Author of "The Old Red Sandstone," etc.

"When I asked him how this earth could have been repeopled if ever it had under
gone the same fate it was threatened with by the comet of 1680, he answered,--'that
required the power of a Creator.' " -- Conduit's Conversation with Sir Isaac Newton.

From the Third London Edition

With a Memoir of the Author,

by Louis Agassiz

Gould and Lincoln


312 + 42 pages

This electronic edition prepared by Dr. David C. Bossard
from original documents in his personal library.

October, 2005.

Copyright © 2005 by Dr. David C. Bossard.  All rights reserved.

NOTE: The term dinosaur was coined by Sir Richard Owen in 1841. The word does not appear in this book. In this book, the author, Hugh Miller, argues that the early appearance of the large ganoid fish, Asterolepis, early in the Old Red Sandstone (Devonian era) is a mark against the "development hypothesis" being advanced at the time by Lamarck and others, and that eventually formed the basis for evolutionary theory. The Asterolepis is a Devonian coelacanth, a family (Latimeriidae) that was discovered by Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, in 1938 off Madagascar after being thought exinct for 80 million years. See Samantha Weinberg, A Fish Caught in Time, HarperCollins, 2000. See also the web site


Dedication to Sir Philip de Malpas Grey Egerton  iii  iii  iv

To the Reader v  v  vi  vii  viii  ix  x

Memoir of the Author by Louis Agassiz xi to xxxvii.  xi  xii  xiii  xiv  xv  xvi  xvii  xviii  xix  xx  xxi  xxii  xxiii  xxiv  xxv  xxvi  xxvii  xxviii  xxix  xxx  xxxi  xxxii  xxxiii  xxxiv  xxxv  xxxvi  xxxvii

"Among the eminent students of the structure of the earth, Mr. Hugh Miller holds a lofty place, not merely from the discovery of new and undescribed organisms in the Old Red Sandstone, but from the accuracy and beauty of his descriptions, the purity and elegance of his composition, and the high tone of philosophy and religion which distinguishes all his writings." p. xiv

Note: The Old Red Sandstone is from what is now known as the Permian Era.

[xxxii] [On progressive development] "The progress of the [fishes] as a whole, though it still retains not a few of the higher forms, has been a progress not of development from the low to the high, but of degradation from the high to the low."

[xxxiii] "The history of its progress in creation bears directly against the assumption that the earlier vertebrata were of a lower type than the vertebrata of the same Ichthyic class which exists now."

Contents xxxix to xlii  xxxix  xl  xli  xlii


STROMNESS AND ITS ASTEROLEPIS. --THE LAKE OF STENNIS 25  025  026  027  028  029  030  031  032  033  034  035  036

>Stromness, dinosaur, Asterolepis, Old Red Sandstone = Devonian era, Lake of Stennis, Ganoids, Coelacanths, Latimeriidae,

THE DEVELOPMENT HYPOTHESIS, AND ITS CONSEQUENCES 37  037  038  039  040  041  042  043  044  045  046  047

Emphases as in the original.

p41 "Life is governed by external conditions, and new conditions imply new races; but then, as to their creation, that is the 'mystery of mysteries.' Are they created by an immediate fiat and direct act of the Almighty? or has He originally impressed life with an elasticity and adaptability, so that it shall take upon itself new forms and characters, according to the conditions to which it shall be subjected? ...Either way, it matters little, physically or morally, either mode implies the same omnipotence, and wisdom, and foresight, and protection; and it is only your little religious sects and scientific coteries which make a pother about the matter,-- sects and coteries of which it may be justly said, that they would almost exclude God from the management of his own world, if not managed and directed in the way that they would have it." Now, this is surely a most unfair representation of the consequences, ethical and religious, involved in the development hypothesis. It is not its incompatibility with belief in the existence of a First Great cause that has to be established, in order to prove it harmlesss; but its compatibility with ceratin other all-important beliefs, without which simple Theism is of no moral value whatever -- a belief in the immortality and responsibility of man, and in the scheme of salvation by a Mediator and Redeemer. Dissociated from these beliefs, a belief in the existence of a God is of as little ethical value as a belief in the existence of the great sea-serpent.

