Friday, October 27, 2006

Pre-Darwinists (4) Edward Blyth

Edward Blyth - a short biography
Varieties of animals
Cuvier's The Animal Kingdom

One of the stranger articles at AnswersInGenesis is Darwin’s illegitimate brainchild by Russell Grigg. What makes it strange is that rather than the standard attack on Darwin's theory of evolution, the article attacks Charles Darwin personally for being unoriginal; that is, in attacking Darwin, the article implicitly admits that there were several precursors, which in turn means that the usual attacks on evolution for being a theory made by an insane atheist loose all their relevance.

Biography One of these precursors is Edward Blyth. The article claims that Darwin knew about Blyth's articles in The Magazine of Natural History from 1835-37, in which natural selection was described, but didn't credit Blyth. This would appear to be an inconsistency on behalf of Grigg, since he mentions that the idea of natural selection was around as early as 1794; that is, long before Blyth wrote his articles.

Grigg asks the question: "Why did [Charles Darwin] not cite Blyth’s papers that dealt directly with natural selection?" and suggests the following two reasons:

  1. Blyth was a Christian and what we would nowadays call a ‘special creationist’. E.g. concerning the seasonal changes in animal colouring (such as the mountain hare becoming white in winter), Blyth said that these were ‘striking instances of design, which so clearly and forcibly attest the existence of an omniscient great First Cause’ [Blyth (1835)]. And he said that animals ‘evince superhuman wisdom, because it is innate, and therefore, instilled by an all-wise Creator’ [Blyth (1837)].

  2. Blyth correctly saw the concept of natural selection as a mechanism by which the sick, old and unfit were removed from a population; that is, as a preserving factor and for the maintenance of the status quo—the created kind [Wieland, C., Muddy waters: Clarifying the confusion about natural selection]. Creationists like Edward Blyth (and English theologian William Paley) saw natural selection as a process of culling; that is, of choosing between several traits, all of which must first be in existence before they can be selected.

Evolutionist Loren Eisely's book Darwin and the Mysterious Mr. X from 1979 is Grigg's main source for the claim that Darwin stole his theory from Blyth.

This same book is also the main source for creationist James M. Foard's article The Darwin Papers - Edward Blyth and Natural Selection. This article and Loren Eisely's book is critiqued by evolutionist Roland Watts in a No Answers in Genesis article". Foard's article contains a response to Watt's article.

Edward Blyth - short biography

Edward Blyth (1810-1873)  was born as the eldest child of a poor family in London. His father died, when Edward was ten years old, leaving his mother to raise the four children. However, the situation of the family was well enough for Edward to be sent to school, where he excelled in chemistry and natural history, spending his every spare moment at the British Museum.

1832 - Blyth buys a druggist's business in Lower Tooting, London, and worked as a chemist, while still keeping his zoological interest. Blyth is a frequent speaker at naturalist meetings in London, and from 1835 to 1837 he publishes articles on the subject of natural selection in The Magazine of Natural History (Vols. 8, 9, and 10). While there is evidence that Charles Darwin, while in Peru in 1835 during his voyage on the Beagle has read at least the first of Blyth's articles, these very creationist articles have little in common with Darwin's use of natural selection.

1837 - the druggist's business fails, and Blyth moves to Brixton, Surrey.

1838 - Blyth is appointed curator (possibly honorary) of the Ornithological Society of London.

1840 - Blyth translates and edits the 'Mammalia, Birds, and Reptiles' section of the English version, The Animal Kingdom, of Cuvier's Regne animal distribué d'après son organisation (1817). See Cuvier's The Animal Kingdom for details.

1841 - Blyth goes to India as the curator of the museum of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal in Calcutta, where he reorganizes the catalogues and is a prolific publisher on behalf of the society; but he is censured in 1947 due to his difficult behavior.

1854 - Blyth marries a young widow, whom he had known previously in England before her first marriage, and who is visiting relatives in India.

1855 - An extensive correspondence between Blyth and Charles Darwin begins.

1857 - The happy marriage ends with the death of Blyth's wife, an event from which he suffers extreme psychological trauma leading to severe illness.

1862 - Blyth leaves Calcutta and returns to England. He formally retires from the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal in 1863; but is made a honorary member in 1865.

