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Huxley, Thomas Henry / Lectures and Essays
Lectures and Essays

BY

THOMAS HENRY HUXLEY

MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED

ST. MARTIN'S STREET, LONDON

1910




THE WORKS OF THOMAS HENRY HUXLEY.


THE LIFE AND WORKS OF THOMAS HENRY HUXLEY, F.R.S. _Eversley Series_.

Twelve vols. Globe 8vo, 4s. net each.

VOL. I. METHOD AND RESULTS.
II. DARWINIANA.
III. SCIENCE AND EDUCATION.
IV. SCIENCE AND HEBREW TRADITION.
V. SCIENCE AND CHRISTIAN TRADITION.
VI. HUME, WITH HELPS TO THE STUDY OF BERKELEY.
VII. MAN'S PLACE IN NATURE.
VIII. DISCOURSES, BIOLOGICAL AND GEOLOGICAL.
IX. EVOLUTION AND ETHICS, AND OTHER ESSAYS.
X. }
XI. } THE LIFE AND LETTERS OF PROFESSOR HUXLEY.
XII. }

* * * * *

APHORISMS AND REFLECTIONS FROM THE WORKS OF T.H. HUXLEY. Selected by
HENRIETTA A. HUXLEY. With Portrait. Pott 8vo, _2s. 6d._ net. Also cloth
elegant, _2s. 6d._ net. Limp Leather, _3s. 6d._ net. _Golden Treasury
Series_.

AMERICAN ADDRESSES. 8vo, _6s. 6d._

CRITIQUES AND ADDRESSES. 8vo, _10s. 6d._

LESSONS IN ELEMENTARY PHYSIOLOGY. F'cap 8vo, _4s. 6d._ QUESTIONS.
Pott 8vo, _1s. 6d._

LAY SERMONS, ADDRESSES, AND REVIEWS. 8vo, _7s. 6d._

INTRODUCTORY PRIMER OF SCIENCE. Pott 8vo, _1s._

PHYSIOGRAPHY: AN INTRODUCTION TO THE STUDY OF NATURE. Crown 8vo,
_6s._

PHYSIOGRAPHY. A New Edition. Revised and partly re-written by R.A.
GREGORY. Globe 8vo, _4s. 6d._

SOCIAL DISEASES AND WORSE REMEDIES. Crown 8vo. Sewed, _1s._ net.

LECTURES AND ESSAYS. 8vo. Sewed. _6d._

ESSAYS: ETHICAL AND POLITICAL. 8vo, Sewed. _6d._

LIFE OF HUME. Crown 8vo. Library Edition. _2s._ net. Popular Edition,
_1s. 6d._ Sewed. _1s._ F'cap 8vo. Pocket Edition. _1s._ net. _English
Men of Letters._


By Prof. T.H. HUXLEY, assisted by Prof. H.N. MARTIN.

A COURSE OF ELEMENTARY INSTRUCTION IN PRACTICAL BIOLOGY. Revised and
extended by G.B. HOWES and D.H. SCOTT. Crown 8vo, _10s. 6d._

MACMILLAN AND CO., LTD., LONDON.




LECTURES AND ESSAYS


BY

THOMAS HENRY HUXLEY




MACMILLAN AND CO., LIMITED ST. MARTIN'S STREET, LONDON 1910




CONTENTS.
PAGE

AUTOBIOGRAPHY 5

LECTURES ON EVOLUTION 11

ON THE PHYSICAL BASIS OF LIFE 45

NATURALISM AND SUPERNATURALISM 57

THE VALUE OF WITNESS TO THE MIRACULOUS 71

AGNOSTICISM 83

THE CHRISTIAN TRADITION IN RELATION TO JUDAIC
CHRISTIANITY 96

AGNOSTICISM AND CHRISTIANITY 108


_First Edition, February_ 1902.
_Reprinted, December_ 1902, 1903, 1904, 1910.




