Bertram Coghill Alan Windle.

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of limited range, speak of the Glacial Epoch as far distant
in geological time, is due to ignorance of facts which would
seem to be so clear that he who runs might read them."
Such a view does not differ very widely from that expressed
by another distinguished geologist, Professor Sollas, who —
after tracing backwards the history of mankind until it
ceases to be history and becomes archaeology, and that
prehistoric— arrives at the Asylian Period, which, as we
have already learnt, is now regarded as the time of transition
between the Palaeolithic and the Neolithic Ages ; and states
that " from this point — the beginning of the seventh
millennium" (from the present date, of course) "we look
backwards over the last glacial episode." On the other hand
let us ask the same question of Penck, whose studies in
glacial conditions in the Alps and whose numerous writings
thereon justly entitle him to a place in the first rank of
authorities. Penck thinks that the post-glacial period in
which we are now living cannot possibly have lasted for
less than 20,000 years — that is to say, he demands three
times as long as Sollas and four times more than Wright.

A recent series of researches in Sweden seems at the
present moment to afford some hope that a reliable time-
scale may at last have been arrived at in connection with
the point at issue — the end of the Ice Age. These researches
have been made by de Geers 1 in the laminated marine clays
of southern Sweden, which seem to mark off the years in
much the same manner as the rings in the trunk of a tree.
Assuming that this particular " clock " keeps time — and
there is more reason to assume this than there is in the case
of any other " clock " so far offered to us — de Geers claims
that he is able to prove that it is 9000 years since the ground
on which the University of Stockholm stands became free

1 For an account of them see W. B. Wright, " The Quaternary Ice
Age," Macmillan, 1914, p. 343.


from ice. The same authority claims to have also shown
from the conditions observable in a post-glacial lake-bed
in Sweden that the ice did not leave that particular region
until about 5000 years ago. In all this we are not very far
away from the statements of Sollas and G. F. Wright. It
may reasonably be asked on what evidence writers such as
the last named depend in coming to a conclusion as to dates.

One example has been cited in the marine clays and
another much better known and more widely discussed is
that of the Gorge of Niagara. 1 Like the majority of water-
falls everywhere, Niagara is itself a post-glacial object, as
is proved by the fact that there is a buried pre-glacial
channel leading from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario, some dis-
tance west of the present river. The gorge with which we
are now dealing is at present some seven miles in length,
and the strata by which it is bounded are such that Wright
remarks of them that " no geological conditions could be
more uniform and calculated to yield more definite results
to careful study."

Here at any rate we have a promising " clock," for there
is a definite distance to be measured ; it is composed of
rock so uniform in character that the cutting-through pro-
cess ought to be fairly uniform, and there is no special reason
to suppose that the volume of water has so varied at different
epochs as seriously to affect the rate of erosion. Lyell, a
most distinguished geologist, visited the Falls in 1842 and
made a guess that the rate of erosion could not be more than
one foot per annum, and probably would not be more than
one-third of this or four inches. This statement is often
cited as if it had been a fully reasoned view instead of the
mere guess which it admittedly was : this is hardly fair
to that very eminent authority. Lyell himself suggested
that careful observations should be made, and from the
date in question they have been made for sixty-five years,
with the remarkable result that it has been proved that
the average rate of erosion has been a little more than five

1 A full account of this will be found in G. F. Wright's book, to which
the reader may be referred for a very complete account of the evidence of
various kinds on which the writer in question depends for the establish-
ment of his thesis as to the recent date of the Glacial Epoch.


feet per annum — that is to say, more than five times Lyell's
maximum and more than fifteen times his minimum. So
that if, as here, at least, seems quite likely, the same forces
have been at work continuously in the past that are opera-
tive at the present, Niagara River would have eroded the
whole gorge in 7000 years. Wright, from whom this
statement has been taken, adds a chronological table of the
gorge which is so picturesque that its quotation may be

