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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/261

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249
A GREAT LESSON.

on? It is that Darwin's theory is a dream. It is not only unsound, but it is in many respects directly the reverse of truth. With all his conscientiousness, with all his caution, with all his powers of observations, Darwin in this matter fell into errors as profound as the abysses of the Pacific. All the acclamations with which it was received were as the shouts of an ignorant mob. It is well to know that the plébiscites of science may be as dangerous and as hollow as those of politics. The overthrow of Darwin's speculation is only beginning to be known. It has been whispered for some time. The cherished dogma has been dropping very slowly out of sight. Can it be possible that Darwin was wrong? Must we indeed give up all that we have been accepting and teaching for more than a generation? Reluctantly, almost sulkily, and with a grudging silence as far as public discussion is concerned, the ugly possibility has been contemplated as too disagreeable to be much talked about. The evidence, old and new, has been weighed and weighed again, and the obviously inclining balance has been looked at askance many times. But, despite all averted looks, I apprehend that it has settled to its place forever, and Darwin's theory of the coral islands must be relegated to the category of those many hypotheses which have indeed helped science for a time by promoting and provoking further investigation, but which in themselves have now finally "kicked the beam." But this great lesson will be poorly learned unless we read and study it in detail. What was the flaw in Darwin's reasoning, apparently so close and cogent? Was it in the facts, or was it in the inferences? His facts in the main were right; only it has been found that they fitted into another explanation better than into his. It was true that the corals could only grow in a shallow sea, not deeper than from twenty to thirty fathoms. It was true that they needed some foundation provided for them at the required depth. It was true that this foundation must be in the pure and open sea, with its limpid water, its free currents, and its dashing waves. It was true that they could not flourish or live in lagoons or in channels, however wide, if they were secluded and protected from oceanic waves. One error, apparently a small one, crept into Darwin's array of facts. The basis or foundation on which corals can grow, if it satisfied other conditions, need not be solid rock. It might be deep sea deposits if these were raised or elevated near enough the surface. Darwin did not know this, for it is one of his assumptions that coral "can not adhere to a loose bottom."[1] The Challenger observations show that thousands of deep-sea corals and of other lime-secreting animals flourish on deep-sea deposits at depths much greater than those at which true reef-building species are found. The dead remains of these deeper-living animals, as well as the dead shells of pelagic species that fall from the surface waters, build up submarine

  1. "Journal," edition 1852, p. 477.