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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 53


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The lectures recently delivered by Mr. W. Denton have excited some little interest in the science of Geology, and more particularly in the associated science which is now known under the general title of Biology. We confess to a feeling of surprise that these lectures should have provoked the controversy which appears to have arisen in our Southern cities, for there was very little in the entire series, either by way of argument or illustration, that is not tolerably familiar, not merely to the scientific student, but to the reader of the ordinary magazine literature of the day; and the elementary facts which formed the staple of the geological lectures have been taught in our schools for the last twenty years. It is hardly a subject of complaint, however, that in explaining a science like geology Mr. Denton has been unable to submit much that is new to his audiences, for the details of the constant additions to our stock of knowledge of this science are of too technical and trivial a kind to interest a miscellaneous audience. And it must be said of Mr. Denton that even to scientific listeners he made ample amends for the familiarity of his materials by the freshness which he imparted in their preparation for the public. Scientific study is too little engaged in by the people for us to undervalue in any way such a course of lectures, and we heartily wish they had been better attended.

While saying so much, however, we are not to be interpreted as implying that exception might not be taken to some of the geological positions which Mr. Denton has laid down. In the face of the serious demurrers that have been entered by high authorities against the theory of a wholly fluid interior, Mr. Denton's definition of the earth's crust, as not exceeding 100 miles in thickness, was too positive. And there are even stronger objections to the stress he placed on the Whitney skull. It is worthy of remark that Professor Boyd Dawkins (whose right to speak with authority on such a subject Mr. Denton will hardly gainsay) has discussed this very question in a lecture during the current term at Owen College, Manchester. He examined the page 6 claims put forward by Professor Whitney, State geologist of California, on behalf of the Calaveras skull, and also those which have been made with respect to the skull found in the railway cutting at Olmo and the remains found by Professor Cappellini in Italy. Having considered fairly all the circumstances connected with these discoveries, Professor Dawkins declared emphatically that "the evidence of pliocene man fell to the ground equally in Europe and in the United States."

We are not disposed to cavil at the view which an enthusiastic geological student—as Mr Denton undoubtedly is—may choose to take of questions that are still undetermined, and on which diversity of opinion is allowable, though in such cases it is desirable to avoid dogmatism. We have, however, a more serious charge to make against his exposition of the present position of the doctrine of evolution in its relation to the origin of men. Few scientific believers in the Darwinian theory have ever claimed that the theory has reached the point of absolute demonstration. One of its most uncompromising champions, writing very recently, candidly acknowledges that" there are vast chasms to be filled up) by future observation," and while speaking of the theory merely as "doing as much as any other ingenious theory has done," contends for it as only plausible escape from an admission of the miraculous. The same writer roundly abuses Professor Owen as "a trimmer," for admitting even a thought of God into the calculation, by his expressed belief in the existence of an innate "tendency" animating nature towards a certain form of future development in accordance with the predestinated purpose of the Deity. Nor does Darwin escape censure from him for a similar weakness.*

We are aware, however, that in out-running Darwin, Mr. Denton is only a participator in the craze which has infected a large proportion of the scientific world, carrying them away from the safe and truly scientific method that insists upon observation preceding theory, and launching them on a dangerous search for phenomena to support a preconceived speculation. So extra-ordinary and Wide spread has this mania become that we have recently, in this colony, seen a learned Professor of Biology, who, in all likelihood, could scarcely outline the landmarks of historical Investigation, gravely informing his class of students that Hume, Freeman, and Froude were not competent to pronounce an opinion on history as, a science "because of their being practically unacquainted with biology and the principle of selection! " The vigour and dogmatism employed in the assertion of a doctrine is

* "The Doctrine of Descent and Darwinism," by Oscar Schmidt, Professor in Strasburg University, 1876.

