A recent bit of paleontological evidence bearing on the question of the introduction of species is that presented by Dr. J. L. Wortman in connection with the fossil lineage of the edentates. It was suggested by Marsh, in 1877, that these creatures, whose modern representatives are all South American, originated in North America long before the two continents had any land connection. The stages of degeneration by which these animals gradually lost the enamel from their teeth, coming finally to the unique condition of their modern descendants of the sloth tribe, are illustrated by strikingly graded specimens now preserved in the American Museum of Natural History, as shown by Dr. Wortman.
All these and a multitude of other recent observations that cannot be even outlined here tell the same story. With one accord paleontologists of our time regard the question of the introduction of new species as solved. As Professor Marsh has said, "to doubt evolution today is to doubt science; and science is only another name for truth."
Thus the third great battle over the meaning of the fossil records has come to a conclusion. Again there is a truce to controversy, and it may seem to the casual observer that the present stand of the science of fossils is final and impregnable. But does this really mean that a full synopsis of the story of paleontology has been told? Or do we only await the coming of the twentieth-century Lamarck or Darwin, who shall attack the fortified knowledge of to-day with the batteries of a new generalization?
IV. THE ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT OF MODERN GEOLOGY
One might naturally suppose that the science of the earth which lies at man's feet would at least have kept pace with the science of the distant stars. But perhaps the very obviousness of the phenomena delayed the study of the crust of the earth. It is the unattainable that allures and mystifies and enchants the developing mind. The proverbial child spurns its toys and cries for the moon.
So in those closing days of the eighteenth century, when astronomers had gone so far towards explaining the mysteries of the distant portions of the universe, we find a chaos of opinion regarding the structure and formation of the earth. Guesses were not wanting to explain the formation of the world, it is true, but, with one or two exceptions, these are bizarre indeed. One theory supposed the earth to have been at first a solid mass of ice, which became animated only after a comet had dashed against it. Other theories conceived the original globe as a mass of water, over which floated vapors containing the solid elements, which in due time were precipitated as a crust upon the waters. In a word, the various schemes supposed the original mass to have been ice, or water, or a conglomerate of water and solids, according to the random fancies of the theorists; and the final separation into land and water was conceived to have taken place in all the ways which fancy, quite unchecked by any tenable data, could invent.
Whatever important changes in the general character of the surface of the globe were conceived to have taken place since its creation were generally associated with the Mosaic: deluge, and the theories which attempted to explain this catastrophe were quite on a par with those which dealt with a remoter period of the earth's history. Some speculators, holding that the interior of the globe is a great abyss of waters, conceived that the crust had dropped into this chasm and had thus been inundated. Others held that the earth had originally revolved on a vertical axis, and that the sudden change to its present position bad caused the catastrophic shifting of its oceans. But perhaps the favorite theory was that which supposed a comet to have wandered near the earth, and in whirling about it to have carried the waters, through gravitation, in a vast tide over the continents.
Thus blindly groped the majority of eighteenth-century philosophers in their attempts to study what we now term geology. Deluded by the old deductive methods, they founded not a science, but the ghost of a science, as immaterial and as unlike anything in nature as any other phantom that could be conjured from the depths of the speculative imagination. And all the while the beckoning earth lay beneath the feet of these visionaries; but their eyes were fixed in air.