Let us see whether we cannot determine what the testimony of Geology, on this question of creation by development, really is.

p43 [Churches] must greatly extend their educational walks into the field of physical science. ... they do not now seem sufficiently aware--though the low thunder of every railway, and the snort of every steam engine, and the whistle of the wind amid the wirres of every electric telegraph, serve to publish the fact-- that it is in the departments of physics, not of metaphysics, that the greater minds of the age are engaged....  In that educational course through which, in this country, candidates for the ministry pass, in preparation for their office, I find every group of great minds... representated, save the last.

p46 [According to the development theory] In the first place, the earlier fossils ought to be very small in size; and in the second, very low in organization. In cutting into the stony womb of nature, in order to determine what it contained mayhap millions of ages ago, we must expect, if the development theory be true, to look upon mere embryos and foetuses. And if we find, instead, the full grown and the mature, then we must hold that the testimony of Geology is not only not in accordance with the theory, but in positive opposition to it.

> Evolution = Progressive Development hypothesis, Maillet, Lamarck,

THE RECENT HISTORY OF THE ASTEROLEPIS. --ITS FAMILY 48  048  049  050  051  052  053  054  055  056  057  058  059  060  061

p48 [Lamarck] had a trick of dreaming when wide awake, and of calling his dreams philosophy.

> dogfish,  Osteolepis (bony fish), diplopterians,  Coelacanths, Acanths, Holoptychius,  reptile teeth

CEREBRAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE EARLIER VERTEBRATA.  -- ITS APPARENT PRINCIPLE 62  062  063  064  065  066  067  068  069  070  071  072  073  074  075  076  077  078  079  080  081  082  083  084  085  086  087  088  089  090  091  092  093

>early vertebrata, cerebral development,  cranial bucklers, acanths, cod, Coccosteus cranium,  Osteolepis cranium,  Asterolepis cranium, ichthyic teeth, reptile teeth, Ichthyosaurus, Dipterus Cranium,

THE ASTEROLEPIS. --ITS STRUCTURE, BULK, AND ASPECT 94  094  095  096  097  098  099  100  101  102  103  104  105  106  107  108  109  110  111  112  113  114  115  116  117  118  119  120  121  122  123  124  125  126  127  128  129

p127 [I]n the not unimportant circumstance of size, the most ancient Ganoids yet known, instead of taking their places, agreeably to the demands of the development hypothesis, among the sprats, sticklebacks, and minnows of their class, took their place among its huge basking sharks, gigantic sturgeons, and bulky sword-fishes. They were giants, not dwarfs... Instead of being, as the development hypothesis would require, a fish low in its organization, it seems to have ranged on the level of the highest ichthyic-reptilian families ever called into existence.

p129 "In no degree does the geologic testimony rrespecting the earliest Ganoids differ from what, in the supposed case would be the testimony of Eden regarding the earliest men. Up to a certain point in the geologic scale we find that the Ganoids are not; and when they at length make their appearance upon the stage, they enter large in their stature and high in their organization.

> dernak tybercles, Asterolepis,

FISHES OF THE SILURIAN ROCKS,  UPPER AND LOWER. --THEIR RECENT HISTORY, ORDER, AND SIZE . 130  130  131  132  133  134  135  136  137  138  139  140  141  142  143  144  145  146

>lower silurian = Ordovician, upper silurian = Silurian,  Roderick Murchison, cartilaginous fishes

HIGH STANDING OF THE PLACOIDS.-OBJECTIONS CONSIDERED 147  147  148  149  150  151  152  153  154  155  156  157  158  159

"We find that in the progress of creation the fishes began to be by groupes and septs, arranged according to the principle on which it erects its orders. The Placoids, the Ganoids succeeded them, and the Ctenoids and Cycloids brought up the rear.

