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Title: Some aspects of evolution in relation to disease
Author: Ness, Thomas Matheson
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1904
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Half a century has elapsed since Darwin gave to the world the evidence he had elaborated in proof of his "full conviction that species are not immutable." I was a very startling pronouncement. Darwin's 'doctrine seemed to most people to involve the surrender of much of the dignity of man in the acknowledgement of his essential unity with the rest of nature. Materialists wildly claimed that at last their faith had received scientific demonstration. Churchmen thought the very citadels of Christianity were threatened. No wonder then that ' the controversy has been fierce and the result produced perhaps the most remarkable in the history of human thought. After fifty years during which the world has been re- explored for fossil remains, instances of adaptation and the like, science seems quietly to have accepted the new idea. Biologists, while practically agreed that the theory of evolution gives the most probable explanation of the world of organised life as we find it, are still bitterly divided as to how the changes have come about. Anatomy, physiology, and pathology have found in the theory the explanation of Much that was previously obscure. A new biological theology has sprung up and is immensely popular. No department of thought has entirely escaped the influence of the idea, and last of all, chemistry seems at the'birth of almost similar conceptions regarding the inorganic world. It has seemed to the present writer, that the bearing of disease as it affects the race upon the problem of evolution has not been fully realised. It is therefore with the object of bringing together some of the different points of view adopted by various writers on this subject rather than in the hope of making any fresh contribution to it that this thesis has been undertaken. It seems that the ultimate cure of disease in the body politic also must be accomplished by the inexorable working of natural law. -It is matter for great congratulation, however, that amongst ourselves at last a national conscience is awake. We feel the burden of our sick, and it is being realised that by the more thorough application of what e already know regarding the laws of health as they affect the pregnant mother, the suckling at the breast, the child in its earliest years, and at school, and the adult in the full discharge of the responsibilities of life, much might be done to lighten it. If it be true that disease is merely the result of some imperfection of the organism either inherited or acquired, which gives a chance to the lower forms of life, the outcome being directly in proportion to the susceptibility of he individual, we have only to Methods of attack. The conditions of life must be made such that in every conceivable way the resistance power of the community to disease may be augmented. The lads of reproduction rust be constantly preached so that we may obtain at last an instinctive intelligent obedience to them. The suggestion that restrictive legislation should be tried seems to ms a mistake. Such legislation could have no element-of permanence and many would find means to evade it. After all, man is an intelligent animal, and in the end obeys instinctively those laws of life which by an accumulation of concrete instances have been proved to be for his own good. In other words nature gradually secures man's co-operation in her efforts after ,the perfecting of the race. Meredith has frequently expressed his belief that nature has not failed with humanity. Metchnikoff in his recent book "The Nature of Man" speaks of a time when disease shall be no more, and man will die by what he calls "an instinct for death". We may also humbly accept it as. a faith that Nature will ultimately conquer disease. It seems to me the veriest insanity of unbelief, in face of the known' history of life upon the earth to question progress, or to limit it. Who shall say that in time Nature may not get rice of the physical scaffolding she has used in the building of man's personality I Are there not signs already that the body must become less and less useful? Does not every advance in human power over the physical.universe seem to steal some one or other of the body's functions ? When we think of the extraordinary increase in the rate of living during the last 50 years, one cannot in one's wildest imagination conceive what life will be like in a century or two. It may well be that at length some strange new spiritual species will appear upon the earth. Mortality shall then have put on immortality. The Universe will be man's playground; and the planets his stopping places.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (M.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available