Geology and the Recapitulation Theory

A study in Circular Reasoning

By George McCready Price
This article, originally from The Bulletin of Deluge Geology, (date unknown), is one of a collection of articles by Price in Report on Evolution, published in 1971 by C. Wm. Anderson of Malverne N.Y.

Definitions and Assumptions

Two sources of error in scientific work which are more or less common are hasty induction and reasoning in circles.

Hasty induction is also called incomplete induction, sometimes called jumping to a conclusion. However, since no human being can ever hope to have in hand all the data concerning any large prohlem, any induction about the larger problems of the world runs the risk of being incomplete. But conclusions from incomplete data may later become justified by additional facts. For example, when Columbus sailed west, he had only very scanty facts on which to base his conclusion that he might find land in that direction. The outcome precludes our blaming him for his incomplete induction; instead we say, "How wonderful: what a brilliant intuition." Similarly, William Harvey, the discoverer of the circulation of the blood, announced that all animals come from an egg, or an ovum. We now know that he was right. But at that time (1651), nearly three hundred years ago, nobody had ever seen the ovum of any mammal. Harvey was just making a hasty but clever induction and happened to be right. In this case also, we commend him for his shrewd insight, his intelligent grasp of fundamentals. His induction was based on incomplete data, but turned out to be completely correct.

But reasoning in circles is very different. It is identical with trying to lift oneself by one's bootstraps. When used in any line of scientific work, it becomes the one unpardonable, logical sin, the one that hath never forgiveness. It makes one look ridiculous; it shows a lack of mental clearness, a mental blind spot, an incapacity for seeing and judging evidence.

Circular reasoning can get us nowhere. Not only are all conclusions thus reached absolutely worthless, but they are a disgrace to those who indulge in these mental acrobatics, no matter how the facts may turn out in the end. Even if the same conclusion is afterwards reached in another and perfectly legitimate manner, we still throw away the first method and have nothing but blame for the one who may have reached the right conclusion in this whirligig fashion; because we all instinctively feel that there must be something wrong with one who can indulge in such queer tricks of the mind. He may be merely indulging in wishful thinking, or may be trying to fool us deliberately. Which of these are we to think of in this case?

But let us in this paper start with some fundamentals. All study of the natural sciences involves some assumptions: hence it is highly important that all our assumptions be rigidly sound. In physics and chemistry, for instance, we have to assume that the things which we examine are genuine entities, also that our minds are capable of estimating their "properties" or their behavior. Many other assumptions are made in these basic sciences of physics and chemistry, and we hope they are all sound and correct.

In geology, of course, we have to make all the same assumptions with which we start to study physics and chemistry; but then we go on to make some additional assumptions which are much more speculative or even contrary to fact. One is that the present behavior of the ocean, the atmospere, and of all the other features of nature are a true measure of all that has ever happened in the past; whereas the members of this Society believe that there is ample evidence to the contrary. They believe that something must have happened to our earth in the long ago which was radically different from the more or less orderly procedure of nature with which we are acquainted in our modern world.

Another doctrine of geology as commonly taught, which we declare is a pure assumption (or perhaps a wretchedly incomplete induction), is that the various forms of life (plants and animals) have been appearing on the earth in a serial order of increasing size and complexity of oranization, the process covering many millions of years, and that geologists have acquired the skill to know the relative ages of these different kinds of plants and animals, so that whenever any of these typical "index fossils" as they are called are discovered, the geologists can immediately assign the rocks in which they occur to their proper stage in the long-drawn-out geological ages. All this, I repeat, is an unfounded assumption; the arrangement of these index fossils in an alleged historical order is a purely artificial process: and the entire scheme is a direct denial of the Bible account of the absolute contemporaneity of all the various forms of life from the very beginning. [Ref 1]

It will be our task in the present paper to study some of the events in the history of the rise of this succession-of-life theory of the fossils, to see some of the sad slips in logic made by the early geological pioneers. Were they merely making hasty inductions or were they also indulging in circular reasoning?

The Early Work of Agassiz

First we must go back over a hundred years ago, to a time when Louis Agassiz, as a young man, was struggling for his first recognition as a man of science. He had been studying medicine, but in the meantime was ever more interested in various lines of natural science. He made his first reputation by his studies of fishes, living and fossil, the opportunity for much of this work having been placed in his hands by no less a person than Baron Cuvier. On January 18, 1830, when young Louis was not yet quite 23 years of age, we find him writing to his brother as follows:
Add to this that just now there is a real need of this work [on fossil fishes], for the determination of the different geological formations. Once before, at the Heidelberg meeting, it had been proposed to me; the Director of the mines at Struasbourg, M. Voltz, even offered to send me at Munich the whole collection of fossil fishes from their museum. [Ref 2.]
Here the was a very young man, brilliant and aggressive, who had moved about from one museum and university to another in Switzerland and southwest Germany, and even as far as Paris, who by a comparison of various fossil fishes undertakes to determine the chronology of the geological deposits of the entire world from the comparatively few specimens which were available for him. He was not concerned with the stratigraphic sequence in the field of one bed above another; partly because fossil fishes are usually found in great shoals, as in life, and one has to to another locality, perhaps many miles away, to find another fish bed. But he was undoubtedly much more influenced by the then prevailing doctrine, as taught by Cuvier, the great leader in all these studies, that all the fossils, without exception, belonged to extinct species. There had been a great many successive creations and catastrophes, so Cuvier taught, and all the fossils belonged to a long-vanished world, with no natural connection with the animals now living. Hence Agassiz felt quite free to arrange his specimens in any way he thought would best illustrate that scheme of ideal development in the plan of creation which he thought must be the correct one. [Ref 2a]

