Those feelings soon changed. Not long after Erewhon appeared Butler began to see what he considered the dark side of Darwin's theory: it portrayed evolution as a wholly mechanical process that removed any spark of creative vitality from the universe. This was directly counter to the views expressed, supposedly as a joke, in The Book of the Machines, which argued that willful intention can be discerned on far lower rungs of the evolutionary ladder than those occupied by human beings.
"Even a potato in a dark cellar has a certain low cunning about him which serves him in excellent stead," the Book of Machines says.
He knows perfectly well what he wants and how to get it. He sees the light coming from the cellar window and sends his shoots crawling straight thereto; they will crawl along the floor and up the wall and out at the cellar window; if there be a little earth anywhere on the journey he will find it and use it for his own ends.
Thomas Nagel makes the same point in Mind and Cosmos when he contends that "intelligibility" is "latent in the nature of things." The difference is that Nagel means his argument to be taken seriously, whereas Butler, initially at least, did not.
Early in his writing career Butler considered himself a devotee of Darwin; letters he'd written to newspapers defending natural selection were favorably noted by Darwin himself. Apparently, playing with the ideas implicit in Darwin's theory sowed seeds of doubt in Butler's mind that grew into full-fledged dissent. As Butler's biographer, Clara Stillman, put it, "One of the most interesting things about Butler's reaction to Darwinism is the fact that he was already criticizing it subconsciously before he had any conscious quarrel with it."
That quarrel would come to dominate the remainder of Butler's life. A series of books followed in which he relentlessly attacked not only the limitations of Darwinism, but the integrity of Darwin himself. The great man was guilty, Butler believed, of consistently failing to acknowledge the superior contributions to evolutionary theory of his predecessors, among them Buffon, Lamarck, and Erasmus Darwin, all of whom perceived signs of teleology in evolution.
Butler repeatedly argued that Darwinism explained the mechanics of evolution but overlooked its impetus, a point echoed by Nagel. "The appearance of animal consciousness," Nagel writes, "is evidently the result of biological evolution, but this well-supported empirical fact is not yet an explanation--it does not provide understanding, or enable us to see why the result was to be expected or how it came about."
Like Nagel, Butler believed purposefulness imbues all of creation. He was not an avowed atheist, as Nagel is, but he did eschew and dismiss conventional notions of deity in favor of what can be described as a scientifically-informed pantheism. There's no need, he wrote, to posit some "quasi-anthropomorphic being who schemed everything out much as a man would do, but on an infinitely vaster scale." Rather, he said,
The proper inference is that there is a low livingness in every atom of matter...It should not be doubted that wherever there is vibration and motion there is life and memory, and that there is vibration and motion at all times in all things.
Clara Stillman points out how neatly these ideas anticipate quantum physics, as well as the physics-inspired philosophies of Alfred North Whitehead and others.