AUTOBIOGRAPHY


I was born about eight o'clock in the morning on the 4th of May, 1825,
at Ealing, which was, at that time, as quiet a little country village
as could be found within half-a-dozen miles of Hyde Park Corner. Now it
is a suburb of London with, I believe, 30,000 inhabitants. My father was
one of the masters in a large semi-public school which at one time had a
high reputation. I am not aware that any portents preceded my arrival in
this world, but, in my childhood, I remember hearing a traditional
account of the manner in which I lost the chance of an endowment of
great practical value. The windows of my mother's room were open, in
consequence of the unusual warmth of the weather. For the same reason,
probably, a neighbouring beehive had swarmed, and the new colony,
pitching on the window-sill, was making its way into the room when the
horrified nurse shut down the sash. If that well-meaning woman had only
abstained from her ill-timed interference, the swarm might have settled
on my lips, and I should have been endowed with that mellifluous
eloquence which, in this country, leads far more surely than worth,
capacity, or honest work, to the highest places in Church and State. But
the opportunity was lost, and I have been obliged to content myself
through life with saying what I mean in the plainest of plain language,
than which, I suppose, there is no habit more ruinous to a man's
prospects of advancement.

Why I was christened Thomas Henry I do not know; but it is a curious
chance that my parents should have fixed for my usual denomination upon
the name of that particular Apostle with whom I have always felt most
sympathy. Physically and mentally I am the son of my mother so
completely--even down to peculiar movements of the hands, which made
their appearance in me as I reached the age she had when I noticed
them--that I can hardly find any trace of my father in myself, except an
inborn faculty for drawing, which unfortunately, in my case, has never
been cultivated, a hot temper, and that amount of tenacity of purpose
which unfriendly observers sometimes call obstinacy.

My mother was a slender brunette, of an emotional and energetic
temperament, and possessed of the most piercing black eyes I ever saw in
a woman's head. With no more education than other women of the middle
classes in her day, she had an excellent mental capacity. Her most
distinguishing characteristic, however, was rapidity of thought. If one
ventured to suggest she had not taken much time to arrive at any
conclusion, she would say, "I cannot help it, things flash across me."
That peculiarity has been passed on to me in full strength; it has often
stood me in good stead; it has sometimes played me sad tricks, and it
has always been a danger. But, after all, if my time were to come over
again, there is nothing I would less willingly part with than my
inheritance of mother wit.

I have next to nothing to say about my childhood. In later years my
mother, looking at me almost reproachfully, would sometimes say, "Ah!
you were such a pretty boy!" whence I had no difficulty in concluding
that I had not fulfilled my early promise in the matter of looks. In
fact, I have a distinct recollection of certain curls of which I was
vain, and of a conviction that I closely resembled that handsome,
courtly gentleman, Sir Herbert Oakley, who was vicar of our parish, and
who was as a god to us country folk, because he was occasionally visited
by the then Prince George of Cambridge. I remember turning my pinafore
wrong side forwards in order to represent a surplice, and preaching to
my mother's maids in the kitchen as nearly as possible in Sir Herbert's
manner one Sunday morning when the rest of the family were at church.
That is the earliest indication I can call to mind of the strong
clerical affinities which my friend Mr. Herbert Spencer has always
ascribed to me, though I fancy they have for the most part remained in a
latent state.

My regular school training was of the briefest, perhaps fortunately, for
though my way of life has made me acquainted with all sorts and
conditions of men, from the highest to the lowest, I deliberately affirm
that the society I fell into at school was the worst I have ever known.
We boys were average lads, with much the same inherent capacity for good
and evil as any others; but the people who were set over us cared about
as much for our intellectual and moral welfare as if they were
baby-farmers. We were left to the operation of the struggle for
existence among ourselves, and bullying was the least of the ill
practices current among us. Almost the only cheerful reminiscence in
connection with the place which arises in my mind is that of a battle I
had with one of my classmates, who had bullied me until I could stand it
no longer. I was a very slight lad, but there was a wild-cat element in
me which, when roused, made up for lack of weight, and I licked my
adversary effectually. However, one of my first experiences of the
extremely rough-and-ready nature of justice, as exhibited by the course
of things in general, arose out of the fact that I--the victor--had a
black eye, while he--the vanquished--had none, so that I got into
disgrace and he did not. We made it up, and thereafter I was unmolested.
One of the greatest shocks I ever received in my life was to be told a
dozen years afterwards by the groom who brought me my horse in a
stable-yard in Sydney that he was my quondam antagonist. He had a long
story of family misfortune to account for his position, but at that time
it was necessary to deal very cautiously with mysterious strangers in
New South Wales, and on inquiry I found that the unfortunate young man
had not only been "sent out," but had undergone more than one colonial
conviction.

