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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 29

Other Failures of the Miltonic Theory

Other Failures of the Miltonic Theory.

If there were any parallel between the Miltonic account and the circumstantial evidence, we ought to have abundant evidence in the devonian, the silurian, and the carboniferous rocks. I need not tell you that this is not the ease, and that not a trace of birds makes its appearance until the far later period which I have mentioned.

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And again, if it be true that all varieties of fishes and the great whales and the like, made their appearance on the fifth day, then we ought to find the remains of these things in the older rocks—in those which preceded the carboniferous epoch. Fishes, it is true, we find, and numerous ones; but the great whales are absent, and the fishes are not such as now live. Not one solitary species of fish now in existence is to be found there, and hence you are introduced again to the difficulty, to the dilemma, that either the creatures which were created then, which came into existence the sixth day, were not those which are found at present, or are not the direct and immediate predecessors of those which now exist; but in that case you must either have had a fresh species of which nothing has been said, or else the whole story must be given up as absolutely devoid of any circumstantial evidence.

I have grouped before you in a few words, some little time ago, a statement of the sum and substance of Milton's hypothesis. Let me try now to put before you, in a few words, the sum and substance of the circumstantial evidence as to the past history of the earth, which is written without the possibility of mistake, with no chance of error in the stratified rocks. What we find is, that that great series of formations represents a period of time of which our human chronologies hardly afford us a unit of measure. I will not pretend to say how we ought to measure this time, in millions or in billions of years. Happily for my purpose and my argument that is wholly unessential. But that the time was enormous, was vast, there is no sort of question.

We find written upon this record, and as resulting from the simplest methods of interpretation, the conviction that all that is now dry land has once been at the bottom of the waters. If I leave out of view certain patches of metamorphosed rocks, certain volcanic products, it is perfectly certain that at a comparatively recent period of the world's history, that epoch which is written on the chart as the cretaceous epoch—it is perfectly certain that at that time, none of the great physical features which at present mark the surface of the Globe existed. It is certain that the Rocky Mountains were not. It is certain that the Himalaya Mountains were not. It is certain that the Alps and the Pyrenees had no existence. The evidence of simplest possible character is simply this:—We find raised up on the crags of these mountains, elevated by the forces of upheaval which have given rise to them, masses of cretaceous rock which formed the bottom of the sea before those mountains existed. It is, therefore, perfectly clear, that the elementary fores which gave rise to those mountains are subsequent to the cretaceous epoch; that the mountains themselves are largely made up of the materials deposited in the sea, which once occupied their place. We meet as we go back in time with constant alternations of sea and land, of estuary and open ocean, and in correspondence with these alterations, we meet with changes in the fauna and flora of the kind I have stated.

But none of these gives us any right to believe, no inspection of these changes gives us the slightest right to believe, that there has been any discontinuity in natural processes. There is no trace of cataclysm, of great sweeping deluge, of sudden destruction of organic life. The appearances which were formerly interpreted in that way have all been shown to be delusive as our knowledge has increased and as the blanks between the different formations have been filled up. It can now be shown that there is no absolute break between formation and formation, that there has been no sudden disappearance of all the forms of life at one time and replacement by another, but that everything has gone on slowly and gradually, that one form has died out and another has taken its place, and that thus by slow degrees one fauna has been replaced by another. So that within the whole of the immense period indicated by these stratified rocks, there is assuredly—leaving Evolution out of the question altogether—not the slightest trace of any break in the uniformity of Nature's operations, not a shadow of indication that events have followed in other than their natural and orderly sequence.

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That, I say, is the most natural teaching of the circumstantial evidence contained in the stratified rock. I leave you to consider how far by any ingenuity of interpretation, by any stretching of the meaning of language, this evidence can be brought into the smallest similarity with that view which I have put before you as the Miltonic doctrine.

There remains the third hypothesis—what I have spoken of as the hypothesis of Evolution; and I propose that in lectures to come we shall consider that as carefully as we have considered the other two hypothesis. I need not say that it is quite hopeless to look for testimonial evidence of Evolution. The very nature of the case precludes the possibility of such evidence. Our important inquiry is, what foundation circumstantial evidence lends to that hypothesis, or whether it lends any, or whether it controverts it; and I shall deal with the matter entirely as a question of history. I shall not indulge in the discussion of any speculative probabilities. I shall not attempt to show that Nature is unintelligible unless we adopt some such hypothesis—for anything I know about it, it is the nature of Nature. She has often been puzzling, and I have no reason to suppose she is bound to fit herself to our notions: but I shall deal with the matter entirely from the point of view of history, and I shall place before you three kinds of evidence entirely based upon what we know of the forms of animal life which are contained in the scries of stratified rock. I shall endeavour to show you that there is one kind of evidence which is neutral, which neither helps Evolution nor is inconsistent with it, I shall then endeavour to show you that there is a second kind of evidence which indicates a strong probability in favour of Evolution but does not prove it; and, lastly, I shall endeavour to show that there is a third kind of evidence which, being as complete as any evidence which we can hope to obtain upon such a subject, and being wholly and entirely in favor of Evolution, may be fairly called demonstrative evidence of its having occurred.

But these matters, ladies and gentlemen, I propose to deal with in the next two lectures.