Geology, as we now know it, was just then beginning. The first volume of Lyell's "Principles of Geology" appeared a little later in this same year, 1830, and the second volume two years later. But Lyell himself was not at this time particularly concerned with problems about the relative sequence of the fossils. In fact, no comprehensive scheme about the relative sequence of the fossils for the world as whole had yet been suggested by anybody, though a few very local stratigraphic successions of beds had been worked out in various parts of the British Isles and on the Continent. Hence Agassiz thought that he had a free hand and a completely open field. By his study of the various specimens which he could examine in a few museums, he worked out what he regarded as the ideal classification series, though it happened to differ considerably from the classification series then accepted; and on the basis of this a priori system of classification he undertakes to place his fossil specimens in their correct geologicaI order. In short, according to Agassiz, the geological series of the fossils is just an old-time classification or taxonomic series, and the one should parallel the other.

Two and a half years later, or in July, 1852, we find him writing from Paris to Alexander von Humboldt the following enthusiastic statement of his work and his methods of reasoning:

What was my joy and surprise to find that the simplest enumeration of the fossil fishes according to their geological succession, was also a complete statement of the natural relations of the families among themselves: that one might therefore read the generic development of the whole class [of fishes] in the history of creation, the representation of the genera and species in the several families being therein determined; in one word, that the genetic succession of the fishes corresponds perfectly with their zoological classification, and with just that classification proposed by me. The question therefore in characterizing formations is no longer that of the numerical preponderance of certain genera and species, but of distinct structural relations, carried through all the formations according to a definite direction, following each other in an appointed order, and recognizable in the organisms as they are brought forth.... If my conclusions are not overturned or modified through some later discovery, they will form a new basis for the study of fossils. [Ref. 3]
This new basis for the study of the fossils by making their geological classification correspond with their zoological or taxonomic classification, is very decisively and confidently set forth in a statement in his preface to the large work of five magnificently illustrated volumes entitled, "Researches on Fossil Fishes," issued between 1855 and 1843. I quote the translation given by his wife:
I have succeeded in expressing the laws of succession and of the organic development of fishes during all geological epochs, and science may henceforth, in seeing the changes in this class from formation to formation, follow the progress of organization in one great division of the animal kingdom, through a complete series of the ages of the earth. [Ref. 4]
Now let no one say that this is not the recapitulation theory. I admit that it is not a direct and obvious part of that theory: but for anyone who wishes to get at the psychological foundations of this theory, this work by Agaasiz will be seen as a prime essential for the building up of the geological series of the fossils, without which there could never have been any thought of the embryo repeating or recapitulating the geological history of its ancestors. Hence this pioneer work by Agassiz, in his purely artificial scheme of arranging the fossil fishes to fit what he regarded as the ideal classification series, is of prime importance both for geology and for that theory of recapitulation which became so large a factor in the work of Darwin and Haeckel in convincing the world about their theory of organic evolution.

The Work of d'Orbigny

But Agassiz had worked only with the fishes, and fishes are after all not the most important of the "index fossils." The shells, both brachiopods and mollusks, together with such other invertebrates as trilobites, are considered more important than the vertebrare fishes in determining the "age" of the strata. What about the methods of Agaasiz when applied to these other fossils?

The man who seems to have been the first to apply this same method to the study of certain kinds of mollusks (ammonites) was Alcide d'Orbigny (1802-1857), a contemporary of Agassiz, and ultimately becoming professor of paleontology in the Museum of Natural History in Paris. Like Agassiz, d'Orbigny was a disciple and admirer of the great Baron Cuvier, who was over thirty years their senior and died in 1852. But all three of these men believed in many successive creations and world destructions as the cause of the fossils. Zittel, the standard historian of geology, says:

D'Orbigny supposed that organic creation had been completely renewed twenty-seven or twenty-eight times. [Ref. 5]
The folowing summary of d'Orbigny's methods is given by Henry Fairfield Osborn in an elaborate article in the "Encyclopaedia Britannica":
He recognized the fact that the shells of mollusks, which grow by successive additions, preserve unchanged the whole series of changes of their individual development so that each shell of a Cretaceous ammonite, for example, represents five stages of progressive modification as follows: the first is the periode embryonnaire, during which the shell is smooth: the second and third represent periods of elaboration and ornamentation; the fourth is a period of initial degeneration; the fifth and last a period of degeneration when ornamentation becomes obsolete and the exterior smooth again. [Ref. 6]
Of course, since he was not an evolutionist, he did not claim that the living pearly nautilus, which is the modern representative of the fossil ammonites, is the lineal representative of the kinds found in the Mesozoic beds. But he did classify the fossil ammonites (and by implication all other shell fossils) according to this scheme of comparison with the individual development of typical modern specimen, which is the geological aspect of the full recapitulation theory. Neither he nor Agassiz went the whole journey; let us give them them the benefit of the doubt and say that they saw the ridiculousness of using the modern embryonic development of the individual to help prove evolution, when this same modern individual development has already been used to arrange the fossil specimens in an alleged chronological order. To put it more briefly, we hope they could have seen the absurdity of using ontogeny to prove evolution, after this same ontogeny had been used to construct their phylogeny, -though of course we are here using these terms anachronously, for the words had not yet been invented by Haeckel.

