walls. It is best that no man knows that you were here.”

Doubt and Doubttwo2023-12-07 11:07:03 459 2

It is true these scientific citations had met with only qualified approval at the time of their utterance, because then the conservative majority of mankind did not concede that there had been a plurality of populations or revolutions; but now that the belief in past geologic ages had ceased to be a heresy, the recurring catastrophes of the great paleontologists were accepted with acclaim. For the moment science and tradition were at one, and there was a truce to controversy, except indeed in those outlying skirmish-lines of thought whither news from headquarters does not permeate till it has become ancient history at its source.

walls. It is best that no man knows that you were here.”

The truce, however, was not for long. Hardly had contemporary thought begun to adjust itself to the conception of past ages of incomprehensible extent, each terminated by a catastrophe of the Noachian type, when a man appeared who made the utterly bewildering assertion that the geological record, instead of proving numerous catastrophic revolutions in the earth's past history, gives no warrant to the pretensions of any universal catastrophe whatever, near or remote.

walls. It is best that no man knows that you were here.”

This iconoclast was Charles Lyell, the Scotchman, who was soon to be famous as the greatest geologist of his time. As a young man he had become imbued with the force of the Huttonian proposition, that present causes are one with those that produced the past changes of the globe, and he carried that idea to what he conceived to be its logical conclusion. To his mind this excluded the thought of catastrophic changes in either inorganic or organic worlds.

walls. It is best that no man knows that you were here.”

But to deny catastrophism was to suggest a revolution in current thought. Needless to say, such revolution could not be effected without a long contest. For a score of years the matter was argued pro and con., often with most unscientific ardor. A mere outline of the controversy would fill a volume; yet the essential facts with which Lyell at last established his proposition, in its bearings on the organic world, may be epitomized in a few words. The evidence which seems to tell of past revolutions is the apparently sudden change of fossils from one stratum to another of the rocks. But Lyell showed that this change is not always complete. Some species live on from one alleged epoch into the next. By no means all the contemporaries of the mammoth are extinct, and numerous marine forms vastly more ancient still have living representatives.

Moreover, the blanks between strata in any particular vertical series are amply filled in with records in the form of thick strata in some geographically distant series. For example, in some regions Silurian rocks are directly overlaid by the coal measures; but elsewhere this sudden break is filled in with the Devonian rocks that tell of a great "age of fishes." So commonly are breaks in the strata in one region filled up in another that we are forced to conclude that the record shown by any single vertical series is of but local significance-- telling, perhaps, of a time when that particular sea-bed oscillated above the water-line, and so ceased to receive sediment until some future age when it had oscillated back again. But if this be the real significance of the seemingly sudden change from stratum to stratum, then the whole case for catastrophism is hopelessly lost; for such breaks in the strata furnish the only suggestion geology can offer of sudden and catastrophic changes of wide extent.

Let us see how Lyell elaborates these ideas, particularly with reference to the rotation of species.[2]

"I have deduced as a corollary," he says, "that the species existing at any particular period must, in the course of ages, become extinct, one after the other. 'They must die out,' to borrow an emphatic expression from Buffon, 'because Time fights against them.' If the views which I have taken are just, there will be no difficulty in explaining why the habitations of so many species are now restrained within exceeding narrow limits. Every local revolution tends to circumscribe the range of some species, while it enlarges that of others; and if we are led to infer that new species originate in one spot only, each must require time to diffuse itself over a wide area. It will follow, therefore, from the adoption of our hypothesis that the recent origin of some species and the high antiquity of others are equally consistent with the general fact of their limited distribution, some being local because they have not existed long enough to admit of their wide dissemination; others, because circumstances in the animate or inanimate world have occurred to restrict the range within which they may once have obtained. . . .

"If the reader should infer, from the facts laid before him, that the successive extinction of animals and plants may be part of the constant and regular course of nature, he will naturally inquire whether there are any means provided for the repair of these losses? Is it possible as a part of the economy of our system that the habitable globe should to a certain extent become depopulated, both in the ocean and on the land, or that the variety of species should diminish until some new era arrives when a new and extraordinary effort of creative energy is to be displayed? Or is it possible that new species can be called into being from time to time, and yet that so astonishing a phenomenon can escape the naturalist?



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