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Astronomy And Evolution

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

The purpose of this chapter is to present the various great concepts of cosmical forces and to show the limitations of actual knowledge. The story of the transformation of the bodies which traverse space, as now partially told in the nebular theory and in geology, is no more astounding than the transformation of man's ideas regarding the same. Both prove Evolution. We have not complete knowledge of either process but there have certainly been two kinds of development, material and intellectual.

It is now known that no phenomenon of nature is exactly as it was once thought to be. This fact alone is foundation for most profound meditation. It is also very suggestive that other great changes in interpretations are due to be made by us or by our posterity. It should do much to eliminate both dogmatic assumption and unthinking credulity.

The gradual extension of the range of human observations transformed man's ideas concerning the earth and its relations to other bodies. Without knowledge, intense self-consciousness naturally gave rise to anthropocentric ideas. The individual as a center studied his earth-home with his unaided eye-sight as his first radius of observation. The earth was thought to be a flat cake with the River Oceanus flowing around it. The vault of the heavens was supposed to be a "firmament" and the conception of its solidity was very gradually expanded into a faint realization of Space. It may still be questioned whether any consciousness can grasp the idea of Space as without boundary somewhere. Does anyone realize that in Space, the center is everywhere and there is no circumference?

To our ancestors, the sun, moon and stars seemed insignificant in size, and to be traveling across "the firmament" above in erratic circles. Explanations as to both the regularities and the variations of their movements approached an approximation of correct understanding only as the gradual growth of intelligence and mental courage enabled men to grasp larger thoughts and greater mental concepts. With this growth came the geocentric idea and finally the heliocentric demonstration.

The only way to understand this childhood of the race is to consider how slow we as individuals have been to realize the value and the significance of their discoveries.

How wonderful are the most ordinary facts ! This earth is a ball revolving on its axis at the rate of over a thousand miles per hour, causing day or night as it turns toward or away from the sun. It is revolving around the sun at the rate of eighteen miles a second or about a thousand times quicker than an express train, in an orbit of five hundred and-eighty-four millions of miles. The earth has over ten motions. As a satellite of the sun, it is revolving through space with rate of speed and purpose unknown. The sun itself has a motion through space which is regular and progressive. The solar apex is considered to be that point in space, situated in the constellation Hercules, toward which the sun and its planets are moving. The nearest star is so remote from us that its light, traveling one hundred and eighty thousand miles a second, requires three and one-half years to reach our planet. Many of the stars the oldest man has never seen except as points of light which have just arrived after centuries and millenia of travel.

We can also appreciate the immensity of the difficulties of our ancestors when, with all the added research and implements of centuries, we are still unable to grasp cosmical principles other than as reasonable theories which additional knowledge may either modify or totally disprove. We have generally assented to the idea of a cosmos; that is,—the universe as an embodiment of order and harmony ; yet its greatest principles are far from being demonstrated to the understanding of the majority.

However, it is a distinct and great advance to have names and definitions for the formative forces of nature. We have "gravitation" as the name for the force which attracts large bodies. We have "chemical affinity" as the name for the attraction which exists between atoms. We divide this into positive and negative relations.

Cosmic substance of various degrees of density fills the universe and is always being acted upon by enduring forces, and is, therefore, subject to a continual process of trans-formation. Nothing is lost, nothing is created, so far as we know.

We study forces through their modes of action. The laws, principles, forces and activities of nature are only tangible to finite intelligence through their manifestations. We do not see heat, electricity, magnetism, but we know positively that such forces exist, because of the phenomena and the changes which we do see.

By these steps the mind is enabled to grasp some idea of what may have been the process by and through which all things have become what they now are.

This earth has apparently been slowly evolved from nebulous matter through the action of universal forces, governed by seemingly eternal laws, during the progress of ages. The existence of this matter, the action of these forces, the eternity of these laws, the duration of this process, we are compelled to assume in our attempts to form reasonable explanations for the phenomena and the facts which we see and know.

(In this book, the word "eternal" is used as signifying indefinite duration : having no perceived beginning or end. The word "infinite" is used to indicate anything immeasurably or innumerably great : so great as to be beyond our powers of measuring or counting. Practically, it is impossible to conceive of anything eternal or infinite.)