Agassiz's "Essay on Classification"

Here we must consider some of the outstanding teachings of Agassiz in his "Essay on Classification," published first in 1857, though it was the culmination of what he had been teaching in his classes and in popular lectures for several years previously. I have stated that Agassiz started out by dealing with living and fossil fishes, and at that time he had only two sets or series of facts to compare, first the classification series (his new scheme being considerably different from the one in ordinary use at that time), and second, the geological series as he then arranged the fossils, Agassiz's theory being that the two series ought to correspond. As his studies continued and enlarged, he wanted to include all other kinds of fossils, and he seems to have been the first to make use of the embryonic development of the individuals of the various groups for comparison with the fossils, though I have been unable to find the exact date at which he began this use of embryology. But it must have been well over twenty-five years before his "Essay on Classification" that he had started his life-time work of comparing the three parallelisms, as he termed them, the modern classification series, the geological series of the fossils, and the embryonic series or the successive stages of the "typical" individual in each of the great groups of animals; for now his ambition was to make his comparisons embrace all the animal kingdom.

I shall let Dr. Percy E. Davidson give a summary of the results of Agassiz in his work on classification:

As his interest broadened to include the systematic classification of the whole animal world, Agassiz relied more and more upon the facts of embryology to make good the deficiencies of fossil remains and to prevent the confusion, inevitable as he believed, from an examination of anatomical differences alone. In 1857 he wote, 'I satisfied myself long ago that embryology furnishes the most trustworthy standard to determine the relative rank among animals.'

In the system ultimately evolved by Agassiz, descriptive of what he believed to be the natural order, there were four great parallelisms, or systems of relationship. These were (1) a parallelism between the geological succession of animals and their relative standing or structural gradation; (2) a parallelism between the geological succession of animals and the individual development of their living representatives; (3) a parallelism between the relative rank or gradation of animals and their individual development; and (4) these several series were again related to geographical distributon. Thus-[quoting Agassiz himself]:

'...the phenomena of animal life correspond to one another, whether we compare their rank as determined by structural complication with the phases of their growth, or with their succession in past geological ages; whether we compare this succession with their embryonic growth, or all these different relations with each other and with the geographical distribution of animals upon earth. The same series everywhere!' [Ref. 7]

Of course, in Agassiz's enthusiastic description of his four parallelisms to his students and in his writings, he never called attention to the fact that only one of these four series, the embryonic development of the individual, has an honest-to-goodness objective reality; all the others are artificial, mere constructs of the mind and made by human arrangement and manipulation. How perpetually has the classification system been adjusted to fit the discoveries or the whims of the classifier, and how perpetually has the alleged geological succession of the fossils been adjusted to fit both the clasification series and the embryonic, and how constantly may the geographical diatribution be arranged to suit any one's fancy! There is only the one, the embryonic development, which cannot be manipulated or "doctored" by human caprice in the interests of some preconceived theory. Unfortunately, even the embryonic development of one group does not always correspond very closely to that of other somewhat related groups, as Haeckel found out to his sorrow, giving occasion for him and his followers to charge nature with confusing or even falsifying the phylogenic record. [Ref. 8] Accordingly, what a tangle of confusion was served up before a confiding and admiring world, when Agassiz presented them with these four parallelisms, as he called them, "The same series everywhere!"

No one is likely to question my statement that the geographical distribution of animals is a highly artificial idea. Indeed, any mind that can take seriously such an idea as anything more than a whim or a fancy, must have some mental axe to grind. The classification series seems more like a narural arrangement; but at which end shall we hegin? Why must we necessarily begin with the amoeba and run up to man? Why may we not begin with man and and arrange all animal life in descending complexity down to the amoeba? Surely there is no finality about the one method as compared with the other,-except in the mind of someone who has long been obsessed with the docrrine of organic evolution.

The Artificial Character of the Geological Series

But many will indignantly resent the idea that the geological series is an artificial one. It is the object of the present paper to prove this proposition, and from this proof to show the circular reasoning in taking this artificially constructed history of life on the earth ("phylogeny") as the backbone of the whole evolution theory, whenever the embryonic series is compared with it.

It is now well over a hundred years since geologists began to follow the lead of William Smith in classifying the strata according to the fossils found in them, instead of according to their mineral content, as previously taught by A.G. Werner. Yet only the very few who are intimately acquainted with the century-long history of geology since that day realize how repetedly, I might almost say perpetually, during this time the stratigraphic position of certain sets of beds which seemed perplexing in the field has been settled by studies of their fossils. Museum collections of fossils always contain many specimens which have been picked up by local village collectors, who could not always he expected to remember correctly just what locality furnished each of the many individual specimens which they have gathered. Sometimes, indeed, rare specimens which may have been found lying loose on the top of the ground may have found their way into museum collections; for atmospheric weathering of such exposed specimens is a very slow process, and many splendid looking fossils have been found in this way. Thus uncertainties have more than once been injected into collections which have been used in the "momentous" decisions of paleontologists in deciding just how a certain set of beds should be placed in the geological series.

