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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/662

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

streams into primeval Niles, and Amazons, and Mississippis. Volcanic forces uplifted here an Alpine chain, or depressed there a deep-sea hollow. Sediment washed from the hills and plains, or formed from countless skeletons of marine creatures, gathered on the sinking bed of the ocean as soft ooze, or crumbling sand, or thick mud, or gravel and conglomerate. Now upheaved into an elevated table-land, now slowly carved again by rain and rill into valley and water-shed, and now worn down once more into the mere degraded stump of a plateau, the crust underwent innumerable changes, but almost all of them exactly the same in kind, and mostly in degree, as those we still see at work imperceptibly in the world around us. Rain washing down the soil; weather crumbling the solid rock; waves dashing at the foot of the cliffs; rivers forming deltas at their barred mouths; shingle gathering on the low spits; floods sweeping before them the country-side; ice grinding ceaselessly at the mountain-top; peat filling up the shallow lake—these are the chief factors which have gone to make the physical world as we now actually know it. Land and sea, coast and contour, hill and valley, dale and gorge, earth-sculpture generally—all are due to the ceaseless interaction of these separately small and unnoticeable causes, aided or retarded by the slow effects of elevation or depression from the earth's shrinkage toward its own center. Geology, in short, has shown us that the world is what it is, not by virtue of a single sudden creative act, nor by virtue of successive terrible and recurrent cataclysms, but by virtue of the slow continuous action of causes still always equally operative.

Evolution in geology leads up naturally to evolution in the science of life. If the world itself grew, why not also the animals and plants that inhabit it? Already in the eager active eighteenth century this obvious idea had struck in the germ a large number of zoologists and botanists, and in the hands of Lamarck and Erasmus Darwin it took form as a distinct and elaborate system of organic evolution. Buffon had been the first to hint at the truth; but Buffon was an eminently respectable nobleman in the dubious days of the tottering monarchy, and he did not care personally for the Bastile, viewed as a place of permanent residence. In Louis Quinze's France, indeed, as things then went, a man who offended the orthodoxy of the Sorbonne was prone to find himself shortly ensconced in free quarters, and kept there for the term of his natural existence without expense to his heirs or executors. So Buffon did not venture to say outright that he thought all animals and plants were descended one from the other with slight modifications; that would have been wicked, and the Sorbonne would have proved its wickedness to him in a most conclusive fashion by promptly getting him imprisoned or silenced. It is so easy to confute your opponent when you are a hundred strong and he is one weak unit! Buffon merely said, therefore, that if we didn't know the contrary to be the case by sure warrant, we might easily have concluded (so falli-