Page images
PDF
EPUB

sun's heat, explains results of investigation into various questions as to possibilities regarding the amount of heat that the sun could have, dealing with it as you would with a stone, or a piece of matter, only taking into account the sun's dimensions, which showed it to be possible that the sun may have already illuminated the earth for as many as one hundred million years, but at the same time rendered it almost certain that he had not illuminated the earth for five hundred millions of

years. The estimates here are necessarily very vague ; but yet, vague as they are, I do not know that it is possible, upon any reasonable estimate founded on known properties of matter, to say that we can believe the sun has really illuminated the earth for five hund red million

years." I

I do not wish to “Hansardize" Sir William Thomson by laying much stress on the fact that, only fifteen years ago, he entertained a totally different view of the origin of the sun's heat, and believed that the energy radiated from year to year was supplied from year to yeara doctrine which would have suited Hutton perfectly. But the fact that so eminent a physical philosopher has, thus recently, held views opposite to those which he now entertains, and that he confesses his own estimates to be “very vague,” justly entitles us to disregard those estimates, if any distinct facts on our side go against them. However, I am not aware that such facts exist. As I have already said, for anything I know, one, two, or three hundred millions of years may serve the needs of geologists perfectly well. III. The third line of argument is based upon the temperature of the interior of the earth. Sir W Thomson refers to certain investigations which prove that the present thermal condition of the interior of the earth implies either a heating of the earth within the last 20,000 years of as much as 100° F., or a greater heating all over the surface at some time further back than 20,000 years, and then proceeds thus :

1 Loc. cit., p. 20.

Now, are geologists prepared to admit that, at some time within the last 20,000 years, there has been all over the earth so high a temperature as that? I presume not; no geologist—no modern geologist-would for a moment admit the hypothesis that the present state of underground heat is due to a heating of the surface at so late a period as 20,000 years ago.

If that is not admitted, we are driven to a greater heat at some time more than 20,000 years ago. A greater heating all over the surface than 100° Fahrenheit would kill nearly all existing plants and animals, I may safely say. Are modern geologists prepared to say that all life was killed off the earth 50,000, 100,000, or 200,000 years ago ? For the uniformity theory, the further back the time of high surface-temperature is put the better; but the further back the time of heating, the hotter it must have been. The best for those who draw most largely on time is that which puts it furthest back ; and that is the theory that the heating was enough to melt the whole. But even if it was enough to melt the whole, we must still admit some limit, such as fifty million years, one hundred million years, or two or three hundred million years ago. Beyond that we cannot go.” 1

1 Loc. cit., p. 24.

It will be observed that the “limit” is once again of the vaguest, ranging from 50,000,000 years to 300,000,000. And the reply is, once more, that, for anything that can be proved to the contrary, one or two hundred million years might serve the purpose, even of a thorough-going Huttonian uniformitarian,

Very well.

But if, on the other hand, the 100,000,000 or 200,000,000 years appear to be insufficient for geological purposes, we must closely criticise the method by which the limit is reached. The argument is simple enough. Assuming the earth to be nothing but a cooling mass, the quantity of heat lost per year, supposing the rate of cooling to have been uniform, multiplied by any given number of years, will be given the minimum temperature that number of years ago.

But is the earth nothing but a cooling mass,“ like a hot-water jar such as is used in carriages,” or “a globe of sandstone ?” and has its cooling been uniform ? An affirmative answer to both these questions seems to be necessary to the validity of the calculations on which Sir W. Thomson lays so much stress.

Nevertheless it surely may be urged that such affirmative answers are purely hypothetical, and that other suppositions have an equal right to consideration.

For example, is it not possible that, at the prodigious temperature which would seem to exist at 100 miles below the surface, all the metallic bases may behave as mercury does at a red heat, when it refuses to combine with oxygen ; while, nearer the surface, and therefore at a lower temperature, they may enter into combination (as mercury does with

does with oxygen a few degrees below its boilingpoint) and so give rise to a heat totally distinct from that which they possess as cooling bodies? And has it not also been proved by recent researches that the quality of the atmosphere may immensely affect its permeability to heat; and, consequently, profoundly modify the rate of cooling the globe as a whole ?

I do not think it can be denied that such conditions may exist, and may so greatly affect the supply, and the loss, of terrestrial heat as to destroy the value of any calculations which leave them out of sight.

My functions as your advocate are at an end. I speak with more than the sincerity of a mere advocate when I express the belief that the case against us has entirely broken down. The cry for reform which has been raised without, is superfluous, inasmuch as we have long been reforming from within, with all needful speed. And the critical examination of the grounds upon which the very grave charge of opposition to the principles of Natural Philosophy has been brought against us, rather shows that we have exercised a wise discrimination in declining, for the present, to meddle with our foundations.

XII.

THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES.

Mr. Darwin's long-standing and well-earned scientific eminence probably renders him indifferent to that social notoriety which passes by the name of success; but if the calm spirit of the philosopher have not yet wholly superseded the ambition and the vanity of the carnal man within him, he must be well satisfied with the results of his venture in publishing the “Origin of Species.” Overflowing the narrow bounds of purely scientific circles, the “species question” divides with Italy and the Volunteers the attention of general society. Everybody has read Mr. Darwin's book, or, at least, has given an opinion upon its merits or demerits ; pietists, whether lay or ecclesiastic, decry it with the mild railing which sounds so charitable ; bigots denounce it with ignorant invective; old ladies, of both sexes, consider it a decidedly dangerous book, and savans, who have no better mud to throw, quote antiquated writers to show that its author is no better than an ape himself; while every philosophical thinker hails it as a veritable Whitworth gun in the armory of

« EelmineJätka »