In any clearly defined locality, of course, the relative age of the beds is a simple malter of stratigraphical succession, at least so far as the processes of laying down the materials are concerned. As I have pointed out elsewhere, [Ref. 9] we have no authority to say that the materials in three successive beds, limestone, sandstone, and conglomerate, for example, may not all have been in existence contemporaneously before any of the beds were deposited. And if this is true concerning the materials composing the beds, it is also just as true concerning the fossils contained in them. If trilobites are found in the limestone, dinosaurs in the sandstone, and elephant bones in the conglomerate, it is nothing but a pure, unfounded assumption to say that all three kinds of animals could not have been living contemporaneously before their remains were deposited in this serial order. [Ref. 10] Hence, while the order of superposition does show the order of deposit, or the sequence in which the beds were laid down, it cannot tell us a thing about the relative age of the materials composing the beds, nor about the relative age of the fossils found within them. We must first assume something like a succession of life on the globe or a long series of creations on the installment plan, as taught by Cuvier, d'Orbigny, and Agassiz, before we can say that the trilobites actually lived before the dinosaurs and the latter before the elephants.

Stratigraphy can tell us the relative order of the beds for only a limited area, often for only a very limited area. The beds on opposite sides of any mountain range can never be correlated by stratigraphy, not to mention the beds in countries separated by an ocean. In thousands of instances beds only a mile or two apart can never be traced together by either their lithological structure or their fossils contained in the beds are always used to decide the matter. The many notorious cases of "deceptive conformitys" and so-called "thrust faults," prove that the fossils are always the criteria of the age of a set of beds; and when an evolutionary minded geologist is armed with the conviction that he knows the true order in which the beds ought to be found, and then has at his command such devices as "deceptive conformities" and "thrust faults" to help him out in any difficulty, it must be confessed that it is exceedingly difficult to get him in a logical corner.

It would be tiresome to cite illustrative examples to show how the fossils have constantly been used to decide about the correct position (in the geological series) of any specific set of beds. I mean its position as compared with other beds in distant parts of the world. This would help to show the constructive or artificial character of the geological series, by illustrating how the imposing geological succession of the fossils from all parts of the world has been built up through the years. It may be more in accord with this brief discussion of a very large subject to go back and give a few more facts about the way in which embryology and taxonomy were employed in the work of adjusting the geological succession, and then the way in which the results thus attained were used as propaganda to help "prove" the general theory of evolution.

We have already seen how Agassiz, in the year 1830, was writitig his brother about the great need there was for the work which he was then doing about fossil fishes, "for the determination of the different geological formations." This method of using the classification principles of the various groups of animals for the determination of the ideal order of the different geological formations was, however, soon supplemented by the use of embryology for the same purpose. And we have seen how "Agassiz relied more and more upon the facts of embryology to make good the deficiencies of fossil remains, and to prevent the confusion, inevitable as he believed, from an examination of anatomical differences alone." [Ref. 11]

We have also seen how d'Orbigny used the embryonic comparisons in the case of mollusk shells for the same purpose. But it was Alpheus Hyatt (1838-1902), an ardent disciple of Agassiz who went further than his master and accepted the theory of evolution, who first (1866) applied this principle to the study of fossil ammonites. As Henry Fairfield Osborn tells us, "He [Hyatt] showed that from each individual shell of an ammonite the entire ancestral series may be reconstructed." [Ref. 12]

Splitting Species

With the modern classification series and the embryonic series both now enlisted in making "good the deficiencies of fossil remains," the work of adjutsting the fossiliferous "record" for all the various groups of animals went forward rapidly. Darwin had taught the world that varieties and races are constantly diverging more and more into species and genera, so that "species" are largely imaginary groups, and anyway they are (so he said) only temporary stages in the transformation of races into the higher categories. Hence, the botanists and zoologists felt themselves justified in splitting up the long recognized species into much smaller units, whenever it seemed convenient to do so. This vogue for splitting species was not long in taking on with the paleontologists and geologists, for in the case of the fossils there are few of the other checks on classification besides mere outward form: and when embryology stands as mentor in the study of fossil fishes, or shells, or what not, it becomes very easy to find a new "species" to fit almost any theory.

Zittel tells us how this tendency toward splitting species has worked out in the case of brachiopods, which are among the oldest known fossils. Thomas Davidson's work dealing with "British Fossil Brachiopods" (1870-1885) set a high standard in the study of this group; but the subsequent workers in this field had come more completely under the influence of the recapitulation theory. And Zittel tells the results as follows:

Whereas Davidson in his systematic treatment allowed for a considerable extent of variability in his definitions of genera and species, the new direction of research guided by Hall, Clarke, and Beecher in North America, and by Waagen and Bittner in Europe, tries to restrict generic and specific definitions within the narrowest possible limits, in order to enhance the value of fossil brachiopods for the characterization of stratigraphical horizons. A systematic review of all known brachiopods forms an introductory chapter in the comprehensive monograph of Palaeoloic types which has been published by Hall and Clarke. The number of genera has been greatly increased, and in many cases species have been elevated to the rank of genera. A new classification was proposed in 1889 by Beecher, in which it has been the author's aim to bring the ontogenetic and phylogenetic development of the group into more apparent correspondence, and to apply the differences in the beak region more often for systematic distinctions. [Ref. 13]
It is not always that the paleontologists have acknowledged so unashamedly their recapitulation leanings in the matter of their classification of the fossils. In other groups the same methods have been followed, though not so plainly acknowledged. [Ref. 14.]  But in this very large and important group of the brachiopods, whose fossils are so frequently used in the naming and classification of the beds of the Paleozoic, these specialists try to restrict "generic and specific definitions within the narrowest possible limits, in order to enhance the value of fossil brachiopods for the characterization of stratigraphical horizons;" and the announced aim has been "to bring the ontogenetic and phylogenetic development of the group into more apparent correspondence.