>Placoids, Ganoids, Ctenoids and Cycloids, Agassiz,  family Sturiones (osseous fishes), Suctorii (Cyclostomi, or Lampreys),

THE PLACOID BRAIN.  -- EMBRYONIC CHARACTERISTICS NOT NECESSARILY OF A LOW ORDER 160  160  161  162  163  164  165  166  167  168  169  170  171  172  173  174  175  176  177  178  179  180

p161 "It has been calculated by naturalists, that in the vertebrata, the brain in the class of fishes bears an average proportion to the spinal cord of about two to one; in the class of reptiles, of about two and a half to one; in the class of birds, of about three to one; in the class of mammals, of about four to one; and in the high-placed sceptre-bearing human family, a proportion of not less than twenty-three to one.

>progression according to the substance of brain: mammal, bird, reptile, fish, invertebrates.

THE PROGRESS OF DEGRADATION. --ITS HISTORY 181  181  182  183  184  185  186  187  188  189  190  191  192  193  194  195  196  197  198  199  200  201  202  203  204

EVIDENCE OF THE SILURIAN MOLLUSCS. --OF THE FOSSIL FLORA.--ANCIENT TREE 205  205  206  207  208  209  210  211  212  213  214  215  216  217  218  219  220  221  222  223  224  225  226  227  228  229

>fucoids, gymnosperms, monocots, dicots,

SUPERPOSITION NOT PARENTAL RELATION. --THE BEGINNINGS OF LIFE 230  230  231  232  233  234  235  236  237  238  239  240  241  242

p233 "I have been reading the history of creation in the side of your deep ditch," says the philosopher, "and find the record really very complete. Look there," he adds, pointing to the unfossiliferous strip that runs along the bottom of the bank; "there, life, both vegetable and animal, first began. It began, struck by electricity out of albumen, as a congeries of minute globe-shaped atoms, -- each a hollow sphere within a sphere, as in the well-known Chinese puzzle; and from these living atoms were all the higher forms progressively developed. The ditch, of course, exhibits none of the atoms with which being first commenced; for the atoms don't keep; -- we merely see their place indicated by that unfossilliferous band at the bottom; but we may detect immediately over it almost the first organisms into which -- parting thus early into the two great branches of organic beings -- they were developed. There are the fucoids, the first-born among vegetables, -- and there the zoophytes, well nigh the lowest of the animal forms...."

p241 It is to Geology as it is known to be, that the Lamarckian has appealed, - not to Geology as it is not known to be. He has summoned into court existing witnesses; and, finding their testimony unfavorable, he seeks to neutralize their evidence by calling from the "vasty deep," of the unexamined and the obscure, witnesses that "won't come," - that by the legitimate authorities are not known even to exist, and with which he himself is, on his own confession, wholly unacquainted, save in the old scholastic character of mere possibilities. The possible fossil can have no more standing in this controversy than the "possible angel." He tells us that we have not yet got down to that base-line of all the fossiliferous systems at which life first began; and very possibly we have not. But what of that? He has carried his appeal to Geology as it is; - he has referred his case to the testimony of the known witnesses, for in no case can the unknown ones be summoned or produced. It is on the evidence of the known, and the known only, that the exact value of his claims must be determined; and his appeal to the unknown serves but to show how thoroughly he himself feels that the actually ascertained evidence bears against him. The severe censure of Johnson on reasoners of this class is in no degree over-severe. "He who will determine," said the moralist, "against that which he knows, because there may be something which he knows not, - he that can set hypothetical possibility against acknowledged certainty,- is not to be admitted among reasonable beings."

LAMARCAIAN HYPOTHESIS OF THE ORIGIN OF PLANTS. -- ITS CONSEQUENCES 243  243  244  245  246  247  248  249  250  251  252  253  254  255  256  257  258  259  260  261

p244 It is a curious fact, to which in the passing, I must be permitted to call the attention of the reader, that all the leading assertors of the development hypothesis have been bad geologists.