As I grew older, my great desire was to be a mechanical engineer, but
the fates were against this, and, while very young, I commenced the
study of medicine under a medical brother-in-law. But, though the
Institute of Mechanical Engineers would certainly not own me, I am not
sure that I have not all along been a sort of mechanical engineer _in
partibus infidelium_. I am now occasionally horrified to think how very
little I ever knew or cared about medicine as the art of healing. The
only part of my professional course which really and deeply interested
me was physiology, which is the mechanical engineering of living
machines; and, notwithstanding that natural science has been my proper
business, I am afraid there is very little of the genuine naturalist in
me. I never collected anything, and species work was always a burden to
me; what I cared for was the architectural and engineering part of the
business, the working out the wonderful unity of plan in the thousands
and thousands of diverse living constructions, and the modifications of
similar apparatuses to serve diverse ends. The extraordinary attraction
I felt towards the study of the intricacies of living structure nearly
proved fatal to me at the outset. I was a mere boy--I think between
thirteen and fourteen years of age--when I was taken by some older
student friends of mine to the first _post-mortem_ examination I ever
attended. All my life I have been most unfortunately sensitive to the
disagreeables which attend anatomical pursuits, but on this occasion my
curiosity overpowered all other feelings, and I spent two or three hours
in gratifying it. I did not cut myself, and none of the ordinary
symptoms of dissection-poison supervened, but poisoned I was somehow,
and I remember sinking into a strange state of apathy. By way of a last
chance, I was sent to the care of some good, kind people, friends of my
father's, who lived in a farmhouse in the heart of Warwickshire. I
remember staggering from my bed to the window on the bright spring
morning after my arrival, and throwing open the casement. Life seemed to
come back on the wings of the breeze, and to this day the faint odour of
wood-smoke, like that which floated across the farm-yard in the early
morning, is as good to me as the "sweet south upon a bed of violets." I
soon recovered, but for years I suffered from occasional paroxysms of
internal pain, and from that time my constant friend, hypochondriacal
dyspepsia, commenced his half century of co-tenancy of my fleshly
tabernacle.

Looking back on my "Lehrjahre," I am sorry to say that I do not think
that any account of my doings as a student would tend to edification. In
fact, I should distinctly warn ingenuous youth to avoid imitating my
example. I worked extremely hard when it pleased me, and when it did
not--which was a very frequent case--I was extremely idle (unless making
caricatures of one's pastors and masters is to be called a branch of
industry), or else wasted my energies in wrong directions. I read
everything I could lay hands upon, including novels, and took up all
sorts of pursuits to drop them again quite as speedily. No doubt it was
very largely my own fault, but the only instruction from which I ever
obtained the proper effect of education was that which I received from
Mr. Wharton Jones, who was the lecturer on physiology at the Charing
Cross School of Medicine. The extent and precision of his knowledge
impressed me greatly, and the severe exactness of his method of
lecturing was quite to my taste. I do not know that I have ever felt so
much respect for anybody as a teacher before or since. I worked hard to
obtain his approbation, and he was extremely kind and helpful to the
youngster who, I am afraid, took up more of his time than he had any
right to do. It was he who suggested the publication of my first
scientific paper--a very little one--in the _Medical Gazette_ of 1845,
and most kindly corrected the literary faults which abounded in it,
short as it was; for at that time, and for many years afterwards,
I detested the trouble of writing, and would take no pains over it.

It was in the early spring of 1846, that having finished my obligatory
medical studies and passed the first M.B. examination at the London
University--though I was still too young to qualify at the College of
Surgeons--I was talking to a fellow-student (the present eminent
physician, Sir Joseph Fayrer), and wondering what I should do to meet
the imperative necessity for earning my own bread, when my friend
suggested that I should write to Sir William Burnett, at that time
Director-General for the Medical Service of the Navy, for an
appointment. I thought this rather a strong thing to do, as Sir William
was personally unknown to me, but my cheery friend would not listen to
my scruples, so I went to my lodgings and wrote the best letter I could
devise. A few days afterwards I received the usual official circular of
acknowledgment, but at the bottom there was written an instruction to
call at Somerset House on such a day. I thought that looked like
business, so at the appointed time I called and sent in my card, while I
waited in Sir William's ante-room. He was a tall, shrewd-looking old
gentleman, with a broad Scotch accent--and I think I see him now as he
entered with my card in his hand. The first thing he did was to return
it, with the frugal reminder that I should probably find it useful on
some other occasion. The second was to ask whether I was an Irishman. I
suppose the air of modesty about my appeal must have struck him. I
satisfied the Director-General that I was English to the backbone, and
he made some inquiries as to my student career, finally desiring me to
hold myself ready for examination. Having passed this, I was in Her
Majesty's Service, and entered on the books of Nelson's old ship, the
_Victory_, for duty at Haslar Hospital, about a couple of months after I
made my application.

