses,
were predicated on the principle that it was the poor had to be "deterred"
from shying away from work. Malthus acted as a precursor of Thatcher and
Reagan, and undoubtedly hit upon a potent means by which to justify poverty.
The argument was shored up by the calculation that :
"With the brakes off humanity could double in a mere
25 years. But it did not double; if it did the planet would be overrun.
The struggle for resources slowed growth and a horrifying catalogue of
death, disease, wars and famine checked the population. Darwin saw that
an identical struggle took place throughout nature, and he realised that
it could lead into a truly creative force."
Malthus' followers :
Desmond and Moore, Ibid, p. 264-65.
"Circumvented death by deportation and shuffled the poor
out of the country.. where the increase of the British race.. and of their
extension over the world, and.. the vigour of the race itself will be more
promoted by this colonising system."
The benefits of the generally increased poverty, was the
stimulus it gave to people to better themselves. This had elements in it
of a Natural Selection that aided the Survival of the Fittest :
Ibid, p. 266.
"If no man could hope to rise or fear to fall in society;
if industry did not bring its own reward, and indolence its punishment;
we could not hope to see that animated activity in bettering our own condition
which now forms the master-spring of public prosperity."
There is no doubt that Malthus provided a justification for
poverty which continues to have a major sedative effect on society's conscience
down to the present day. Of course nowadays it is the sociobiologists who
struggle to put a pop biology view encapsulated in phrases such as "The
Malthus "Essay on Population", 1954, II p.254. Cited
by Harold Perkin, "The origins of Modern English Society" London, 1969,
But after all, it is not difficult to disprove Malthus.
The mere fact of the rapid increase in the world's population since his
time, with attendant general increase in well being shows this. Not that
poverty world wide is no longer a problem. But it is not a problem that
a willing society (ie. using redistribution) could not alleviate. Just
the explosion of the wealth of society and the increase in the population
during the Industrial Revolution, let alone to the present era is sufficient
proof of this.
This is the issue that the present day Neo-Malthusians
ignore. Given the popularity of the views of those like Paul Ehrlich
("The Population Bomb", New York, 1968) we are forced to enter a digression.
Malthusian views have such persuasive power, and have the force of Darwin's
though behind them, that they represent a serous challenge even now. As
mostly used nowadays, they are used to justify poverty in the Third World.
But they are also so used in the West, where for instance Black families
poverty in the USA is blamed on :"babies making babies".
For brevity, we will discuss the recent proliferation
of Birth Control programs, and their failure to eliminate poverty in the
various third world countries that the World Health Organisation has chosen
to investigate. We will argue that the failure of these programs displays
the blinkers that Malthusianism has to social, political, and economical
class issues that transcend "biology".
Mahmood Mamdani, in "The Myth of Population Control",
(New York, 1972) has exposed many of these present day neo-Malthusian blinkers.
Rather surprisingly to those who would hope that the dollars of the WHO
are well spent, it emerges that of the many expensive programs for birth
control up to 1972 that there were, only 3 had any population controls.
That is a non-tested population whose birth rates could be examined for
any changes. These three were Kyong in South Korea, Singur in West Bengal
and Khanna in North India.
In Kyong the rate of decline in births,, expressed as
a rate of per 1000 of population, was equivalent or faster in the
(Mamdani, Ibid, p.15-29).
Similar findings obtain in Singhur. Though it is true
that in Khanna an additional twist occurs. Here there was indeed a decline
in birth rates ( from 40/1000 in 1957 to 35/1000 in 1968). However the
difference was not accounted for by contraception, but
by the increase in the age of marriage from 17.5 years in 1956 to 20 years
in 1969. (Mamdani, Ibid, p. 28).
Mamdani shows that the W.H.O. strategy did not work. The
question was why not ? His debunking of neo-Malthusianism is particularly
valuable here. He shows that the peasant strategy for large families was
based on hard class facts. The need for the most labour was most acute
in the poorest families, for :
"Every family knows that the cost of having each child
declines the more children he has. The benefits on the other hand increase.