1. The law of gravitation.

2. The nebular hypothesis.

3. The unity of substance.

4. The persistence of force.

5. The nature of ether as a true substance.

6. The undulatory wave theory.

7. The development theory universally applied.


Accompanying correct knowledge concerning the motions, size and distance of the sun, moon, planets and stars, came the necessity for an explanation of the power which sustains them in their courses and continues thew in their relations. This necessity gave rise to the discovery and formulation of the first great cosmical principle, Gravitation.

The Law of Gravitation is usually stated thus : Every particle of matter in the universe attracts every other particle with a force that varies directly with the mass of the particles and inversely as the squares of their distance. It is a force that is neither strengthened nor hindered by any intervening medium and it occupies no time in its transmission, so far as we know.

The idea of universal gravitation can be traced back to the old Greeks. The great merit of the work of Sir Isaac Newton was that he formulated the law and computed various mathematical propositions.

Thinkers are now furnished with an hypothesis of a universal power which is sometimes considered capable of sustaining the astronomical bodies in their courses. How much or how little it accounts for conditions is a problem for the best minds. One of the greatest of the many difficulties in accounting for the movements of solar bodies is the balancing of the centripetal force by a centrifugal force. One force apparently is offset by the other, or, perhaps, it is just as correct to say that two centripetal or attractive forces opposed to each other are equal in effect though exerted by bodies of very unequal mass. The element of distance comes in here.

There is now considered to be a universal force opposed to gravitation which is called radiation-pressure. That is to say, there seems to be a mutual repulsion as well as a mutual attraction between bodies. However, it is evident that no human mind can comprehend the absolute balancing and adjustment of such mighty forces as are competent to continue the stars in their uniform courses.


Mathematical demonstrations of the attraction of gravitation preceded the Nebular Hypothesis. The philosopher Kant, the astronomer Herschel, the astronomical-mathematician Laplace and others were now enabled to conceive the formation of all astronomical bodies from the gradual condensation of a rotating nebulous sphere under the action of the mutual gravitation of its parts.

The Nebular Hypothesis is a result of imagination. But it represents the scientific use of the imagination. All great scientific discoveries have resulted from the disciplined imagination of some intense and learned student. The generalization of relationships which we call "law" proceeds from a mind endowed with an extraordinary reach of the imagination. None of these great cosmical principles can be demonstrated absolutely. Their justification consists in that they seem to explain the facts better than any other formulated hypothesis. Kant says:

"I assume that all material of which the globes belonging to our solar system consist, at the beginning of all things was decomposed into its primary elements, and filled the whole space of the universe in which the bodies formed out of it now revolve. In a region of space filled in this manner, a universal repose could last only a moment.

Astronomy and Evolution 191 The elements have essential forces with which to put each other in motion, and thus are themselves a source of life. Matter immediately begins to strive to fashion itself."

Laplace filled in the details with other scientific assumptions and the Nebular Hypothesis remains today as an aid to every thinker. The difficulty of imagining a beginning is no greater than to imagine that there was no beginning. We seem to recognize that countless myriads of atoms have passed through various gaseous and liquid stages and finally combined in an infinite number of forms, orders, densities and arrangements. Some of these stages seem to be fairly outlined by modern geology. Astrophysics reveals millions of spheres in various stages of evolution, some earlier in development than the earth, and others cold and dead, apparently approaching disintegration.

The theory of ring formation in nebulæ is not sustained by modern telescopic discoveries. The actual spiral formation of a large proportion of nebulae indicate that they have been thrown off from the parent mass by the centrifugal force of the rotation. The telescope reveals thousands of spiral nebulae rotating around a central nucleus and it is probable that they will finally consolidate into suns and solar systems during the course of future ages. The magnificent work of Professors Chamberlin and Moulton of the University of Chicago shows clearly the superiority of the spiral theory to the condensing ring theory.


The first view of this topic is that spectral analysis has revealed that the same substances which compose the earth and all physical forms. which are derived from the earth and are sustained on it, also compose the planets, sun and stars. Thus we seem to have in our earth all the physical materials of which all stellar bodies are composed, and the universe is one in its physical composition.

