Lay Sermons, Addresses and Reviews
by Thomas Henry Huxley
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

There is more curious evidence, again, that the process of covering up, or, in other words, the deposit of Globigerinae skeletons, did not go on very fast. It is demonstrable that an animal of the cretaceous sea might die, that its skeleton might lie uncovered upon the sea-bottom long enough to lose all its outward coverings and appendages by putrefaction; and that, after this had happened, another animal might attach itself to the dead and naked skeleton, might grow to maturity, and might itself die before the calcareous mud had buried the whole.

Cases of this kind are admirably described by Sir Charles Lyell. He speaks of the frequency with which geologists find in the chalk a fossilized sea-urchin, to which is attached the lower valve of a Crania. This is a kind of shell-fish, with a shell composed of two pieces, of which, as in the oyster, one is fixed and the other free.

"The upper valve is almost invariably wanting, though occasionally found in a perfect state of preservation in the white chalk at some distance. In this case, we see clearly that the sea-urchin first lived from youth to age, then died and lost its spines, which were carried away. Then the young Crania adhered to the bared shell, grew and perished in its turn; after which, the upper valve was separated from the lower, before the Echinus became enveloped in chalky mud."[32]

A specimen in the Museum of Practical Geology, in London, still further prolongs the period which must have elapsed between the death of the sea-urchin, and its burial by the Globigerinae. For the outward face of the valve of a Crania, which is attached to a sea-urchin (Micraster), is itself overrun by an incrusting coralline, which spreads thence over more or less of the surface of the sea-urchin. It follows that, after the upper valve of the Crania fell off, the surface of the attached valve must have remained exposed long enough to allow of the growth of the whole coralline, since corallines do not live imbedded in mud.

The progress of knowledge may, one day, enable us to deduce from such facts as these the maximum rate at which the chalk can have accumulated, and thus to arrive at the minimum duration of the chalk period. Suppose that the valve of the Crania upon which a coralline has fixed itself in the way just described, is so attached to the sea-urchin that no part of it is more than an inch above the face upon which the sea-urchin rests. Then, as the coralline could not have fixed itself, if the Crania had been covered up with chalk mud, and could not have lived had itself been so covered, it follows, that an inch of chalk mud could not have accumulated within the time between the death and decay of the soft parts of the sea-urchin and the growth of the coralline to the full size which it has attained. If the decay of the soft parts of the sea-urchin; the attachment, growth to maturity, and decay of the Crania; and the subsequent attachment and growth of the coralline, took a year (which is a low estimate enough), the accumulation of the inch of chalk must have taken more than a year: and the deposit of a thousand feet of chalk must, consequently, have taken more than twelve thousand years.

The foundation of all this calculation is, of course, a knowledge of the length of time the Crania and the coralline needed to attain their full size; and, on this head, precise knowledge is at present wanting. But there are circumstances which tend to show, that nothing like an inch of chalk has accumulated during the life of a Crania; and, on any probable estimate of the length of that life, the chalk period must have had a much longer duration than that thus roughly assigned to it.

Thus, not only is it certain that the chalk is the mud of an ancient sea-bottom; but it is no less certain, that the chalk sea existed during an extremely long period, though we may not be prepared to give a precise estimate of the length of that period in years. The relative duration is clear, though the absolute duration may not be definable. The attempt to affix any precise date to the period at which the chalk sea began, or ended, its existence, is baffled by difficulties of the same kind. But the relative age of the cretaceous epoch may be determined with as great ease and certainty as the long duration of that epoch.

You will have heard of the interesting discoveries recently made, in various parts of Western Europe, of flint implements, obviously worked into shape by human hands, under circumstances which show conclusively that man is a very ancient denizen of these regions.

It has been proved that the old populations of Europe, whose existence has been revealed to us in this way, consisted of savages, such as the Esquimaux are now; that, in the country which is now France, they hunted the reindeer, and were familiar with the ways of the mammoth and the bison. The physical geography of France was in those days different from what it is now—the river Somme, for instance, having cut its bed a hundred feet deeper between that time and this; and, it is probable, that the climate was more like that of Canada or Siberia, than that of Western Europe.

The existence of these people is forgotten even in the traditions of the oldest historical nations. The name and fame of them had utterly vanished until a few years back; and the amount of physical change which has been effected since their day, renders it more than probable that, venerable as are some of the historical nations, the workers of the chipped flints of Hoxne or of Amiens are to them, as they are to us, in point of antiquity.

But, if we assign to these hoar relics of long vanished generations of men the greatest age that can possibly be claimed for them, they are not older than the drift, or boulder clay, which, in comparison with the chalk, is but a very juvenile deposit. You need go no further than your own sea-board for evidence of this fact. At one of the most charming spots on the coast of Norfolk, Cromer, you will see the boulder clay forming a vast mass, which lies upon the chalk, and must consequently have come into existence after it. Huge boulders of chalk are, in fact, included in the clay, and have evidently been brought to the position they now occupy, by the same agency as that which has planted blocks of syenite from Norway side by side with them.

The chalk, then, is certainly older than the boulder clay. If you ask how much, I will again take you no further than the same spot upon your own coasts for evidence. I have spoken of the boulder clay and drift as resting upon the chalk. That is not strictly true. Interposed between the chalk and the drift is a comparatively insignificant layer, containing vegetable matter. But that layer tells a wonderful history. It is full of stumps of trees standing as they grew. Fir-trees are there with their cones, and hazel-bushes with their nuts; there stand the stools of oak and yew trees, beeches and alders. Hence this stratum is appropriately called the "forest-bed."

It is obvious that the chalk must have been upheaved and converted into dry land, before the timber trees could grow upon it. As the bolls of some of these trees are from two to three feet in diameter, it is no less clear that the dry land thus formed remained in the same condition for long ages. And not only do the remains of stately oaks and well-grown firs testify to the duration of this condition of things, but additional evidence to the same effect is afforded by the abundant remains of elephants, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, and other great wild beasts, which it has yielded to the zealous search of such men as the Rev. Mr. Gunn.

When you look at such a collection as he has formed, and bethink you that these elephantine bones did veritably carry their owners about, and these great grinders crunch, in the dark woods of which the forest-bed is now the only trace, it is impossible not to feel that they are as good evidence of the lapse of time as the annual rings of the tree-stumps.

Thus there is a writing upon the wall of cliffs at Cromer, and whoso runs may read it. It tells us, with an authority which cannot be impeached, that the ancient sea-bed of the chalk sea was raised up, and remained dry land, until it was covered with forest, stocked with the great game whose spoils have rejoiced your geologists. How long it remained in that condition cannot be said; but "the whirligig of time brought its revenges" in those days as in these. That dry land, with the bones and teeth of generations of long-lived elephants, hidden away among the gnarled roots and dry leaves of its ancient trees, sank gradually to the bottom of the icy sea, which covered it with huge masses of drift and boulder clay. Sea-beasts, such as the walrus, now restricted to the extreme north, paddled about where birds had twittered among the topmost twigs of the fir-trees. How long this state of things endured we know not, but at length it came to an end. The upheaved glacial mud hardened into the soil of modern Norfolk. Forests grew once more, the wolf and the beaver replaced the reindeer and the elephant; and at length what we call the history of England dawned.

Thus you have, within the limits of your own county, proof that the chalk can justly claim a very much greater antiquity than even the oldest physical traces of mankind. But we may go further and demonstrate, by evidence of the same authority as that which testifies to the existence of the father of men, that the chalk is vastly older than Adam himself.

The Book of Genesis informs us that Adam, immediately upon his creation, and before the appearance of Eve, was placed in the Garden of Eden. The problem of the geographical position of Eden has greatly vexed the spirits of the learned in such matters, but there is one point respecting which, so far as I know, no commentator has ever raised a doubt. This is, that of the four rivers which are said to run out of it, Euphrates and Hiddekel are identical with the rivers now known by the names of Euphrates and Tigris.

But the whole country in which these mighty rivers take their origin, and through which they run, is composed of rocks which are either of the same age as the chalk, or of later date. So that the chalk must not only have been formed, but, after its formation, the time required for the deposit of these later rocks, and for their upheaval into dry land, must have elapsed, before the smallest brook which feeds the swift stream of "the great river, the river of Babylon," began to flow.

Thus, evidence which cannot be rebutted, and which need not be strengthened, though if time permitted I might indefinitely increase its quantity, compels you to believe that the earth, from the time of the chalk to the present day, has been the theatre of a series of changes as vast in their amount, as they were slow in their progress. The area on which we stand has been first sea and then land, for at least four alternations; and has remained in each of these conditions for a period of great length.