My official chief at Haslar was a very remarkable person, the late Sir
John Richardson, an excellent naturalist, and far-famed as an
indomitable Arctic traveller. He was a silent, reserved man, outside the
circle of his family and intimates; and, having a full share of youthful
vanity, I was extremely disgusted to find that "Old John," as we
irreverent youngsters called him, took not the slightest notice of my
worshipful self either the first time I attended him, as it was my duty
to do, or for some weeks afterwards. I am afraid to think of the lengths
to which my tongue may have run on the subject of the churlishness of
the chief, who was, in truth, one of the kindest-hearted and most
considerate of men. But one day, as I was crossing the hospital square,
Sir John stopped me, and heaped coals of fire on my head by telling me
that he had tried to get me one of the resident appointments, much
coveted by the assistant-surgeons, but that the Admiralty had put in
another man. "However," said he, "I mean to keep you here till I can get
you something you will like," and turned upon his heel without waiting
for the thanks I stammered out. That explained how it was I had not been
packed off to the West Coast of Africa like some of my juniors, and why,
eventually, I remained altogether seven months at Haslar.

After a long interval, during which "Old John" ignored my existence
almost as completely as before, he stopped me again as we met in a
casual way, and describing the service on which the _Rattlesnake_ was
likely to be employed, said that Captain Owen Stanley, who was to
command the ship, had asked him to recommend an assistant surgeon who
knew something of science; would I like that? Of course I jumped at the
offer. "Very well, I give you leave; go to London at once and see
Captain Stanley." I went, saw my future commander, who was very civil to
me, and promised to ask that I should be appointed to his ship, as in
due time I was. It is a singular thing that, during the few months of my
stay at Haslar, I had among my messmates two future Directors-General of
the Medical Service of the Navy (Sir Alexander Armstrong and Sir John
Watt-Reid), with the present President of the College of Physicians and
my kindest of doctors, Sir Andrew Clark.

Life on board Her Majesty's ships in those days was a very different
affair from what it is now, and ours was exceptionally rough, as we were
often many months without receiving letters or seeing any civilised
people but ourselves. In exchange, we had the interest of being about
the last voyagers, I suppose, to whom it could be possible to meet with
people who knew nothing of fire-arms--as we did on the south Coast of
New Guinea--and of making acquaintance with a variety of interesting
savage and semi-civilised people. But, apart from experience of this
kind and the opportunities offered for scientific work, to me,
personally, the cruise was extremely valuable. It was good for me to
live under sharp discipline; to be down on the realities of existence by
living on bare necessaries; to find out how extremely well worth living
life seemed to be when one woke up from a night's rest on a soft plank,
with the sky for canopy and cocoa and weevilly biscuit the sole prospect
for breakfast; and, more especially, to learn to work for the sake of
what I got for myself out of it, even if it all went to the bottom and I
along with it. My brother officers were as good fellows as sailors ought
to be and generally are, but, naturally, they neither knew nor cared
anything about my pursuits, nor understood why I should be so zealous in
pursuit of the objects which my friends, the middies, christened
"Buffons," after the title conspicuous on a volume of the "Suites à
Buffon," which stood on my shelf in the chart room.

During the four years of our absence, I sent home communication after
communication to the "Linnean Society;" with the same result as that
obtained by Noah when he sent the raven out of his ark. Tired at last of
hearing nothing about them, I determined to do or die, and in 1849 I
drew up a more elaborate paper and forwarded it to the Royal Society.
This was my dove, if I had only known it. But owing to the movements of
the ship, I heard nothing of that either until my return to England in
the latter end of the year 1850, when I found that it was printed and
published, and that a huge packet of separate copies awaited me. When I
hear some of my young friends complain of want of sympathy and
encouragement, I am inclined to think that my naval life was not the
least valuable part of my education.