Varieties of Animals (1835)

In The Magazine of Natural History, Vol. 8, No. 1., January, 1835, pp. 40-53, we find the article "An Attempt to Classify the 'Varieties' of Animals with Observations on the Marked Seasonal and Other Changes Which Naturally Take Place in Various British Species, and Which Do Not Constitute Varieties", or "Varieties of Animals" for short, by Edward Blyth.

Blyth begins by noting that the word 'variety' is "very commonly misapplied to individuals of a species, which are merely undergoing a regular natural change, either progressing from youth to maturity, or gradually shifting, according to fixed laws, their colours with the seasons". That is, Blyth considers 'variety' only to be applicable to "a departure from the acknowledged type of a species, either in structure, in size, or in colour", where the 'departure' isn't a change of the individual organism due to age or season. Worth noting here is the existence of an "acknowledged type of a species"; that is, there is standard against which the variety can be decided to be a variety. Continuing the sentence, Blyth writes that 'variety' "vague in the degree of being alike used to denote the slightest individual variation, and the most dissimilar breeds which have originated from one common stock." To clear up this vagueness, Blyth proposes a classification of varieties into four classes: "simple variations, acquired variations, breeds, and true varieties."

In more details, these fours classes of varieties are defined as follows:

  1. Simple Variations. About these, Blyth writes: "The first class, which I propose to style simple or slight individual variations, differs only in degree from the last, or true varieties; and consists of mere differences of colour or of stature, unaccompanied by any remarkable structural deviation; also of slight individual peculiarities of any kind, which are more or less observable in all animals, whether wild or tame, and which, having a tendency to perpetuate themselves by generation, may, under particular circumstances, become the origin of true breeds (which constitute my third class of varieties), but which, in a state of nature, are generally lost in the course of two or three generations." That is, simple variations are only in degree different from true varieties, and in a state of nature they are generally lost within few generations. As an example of a simple variation, Blyth mentions albinos.

  2. Acquired Variations. About these, Blyth writes: "The second class of varieties which I would designate thus, comprises the various changes which, in a single individual, or in the course of generations, are gradually brought about by the operation of known causes: such as the greater or less supply of nutriment; the influence of particular sorts of food; or, either of these combined with the various privations consequent upon confinement; which changes would as gradually and certainly disappear if these causes were removed." That is, aquired variations are those that are caused by environmental factors affecting the development of individuals, either a single individual or in the course of generations. Apparently Blyth believed such aquired variations to be hereditary, although dependent on the continuation of the environmental factors. As examples of aquired variations, Blyth mentions that domesticated animals become more "bulky and lazy", because they don't have to seek their own nutrition, and their "muscles of the organs of locomotion" become "rigid and comparatively powerless", because they are not used much and therefore not developed to full size.

  3. Breeds. About these, Blyth writes: "It is a general law of nature for all creatures to propagate the like of themselves: and this extends even to the most trivial minutiae, to the slightest individual peculiarities; and thus, among ourselves, we see a family likeness transmitted from generation to generation. When two animals are matched together, each remarkable for a certain given peculiarity, no matter how trivial, there is also a decided tendency in nature for that peculiarity to increase; and if the produce of these animals be set apart, and only those in which the same peculiarity is most apparent, be selected to breed from, the next generation will possess it in a still more remarkable degree; and so on, till at length the variety I designate a breed, is formed, which may be very unlike the original type." That is, 'peculiarities' are inherited and increased, if both parents have the same 'peculiarity'. As examples of breeds, Blyth mentions "many of the varieties of cattle, and, in all probability, the greater number of those of domestic pigeons".
    Blyth further writes that "[t]he original form of a species is unquestionably better adapted to its natural habits than any modification of that form;" and that this adaptation to natural habits is kept up, because "the sexual passions excite to rivalry and conflict, and the stronger must always prevail over the weaker, the latter, in a state of nature, is allowed but few opportunities of continuing its race." Blyth even uses the phrase "the struggle for existence": "In a large herd of cattle, the strongest bull drives from him all the younger and weaker individuals of his own sex, and remains sole master of the herd; so that all the young which are produced must have had their origin from one which possessed the maximum of power and physical strength; and which, consequently, in the struggle for existence, was the best able to maintain his ground, and defend himself from every enemy."
    And more of the same: "In like manner, among animals which procure their food by means of their agility, strength, or delicacy of sense, the one best organized must always obtain the greatest quantity; and must, therefore, become physically the strongest, and be thus enabled, by routing its opponents, to transmit its superior qualities to a greater number of offspring." This makes you wonder, why it's called 'social Darwinism' and not 'social Blythism', doesn't it? This struggle for existence, serves, according to Blyth, to keep a species true to its type: "The same law, therefore, which was intended by Providence to keep up the typical qualities of a species, can be easily converted by man into a means of raising different varieties; but it is also clear that, if man did not keep up these breeds by regulating the sexual intercourse, they would all naturally soon revert to the original type." That is, for Blyth, the struggle for existence is a divine commandment, "which causes each race to be chiefly propagated by the most typical and perfect individuals." So, why is everybody yelling at Darwinists?