And when the ontogenetic and the phylogenetic development have been thus brought into more apparent correspondence, the followers of Darwin and Haekel can then point to these facts as helping to prove the general theory of organic evolution. Was there ever a more perfect example of reasoning in a circle?

Oppel and Buckman Subdividing the Ammonites

These principles may be illustrated by the history of the study of fossil ammonites, as carried on by Oppel and Buckman.

Carl Albert Oppel (1831-1865), who preceded Zittel in the chair of Paleontology in the University of Munich, south Germany, and who died at the age of thirty-four, devoted his life to the study of the various subdivisions of the Jurassic system, as shown by the special guide-fossils or index-fossils in the various museums of Germany, France, and England, all of which localities he visited and compared. He was a careful observer of the details concerning the fossils, and undertook to compare not only the large subdivisions of these localities by means of their fossils, but also the smallest groups of the strata.

Setting aside all lithological features, Oppel deduced from his observations a series of paleotological horizons which he termed zones, each of which represented the definite age-limit of some leading fossil type or types. 'A zone,' he says, 'is characterized as a definite paleontological horizon by a consistent occurrance in it of certain species which do not occur in the preceding or succeeding neighborhood zones.' [Ref. 15]
And if Oppel had been able to visit the Gondwana beds of India, the Karoo of South Africa, as well as the Jurassic beds of Australia, South America and Russia, he could doubtless have still further subdivided his "zones," from the slight differences which he would find among the index-fossils in these distant localities. For as William Berryman Scott says, some of the same identical fossils found in Europe are also found occurring in these distant places; and "even the minuter divisions, the substages and zones of the European Jura, are applicable to the classification of the South American beds." Why not? Since this system of index-fossils over-rides all other criteria, Zittel himself acknowledging above that under it the paleontologists "set aside all lithological features," and since this system of index-fossils becomes nothing but an old-time taxonomic system of the life of the ancient world, why should it not be just as applicable to South America or Australia or Timbuktu as to Europe?

An Englishman, who lived up until only a few years ago, and who had many increased opportunities from wide portions of the globe, has carried the scheme to even greater detail.

Sidney Savory Buckman (1860-1929), became fascinated with the work of making fine subdivisions in both the paleontological and the stratigraphical analysis, as the only effective method of recognizing the genetic relationships between the different grades of fossils. He multiplied greatly the genera and species among the ammonites. I quote from a recent review of his work:

His paleontological studies soon convinced him that the simple stratigraphical principles of William Smith could be applied with much greater precision than had hitherto been attempted. This led to a great deal of stratigraphic subdivision, so that the thirty-three Jurassic zones of Oppel became elaborated into a system of about four hundred zones. [Ref. 16]
By the simple device of seeking to separate the sedimentary history from the biological history of the fossils, he was able to devise a dual nomenclature for the subdivisions of geological time, one for the strata per se and the other for the fossils, by which he seemed to avoid the absurdities of minute fossil onion coats for the entire world to correspond to the minute "zones" which he named.
Working on this principle [of having a two fold nomenclature, one set of names for the strata and another for the fossils], Buckman produced his biological chronology of the Jurassic  period, in which the period is divided into forty-five ages and about four hundred hemerae or biological time units. [Ref. 17]
It would exhaust my time and your patience to go into the history of the other  important groups which have been used as "index-fossils." The trilobites and graptolites of the Ordovician have been favorite subjects for the making of minute subdivisions, and thus for tracing out alleged evolutionary pedigrees for those groups. As all the trilobites and graptolites are probably extinct, there are no modern kinds with which to check up by their embryology or otherwise on the evolutionary theories proposed for them; in this way paleontologists can avoid the embarrassment which as come to the students of gastropods and pelecypods, in which groups, as one writer remarks, so-called "ancestral forms" "...are all too frequently preceded by their theoretical descendants." [Ref. 18]  Even the ammonites themselves seem to have occasioned difficulties, for L.F. Spath is quoted as saying:
It may be necessary to assume an inverted geological order, if our views of the biological order [in time] of the ammonites are to continue to be governed by the discredited 'laws' of recapitulation. [Ref. 18a]

How the Geological Sequence is Adjusted

But these instances of finding "index fossils" in very troublesome positions, or in the "inverted" order of sequence, take on a familiar look to those who are acquainted with the "pioneer colonies" of Barrande, the "recurrent faunas" of Ulrich, and the notorious "deceptive conformities" and "thrust faults" found almost everywhere, the last-mentioned being known as "nappes" by the Swiss geologists. What a great cloud of witnesses are now arising to refute the theory of an invariable sequence in which the fossils are always found in all parts of the globe!

Two factors of a more general nature,  however, need to be kept in  mind when dealing with the fossils assembled from various parts of the world for the purpose of comparing evolutionary pedigrees, these two factors tending to show the artificial nature of all such work.