" With great confidence," he says, " we can locate the
position of the Falls at different past historical epochs.
For example, at the time of the Crusades the cataract was
about one-third of the way down to the head of the rapids.
At the time of the birth of Christ it was two-thirds of the
way down to the rapids. When the Falls had receded to
the head of the rapids, Rome was being founded and Greece
was just entering upon her classical career. When the
Falls were at the whirlpool, Israel was just entering Egypt,
while the beginning of the Falls at Queenstown occurred
only a short time before the building of the great pyramids,
and the expedition of Sargon from Babylonia to the
shores of the Mediterranean about 3800 B.C." The same
evidence is obtainable from other falls, such as those of St.
Anthony at Minneapolis, Minnesota, for an account of which
and for much other interesting matter on this subject the
reader may be referred to the work from which quotation
has already been freely made. From this and from a vast
amount of other evidence Wright concludes that the entire
glacial epoch — the whole period, not merely the fragment
of post-glacial time which we have been hitherto considering
• — this whole period does not extend to more than 80,000
years. Further he states, with regard to the period of man's
habitation of the earth, that while his antiquity " cannot be
less than ten thousand, it need not be more than fifteen
thousand years. Eight thousand years of prehistoric time
is ample to account for all known facts relating to his
development." So far for the protagonist of a recent date :
let us now turn to the conclusions of his opponents ; and in
so doing we will omit for the present all consideration of
anthropologists and turn to a distinguished geologist.


Penck certainly holds a high place amongst glacialists and
is in no way chary of drawing large cheques upon the bank
of Time. Now Penck demands for the genial intervals
alone an enormous period of time —

For the Riss-Wurm or Third (Mousterian man, Geikie)
60,000 years.

For the Mindel-Riss or Fourth (Chellean man, Geikie)
240,000 years.

We have already been asked for 20,000 years at least for
the post-glacial period, so that we are now arrived at
320,000 from the present day without having made any
allowance for the first genial interval, not to speak of the
glacial periods which divided these periods from one another.
These other areas must also be taken into consideration.
"The data," says Geikie, 1 "for determining the duration
of the First or Gunz-Mindel Interglacial epoch are not so
ample — all the evidence, however, leads to the belief that,
while not so long as the Second, it was much longer than the
Third Interglacial epoch. We may provisionally assume,"
he continues, " its duration to have been about 100,000
years, and we thus obtain 400,000 years for the first three
interglacial epochs : to which we may add 20,000 years to
cover the lnterstadial stages of post-Wurmian times."
Then we have still to allow for the glacial epochs themselves,
and according to Professor Geikie for this purpose not less
than 200,000 years are required, so that we must assume
" a minimum of 620,000 years for the duration of Pleistocene
times." We have here a very different conclusion from that
previously quoted, though the same data were open to
both experts. We have seen what the former thinks as to
the period of time during which man has occupied the earth.
From what has gone before it is obvious that Penck would
give him a very much longer history, and such is indeed the
case. ' Quite recently Professor Penck has expressed the
opinion that the Glacial Period with all its climatic changes
may have extended over half a million to a million years,
and as the Chellean stage dates back to at least the middle
of the period, this would give somewhere between 250,000
and 500,000 years for the antiquity of man in Europe. But if,

1 " The Antiquity of Man in Europe," Oliver & Boyd, 1914, p. 301.


as recent discoveries would seem to indicate, man was an
occupant of our continent during the First Interglacial
epoch, if not in still earlier times, we may be compelled
greatly to increase our estimate of his antiquity." 1 Perhaps
one may be permitted a parenthetic comment and question
at this point.