Three years after my return were occupied by a battle between my
scientific friends on the one hand and the Admiralty on the other, as to
whether the latter ought, or ought not, to act up to the spirit of a
pledge they had given to encourage officers who had done scientific work
by contributing to the expense of publishing mine. At last the
Admiralty, getting tired, I suppose, cut short the discussion by
ordering me to join a ship, which thing I declined to do, and as
Rastignac, in the "Père Goriot," says to Paris, I said to London, "_à
nous deux_." I desired to obtain a Professorship of either Physiology or
Comparative Anatomy, and as vacancies occurred I applied, but in vain.
My friend, Professor Tyndall, and I were candidates at the same time, he
for the Chair of Physics and I for that of Natural History in the
University of Toronto, which, fortunately, as it turned out, would not
look at either of us. I say fortunately, not from any lack of respect
for Toronto, but because I soon made up my mind that London was the
place for me, and hence I have steadily declined the inducements to
leave it, which have at various times been offered. At last, in 1854, on
the translation of my warm friend Edward Forbes, to Edinburgh, Sir Henry
De la Beche, the Director-General of the Geological Survey, offered me
the post Forbes vacated of Paleontologist and Lecturer on Natural
History. I refused the former point blank, and accepted the latter only
provisionally, telling Sir Henry that I did not care for fossils, and
that I should give up Natural History as soon as I could get a
physiological post. But I held the office for thirty-one years, and a
large part of my work has been paleontological.

At that time I disliked public speaking, and had a firm conviction that
I should break down every time I opened my mouth. I believe I had every
fault a speaker could have (except talking at random or indulging in
rhetoric), when I spoke to the first important audience I ever
addressed, on a Friday evening: at the Royal Institution, in 1852. Yet,
I must confess to having been guilty, _malgré moi_, of as much public
speaking as most of my contemporaries, and for the last ten years it
ceased to be so much of a bugbear to me. I used to pity myself for
having to go through this training, but I am now more disposed to
compassionate the unfortunate audiences, especially my ever-friendly
hearers at the Royal Institution, who were the subjects of my oratorical
experiments.

The last thing that it would be proper for me to do would be to speak of
the work of my life, or to say at the end of the day whether I think I
have earned my wages or not. Men are said to be partial judges of
themselves. Young men may be; I doubt if old men are. Life seems
terribly foreshortened as they look back, and the mountain they set
themselves to climb in youth turns out to be a mere spur of immeasurably
higher ranges when, with failing breath, they reach the top. But if I
may speak of the objects I have had more or less definitely in view
since I began the ascent of my hillock, they are briefly these: To
promote the increase of natural knowledge and to forward the application
of scientific methods of investigation to all the problems of life to
the best of my ability, in the conviction which has grown with my growth
and strengthened with my strength, that there is no alleviation for the
sufferings of mankind except veracity of thought and of action, and the
resolute facing of the world as it is when the garment of make-believe
by which pious hands have hidden its uglier features is stripped off.

It is with this intent that I have subordinated any reasonable, or
unreasonable, ambition for scientific fame which I may have permitted
myself to entertain to other ends; to the popularisation of science; to
the development and organisation of scientific education; to the
endless series of battles and skirmishes over evolution; and to untiring
opposition to that ecclesiastical spirit, that clericalism, which in
England, as everywhere else, and to whatever denomination it may belong,
is the deadly enemy of science.

In striving for the attainment of these objects, I have been but one
among many, and I shall be well content to be remembered, or even not
remembered, as such. Circumstances, among which I am proud to reckon the
devoted kindness of many friends, have led to my occupation of various
prominent positions, among which the Presidency of the Royal Society is
the highest. It would be mock modesty on my part, with these and other
scientific honours which have been bestowed upon me, to pretend that I
have not succeeded in the career which I have followed, rather because I
was driven into it than of my own free will; but I am afraid I should
not count even these things as marks of success if I could not hope that
I had somewhat helped that movement of opinion which has been called the
New Reformation.