(1) The profuse numbers of some of these creatures (trilobites, ammonites, etc.) which are often found together in a specific locality frequently preclude the possibility of dealing with individual specimens in the matter of classifying or "dating" the beds where they occur; so that the scientist falls back on the average or general aspect of the entire lot, to determine just where the bed should be classed in the geological "column." And we all  know how the personal factor always looms very large in work of judging the average or general aspect of any large number of specimens.

(2) As deposits of these invertebrate fossils occur in almost every part of the world, the wide separation of these deposits makes correlation by stratigraphy quite out of the question; hence the scientists have to fall back on what they regard as the general principles of the subject. And since all geologists are already convinced evolutionists, and believe in the correctness of using the embryonic development as more or less of a guide in classifying all animals, living and fossil, it is too much to expect that those who do the classifying of the fossils would not do so in conformity with the general principles of the evolution doctrine. Human nature being what it is, we may regard it as a foregone conclusion that geologists and paleontologists should look at their facts through the colored specacles of Darwin and Lyell.

The wise words of one of our most thoughtful modern scientific writers are well worthy of consideration in this connection:

The history of thought shows that false interpretations of observed facts enter into the records of their observation. Thus both theory, and received notions as to fact, are in doubt. [Ref. 19]
And again by the same writer:
Every scientific memoir in its record of the 'facts' is shot through and through with interpretation. [Ref. 20]
Prof. F.C.S. Schille,of Oxford University, also has emphasized the truth that all reports of scientific "facts" always contain more or less of theory. [Ref. 21] This is not because the scientisits reporting them are unreliable, but because human nature is what it is. No one can escape more or less of bias in every report about what he regards as scientific "facts."

Zittel, who is usually so candid and fair in his judgments, seems to blame some modern paleontologists for not making a freer use of the parallelisms of embryology and taxonomy in their studies of the fossils. At least, that is how I understand his statements as given below. He tells how August Schenk (1868-1891) brought in a reform in the study of paleontology by his sound knowledge of living plants, so that "now," says Zittel, "the author of a paper on any department of paleophytology is expected to have a sound knowledge of systematic botany."

But he immediately goes on to make the following complaint:

It cannot be said that paleozoology has yet arrived at this desirable standpoint.
He names a large number of imminent men, like Cuvier, Owen, Huxley, and others who were also well acquainted with living animals as well as with the fossils.
But comparatively few individuals have such a thorough grasp of zoological and geological knowledge as to enable them to treat paleontological researches worthily, and there has accumulated a dead weight of stratigraphical-paleontological literature wherein the fossil remains of animals are named and pigeon-holed solely as an additional ticket of the age of a rock deposit, with a willful disregard of the much more difficult problem of their relationships in the long chain of existence.

The terminology which has been introduced in the innumerable monographs of special fossil faunas in the majority of cases makes only the slenderest pretext of any connection with recent systematic zoology; if there is a difficulty [regarding genetic relationships], then stratigraphical arguments are made the basis of a solution [that is, new specific or generic names are given to the fossils]. Zoological students are, as a rule, too actively engaged and keenly interested in building up new observations to attempt to spell through the arbitrary paleontological conclusions arrived at by many stratigraphers, or to revise their labors from a zoological point of view. [Ref. 22]

In this quotation Zittel may be right in condemning the common custom of coining new names for the fossils just because they are fossils, this custom being a hang-over from the days of Cuvier, when all the fossils were always regarded as extinct species, even though they seemidentical with certainliving forms which look just like them. I have no sympathy for this custom; for it has made mountains of difficulty for those who desire to gain a truthful knowledge of the ancient world which lies buried in the rocks beneath our feet. But he shows his strong evolutionary bias when he chides certain scientists for using their fossils "solely as an additional ticket of the age of a rock-deposit, with a willful disregard of the much more difficult problem of their relationships in the long chain of existence." He evidently thinks that one line of evolutionary relationship worked out by means of the very familiar method of comparisons with the taxonomic series and embryonic series would be worth almost any number of specimens "named and pigeon-holed solely as an additional ticket of the age of a rock deposit." In other words, he cides these scientists for not using their fossils to help work out the evolutionary evidence for their particular groups of animals.

But in the other quotation given above Zittel has no word of blame for what he calls the new direction of research, in which the paleontologists split up fossil species and genera "within the narrowest possible limits, in order to enhance the value of fossil brachiopods [and presumably other fossils also] for the characterization of stratigraphical horizons," in an openly avowed aim of bringing "the ontogenic and [the] phylogenetic development of the group into more apparent correspondence."

Here then we have a peep at the inside story of how the geological series, or the phylogenic series, as the evolutionists like to call it, has been built up. We remember how William Smith and Lyell laid the foundations by dating the rocks according to their fossil contents, which was assuming the succession of life to begin with, that is, was assuming the main outlineof the evolution theory. Then we remember how Agassiz taught the world to adjust the fossils by comparisons with both the embryonic and the taxonomic series. And now we find that modern geologists and paleontologists try to split their fossil species and genera as finely as possible, "in order to enhance the value of fossil brachiopods [and other fossils] for the characterization of stratigraphical horizons," in an openly declared effort "to bring the ontogenic and the phylogenetic development of the group into more apparent correspondence." [Ref. 23]

In view of all this, how can anyone object when I say that the geological series is a highly artificial affair, built up by using both the taxonomic and embryonic series as guides and comparisons? And then, what are we to think of using this constructed geological series as the standard with which to compare the embryonic development ofman and other animals, in an attempt to prove the theory of evolution? It almost makes one dizzy to think of the whirligig logic involved in such a performance.

