Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 79.djvu/563

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BUFFON AND THE PROBLEM OF SPECIES

sun. The task was, of course, undertaken prematurely; but Buffon not only made the need of its eventual achievement evident, but also indicated two of the essential means by which it was to be accomplished: the study of present phenomena which can throw light upon the past processes through which existing conditions have been brought about; and the study of those natural "monuments which we ought to regard as witnesses testifying to us concerning the earlier ages." He insisted, moreover, with the utmost plainness upon (as it was then regarded) the extreme antiquity not only of the earth, but also of organic life. And in doing so he showed himself not at all disposed any longer to permit "revelation" to settle scientific questions. "How," he writes, "some one will ask me, do you reconcile this vast antiquity which you ascribe to matter with the sacred traditions, which give to the world only some six to eight thousand years? However strong be your proofs, however evident your facts, are not those reported in the holy book more certain still? "Buffon replies that he has all possible respect for scripture, but that it always pains him to see it used in this way. Doubtless there is no real conflict between its testimony and that of science; and he thereupon introduces what I suppose is the first of the long series of reconciliations of Genesis and geology. The six days were not really days, but long periods of time, and so forth. But in any case, he concludes, the Bible was originally addressed to ignorant men at an early stage of civilization, and was adapted to their needs and their intelligence. Its science was the science of the time, and ought not to be taken too literally. Finally, it is to be noted that in the "Époques" Buffon ceased to talk of the simultaneous creation of all species, and advanced the doctrine of the gradual appearance of different sorts of animals in conformity with geological conditions.

If, then, Buffon was desirous of inculcating the theory of the mutability of species, here was the place in which, above all others, he might be expected to do so fully and unequivocally. But here once more we find him reiterating the substance of his old doctrine:

A comparison of these ancient monuments of the earliest age of living nature with her present products shows clearly that the constitutive form of each animal has remained the same and has undergone no alteration of its principal parts. The type of each species has not changed; the internal mold has kept its shape without variation. However long the succession of time may be conceived to have been, however numerous the generations that have come and gone, the individuals of each kind (genre) represent to-day the forms of those of the earliest ages—especially in the case of the larger species, whose characters are more invariable and whose nature is more fixed.[1]

By the "larger species" here, Buffon means those of greater size, such as the elephant and hippopotamus; and when he says that these are "especially" invariable, he means, as the whole context shows, not

  1. "Hist. Nat.," Supp., V., p. 27.