"The immense time necessarily required for the total destruction of the land must not be opposed to that view of future events which is indicated by the surest facts and most approved principles. Time, which measures everything in our idea, and is often deficient to our schemes, is to nature endless and as nothing; it cannot limit that by which alone it has existence; and as the natural course of time, which to us seems infinite, cannot be bounded by any operation that may have an end, the progress of things upon this globe that in the course of nature cannot be limited by time must proceed in a continual succession. We are, therefore, to consider as inevitable the destruction of our land, so far as effected by those operations which are necessary in the purpose of the globe, considered as a habitable world, and so far as we have not examined any other part of the economy of nature, in which other operations and a different intention might appear.
"We have now considered the globe of this earth as a machine, constructed upon chemical as well as mechanical principles, by which its different parts are all adapted, in form, in quality, and quantity, to a certain end--an end attained with certainty of success, and an end from which we may perceive wisdom in contemplating the means employed.
"But is this world to be considered thus merely as a machine, to last no longer than its parts retain their present position, their proper forms and qualities? Or may it not be also considered as an organized body such as has a constitution, in which the necessary decay of the machine is naturally repaired in the exertion of those productive powers by which it has been formed?
"This is the view in which we are now to examine the globe; to see if there be, in the constitution of the world, a reproductive operation by which a ruined constitution may be again repaired and a duration of stability thus procured to the machine considered as a world containing plants and animals.
"If no such reproductive power, or reforming operation, after due inquiry, is to be found in the constitution of this world, we should have reason to conclude that the system of this earth has either been intentionally made imperfect or has not been the work of infinite power and wisdom."
This, then, was the important question to be answered--the question of the constitution of the globe. To accomplish this, it was necessary, first of all, to examine without prejudice the material already in hand, adding such new discoveries from time to time as might be made, but always applying to the whole unvarying scientific principles and inductive methods of reasoning.
"If we are to take the written history of man for the rule by which we should judge of the time when the species first began," said Hutton, "that period would be but little removed from the present state of things. The Mosaic history places this beginning of man at no great distance; and there has not been found, in natural history, any document by which high antiquity might be attributed to the human race. But this is not the case with regard to the inferior species of animals, particularly those which inhabit the ocean and its shores. We find in natural history monuments which prove that those animals had long existed; and we thus procure a measure for the computation of a period of time extremely remote, though far from being precisely ascertained.
"In examining things present, we have data from which to reason with regard to what has been; and from what actually has been we have data for concluding with regard to that which is to happen hereafter. Therefore, upon the supposition that the operations of nature are equable and steady, we find, in natural appearances, means for concluding a certain portion of time to have necessarily elapsed in the production of those events of which we see the effects.