Alexander Moritzi (1806-1850)
Alexander Moritzi is a most obscure figure in the early history of evolutionary thought. Best known for publishing a flora of Switzerland, Moritzi also published Reflexions sur l’espèce en histoire naturelle (1842), a remarkable book about evolution with a clearly materialist (and anti-theological) viewpoint. In this work, Moritzi describes species as ideally being defined as all descendants of a common stock, argues that the (then) generally accepted line between species and varieties is artificial, and that deep time and turnover of species in the fossil record clearly support an evolutionary interpretation of biodiversity.
Best of all, Alexander Moritzi scooped J.B.S Haldane and his famous stricture that “God has an inordinate fondness for beetles” (1951). As Moritzi wrote in 1844: “How is it, we ask, there is so much resemblance between the organisms around us? Is it by chance that 50,000 insects were formed on the same type? Or is it that the creator was pleased to copy, with minor modifications, 49,999 times his own model, in accomplishing his task in so many direct and spontaneous acts? Or is it finally nature herself, which, gradually changing the environment, has also caused changes to organizations?”
A few passages from this remarkable book:
“Geology, which reveals the succession of organisms, powerfully supports the idea of the gradual development of organic beings. The most perfect animals, mammals and birds, are last in the time of their appearance on the globe. Man himself is not found anywhere in a fossil state; the masterpiece of nature [humans] must have appeared in the last line [epoch], not to find all preparing for his convenience, as claimed by theologians, but because the types that he was based upon must have preceded him.”
“At the beginning, there were only subtle differences between individuals; but as these nuances departed more and more from the primitive type they must ultimately have composed groups of distinct value.”
“If the origin of organic beings is as we suppose, there could be no interruption in their creation. At the beginning, there were only subtle differences between individuals; but these nuances departed more and more from the primitive type and eventually constituted different important groups. Nature formed, not a single series of organisms, but branched and ramifying series because of the various localities in which they found themselves placed and which influenced them. The chain can be interrupted here and there – either because the causes of existence ceased to be or because destroying organisms have invaded the original order. But in most cases where we seem to perceive a problem of continuity, it is probably the imperfection of our research that prevents us from discovering the rings that reunite different groups.”
“If such is the course which nature has followed in giving birth to living beings, the task of science must consist in seeking the thread of this chain, in fixing the relation of forms with causes and in indicating the parallelism of groups, irrespective of their age, in relation to the time of their creation.”