Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/263

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It is scarcely necessary to remind you of the fact that the sun is a body so hot that the most refractory substances known to us on the earth exist in it in a state of gas or vapor; tongues of glowing gas shoot from it like flames; the clouds which emit its brilliant light are probably clouds of carbon or silicon, which have momentarily condensed from a gaseous state; and rain, if rain ever occurs, must be a rain of molten metals, such as iron, which will be dissipated in gas before it has fallen very far.

If we proceed to the more remote nebulae, largely composed of glowing masses of gas, we find a suggestion of a stage more embryonic still, when the earth had as yet no separate existence, but formed, with its sister planets and the sun, a single shining cloud. On the other hand, if we turn our gaze on our nearest relative—offspring possibly—that dead planet, the moon, we may read in its pallid disk the sad reminder, "Such as I am, you, too, some day will be."

But this was not all that was contained in the admonition of physics; it showed not only that the earth is mortal, but that its span of life, as measured in years, or millions of years, is brief compared to the almost unlimited periods which geology had been in the habit of postulating. If catastrophic geology had at times pushed Nature to almost indecent extremes of haste, uniformitarian geology, on the other hand, had erred in the opposite direction, and pictured Nature, when she was "young and wantoned in her prime," as moving with the tame sedateness of advanced middle age. It became necessary, therefore, as Dr. Haughton expresses it, "to hurry up the phenomena."

With its uniformitarianism thus moderated, geology has again become cosmologic, and, neglecting no study that can throw light on any question connected with our planet, has regained its position as the science of the earth: it is henceforth known as evolutional geology.

The change has not taken place without occasional relapses into catastrophism. Some indications of this can, I fancy, be perceived in the writings of that eminently great geologist Suess, who, among other suggestions savoring of heresy, has lately recalled attention to the "Deluge," and endeavored to show that though certainly local, and indeed confined to the Mesopotamian Valley, it was on a grander scale than we had been accustomed to suppose, or, in plain language, a genuine historic catastrophe.

A local flood must have had a locality, and the clew to this is furnished by Genesis itself, which informs us that Abraham, the founder of the Hebrew race, left his ancestral city, "Ur of the Chaldees," at a time long subsequent to the flood; it is, therefore, rather in the land of the Chaldees than in Palestine that we should be led to seek the scene of this momentous, tragedy.