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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/665

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SOME MODERN ASPECTS OF GEOLOGY.

But the history written in the rocks is long and difficult to read. Here, the record is scanty; there, lost, or, worse still, misleading. Only by the most minute and careful tracing out of every clew can we hope to read aright the glorious tale. A thousand earnest students are collecting observations and comparing their results. Astronomy, physics, chemistry, mineralogy, and biology are all contributing to the sum of what old Mother Earth herself can tell us of her history.

If such a task as this is worthy to arrest the attention and excite the interest of all intelligent men and women, then I may feel justified in speaking of some of the modern aspects of geology.

If we would understand the true significance of the present outlook in geological science, we must take at least a glance at its past history.

Ages before it became a science, geology itself existed. The germs of an interest in the history of the earth are as old as man's own questionings about the origin of himself and his surroundings. In the religions of all ancient peoples are cosmogonies and theories of the world innumerable; and fanciful as these are, they still bear witness to an appreciation of the mysterious in nature amounting even to a worship.

With the advent of Christianity and the acceptance of the Bible, geology became a burning question which has hardly ceased to smolder, even in our day. The Mosaic account of the creation and the true meaning of fossil remains were eagerly discussed by the early Church fathers and by the keenest minds of the Renaissance. Tertullian, Leonardo da Vinci, and Voltaire alike exhausted upon them their sharpest wit and their profoundest wisdom. No assertion could be too absurd to secure a following, provided it accorded with the six creative days. One supposed that the shells imbedded in the rocks on mountain-summits owed their existence to a certain "plastic force" inherent in matter; another imagined them produced by the influence of the sun or stars. Still others were so blasphemous in their mad defense of Scripture as to assert that fossils were only the waste debris formed in earlier and unsuccessful attempts of the Deity to create a world. And, lastly, Voltaire, in bitter irony, maintained that in his opinion the fossils of the mountains were merely shells dropped from the pilgrims' hats as they journeyed homeward from the Holy Land! The decrees of religious dogma as to what interpretation was to be placed upon facts which the rocks disclosed, were as stern and implacable as those placed by the Church on Galileo; but still more stern and implacable were the facts themselves. For centuries the fierce war raged on one battle-field after another, and from each, Dogma sullenly retired, leaving the victory to Truth. This fascinating phase of the history of geology