Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 59.djvu/457

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By Professor C. B. DAVENPORT,


AS I was going through the chemical section of the John Crerar Library the other day I stopped to examine two books. The first was one of those dawning-chemical works—Glauber's—which enjoyed a wide reputation in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It contained an abundance of speculation and of recipes; but the recipes were of a purely qualitative sort—mix this and this, the amount is immaterial. The second book was the lectures of Van't Hoff, marking the most recent development of the science of chemistry. This book is full of formulæ and tables; numbers, signs and quantities fill every page; they are symbols not only of quantitative relations but also of the direction and cause of advance of chemistry since the days of the alchemists. The history of chemistry is the history of the other quantitative natural sciences, of astronomy and physics. As science advances its methods become more and more quantitative.

Biology is often contrasted with physics and chemistry as a qualitative science. But there is nothing so fundamentally dissimilar in the phenomena of chemistry and biology that they must necessarily be studied so differently. Both treat of matter, not only statically but also dynamically. But the phenomena of biology are more complex than those of chemistry, the things to be described and compared are more numerous; and so the science, which is hardly more than a century old, is still in the descriptive and comparative stage. But the history of science in general justifies the prediction that biology, too, will in time use chiefly quantitative methods in studying processes.

Evolution is an organic process. It has been studied in various ways. Many have sought by ingenious logic to discover its workings. Others have reasoned by analogy from the effects of artificial breeding. Others still, having observed a probable factor of evolution in one case, have argued for its universality. But all of these methods have been qualitative. More recently, on the other hand, there has been undertaken an exact, quantitative study of the condition of species in nature under different environments, to determine exactly the effects that the different environments have produced. This new method, which now demands our attention, is nothing less than the quantitative study of evolution.