Bertram Coghill Alan Windle.

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from the account, it will seem that nothing explicitly is
taught us in the first chapter beyond the fact that God created
all, and that He rested on the Sabbath day."

This not being a theological treatise it is unnecessary
to discuss at any length the findings of the Pontifical Com-
mission for Biblical Studies, which may be studied by those
desirous of so doing in Dr. Pope's work already mentioned.
Here it may briefly be said that we are directed not to
call in question the literal and historical meaning of facts
touching the foundations of the Christian religion — such, for
example, as the unity of the human race.

We are not bound to interpret everything in these chapters
literally where it is obvious that the words were not used
in the strict sense or that reason or necessity compel us to
give up the literal sense. Even an allegorical and prophetic
interpretation may at times be prudently applied.

Nor need we seek for scientific exactitude of expression,
since it was not the intention of the writer of the first


chapter of Genesis to teach us the innermost nature of
visible things, nor to present the complete order of creation
in a scientific manner, but rather to furnish his readers with
a popular account, such as the common parlance of that
age allowed : one, namely, adapted to the senses and to
man's intelligence. Thus the word yom (day) which is used
in the first chapter of Genesis for describing and distinguish-
ing the six days may be taken either in its strict sense as
the natural day or in the less strict sense as signifying a
certain space of time.

With these directions before us we may now turn to
consider two points which especially arise — points which
have been urged as obstacles to the acceptance of the
Christian religion.

The first of these will not require much consideration,
since it is dealt with in the last of the citations from the
findings of the Biblical Commission — that is, the question of
the meaning of the term " days." As long as it was held
that this signified actual terms of twenty-four hours it was
difficult to understand how matters were to be explained.
Of course no believer in a Creator doubts that God Almighty
could, had He thought fit to do so, have created the world
just as it is, fossil remains and all, in six literal days of
twenty-four hours each. It need not be said that no one
believes this to be the case, since such an operation would
have involved the wasteful if not absurd corollary of the
production of the apparent remains of millions upon millions
of living creatures which in fact had never been alive.
In an unscientific age, when the words of the Bible
were accepted as literally true, the first discovery of fossils
did indeed produce, and very naturally produced, great
difficulties in the minds of men who reverenced their religious
beliefs ; nor is it in any way wonderful that what we now
feel to have been ridiculous explanations should have been
put forward to account for what was to them a very real
if only apparent difficulty. Unworthy sneers have been
uttered against really great observers like Gabriel Fallopius,
who committed themselves, as was observed in an earlier
chapter, to what we now all recognise as a far-fetched and
ridiculous explanation.


As we have seen, the absurd insinuation that this explana-
tion was one intended purposely to deceive in the supposed
interests of the Church is sufficiently disposed of by the fact,
usually suppressed by disseminators of the Fallopius fable,
that the real character and significance of fossils were first
made known to the world by a Catholic Bishop, Nicolaus
Stensen, who is justly regarded by the scientific world as
the Father of Modern Geology. 1

As a matter of fact we are quite familiar with the use
of the word " day " in the Bible in a figurative sense : we
have the " day of the Lord," for example, which no one
ever supposed to refer to a period of twenty-four hours.

Then further there is this cardinal point of importance
which we must ever keep before our minds when we are
considering this matter of Creation — a point which will
receive further consideration when we are dealing with the
question of Evolution. This most important point is that
when we are speaking of the Creator we are speaking of a
Being with whom all is present and for whom there is
neither past nor future. We have already discussed the
difficult questions of Time and Space to some extent in
Chapter X and have seen how impossible it is to form
any proper conception of either of them. The late Oliver
Wendell Holmes says in one of his books : " Curious en-
tities, or non-entities, space and time ! When you see a
metaphysician trying to wash his hands of them and get
rid of these accidents, so as to lay his dry, clean palm on
the absolute, does it not remind you of the hopeless task of
changing the blackamoor by a similar proceeding ? For
space is the fluid in which he is washing and time is the
soap which he is using up in the process, and he cannot
get free from them until he can wash himself in a mental