The second view of this topic is that while the number of so-called "elements" has been increased through practical work in separating into compounds substances hitherto supposed to be simple and unresolvable, nevertheless, the belief is growing that it may be possible to demonstrate that they all have a common basis. Efforts have been made to demonstrate that this one ultimate element is helium, hydrogen, or ether. The Presidential Address to the British Association for 1905 delivered by Professor G. H. Darwin, son of Charles Darwin, considered "the fascinating idea that matter of all kinds has a common substratum."

The third view of this topic is the most important practically because no one is yet able to demonstrate the ultimate structure of the atom and only a few can engage in the study of astronomical bodies. But we are all interested in the constant processes of nature for the Transformation or Transmutation of Matter. Another phase of this apparent fact has been called the Indestructibility of Matter. All these terms have their uses to describe phenomena. So also has the equivalent expression, the Circulation of Matter.

One illustration of the Circulation of Matter is given as follows : "Under the action of sunlight, green plant-cells elaborate organic matter by taking up and giving off again the carbonic acid contained in the air. The carbon collected in the plant-cells serves as nourishment for animals ; the animal functions cause combustion, and the carbonic acid thus formed is breathed out into the air and the circular process is completed."

This concept of the Transmutation of Matter or the great circular process of nature has been expressed in the following highly idealized form by Jakob Moleschott,—celebrated for the saying, "No phosphorus, no thought."

"The miner digs phosphate of lime out of the earth in the sweat of his face, and perhaps in so doing the material of the best brain and highest thoughts passes through his hands; the peasant manures his field with the phosphate of lime, which thus becomes a constituent part of the wheat which nourishes the body and brain of man. In company with matter, life circulates through all parts of the world, and with life thought circulates, and from thought again springs the will to make life better and happier. If, then, we can supply organism and brain with the best possible matter, thought and will also will attain their highest development. The scientific inquirer is the Prometheus of our age, and chemistry is the highest science. The social question will find its solution if only we can discover the right way to distribute the matter with which the life of thought and will is bound up."

The transmutations represented in the above idealism are no more difficult to follow than those pictured by the chemist in his alleged "Indestructibility of Matter." In fact, criticism is easy for every illustration proposed of this alleged "law." However, it is probably true that matter is indestructible by any means at present known to us, though it is very evident that we cannot trace its continuance in its transmutations.

All the Elements are in constant action. There is all through nature a continual process of change. From every individual atom to every individual human soul, there is a constant seeking of new adjustments. The supply of Life Elements is so great that nothing can forever continue devitalized and inactive, no matter how destructive the process through which it has passed. This does not mean that temporary individualities do not dissolve, but it means that nature has no limit in reproducing established types of individuals of every variety, class and species.


This principle is also called, "The Conservation of Energy." The Persistence of Force means the self-existing activities of nature with their self-sustaining powers. The Energy of the universe seems to be constant, or unfailing, as far as we can grasp the idea.

The law of physics and chemistry is that in transforming Energy from one status to another we can never secure more than an equivalent quantity; conversely, an equivalent quantity is always secured and nothing is lost. The con-verse is hard to prove, still the "law" is stated thus :

"To create or annihilate Energy is as impossible as to create or annihilate matter; and all the phenomena of the material universe consist in transformations of Energy alone."

The following quotation from History of Science, by Henry Smith Williams, Vol. III., p. 275, shows that confidence in this "law" is not fully established :

"Professor William Thomson (Lord Kelvin) in his studies in thermodynamics was early impressed with the fact that whereas all the molar motions developed through labor or gravity could be converted into heat, the process is not fully reversible. Heat can, indeed, be converted into molar motion or work, but in ,the process a certain amount of the heat is radiated into space and lost. The same thing happens whenever any other form of energy is converted into molar action. Indeed, every transmutation of energy, of whatever character, seems complicated by a tendency to develop heat, part of which is lost. This observation led Professor Thomson to his doctrine of the dissipation of energy which he formulated before the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1852, and published also in the Philosophical Magazine the same year, the title borne being, `On a Universal Tendency in Nature to the Dissipation of Mechanical Energy.'

