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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 29/May 1886/Correspondence

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 29‎ | May 1886



Messrs. Editors:

PROFESSOR MÖBIUS says, in "The Popular Science Monthly" for December, that "flying-fish are incapable of flying, for the simple reason that the muscles of their pectoral fins are not large enough to bear the weight of their body aloft in the air."

If they are incapable of flying, then they do not fly; so there's the end on't. But, if they really do fly, they are capable of flying; and the argument is as good in this case as in that. In both we must look to the facts.

Passing out of the harbor of San Pedro one day, the steamer came into a school of fish. Being the first I had ever seen, I watched thorn with great interest. Their flight was often several hundred feet—farther than a strong man can throw a stone—describing a gentle curve at its highest part only a few feet above the water. The velocity was nearly uniform, gently accelerated for a few seconds after leaving the water, and correspondingly retarded before entering it again..

Now, every one of these facts is inconsistent with the single-impulse hypothesis. It is simply impossible that a fish could acquire under water, or just at leaving it, a velocity that could carry it so far after passing into the air. The resistance of water against a body moving rapidly is so great that a bullet soon spends its force when passing into it. To suppose that a fish could strike the water with its fins with such force as to carry it several hundred feet in the air, is to suppose an unsupposable case; and certainly to refute the charge that "the muscles of their pectoral fins are not large enough" for flight. A stone thrown from the hand describes a parabolic curve. The fish moves nearly horizontally. The initial impulse must be immensely greater that could carry it, without any apparent falling, several hundred feet—so great that no strength of muscle could be equal to it. Again, the resistance of the air can not be inconsiderable, and the velocity of flight, if acquired from a single impulse, should be retarded from the moment of leaving the water; but, as before stated, the contrary is true. It does not always move in a straight line; but this could be true on either hypothesis, the fish using the tail-fin as a rudder. The distance of flight, the nearly horizonal line described, and the nearly uniform velocity, would be simply impossible on the single-impulse hypothesis, but are entirely consistent with the supposition that the fish actually flies.

The pectoral fins of the flying-fish are very large, and shaped like the wings of a bird. Their motion, while in the air, is that of flying, not of mere fluttering.

Possibly the above facts may be of some use in settling the reputation of the flying-fish.Isaac Kinley.

Los Angeles, California.




Messrs. Editors:

Public attention having been largely drawn to Professor Huxley's article on "The Interpreters of Genesis and the Interpreters of Nature" (republished in "The Popular Science Monthly" for February), I ask the privilege of saying a few words, in reply to that portion of his paper which particularly interests believers in the Bible. No doubt but he is right as to the order of life set forth by Mr. Gladstone. I think, too, he is justified, at least to some extent, in his protest against the readiness of "reconcilers" to change their explanations, and to force new meanings on the Hebrew to meet the exigencies of science.

After his protest, Professor Huxley turns from Mr. Gladstone to what he supposes to be the story in Genesis. Of course, we turn to our Bibles to see for ourselves. I think every opponent of revelation will agree that it is fair to try the story, not by what others have said, but by its own words. And I would propose as a sufficiently severe working hypothesis the following rule of interpretation: The story means what it says, We shall not add to it nor take from it, and its words shall be taken each in its ordinary sense as determined by lexicon and grammar. As a corollary, I add, the account is not responsible for what its friends or foes have said it says—unless it be found there; and that omission is not denial. Tins rule seems rigid enough to remove the reproach of Professor Huxley in his New York lecture—"One can but admire the flexibility of the Hebrew language." The third proposition of Professor Huxley's paper, "the central idea of this story, the maintenance of which is vital, and its refutation fatal," that on which they—the theologians—"are surely prepared to make a last stand," is this: "The animal species which compose the water-population, the air-population, and the land-population, originated during three distinct and successive periods of time, and only during these periods of time."

Although Professor Huxley does not speak of vegetation, yet, undoubtedly, he would include it also in his statement, and therefore I venture to bring that, too, into the discussion, and add, in accordance with his central idea: The species which compose the present vegetable kingdom originated in one distinct period of time preceding the three animal populations, and only in that one period of time.

As this "central idea" certainly has no existence in science, the only question of interest is: Does it exist in Genesis; or is it an interpolation of Professor Huxley's; or, rather, is it an unfounded tradition which he has too readily adopted? I read in Genesis i that at a certain time the earth "brought forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit-tree bearing fruit whose seed is in it."[1] Professor Huxley's central idea adds, "And there were no plants before these." The first is true, the last is false.