Gurdev Singh (Of Manpur Village, Khanna) hoped for.. many grandsons so
they could accumulate enough savings for land.. A saying among the Jats
(A caste of peasant farmers) goes :
The need for the poorest was greatest for physical strength
in emergencies and class fights :
"A Forest is not made of one tree,
A Jat is not made of one son."
Cited, Ibid, p.135.
"In these villages we have factions (ie.caste) fights
and you win fights not with contraceptives but with men, said Jat Puran
Singh of Manpur Village Khanna."
These realities are a matter of blithe indifference to the
modern day Malthusian whose solution to poverty is simplistic biological
Cited, Mamdani, Ibid, p. 135.
A variety of other sources shows the even more cynical
usage of the "population" problem, by the rich powerful imperialist nations.
See for example, Sheila Zurbrigg in "Rakku's Story: Structures of
Ill Health and Source of Change ", (Bangalore 1984).
For our purposes here, we will only reiterate Zurbrigg's
central argument which is that child mortality
(which is the major part of the "excess preventable mortality"
in India , p. 65 Ibid) has remained extraordinarily high in the rural as
compared to the urban areas.(136 versus 70 per 1000 live births). The assumptions
are made by the foreign relief agencies that the poor are ignorant about
nutrition; or that they are reluctant to accept modern medicine; or that
they have too many children.
As to the First Wrong Assumption, Zurbrigg rightly
points out :
"Malnourished children in India do not die from lack
of one particular nutrient, but rather from insufficient food generally.
Though consisting mainly of simple porridge of coarse cereals, children;
diets are usually adequate in protein content. Rather they are grossly
deficient in overall calories, that is in the quantity of food."
On the Second wrong assumption, Zurbrigg notes that
when you don't have money you use what you can. Modern Western medicine
is expensive. Homeopathic native medicine is considerably cheaper (Zurbrigg
Zurbrigg p. 67, Ibid.
Finally on the Third wrong assumption, she corroborates
Mamdani's these. In addition she adds:
"It has been estimated that an Indian couple must have
an average of 6.3 children in order to have a 95% certainty that one son
will survive until the father is 65 years old."
Finally Zurbrigg ties this all together by
noting the underlying motivation of the accents on the Population issue.
Obviously imperialist nations have a need for stability in their semi-colonies.
The basic intent of these various programs of population control and poverty
relief was revealed by a candid USAID Deputy-Director :
Zurbrigg p. 73.
"In an official document entitled : "Winning the Cold
War : The US Ideological Offensive", the Deputy -Director of USAID had
clearly stated those objectives :
In fact the issues of poverty and unemployment are manifestly
social and not biological. The tactic of maintaining a standing army of
unemployed in order to drive down the cost of labour, was and is a critical
to the capitalist strategy of paying the lowest possible wage :
"Our basic broadest goals is a long range political one,
It is not development for the sake of sheer development.. An important
objective is to open up the maximum opportunity for domestic private initiative
and to ensure that, foreign private investment particularly from the USA
is welcomed and well fixed.. The problems is to evaluate the manner in
which the programme can make the greatest contribution to the totality
of the US interests."
Zurbrigg, p. 216, Citing S.George: "How the other Half
Dies. The Real Reason for World Hunger." Harmondsworth, 1976, p. 70.
"The labouring population, therefore produces along with
the accumulation of capital produced by it, the means by which it itself
is made relatively superfluous and is turned into a relative surplus population,
and it does this to always increasing extent."
This underlies the poverty of the unemployed.
Karl Marx, Capital Vol 1. Moscow, p. 591.
In fact, like much else, if not everything, Malthus's
view did not arrive on a cloud from nowhere. Engels points out the
Hobbesian precursor of "Bellum Omnium Contra Omnes", (See p.6, Introduction).