"From the principle here expressed, Professor Thomson drew the startling conclusion that, `since any restoration of this mechanical energy without more than an equivalent dissipation is impossible,' the universe, as known to us, must be in the condition of a machine gradually running down; and in particular that the world we live on has been within finite time unfit for human habitation, and must again become so within a finite future.

"Here and there a thinker like Rankine did, indeed, attempt to fancy conditions under which the energy lost through dissipation might be restored to availability, but no such effort has met with success, and in time Professor Thomson's generalization and his conclusions as to the consequences of the law involved came to be universally adopted."

All action consists in the expenditure or use of Energy. The initial Energy disappears but it is conceived as passing into its product or products in perfectly equal measure, and so on ad infinitum. The transmutations of Energy cannot all be traced, especially in the form of heat, and the resulting products of use cannot all be measured in equal terms, therefore demonstration of the law of Conservation of Energy has not been absolutely convincing.

Quotation from Outlines of Physiological Psychology, by George Trumbull Ladd, Professor of Philosophy in Yale University :

"No mental energy ever passes over into the brain; no nervous energy ever passes over into the mind. Indeed, the very attempt to apply the conceptions and terms so familiar to physics and so scientific when dealing with the relations of physical masses and movements, ends in palpable absurdities when the subject of treatment becomes the relations of body and mind" (page 471).

It is conceived that the above is true when referring to the transmission of any one kind of energy but at the same time Universal Intelligence can transmute forces in a way that the human mind cannot follow or comprehend. There is a psychological effect as well as a physiological effect resulting from the digestion of beef-steak and coffee when a thinker is fatigued. There is an imparting of mental strength for renewed labors. There are psychological effects from medicines though the idea is almost new to the medical fraternity.

The conclusion is that Transmutation of Energy is governed by a larger intelligence than man's, though we have learned to use it after experimentation. The Persistence of Force seems established for all practical purposes; at least there does not seem to be any diminution of nature's forces considering them collectively as far as we are able. It is conceived that the mechanical explanation alone is not satisfactory, but that there is a renewal of force through intelligent psychical means and control. Intelligence is fully as manifest as the mechanical operations of the transformation of Energy.


It is now considered established that space is not empty in any sense but is filled with Ether which is a true substance and a medium for the transmission of all forms of energy, such as light, heat, electricity, magnetism, etc. It seems to have the properties of incompressibility, elastic rigidity and frictionlessness.

Dr. Thomas Young, one of the greatest of scientists, said :

"The luminiferous Ether pervades the substance of all material bodies with little or no resistance, as freely, perhaps, as the wind passes through a grove of trees."

James Clerk-Maxwell, one of the greatest physicists, says:

"Whatever difficulties we may have in forming a consistent idea of the constitution of the Ether, there can be no doubt that the interplanetary and interstellar spaces are not empty, but are occupied by a material substance or body which is certainly the largest and probably the most uniform body of which we have any knowledge.";

Quotation from Principles of Physics, by Alfred Daniell :

"As a whole, Ether may be compared to an impalpable and all-pervading jelly, through which Light and Heat waves are constantly throbbing, which is constantly being set in local strains and released from them, and being whirled in local vortices, thus producing the various phenomena of Electricity and Magnetism; and through which the particles of ordinary matter, with their relatively small translatory velocities, move freely, like bullets through cobbler's wax, encountering but little retardations if any, for the elasticity of the Ether, as it closes up behind each moving particle, is approximately perfect."

"Nothing in the nature of an air-pump can remove it from any given space ; the most perfect VACUUM conceivable must be defined as a plenum, a space fully occupied, but occupied by Ether alone" (page 235).

A later concept forbids the idea that the Ether "closes up behind each moving particle." It is now considered that Ether is not displaced by bodies composed of such coarse materials as are visible and tangible to our senses. In other words, the intervals existing between all ordinary matter are much greater than those existing between Ether. As for instance, light-bearing waves of Ether pass through glass. Therefore it is doubtful if the present theory will hold that Ether is absolutely a continuous substance, but simply that its particulars are immeasurably finer than those of physical matter.


All forms of radiant energy consist essentially of undulatory motions of one uniform medium, ether. The various forms of energy,—light, heat, electricity and magnetism,—are manifestations of various quivers, waves, ripples, whirls or strains of the all-pervading and inter-penetrating sub-stance known as ether.