Nor have these wonderful metamorphoses of sea into land, and of land into sea, been confined to one corner of England. During the chalk period, or "cretaceous epoch," not one of the present great physical features of the globe was in existence. Our great mountain ranges, Pyrenees, Alps, Himalayas, Andes, have all been upheaved since the chalk was deposited, and the cretaceous sea flowed over the sites of Sinai and Ararat.

All this is certain, because rocks of cretaceous, or still later, date have shared in the elevatory movements which gave rise to these mountain chains; and may be found perched up, in some cases, many thousand feet high upon their flanks. And evidence of equal cogency demonstrates that, though, in Norfolk, the forest-bed rests directly upon the chalk, yet it does so, not because the period at which the forest grew immediately followed that at which the chalk was formed, but because an immense lapse of time, represented elsewhere by thousands of feet of rock, is not indicated at Cromer.

I must ask you to believe that there is no less conclusive proof that a still more prolonged succession of similar changes occurred, before the chalk was deposited. Nor have we any reason to think that the first term in the series of these changes is known. The oldest sea-beds preserved to us are sands, and mud, and pebbles, the wear and tear of rocks which were formed in still older oceans.

But, great as is the magnitude of these physical changes of the world, they have been accompanied by a no less striking series of modifications in its living inhabitants.

All the great classes of animals, beasts of the field, fowls of the air, creeping things, and things which dwell in the waters, flourished upon the globe long ages before the chalk was deposited. Very few, however, if any, of these ancient forms of animal life were identical with those which now live. Certainly not one of the higher animals was of the same species as any of those now in existence. The beasts of the field, in the days before the chalk, were not our beasts of the field, nor the fowls of the air such as those which the eye of men has seen flying, unless his antiquity dates infinitely further back than we at present surmise. If we could be carried back into those times, we should be as one suddenly set down in Australia before it was colonized. We should see mammals, birds, reptiles, fishes, insects, snails, and the like, clearly recognisable as such, and yet not one of them would be just the same as those with which we are familiar, and many would be extremely different.

From that time to the present, the population of the world has undergone slow and gradual, but incessant, changes. There has been no grand catastrophe—no destroyer has swept away the forms of life of one period, and replaced them by a totally new creation; but one species has vanished and another has taken its place; creatures of one type of structure have diminished, those of another have increased, as time has passed on. And thus, while the differences between the living creatures of the time before the chalk and those of the present day appear startling, if placed side by side, we are led from one to the other by the most gradual progress, if we follow the course of Nature through the whole series of those relics of her operations which she has left behind.

And it is by the population of the chalk sea that the ancient and the modern inhabitants of the world are most completely connected. The groups which are dying out flourish, side by side, with the groups which are now the dominant forms of life.

Thus the chalk contains remains of those strange flying and swimming reptiles, the pterodactyl, the ichthyosaurus, and the plesiosaurus, which are found in no later deposits, but abounded in preceding ages. The chambered shells called ammonites and belemnites, which are so characteristic of the period preceding the cretaceous, in like manner die with it.

But, amongst these fading remainders of a previous state of things, are some very modern forms of life, looking like Yankee pedlars among a tribe of Red Indians. Crocodiles of modern type appear; bony fishes, many of them very similar to existing species, almost supplant the forms of fish which predominate in more ancient seas; and many kinds of living shell-fish first become known to us in the chalk. The vegetation acquires a modern aspect. A few living animals are not even distinguishable as species, from those which existed at that remote epoch. The Globigerina of the present day, for example, is not different specifically from that of the chalk; and the same may be said of many other Foraminifera. I think it probable that critical and unprejudiced examination will show that more than one species of much higher animals have had a similar longevity; but the only example which I can at present give confidently is the snake's-head lamp-shell (Terebratulina caput serpentis), which lives in our English seas and abounded (as Terebratulina striata of authors) in the chalk.

The longest line of human ancestry must hide its diminished head before the pedigree of this insignificant shell-fish. We Englishmen are proud to have an ancestor who was present at the Battle of Hastings. The ancestors of Terebratulina caput serpentis may have been present at a battle of Ichthyosauria in that part of the sea which, when the chalk was forming, flowed over the site of Hastings. While all around has changed, this Terebratulina has peacefully propagated its species from generation to generation, and stands to this day, as a living testimony to the continuity of the present with the past history of the globe.

Up to this moment I have stated, so far as I know, nothing but well-authenticated facts, and the immediate conclusions which they force upon the mind.

But the mind is so constituted that it does not willingly rest in facts and immediate causes, but seeks always after a knowledge of the remoter links in the chain of causation.

Taking the many changes of any given spot of the earth's surface, from sea to land and from land to sea, as an established fact, we cannot refrain from asking ourselves how these changes have occurred. And when we have explained them—as they must be explained—by the alternate slow movements of elevation and depression which have affected the crust of the earth, we go still further back, and ask, Why these movements?

I am not certain that any one can give you a satisfactory answer to that question. Assuredly I cannot. All that can be said, for certain, is, that such movements are part of the ordinary course of nature, inasmuch as they are going on at the present time. Direct proof may be given, that some parts of the land of the northern hemisphere are at this moment insensibly rising and others insensibly sinking; and there is indirect, but perfectly satisfactory, proof, that an enormous area now covered by the Pacific has been deepened thousands of feet, since the present inhabitants of that sea came into existence.

Thus there is not a shadow of a reason for believing that the physical changes of the globe, in past times, have been effected by other than natural causes.

Is there any more reason for believing that the concomitant modifications in the forms of the living inhabitants of the globe have been brought about in other ways?

Before attempting to answer this question, let us try to form a distinct mental picture of what has happened in some special case.

The crocodiles are animals which, as a group, have a very vast antiquity. They abounded ages before the chalk was deposited; they throng the rivers in warm climates, at the present day. There is a difference in the form of the joints of the back-bone, and in some minor particulars, between the crocodiles of the present epoch and those which lived before the chalk; but, in the cretaceous epoch, as I have already mentioned, the crocodiles had assumed the modern type of structure. Notwithstanding this, the crocodiles of the chalk are not identically the same as those which lived in the times called "older tertiary," which succeeded the cretaceous epoch; and the crocodiles of the older tertiaries are not identical with those of the newer tertiaries, nor are these identical with existing forms. I leave open the question whether particular species may have lived on from epoch to epoch. But each epoch has had its peculiar crocodiles; though all, since the chalk, have belonged to the modern type, and differ simply in their proportions, and in such structural particulars as are discernible only to trained eyes.

How is the existence of this long succession of different species of crocodiles to be accounted for?

Only two suppositions seem to be open to us—Either each species of crocodile has been specially created, or it has arisen out of some pre-existing form by the operation of natural causes.

Choose your hypothesis; I have chosen mine. I can find no warranty for believing in the distinct creation of a score of successive species of crocodiles in the course of countless ages of time. Science gives no countenance to such a wild fancy; nor can even the perverse ingenuity of a commentator pretend to discover this sense, in the simple words in which the writer of Genesis records the proceedings of the fifth and sixth days of the Creation.

On the other hand, I see no good reason for doubting the necessary alternative, that all these varied species have been evolved from pre-existing crocodilian forms, by the operation of causes as completely a part of the common order of nature, as those which have effected the changes of the inorganic world.

Few will venture to affirm that the reasoning which applies to crocodiles loses its force among other animals, or among plants. If one series of species has come into existence by the operation of natural causes, it seems folly to deny that all may have arisen in the same way.

A small beginning has led us to a great ending. If I were to put the bit of chalk with which we started into the hot but obscure flame of burning hydrogen, it would presently shine like the sun. It seems to me that this physical metamorphosis is no false image of what has been the result of our subjecting it to a jet of fervent, though nowise brilliant, thought to-night. It has become luminous, and its clear rays, penetrating the abyss of the remote past, have brought within our ken some stages of the evolution of the earth. And in the shifting "without haste, but without rest" of the land and sea, as in the endless variation of the forms assumed by living beings, we have observed nothing but the natural product of the forces originally possessed by the substance of the universe.


[29] See Appendix to Captain Dayman's "Deep Sea Soundings in the North Atlantic Ocean, between Ireland and Newfoundland, made in H.M.S. Cyclops. Published by order of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, 1858." They have since formed the subject of an elaborate Memoir by Messrs. Parker and Jones, published in the Philosophical Transactions for 1865.