Engels also points to the more complex reality of nature that in order
to be depicted, accurately needs attention to avoid the "prejudice and
one sided" views. These are either All Harmonious Nature or All Struggling
"Both views are justified within a narrow limit but both
are equally one sided and prejudiced. The interactions of bodies in non-living
nature includes both harmony and collisions, that of living bodies conscious
and unconscious co-operation as well as conscious and unconscious struggle.
Hence even in regard to nature, it is not permissible one sidedly to inscribe
only "struggle" on one's banners. But it is absolutely childish to sum
up the whole manifold wealth of historical evolution and complexity in
the meagre and one sided phrase: 'Struggle for existence'.
Yet that Darwin's understanding, when at its' best, transcended
the naked viciousness that underlay the Hobbesian view is clear from the
That says less than nothing."
"Dialectics of Nature", Engels Ibid.p.307,
"I should premise that I use.. in a metaphorical sense
including dependence of one being on another and including (which is more
important) not only the life of the individual but success in leaving progeny.
Two canines.. in death, may truly be said to struggle with each other..
but a plant at the edge of the desert is said to struggle for, life versus
In fact Darwin's own life also shows that in practice Darwin
did not behave wholly like a Malthusian. Thus in the rural economic collapse
of 1846 (Under the Corn Laws) he and his wife Emma gave away penny bread
tickets at the door of their house, Down House; to be exchanged for bread
at the bakers. The family as "gentlefolk", out of principle stopped buying
potatoes so that stocks for the poor were not depleted; and he organised
the Library at the Village school and generally behaved with charity.
Darwin, cited by : S.Rose, L.J.Kamin and R.C.Lewontin,
"Not in Our Genes. Biology, Ideology and Human Nature." p.241.
Nonetheless, as Prince Petr Alexeyevich Kropotkin
(1824-1921) pointed out, Darwin himself as well as his followers emphasised
the competitive struggle. Kroptokin was a trained scientist, having performed
original field work in Siberia. His background in geography, zoology, and
geology allowed him to approach the broad field crossing scientific vision
of Darwin. He won the Gold Medal of the Russian Geographical Society, and
according to Ashley Montague :
"His theory of the geographic structure of Asia represents
one the great scientific generalisations of scientific geography."
It was this that forced Prince Peter Kropotkin to write his
famous book, "Mutual Aid". Kropotkin was a gifted and brave anarchist
of aristocratic roots. His tragedy was to divorce himself from the events
in Russia during the bitter years of the establishment of the Soviet State
at a time of Civil War and attacks on Soviet Russia by all the Allied countries
led by Winston Churchill.
In Foreword to the Boston Edition of "Mutual Aid - A
Factor of Evolution", No Date, p.3.
However, of central importance to us in the biology of
organismal inter-individual Struggles, was his views on nature. Kropotkin's
demonstration that there were significant areas of biology where there
was cooperation between individual organisms. This feature of nature had
indeed been noted by many observant biologists, including Darwin himself.
They included such phenomena as the ant and bee colonies, seals, birds,
and many others. Only two examples will suffice from the non-human animal
world to display his line of reasoning. The first is really an apt citation
of Erasmus Darwin's observations on the crab :
"I cannot refuse credit to the observation quoted by
Dr.Erasmus Darwin - that the "common crab during the moulting season station
as sentinel an unmoulted or hard shell individual to prevent marine enemies
from injuring moulted individuals in their unprotected state."
But to illustrate his wonder at the biological world, the
particularly vivid language Kropotkin used on the ant colonies deserves
Kropotkin, In Ibid, p. p.12.
"Ants and termites have renounced the Hobbesian war and
they are better for it. Their wonderful nests , their buildings, superior
in relative size to man, their paved roads and overground vaulted galleries,
their spacious halls and granaries, their corn fields harvesting and malting
of grain, their rational methods of nursing their eggs and larvae and of
building special nests for rearing the aphids whom Linnaeus so picturesquely
describes as "the cows of the ants", and finally their courage, pluck and
superior intelligence- all these are the natural outcome of the mutual
aid which they practice at eery stage of their busy and laborious lives."
