Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/13

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

of ages behind us; and that such vague vestiges of our race as have been handed down to us in sacred book and popular legend are as nothing compared with that tremendous mass of human experiences which will never find their historian. Worse than all, turning full upon the doctrine of special manufacture, she opened up the grand geologic record, and read thence, as from the pages of a mighty volume, the long, stupendous story of those vast cosmic changes which, through aeons of unreckoned time, have slowly molded and fashioned the world into the condition in which we find it to-day.

That these revelations were of the most vital interest to all thinking men needs hardly be said; nor is it necessary here to dwell on the feverish panic of the theologians, who hurried into the field with all their heavy artillery, prominent amid which was the great-gun argument, which had already done yeoman service on many another such occasion, that the very existence of Christianity was bound up with the story of creation as narrated in the first chapters of the Hebrew Scriptures.[1] What is here of moment is to notice the general effect of the new discoveries upon the scientific mind. That effect was at the outset almost entirely a negative one. The old theories had been destroyed, but as yet there was nothing to take their place; the theological interpretation of the world's history was seen to be absurdly insufficient and unreasonable, but for the time being no scientific interpretation in lieu thereof appeared to be forthcoming. Hence followed a kind of intellectual interregnum, during which everything was vague, shifting, tentative. Meanwhile, however, things were not by any means standing still. The unceasing activity of investigators in the special sciences resulted in vast accumulations of well-established facts, and thus yielded the materials in the absence of which nothing of real or permanent value could have been accomplished. And at the same time (largely, indeed, as a consequence of this extension upon all sides of the scientific domain) there was ever growing and deepening a conception of unbroken causation in cosmic changes, of the universality of law, and the unity of Nature and of natural processes—a conception in no small degree led up to by such discoveries as those of the undulatory theory of light and heat, and of the correlation of all the forces known to exact science. Thus, in spite of the temporary suspense and hesitation, no time was being lost. As we can now see, the way was being slowly prepared for a great scientific generalization—a generalization which, overthrowing all the old

  1. How fierce and obstinate was the opposition offered to the doctrine of evolution from this standpoint, we of the present day find it no easy matter to imagine. Even such a man as Hugh Miller went so far as to declare that acceptance of evolution meant nullification of the central truths of Christianity.