[30] During the cruise of H.M.S. Bull-dog, commanded by Sir Leopold M'Clintock, in 1860, living star-fish were brought up, clinging to the lowest part of the sounding-line, from a depth of 1,260 fathoms, midway between Cape Farewell, in Greenland, and the Rockall banks. Dr. Wallich ascertained that the sea-bottom at this point consisted of the ordinary Globigerina ooze, and that the stomachs of the star-fishes were full of Globigerinae. This discovery removes all objections to the existence of living Globigerinae at great depths, which are based upon the supposed difficulty of maintaining animal life under such conditions; and it throws the burden of proof upon those who object to the supposition that the Globigerinae live and die where they are found.

[31] I have recently traced out the development of the "coccoliths" from a diameter of 1/7000th of an inch up to their largest size (which is about 1/1600th), and no longer doubt that they are produced by independent organisms, which, like the Globigerinae, live and die at the bottom of the sea.

[32] "Elements of Geology," by Sir Charles Lyell, Bart. F.R.S., p. 23.



Merchants occasionally go through a wholesome, though troublesome and not always satisfactory, process which they term "taking stock." After all the excitement of speculation, the pleasure of gain, and the pain of loss, the trader makes up his mind to face facts and to learn the exact quantity and quality of his solid and reliable possessions.

The man of science does well sometimes to imitate this procedure; and, forgetting for the time the importance of his own small winnings, to re-examine the common stock in trade, so that he may make sure how far the stock of bullion in the cellar—on the faith of whose existence so much paper has been circulating—is really the solid gold of truth.

The Anniversary Meeting of the Geological Society seems to be an occasion well suited for an undertaking of this kind—for an inquiry, in fact, into the nature and value of the present results of palaeontological investigation; and the more so, as all those who have paid close attention to the late multitudinous discussions in which palaeontology is implicated, must have felt the urgent necessity of some such scrutiny.

First in order, as the most definite and unquestionable of all the results of palaeontology, must be mentioned the immense extension and impulse given to botany, zoology, and comparative anatomy, by the investigation of fossil remains. Indeed, the mass of biological facts has been so greatly increased, and the range of biological speculation has been so vastly widened, by the researches of the geologist and palaeontologist, that it is to be feared there are naturalists in existence who look upon geology as Brindley regarded rivers. "Rivers," said the great engineer, "were made to feed canals;" and geology, some seem to think, was solely created to advance comparative anatomy.

Were such a thought justifiable, it could hardly expect to be received with favour by this assembly. But it is not justifiable. Your favourite science has her own great aims independent of all others; and if, notwithstanding her steady devotion to her own progress, she can scatter such rich alms among her sisters, it should be remembered that her charity is of the sort that does not impoverish, but "blesseth him that gives and him that takes."

Regard the matter as we will, however, the facts remain. Nearly 40,000 species of animals and plants have been added to the Systema Naturae by palaeontological research. This is a living population equivalent to that of a new continent in mere number; equivalent to that of a new hemisphere, if we take into account the small population of insects as yet found fossil, and the large proportion and peculiar organization of many of the Vertebrata.

But, beyond this, it is perhaps not too much to say that, except for the necessity of interpreting palaeontological facts, the laws of distribution would have received less careful study; while few comparative anatomists (and those not of the first order) would have been induced by mere love of detail, as such, to study the minutiae of osteology, were it not that in such minutiae lie the only keys to the most interesting riddles offered by the extinct animal world.

These assuredly are great and solid gains. Surely it is matter for no small congratulation that in half a century (for palaeontology, though it dawned earlier, came into full day only with Cuvier) a subordinate branch of biology should have doubled the value and the interest of the whole group of sciences to which it belongs.

But this is not all. Allied with geology, palaeontology has established two laws of inestimable importance: the first, that one and the same area of the earth's surface has been successively occupied by very different kinds of living beings; the second, that the order of succession established in one locality holds good, approximately, in all.

The first of these laws is universal and irreversible; the second is an induction from a vast number of observations, though it may possibly, and even probably, have to admit of exceptions. As a consequence of the second law, it follows that a peculiar relation frequently subsists between series of strata, containing organic remains, in different localities. The series resemble one another, not only in virtue of a general resemblance of the organic remains in the two, but also in virtue of a resemblance in the order and character of the serial succession in each. There is a resemblance of arrangement; so that the separate terms of each series, as well as the whole series, exhibit a correspondence.

Succession implies time; the lower members of a series of sedimentary rocks are certainly older than the upper; and when the notion of age was once introduced as the equivalent of succession, it was no wonder that correspondence in succession came to be looked upon as correspondence in age, or "contemporaneity." And, indeed, so long as relative age only is spoken of, correspondence in succession is correspondence in age; it is relative contemporaneity.

But it would have been very much better for geology if so loose and ambiguous a word as "contemporaneous" had been excluded from her terminology, and if, in its stead, some term expressing similarity of serial relation, and excluding the notion of time altogether, had been employed to denote correspondence in position in two or more series of strata.

In anatomy, where such correspondence of position has constantly to be spoken of, it is denoted by the word "homology" and its derivatives; and for Geology (which after all is only the anatomy and physiology of the earth) it might be well to invent some single word, such as "homotaxis" (similarity of order), in order to express an essentially similar idea. This, however, has not been done, and most probably the inquiry will at once be made—To what end burden science with a new and strange term in place of one old, familiar, and part of our common language?

The reply to this question will become obvious as the inquiry into the results of palaeontology is pushed further.

Those whose business it is to acquaint themselves specially with the works of palaeontologists, in fact, will be fully aware that very few, if any, would rest satisfied with such a statement of the conclusions of their branch of biology as that which has just been given.

Our standard repertories of palaeontology profess to teach us far higher things—to disclose the entire succession of living forms upon the surface of the globe; to tell us of a wholly different distribution of climatic conditions in ancient times; to reveal the character of the first of all living existences; and to trace out the law of progress from them to us.

It may not be unprofitable to bestow on these professions a somewhat more critical examination than they have hitherto received, in order to ascertain how far they rest on an irrefragable basis; or whether, after all, it might not be well for palaeontologists to learn a little more carefully that scientific "ars artium," the art of saying "I don't know." And to this end let us define somewhat more exactly the extent of these pretensions of palaeontology.

Every one is aware that Professor Bronn's "Untersuchungen" and Professor Pictet's "Traite de Paleontologie" are works of standard authority, familiarly consulted by every working palaeontologist. It is desirable to speak of these excellent books, and of their distinguished authors, with the utmost respect, and in a tone as far as possible removed from carping criticism; indeed, if they are specially cited in this place, it is merely in justification of the assertion that the following propositions, which may be found implicitly, or explicitly, in the works in question, are regarded by the mass of palaeontologists and geologists, not only on the Continent but in this country, as expressing some of the best-established results of palaeontology. Thus:—

Animals and plants began their existence together, not long after the commencement of the deposition of the sedimentary rocks; and then succeeded one another, in such a manner, that totally distinct faunas and florae occupied the whole surface of the earth, one after the other, and during distinct epochs of time.

A geological formation is the sum of all the strata deposited over the whole surface of the earth during one of these epochs: a geological fauna or flora is the sum of all the species of animals or plants which occupied the whole surface of the globe, during one of these epochs.

The population of the earth's surface was at first very similar in all parts, and only from the middle of the Tertiary epoch onwards, began to show a distinct distribution in zones.

The constitution of the original population, as well as the numerical proportions of its members, indicates a warmer and, on the whole, somewhat tropical climate, which remained tolerably equable throughout the year. The subsequent distribution of living beings in zones is the result of a gradual lowering of the general temperature, which first began to be felt at the poles.

It is not now proposed to inquire whether these doctrines are true or false; but to direct your attention to a much simpler though very essential preliminary question—What is their logical basis? what are the fundamental assumptions upon which they all logically depend? and what is the evidence on which those fundamental propositions demand our assent?

These assumptions are two: the first, that the commencement of the geological record is coeval with the commencement of life on the globe; the second, that geological contemporaneity is the same thing as chronological synchrony. Without the first of these assumptions there would of course be no ground for any statement respecting the commencement of life; without the second, all the other statements cited, every one of which implies a knowledge of the state of different parts of the earth at one and the same time, will be no less devoid of demonstration.

