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Of the Succession of Plants and Animals

The generation of the animal no more accounts for the contrivance of the eye or ear, than, upon the supposition stated in a preceding chapter, the production of a watch by the motion and mechanism of a former watch, would account for the skill and intention evidenced in the watch so produced; than it would account for the disposition of the wheels, the catching of their teeth, the relation of the several parts of the works to one another, and to their common end; for the suitableness of their forms and places to their offices, for their connexion, their operation, and the useful result of that operation. I do insist most strenuously upon the correctness of this comparison; that it holds as to every mode of specific propagation; and that whatever was true of the watch, under the hypothesis above mentioned, is true of plants and animals.

I. To begin with the fructification of plants. Can it be doubted but that the seed contains a particular organization? Whether a latent plantule with the means of temporary nutrition, or whatever else it be, it encloses an organization suited to the germination of a new plant. Has the plant which produced the seed anything more to do with that organization, than the watch which was produced in the course of its mechanical movement? I mean, Has it anything at all to do with the contrivance? The maker and contriver of one watch, when he inserted within it a mechanism suited to the production of another watch, was, in truth, the maker and contriver of that other watch. All the properties of the new watch were to be referred to his agency: the design manifested in it, to his intention: the art, to him as the artist: the collocation of each part to his placing: the action, effect, and use, to his counsel, intelligence, and workmanship. In producing it by the intervention of a former watch, he was only working by one set of tools instead of another. So it is with the plant and the seed produced by it. Can any distinction be assigned between the two cases; between the producing watch, and the producing plant; both passive, unconscious substances; both, by the organization which was given to them, producing their like, without understanding or design; both, that is, instruments?

II. From plants we may proceed to oviparous animals; from seeds to eggs. Now, I say, that the bird has the same concern in the formation of the egg which she lays, as the plant has in that of the seed which it drops; and no other, nor greater. The internal constitution of the egg is as much a secret to the hen, as if the hen were inanimate. Her will cannot alter it, or change a single feather of the chick. She can neither foresee nor determine of which sex her brood shall be, or how many of either; yet the thing produced shall be, from the first, very different in its make, according to the sex which it bears. So far, therefore, from adapting the means, she is not beforehand apprized of the effect. If there be concealed within that smooth shell a provision and a preparation for the production and nourishment of a new animal, they are not of her providing or preparing: if there be contrivance, it is none of hers. Although, therefore, there be the difference of life and perceptivity between the animal and the plant, it is a difference which enters not into the account. It is a foreign circumstance. It is a difference of properties not employed. The animal function and the vegetable function are alike destitute of any design which can operate upon the form of the thing produced. The plant has no design in producing the seed, no comprehension of the nature of what it produces; the bird with respect to its egg, is not above the plant with respect to its seed. Neither the one nor the other bears that sort of relation to what proceeds from them, which a joiner does to the chair which he makes. Now a cause, which bears this relation to the effect, is what we want, in order to account for the suitableness of means to an end, the fitness and fitting of one thing to another, and this cause the parent plant or animal does not supply.

It is farther observable concerning the propagation of plants and animals, that the apparatus employed exhibits no resemblance to the thing produced; in this respect holding an analogy with instruments and tools of art. The filaments, antherae, and stigmata of flowers, bear no more resemblance to the young plant, or even to the seed, which is formed by their intervention, than a chisel or a plane does to a table or chair. What then are the filaments, antherae, and stigmata of plants, but instruments strictly so called14?

III. We may advance from animals which bring forth eggs, to animals which bring forth their young alive: and of this latter class, from the lowest to the highest; from irrational to rational life, from brutes to the human species; without perceiving, as we proceed, any alteration whatever in the terms of the comparison. The rational animal does not produce its offspring with more certainty or success than the irrational animal; a man than a quadruped, a quadruped than a bird; nor (for we may follow the gradation through its whole scale) a bird than a plant; nor a plant than a watch, a piece of dead mechanism, would do, upon the supposition which has already so often been repeated. Rationally therefore has nothing to do in the business. If an account must be given of the contrivance which we observe; if it be demanded, whence arose either the contrivance by which the young animal is produced, or the contrivance manifested in the young animal itself, it is not from the reason of the parent that any such account can be drawn. He is the cause of his offspring in the same sense as that in which a gardener is the cause of the tulip which grows upon his parterre, and in no other. We admire the flower; we examine the plant; we perceive the conduciveness of many of its parts to their end and office; we observe a provision for its nourishment, growth, protection, and fecundity; but we never think of the gardener in all this. We attribute nothing of this to his agency; yet it may still be true, that without the gardener we should not have had the tulip: just so it is with the succession of animals even of the highest order. For the contrivance discovered in the structure of the thing produced, we want a contriver. The parent is not that contriver. His consciousness decides that question. He is in total ignorance why that which is produced took its present form rather than any other. It is for him only to be astonished by the effect. We can no more look therefore to the intelligence of the parent animal for what we are in search of, a cause of relation, and of subserviency we see in the procreated body, than we can refer the internal conformation of an acorn to the intelligence of the oak from which it dropped, or the structure of the watch to the intelligence of the watch which produced it; there being no difference, as far as argument is concerned, between an intelligence which is not exerted, and an intelligence which does not exist.


14Nearly akin to the reproduction of plants and animals by generation, is the reproduction of parts of animal bodies which have been destroyed, and the reparation of those which have been injured. To say nothing of the reproduction of limbs in crustaceous animals, the wonderful but well attested fact, of the formation of a new eye in an animal of the lizard kind, in the place of one which had been cut out of the socket, is one which no atheistical theory can approach, in the way of explanation. In the process by which a new eye is formed, the apparatus, instruments and materials, employed, bear no resemblance to the organ to be formed. The small capillary vessels of the root of the eye, construct a new eye, out of the blood which circulates in them. To use a mode of expression like that of our author—the vessels which thus construct a new eye, bear no more resemblance to it, than a chisel or a plane, to a table or a chair; and the blood out of which it is made, no more resemblance to it when made, than the metallic ores when taken out of the mine, to a complete and perfectly constructed watch. In this case, we find a contrivance existing in a whole race of animals, for the accomplishment of a purpose which it is not called upon to accomplish in one instance out of a thousand. If the reader will examine the several atheistical modes of evading the force of the arguments for the existence of God, referred to in the next chapter, as well as in various other parts of this volume, he will find that they signally fail in their application to this case.—Ed.