Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 56.djvu/563

This page has been validated.
547
A CENTURY OF GEOLOGY.

latest results of King and Kelvin give only twenty to thirty millions[1]. This the geologist declares is absurdly inadequate. He can not work freely in so narrow a space—he has not elbow room.

The subject is still discussed very earnestly, but with little hope of definite conclusion. One thing, however, must be remarked. Both parties assume—the geologist tacitly, the physicist avowedly—the nebular hypothesis of the origin of the solar system, and therefore the early incandescent fluid condition of the earth as the basis of all his reasonings. Now, while this is probably the most reasonable view, it is not so certain that it can be made the basis of complex mathematical calculation. There is a possible alternative theory—viz., the meteoric theory—which is coming more and more into favor. According to this view, the planets may have been formed by aggregation of meteoric swarms, and the heat of the earth produced by the collision of the meteors in the act of aggregation. According to the one view (the nebular), the heat is all primal, and the earth has been only losing heat all the time. According to the other, the aggregation and the heating are both gradual, and may have continued even since the earth was inhabited. According to the one, the spendthrift earth wasted nearly all its energy before it became habitable or even a crust was formed, and therefore the habitable period must be comparatively short. According to the other, the cooling and the heating, the expenditure and the income, were going on at the same time, and therefore the process may have lasted much longer.

The subject is much too complex to be discussed here. Suffice it to say that on this latter view not only the age of the earth, but many other fundamental problems of dynamical geology, would have to be recalculated. The solution of these great questions must also be left to the next century. In the meantime we simply draw attention to two very recent papers on the subject—viz., that of Lord Kelvin[2], and criticism of the same by Chamberlin[3].

 

ANTIQUITY AND ORIGIN OF MAN.

Even after the great antiquity of the earth and its origin and development by a natural process were generally accepted, still man was believed, even by the most competent geologists, to have appeared only a few thousand years ago. The change from this old view took place in the last half of the present century—viz., about 1859—and, coming almost simultaneously with the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species, prepared the scientific mind


  1. Clarence King, American Journal Of Science, pp. 45-51, 1893; Kelvin, Science, vol. ix, p. 665, 1899.)
  2. Science, vol. ix, p. 665, 1899.
  3. Ibid., p. 889, and vols. x and xi, 1899