We cannot think or speak of God except in a more or
less anthropomorphic manner, and that for the excellent
reason that we are men ourselves. Nor can we think out-
side the " entities or non-entities " of Time and Space.
But just as we can recognise that our anthropomorphic con-

1 See his life in " Twelve Catholic Men of Science," published by the
Catholic Truth Society.


ception of the Deity, though the highest and best that we
can form, is hopelessly incorrect and inadequate, so also
though we cannot understand the condition, we can fully,
realise that an Infinite and All-sufficient Being must neces-
sarily be untrammelled by Space and Time. And thus we
realise that to talk of " days " in connection with such a
Being, and to suppose that for Him they resemble our suc-
cessive periods of twenty-four hours each, is to talk of two
wholly different things under the same name. We do not
mistake the meaning of the words " God rested," nor sup-
pose that the same meaning attaches to them as would
attach to the same words if said about any of us.

" Hast thou eyes of flesh : or shalt thou see as man
seeth ? Are thy days as the days of man, and are thy years
as the times of man ? " says the Book of Job. This seems to
sum the matter up, for as God certainly has not eyes after
the manner of a> man, neither are we to suppose that the
" days " with which we are now concerned, whether men-
tioned in the first chapters of Genesis or in the Ten Com-
mandments, are other than figurative terms expressive of
periods which might be well thought of under the idea of
days. " Any contradiction, then, between Genesis and
geology as to the time of creation is plainly impossible, for
their teaching is of a different kind. The one tells us, or
may tell us, the time of creation in regard to man as measured
by years and centuries ; the other tells us the insignificance
of this time in regard to God. And therefore, as has been
well said, there is only one way in which the discoveries of
science can affect this subject. By the help of science we
may obtain a truer idea of the real dimensions and mar-
vellous constitution of the universe, a truer idea of the
enormous length of time during which it was being brought
to its present perfection ; thus obtaining also a truer idea
of the eternal greatness of Him to whom the whole of this
vast work seemed but the labour of a few days." 1

And now for the second point, which relates to the actual
process as described in Genesis.

In the first place, the Scriptural account is plainly and

1 Turton, " The Truth of Christianity," London, Wells Gardner,
8th ed., p. 142.


distinctly monotheistic, and in this respect it differs from
some of the other ancient mythologies, which are poly-
theistic. The Assyro-Babylonian accounts " are frankly,
nay grossly, polytheistic," says Dr. Pope, " whereas the
Biblical account is purely monotheistic. Again, the Assyrian
account does not seem to involve a creative act ; the light,
for instance, is rather the result of a conflict between two
powers, an evolution rather than a creation, and we are
reminded of the dualism of the Persian Zoroastrianism. It
is particularly noticeable how the' Assyrian story personifies
the Chaos of the Bible ; Tiamat is a deity, or at least a
principle of evil. This is part of that metaphorical presenta-
tion of things which we indicated above when treating of
myths ; but the Biblical account is absolutely free from it.
Once more, as Prof. Sayce has well remarked, ' between
Bel-Merodach and the Hebrew God there is an impassable

gulf.' "»

In the next place, it is very distinctly stated that the
process was gradual. The account might very well have
stated that God created the universe and all that was and
is in it and have ended with that statement. It would
have been a perfectly correct statement, so all Christians
believe ; but that which is given to us is more detailed, for
it informs us that first one and then another thing happened,
and the sequence of these events is sketched for us in the
form of days. There is a sequence : that is clear, and we
have now to see how far it fits in with what science tells us
on the subject. 2

(i.) " In the beginning God created heaven and earth "
(Gen. i. 1). We have already discussed the question of
Matter and shall again have to touch upon some of the
views which are held about it, and we have seen that in
the opinion of eminent physicists there is no alternative
between the two theories — that Matter was created and
endowed with its powers by God or that it is eternal and
alive. The former is the view which the late Lord Kelvin