LECTURES AND ESSAYS

LECTURES ON EVOLUTION

[NEW YORK; 1876]


I

THE THREE HYPOTHESES RESPECTING THE HISTORY OF NATURE

We live in and form part of a system of things of immense diversity and
perplexity, which we call Nature; and it is a matter of the deepest
interest to all of us that we should form just conceptions of the
constitution of that system and of its past history. With relation to
this universe, man is, in extent, little more than a mathematical point;
in duration but a fleeting shadow; he is a mere reed shaken in the winds
of force. But as Pascal long ago remarked, although a mere reed, he is a
thinking reed; and in virtue of that wonderful capacity of thought, he
has the power of framing for himself a symbolic conception of the
universe, which, although doubtless highly imperfect and inadequate as a
picture of the great whole, is yet sufficient to serve him as a chart
for the guidance of his practical affairs. It has taken long ages of
toilsome and often fruitless labour to enable man to look steadily at
the shifting scenes of the phantasmagoria of Nature, to notice what is
fixed among her fluctuations, and what is regular among her apparent
irregularities; and it is only comparatively lately, within the last few
centuries, that the conception of a universal order and of a definite
course of things, which we term the course of Nature, has emerged.

But, once originated, the conception of the constancy of the order of
Nature has become the dominant idea of modern thought. To any person who
is familiar with the facts upon which that conception is based, and is
competent to estimate their significance, it has ceased to be
conceivable that chance should have any place in the universe, or that
events should depend upon any but the natural sequence of cause and
effect. We have come to look upon the present as the child of the past
and as the parent of the future; and, as we have excluded chance from a
place in the universe, so we ignore, even as a possibility, the notion
of any interference with the order of Nature. Whatever may be men's
speculative doctrines, it is quite certain that every intelligent person
guides his life and risks his fortune upon the belief that the order of
Nature is constant, and that the chain of natural causation is never
broken.

In fact, no belief which we entertain has so complete a logical basis as
that to which I have just referred. It tacitly underlies every process
of reasoning; it is the foundation of every act of the will. It is based
upon the broadest induction, and it is verified by the most constant,
regular, and universal of deductive processes. But we must recollect
that any human belief, however broad its basis, however defensible it
may seem, is, after all, only a probable belief, and that our widest and
safest generalisations are simply statements of the highest degree of
probability. Though we are quite clear about the constancy of the order
of Nature, at the present time, and in the present state of things, it
by no means necessarily follows that we are justified in expanding this
generalisation into the infinite past, and in denying, absolutely, that
there may have been a time when Nature did not follow a fixed order,
when the relations of cause and effect were not definite, and when
extra-natural agencies interfered with the general course of Nature.
Cautious men will allow that a universe so different from that which we
know may have existed; just as a very candid thinker may admit that a
world in which two and two do not make four, and in which two straight
lines do inclose a space, may exist. But the same caution which forces
the admission of such possibilities demands a great deal of evidence
before it recognises them to be anything more substantial. And when it
is asserted that, so many thousand years ago, events occurred in a
manner utterly foreign to and inconsistent with the existing laws of
Nature, men who without being particularly cautious are simply honest
thinkers, unwilling to deceive themselves or delude others, ask for
trustworthy evidence of the fact.

Did things so happen or did they not? This is a historical question, and
one the answer to which must be sought in the same way as the solution
of any other historical problem.

* * * * *

So far as I know, there are only three hypotheses which ever have been
entertained, or which well can be entertained, respecting the past
history of Nature. I will, in the first place, state the hypotheses, and
then I will consider what evidence bearing upon them is in our
possession, and by what light of criticism that evidence is to be
interpreted.

Upon the first hypothesis, the assumption is, that phenomena of Nature
similar to those exhibited by the present world have always existed; in
other words, that the universe has existed, from all eternity, in what
may be broadly termed its present condition.

The second hypothesis is that the present state of things has had only a
limited duration; and that, at some period in the past, a condition of
the world, essentially similar to that which we now know, came into
existence, without any precedent condition from which it could have
naturally proceeded. The assumption that successive states of Nature
have arisen, each without any relation of natural causation to an
antecedent state, is a mere modification of this second hypothesis.

The third hypothesis also assumes that the present state of things has
had but a limited duration; but it supposes that this state has been
evolved by a natural process from an antecedent state, and that from
another, and so on; and, on this hypothesis, the attempt to assign any
limit to the series of past changes is, usually, given up.