Penck insists that we must go back some 200,000 years
before we arrive at the times of Mousterian man, yet when
we arrive at him we find him, as we have already learnt,
in every sense of the word a man and a capable man too.
He had many more difficulties to contend with than we
have, and had, of course, many fewer advantages, but there
is no reason to suppose that his intellectual potentialities
were any less than ours of to-day. Again, according to
Penck we may have to go back some 20,000 years |for the
commencement of the Neolithic era. It is less than 10,000
years — to follow the generous estimates which we are using
— since the knowledge of metal came into existence — less
than 4000 since iron became known. Some 6000 or 8000 years
for the evolution of our present complicated civilisation,
and what of the previous 190,000 odd years ? What was
the highly capable Mousterian man doing, still more what
were the undoubtedly talented Aurignacians and Solutreans
doing, that they made so little progress in such a vast extent
of time ? It may be asked what about the Australians and
other such primitive folk ? No doubt there are primitive
and backward races, but the history of Europe, so far
as we can see it, seems to fit in but badly with Penck's
enormous vistas of time.

One thing is perfectly clear — that while there are such
enormous discrepancies between the findings of diverse
authorities no kind of reliance can be placed upon any of
them. This, it should at once be admitted, is fully realised
by the geologists themselves : " No geologist has over-
much confidence in such estimates," says Geikie, 2 and adds
that " they serve to give some precision to our conception
of geological time " — in face of the discrepancies, not quite
as much precision as one might desire.

1 The quotations are from Geikie, op. cit-, pp. 3 02- 3«
a Op. cit., p. 300.


Before passing from this subject it may be added that
whilst Dr. Obermaier is prepared to give 50,000 or even,
in consideration of the Mauer jaw, 100,000 years for Palaeo-
lithic man in Europe, the Abb6 Breuil, who is in the front
rank of modern anthropologists, is prepared to assign a
period of some 20,000 years for the sojourn of man upon
earth ; and that Prestwich, whose geological knowledge no
one will deny, limited the entire Glacial Period to 25,000
years, and thus, so far as our present knowledge goes,
limited the sojourn of man to a still smaller number of
years. The practical lesson for the ordinary reader is this —
that when he sees a statement in his daily paper that a
certain skull or a certain implement of human manufacture
which has recently come to light is several hundreds of
thousands or even several million years old — the statements
run into millions at times — he must remember that there
is no sort of definite evidence for any such statement, and
that all that it amounts to is that the object in question
is (or may be) of quite a respectable antiquity.

Lastly, so far as this matter goes, we may ask how the
Church views this question of chronology. In approaching
that matter I shall not depend upon my own knowledge,
but shall quote from recognised authorities. There is no
question but that the period of man's appearance on the
earth dates much further back than was supposed in pre-
scientific days. But to the dates of those days the Church
has never given her sanction. On this point the learned
article on Chronology in the " Catholic Encyclopaedia "
may be quoted. When dealing with the Creation of Man
its writer says : " The question which this subject suggests
is : Can we confine the time that man has existed on earth
within the limits usually assigned, i.e. within about 4000
years of the birth of Christ ? The Church does not inter-
fere with the freedom of scientists to examine into this
subject and form the best judgement they can with the
aid of science. She evidently does not attach decisive
influence to the chronology of the Vulgate, the official
version of the Western Church, since in the Martyrology
for Christmas Day the creation of Adam is put down in
the year 5199 B.C., which is the reading of the Septuagint.


It is, however, certain that we cannot confine the years of
man's sojourn on earth to that usually set down. But, on
the other hand, we are by no means driven to accept the
extravagant conclusions of some scientists." With that
conclusion all may agree.

Before closing this chapter attention may be called to the
words of the Rev. Hugh Pope, o.p. : x "It is well to bear in
mind that the Biblical chronological system is in no sense a
scientific one, that its details are often conflicting, that
starting as it does from the beginning when there can have
been no means of dating events, it is possibly only meant
as a guide to the memory and not as a clue to history."
" On the other hand," he also states, " none of the dates
assigned by scholars to the events of this early period can
be regarded as more than approximate and should not be
regarded as solid means of testing the Biblical statements.
These latter, indeed, are as ancient as any other system of
chronology which has been handed down to us."

1 " The Catholic Student's Aids to the Bible," O.T., p. 21.