1 Pope, op. cit., p. 197.

2 Though it is useful to commence the consideration of the " Seven
Days " with the chronological discussion now to be undertaken, it must
be taken in very strict relation with the statements contained in the next


stated to be that demanded by science. It is certainly
that which all Christians hold, and we shall venture to argue
that from the standpoint of mere reason it is infinitely more
credible than the other. If that be so it is obvious that,
since all things are formed from matter, it would be the
first thing to come into existence and from it would be
formed the heavens and the earth, that is the universe.

(ii.) " And the earth was void and empty, and darkness
was upon the face of the deep " (Gen. i. 2). Here again
the account exactly tallies with what science tells us to
have been the case. The earth having been formed from
a nebula in a state of intense heat and requiring a long time
in order to cool down to the point at which living matter
could exist upon it must, during that time, have been void
and empty of living things. Moreover, everything seems
to point to the fact that during this period it must have
been surrounded by dense clouds of vapour, afterwards to
condense into the seas and waters of our planet, vapours
which would cut off from the earth, as it then was, any
rays of light which it might otherwise have received from
the glowing nebular masses of the universe.

(iii.) " And God said : Be light made. And light was
made " (Gen. i. 3). This is a point as to which some remarks
must be set down. In the first place it may be pointed out
once more that the whole account of the Creation centres
round this earth of ours and'is not necessarily or reasonably
to be expected to contain a minute narrative of the universe
and its formation. The statement as to the darkness in
the previous verse certainly and admittedly relates to the
condition of the earth. It would appear that the state-
ment as to the light does the same and that it gives us to
understand that the next stage in the proceedings was the
letting in of the light upon the previously dark earth, which
would occur when a condensation and precipitation of the
dense vapours surrounding the earth had taken place.

But where was this light derived from, since we are told
that the sun and moon and stars were not yet in existence ?
This is a very remarkable point and one which bears out
the accuracy of the Biblical account in a very striking and
unexpected manner. At the time that it was written, and



for many hundreds of years afterwards, no one knew any-
thing about the Nebular Theory, and it might have been
argued that it was patently absurd to suppose that light
could have existed before the existence of those bodies
from which we now receive it. The Nebular Theory,
however, clears up this difficulty, for it teaches that
our solar system, which is all that the Biblical account is
directly concerned with, at the period in question, was
composed of whirling and as yet imperfectly condensed
masses of nebular substance. In the case of the sun, on
account of its size, the condensation would take longer
than in the case of the earth. It would still be incorrect
perhaps to speak of it as a sun, but it was a source of light,
as were any other nebular masses which might have been
in existence. It is certainly remarkable, as far as we have
got, that the Biblical account and that of science present
no contradictions. That is what we, as believers in Revela-
tion, would expect, but we may reasonably ask of those
who do not believe how they account for the fact that such
a near approximation to what science believes to have
occurred should have been reached, seeing that no human
eye saw, nor could any human mind, one would imagine,
guess at these far-off occurrences.

(iv.) " And God said : Let there be a firmament made
amidst the waters : and let it divide the waters from the
waters " (Gen. i. 6). The note in the Douay version very
clearly explains what^ is meant by this saying, for it runs :
" A firmament. By this name is here understood the whole
space between the earth and the highest stars. The lower
part of which divideth the waters that are upon the earth,
from those that are above in the clouds." We have already
seen that the process of condensation, by which the waters
around the earth in a state of dense mist were deposited on
the cooling globe to become its seas and lakes, was one
which would take place when the earth had sufficiently
cooled and would be accompanied by the falling of light
upon the hitherto dark surface of the planet.

