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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/72

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

depend on the one hand on its construction, and, on the other, on the energy supplied to it; and to speak of vitality as anything but the name for a series of operations is as if one should talk of the horologity of a clock." It would, I think, scarcely be possible to put into the same number of words a greater amount of unscientific assumption and unproved statement than in this sentence. Is "living protoplasm" different in any way from dead protoplasm, and, if so, what causes the difference? What is a "machine"? Can we conceive of a self-produced or uncaused machine, or one not intended to work out some definite results? The results of the machine in question are said to be "vital phenomena"; certainly most wonderful results, and greater than those of any machine man has yet been able to construct! But why "vital"? If there is no such thing as life, surely they are merely physical results. Can mechanical causes produce other than physical effects? To Aristotle, life was "the cause of form in organisms." Is not this quite as likely to be true as the converse proposition? If the vital phenomena depend on the "construction" of the machine, and the "energy supplied to it," whence this construction, and whence this energy? The illustration of the clock does not help us to answer this question. The construction of the clock depends on its maker, and its energy is derived from the hand that winds it up. If we can think of a clock which no one has made and which no one winds a clock constructed by chance, set in harmony with the universe by chance, wound up periodically by chance—we shall then have an idea parallel to that of an organism living, yet without any vital energy or creative law; but in such a case we should certainly have to assume some antecedent cause, whether we call it "horologity" or by some other name. Perhaps the term "evolution" would serve as well as any other, were it not that common sense teaches that nothing can be spontaneously evolved out of that in which it did not previously exist.

There is one other unsolved problem, in the study of life by the geologist, to which it is still necessary to advert. This is the inability of paleontology to fill up the gaps in the chain of being. In this respect, we are constantly taunted with the imperfection of the record; but facts show that this is much more complete than is generally supposed. Over long periods of time and many lines of being, we have a nearly continuous chain; and, if this does not show the tendency desired, the fault is as likely to be in the theory as in the record. On the other hand, the abrupt and simultaneous appearance of new types in many specific and generic forms, and over wide and separate areas at one and the same time, is too often repeated to be accidental. Hence paleontologists, in endeavoring to establish evolution, have been obliged to assume periods of exceptional activity in the introduction of species, alternating with others of stagnation a doctrine differing very little from that of special creation as held by the older geologists.