  4. True Varieties. About these, Blyth writes: "The last of these divisions to which I more peculiarly restrict the term variety, consists of what are, in fact a kind of deformities, or monstrous births, the peculiarities of which, from reasons already mentioned, would very rarely, if ever, be perpetuated in a state of nature; but which, by man's agency, often become the origin of a new race." That is, true varieties are freaks of nature, which in a state of nature would be weeded out. As examples of true varieties, Blyth mentions "the breed of sheep, now common in North America, and known by the name of ancons or otter sheep", "[t]he solidungular variety of swine, tailless cats, back-feathered, five-toed, and rumpless fowls, together with many sorts of dogs, and probably , also the race of fan-tailed pigeons".
    Unlike the above, "[t]he deviations of this kind do not appear to have any tendency to revert to the original form". Blyth suggests that such a deviation, that is a true variety, "most probably, could only be restored, in a direct manner, by the way in which the variety was first produced," whereby he would most likely have meant a new deviation to counter the first one.
    Of special interest is that Blyth suggests that "[t]o this class may be also referred, with more than probability, some of the more remarkable varieties of the human species."

Blyth continues his discussion under the fourth class by the subject of human skin color to determine, where this feature should go in his classification. Basically, he considers sun-tanning of white people to be an aquired variety, while the color of black people is not, since it is kept even in cold climates. Further, Blyth writes:

There is one fact, however, here to be observed, which is very well worthy of attention; and this is, that coloured varieties appear to have been chiefly produced in hot countries; which seems almost to induce the conclusion that they were originally efforts of nature, to enable the skin to withstand the scorching produced by exposure to the burning rays of a tropical sun.

We may, I suppose, wonder, what Blyth means by "efforts of nature"; it sounds almost as if he attributes consciousness to nature.

Apparently, Blyth considers white skin color to be original:

Wherever a black individual was produced, especially among rude nations, if the breed was continued at all, the natural aversion it would certainly inspire would soon cause it to become isolated, and, before long, would, most probably, compel the race to seek for refuge in emigration.  That no example, however, of the first production of a black variety has been recorded, may be ascribed to various causes; it may have only taken place once since the creation of the human race, and that once in a horde of tropical barbarians remote from the then centres of comparative civilisation, where no sort of record would have been preserved.  But it is highly probable that analogous-born varieties may have given rise to the Mongolian, Malay, and certain others of the more diverse races of mankind; nay, we may even suppose that, in some cases, the difference, in the first instance, was much greater, and was considerably modified by the intermixture which must have taken place in the first generations.

And maybe non-whites were simply driven away because they deviated from the perfect:

Still, however, it may not be impertinent to remark here, that, as in the brute creation, by a wise provision, the typical characters of a species are, in a state of nature, preserved by those individuals chiefly propagating, whose organisation is the most perfect, and which, consequently, by their superior energy and physical powers, are enabled to vanquish and drive away the weak and sickly, so in the human race degeneration is, in great measure, prevented by the innate and natural preference which, and this is the principal and is always given to the most comely main reason why the varieties which are produced in savage tribes, must generally either become extinct in the first generation, or, if propagated, would most likely be left to themselves, and so become the origin of a new race; and in this we see an adequate cause for the obscurity in which the origin of different races is involved.

Following the discussion of the classification of varieties, Blyth writes:

The above is confessedly a hasty and imperfect sketch, a mere approximation towards an apt classification of "varieties", but if it chance to meet the eye, and be fortunate enough to engage the attention, of any experienced naturalist, who shall think it worth his while to follow up the subject, and produce a better arrangement of these diversities, my object in indicting the present article will be amply recompensed.