(v.) " God also said : Let the waters that are under the
heaven be gathered together into one place : and let the
dry land appear " (Gen. i. 9). From this we learn that at


one time there was no such thing as a patch of dry land
on the surface of the earth, but that all was water — a thing
which no one would have been likely to have guessed or
even expected but which science is very far from denying.
On the contrary, it seems at least quite possible, from what
science infers, that this was exactly what did happen :
that the earth was at one time completely covered with
water and that subsequent elevations of parts of its sur-
face, accompanied by depressions of others, led to the col-
lection of the waters into isolated localities forming the
seas and lakes of the primitive world, with dry land now
emerging from them.

(vi.) " And He said : Let the earth bring forth the
green herb and such as may seed, and the fruit tree
yielding fruit after its kind" (Gen. i. 11). Here we have
the appearance of vegetation and in its right place, for
though low forms of invertebrata seem to accompany the
earlier forms of vegetation known to us, no one denies that
the vegetable kingdom is more primitive than the animal,
nor that in the process of evolution one would expect plants
to appear before animals. Here again, however, it is fair
to ask how an uninspired writer was likely to have made
the lucky guess that plants came before animals.

There is, of course, a point which must not be passed over
here without comment. The Scripture clearly alludes to
all kinds of plants and makes very special mention of
Phanerogams or flowering plants which, as we have seen,
did not come into existence until long after other and, in
the Biblical account, later events. Here again we must
revert to the principles laid down that the account is an
outline, mainly intended to represent the work of the
Creator in His creation and is singularly abbreviated.
From the evolutionary point of view the account is remark-
ably correct, for ex hypothesi plants having first arisen as
very lowly Protophytes, passed through Cryptogams into
Phanerogams and, since the higher were involved in the
lower forms, may all have been said to have been created
at the same time. This is a matter which will have further
to be dealt with when the question of Evolution comes
under discussion and it may be left where it is for the


moment with the remark that the Scriptural account,
properly understood, does not contradict in any way what
science believes to have been the case as to the order of
the appearance of living things. We note, however, that we
have arrived at a very important milestone in the history
of the world, that of the introduction of life, a new principle
which in its higher manifestations was profoundly to modify
the world of inanimate matter.

(vii.) " And God said : Let there be lights made in the
firmament of heaven. . . . And God made two great lights :
a greater light to rule the day ; and a lesser light to rule
the night : and the stars " (Gen. i. 14-16).

Reference has already been made to the question of the
appearance of light before there is any mention of the sun,
and on this matter a quotation from a work already referred
to may be permitted. After speaking of the Nebular Theory
and the removal of the obstacles to the permeation of light
presented by the thick vapours which surround the earth
Col. Turton continues 1 : " If it be urged that on this
view the sun was not actually created on the fourth
day, but had merely by that time sufficiently contracted
to become a great light, and that Genesis ought to have
implied this, the answer is obvious. It is precisely what
Genesis has done. The original creation of the sun is de-
scribed in verse 1 under the term Heaven ; and when we
are told later on that God made two great lights, the other
word is used, which as before said, means evolved or
fashioned, and which would be quite suitable for the gradual
formation of a sun from a nebula.

"Two objections have now to be considered. The first
refers to the moon, which must have been thrown off from
the earth long before the dry land and the vegetation ap-
peared ; and being so small, would have consolidated
sooner. But when considered only as lights, as they are in
the narrative, it is quite correct to place the moon with
the sun ; since moonlight is merely reflected sunlight.
And, therefore, before the sun contracted so as to give out
a powerful light, the moon could not have shone very
brightly either.

» " The Truth of Christianity," p. 154.


" The second objection is, that according to Genesis, the
earth seems to be the centre of everything, and even the
sun, or at all events its light, exists solely for the sake of
lighting the earth. Now no doubt the writer takes for
granted the great importance of the earth ; but as far as
man is concerned — and the narrative was written for him
alone — it is quite correct to do so. And as to the object
of sunlight : we know that it is of use to the inhabitants
of this planet, and we do not know that it serves any other
useful purpose whatever.