When scientists are on a wrong track entirely in any particular line, about the only way for them to get right is for them to travel on to the very end, to convince them, that they are running up a blind alley. The advocates of the recapitulation theory seem now to be at about the end of their blind alley. About the only recent  attempt to save the recapitulation theory is G.R. De Beer's "Embryos and Ancestors" (London, 1940), which is reviewed by Dr. Cyril B. Courville in a comprehensive paper dealing with this subject. Summing up De Beer's book Courville says:

But the main thesis of the present paper is that the geological series has itself been artificially built up partly by comparison with the embryonic development, and hence that it is not legitimate to invoke geology again to prove the  main theory of evolution. In order to better understand all this, it will be well to go back again to the early work of Louis Agassiz and see what ideas he really taught and what came out of them.

How Agassiz Prepared the Way for Evolution

We have seen that Agassiz was the first to use fishes, modern and ancient, for the classification of the various geological horizons. Zittel tells us that he was also the first to use the embryonic development to evaluate or classify the many geological subdivisions or "horizons." Zittel says;
Agassiz was the first scientist who, in discussing the geneology of fishes, pointed out the correspondence between the characters of the different forms succeeding one another in time, and the characters of successive phases passed through by an organism during embryonic development. [Ref. 25]
Agassiz could not get the world to adopt his new scheme for classifying fishes largely based on the scaly skeleton; scientists thought the system already proposed by Cuvier was much better. And yet his methods of comparing the parallelisms of the embryonic development with the taxonomic and the geological, made a great hit with the scientific world, and under Haekel and others these parallelisms became one of the most convincing arguments in support of the theory of organic evolution, which Agassiz always detested and fought to his dying day. [Ref. 26]

Joseph Le Conte, who had studied under Agassiz at Harvard and  later became professor of geology at the University of California, has left us an enthusiastic praise of Agassiz as the man who taught the world many of the most fundamental ideas of the doctrine of evolution, though he himself refused to travel the road to the inevitable end. I shall let Le Conte speak for himself:

Now, I think it can be shown that to Agassiz, more than to any other man, is due the credit of having established the laws of succession of living forms in the geological history of the earth-laws upon which must rest any true theory of evolution. Also, that to him, more than to any other man, is due the credit of having perfected the method (method by comparison) by the use of which alone biological science has advanced so rapidly in modern times. [Ref. 28]
Le Conte proceeds to explain the meaning of the taxonomic or classification series, the embryonic or ontogenetic series, and the geological orphylogenic series. Cuvier was the founder of comparative anatomy; but he worked only with the first of these series, the taxonomic. Von Baer and Agassiz, Le Conte says, added comparison in the embryonic series also, and then compared these two series with each other, and used the facts of embryology to help develop a "correct" classification of animals.
If Von Baer was the first announcer, Agassiz was the first great practical worker by this method. Last and most important of all, in its relation to evolution, Agassiz added comparison in the geologic or phylogenic series. The one grand idea underlying Agassiz's wholelife-work, was the essential identity of the three series, and therefore the light which they must shed on one another.... In other words, during his whole  life, Agassiz insisted that the laws of embryonic development (ontogeny) are also the laws of geological succession (phylogeny). Surely this is the foundation, the only solid foundation, of a true theory of evolution. [Ref. 29]
Such is the language of one who wanted to praise Agassiz for doing so much to help lay the foundation of the evolution theory.


In closing this paper let us consider again just what the four series used by Agassiz really mean. They are: How can anyone deny that No. 2 is the only series actually made by nature, and that the others are all made by the mind and arrangement of man? True, in the case of No. 1, the animals all really exist; but the arrangement of them in a series is an artificial process; it could just as well be reversed, and dozens of different methods have been adopted in arranging the series, for there is no finality about any of them. No. 3, or geological  series, is similarly an artificial arrangement. Granting that the fossils exist in the strata, we must still confess that the work of arranging them from widely scatered localities into the so-called geological "column" is an artificial act. When we consider how perpetually the fossils from the various localities have been adjusted in the series by comparisons with both the taxonomic series and the embryonic, and then how frequently other adjustments have had to be made because of such puzzles as "deceptive conformities" and "thrust faults," surely every candid mind must acknowledge that the geological series as we know it is a highly artificial arrangement. And of course, any series made to illustrate geological distribution is purely artificial and nothing else.

Of course, those who believe in evolution are convinced that the geological series represents an actual historical event or series of events prolonged over long periods of time, and that it is only certain human limitations or difficulties which stand in the way of making the geological series correspond to the reality of the earth's history. The members of this Society deny all this, and believe that the fossils represent contemporary floras and faunas which were overwhelmed by one gigantic world-disaster. I need not here try to give our reasons for thus affirming the contemporary relationship of the fossils in contradistinction to their historical succession during long periods of time; the evidence for this is scattered through many books by the present writer.