THE TWO FLORAS, MARINE AND TERRESTRIAL. -- BEARING OF THE EXPERIENCE ARGUMENT 262  262  263  264  265  266  267  268  269  270  271  272  273  274  275  276

THE DEVELOPMENT HYPOTHESIS IN ITS EMBRYONIC STATE.  - OLDER THAN ITS ALLEGED FOUNDATIONS 277  277  278  279  280  281  282  283  284  285  286  287  288  289  290  291  292  293  294  295  296  297  298  299  300  301  302

p288 The astronomer founded his belief in the mobility of the earth and the immobility of the sun, not on a mere dream-like hypothesis, founded on nothing, but on a wide and solid base of pure induction. Galileo was no mere dreamer ; - he was a discoverer of great truths, and a profound reasoner regarding them : and on his discoveries and his reasonings, compelled by the inexorable laws of his mental constitution, did he build up certain deductive beliefs, which had no previous existence in his mind. His convictions were consequents, not antecedents. Such, also, is the character of geological discovery and inference, and of the existing belief, - their joint production, - regarding the great antiquity of the globe.

No geologist worthy of the name began with the belief, and then set himself to square geological phenomena with its requirements. It is a deduction, - a result ; - not the starting assumption, or given sum, in a process of calculation, but its ultimate finding or answer. Clergymen of the orthodox Churches, such as the Sumners, Sedgwicks, Bucklands, Conybeares, and Pye Smiths of England, or the Chalmerses, Duncans, and FIemings of our own country, must have come to the study of this question of the world's age with at least no bias in favor of the geological estimate. The old, and, as it has proven, erroneous reading of the Mosaic account, was by much too general a one early in the present century, not to have exerted upon them, in their character as ministers of religion, a sensible influence of a directly opposite nature. And the fact of the complete reversal of their original bias, and of the broad unhesitating finding on the subject which they ultimately substituted instead, serves to intimate to the uninitiated the strength of the evidence to which they submitted. There can be nothing more certain than that it is minds of the same calibre and class, engaged in the same inductive track, that yielded in the first instance to the astronomical evidence regarding the earth's motion, and, in the second, to the geological evidence regarding the earth's age.*

p296 Give me your facts, said the Frenchman, that I may accommodate them to my theory. And no one can look at the progress of the Lamarckian hypothesis, with reference to the dates when, and the men by whom, it was promulgated, without recognizing in it one of perhaps the most striking embodiments of the Frenchman's principle which the world ever saw. It is not the illiberal religionist that rejects and casts it off, - it is the inductive philosopher.

p301 "No true geologist holds by the development hypothesis; - it has been resigned to sciolists and smatterers; - and there is but one other alternative. They began to be, through the miracle of creation. From the evidence furnished by these rocks we are shut down either to the belief in miracle, or to the belief in something else infinitely harder of reception, and as thoroughly unsupported by testimony as it is contrary to experience.

FINAL CAUSES.  --THEIR BEARING ON GEOLOGIC HISTORY  --CONCLUSION 303  303  304  305  306  307  308  309  310  311  312  313  314  315  316  317  318  319  320  321  322  323  324  325  326  327  328  329  330  331  332  333  334  335  336  337

p307 There is geologic evidence, as has been shown, that in the course of creation the higher orders succeeded the lower. We have no good reason to believe that the mollusc and crustacean preceded the fish, seeing that discovery, in its slow course, has already traced the vertebrata in the ichthyic form, down to deposits which only a few years ago were regarded as representatives of the first beginnings of organized existence on our planet, and that it has at the same time failed to add a lower system to that in which their remains occur. But the fish seems most certainly to have preceded the reptile and the bird; the reptile and the bird to have preceded the mammiferous quadruped; and the mammiferous quadruped to have preceded man,-rational, accountable man, whom God created in his own image, - the much-loved Benjamin of the family, - last-born of all creatures. It is of itself an extraordinary fact, without reference to other considerations, that the order adopted by Cuvier, in his animal kingdom, as that in which the four great classes of vertebrate animals, when marshalled according to their rank and standing, naturally range should be also that in which they occur in order of time. The brain which bears an average proportion to the spinal cord of not more than two to one, came first,- it is the brain of the fish; that which bears to the spinal cord an average proportion of two and a half to one succeeded it, - it is the brain of the reptile ; then came the brain averaging as three to one, - it is that of the bird; next in succession came the brain that averages as four to one, - it is that of the mammal; and last of all there appeared a brain that averages as twenty-three to one, - reasoning, calculating man had come upon the scene. All the facts of geological science are hostile to the Lamarckian conclusion, that the lower brains were developed into the higher. As if with the express intention of preventing so gross a mis-reading of the record, we find, in at least two classes of animals, - fishes and reptiles, - the higher races placed at the beginning: the slope of the inclined plane is laid, if one may so speak, in the reverse way, and, instead of rising towards the level of the succeeding class, inclines downwards, with at least the effect, if not the design, of making the break where they meet exceedingly well marked and conspicuous. And yet the record does seem to speak of development and progression ; - not, however, in the province of organized existence, but in that of insensate matter, subject to the purely chemical laws. It is in the style and character of the dwelling-place that gradual improvement seems to have taken place ; - not in the functions or the rank of any class of its inhabitants; and it is with special reference to this gradual improvement in our common mansion-house the earth, in its bearing on the "conditions of existence," that not a few of our reasonings regarding the introduction and extnction of species and genera must proceed.