" These, however, are but minor matters ; the important
point, as before said, is that the writer of Genesis places
the formation of the sun after that of light. This must
have appeared when it was written, and for thousands of
years afterwards, an obvious absurdity, since everyone
could see that the sun was the source of light. We now
know that it is correct. But is it likely that the writer of
Genesis had any human means of knowing this ; or is it
likely that, without such means, he should have made
such a wonderfully lucky guess ? Either alternative seems
most improbable, and yet there is no other, unless we admit
that the knowledge was divinely revealed."

(viii.) " God also said : Let the waters bring forth the
creeping creature having life, and the fowl that may fly
over the earth under the firmament of heaven. And God
created the great whales and every living and moving
creature which the waters brought forth, according to their
kinds, and every winged fowl according to its kind " (Gen.
i. 20, 21).

Here we arrive at the second milestone in the path of
progress, for not only do we find ourselves confronted by
life but for the first time with sentient life, and, as already
said, it is described at the place where science tells us that
it might be looked for. Now here we have another agree-
ment between the Scriptural and the scientific accounts,
for the evolutionist will certainly not deny that zoological
life seems first of all to have originated in the sea ; that it
was preceded by the appearance of vegetable life ; that
fishes did come before birds and that the gigantic saurians —
which it is suggested may have been intended by the


Hebrew word commonly but probably incorrectly trans-
lated " whales " — were a very remarkable feature of the
period of geological time at which we have now arrived,
since some of them attained a length of at least fifty feet.
It has also been pointed out that it is somewhat remarkable
that the writer, of course unfamiliar with science, should
have grouped birds with fishes and not with mammals,
which would have seemed much more natural. Yet in
doing so he is acting quite correctly.

It cannot, however, be concealed that the narrative at
the point at which we have arrived leaves one difficulty to be
cleared up. In our sixth sub-division we arrived at vegetable
life and now in our eighth for the first time we come upon
animal life. Yet, on the other hand, as far as we know,
invertebrate life, of a low form no doubt, has existed upon
the earth as long as life of a purely vegetable character.
According to the evolutionist — though this is a theory, not
an established or perhaps even an establishable fact — life
appeared as a single-celled organism of an indefinite char-
acter which diverged on the one hand, into protophytes,
or early vegetables, and on the other into protozoans or
early animals. This surmise, even if correct (which is quite
unproved) would still, from the philosophical point of view,
leave the plant form the earlier of the two. For the essence
of the animal form is that it has something more than the
plant form, namely, sentience of some kind or another.
The indifferent form, if we can conceive of such a thing,
cannot have possessed sentience, therefore it was not an
animal. But if it did not possess sentience and yet was
alive it must have been a plant. This argument would
lead us to believe, on the evolutionary hypothesis, that
animals had been derived from vegetables and that the
latter were, as the Scriptural account makes them, the older
of the two.

Still the animal kingdom is apparently placed at a
greater distance from the vegetable than one would expect,
and perhaps the explanation is that the account does not
trouble itself with what would, to those for whom it was
intended, seem quite insignificant creatures and makes
straight for those forms of animal life which would seem


to be and really are of first importance as factors amongst
the fauna of the earth. One always has to bear in mind
the compressed nature of the account and the purpose for
which it was written. When these are allowed for there
certainly is nothing very wonderful in the omission,
if omission there be, of any notice of the invertebrate

(ix.) " And God said : Let the earth bring forth the
living creature in its kind, cattle and creeping things, and
beasts of the earth according to their kinds " (Gen. i. 24).

Here again we find the land-animals placed in their
proper position, for they certainly came into existence after
fishes and birds and before man — that is, taking them as a
whole. There were a few marsupials as early as birds,
but mammals only come into real importance in the Tertiary
period, so that the statement is quite correct in a com-

Online LibraryBertram Coghill Alan WindleThe church and science → online text (page 17 of 38)