IN order to complete that section of this work which is
especially concerned with Geology, it has been necessary
to touch upon some of the questions concerned with Primi-
tive Man before the topic of his origin has been so much
as mentioned.

This topic indeed is one to which we shall have to devote
much attention. But before we can touch upon it it will be
necessary to pass in review the various biological problems
of interest to us in connection with the purposes of this
work ; and, as the term Biology itself demands, we must
commence by considering the nature of Life, and must
discuss the question as to its origin upon this planet.

In essaying this task, and especially the first part of it,
we are confronted with perhaps the most difficult problem
with which we have as yet been brought into contact :
though, to those unacquainted with philosophical and bio-
logical writings, it may seem strange to suggest that there
is any problem at all, let alone one of any significance or

Let us approach the problem in the simplest possible
manner and ask ourselves " Is there any difference between
a man and a block of stone ? ' To this question there can
be but one reply : " Of course there is." But when we ask
our second question : "Is this difference one of kind or
of degree ? " the reply does not come quite so clearly nor
so unanimously. Most ordinary people would reply : "Of
course the difference is of kind, for one is alive and the other
is not." Yet in that reply is involved the whole complicated
question which we have to discuss ; for it is that word
" alive " which sums up the whole matter in dispute. Is



a thing which we call " alive " different in kind from what
we call not alive ? The ordinary man would at once reply :
" Of course it is." And in the opinion of most learned men
throughout the ages the ordinary man would be quite
right. But we must- now approach the question from a
more technical point of view.

" What is Life ? " What is a "living thing " ? What
is it that distinguishes a living from a not -living thing ?

There have been innumerable attempts to define the
indefinable — that is, Life : Fr. Maher gives a number of
them. 1 Speaking of the scholastic definition of Life he
says : " The scholastics denned Life as activitas qua ens
seipsum movet— the activity by which a being moves itself.
The word move, however, was understood in a wide sense
as equivalent to all forms of change or alteration, including
the energies of sentiency and intellectual cognition as well
as local motion. The feature insisted on as essential is the
immanent character of the operations. An immanent action
is one which proceeding from an internal principle does not
pass into a foreign subject, but perfects the agent. All
effects of non-living agents are, on the contrary, transitive.
Notwithstanding the multitude of attempts made by
successive philosophers and biologists, the definition of the
schoolmen has not been as yet much improved upon."
In connection with this statement it must be borne in mind
that the comment and a jortiori the definition were made
before the internal activities of the atom were fully recog-
nised, and it is possible that such recognition may require
a modification in the definition, the truth of which will,
however, in no way be altered. 2 Further definitions,
quoted by the same author, are as follows : " Bichat's
definition is well known : ' Life is the sum of the functions
which resist death.' This is not a very great advance if
death can only be described as the cessation of Life. ' Life

1 " Psychology," p. 551.

- The internal activities of the atom, of which we know too little to
dogmatise in any way, are in continuity, it has been suggested by a
recent writer, with the internal and external activities of living things.
Space does not permit of a discussion of this matter, but it may at least
be said that the purely rhythmical inter-atomic movements seem to differ
wholly from the purposive movements of living things and to have no
more relation to them than the so-called Brownian movements.


is the sum of the phenomena peculiar to organised beings '
(Beclard) . ' Life is a centre of intussusceptive assimilative
force capable of reproduction by spontaneous fission '
(Owen). ' Life is the twofold internal movement of com-
position and decomposition at once general and continuous '
(De Blainville, Comte and Robin). These definitions,
starting from the physiological point of view, aim merely
at summing up the phenomena of vegetative life and exclude
intellectual activity. Mr. Spencer with his wonted lucidity
defines life as ' the continuous adjustment of internal
relations to external relations.' When I read over these
definitions and recognise the modicum of truth which each
contains, I cannot think that any one of them — not to say
all of them — is likely to be of much help to the general
reader for whom this book is chiefly intended.