Although it is historically leaping ahead, we will now
increasingly start using the term "The Gene". Because now, modern day debates
use this term, but within the same debates that were taking place in Darwin's
day. In this case, on the issues of Altruism, as Mutual Aid and cooperation
has now been termed.
Some modern day proponents of the view that the organism
is a casing for the gene and nothing else, take exception to Kropotkin's
language. And in the remark that Kropotkin lapses into anthropomorphism
in remarks on the animal world, this seems reasonable, though the same
could be said (but is not) at many times of the language of Darwin. But
in fact most of Kropotkin's book concerns the importance of cooperation
amongst humans. And Helena Cronin and her mentor, Richard Dawkins
notwithstanding, the sociobiologists are far more at fault here than
Kropotkin, in making unwarranted extrapolations from nature to humans and
Cronin in her book, "The Ant and the Peacock," correctly
identifies the 'problem' of what is now termed Altruism in the literature
as having been one that troubled Darwin. Again it has to be said of her
vigorous defence of the all embracing primacy of the gene that while it
is useful in understanding some levels of animal functioning, it lapses
into an amazingly narrow absurdity.
To illustrate this, let us follow her from a legitimate
extrapolation of the concept of behaviour that "preserves certain genes",
through to a wild speculation on the competition of genes within
the human body.
Thus as she explains, the vampire bats of the Caribbean:
"Female vampire bats (Desmodus rotundus) will regurgitate
scavenged blood to certain roost mates that have failed to find a meal
during their night time search.. because the future casts a long shadow,
the same females (kin and no-kin, without males) often roost together for
many years. The cost of regurgitation is relatively low when a bat is a
donor but the benefit is relatively high when it is a recipient."
But then, this insight is linked to an endowment of maternal
chromosomes with a life of their own, during the progress in human maldevelopment,
to the defect known as Down's Syndrome!
Helena Cronin, "The Ant And the Peacock. Altruism and
sexual diversity from Darwin to today." Cambridge, 1991. p.258.
Whether or not there is a choice in life, is one of philosophy's
old chestnuts. The stark opposites of Chance or Necessity have long bothered
philosophers. For Mayr, Darwin had resolved this dilemma for biology.
"Apparently Democritius was the first to have posited
a problem that has split philosophers ever since, Does organisation of
phenomena particularly in the world of life, result purely from chance
or is it necessary, owing to the structure if the elementary components,
the atoms ? Chance or necessity has ever since been the theme of controversies
among philosophers.. It was Darwin more than 2,000 years later who showed
that the two-step process of natural selection avoids Democritus's dilemma."
By this, Mayr means that the initial step in evolution is
a chance throwing off of variation, but that following this comes a necessary
selection by Natural Selection. The First step of "pure chance" came to
be critical for Darwinists. This is because in evolution, if things arise
"by chance", they cannot arise by "instruction" from the environment. This
is then a singular critique of environmental aided Inheritance of Acquired
Mayr, Ibid, p. 86.
Some accounts imply that the question of "Chance" in biology,
itself demanded a political response from Marxists. This view argues that
Marxists cannot tolerate "pure chance", because it violates the Marxist
Theology of Crude Determinism in life and society. This supposedly teaches
that society "automatically" tends to socialism. Of course this apparent
Marxist naivete is a slanderous caricature of the Marxist analysis. Let
us not here dwell on the reasons why the Marxist-Leninist would see the
need for a proletarian party if there was such clear Automaticism.
We discuss in more detail the relevance of philosophical
stance in biological thinking in Part III, below. However, because the
issue of Chance has been so central to the modern day Darwinian position,
exemplified in the New Synthesis, we cannot avoid it here.
Instead let us see what Engels makes of the dichotomy
between chance and necessity, in his refutations of the "stark
choice". First he acknowledges the potential opposition :
"Another opposition in which metaphysics is entangled
is that of chance and necessity. What can be more sharply contradicting
than these two thought determinations? how is it possible that both are
identical, and that the Accidental is necessary and the necessary is also
accidental? Common sense and with it the majority of natural scientists
treats necessity and chance as determinations that exclude each other once
and for all."