It is so needful to form clear and distinct notions of what is really
meant by each of these hypotheses that I will ask you to imagine what,
according to each, would have been visible to a spectator of the events
which constitute the history of the earth. On the first hypothesis,
however far back in time that spectator might be placed, he would see a
world essentially, though perhaps not in all its details, similar to
that which now exists. The animals which existed would be the ancestors
of those which now live, and similar to them; the plants, in like
manner, would be such as we know; and the mountains, plains, and waters
would foreshadow the salient features of our present land and water.
This view was held more or less distinctly, sometimes combined with the
notion of recurrent cycles of change, in ancient times; and its
influence has been felt down to the present day. It is worthy of remark
that it is a hypothesis which is not inconsistent with the doctrine of
Uniformitarianism, with which geologists are familiar. That doctrine was
held by Hutton, and in his earlier days by Lyell. Hutton was struck by
the demonstration of astronomers that the perturbations of the planetary
bodies, however great they may be, yet sooner or later right themselves;
and that the solar system possesses a self-adjusting power by which
these aberrations are all brought back to a mean condition. Hutton
imagined that the like might be true of terrestrial changes; although no
one recognised more clearly than he the fact that the dry land is being
constantly washed down by rain and rivers and deposited in the sea; and
that thus, in a longer or shorter time, the inequalities of the earth's
surface must be levelled, and its high lands brought down to the ocean.
But, taking into account the internal forces of the earth, which,
upheaving the sea bottom, give rise to new land, he thought that these
operations of degradation and elevation might compensate each other; and
that thus, for any assignable time, the general features of our planet
might remain what they are. And inasmuch as, under these circumstances,
there need be no limit to the propagation of animals and plants, it is
clear that the consistent working-out of the uniformitarian idea might
lead to the conception of the eternity of the world. Not that I mean to
say that either Hutton or Lyell held this conception--assuredly not;
they would have been the first to repudiate it. Nevertheless, the
logical development of some of their arguments tends directly towards
this hypothesis.

The second hypothesis supposes that the present order of things, at some
no very remote time, had a sudden origin, and that the world, such as it
now is, had chaos for its phenomenal antecedent. That is the doctrine
which you will find stated most fully and clearly in the immortal poem
of John Milton--the English _Divina Commedia_--"Paradise Lost." I
believe it is largely to the influence of that remarkable work, combined
with the daily teachings to which we have all listened in our childhood,
that this hypothesis owes its general wide diffusion as one of the
current beliefs of English-speaking people. If you turn to the seventh
book of "Paradise Lost," you will find there stated the hypothesis to
which I refer, which is briefly this: That this visible universe of ours
came into existence at no great distance of time from the present; and
that the parts of which it is composed made their appearance, in a
certain definite order, in the space of six natural days, in such a
manner that, on the first of these days, light appeared; that, on the
second, the firmament, or sky, separated the waters above, from the
waters beneath, the firmament; that, on the third day, the waters drew
away from the dry land, and upon it a varied vegetable life, similar to
that which now exists, made its appearance; that the fourth day was
signalised by the apparition of the sun, the stars, the moon, and the
planets; that, on the fifth day, aquatic animals originated within the
waters; that, on the sixth day, the earth gave rise to our four-footed
terrestrial creatures, and to all varieties of terrestrial animals
except birds, which had appeared on the preceding day; and, finally,
that man appeared upon the earth, and the emergence of the universe from
chaos was finished. Milton tells us, without the least ambiguity, what a
spectator of these marvellous occurrences would have witnessed. I doubt
not that his poem is familiar to all of you, but I should like to recall
one passage to your minds, in order that I may be justified in what I
have said regarding the perfectly concrete, definite, picture of the
origin of the animal world which Milton draws. He says:--

