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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/449

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A CENTURY OF GEOLOGY I.

higher and higher conditions, as a gradual movement onward toward the present condition and toward man as its goal. The recognition of this is only now approaching clearness. If geology is the history of the evolution of the earth from primal chaos until now, then the conditions have changed at every step, and absolute uniformity is impossible. Extreme uniformitarianism is therefore untenable. Catastrophism and uniformitarianism are opposite extremes which must be combined and reconciled. This reconciliation is only now being completed, and we therefore put off its discussion for the present. Suffice it to say now that geologic thought in this regard has passed through three stages—catastrophism, uniformitarianism, and evolutionism. And this latter is the final stage, because (1) it is a complete reconciliation between the other two, and (2) because it is plastic and indefinitely modifiable and progressive, while the other two are equally rigid and unchangeable by their mutual antagonism.

With these fundamental principles in mind, we proceed to touch briefly the most important advances during the century.

 

EVOLUTION OF EARTH FORMS.

The idea of the progressive development of the earth in its greater features throughout all geologic time by the action of forces resident in the earth itself preceded the acceptance of the evolution of organic forms. We have said that the fundamental idea of geology is that of the evolution of the earth through all time. Now, it was Dana who first studied geology wholly from this point of view. For him geology was the development of the earth as a unit. Before him, doubtless, geology was a kind of history—i.e., a chronicle of thrilling events—but Dana first made it a philosophic history. Before Dana, geology was an account of the succession of formations and their fossil contents. Dana made it an account of the evolution of earth forms and the concomitant and resulting evolution of organic forms. It is true that first and for a long time his evolutional conception was incomplete. It is true that while he attributed the evolution of earth forms to natural causes and processes, he still shrank from applying similar causes to the changes in life forms, but this was the almost necessary result of the then universal belief in the supernatural origin and the unchangeableness of organic forms. He lived to make his conception of evolution as a natural process, both of the earth and of organic forms, complete.

Ocean Basins and Continents.—If we divide geological causes and processes into two general kinds as to their origin—viz., internal, or earth-derived, and external, or sun-derived—evidently