"The vibration of the ether, when due to molecular vibration, is initially of the nature of a forced vibration; it is probably excited by the oscillation of a part of the ether, which is in some way entangled within, or which envelopes, the vibrating molecule. The molecular vibration which excites the ether-waves is a true vibration of the molecule, not a translational oscillation from place to place. The molecules of ordinary matter must be supposed, in virtue of their small size, to vibrate very rapidly. These waves all travel through the ether of space at the same rate, namely, about 186,680 miles per second; but the frequency of the vibrations varies greatly, producing different phenomena."—Principles of Physics, by Alfred Daniell, pp. 479-480.

Dr. Thomas Young says :

"Light differs from heat only in the frequency of its undulations or vibrations—those undulations which are within certain limits with respect to frequency affecting the optic nerve and constituting light, and those which are slower and probably stronger constituting heat only."


The grand concept of gradual development has become the working hypothesis and explanation of the whole universe including man and the whole of man. Herbert Spencer has rendered splendid service in preparing the world for this concept.

In general, the forces now operative are considered as sufficient to have produced present results. However, it is also perfectly consistent to consider that the present forces have passed through an evolutionary process. There is a possible reconciliation between the "Catastrophism" and the "Uniformitarianism" of the two opposite schools of theorists. A series of uniform actions may have prepared the way for a sudden termination of great violence or unusual power. If the data of these apparent violations of uniform action could be ascertained, there might be noted a succession of revolutionary results appearing at regular intervals as terminations of successive evolutionary movements.

It is not anti-theistic to omit any hypothesis of a. Power or Intelligence outside the power and intelligence inherent in the universe as having interposed in the regular succession of natural causes and effects. A certain degree of agnosticism is imposed upon men who have both faith and intelligence, by the very limitations of their knowledge. At the same time it is unscientific to be satisfied with insufficient causes for the existence of all we see and know. Hence the ordinary "mechanical" explanation of "blind forces" is not considered sufficient. An adequate Cause must be supremely intelligent.

Neither does it place one within any organized body of Theists simply to assert that some hypothesis of a Creative Intelligence is necessary to account for the facts. The omissions here made proceed from a desire to be free from superstition and from any unprovable products of the imagination. Mythology peopled the heavens and assumed locations of rewards and punishments. Recognized "Mythology" has been dismissed but it is still difficult to free Science from dogmatism, and Religion from superstition. This much of mention is made to intensify the force of the omission of an assertion regarding the personality of the Cause of, all existence.

Returning to the original thought at the beginning of this section, that the grand concept of gradual development has become the working hypothesis and explanation of the whole universe including man and the whole of man ;

The earth has been gradually prepared by natural causes during the immeasurable course of ages as a theater for marvelous scenes. Man himself has been evolved as the chief actor and general manager within a limited area. It is impossible to demonstrate that this evolution, which has produced the earth, was planned for the purpose of providing a temporary home for man. It is pure, unfounded egotism to assume that man is the end and aim of creation. But at the same time, it is most certain that man is now making history upon this planet. Here we are as a race. We certainly are the final visible result of the long process and we have wonderful capabilities of development and conscious happiness.

"If a man would be alone, let him look at the stars." When alone and looking at the stars, a man has sufficient . incentive and inspiration for making some additions and amendments to his philosophy. His self-consciousness is more real than his consciousness of the stars. Surely he is as much an entity as any one of the heavenly bodies. If an entity with faculties, capacities and powers, then there arises the necessity for a Philosophy of Individual Life. How should a rational being conduct himself ? What should be the nature of his pursuits and the purpose of his endeavors?

The earth is the physical Kingdom of Man. It is true that the planet was evolved and is traversing space under the dominion of powers and laws immeasurably and utterly beyond Man's understanding and any possibility of his interference or assistance. Nevertheless, in a real sense the earth is the physical Kingdom of Man. The surface of the planet and all things thereon are subject unto him. For a brief time, intelligent individuals may control its products, alter its appearance, make history, and determine their own character and destiny. While conscious of limitations, it is reasonable to consider our opportunities as vastly beyond what any predecessors have tested and revealed throughout all the past.

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