Engels states that there is a clear and obvious role for
both chance and necessity in nature :
Dialectics of Nature ,Ibid, p. 218.
"A thing or circumstance a process is either accidental
or necessary, but not both. Hence both exist side by side in nature. Nature
contains all sorts of objects and processes, of which some are accidental,
the others necessary, and it is only a matter of not confusing the two
sorts with each other. The, for instance, one assumes the decisive specific
characters to be necessary, other differences between individuals of the
same species being termed accidental, and this holds good of crystals as
it does for plants and animals."
But then, as Engels shows much of the labelling that is chosen,
accidental or necessary, is simply a matter of convenience, and arbitrary
Dialectics of Nature Ibid, p.218.
"Then again the lower group becomes accidental in relation
to the higher, so that it is declared to be a matter of chance how many
different species are included in the genus 'Felis' or 'Equus', or how
many genera or orders there is a class, and how many individuals of these
species exist, or how many different species of animals occur in a given
region, or what in general the fauna and flora are like. And then it is
declared that the necessary is the sole thing of scientific interest and
that the accidental is a matter of indifference to science.. what can be
brought under laws, hence what one knows is interesting; what cannot be
bought under laws is a matter of indifference and can be ignored.. That
is to say what can be brought under laws is regarded as necessary and what
cannot be so bought is accidental."
As Engels, points out merely calling for something inexplicable
as being due to chance may merely be a theological practice - 'by any other
name' - to praphrase Shakespeare! :
Dialectics of Nature p.218.
"Thereby all science comes to an end, for it has to investigate
precisely that which we do not know.. this the sort of science as that
which proclaims natural what it cannot explain, and ascribes what it cannot
explain as to supernatural causes; whether I term the cause of the explicable
"Chance" or whether I term it "God", is a matter of complete indifference
as far as the thing itself is concerned."
Next Engels attacks that crude Determinism that is also
ultimately, merely theological :
Dialectics of Nature Ibid, p.218.
"Determinism.. that a particular pea pod contains 5 peas
and not 4 or 6, that a particular dog's tail is 5 inches long and not a
whit longer or shorter.. - these are all facts which have been produced
by an irrevocable concatenation of cause and effect, by an unalterable
necessity of such a nature indeed that the gaseous sphere, from which the
solar system was derived, was already so constituted that these events
had to happen thus and not otherwise. With this kind of necessity we likewise
do not get away from the theological conception of nature."
Engels' then calmly points out that the Either-Or stark
choice is not appropriate :
Dialectics of Nature Ibid, p. 219.
"In contrast to both conceptions, Hegel came forward
with the hitherto quite unheard-of propositions that the accidental has
a cause because it is accidental and just as much also has no cause because
it is accidental; that the accidental is necessary, that necessity determines
itself as chance, and on the other hand this chance is rather absolute
necessity. Natural science has simply ignored these propositions as paradoxical
trifling as self contradictory nonsense."
The best of the modern mathematical geneticists understand
Dialectics of Nature Ibid, p. 220.
Sewall Wright, one of the founders of the field
of mathematical genetics, also notes a dialectic and qualitative difference
between the bare posited alternatives. :
"Sewall Wright's perceptive remark (1967 A) :
In a major sense the "dilemma" about the role of chance in
evolutionary theory is a shibboleth. The posited alternatives of "pure
determinism' and "chance" are not adequate to explain the multifaceted
complexity of nature.
'The Darwinian process of continued interplay of a random
and a selective process is not intermediate between pure chance and pure
determinism, but in its consequences qualitatively utterly different from
Cited by Mayr, Ibid. p. 57
Leaving all the philosophy to one side, (to many people's
relief), it will be argued that "Pure Chance" is further quite inappropriate
for much of this area, and that has been shown by "real (!)" data. The
most modern data is dealt with in the final section of Part I entitled
"Modern Day Refutations of the New Synthesis."
