Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 9.djvu/677

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THE PROBABLE AGE OF THE WORLD.

MODERN PHILOSOPHERS ON THE PROBABLE AGE OF THE WORLD.[1]

A SHORT time ago Sir William Thomson took occasion, at a meeting of the Geological Society of Glasgow, to make a somewhat startling statement. He said that the tendency of British popular geology was, at the time he spoke, in direct opposition to the principles of natural philosophy.

So strong an opinion expressed by the man who is, perhaps, foremost in this country in applied mathematics and natural science, naturally attracted great attention, and it is not too much to say that in the six years which have since elapsed a very great change has taken place in the views of those best able to form an opinion on the subject of Sir William Thomson's animadversions.

Whether or not we are correct in saying that such a change has actually taken place in educated public opinion, it is the object of this paper to show; but we may at least affirm at the outset, without fear of contradiction, that a very smart conflict has been raging on the subject in the scientific world. The opposing forces are the geologists and the mathematicians. There has been hard hitting on both sides, and no quarter given. Of late the mathematicians have brought up their reserve, a contingent of natural philosophers, who have done good service. The latest intelligence from the seat of war speaks of a suspension of hostilities. The mathematicians will make no concessions, but the geologists appear likely to abate somewhat of their high demands. There is even some talk of an amalgamation of the opposing armies. In plain English, there has been a dispute as to the age of the world. Geologists declared that the centuries of its duration could only be denoted by an array of figures so large as to paralyze the reasoning faculties and convey no definite impression to the mind. Other branches of science have shown cause for attributing to the solar system a limit of duration, vast indeed, but not absolutely inconceivable.

To those whose interest in such matters is literary rather than

    1. "Lectures on some Recent Advances in Physical Science." By Prof. P. G. Tait, Professor of Natural Philosophy in the University of Edinburgh. 1876.
    2. "On Geological Dynamics." By Sir William Thomson, LL.D., F.R.S. "Transactions of the Geological Society of Glasgow," 1869.
    3. "On Geological Time." By Sir William Thomson, LL.D. "Transactions of the Geological Society of Glasgow." 1868.
    4. "Sur le Ralentissement du Mouvement de Rotation de la Terre." Par M. Delaunay. Paris, 1866.
    5. "Climate and Time." By James Croll. "H. M. Geological Survey of Scotland." London, 1875.
    6. "Principles of Geology." By Sir Charles Lyell. Fourteenth edition. London, 1875.