Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/625

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
605
NEW CHAPTERS IN THE WARFARE OF SCIENCE.

But, while these attempts to preserve the old theory as to fossil remains of lower animals were thus pressed, there appeared upon the geological field a new scientific column far more terrible to the old doctrines than any which had been seen previously.

For, just at the close of the first quarter of the nineteenth century, geologists began to examine the caves and beds of drift in various parts of the world; and, within a few years from that time, a series of discoveries began in France, in Belgium, in England, in Brazil, in Sicily, and in India which have established the fact that a period of time much greater than any which had before been thought of had elapsed since the first human occupation of the earth. The chronologies of Archbishop Usher, Petavius, Bossuet, and the other great authorities on which theology had securely leaned, fell. It was clearly seen that, no matter how well based upon the Old Testament genealogies and lives of the patriarchs, all these systems must go for nothing. The most conservative geologists were gradually obliged to admit that man had been upon the earth not merely six thousand, or sixty thousand, or one hundred and sixty thousand years. A very moderate estimate has made the time that the evolution of human civilization under the guidance of man has required fully a quarter of a million of years.[1]

The supporters of a theory based upon the letter of Scripture, who had so long taken the offensive, were now obliged to fight upon the defensive and at fearful odds. Various lines of defense were taken; but perhaps the most pathetic effort was that made in the year 1857, in England, by Gosse. As a naturalist he had rendered great services to zoological science, but he now concentrated his energies upon one last effort to save the literal interpretation of Genesis and the theological structure built upon it. In his work entitled "Omphalos" he developed the theory previously urged by Granville Penn, and asserted a new principle, called "prochronism." In accordance with this, all things were created by the Almighty hand literally within the six days, each made up of "the evening and the morning," and each great branch of creation was brought into existence in an instant. Accepting a declaration of Dr. Ure, that "neither reason nor revelation will justify us in extending the origin of the material system beyond six thousand years from our own days," Gosse held that all the evidences of convulsive changes and long epochs in strata, rocks, minerals, and fossils are simply "appearances"—only that and nothing more. Among these mere "appearances," all created instantaneously, were the glacial furrows and scratches on rocks, the marks of retreat seen in the wearing away of rocky masses, as at Niagara, the tilted and twisted strata, the piles of lava from extinct volcanoes, the fossils of every sort in every part of the earth, the foot-tracks of birds and reptiles, the half--

  1. See Professor Marsh's address as President of the Society for the Advancement of Science, in 1879.