Darwin and Modern Science: Essays in Commemoration of the Centenary of the Birth of Charles Darwin and of the Fiftieth Anniversary of the Publication of the Origin of Species

By A. C. Seward | Go to book overview

XII
THE PALAEONTOLOGICAL RECORD

II. PLANTS

BY D. H. SCOTT F.R.S.

President of the Linnean Society.

THERE are several points of view from which the subject of the present essay may be regarded. We may consider the fossil record of plants in its bearing: I. on the truth of the doctrine of Evolution; II. on Phylogeny, or the course of Evolution; III. on the theory of Natural Selection. The remarks which follow, illustrating certain aspects only of an extensive subject, may conveniently be grouped under these three headings.


I. THE TRUTH OF EVOLUTION.

When The Origin of Species was written, it was necessary to show that the Geological Record was favourable to, or at least consistent with, the Theory of Descent. The point is argued, closely and fully, in Chapter X. "On the Imperfection of the Geological Record," and Chapter XI. "On the Geological Succession of Organic Beings"; there is, however, little about plants in these chapters. At the present time the truth of Evolution is no longer seriously disputed, though there are writers, like Reinke, who insist, and rightly so, that the doctrine is still only a belief, rather than an established fact of science 1. Evidently, then, however little the Theory of Descent may be questioned in our own day, it is desirable to assure ourselves how the case stands, and in particular how far the evidence from fossil plants has grown stronger with time.

As regards direct evidence for the derivation of one species from another, there has probably been little advance since Darwin wrote, at least so we must infer from the emphasis laid on the discontinuity of successive fossil species by great systematic authorities like Grand'Eury and Zeiller in their most recent writings. We must either adopt the mutationist views of those authors (referred to in

____________________
1
J. Reinke, "Kritische Abstammungslehre," Wiesner-Festschrift, p. 11, Vienna, 1908.

-200-

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