Again, I read that at a certain time the waters swarmed with water-creatures, among which were "whales," and every kind of moving creature, which the waters brought forth abundantly, and fowls that were to fly in the air. That is all, and it is true. But Professor Huxley's central idea adds, "And before whales and fowl there was no form of animal life," an addition which is false.

Further on I read that, subsequent to the plants and animals named, the earth brought forth cattle, beasts, and creeping things. This also is true. Professor Huxley's "central idea" adds, "And before them there were no land-animals of any kind." Another falsehood.

Where the account is simply silent, Professor Huxley fills the hiatus, and then says, in substance: How unworthy of scientific notice; how false—three statements in a few lines, important ones too, which every geologist knows are not true! It is clear that the story is a myth.

It may be said—True, Moses does describe modern species, but here is where his error lies. He intended to describe the beginning of organic life, and, instead, has described only the latest. If so, he built more wisely than he knew. Intending to state what geologists now know would have been false, he has, in fact, stated what they know to be true. It seems to me that his intention was to say that all things were made by God, and, looking around on the universe, he names what he saw—the heavens, the light, the firmament, the land and seas, the sun, moon, and stars, the vegetable and animal world then in existence. These, or rather their coming into being, he names in a certain order. All, save the last two, are not mentioned in Professor Huxley's article, but they are the basis of his indictment; it is therefore eminently proper to see what are the facts of our world's history pertaining to the advent of life, and how they accord with the three statements in Genesis.

"The following propositions"—I quote from Professor Huxley's tenth "Lay Sermon"—"are regarded by the mass of paleontologists as expressing some of the best established results of paleontology":

"Animals and plants began their existence together, and these succeeded each other in such a manner that totally distinct faunæ and floræ; occupied the whole surface of the earth, one after the other, and during distinct epochs of time.

"A geological fauna or flora is the sum of all the species of animals or plants which occupied the surface of the globe during one of the epochs."

I add: a geological horizon[2] is the sum of all the species of plants and animals of one of those epochs. There were many horizons—as many as epochs. Professor Dana makes upward of fifty ("Manual of Geology," pp. 142, 143). I note a few which are of peculiar importance, either in themselves or in relation to this account.

In the earliest are found traces of marine plants only, and of the lowest forms of animal life (an Archæan horizon).

In another, perhaps a million years later, radiates, mollusks, and articulates are found, while sea-weeds are the highest type of plants.

Another million or so of years brings us to the Upper Silurian, where are found a few land-plants, but among them no fruit-trees.

Another vast stretch brings a Devonian horizon, with more land-plants, but no such flora as Moses describes. There were fishes, but neither "whales" nor "fowl."

Long after this came the Carboniferous period, with water-animals and land-animals, and an abundant flora. Still, there were no fruit-trees, nor were there whales in the seas or cattle on the land.

Later, again, in the Tertiary, we find a flora exactly answering to that in Genesis, containing, as it does, grasses, herbs, and fruit-trees with the seed in the fruit—i. e., angiosperms, including in that term palms. As to the animals of this horizon, there were then fishes, birds, and mammals, but not of living species. Professor Dana, ("Manual of Geology," revised edition, page 518), says, "All the fishes, birds, reptiles, and mammals of the Tertiary are extinct." These, therefore, were not the fauna of which Moses wrote as "living creatures." But still later, in the Quaternary, there were fishes, amphibians or reptiles, mammals and birds, whales and seals. Most of the birds are still represented. Some, however, have died out very recently, say within a century or less. Of the others, save the mammals, all kinds, so far as known, are still in existence. The mammals are nearly all extinct.[3]

At this time, therefore, the marine life and the "fowl" of to-day came into existence. I note here a circumstance that is in remarkable harmony with the well-known fact that many species of invertebrates, and perhaps some others, have come down from the Tertiary. There is the fiat that the waters were to swarm with living creatures, and then, in the next verse, an assertion of creatorship so broad as to include every living creature—as if it said God "created," through his way of doing such things, all that appeared for the first at that time, as well as all else then living.

Coming still further down in the world's history, we reach the horizon of to-day, with its living species of land-animals, including cattle, beasts, and creeping things. The remark about the previous horizon applies here also.