The first assumption obviously rests entirely on negative evidence. This is, of course, the only evidence that ever can be available to prove the commencement of any series of phaenomena; but, at the same time, it must be recollected that the value of negative evidence depends entirely on the amount of positive corroboration it receives. If A.B. wishes to prove an alibi, it is of no use for him to get a thousand witnesses simply to swear that they did not see him in such and such a place, unless the witnesses are prepared to prove that they must have seen him had he been there. But the evidence that animal life commenced with the Lingula-flags, e.g., would seem to be exactly of this unsatisfactory uncorroborated sort. The Cambrian witnesses simply swear they "haven't seen anybody their way;" upon which the counsel for the other side immediately puts in ten or twelve thousand feet of Devonian sandstones to make oath they never saw a fish or a mollusk, though all the world knows there were plenty in their time.

But then it is urged that, though the Devonian rocks in one part of the world exhibit no fossils, in another they do, while the lower Cambrian rocks nowhere exhibit fossils, and hence no living being could have existed in their epoch.

To this there are two replies: the first, that the observational basis of the assertion that the lowest rocks are nowhere fossiliferous is an amazingly small one, seeing how very small an area, in comparison to that of the whole world, has yet been fully searched; the second, that the argument is good for nothing unless the unfossiliferous rocks in question were not only contemporaneous in the geological sense, but synchronous in the chronological sense. To use the alibi illustration again. If a man wishes to prove he was in neither of two places, A and B, on a given day, his witnesses for each place must be prepared to answer for the whole day. If they can only prove that he was not at A in the morning, and not at B in the afternoon, the evidence of his absence from both is nil, because he might have been at B in the morning and at A in the afternoon.

Thus everything depends upon the validity of the second assumption. And we must proceed to inquire what is the real meaning of the word "contemporaneous" as employed by geologists. To this end a concrete example may be taken.

The Lias of England and the Lias of Germany, the Cretaceous rocks of Britain and the Cretaceous rocks of Southern India, are termed by geologists "contemporaneous" formations; but whenever any thoughtful geologist is asked whether he means to say that they were deposited synchronously, he says, "No,—only within the same great epoch." And if, in pursuing the inquiry, he is asked what may be the approximate value in time of a "great epoch"—whether it means a hundred years, or a thousand, or a million, or ten million years—his reply is, "I cannot tell."

If the further question be put, whether physical geology is in possession of any method by which the actual synchrony (or the reverse) of any two distant deposits can be ascertained, no such method can be heard of; it being admitted by all the best authorities that neither similarity of mineral composition, nor of physical character, nor even direct continuity of stratum, are absolute proofs of the synchronism of even approximated sedimentary strata: while, for distant deposits, there seems to be no kind of physical evidence attainable of a nature competent to decide whether such deposits were formed simultaneously, or whether they possess any given difference of antiquity. To return to an example already given. All competent authorities will probably assent to the proposition that physical geology does not enable us in any way to reply to this question—Were the British Cretaceous rocks deposited at the same time as those of India, or are they a million of years younger or a million of years older?

Is palaeontology able to succeed where physical geology fails? Standard writers on palaeontology, as has been seen, assume that she can. They take it for granted, that deposits containing similar organic remains are synchronous—at any rate in a broad sense; and yet, those who will study the eleventh and twelfth chapters of Sir Henry De la Beche's remarkable "Researches in Theoretical Geology," published now nearly thirty years ago, and will carry out the arguments there most luminously stated, to their logical consequences, may very easily convince themselves that even absolute identity of organic contents is no proof of the synchrony of deposits, while absolute diversity is no proof of difference of date. Sir Henry De la Beche goes even further, and adduces conclusive evidence to show that the different parts of one and the same stratum, having a similar composition throughout, containing the same organic remains, and having similar beds above and below it, may yet differ to any conceivable extent in age.

Edward Forbes was in the habit of asserting that the similarity of the organic contents of distant formations was prima facie evidence, not of their similarity, but of their difference of age; and holding as he did the doctrine of single specific centres, the conclusion was as legitimate as any other; for the two districts must have been occupied by migration from one of the two, or from an intermediate spot, and the chances against exact coincidence of migration and of imbedding are infinite.

In point of fact, however, whether the hypothesis of single or of multiple specific centres be adopted, similarity of organic contents cannot possibly afford any proof of the synchrony of the deposits which contain them; on the contrary, it is demonstrably compatible with the lapse of the most prodigious intervals of time, and with interposition of vast changes in the organic and inorganic worlds, between the epochs in which such deposits were formed.

On what amount of similarity of their faunae is the doctrine of the contemporaneity of the European and of the North American Silurians based? In the last edition of Sir Charles Lyell's "Elementary Geology" it is stated, on the authority of a former President of this Society, the late Daniel Sharpe, that between 30 and 40 per cent. of the species of Silurian Mollusca are common to both sides of the Atlantic. By way of due allowance for further discovery, let us double the lesser number and suppose that 60 per cent. of the species are common to the North American and the British Silurians. Sixty per cent. of species in common is, then, proof of contemporaneity.

Now suppose that, a million or two of years hence, when Britain has made another dip beneath the sea and has come up again, some geologist applies this doctrine, in comparing the strata laid bare by the upheaval of the bottom, say, of St. George's Channel with what may then remain of the Suffolk Crag. Reasoning in the same way, he will at once decide the Suffolk Crag and the St. George's Channel beds to be contemporaneous; although we happen to know that a vast period (even in the geological sense) of time, and physical changes of almost unprecedented extent, separate the two.

But if it be a demonstrable fact that strata containing more than 60 or 70 per cent. of species of Mollusca in common, and comparatively close together, may yet be separated by an amount of geological time sufficient to allow of some of the greatest physical changes the world has seen, what becomes of that sort of contemporaneity the sole evidence of which is a similarity of facies, or the identity of half a dozen species, or of a good many genera?

And yet there is no better evidence for the contemporaneity assumed by all who adopt the hypotheses of universal faunae and florae, of a universally uniform climate, and of a sensible cooling of the globe during geological time.

There seems, then, no escape from the admission that neither physical geology, nor palaeontology, possesses any method by which the absolute synchronism of two strata can be demonstrated. All that geology can prove is local order of succession. It is mathematically certain that, in any given vertical linear section of an undisturbed series of sedimentary deposits, the bed which lies lowest is the oldest. In any other vertical linear section of the same series, of course, corresponding beds will occur in a similar order; but, however great may be the probability, no man can say with absolute certainty that the beds in the two sections were synchronously deposited. For areas of moderate extent, it is doubtless true that no practical evil is likely to result from assuming the corresponding beds to be synchronous or strictly contemporaneous; and there are multitudes of accessory circumstances which may fully justify the assumption of such synchrony. But the moment the geologist has to deal with large areas, or with completely separated deposits, the mischief of confounding that "homotaxis" or "similarity of arrangement," which can be demonstrated, with "synchrony" or "identity of date," for which there is not a shadow of proof, under the one common term of "contemporaneity" becomes incalculable, and proves the constant source of gratuitous speculations.

For anything that geology or palaeontology are able to show to the contrary, a Devonian fauna and flora in the British Islands may have been contemporaneous with Silurian life in North America, and with a Carboniferous fauna and flora in Africa. Geographical provinces and zones may have been as distinctly marked in the Palaeozoic epoch as at present, and those seemingly sudden appearances of new genera and species, which we ascribe to new creation, may be simple results of migration.

It may be so; it may be otherwise. In the present condition of our knowledge and of our methods, one verdict—"not proven, and not proveable"—must be recorded against all the grand hypotheses of the palaeontologist respecting the general succession of life on the globe. The order and nature of terrestrial life, as a whole, are open questions. Geology at present provides us with most valuable topographical records, but she has not the means of working them up into a universal history. Is such a universal history, then, to be regarded as unattainable? Are all the grandest and most interesting problems which offer themselves to the geological student essentially insoluble? Is he in the position of a scientific Tantalus—doomed always to thirst for a knowledge which he cannot obtain? The reverse is to be hoped; nay, it may not be impossible to indicate the source whence help will come.

In commencing these remarks, mention was made of the great obligations under which the naturalist lies to the geologist and palaeontologist. Assuredly the time will come when these obligations will be repaid tenfold, and when the maze of the world's past history, through which the pure geologist and the pure palaeontologist find no guidance, will be securely threaded by the clue furnished by the naturalist.

