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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 29

Imperfection of the Geological Record

Imperfection of the Geological Record.

Therefore, this objection is no objection at all. The facts of this character—and they are numerous—belong to that class of evidence which I have called indifferent. That is to say, they may be no direct support to the doctrine of Evolution, but they are perfectly capable of being interpreted in consistency with it. There is another order of facts of the same kind, and susceptible of the same interpretation. The great group of Lizards, which abound so much at the present day, extends through the whole series of formations as far back as what is called the Permian epoch, which is represented by the strata lying just above the coal. These Permian lizards differ astonishingly little—in some respects—from the lizards which exist at the present day. Comparing the amount of difference between these Permian lizards and the lizards of the present day, with the prodigious lapse of time between the Per- page 20 mian epoch and the present age, it may be said that there has been no appreciable change.

But the moment you carry the researches further back in time you find no trace whatever of lizards nor of any true reptile whatever in the whole mass of formations beneath the Permian. Now it is perfectly clear that if our existing palæontological collections, our existing specimens from stratified rock, exhaust the whole series of events which have ever taken place upon the surface of the Globe, such a fact as this directly contravenes the whole theory of Evolution, because that postulates that the existence of every form must have been preceded by that of some form comparatively little different from it. Here, however, we have taken in consideration that important fact so well insisted upon by Lyell and Darwin—the imperfection of the geological record. It can be demonstrated as a matter of fact that the geological record must be incomplete, that it can only preserve remains found in certain favorable localities and under particular conditions; that it must be destroyed by processes of denudation, and obliterated by processes of metamorphosis—by which I mean that beds of rock of any thickness crammed full of organic remains may yet, either by the percolation of water through them or the influence of subterranean heat (if they descend far enough toward the centre of the earth), lose all trace of these remains and present the appearance of beds of rock formed under conditions in which there was no trace of living forms. Such metamorphic rocks occur in formations of all ages, and we know with perfect certainty when they do appear that they have contained organic remains, and that those remains have been absolutely obliterated.

One of the most striking proofs with which I am acquainted of the defects of the geological record—and I insist upon it the more because those who have not attended to these matters are apt to say to themselves, "It is all very well, but when you get into difficulty with your theory of Evolution you appeal to the incompleteness and the imperfection of the geological record," and I want to make it perfectly clear to you that that imperfection is a vast fact, which must be taken into account with all our speculations or we shall constantly be going wrong.

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