I submit, therefore, as the result of an examination of the Mosaic record, that Professor Huxley's "central idea" has no existence in Genesis if taken without "flexibility" or additions; and, it appears to me that, according to geology, the story as told in Genesis is true as to its order. A flora containing fruit-trees did come before the living air and water population; and these came before living cattle and beasts.

As to all other matters pertaining to life the account is silent, but silence is not falsehood.

In the limited space of a letter I have been able to give but scant justice to my theme.

Other important questions press upon me. What about man? What is the true "central idea"? What about the rest of the chapter; will it bear this intensely literal treatment? And the "days," are they days or periods?

I can but hint at answers, and that only to two of the questions. Paleontology tells very little about man. Genesis says only that God made a pair whom he called Adam.[4] There may have been older races. Such seem to be referred to when Cain says he is afraid that whoever meets him will kill him; and so where the account speaks of the sons of God and the daughters of men.

The true "central idea" is God's creatorship. This might have been given in one sentence, or have been extended into particulars, and these particulars might have been given in any order, or, if the author was wise enough to be able to do it, the particular acts of creatorship might have been named in the order of their occurrence. As there are, on a close analysis, some forty matters of order or fact in this story, it is impossible that by any chance or guess they should fall into the true order. But what if they are there? As to the "days," I suppose that they were twenty-four hours long, and that creation was millions of years in being accomplished. The paradox is, as it seems to me, easily explained, but to attempt it now, or to give my reasons for believing the order identical with that revealed by science, would extend this letter beyond its due limits. Yours truly,

C. B. Warring.
Poughkeepsie, N. Y., March 21, 1886.


Messrs. Editors:

In "The Popular Science Monthly" for May, 1885, I read with great interest an address by Professor William W. Keen, M. D., in the course of which he mentioned Drs. Weir Mitchell and Reichert, of Philadelphia, as being engaged in experiments on the venom of the cobra and rattlesnake. At that time I decided to send you the account of an incident which might furnish a clew to a proper antidote for this venom; but a protracted illness in my family has hitherto prevented the carrying out of this intention. I am now in a position to do so, and shall therefore proceed at once to the narrative of the incident in question.

In the summer of 1883, while engaged in some field-work in Polonio Pass, San Luis Obispo County, California, a young "setter" dog, belonging to a comrade, was bitten on the nose by a rattlesnake. The dog suffered for a few days, but did not die. However, from a sprightly and intelligent animal, he became transformed into a sickly and stupid one. He became emaciated and miserable, and his vision was greatly impaired in fact, all of his faculties seemed to be benumbed.

Shortly afterward we went up into the Sacramento River Canon, and took this dog, together with a host of others (the usual concomitants of an engineer's camp), with us to our new field of labor. Now, in the late autumn the banks of the upper Sacramento River become annually lined with the decaying bodies of large numbers of "dog" salmon—salmon that have died from exhaustion while endeavoring to force themselves to the head-waters of the river for spawning purposes; and in the fall of 1883 our canine camp-followers partook voraciously of this free salmon-feast, with the result that all of them, with one single exception, died—with every indication of being poisoned. The single exception was the young dog that had suffered from the rattlesnake-bite. He apparently experienced no discomfort from his meal; and, strangest of all, from that day he became a well dog! He regained his youthful elasticity of spirit, became robust, and, when I last saw him, was as playful and intelligent a dog as I have ever seen. There is no exaggeration in any of these lines, and what I have here stated can be verified by at least a dozen witnesses.

To my mind this incident seems to point to the conclusion that there is developed in salmon, and possibly in other decaying fish, an organic principle, in itself poisonous, but which may prove to be a counter-agent for the poison of the rattlesnake and of other venomous serpents. I am therefore inclined to believe that an examination of this matter might result in the production of an antidote to the terrible venom of the poisonous snakes; and, in the hope that such may be the case, I remain, respectfully yours,

Bernard Bienenfeld.
1018 Post Street, San Francisco,
November 29, 1885.

  1. Revised Version says, v. 12: "And the earth brought forth grass, herb yielding seed after its kind and tree bearing fruit, wherein is the seed thereof after its kind."
  2. "On the same horizon" is said of the fossils and strata of one age.—"Imperial Dictionary."
  3. Page 345. Nicholson's "Ancient Life History": "No extinct forms of fishes, amphibians, or reptiles are known to occur." Also Dana. "Manual of Geology." third edition, p. 563: "The mammals are nearly all extinct."
  4. Or man, according to the margin of the Revised Version.