Nevertheless a very simple form fitted for very simple conditions of life might remain for indefinite ages unaltered or unimproved; for what would it profit an infusorial animalcule, for instance, or an intestinal worm, to become highly organised? Members of a high group might even become, and this apparently has often occurred, fitted for simpler conditions of life; and in this case natural selection would tend to simplify or degrade the organisation, for complicated mechanism for simple actions would be useless or even disadvantageous.
The arguments opposed to the theory of Natural Selection, have been discussed in my 'Origin of Species,' as far as the size of that work permitted, under the following heads: the difficulty in understanding how very simple organs have been converted by small and graduated steps into highly perfect and complex organs; the marvellous facts of Instinct; the whole question of Hybridity; and, lastly, the absence in our known geological formations of innumerable links connecting all allied species. Although some of these difficulties are of great weight, we shall see that many of them are explicable on the theory of natural selection, and are otherwise inexplicable.
In scientific investigations it is permitted to invent any hypothesis, and if it explains various large and independent classes of facts it rises to the rank of a well-grounded theory. The undulations of the ether and even its existence are hypothetical, yet every one now admits the undulatory theory of light. The principle of natural selection may be looked at as a mere hypothesis, but rendered in some degree probable by what we positively know of the variability of organic beings in a state of nature,--by what we positively know of the struggle for existence, and the consequent almost inevitable preservation of favourable variations,--and from the analogical formation of domestic races. Now this hypothesis may be tested,--and this seems to me the only fair and legitimate manner of considering the whole question,--by trying whether it explains several large and independent classes of facts; such as the geological succession of organic beings, their distribution in past and present times, and their mutual affinities and homologies. If the principle of natural selection does explain these and other large bodies of facts, it ought to be received. On the ordinary view of each species having been independently created, we gain no scientific explanation of any one of these facts. We can only say that it has so pleased the Creator to command that the past and present inhabitants of the world should appear in a certain order and in certain areas; that He has impressed on them the most extraordinary resemblances, and has classed them in groups subordinate to groups. But by such statements we gain no new knowledge; we do not connect together facts and laws; we explain nothing.
It was the consideration of such large groups of facts as these which first led me to take up the present subject. When I visited during the voyage of H.M.S. "Beagle," the Galapagos Archipelago, situated in the Pacific Ocean about 500 miles from South America, I found myself surrounded by peculiar species of birds, reptiles, and plants, existing nowhere else in the world. Yet they nearly all bore an American stamp. In the song of the mocking- thrush, in the harsh cry of the carrion-hawk, in the great candlestick-like opuntias, I clearly perceived the neighbourhood of America, though the islands were separated by so many miles of ocean from the mainland, and differed much in their geological constitution and climate. Still more surprising was the fact that most of the inhabitants of each separate island in this small archipelago were specifically different, though most closely related to each other. The archipelago, with its innumerable craters and bare streams of lava, appeared to be of recent origin; and thus I fancied myself brought near to the very act of creation. I often asked myself how these many peculiar animals and plants had been produced: the simplest answer seemed to be that the inhabitants of the several islands had descended from each other, undergoing modification in the course of their descent; and that all the inhabitants of the archipelago were descended from those of the nearest land, namely America, whence colonists would naturally have been derived.