So, even if Darwin had some inspiration from this, Blyth would have been "amply recompensed" simply by Darwin's use of that inspiration.

The rest of the article addresses "periodical and other changes of appearance, which naturally take place in various British animals, and which do not constitute varieties." These comprise full or partial shedding of coat and change of coat color.

After having detailed these, Blyth writes:

There has been, strangely enough, a difference of opinion among naturalists, as to whether these seasonal changes of colour were intended by Providence as an adaptation to change of temperature, or as a means of preserving the various species from the observation of their foes, by adapting their hues to the colour of the surface; against which latter opinion it has been plausibly enough argued, that "nature provides for the preyer as well as for the prey." The fact is, they answer both purposes; and they are among those striking instances of design, which so clearly and forcibly attest the existence of an omniscient great First Cause.

What is worth noting here is that creationist naturalists of the time were trying to figure out the rules by which the creator (whether called 'Providence' or 'nature') had designed the species. That the same feature can serve two different purposes is clearly for Blyth a proof of "an omniscient great First Cause".

After this, Blyth writes:

How beautifully do we thus perceive, as in a thousand other instances, the balance of nature preserved: and even here we see another reason why sickly or degenerate animals (those, I mean, which are less able to maintain the necessary vigilance) must soon disappear; and why the slightest deviation from the natural hue must generally prove fatal to the animal.  How different, thus, are even simple variations from the seasonal changes of colour which naturally take place! Properly followed up, this subject might lead to some highly interesting and important results.

By this, Blyth refers to that "seasonal changes of colour which naturally take place" serve to keep a balance between predator and prey for the benefit of both, while "even simple variations" disrupt the balance and therefore are usually weeded out quickly.

Blyth ends his article by writing:

It certainly points to the conclusion, that every, even the slightest, tint and marking has some decided use, and is intimately connected with the habits and welfare of the animal; and it also furnishes a satisfactory reason, why closely allied animals (or, in other words, animals of very similar form and habits) should so very commonly nearly resemble each other in their colours and in the general character of their markings.

The point here being that since "even simple variations" usually are weeded out, the species as they are must be perfectly adapted, since otherwise  the tints and markings would not have prevailed, which in turn means that they are not mere decorations.

Cuvier's The Animal Kingdom

Georges Baron de Cuvier (1769-1832) was a French statesman and zoologist and is regarded as the father of the modern sciences of comparative anatomy and paleontology. He would certainly warrant his own Pre-Darwinist page; but I just don't have enough information about him for that, so therefore just this short notice under Edward Blyth.

Cuvier was against the evolutionary ideas of the time and maintained that all species were specially created by God for a special purpose, and that each organ in the body had been created for a special function, and that it would be impossible for any creature to survive any significant change in its structure, The argumentation for the latter (and against evolution) was based on Cuvier's principle of correlation of parts., which states that "the number, direction, and shape of the bones that compose each part of an animal's body are always in a necessary relation to all the other parts, in such a way that - up to a point - one can infer the whole from any one of them and vice versa". Cuvier, however, did make allowance for variation within certain limits.

In 1817 Cuvier publishes his Regne animal distribué d'après son organisation, which was translated to English with expansions and modifications as The Animal Kingdom several times. As mentioned above, Blyth translates and edits the 'Mammalia, Birds, and Reptiles' section of the English version in 1840

From the Wikipedia article about Blyth I have this quote from an editorial footnote by Blyth in The Animal Kingdom:

However reciprocal...may appear the relations of the preyer and the prey, a little reflection on the observed facts suffices to intimate that the relative adaptations of the former only are special, those of latter being comparatively vague and general; indicating that there having been a superabundance which might serve as nutriment, in the first instance, and which, in many cases, was unattainable by ordinary means, particular species have therefore been so organized (that is to say, modified upon some more or less general type or plan of structure,) to avail themselves of the supply.

That is, predator species are more specialized in their adaptations than are prey species, which Blyth explains by a superabundance of the latter, which was unattainable by "ordinary means" and therefore modifations of the former "upon some more or less general type or plan of structure" so all possible preys had a predator. This is, of course, still not evolution in a Darwinian sense; but keeps with modifications within type/kind.

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