All who are competent to express an opinion on the subject are, at present, agreed that the manifold varieties of animal and vegetable form have not either come into existence by chance, nor result from capricious exertions of creative power; but that they have taken place in a definite order, the statement of which order is what men of science term a natural law. Whether such a law is to be regarded as an expression of the mode of operation of natural forces, or whether it is simply a statement of the manner in which a supernatural power has thought fit to act, is a secondary question, so long as the existence of the law and the possibility of its discovery by the human intellect are granted. But he must be a half-hearted philosopher who, believing in that possibility, and having watched the gigantic strides of the biological sciences during the last twenty years, doubts that science will sooner or later make this further step, so as to become possessed of the law of evolution of organic forms—of the unvarying order of that great chain of causes and effects of which all organic forms, ancient and modern, are the links. And then, if ever, we shall be able to begin to discuss, with profit, the questions respecting the commencement of life, and the nature of the successive populations of the globe, which so many seem to think are already answered.

The preceding arguments make no particular claim to novelty; indeed they have been floating more or less distinctly before the minds of geologists for the last thirty years; and if, at the present time, it has seemed desirable to give them more definite and systematic expression, it is because palaeontology is every day assuming a greater importance, and now requires to rest on a basis the firmness of which is thoroughly well assured. Among its fundamental conceptions, there must be no confusion between what is certain and what is more or less probable.[33] But, pending the construction of a surer foundation than palaeontology now possesses, it may be instructive, assuming for the nonce the general correctness of the ordinary hypothesis of geological contemporaneity, to consider whether the deductions which are ordinarily drawn from the whole body of palaeontological facts are justifiable.

The evidence on which such conclusions are based is of two kinds, negative and positive. The value of negative evidence, in connexion with this inquiry, has been so fully and clearly discussed in an address from the chair of this Society,[34] which none of us have forgotten, that nothing need at present be said about it; the more, as the considerations which have been laid before you have certainly not tended to increase your estimation of such evidence. It will be preferable to turn to the positive facts of palaeontology, and to inquire what they tell us.

We are all accustomed to speak of the number and the extent of the changes in the living population of the globe during geological time as something enormous; and indeed they are so, if we regard only the negative differences which separate the older rocks from the more modern, and if we look upon specific and generic changes as great changes, which from one point of view they truly are. But leaving the negative differences out of consideration, and looking only at the positive data furnished by the fossil world from a broader point of view—from that of the comparative anatomist who has made the study of the greater modifications of animal form his chief business—a surprise of another kind dawns upon the mind; and under this aspect the smallness of the total change becomes as astonishing as was its greatness under the other.

There are two hundred known orders of plants; of these not one is certainly known to exist exclusively in the fossil state. The whole lapse of geological time has as yet yielded not a single new ordinal type of vegetable structure.[35]

The positive change in passing from the recent to the ancient animal world is greater, but still singularly small. No fossil animal is so distinct from those now living as to require to be arranged even in a separate class from those which, contain existing forms. It is only when we come to the orders, which may be roughly estimated at about a hundred and thirty, that we meet with fossil animals so distinct from those now living as to require orders for themselves; and these do not amount, on the most liberal estimate, to more than about 10 per cent, of the whole.

There is no certainly known extinct order of Protozoa; there is but one among the Coelenterata—that of the rugose corals; there is none among the Mollusca; there are three, the Cystidea, Blastoidea, and Edrioasterida, among the Echinoderms; and two, the Trilobita and Eurypterida, among the Crustacea; making altogether five for the great sub-kingdom of Annulosa. Among Vertebrates there is no ordinally distinct fossil fish: there is only one extinct order of Amphibia—the Labyrinthodonts; but there are at least four distinct orders of Reptilia, viz. the Ichthyosauria, Plesiosauria, Pterosauria, Dinosauria, and perhaps another or two. There is no known extinct order of Birds, and no certainly known extinct order of Mammals, the ordinal distinctness of the "Toxodontia" being doubtful.

The objection that broad statements of this kind, after all, rest largely on negative evidence is obvious, but it has less force than may at first be supposed; for, as might be expected from the circumstances of the case, we possess more abundant positive evidence regarding Fishes and marine Mollusks than respecting any other forms of animal life; and yet these offer us, through the whole range of geological time, no species ordinarily distinct from those now living; while the far less numerous class of Echinoderms presents three, and the Crustacea two, such orders, though none of these come down later than the Palaeozoic age. Lastly, the Reptilia present the extraordinary and exceptional phaenomenon of as many extinct as existing orders, if not more; the four mentioned maintaining their existence from the Lias to the Chalk inclusive.

Some years ago one of your Secretaries pointed out another kind of positive palaeontological evidence tending towards the same conclusion—afforded by the existence of what he termed "persistent types" of vegetable and of animal life.[36] He stated, on the authority of Dr. Hooker, that there are Carboniferous plants which appear to be generically identical with some now living; that the cone of the Oolitic Araucaria is hardly distinguishable from that of an existing species; that a true Pinus appears in the Purbecks and a Juglans in the Chalk; while, from the Bagshot Sands, a Banksia, the wood of which is not distinguishable from that of species now living in Australia, had been obtained.

Turning to the animal kingdom, he affirmed the tabulate corals of the Silurian rocks to be wonderfully like those which now exist; while even the families of the Aporosa were all represented in the older Mesozoic rocks.

Among the Mollusca similar facts were adduced. Let it be borne in mind that Avicula, Mytilus, Chiton, Natica, Patella, Trochus, Discina, Orbicula, Lingula, Rhynchonella, and Nautilus, all of which are existing genera, are given without a doubt as Silurian in the last edition of "Siluria;" while the highest forms of the highest Cephalopods are represented in the Lias by a genus, Belemnoteuthis, which presents the closest relation to the existing Loligo.

The two highest groups of the Annulosa, the Insecta and the Arachnida, are represented in the Coal, either by existing genera, or by forms differing from existing genera in quite minor peculiarities.

Turning to the Vertebrata, the only palaeozoic Elasmobranch Fish of which we have any complete knowledge is the Devonian and Carboniferous Pleuracanthus, which differs no more from existing Sharks than these do from one another.

Again, vast as is the number of undoubtedly Ganoid fossil Fishes, and great as is their range in time, a large mass of evidence has recently been adduced to show that almost all those respecting which we possess sufficient information, are referable to the same sub-ordinal groups as the existing Lepidosteus, Polypterus, and Sturgeon; and that a singular relation obtains between the older and the younger Fishes; the former, the Devonian Ganoids, being almost all members of the same sub-order as Polypterus, while the Mesozoic Ganoids are almost all similarly allied to Lepidosteus.[37]

Again, what can be more remarkable than the singular constancy of structure preserved throughout a vast period of time by the family of the Pycnodonts and by that of the true Coelacanths: the former persisting, with but insignificant modifications, from the Carboniferous to the Tertiary rocks, inclusive; the latter existing, with still less change, from the Carboniferous rocks to the Chalk, inclusive?

Among Reptiles, the highest living group, that of the Crocodilia, is represented, at the early part of the Mesozoic epoch, by species identical in the essential characters of their organization with those now living, and differing from the latter only in such matters as the form of the articular facets of the vertebral centra, in the extent to which the nasal passages are separated from the cavity of the mouth by bone, and in the proportions of the limbs.

And even as regards the Mammalia, the scanty remains of Triassic and Oolitic species afford no foundation for the supposition that the organization of the oldest forms differed nearly so much from some of those which now live as these differ from one another.

It is needless to multiply these instances; enough has been said to justify the statement that, in view of the immense diversity of known animal and vegetable forms, and the enormous lapse of time indicated by the accumulation of fossiliferous strata, the only circumstance to be wondered at is, not that the changes of life, as exhibited by positive evidence, have been so great, but that they have been so small.

Be they great or small, however, it is desirable to attempt to estimate them. Let us, therefore, take each great division of the animal world in succession, and, whenever an order or a family can be shown to have had a prolonged existence, let us endeavour to ascertain how far the later members of the group differ from the earlier ones. If these later members, in all or in many cases, exhibit a certain amount of modification, the fact is so far, evidence in favour of a general law of change; and, in a rough way, the rapidity of that change will be measured by the demonstrable amount of modification. On the other hand, it must be recollected that the absence of any modification, while it may leave the doctrine of the existence of a law of change without positive support, cannot possibly disprove all forms of that doctrine, though it may afford a sufficient refutation of many of them.

