No one objects to chemists speaking of "elective affinity;" and certainly an acid has no more choice in combining with a base, than the conditions of life have in determining whether or not a new form be selected or preserved. The term is so far a good one as it brings into connection the production of domestic races by man's power of selection, and the natural preservation of varieties and species in a state of nature. For brevity sake I sometimes speak of natural selection as an intelligent power;--in the same way as astronomers speak of the attraction of gravity as ruling the movements of the planets, or as agriculturists speak of man making domestic races by his power of selection. In the one case, as in the other, selection does nothing without variability, and this depends in some manner on the action of the surrounding circumstances on the organism. I have, also, often personified the word Nature; for I have found it difficult to avoid this ambiguity; but I mean by nature only the aggregate action and product of many natural laws,--and by laws only the ascertained sequence of events.
It has been shown from many facts that the largest amount of life can be supported on each area, by great diversification or divergence in the structure and constitution of its inhabitants. We have, also, seen that the continued production of new forms through natural selection, which implies that each new variety has some advantage over others, inevitably leads to the extermination of the older and less improved forms. These latter are almost necessarily intermediate in structure, as well as in descent, between the last-produced forms and their original parent-species. Now, if we suppose a species to produce two or more varieties, and these in the course of time to produce other varieties, the principal of good being derived from diversification of structure will generally lead to the preservation of the most divergent varieties; thus the lesser differences characteristic of varieties come to be augmented into the greater differences characteristic of species, and, by the extermination of the older intermediate forms, new species end by being distinctly defined objects. Thus, also, we shall see how it is that organic beings can be classed by what is called a natural method in distinct groups--species under genera, and genera under families.
As all the inhabitants of each country may be said, owing to their high rate of reproduction, to be striving to increase in numbers; as each form comes into competition with many other forms in the struggle for life,--for destroy any one and its place will be seized by others; as every part of the organisation occasionally varies in some slight degree, and as natural selection acts exclusively by the preservation of variations which are advantageous under the excessively complex conditions to which each being is exposed, no limit exists to the number, singularity, and perfection of the contrivances and co-adaptations which may thus be produced. An animal or a plant may thus slowly become related in its structure and habits in the most intricate manner to many other animals and plants, and to the physical conditions of its home. Variations in the organisation will in some cases be aided by habit, or by the use and disuse of parts, and they will be governed by the direct action of the surrounding physical conditions and by correlation of growth.
On the principles here briefly sketched out, there is no innate or necessary tendency in each being to its own advancement in the scale of organisation. We are almost compelled to look at the specialisation or differentiation of parts or organs for different functions as the best or even sole standard of advancement; for by such division of labour each function of body and mind is better performed. And as natural selection acts exclusively through the preservation of profitable modifications of structure, and as the conditions of life in each area generally become more and more complex from the increasing number of different forms which inhabit it and from most of these forms acquiring a more and more perfect structure, we may confidently believe, that, on the whole, organisation advances.