Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 4.djvu/744

This page has been validated.
724
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

able in itself, though it has, in comparison with the views of others, the somewhat rare merit of being not inconsistent with his notions concerning the experiments of to-day. He does not reject the supernatural in the past, while resorting to it for the present—he resorts to it in the present and in the past alike, and curiously evades the problem of origin altogether.

Since so little—or, rather, nothing—is said by Prof. Huxley in support of his supposition that living matter does not originate in the present day, even though the process of origination is so closely akin to that of growth; and, though the process of growth is taking place at every moment of our lives, in every region of the globe, and under the most varied conditions—amid tropical heat and icy coldness, on mountain-tops and deep down in almost unfathomable ocean-beds—it seems only reasonable to suppose that he must have been influenced by some prepossessions. And, so far as one can gather from his presidential address before the British Association—from which I have already quoted—he does not appear to have been powerfully biased by theoretical considerations. One of these we shall now consider.

Much stress is laid by certain writers upon the fact that "the doctrine of spontaneous or equivocal generation has been chased successively to lower and lower stations in the world of organized beings, as our means of investigation have improved."[1] So that, as another very eminent writer says, "if some apparent exceptions still exist, they are of the lowest and simplest forms."[2] And it is usually inferred from this fact that further knowledge and improved means of observation will prove these apparent exceptions to be no exceptions to the supposed general rule—omne vivum ex vivo. A consideration of this kind seems to have powerfully influenced Prof. Huxley. But much confusion exists in reference to the point, which needs to be removed. In the first place, it must be freely admitted that many ancient notions, dating from the time of Aristotle, on the subject of "Equivocal or Spontaneous Generation," were altogether crude and absurd. Secondly, it is necessary to distinguish (and Prof. Huxley did so) between two meanings of the phrase, which have often been confounded with one another—viz., between Heterogenesis, or the mere allotropic modification of already existing living matter, and Archebiosis, or the independent origination of living matter. Thirdly, it should be distinctly understood that those who strictly adhere to the Evolution hypothesis could never believe in the origination of any but the "lowest and simplest" organic forms by a process of Archebiosis. So that, as Prof. Huxley professes himself an Evolutionist, the objection above indicated should have been quite pointless for him. Molecular combinations, giving rise to units of protoplasm far below the minimum

  1. Prof. Lister, "Introductory Lecture" (University of Edinburgh), 1869, p. 12.
  2. Mr. Justice Grove ("Presidential Address"), Report of British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1866, p. 71.