The PROTOZOA.—The Protozoa are represented throughout the whole range of geological series, from the Lower Silurian formation to the present day. The most ancient forms recently made known by Ehrenberg are exceedingly like those which now exist: no one has ever pretended that the difference between any ancient and any modern Foraminifera is of more than generic value; nor are the oldest Foraminifera either simpler, more embryonic, or less differentiated, than the existing forms.

The CoeLENTERATA.—The Tabulate Corals have existed from the Silurian epoch to the present day, but I am not aware that the ancient Heliolites possesses a single mark of a more embryonic or less differentiated character, or less high organization, than the existing Heliopora. As for the Aporose Corals, in what respect is the Silurian Paloeocydus less highly organized or more embryonic than the modern Fungia, or the Liassic Aporosa than the existing members of the same families?

The Mollusca.—In what sense is the living Waldheimia less embryonic, or more specialized, than the palaeozoic Spirifer; or the existing Rhynchonellae, Craniae, Discinae, Lingulae, than the Silurian species of the same genera? In what sense can Loligo or Spirula be said to be more specialized, or less embryonic, than Belemnites; or the modern species of Lamellibranch and Gasteropod genera, than the Silurian species of the same genera?

The ANNULOSA.—The Carboniferous Insecta and Arachnida are neither less specialized, nor more embryonic, than those that now live, nor are the Liassic Cirripedia and Macrura; while several of the Brachyura, which appear in the Chalk, belong to existing genera; and none exhibit either an intermediate, or an embryonic, character.

The VERTEBRATA.—Among fishes I have referred to the Coelacanthini (comprising the genera Coelacanthus, Holophagus, Undina, and Macropoma) as affording an example of a persistent type; and it is most remarkable to note the smallness of the differences between any of these fishes (affecting at most the proportions of the body and fins, and the character and sculpture of the scales), notwithstanding their enormous range in time. In all the essentials of its very peculiar structure, the Macropoma of the Chalk is identical with the Coelacanthus of the Coal. Look at the genus Lepidotus, again, persisting without a modification of importance from the Liassic to the Eocene formations, inclusive.

Or among the Teleostei—in what respect is the Beryx of the Chalk more embryonic, or less differentiated, than Beryx lineatus of King George's Sound?

Or to turn to the higher Vertebrata—in what sense are the Liassic Chelonia inferior to those which now exist? How are the Cretaceous Ichthyosauria, Plesiosauria, or Pterosauria less embryonic, or more differentiated, species than those of the Lias?

Or lastly, in what circumstance is the Phascolotherium more embryonic, or of a more generalized type, than the modern Opossum; or a Lophiodon, or a Palaeotherium, than a modern Tapirus or Hyrax?

These examples might be almost indefinitely multiplied, but surely they are sufficient to prove that the only safe and unquestionable testimony we can procure—positive evidence—fails to demonstrate any sort of progressive modification towards a less embryonic, or less generalized, type in a great many groups of animals of long-continued geological existence. In these groups there is abundant evidence of variation—none of what is ordinarily understood as progression; and, if the known geological record is to be regarded as even any considerable fragment of the whole, it is inconceivable that any theory of a necessarily progressive development can stand, for the numerous orders and families cited afford no trace of such a process.

But it is a most remarkable fact, that, while the groups which have been mentioned, and many besides, exhibit no sign of progressive modification, there are others, coexisting with them, under the same conditions, in which more or less distinct indications of such a process seem to be traceable. Among such indications I may remind you of the predominance of Holostome Gasteropoda in the older rocks as compared with that of Siphonostome Gasteropoda in the later. A case less open to the objection of negative evidence, however, is that afforded by the Tetrabranchiate Cephalopoda, the forms of the shells and of the septal sutures exhibiting a certain increase of complexity in the newer genera. Here, however, one is met at once with the occurrence of Orthoceras and Baculites at the two ends of the series, and of the fact that one of the simplest genera, Nautilus, is that which now exists.

The Crinoidea, in the abundance of stalked forms in the ancient formations as compared with their present rarity, seem to present us with a fair case of modification from a more embryonic towards a less embryonic condition. But then, on careful consideration of the facts, the objection arises that the stalk, calyx, and arms of the palaeozoic Crinoid are exceedingly different from the corresponding organs of a larval Comatula; and it might with perfect justice be argued that Actinocrinus and Eucalyptocrinus, for example, depart to the full as widely, in one direction, from the stalked embryo of Comatula, as Comatula itself does in the other.

The Echinidea, again, are frequently quoted as exhibiting a gradual passage from a more generalized to a more specialized type, seeing that the elongated, or oval, Spatangoids appear after the spheroidal Echinoids. But here it might be argued, on the other hand, that the spheroidal Echinoids, in reality, depart further from the general plan and from the embryonic form than the elongated Spatangoids do; and that the peculiar dental apparatus and the pedicellariae of the former are marks of at least as great differentiation as the petaloid ambulacra and semitae of the latter.

Once more, the prevalence of Macrurous before Brachyurous Podophthalmia is, apparently, a fair piece of evidence in favour of progressive modification in the same order of Crustacea; and yet the case will not stand much sifting, seeing that the Macrurous Podophthalmia depart as far in one direction from the common type of Podophthalmia, or from any embryonic condition of the Brachyura, as the Brachyura do in the other; and that the middle terms between Macrura and Brachyura—the Anomura—are little better represented in the older Mesozoic rocks than the Brachyura are.

None of the cases of progressive modification which are cited from among the Invertebrata appear to me to have a foundation less open to criticism than these; and if this be so, no careful reasoner would, I think, be inclined to lay very great stress upon them. Among the Vertebrata, however, there are a few examples which appear to be far less open to objection.

It is, in fact, true of several groups of Vertebrata which have lived through a considerable range of time, that the endoskeleton (more particularly the spinal column) of the older genera presents a less ossified, and, so far, less differentiated, condition than that of the younger genera. Thus the Devonian Ganoids, though almost all members of the same sub-order as Polypterus, and presenting numerous important resemblances to the existing genus, which possesses biconcave vertebrae, are, for the most part, wholly devoid of ossified vertebral centra. The Mesozoic Lepidosteidae, again, have, at most, biconcave vertebrae, while the existing Lepidosteus has Salamandroid, opisthocoelous, vertebrae. So, none of the Palaeozoic Sharks have shown themselves to be possessed of ossified vertebrae, while the majority of modern Sharks possess such vertebrae. Again, the more ancient Crocodilia and Lacertilia have vertebrae with the articular facets of their centra flattened or biconcave, while the modern members of the same group have them procoelous. But the most remarkable examples of progressive modification of the vertebral column, in correspondence with geological age, are those afforded by the Pycnodonts among fish, and the Labyrinthodonts among Amphibia.

The late able ichthyologist Heckel pointed out the fact, that, while the Pycnodonts never possess true vertebral centra, they differ in the degree of expansion and extension of the ends of the bony arches of the vertebrae upon the sheath of the notochord; the Carboniferous forms exhibiting hardly any such expansion, while the Mesozoic genera present a greater and greater development, until, in the Tertiary forms, the expanded ends become suturally united so as to form a sort of false vertebra. Hermann von Meyer, again, to whose luminous researches we are indebted for our present large knowledge of the organization of the older Labyrinthodonts, has proved that the Carboniferous Archegosaurus had very imperfectly developed vertebral centra, while the Triassic Mastodonsaurus had the same parts completely ossified.[38]

The regularity and evenness of the dentition of the Anoplotherium, as contrasted with that of existing Artiodactyles, and the assumed nearer approach of the dentition of certain ancient Carnivores to the typical arrangement, have also been cited as exemplifications of a law of progressive development, but I know of no other cases based on positive evidence which are worthy of particular notice.

What then does an impartial survey of the positively ascertained truths of palaeontology testify in relation to the common doctrines of progressive modification, which suppose that modification to have taken place by a necessary progress from more to less embryonic forms, or from more to less generalized types, within the limits of the period represented by the fossiliferous rocks?

It negatives those doctrines; for it either shows us no evidence of any such modification, or demonstrates it to have been very slight; and as to the nature of that modification, it yields no evidence whatsoever that the earlier members of any long-continued group were more generalized in structure than the later ones. To a certain extent, indeed, it may be said that imperfect ossification of the vertebral column is an embryonic character; but, on the other hand, it would be extremely incorrect to suppose that the vertebral columns of the older Vertebrata are in any sense embryonic in their whole structure.

