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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 29

The Evolution Hypothesis

The Evolution Hypothesis.

And then comes the third hypothesis, which is the hypothesis of Evolution, and that supposes that at any given period in the past we should meet with a state of things more or less similar to the present, but less similar in proportion as we go back in time; that the physical form of the earth could be traced back in this way to a condition in which its parts were separated, as little more than a nebulous cloud making part of a whole in which we find the sun and the other planetary bodies also resolved; and that if we traced back the animal world and the vegetable world, we should find preceding what now exist animals and plants not identical with them, but like them, only increasing their differences as we go back in time, and at the same time becoming simpler and simpler, until finally we should arrive at that gelatinous mass which, so far as our present knowledge goes, is the common foundation of all life. The tendency of science is to justify the speculation that that also could be traced further back, perhaps to the general nebulous origin of matter.

The hypothesis of Evolution supposes that in all this vast progression there would be no breach of continuity, no point at which we could say "this is a natural process," and "this is not a natural process," but that the whole might be strictly compared to that wonderful series of changes which may be seen going on every day under our eye, in virtue of which there arises out of that semi-fluid, homogeneous substance which we call an egg, the complicated organisation of one of the higher animals. 1 hat, in a few words, is what is meant by the hypothesis of Evolution.

I have already suggested that m dealing with these three hypotheses, endeavouring to form a judgment as to which of them is the more worthy of belief, or whether none is worthy of belief, our condition of mind should be that suspension of judgment which is so difficult to all but trained minds—I have suggested that in dealing with these questions we should be indifferent to all à priori considerations. The question is a question of fact, historical fact. The Universe has come into existence somehow or other, and the question is whether it came into existence in one fashion, or whether it came into existence in another; and as the essential preliminary to this consideration, permit me to say two or three words as to the nature of historical evidence, and the kinds of historical evidence. The evidence as to the occurrence of any fact in past time is of one or two kinds, which for convenience sake, I will speak of on the one hand as testimonial evidence, and on the other as circumstantial evidence. By testimonial evidence, I mean human testimony; and by circumstantial evidence, I mean evidence which is not human testimony. Let me illustrate by a familiar figure what I mean by these two kinds of evidence, and what is to be said respecting their value.