Darwin bequeathed to the world a fragmentary, a partial, an incomplete truth. It helped to dispel ab stract and spiritual fears by supplying facts and theories with which one could grapple, only to lead to a world in which fear has become endemic upon a scale hitherto unknown, with its locus not in the abstract but in the real world. Darwin helped to establish such seeming paradoxes as that good could flow from evil, and that in the biological sense such evils were really good, and so, “from the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted ob ject which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows.” Darwin’s seeming paradoxes have long been the plat itudes of the day.
The doctrine of the survival of the fittest, the struggle for existence, natural selection, competition-all these are the same things-is the reli gion of contemporary man. Whatever other religion he may profess and pay lip service to constitutes but the smoke of incense burnt before an empty shrine. This is our inheritance from such genuinely decent and noble men as Darwin, Huxley, Haeckel, and Spencer. Let us honor them for what they were, and let us avoid making them the scapegoats for our own belatedly recognized deficiencies. The work and the writings of those who saw what was fallacious in the ideas of these men have been long with us, but they have received little attention. The thinkers who were capable of liberating us from the errors of Darwinism had, if anything, vastly more respect for the teachings of the Darwinians than those who uncritically ac cepted those teachings. The critics, at least, had studied them critically.
Darwin was the great liberator-from one prison into another. He liberated the thought of man from the shackles of an anthropomorphic theology, and cast him into the freedom of a crass mechanical materialism which leads straight to the freedom of desrruction-and this, largely because of the out-of focus, dangerously incomplete view of the nature of life which he presented. What a difference it would have made to the world had Darwin been able to write The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man with the emphasis placed on co-operation rather than upon struggle! The missing piece, in the puzzle which Darwin thought he had successfulyl put together, is the principle of co-operation. The next fifty years will, I believe, see that principle finnly established in scientific and in secular thought. Let us, however, always remember that we must avoid making, as T. H. Huxley said, the heresies of one generation the superstitions of another.
Ashley Montagu, 1952