Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/854

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
834
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

to move than an ordinary bowlder, but it may be made to move with a touch. So it probably is with organisms. But, if so, then the causes of variation are external, as in many cases we actually know them to be; and they must depend on instability or change in surroundings, and this so arranged as not to be too extreme in amount, and to operate in some determinate direction. Observe how remarkable the unity of the adjustments involved in such a supposition. How superior they must be to our rude and always more or less unsuccessful attempts to produce and carry forward varieties and races in definite directions! This can not be chance. If it exists, it must depend on plans deeply laid in the nature of things, else it would be most monstrous magic and causeless miracle. Still more certain is this conclusion when we consider the vast and orderly succession made known to us by geology, and which must have been regulated by fixed laws, only a few of which are as yet known to us.

Beyond these general considerations, we have others of a more special character, based on paleontological facts, which show how imperfect are our attempts, as yet, to reach the true causes of the introduction of genera and species.

One is the remarkable fixity of the leading types of living beings in geological time. If, instead of framing, like Haeckel, fanciful phylogenies, we take the trouble, with Barrande and Gaudry, to trace the forms of life through the period of their existence, each along its own line, we shall be greatly struck with this, and especially with the continuous existence of many low types of life through vicissitudes of physical conditions of the most stupendous character, and over a lapse of time scarcely conceivable. What is still more remarkable is, that this holds in groups which, within certain limits, are perhaps the most variable of all. In the present world no creatures are individually more variable than the protozoa; as, for example, the foraminifera and the sponges. Yet these groups are fundamentally the same, from the beginning of the pal├Žozoic until now; and modern species seem scarcely at all to differ from specimens procured from rocks at least half-way back to the beginning of our geological record. If we suppose that the present sponges and foraminifera are the descendants of those of the Silurian period, we can affirm that, in all that vast lapse of time, they have, on the whole, made little greater change than that which may be observed in variable forms at present. The same remark applies to other low animal forms. In forms somewhat higher and less variable, this is equally noteworthy. The pattern of the venation of the wings of cockroaches and the structure and form of land snails, gaily-worms, and decapod crustaceans were all settled in the carboniferous age in a way that still remains. So were the foliage and the fructification of club-mosses and ferns. If at any time members of these groups branched off, so as to lay the foundation of new species, this must have been a very rare and exceptional occurrence,