Note: Refer to the above pages for these illustrations.

1. Internal ridge of hyoid plate of Asterolepis 31
2. Shagreen of Raja clavata : --of Sphagodus 54
3. Scales of Acanthodes sulcatus :  -- shagreen of Scyllium  stellare 55
4. Scales of Cheiracanthus microlepidotus  --shagreen of Spinax Acanthias 56
5. Section of shagreen of Scyllium  stellare:  -- of scales of Cheiracanthus microlepidotus 56
6. Scales of Osteolepis microlepidotus :  -- of an undescribed species of Glyptolepis 57
7. Osseous points of Placoid Cranium 65
8. Osseous centrum of Spinax Acanthias :  -- of Raja clavata 67
9. Portions of caudal fin of Cheiracanthus :  -- of Cheirolepis 69
10. Upper surface of cranium of Cod 72
11. Cranial buckler of Coccosteus 74
12. Cranial buckler of Osteolepis 75
13. Upper surface of head of Osteolepis 77
14. Under surface of head of Osteolepis 79
15. Head of Osteolepis, seen in profile 80
16. Cranial buckler of Diplopterus 81
17. Ditto 82
18. Palatal dart-head, and group of palatal teeth, of Dipterus 83
19. Cranial buckler of Dipterus 85
20. Base of cranium of Dipterus 86
21.Under jaw of Dipterus 87
22. Longitudinal section of head of Dipterus 88
23. Section of vertebral centrum of Thornback 92
24. Dermal tubercles of Asterolepis 95
25. Scales of Asterolepis 96
26. Portion of carved surface of scale 96
27. Cranial buckler of Asterolepis 98
23. Inner surface of cranial buckler of Asterolepis 99
29. Plates of cranial buckler of Asterolepis 102
30. Portion of under jaw of Asterolepis 103
31. Inner side of portion of under jaw of Asterolepis 104
32. Portion of transverse section of reptile tooth of Asterolepis 105
33. Section of jaw of Asterolepis 106
34. Maxillary bone? 108
35. Inner surface of operculum of Asterolepis 109
36. Hyoid plate 110
37. Nail-like bone of hyoid plate 111
38. Shoulder plate of Asterolepis 112
39. Dermal bones of Asterolepis 113
40. Internal bones of Asterolepis 114
41. Ditto 115
42. Ischium of Asterolepis 116
43. Joint of ray of Thornback : --of Asterolepis 117
44. Coprolites of Asterolepis 118
45. Hyoid plate of Thurso Asterolepis 124
46. Hyoid plate of Russian Asterolepis 127
47. Spine of Spinax Acanthias :  -- fragment of Onondago spine 143
48. Tail of Spinax Acanthias :  -- of Ichthyosaurus tenuirostris 172
49. Port Jackson Shark (Cestracion Phillippi) 177
50. Tail of Osteolepis 195
51. Tail of Lepidosteus osseus 196
62. Tail of Perch 197
53. Altingia excelsa (Norfolk-Island Pine) 212
54. Fucoids of the Lower Old Red Sandstone 216
65. Two species of Old Red Fucoids 217
56. Fern (?) of the Lower Old Red Sandstone 219
57. Lignite of the Lower Old Red Sandstone 221
68. Internal structure of lignite of Lower Old Red Sandstone 223