Obviously, if the earliest fossiliferous rocks now known are coeval with the commencement of life, and if their contents give us any just conception of the nature and the extent of the earliest fauna and flora, the insignificant amount of modification which can be demonstrated to have taken place in any one group of animals, or plants, is quite incompatible with the hypothesis that all living forms are the results of a necessary process of progressive development, entirely comprised within the time represented by the fossiliferous rocks.

Contrariwise, any admissible hypothesis of progressive modification must be compatible with persistence without progression, through indefinite periods. And should such an hypothesis eventually be proved to be true, in the only way in which it can be demonstrated, viz. by observation and experiment upon the existing forms of life, the conclusion will inevitably present itself, that the Palaeozoic, Mesozoic, and Cainozoic faunae and florae, taken together, bear somewhat the same proportion to the whole series of living beings which have occupied this globe, as the existing fauna and flora do to them.

Such are the results of palaeontology as they appear, and have for some years appeared, to the mind of an inquirer who regards that study simply as one of the applications of the great biological sciences, and who desires to see it placed upon the same sound basis as other branches of physical inquiry. If the arguments which have been brought forward are valid, probably no one, in view of the present state of opinion, will be inclined to think the time wasted which has been spent upon their elaboration.


[33] "Le plus grand service qu'on puisse rendre a la science est d'y faire place nette avant d'y rien construire."—CUVIER.

[34] Anniversary Address for 1851, Quart. Journ. Geol. Soc. vol. vii.

[35] See Hooker's "Introductory Essay to the Flora of Tasmania," p. xxiii.

[36] See the abstract of a Lecture "On the Persistent Types of Animal Life" in the "Notices of the Meetings of the Royal Institution of Great Britain," June 3, 1859, vol. iii. p. 151.

[37] "Memoirs of the Geological Survey of the United Kingdom.—Decade x. Preliminary Essay upon the Systematic Arrangement of the Fishes of the Devonian Epoch."

[38] As this Address is passing through the press (March 7, 1862), evidence lies before me of the existence of a new Labyrinthodont (Pholidogaster), from the Edinburgh coal-field, with well-ossified vertebral centra.



"A great reform in geological speculation seems now to have become necessary."

"It is quite certain that a great mistake has been made,—that British popular geology at the present time is in direct opposition to the principles of Natural Philosophy."[39]

In reviewing the course of geological thought during the past year, for the purpose of discovering those matters to which I might most fitly direct your attention in the Address which it now becomes my duty to deliver from the Presidential Chair, the two somewhat alarming sentences which I have just read, and which occur in an able and interesting essay by an eminent natural philosopher, rose into such prominence before my mind that they eclipsed everything else.

It surely is a matter of paramount importance for the British geologists (some of them very popular geologists too) here in solemn annual session assembled, to inquire whether the severe judgment thus passed upon them, by so high an authority as Sir William Thomson is one to which they must plead guilty sans phrase, or whether they are prepared to say "not guilty," and appeal for a reversal of the sentence to that higher court of educated scientific opinion to which we are all amenable.

As your attorney-general for the time being, I thought I could not do better than get up the case with a view of advising you. It is true that the charges brought forward by the other side involve the consideration of matters quite foreign to the pursuits with which I am ordinarily occupied; but, in that respect, I am only in the position which is, nine times out of ten, occupied by counsel, who nevertheless contrive to gain their causes, mainly by force of mother-wit and common sense, aided by some training in other intellectual exercises.

Nerved by such precedents, I proceed to put my pleading before you.

And the first question with which I propose to deal is, What is it to which Sir W. Thomson refers when he speaks of "geological speculation" and "British popular geology"?

I find three, more or less contradictory, systems of geological thought, each of which might fairly enough claim these appellations, standing side by side in Britain. I shall call one of them CATASTROPHISM, another UNIFORMITARIANISM, the third EVOLUTIONISM; and I shall try briefly to sketch the characters of each, that you may say whether the classification is, or is not, exhaustive.

By CATASTROPHISM, I mean any form of geological speculation which, in order to account for the phaenomena of geology, supposes the operation of forces different in their nature, or immeasurably different in power, from those which we at present see in action in the universe.

The Mosaic cosmogony is, in this sense, catastrophic, because it assumes the operation of extra-natural power. The doctrine of violent upheavals, debacles, and cataclysms in general, is catastrophic, so far as it assumes that these were brought about by causes which have now no parallel. There was a time when catastrophism might, pre-eminently, have claimed the title of "British popular geology;" and assuredly it has yet many adherents, and reckons among its supporters some of the most honoured members of this Society.

By UNIFORMITARIANISM, I mean especially, the teaching of Hutton and of Lyell.

That great, though incomplete work, "The Theory of the Earth," seems to me to be one of the most remarkable contributions to geology which is recorded in the annals of the science. So far as the not-living world is concerned, uniformitarianism lies there, not only in germ, but in blossom and fruit.

If one asks how it is that Hutton was led to entertain views so far in advance of those prevalent in his time, in some respects; while, in others, they seem almost curiously limited, the answer appears to me to be plain.

Hutton was in advance of the geological speculation of his time, because, in the first place, he had amassed a vast store of knowledge of the facts of geology, gathered by personal observation in travels of considerable extent; and because, in the second place, he was thoroughly trained in the physical and chemical science of his day, and thus possessed, as much as any one in his time could possess it, the knowledge which is requisite for the just interpretation of geological phaenomena, and the habit of thought which fits a man for scientific inquiry.

It is to this thorough scientific training, that I ascribe Hutton's steady and persistent refusal to look to other causes than those now in operation, for the explanation of geological phaenomena.

Thus he writes:—"I do not pretend, as he [M. de Luc] does in his theory, to describe the beginning of things. I take things such as I find them at present; and from these I reason with regard to that which must have been."[40]

And again:—"A theory of the earth, which has for object truth, can have no retrospect to that which had preceded the present order of the world; for this order alone is what we have to reason upon; and to reason without data is nothing but delusion. A theory, therefore, which is limited to the actual constitution of this earth cannot be allowed to proceed one step beyond the present order of things."[41]

And so clear is he, that no causes beside such as are now in operation are needed to account for the character and disposition of the components of the crust of the earth, that he says, broadly and boldly:— "... There is no part of the earth which has not had the same origin, so far as this consists in that earth being collected at the bottom of the sea, and afterwards produced, as land, along with masses of melted substances, by the operation of mineral causes."[42]

But other influences were at work upon Hutton beside those of a mind logical by Nature, and scientific by sound training; and the peculiar turn which his speculations took seems to me to be unintelligible, unless these be taken into account. The arguments of the French astronomers and mathematicians, which, at the end of the last century, were held to demonstrate the existence of a compensating arrangement among the celestial bodies, whereby all perturbations eventually reduced themselves to oscillations on each side of a mean position, and the stability of the solar system was secured, had evidently taken strong hold of Hutton's mind.

In those oddly constructed periods which seem to have prejudiced many persons against reading his works, but which are full of that peculiar, if unattractive, eloquence which flows from mastery of the subject, Hutton says:—

"We have now got to the end of our reasoning; we have no data further to conclude immediately from that which actually is. But we have got enough; we have the satisfaction to find, that in Nature there is wisdom, system, and consistency. For having, in the natural history of this earth, seen a succession of worlds, we may from this conclude that there is a system in Nature; in like manner as, from seeing revolutions of the planets, it is concluded, that there is a system by which they are intended to continue those revolutions. But if the succession of worlds is established in the system of Nature, it is in vain to look for anything higher in the origin of the earth. The result, therefore, of this physical inquiry is, that we find no vestige of a beginning,—no prospect of an end."[43]

Yet another influence worked strongly upon Hutton. Like most philosophers of his age, he coquetted with those final causes which have been named barren virgins, but which might be more fitly termed the hetairae of philosophy, so constantly have they led men astray. The final cause of the existence of the world is, for Hutton, the production of life and intelligence.

"We have now considered the globe of this earth as a machine, constructed upon chemical as well as mechanical principles, by which its different parts are all adapted, in form, in quality, and in quantity, to a certain end; an end attained with certainty or success; and an end from which we may perceive wisdom, in contemplating the means employed.

"But is this world to be considered thus merely as a machine, to last no longer than its parts retain their present position, their proper forms and qualities? Or may it not be also considered as an organized body? such as has a constitution in which the necessary decay of the machine is naturally repaired, in the exertion of those productive powers by which it had been formed.