Here we will simply question whether Pure Chance is adequate
to explain some of the very first steps in the development of life.
It is accepted by most biologists that the first steps
to life (regardless of the stimuli) had to somehow involve the aggregation
of large protein molecules. How did these come together from simple amino
It appears that the molecules of the amino acids themselves
forces a certain constraint that severely channels "pure chance" :
"The fact that mixtures of amino acids can order themselves
during polymerization has crucial significance to our understanding of
the origin of life. .. The essential initial phenomena are those of self-ordering
of appropriate molecules (Fox 1968) followed by self-organization (Fox
1960, 1969). This awareness arose from the earliest experiments on heating
aspartic acid in mixtures of Amino acids. The evidence that Amino Acids
order themselves during polymerization of many kinds, and from many labs.
It has had to contend with the presumption of randomness, the playing card
The argument can be followed by the accompanying diagram
from Fox also. For Fox now shows that simple arithmetic calculations suggest
that truly random ordering of events, will result in 6 possibilities. However,
with real life molecules, experiments show that this total is not reached,
presumably because of the molecular constraints :
S.W.Fox, The beginnings of life and behaviour. In "Behavioral
evolution and integrative levels." Ed G.Greenberg and E.Tobach. New
Jersey, 1984. p.83.
"The widely held view is.. that three playing cards,
A,B, and C, for example can be arranged left-to-right into a total of 6
sequences. Each arrangement has an equal probability. When the three cards
are laid out numerous times, approximately 1/6 of those times they will
be A-B-C, 1/6 A-C-B 1/6 etc. The total shown.. constitutes a random array..
The fallacy in the basic assumption is that unlike (2-D) playing cards,
different 3-D) molecules have different shapes. Molecules favour certain
arrangements offer others. Playing cards have no such bias. An experiment
close to the 3 playing card comparison has been performed.. with glutamic
acid, glycine, and tyrosine. The results are somewhat more complex than
with cards. Yet greater complexity is due to the fact that one of the Amino
Acid glutamic acid can itself rat in three ways. As a result, 36 peptides
can form with the 3 types of Amino Acid. When we did the experiment.. we
found only 2 peptides. Hartmann et al repeated the experiment and also
found only two tripepeptides.."
S.W.Fox, The Beginnings of Life and Behaviour. "Behavioral
evolution and integrative levels." Ed G.Greenberg and E.Tobach. New
Jersey, 1984. p.83.
FIGURE: (NB: No figures
are on the web version of this book)
HOW CHANCE PLAYS CARDS. From : Figure 6.5. p. 88 Fox.
Having shown that proteinoid particles arise under stimulus
of heat, and that they aggregate quickly, and that they then "age" and
show signs of "socialization" (ie aggregation, Fox draws some conclusions
about randomness :
"Our sapience about evolution has been influenced by
understanding the stages or levels of origin. A principal contribution
to such theory.. is the unexpected demonstration that the matrix of organismal
evolution and its continuation was non-random. The assumption of random
matrix and random evolutionary events has been widespread (Muller 1929,
Waddington 1967, Eigen 1971, Monod 1971, Miller and Orgel, 1974, Crick,
Brenner, Klug & Pieczenik 1976; Nicholis and Prigogine 1977; Hutchinson
Interestingly, Fox shows that the imprateur of randomness
was not always so secure. Even Morgan, one of the key individuals for the
later so called New Synthesis, thought that "pure chance" was stretching
things a bit far :
Fox, Ibid, p. 100.
"The assumption of randomness has, not however been universal..
After he had consolidated his theory of the gene, Morgan pointed out that
mutations are not random (Morgan, 1932. pp.59, 112, 134, 219) and are determined
from within the gene instead of exogenously. Mathematical support of nonrandomness
had been provided by Wigner (1961) and Eden (1967).. Darwin and Morgan..
continued to point out the need for understanding variation. For many of
the Neo-Darwinists, however, variation by gene mutation and recombination
was sufficient, Eigen and Schuster who are seeking a physicochemical basis
for evolution also have felt that natural selection is the only understood
method by which nature provides variation"
Further empirical work on the nature of non-randomness in
mutations has been performed, and needs to be discussed. For reasons of
historical clarity, and because they require a bit more understanding of
the molecular advances we examine them later.
Fox, Ibid, p.100
One irony of intellectual positioning should be noted
before we leave Chance.
The school of thought that Helena Cronin represents,
is that of a thorough going and consistent reductionism of all biology
to the autonomous gene. This position was in its modern form first staked
out by Richard Dawkins. This School argues there is an explanation
for every phenotype. This even applies to an "Extended Phenotype" that
each and every gene possesses. By this meant an extension beyond the confines
of he body. The original dictatorship of the nucleus to cytoplasm, that
Weismann devised, is extended directly to behaviour -perhaps even thought.
This can be epitomised in the diagram (Figure 1) from
Cronin's book which explains the derivation of the thought from Weismann,
but the significant extension of it at the same time. The nucleus (read
the Gene) now not only controls the immediate environment of the cytoplasm,
but the very buildings that organisms create. The example used is that
of the bower bird, which creates an ornate structure as a nest.
This school HAS TO then eschew notions of chance
in evolution. For if every gene has a purpose, it has to be found and only
our lack of understanding impedes this. Because the gene MUST have
been maintained in the population for a particular reason. Ultimately,
this reason is that the gene has to confer a selective advantage, and that
this has preserved it through evolution.
The view then becomes very similar indeed to that incorporated
in the older views of a Perfect Nature, one that was Created and therefore
HAD to be perfect. Here they reject a Creator, but still maintain
that the manifestations of nature have to be perfect. Ergo, it must be
that the selection process is all wise and has not occurred by chance.
WE ARE ALL "DARWINISTS" NOW
The impact of Darwin was extraordinary as has been frequently
commented upon. Leaving aside the Creationists, the vast majority of educated
people accept that there has been evolution. However, there are many types
of Darwinians. And the various schools of Darwinian belief began to spring
up very soon after his writing the "Origin of the Species".
In particular there very quickly arose the two schools
which exist even now. On the one hand were the "Pure School Darwinians."
Most authors refer to this school as Neo-Darwinism. These individuals
accepted no other mechanism to explain Evolution than Natural Selection
and Chance variation. They were driven by the underlying need to totally
reject the arguments from design. Authors who fell into this mould included
such as August Weismann (see below).
In counter-position were the "Environmental Darwinians".
These are usually called in the literature Neo-Lamarckians, or They
felt that there must be some form of directing forces from the environment
that could give a close fit to the environment. These authors include those
such as Romanes, or William Bateson in his early professional years.
In fact Bateson was so convinced of the need for some
other mechanism than just natural selection, that he spent fruitless years
in trying to prove it. So much so, that with the disappointment born of
failure, he became much the most vehement of the Pure Natural Selection
This may explain some of the later bitterness that Bateson
directed at the unfortunate Paul Kammerer. Kammerer as discussed
below, purportedly demonstrated some instances of Inheritance of Acquired
Darwinism was a Feast of plenty. Many came and constructed
their own menus from it. All of course accepted the General principles
of Evolution, but apart from that there were radical differences in their
general philosophy. There remain today, very radical differences amongst
those that call themselves Darwinists. Before moving on, the point being
made is that there is not now, nor was there a pure Darwinism. Various
mutations of Darwinist Syntheses have come and gone.
We are now in an era when
another Synthesis is required.
WE BELIEVE THAT THIS IS AN URGENT SCIENTIFIC
TASK FOR THE MOLECULAR AND HEREDITARY SCHOOLS TO UNDERTAKE
There are indeed indications that
this task is being undertaken by the most far-seeing of them.