Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/659

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

without a world to grow them in. The science of the stars was therefore reduced to comparative system and order, while the sciences of life, and mind, and matter were still a hopeless and inextricable muddle. It was no wonder, then, that the evolution of the heavenly bodies should have been clearly apprehended and definitely formulated while the evolution of the earth's crust was still imperfectly understood, and the evolution of living beings was only tentatively and hypothetically hinted at in a timid whisper.

In the beginning, say the astronomical evolutionists, not only this world, but all the other worlds in the universe, existed potentially, as the poet justly remarks, in "a haze of fluid light," a vast nebula of enormous extent and almost inconceivable material thinness. The world arose out of a sort of primitive world-gruel. The matter of which it was composed was gas, of such an extraordinary and unimaginable gasiness that millions of cubic miles of it might easily be compressed into a common antibilious pill-box. The pill-box itself, in fact, is the net result of a prolonged secular condensation of myriads of such enormous cubes of this primeval matter. Slowly setting around common centers, however, in anticipation of Sir Isaac Newton's gravitative theories, the fluid haze gradually collected into suns and stars, whose light and heat are presumably due to the clashing together of their component atoms as they fall perpetually toward the central mass. Just as in a burning candle the impact of the oxygen atoms in the air against the carbon and hydrogen atoms in the melted and rarefied wax or tallow produces the light and heat of the flame, so in nebula or sun the impact of the various gravitating atoms one against the other produces the light and heat by whose aid we are enabled to see and know those distant bodies. The universe according to this now fashionable nebular theory, began as a single vast ocean of matter of immense tenuity, spread all alike over all space as far as nowhere, and comparatively little different within itself when looked at side by side with its own final historical outcome. In Mr. Spencer's perspicuous phrase, evolution in this aspect is a change from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous, from the incoherent to the coherent, and from the indefinite to the definite condition. Difficult words at first to apprehend, no doubt, and therefore to many people, as to Mr, Matthew Arnold, very repellent, but full of meaning, lucidity, and suggestiveness, if only we once take the trouble fairly and squarely to understand them.

Every sun and every star thus formed is forever gathering in the hem of its outer robe upon itself, forever radiating off its light and heat into surrounding space, and forever growing denser and colder as it sets slowly toward its center of gravity. Our own sun and solar system may be taken as good typical working examples of how the stars thus constantly shrink into smaller and ever smaller dimensions around their own fixed center. Naturally, we know more about