Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 6.djvu/221
PROFESSOR LOVERING'S ADDRESS.
His philosophy of zoölogy was published a few years after the cosmogony of Laplace; in which the mathematician broaches the theory of evolution as a mechanical doctrine, capable of explaining certain characteristics of the solar system, about which the law of gravitation is silent. Whoever reads the stately chapters of Laplace, on the stability of the planets and the safeguards of the comets, will easily recognize expressions which are the mechanical equivalents of the principles of natural selection and the survival of the fittest. The elder Herschel hazarded the speculation that the clusters of stars and the nebulas which his devouring telescope had picked up, by hundreds, on the verge of the visible heavens, were genuine suns assembled under the organizing power of gravitation; and that the varieties in size, shape, and texture, were produced by differences of age and distance. The imagination of Herschel and other astronomers has taken a loftier flight. To them many of the nebulae are not clusters of stars, but unborn solar systems, waiting for that consolidation by which planets are evolved and a central sun is formed, and destined thus to repeat the cosmogony of the home system. Comte claims that he has raised the nebular hypothesis to the rank of positive science. He supposes the stupendous enginery of evolution to be reversed. He follows, with his mathematics, the expanding sun backward into chaos, until it has absorbed into its bosom even the first-born among the planets, and finds, at every stage, numerical confirmation of what Laplace threw out as a plausible conjecture. As Mr. Mill and other writers of note have accepted this authority, it should be understood that Comte has never published the data or the process of his computations. By whatever other inspiration he arrived at his conclusion, he was not brought to it by his mathematics. He has said all that is necessary to show that he ignored all the difficulties of the problem, and dodged the only solution that could give satisfaction. The cosmogony of Laplace, with all its fascination, must be excluded from exact mechanics and remanded back to its original place in natural history, by the side of the more general nebular hypothesis of Herschel. All other cosmogonies which poetry or science have invented are childish in comparison with this; and no one would desire to banish it from science altogether, until it is disproved or displaced by. something better. Instead of deciding, it must share the fate of the all-embracing cosmical speculation of Halley. How uncertain that fate is we may be taught by the frequency with which the preponderance of evidence has shifted from one side to the other, during the last fifty years. The irresolvability of many of the nebula, by powerful telescopes, led Herschel to espouse the cause of a diffuse primeval matter, out of which worlds were fashioned. No wonder that, in particular cases, the negative evidence was sometimes turned into positive evidence on the other side, by improvements in telescopes. Although every nebula which deserted from the nebular hypothesis strengthened the suspicion that