He will probably say that there certainly is something
in a living being which there is not in a lump of stone. He
will further, though less strenuously, argue that there is
something more in any animal, giving that word its widest
significance, than there is in a plant. Nor, as a rule, will he
hesitate to admit that there is something in man which
is not met with in any other animal.

Let us consider the first of these somethings : but before
doing so let us make it quite clear that there is a school —
a rapidly diminishing school, as we shall see — which denies
altogether that there is any such " something " ; which,
on the contrary, argues that there is no difference of kind
but merely one of degree between a man and a stone. To
take one of the latest and most advanced of this school : l
" Between life and death the difference is of the same order
as that which exists between a phenol and a sulphate, or
between an electrified body and a neutral body. In other
words, all phenomena which we study objectively in living
beings can be analysed by the methods of physics and

There are, then, those who maintain that there is a
" something," whilst there are others who deny it any
existence. Before proceeding to bring forward arguments

1 Le Dantec, " The Nature and Origin of Life," Hodder & Stoughton,
London, 1907, p. 5.



in favour of our own view — that there is a " something " —
we may devote a short time to considering the history of
the Vitalistic struggle, since by so doing we shall find our
study of the question itself somewhat simplified. 1

We commence, as in most things, with Aristotle, " the
master of all who know," as Dante calls him. Aristotle, into
whose arguments we need not look, had no doubt that there
was a " something " which he named an entelechy — a thing
which bears the end in itself. This actuality Aristotle called
the soul ; but he distinguished between different kinds of
souls or different stages of the soul which determined
different stages of the organic creation. Thus according to
his philosophy, plants possess for their lifetime, and animals
at the outset of their career of life, only the nutritive
soul which is the soul of growth and is identical with the
generative principle which existed in the seed. But at a
later period of growth, when they became recognisable as
animals rather than as vegetables, animals became endowed
with the sensitive soul with which was connected the
appetitive ; and this possession it was which marked them
out as animals and distinguished them from vegetables.
Men alone have the third endowment, Reason, which alone
comes " from without " and is divine.

We need not trouble to work our way through the suc-
ceeding ages nor need we even delay over the Scholastics
and their teaching. St. Thomas, whose work was so largely
founded on Aristotle, put forward views which did not
substantially differ from those already mentioned — in fact,
throughout the centuries until that from which we have
so recently emerged, no one of any authority doubted the
truth of what is commonly called Vitalism. 2

1 For a recent account of the history of this discussion, from which, by
the way, almost all mention of the Scholastics is omitted, the reader may
be referred to Driesch, " The History and Theory of Vitalism," Trans.,
C. K. Ogden, Macmillan & Co., 1914. From this work most of what im-
mediately follows has been taken.

2 Whilst it may be admitted that there are objections to this as
perhaps to almost any other descriptive term for the theory under con-
sideration, we shall continue to use it as expressing the convictions of
those who believe that in living beings there is a something not to be
found in not-living matter. Fr. Maher's note on this term and on another
(" Animism") frequently to be met with in discussions on these matters,
may here be cited (" Psychology," p. 545) : " Some modern authors


In fact, Driesch 1 points out that the old Vitalism died,
or rather appeared to die and certainly became obscured,
owing to the fact that it ceased to have any opponents.
Its upholders became careless and unable to face attacks,
even those of a not unjustifiable character ; and above all
they neglected to strengthen their position by showing
the support which it gained from the new facts constantly
being accumulated by biological workers. " Thus it was,"
he says, " that a critique came to the front which, to all
outward appearance, had set Vitalism on one side for the
time being. But Vitalism had not been overthrown ; it
had only been purified, and hence it is that we lay stress
on our statement that the old Vitalism died literally by a
process of self-extermination."

The reaction alluded to was started by Lotze and Claude
Bernard. The article of the former on " Life and Life-
Force " in the first volume of Wagner's " Dictionary of
Physiology," published in 1842, is regarded by Driesch as

Online LibraryBertram Coghill Alan WindleThe church and science → online text (page 25 of 38)