"Professor Hutton's Address on Biology," Canterbury College, March, 1882.

page 7 very often in inverse ratio to the evidence that supports it—a truth that is marvellously Illustrated in the tone of the evolutionists. We feel the greater confidence in pressing this assertion because of a conscious readiness to accept Darwinism or any other theory of the origin of life so soon it presents itself in the garb of established truth. Mere assertion and re-assertion in the absence of evidence and in defiance of phenomena everywhere around us will, however, make few converts among persons who think for themselves and have not suffered their judgment to be warped by devotion to one study to the exclusion of others of equal weight. But there is a serious danger that ex parte statements of the case like Mr. Denton's may mislead those who have paid little attention to the subject, and that most credulous of all classes—those possessed of "a little knowledge." And though it is beyond the Scope and compass of a newspaper article to discuss fully a question so broad in its issues as the doctrine of evolution, yet in a community without magazines, and dependent mainly upon the newspaper press for its information on these subjects, it would be a shrinking from a journalist's plain duty to avoid them.
It must occur to everyone who has familiarised himself with anthropological literature, how utterly the advocates of Darwin's theory have failed in discovering a single instance of transmutation of species. The perfect barrenness of the geological strata in such types might be inferred from the desperate persistence with which that unfortunate little four-toed animal, no larger than a fox but resembling a horse, discovered in the eocene strata of Wyoming, has been ridden to death by every essayist, lecturer, and controversialist dealing with this subject. If the Darwinian theory were true in the wide sense which is claimed for it, not only would the geological strata abound with such symbols, but in an animated nature teeming with life in every form, from the lowest to the highest types, we should discover innumerable instances of half-developed forms. What is the truth? Descending even to the very lowliest types, every animate thing is perfect, with organs marvellously adapted for its special mode of life, and producing, with a miraculous persistence, progeny identical with itself. To take a familiar illustration from Lyell: The fossil scallops of the Sicilian limestones, of which the ancient Greek temples at Girgenti (Agrigentum) were built, are identical with shell-fish inhabiting the Mediterranean; and these temples, again, stand on a hill, into the composition of which the same shells enter.* We call scarcely form a conception of the countless ages throughout which this reproduction, without variation, has gone on. To verify the Darwinian theory, however, not only must these lowly forms of life have had the power and tendency to variation, but that power has

* Lyell's "Manual of Elementary Geology,"

page 8 in myriads of instances been exercised steadily forward in one direction for the production of non-existent and inconceivable species—blindly evolving in their progress all the complicated mechanism of the human body, with the delicate and sensitive organs of the eye and ear. As Dr. Bakewell, in a very excellent paper on this subject, pithily says: "The age of evolutionary miracles has ceased for the last three or four thousand years apparently. But in the earlier stages of this world's history, before things had settled down into their present quiescent state, there must have been a constant succession of miracles. There were all these special organs, such as the eye and ear, to be 'evolved,' or 'developed,' from bits of protoplasm, either by mere chance, or by wonderful self-acting laws, which were possessed of the highest and brightest intelligence; there was the utter annihilation of all the wonderful animals that must have abounded at one time or another—all the one-eyed monsters, the animals that had a cornea, and nothing more, or an optic nerve hanging out loose with no sclerotic to protect it, or little limbs, trying feebly to become legs or wings, and failing ignominiously. Nature's failures, where are they? Before one perfect pair could have been produced by evolution, there must have been millions of imperfect animals. Where are they gone? What has become of them? How is it that we only find animals perfect after their kind? How is it that the lower we go down in the scale of life, the more beautiful, the more elaborate, the more exquisitely fitting we find the organisms to be? Why will not some animals improve by a process of natural selection? Why are the crustaceans satisfied with just the same sort of eyes that they had in the earliest geological periods? I might ask dozens of such questions, to which, so far as I have read, the evolutionists have no reply."
Associated with this persistence of species is the incompetence of one species to breed successfully with another, and this objection alone was early indicated by Mr. Huxley as a fatal bar to the acceptance of Mr. Darwin's hypothesis.* No one looking dispassionately at the experiments with domesticated animals and cultivated plans, upon which Darwin relies so largely for proof, can fail to perceive how fatally misleading these tests are. We have in New Zealand seen the variations produced in the pig by centuries of selective breeding under domestic conditions cast off in a few years of liberation in the forest, and the animal return to its primitive type. So also there may be seen, in deserted Maori cultivations, the potato ridding itself of the variations of at least three centuries of development, and returning to the wild form in which it existed in its native home in South America. The food cereals of the earth are all incapable of propagating themselves, and a generation of non-cultivation would probably see their extir-