"The sixth, and of creation last, arose
With evening harps and matin, when God said,
'Let the earth bring forth soul living in her kind,
Cattle and creeping things, and beast of the earth,
Each in their kind!' The earth obeyed, and, straight
Opening her fertile womb, teemed at a birth
Innumerous living creatures, perfect forms,
Limbed and full-grown. Out of the ground uprose,
As from his lair, the wild beast, where he wons
In forest wild, in thicket, brake, or den;
Among the trees in pairs they rose, they walked;
The cattle in the fields and meadows green;
Those rare and solitary; these in flocks
Pasturing at once, and in broad herds upsprung.
The grassy clods now calved; now half appears
The tawny lion, pawing to get free
His hinder parts--then springs, as broke from bonds,
And rampant shakes his brinded mane; the ounce,
The libbard, and the tiger, as the mole
Rising, the crumbled earth above them threw
In hillocks; the swift stag from underground
Bore up his branching head; scarce from his mould
Behemoth, biggest born of earth, upheaved
His vastness; fleeced the flocks and bleating rose
As plants; ambiguous between sea and land,
The river-horse and scaly crocodile.
At once came forth whatever creeps the ground,
Insect or worm.

There is no doubt as to the meaning of this statement, nor as to what a
man of Milton's genius expected would have been actually visible to an
eye-witness of this mode of origination of living things.

The third hypothesis, or the hypothesis of evolution, supposes that, at
any comparatively late period of past time, our imaginary spectator
would meet with a state of things very similar to that which now
obtains; but that the likeness of the past to the present would
gradually become less and less, in proportion to the remoteness of his
period of observation from the present day; that the existing
distribution of mountains and plains, of rivers and seas, would show
itself to be the product of a slow process of natural change operating
upon more and more widely different antecedent conditions of the mineral
framework of the earth; until, at length, in place of that framework, he
would behold only a vast nebulous mass, representing the constituents of
the sun and of the planetary bodies. Preceding the forms of life which
now exist, our observer would see animals and plants, not identical with
them, but like them, increasing their differences with their antiquity
and, at the same time, becoming simpler and simpler; until, finally, the
world of life would present nothing but that undifferentiated
protoplasmic matter which, so far as our present knowledge goes, is the
common foundation of all vital activity.

The hypothesis of evolution supposes that in all this vast progression
there would be no breach of continuity, no point at which we could say
"This is a natural process," and "This is not a natural process;" but
that the whole might be compared to that wonderful operation of
development which may be seen going on every day under our eyes, in
virtue of which there arises, out of the semi-fluid comparatively
homogeneous substance which we call an egg, the complicated organisation
of one of the higher animals. That, in a few words, is what is meant by
the hypothesis of evolution.

I have already suggested that, in dealing with these three hypotheses,
in endeavouring to form a judgment as to which of them is the more
worthy of belief, or whether none is worthy of belief--in which case our
condition of mind should be that suspension of judgment which is so
difficult to all but trained intellects--we should be indifferent to all
_a priori_ considerations. The question is a question of historical
fact. The universe has come into existence somehow or other, and the
problem is, whether it came into existence in one fashion, or whether it
came into existence in another; and, as an essential preliminary to
further discussion, permit me to say two or three words as to the nature
and the kinds of historical evidence.

The evidence as to the occurrence of any event in past time may be
ranged under two heads which, for convenience' sake, I will speak of as
testimonial evidence and as circumstantial evidence. By testimonial
evidence I mean human testimony; and by circumstantial evidence I mean
evidence which is not human testimony. Let me illustrate by a familiar
example what I understand by these two kinds of evidence, and what is to
be said respecting their value.

Suppose that a man tells you that he saw a person strike another and
kill him; that is testimonial evidence of the fact of murder. But it is
possible to have circumstantial evidence of the fact of murder; that is
to say, you may find a man dying with a wound upon his head having
exactly the form and character of the wound which is made by an axe,
and, with due care in taking surrounding circumstances into account, you
may conclude with the utmost certainty that the man has been murdered;
that his death is the consequence of a blow inflicted by another man
with that implement. We are very much in the habit of considering
circumstantial evidence as of less value than testimonial evidence, and
it may be that, where the circumstances are not perfectly clear and
intelligible, it is a dangerous and unsafe kind of evidence; but it must
not be forgotten that, in many cases, circumstantial is quite as
conclusive as testimonial evidence, and that, not unfrequently, it is a
great deal weightier than testimonial evidence. For example, take the
case to which I referred just now. The circumstantial evidence may be
better and more convincing than the testimonial evidence; for it may be
impossible, under the conditions that I have defined, to suppose that
the man met his death from any cause but the violent blow of an axe
wielded by another man.



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