Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 46.djvu/54

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

other side of the account stand the claims of the geologists and biologists. They have reveled in the prodigality of the ciphers which they put at the end of the earth's hypothetical life. Long cribbed and cabined within the narrow bounds of the popular chronology, they have exulted wantonly in their new freedom. They have lavished their millions of years with the open hand of a prodigal heir indemnifying himself by present extravagance for the enforced self-denial of his youth. But it can not be gainsaid that their theories require at least all this elbow-room. If we think of that vast distance over which Darwin conducts us from the jellyfish lying on the primeval beach to man as we know him now; if we reflect that the prodigious change requisite to transform one into the other is made up of a chain of generations, each advancing by a minute variation from the form of its predecessor; and if we further reflect that these successive changes are so minute that in the course of our historical period—say three thousand years—this progressive variation has not advanced by a single step perceptible to our eyes, in respect to man or the animals and plants with which man is familiar, we shall admit that for a chain of change so vast, of which the smallest link is longer than our recorded history, the biologists are making no extravagant claim when they demand at least many hundred million years for the accomplishment of the stupendous process. Of course, if the mathematicians are right, the biologists can not have what they demand. If, for the purposes of their theory, organic life must have existed on the globe more than a hundred million years ago, it must, under the temperature then prevailing, have existed in a state of vapor. The jellyfish would have been dissipated in steam long before he had had a chance of displaying the advantageous variation which was to make him the ancestor of the human race. I see, in the eloquent discourse of one of my most recent and most distinguished predecessors in this chair. Sir Archibald Geikie, that the controversy is still alive. The mathematicians sturdily adhere to their figures, and the biologists are quite sure the mathematicians must have made a mistake. I will not get myself into the line of fire by intervening in such a controversy. But until it is adjusted the laity may be excused for returning a verdict of "not proven" upon the wider issues the Darwinian school has raised.

The other objection is best stated in the words of an illustrious disciple of Darwin, who has recently honored this city by his presence—I refer to Prof. Weismann. But in referring to him, I can not but give, in passing, a feeble expression to the universal sorrow with which in this place the news was received that Weismann's distinguished antagonist, Prof, Romanes, had been taken from us in the outset and full promise of a splendid scientific career.