* Huxley's "Man's Place in Nature."

page 9 pation from the globe, except in the form of their ancestral grasses. The recent Maori wheat-fields of Kawhia, which twenty years ago were laden with golden grain, are now covered with dense forest; the paper mulberry which Captain Cook saw everywhere under cultivation, is extinct. Instances innumerable might be adduced in proof that we must accept with great reservation changes under domesticity and cultivation when offered as evidence of permanent alterations in type by selective breeding under natural conditions. Variations within moderate limits, are, of course, every-day phenomena, and likewise the power of a species to adapt itself to climatic changes and altered conditions; but these qualities must not be confounded with the power of self-development and transmutation which is necessary to the demonstration of evolution as a solution of the origin of life. Daily experience tells us that where there is a marked deviation from type—for instance, a two-headed calf or four-legged chicken—the lusus naturœ rarely lives, to say nothing of re-producing; and when it does re-produce the general tendency of the species wipes out the irregularity.

So also in the "testimony of the rocks." It is not deniable that, in the preparation of the earth for the support of man and the higher mammalia, there is disclosed by the fossil remains of the geological strata, a succession of life that has been generally, though by no means invariably, from lower forms to higher forms, but it is scarcely pretended by anyone that there is satisfactory proof of a traceable relationship between the types that have disappeared and those that succeeded them. The exceptions to this statement are as rare as the readiness to seize and parade them is eager among the evolutionists. What standard of evolutionary perfection are we to adopt? Taking size as the measure of progressive development, the animals, reptiles, and birds now existing, are puny and degenerate representatives of those that once roamed the earth.

If the geological record and the facts of natural history had told the story of evolution, its acceptance would not have been delayed until the publication of Darwin's speculations. But the observations of the chiefs of the scientific world were almost universally against it. Early in the century Lamarck and Geoffroy St. Hilaire had hazarded the theory, in conjunction with spontaneous generation, as a plausible explanation of the origin of life; but Cuvier, the greatest naturalist the world has produced, confuted them. Lamarck, relying mainly upon the variations produced upon animals in a state of domesticity, hoped for the discovery of the remains of some of these creatures nearer the time when they were taken from their native habitats. The proof came; not merely in fossil remains, but in preserved bodies of dogs and cats found among the mummies of Egypt. Cuvier demonstrated that 2000 or 3000 years of domesticity in every variety of climate had made no page 10 perceptible change in the anatomy of these animals as we know them. The labours of Cuvier, therefore, which closed with his death in 1832, tended only to confirm the observations of his great predecessor Linnaeus, who even declared that genera like species are primordial creations.* The work was taken up by Agassiz, one of the most careful observers of the century, who early declared his conviction that "the revelations of science unequivocally indicate the direct intervention of creative power," and who remained an inveterate opponent of the theory of descent up to the time of his death in 1873. Coming to the observers in the department of geology, we pass over Hugh Miller's defence of the Mosaic account of the creation, only to find Sir Charles Lyell, so late as 1855, with the whole geological record laid bare before him, writing vigorously against the doctrine of transmutation of species. It is true that since the publication of the "Origin of Species," in 1858, he has embodied in his "Principles of Geology" and "Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man," Mr Darwin's theory as a suggestive and plausible one; but the evidences of transmutation of species have remained in every material respect just as they were before Darwin's book appeared, despite the advent of the little Orohippus and the so-called lizard-tailed bird, over which the Darwinians have shed tears of rapture. It is a sufficient indication of the general tenor of the teachings of geology, that a most industrious personal search among the rocks, extending over thirty years, during which he had completely systematized the whole science of geology, left Sir Charles Lyell an active opponent of the doctrine of transmutation of species. Truly, if, as Mr Denton averred, it be a token of ignorance to express a doubt about the doctrine of descent we have the consolation of being in good company even among the Darwinians, to say nothing of the vast number of thinkers, scientific and philosophical, who still defend the theory of special creations, not excepting that American scientist who, in a certificate to Mr Denton's status, made a special reservation against committing himself to that gentlemen's views on this subject.

* Lyell's "Principles of Geology.'

Agassiz and Gould's "Comparative Physiology."