The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 29
The Order of Nature
The Order of Nature.page 11 page 12
You are, in fact, all aware that the crust of the earth, the superficial part of the earth, is not of a he nogeneous character, but that it is made up of a number of beds of strata, the titles of the principal groups of which are placed upon that diagram—beds of sand, beds of stone, beds of clay, of slate, of granite, and various other materials.
On further examination it is found that these beds of solid material are of exactly the same nature as those which are at present being formed under known conditions of the surface of the earth: that that chalk, for example, which forms a great part of the cretaceous formation in some parts of the world, that that chalk is identical in its physical and chemical characters, or practically so, with a substance which is now being formed at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, and covers an enormous area; that other bodies of rock are comparable with the sands which are being formed upon sea-shores, packed together, and so on. Thus it comes to be certain that each of these bodies of rock, of which a total of not less than 70,000 feet is known, that all these have been deposited and formed by natural agencies, either out of the waste and washing of the dry land, or else as the product of plants and animals. Now, these rocks or strata are full of the remains of animals and plants. Countless thousands of species of animals and plants as perfectly recognizable as those which you meet with in herbaria of the present day, as the shells and remains which you pick' up upon the beach—countless thousands of species of these creatures have been imbedded in the sand or mud or limestone, just as they are being imbedded now. They furnish us with a record which cannot be subject, to any misinterpretation, looking at it broadly, as to the kinds of things that have lived upon the surface of the earth during the time that is registered by this great thickness of stratified rock. The most superficial study of these remains shows us that the animals and plants which live at the present time have had only a temporary duration; that you will find them and such as they are for the most part only in that uppermost strata here called post-tertiary. As you go back in time they become scantier, their places are taken by other forms more diversified, and in the Jurassic and triassic you find yet others, different from the cretaceous or tertiary, and from those of the present day, and so on as you go further and further back. Why, then, the circumstantial evidence absolutely negatives the conception of the eternity of the present condition of things. We can say with certainty that such has not been the course of Nature. We can say with certainty that the present condition of things has been for a comparatively short period, and that so far as animal and vegetable nature are concerned, that that has been preceded by a different condition of things. We can pursue this fact until we come to the lowest of stratified rocks, in which we lose the indications of life totally. The hypothesis of the eternity of the present condition of things may therefore be put out of court altogether.