But the vital point which I am trying to make is this: Agassiz had only one series of phenomena, the embryonic, which has an honest-to-goodness reality in nature; all the others are artificial, the work  not of nature but of the human mind and human planning. Then what circular reasoning, what hasty induction, to take any comparisons of these four series as supposed evidence for the theory of evolution.

It all sums up to this: The geological series of the fossils is an artificial arrangement, constructed for the world as a whole  largely by the help of comparison with both the taxonomic and embryonic series. It assumes the evolutionary series of life instead of proving it. Accordingly, to compare the embryonic growth of the individual with its supported ancestry in the geological series, as is done in the recapitulation theory, and to use this comparison as evidence for organic evolution, iscircular reasoning of the most extreme kind, Clear thinking people cannot be expected to give any heed to such perversions of logic.

Verily, the mills of the logic of science grind slowly, but they grind exceedingly small.

Notes and References

1. Suppose it were proved that in 60 or 75 per cent of instances, for the world as a  whole, Paleozoic fossils occur physically lower in the strata than do the Mesozoic, and that the Mesozoic occur in a similar proportion below the Tertiary, there would be other ways of explaining these facts instead of inferring a geological successsion of life. These facts are in no way inconsistent with a Flood as the cause of the fossils.

2. Agassiz, Elizabeth Cary; Louis Agassiz, His Life and Correspondence, Boston, 1886, 2 vols., pp. 123, 124.

2a. It should be remembered that young Agassiz, as well as Cuvier and the other pioneers in this line of geology and biology, thought they were studying out the method of creation, instead of the method of the destruction of the animals and plants of the world. They all expressly or implicitly denied the Flood as the cause of the fossils; instead they assumed that the fossils would reveal successive stages in the original creation. And they then (particularly Agassiz) assumed that they knew how an ideal series of creations probably took place, and they arranged the fossils accordingly. This is the whole dominating idea of the life-work of Agassiz, the idea which he industriously taught to the world, and which became the most important mental concept as the foundation of the theory of organic evolution.

3. Id., pp. 203, 204.

4. Id., p. 243.

5. History of Geology and Paleontology, London, Walter Scott, 1901, p. 507.

6. Eleventh Edition, Vol XX, p. 583.

7. The Recapitulation Theory and Human Infancy, New York, 1914, p. 10.

8. After quoting some strong statement from the best historian of biology, Nordenskiold, to the effect that Haekel's illustrations for his book were always drawn by himself and were designed exclusively to prove one single alleged fact and that they "were naturally schematic and without a trace of scientific value," Dr. Cyril B. Courville, in a recent paper well remarks: "It is thus evident that Haekel's objective was to prove the 'law of biogenesis,' and the chief attention which he gave to its deficiencies was to coin words to cover them." ("Bulletin of Deluge Geology," Vol 1,  1941, p. 39).

9. The Pan-American Geologist, March, 1937, pp. 117-128.

10. If anyone feels certain that the trilobites, dinosaurs, and mastodons could not have been living thus contemporaneously, he must have gained this assurance from some other source than their occurrence in the strata. What other source of assurance does he have? Obviously, this whole idea is an evolutionary assumption pure and simple. It is injected into the study of the rocks and the fossils, it is not derived from them.

11. Davidson, Percy E., The Recapitulation Theory, p. 10.

12. Encyclo. Brit., Eleventh Edition, Vol xx, p. 583.

13. Zittel, K.V., History of Geology and Paleontology, London, Walter Scott, 1901, p. 400.

14. Any one acquainted with geology knows that the series of fossil horses, or  elephants, or camels, etc., which make such "convincing" displays for evolution in the museums, were never found together in any vertical sequence, but invariably have been assembled from scattered localities and artificially arranged in this alleged historical sequence. Such exhibits are just evolutionary propaganda. They make an "imposing" display in more than one sense of the word.

15. Zittel, History, etc., p. 509.

16. Science, July 26, 1929, pp. 87, 88.

17. Science, July 26, 1929, pp. 87, 88.

18. Nature, March 17, 1928.

18a. Quoted by G.R. De Beer, Embryos and Ancestors, 1940, p. 8.

19. Whitehead, Alfred North; Process and Reality, 1929, p. 19.

20. Id., p. 22.

21. In a personal letter to me about my little book, "The Geological-Ages Hoax," Prof. Schiller wrote: "I found your contention interesting and a beautiful illustration of the possibility of putting an alternative interpretation on even the best established 'facts' (which always contain 'theories')."

22. Zittel, Karl Alfred von, History of Geology and Paleontology, 1901, pp. 375, 376.

23. Zittel, Op. Cit., p. 400.

24. Bulletin of Deluge Geology, vol 1, no. 2, 1941, p.56.

25. History of Geology and Paleontology, p. 411.

26. Agassiz is reported to have said to Prof. A.S. Packard, one of his former students: The greatest mistake of my scientific life has been in fighting the theory of evolution. I saw that it was coming for years, and my "essay on Classification" was written partly to forestall it. I believed it all wrong, but now I see that it will prevail." (Reported by J.S. Kingsley, of the University of California, Science, February 27, 1925, pp. 234-235.) For those who believe that the popularity of a scientific theory is a proof of its truthfulness, this will seem like a recantation by Agassiz in his old age.

28. Evolution and Its Relation to Religious Thought, Appleton, 1899, p. 38. Italics as in the original.

29. Evolution, etc., p. 43. Italics as in the original.

Other Works by Price:

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