Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/739

This page has been validated.
719
EVOLUTION AND THE ORIGIN OF LIFE.

tions.... It is therefore consistent with the hypothesis of Evolution to admit a variety of origins or starting-points." In this paper Mr. Lewes distinctly postulates the probability of a repetition of the process of Archebiosis, wherever the conditions were favorable, and though he says nothing against the continuance of such a process in the present day, neither does he dwell upon it as a probability.

Prof. Huxley's[1] opinions on the subject of Archebiosis are very similar to those of Mr. Spencer, with the exception that he seems more strongly opposed to the notion of its occurrence at the present day, and it is to this aspect of the question that I would now direct the reader's attention. Why should men of such acknowledged eminence in matters of Philosophy and Science as Mr. Herbert Spencer and Prof. Huxley promulgate a notion which seems to involve an arbitrary infringement of the uniformity of Nature?

They would both have us believe that living matter came into being by the operation of natural causes—that is, by the unhindered play of natural affinities operating in and upon matter which had already acquired a certain degree of molecular complexity. They believe that the simpler kinds of mineral and crystalline matter continue to come into being now as they have ever done; nay, more, they believe that the higher kind of matter, originally initiated by the operation of natural causes, continues to grow both in animal and in vegetal forms, solely under similar influences, and yet they consider themselves justified in supposing that natural causes are now no longer able independently to initiate this higher kind of matter (protoplasm). We find Prof. Tyndall[2] also affirming, in the most unhesitating language, the ultimate similarity between crystalline and living matter: affirming that all the various structures by which the two kinds of matter may be represented are equally the "results of the free play of the forces of the atoms and molecules" entering into their composition. And he, too, would have us believe that, while differences in degree of molecular complexity alone separate living from not-living matter, the physical agencies which promote the growth of living matter are now incapable of causing its origination.

Why, we may fairly ask, should a supposed difference be erected by Evolutionists between Origination and Growth in the case of living matter, while no one dreams of making any such distinction in reference to crystalline matter? Is it true that the process of growth differs from the process of origination, and if so in what respects? Philosophically speaking there is little difference. Take the case of the formation of the "silver tree," cited by Prof. Tyndall. A weak galvanic current is passed through a solution of nitrate of silver, and simultaneously, in a first increment of time, a number of molecules of

  1. "Inaugural Address at Meeting of British Association," Nature, September 15, 1870, p. 404.
  2. "Fragments of Science," fourth edition (1872), pp. 85-87, and 113-119.