"This is the view in which we are now to examine the globe; to see if there be, in the constitution of this world, a reproductive operation, by which a ruined constitution may be again repaired, and a duration or stability thus procured to the machine, considered as a world sustaining plants and animals."[44]

Kirwan, and the other Philistines of the day, accused Hutton of declaring that his theory implied that the world never had a beginning, and never differed in condition from its present state. Nothing could be more grossly unjust, as he expressly guards himself against any such conclusion in the following terms:—

"But in thus tracing back the natural operations which have succeeded each other, and mark to us the course of time past, we come to a period in which we cannot see any farther. This, however, is not the beginning of the operations which proceed in time and according to the wise economy of this world; nor is it the establishing of that which, in the course of time, had no beginning; it is only the limit of our retrospective view of those operations which have come to pass in time, and have been conducted by supreme intelligence."[45]

I have spoken of Uniformitarianism as the doctrine of Hutton and of Lyell. If I have quoted the older writer rather than the newer, it is because his works are little known, and his claims on our veneration too frequently forgotten, not because I desire to dim the fame of his eminent successor. Few of the present generation of geologists have read Playfair's "Illustrations," fewer still the original "Theory of the Earth;" the more is the pity; but which of us has not thumbed every page of the "Principles of Geology?" I think that he who writes fairly the history of his own progress in geological thought, will not be able to separate his debt to Hutton from his obligations to Lyell; and the history of the progress of individual geologists is the history of geology.

No one can doubt that the influence of uniformitarian views has been enormous, and, in the main, most beneficial and favourable to the progress of sound geology.

Nor can it be questioned that Uniformitarianism has even a stronger title than Catastrophism to call itself the geological speculation of Britain, or, if you will, British popular geology. For it is eminently a British doctrine, and has even now made comparatively little progress on the continent of Europe. Nevertheless it seems to me to be open to serious criticism upon one of its aspects.

I have shown how unjust was the insinuation that Hutton denied a beginning to the world. But it would not be unjust to say that he persistently, in practice, shut his eyes to the existence of that prior and different state of things which, in theory, he admitted; and, in this aversion to look beyond the veil of stratified rocks, Lyell follows him.

Hutton and Lyell alike agree in their indisposition to carry their speculations a step beyond the period recorded in the most ancient strata now open to observation in the crust of the earth. This is, for Hutton, "the point in which we cannot see any farther;" while Lyell tells us,—

"The astronomer may find good reasons for ascribing the earth's form to the original fluidity of the mass, in times long antecedent to the first introduction of living beings into the planet; but the geologist must be content to regard the earliest monuments which it is his task to interpret, as belonging to a period when the crust had already acquired great solidity and thickness, probably as great as it now possesses, and when volcanic rocks, not essentially differing from those now produced, were formed from time to time, the intensity of volcanic heat being neither greater nor less than it is now."[46]

And again, "As geologists, we learn that it is not only the present condition of the globe which has been suited to the accommodation of myriads of living creatures, but that many former states also have been adapted to the organization and habits of prior races of beings. The disposition of the seas, continents and islands, and the climates, have varied; the species likewise have been changed; and yet they have all been so modelled, on types analogous to those of existing plants and animals, as to indicate, throughout, a perfect harmony of design and unity of purpose. To assume that the evidence of the beginning, or end, of so vast a scheme lies within the reach of our philosophical inquiries, or even of our speculations, appears to be inconsistent with a just estimate of the relations which subsist between the finite powers of man and the attributes of an infinite and eternal Being."[47]

The limitations implied in these passages appear to me to constitute the weakness and the logical defect of uniformitarianism. No one will impute blame to Hutton that, in face of the imperfect condition, in his day, of those physical sciences which furnish the keys to the riddles of geology, he should have thought it practical wisdom to limit his theory to an attempt to account for "the present order of things;" but I am at a loss to comprehend why, for all time, the geologist must be content to regard the oldest fossiliferous rocks as the ultima Thule of his science; or what there is inconsistent with the relations between the finite and the infinite mind, in the assumption, that we may discern somewhat of the beginning, or of the end, of this speck in space we call our earth. The finite mind is certainly competent to trace out the development of the fowl within the egg; and I know not on what ground it should find more difficulty in unravelling the complexities of the development of the earth. In fact, as Kant has well remarked,[48] the cosmical process is really simpler than the biological.

This attempt to limit, at a particular point, the progress of inductive and deductive reasoning from the things which are, to those which were—this faithlessness to its own logic, seems to me to have cost Uniformitarianism the place, as the permanent form of geological speculation, which it might otherwise have held.

It remains that I should put before you what I understand to be the third phase of geological speculation—namely, EVOLUTIONISM.

I shall not make what I have to say on this head clear, unless I diverge, or seem to diverge, for a while, from the direct path of my discourse, so far as to explain what I take to be the scope of geology itself. I conceive geology to be the history of the earth, in precisely the same sense as biology is the history of living beings; and I trust you will not think that I am overpowered by the influence of a dominant pursuit if I say that I trace a close analogy between these two histories.

If I study a living being, under what heads does the knowledge I obtain fall? I can learn its structure, or what we call its ANATOMY; and its DEVELOPMENT, or the series of changes which it passes through to acquire its complete structure. Then I find that the living being has certain powers resulting from its own activities, and the interaction of these with the activities of other things—the knowledge of which is PHYSIOLOGY. Beyond this the living being has a position in space and time, which is its DISTRIBUTION. All these form the body of ascertainable facts which constitute the status quo of the living creature. But these facts have their causes; and the ascertainment of these causes is the doctrine of AETIOLOGY.

If we consider what is knowable about the earth, we shall find that such earth-knowledge—if I may so translate the word geology—falls into the same categories.

What is termed stratigraphical geology is neither more nor less than the anatomy of the earth; and the history of the succession of the formations is the history of a succession of such anatomies, or corresponds with development, as distinct from generation.

The internal heat of the earth, the elevation and depression of its crust, its belchings forth of vapours, ashes, and lava, are its activities, in as strict a sense, as are warmth and the movements and products of respiration the activities of an animal. The phaenomena of the seasons, of the trade winds, of the Gulf-stream, are as much the results of the reaction between these inner activities and outward forces, as are the budding of the leaves in spring and their falling in autumn the effects of the interaction between the organization of a plant and the solar light and heat. And, as the study of the activities of the living being is called its physiology, so are these phaenomena the subject-matter of an analogous telluric physiology, to which we sometimes give the name of meteorology, sometimes that of physical geography, sometimes that of geology. Again, the earth has a place in space and in time, and relations to other bodies in both these respects, which constitute its distribution. This subject is usually left to the astronomer; but a knowledge of its broad outlines seems to me to be an essential constituent of the stock of geological ideas.

All that can be ascertained concerning the structure, succession of conditions, actions, and position in space of the earth, is the matter of fact of its natural history. But, as in biology, there remains the matter of reasoning from these facts to their causes, which is just as much science as the other, and indeed more; and this constitutes geological aetiology.

Having regard to this general scheme of geological knowledge and thought, it is obvious that geological speculation may be, so to speak, anatomical and developmental speculation, so far as it relates to points of stratigraphical arrangement which are out of reach of direct observation; or, it may be physiological speculation, so far as it relates to undetermined problems relative to the activities of the earth; or, it may be distributional speculation, if it deals with modifications of the earth's place in space; or, finally, it will be aetiological speculation, if it attempts to deduce the history of the world, as a whole, from the known properties of the matter of the earth, in the conditions in which the earth has been placed.

For the purposes of the present discourse I may take this last to be what is meant by "geological speculation."

Now uniformitarianism, as we have seen, tends to ignore geological speculation in this sense altogether.

The one point the catastrophists and the uniformitarians agreed upon, when this Society was founded, was to ignore it. And you will find, if you look back into our records, that our revered fathers in geology plumed themselves a good deal upon the practical sense and wisdom of this proceeding. As a temporary measure, I do not presume to challenge its wisdom; but in all organized bodies temporary changes are apt to produce permanent effects; and as time has slipped by, altering all the conditions which may have made such mortification of the scientific flesh desirable, I think the effect of the stream of cold water which has steadily flowed over geological speculation within these walls, has been of doubtful beneficence.

The sort of geological speculation to which I am now referring (geological aetiology, in short) was created, as a science, by that famous philosopher Immanuel Kant, when, in 1755, he wrote his "General Natural History and Theory of the Celestial Bodies; or an Attempt to account for the Constitution and the mechanical Origin of the Universe upon Newtonian principles."[49]

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse