Edward Hitchcock.

The religion of geology and its connected sciences online

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a condition of trial and preparation for a higher state, when both mind
and body would be delivered from the fetters that now cramp their

Now, the theory which I advocate asserts that this peculiar condition of
the world resulted from the divine determination, upon a prospective view
of man's transgression. It may, therefore, be properly regarded as
occasioned by man's transgression, but not in the common meaning attached
to that phrase, which is, that, before man's apostasy, the constitution of
the world was different from what it now is, and death did not exist. This
theory supposes God to have devised the present peculiar mixed condition
of the world, as to good and evil, in eternity, in order to give man an
opportunity to rescue himself from the penalty and misery of sin; and in
order to introduce those who should do this into a higher state of
existence. The plan, therefore, is founded in infinite wisdom and
benevolence, while it brings out man's guilt, and the evil of sin, in
appalling distinctness and magnitude.

But, after all, how little idea would a man have of the entire plot of a
play, who had heard only a part of the first act! How little could he
judge of the bearing of the first scene upon the final development! Yet we
are now only in the first act of the great drama of human existence. Death
shows us that we shall ere long be introduced into a second act, and
affords a presumption that other acts - it may be in an endless
series - will succeed, before the whole plot shall have passed before us;
and not till then can we be certain what are all the objects to be
accomplished by the introduction of sin and death into our world. And if
thus early we can catch glimpses of great benefit to result from these
evils, what full conviction, that infinite benevolence has planned and
consummated the whole, will be forced upon the mind, when the vast
panorama of God's dispensations shall lie spread out in the memory! For
that time shall Faith wait, in confident hope that all her doubts and
darkness shall be converted into noonday brightness.



The history of opinions respecting the deluge of Noah is one of the most
curious and instructive in the annals of man. In this field, Christians
have often broken lances with infidels, and also with one another. The
unbeliever has confidently maintained that the Bible history of the deluge
is at war with the facts and reasonings of science. Equally confident has
been the believer that nature bears strong testimony to its occurrence.
Some Christians, however, have asserted, with the infidel, that no trace
remains on the face of nature of such an event. And as this is a subject
which men are apt to suppose themselves masters of, when they have only
skimmed the surface, the contest between these different parties has been
severe and protracted. Almost every geological change which the earth has
undergone, from its centre to its circumference, has, at one time or
another, been ascribed to this deluge. And so plain has this seemed to
those who had only a partial view of the facts, that those who doubted it
were often denounced as enemies of revelation. But most of these opinions
and this dogmatism are now abandoned, because both Nature and Scripture
are better understood. And among well-informed geologists, at least, the
opinion is almost universal, that there are no facts in their science
which can be clearly referred to the Noachian deluge; that is, no traces
in nature of that event; and on the other hand, that there is nothing in
the Mosaic account of the deluge which would necessarily lead is to expect
permanent marks of such a catastrophe within or upon the earth.

If such be the case, you will doubtless inquire, what connection there is
between geology and the revealed history of the deluge, and why the
subject should be introduced into this series of lectures. I reply, that
so recently have correct views been entertained on this subject, and so
little understood are they; that they need to be defined and explained.
And if the distribution of animals and plants on the globe come within the
province of geology, then this science has a very important point of
connection with the history of the deluge, as will appear in the sequel.
And finally, the history of opinions on this subject is full of
instruction to those who undertake to reason on the connection between
science and religion. Obviously, then, my first object should be to give a
brief history of the views that have been entertained respecting the
deluge of Noah, so far as they have been supposed to have any connection
with geology.

It is well known, that in the written and unwritten traditions of almost
every nation and tribe under heaven, the story of a general deluge has
been prominent; and probably, in all these cases, some attempt has been
made to explain the manner in which the waters were brought over the land.
But most of these reasonings, especially in ancient times, are too absurd
to deserve even to be recited. Indeed, it is not till the beginning of the
sixteenth century, that we find any discussions on the subject worthy of
notice. At that time, some excavations at Verona, in Italy, brought to
light many fossil shells, and awakened a question as to their origin. Some
maintained that they were only _simulacra_, or resemblances to animals,
but never had a real existence. They were supposed to have been produced
by a certain "_materia pinguis_," or "fatty matter," existing in the
earth. Others maintained that they were deposited by the deluge of Noah.
Such, indeed, was the general opinion; but Fracastoro and a few others
maintained that they were once real animals, and could not have been
brought into their present condition by the last deluge. For more than
three hundred years have these questions been more or less discussed; and
though decided many years ago by all geologists, not a few intelligent men
still maintain, that petrified shells are mere abortive resemblances of
real beings, or that they were deposited by the deluge.

The advocates of the diluvial origin of petrifactions soon found
themselves hard pressed with the question, how these relics could be
scattered through strata many thousand feet thick, by one transient flood.
They, therefore, came to the conclusion, in the words of Woodward, a
distinguished cosmogonist of the eighteenth century, that the "whole
terrestrial globe was taken to pieces and dissolved at the flood, and the
strata settled down from this promiscuous mass, as any earthy sediment
from a fluid." During that century, many works appeared upon cosmogony,
defending similar views, by such men as Burnet, Scheuchzer, and Catcott.
Some of these works exhibited no little ability, mixed, however, with
hypotheses so extravagant that they have ever since been the butt of
ridicule. The very title of Burnet's work cannot but provoke a smile. It
is called "The Sacred Theory of the Earth, containing an Account of the
Original of the Earth, and of all the general Changes it bath already
undergone, or is to undergo, till the Consummation of all Things." He
maintained that the primitive earth was only "an orbicular crust, smooth,
regular, and uniform, without mountains and without a sea." This crust
rested on the surface of a watery abyss, and, being heated by the sun,
became chinky; and in consequence of the rarefaction of the included
vapors, it burst asunder, and fell down into the waters, and so was
comminuted and dissolved, while the inhabitants perished. Catcott's work
was confined exclusively to the deluge, and exhibited a good deal of
ability. He endeavored to show, that this dissolution of the earth by the
deluge was taught in the Scriptures, and his reasoning on that point is a
fine example of the state of biblical interpretation in his day. "As there
are other texts," says he, "which mention the dissolution of the earth, it
may be proper to cite them. Ps. xlvi. 2. _God is our refuge; therefore
will we not fear though the earth be removed_, [be changed, be quite
altered, as it was at the deluge.] _God uttered his voice, the earth
melted_, [flowed, dissolved to atoms.] Again, Job xxviii. 9. _He sent his
hand_ [the expansion, his instrument, or the agent by which he worked]
_against the rock, he overturned the mountains by the roots, he caused the
rivers to burst forth from between the rocks_, [or broke open the
fountains of the abyss.] _His eye_ [symbolically placed for light] _saw_
[passed through, or between] _every minute thing_, [every-atom, and so
dissolved the whole.] _He_ [at last] _bound up the waters from weeping_,
[i. e. from pressing through the shell of the earth, as tears make their
way through the orb of the eye; or, as it is related, (Gen. viii. 2,) _He
stopped the fountains of the abyss and the windows of heaven_,] _and
brought out the light from its hiding-place_, [i. e., from the inward
parts of the earth, from between every atom where it lay hid, and kept
each atom separate from the other, and so the whole in a state of
dissolution; his bringing out those parts of the light which caused the
dissolution would of course permit the agents to act in their usual way,
and so reform the earth."] - _Treatise on the Deluge_, p. 43, (London,

We can hardly believe at the present day, that a logical and scientific
mind, like that of Catcott, could satisfy itself, by such a dreamy
exegesis, that the Scriptures teach the earth's dissolution at the deluge;
especially when they so distinctly describe the waters of the deluge, as
first rising over the land, and then sinking back to their original
position. Still more strange is it how Burnet could have thought it
consistent with Scripture to suppose the earth, before the flood, "to have
been covered with an orbicular crust, smooth, regular, and uniform,
without mountains and without a sea," when the Bible so distinctly states,
as the work of the third day, that _the waters under the heavens were
gathered together unto one place, and the dry land appeared_; and that
_God called the dry land earth, and the gathering together of the waters
he called seas_; and further, that, by the deluge, _all the high hills
were covered_. Yet these men doubtless supposed that, by the views which
they advocated, they were defending the Holy Scriptures. Nay, their views
were long regarded as exclusively the orthodox views, and opposition to
them was considered, for one or two centuries, as virtual opposition to
the Bible. Truly, this, in biblical interpretation, was straining at a
gnat and swallowing a camel.

It is quite convenient to explain such anomalies in human belief, by
referring them to the spirit of the age, or to the want of the light of
modern science. But in the present case, we cannot thus easily dispose of
the difficulty. For in our own day, we have seen these same absurdities of
opinion maintained by a really scientific man, selected to write one of
the Bridgewater Treatises, as one of the most learned men in Great
Britain. I refer to Rev. William Kirby, evidently a thorough entomologist
and a sincere Christian. But he adopts the opinion, not only that there
exists a subterranean abyss of waters, but a subterranean metropolis of
animals, where the huge leviathians, the gigantic saurians, dug out of the
rocks by the geologist, still survive; and this he endeavors to prove from
the Bible. For this purpose he quotes the passage in Psalms, _though thou
hast sore broken us in the place of dragons, and covered us with the
shadow of death_. His exposition of this text is much in the style of that
already given from Catcott. Following that writer and Hutchinson, he
endeavors to show, by a still more fanciful interpretation, that the
phrase "windows of heaven," in Genesis, means cracks and volcanic rents in
the earth, through which air and water rushed inwardly and outwardly with
such violence as to tear the crust to pieces. This was the effect of the
increasing waters of the deluge; the bringing together of these comminuted
particles, so as to form the present strata, was the work of the subsiding

These views will seem very strange to those not familiar with the history
of geology. But we shall find their origin, if a few facts be stated
respecting what has been called the physico-theological school of writers,
that originated with one Hutchinson, in the beginning of the eighteenth
century. He was a disciple of the distinguished cosmogonist Woodward. But
he attacked the views of his master, as well as those of Sir Isaac Newton
on gravitation, in a work which he published in twelve octavo volumes,
entitled "_Moses's Principia_." He there maintains that the Scriptures,
when rightly understood, contain a complete system of natural philosophy.

This dogma, advocated by Hutchinson with the most intolerant spirit,
constitutes the leading peculiarity of the physico-theological school, and
has been very widely adopted, and has exerted a most pernicious influence
both upon religion and upon science. It is painful, therefore, to find so
learned and excellent a man as Mr. Kirby so deeply imbued with it, so
long after its absurdity has been shown again and again. It is devoutly to
be wished that the cabalistic dreams of Hutchinsonianism are not to be
extensively revived in our day. And, indeed, such is the advanced state of
hermeneutical knowledge, that we have little reason to fear it.
Nevertheless, its leaven is yet by no means thoroughly purged out from the
literary community.

It was one of the settled principles of the physico-theological school,
that, since the creation, the earth has undergone no important change
beneath the surface, except at the deluge, because it was supposed that
the Bible mentions no other event that could produce any important change.
Hence all marks of changes in the rocks since their original creation must
be referred to the deluge. And especially when it was found that most of
the petrifactions in the rocks were of marine origin, not only were they
supposed to be the result of the deluge, but a most conclusive proof of
that event. And this opinion is even yet very widely received by the
Christian world. The argument in its favor, when stated in a popular
manner to those not familiar with geology, is indeed quite imposing. For
if the land, almost every where, even to the tops of some of its highest
mountains, abounds in sea shells, this is just what we should expect, if
the sea flowed over those mountains at the deluge. But the moment we come
to examine the details respecting marine petrifactions, we see that
nothing can be more absurd than to suppose them the result of a transient
deluge. Yet this view is maintained in nearly all the popular commentaries
of the present day upon Genesis, and in many respectable periodicals. It
is taught, therefore, in the Sabbath school and in the family; and the
child, as he grows up, is shocked to find the geologist assailing it; and
when he finds it false, he is in danger of becoming jealous of the other
evidences of Christianity which he has been taught.

Another branch of the modern physico-theological school, embracing men who
have read too much on the subject of geology to be able to believe in the
dissolution of the globe by the deluge, have adopted a more plausible
hypothesis. They suppose that between the creation and the deluge, or in
sixteen hundred and fifty-six years, according to the received chronology,
all the present fossiliferous rocks of our continents, more than six miles
in thickness, were deposited at the bottom of the ocean. By that event,
they were raised from beneath the waters, and the continents previously
existing sunk down and disappeared; so that the land now inhabited was
formerly the ocean's bed. To prove that such a change took place at the
deluge, Granville Penn and Fairholme quote the declaration of God, in
Genesis, respecting the flood - _I will destroy them_, (i. e., men,) _and
the earth, or with the earth_; also the statement of Peter - _The world
that then was, being overflowed with water, perished_. The terms _earth_
and _world_ may mean either the solid globe, or the animals and plants
upon it. If in these passages they have the latter meaning, then they
simply teach that the deluge destroyed the natural life of organic beings.
If they have the former meaning, then the inquiry arises, What are we to
understand by the destruction here described? It may mean annihilation, or
it may imply ruin in some respects. That annihilation did not result from
the deluge is evident from the case of men, who suffered only temporal
death, and even this was not universal; and we know, also, that the matter
of the earth did not perish. We must resort, therefore, to the sacred
history to learn how far the destruction extended That history seems very
plain. There was a rain of forty days, and the fountains of the great deep
were broken up; that is, as Professor Stuart happily expresses it, "The
ocean overflowed while the rain descended in vast quantities." The waters
gradually rose over the dry land, and after a hundred and fifty days,
began to subside, and at the end of a year and a few days they were gone.
Such an overflowing could not take place without producing the almost
entire destruction of organic life, and making extensive havoc with the
soil, especially as a wind assisted in driving these waters from the land.
But there is nothing in the narrative that would lead us to suppose either
a comminution or dissolution of the earth, or the elevation of the ocean's
bed. The same land which was overflowed is described as again emerging.
Indeed, a part of the rivers proceeding out of the garden of Eden are the
same as those now existing on the globe. We must then admit that our
present continents - certainly the Asiatic, - are the same as the
antediluvian, or deny that the account of Eden, in Genesis, is a part of
the Bible. The latter alternative is preferred by Penn and Fairholme.
Surely such men ought to be cautious how they censure geologists for
modifying the meaning of some verses in Genesis, when they thus, without
any evidence of its spuriousness, unceremoniously erase so important a

I might add to all this that the facts of geology forbid the idea that our
present continents formed the bed of the ocean at so recent a date as that
of Noah's deluge, and that the supposition that all organic remains were
deposited during the two thousand years between the six days' work and the
deluge is totally irreconcilable with all correct philosophy. Why, during
the time when the fossiliferous rocks were in a course of formation, four
or five entirely distinct races of animals and plants successively
occupied the land and the waters, and passed away in regular order; and
these races were so unlike, that they could not have been contemporaneous.
Who will maintain that all this took place in the short period of two
thousand years? I am sure that no geologist will.

But modern geologists have, until recently, supposed that the traces of
Noah's deluge might still be seen upon the earth's surface. I say its
surface; for none of them imagined those effects could have reached to a
great depth. Over a large part of the northern hemisphere they found
extensive accumulations of gravel and bowlders, which had been removed
often a great distance from their parent rocks, while the ledges beneath
were smoothed and striated, obviously by the grating over them of these
piles of detritus. How very natural to refer these effects to the agency
of currents of water; just such currents as might have resulted from a
universal deluge. But the inference was a hasty one For when geologists
came to study the phenomena of drift or diluvium, as these accumulations
of travelled matter are called, they found that currents of water alone
would not explain them all. Some other agency must have been concerned;
and the general opinion now is, that drift has been the result of the
joint action of water and ice; and nearly all geologists suppose that this
action took place before man's existence on the globe. Some suppose it to
have been the result of oceanic currents, while yet our continents were
beneath the waters; others think that the northern ocean may have been
thrown southerly over the dry land by the elevation of its bed; and others
maintain that vast masses of ice may formerly have encircled high
latitudes, whose glaciers, melting away, may have driven towards the
equator the great quantities of drift and bowlders which have been
carried in that direction. In short, it is now found that this is one of
the most difficult problems in geology; and while most geologists agree
that both ice and water have been concerned in producing the phenomena,
the time and manner of their action are not yet very satisfactorily
determined. They may have acted at different periods and in divers
manners; but all the phenomena could not have been the result of one
transient deluge.

From the facts that have now been detailed, it appears that on no subject
of science connected with religion have men been more positive and
dogmatical than in respect to Noah's deluge, and that on no subject has
there been greater change of opinion. From a belief in the complete
destruction and dissolution of the globe by that event, those best
qualified to judge now doubt whether it be possible to identify one mark
of that event in nature.

I shall now proceed to state, in a more definite form, the views of this
subject entertained by the most enlightened judges of its merits at the
present day.

_In the first place, most of the cases of accumulations of drift, the
dispersion of bowlders, and the polish and striæ upon rocks in place,
occurred previous to man's existence upon the globe, and cannot have been
the result of Noah's deluge._

From the arguments for sustaining this position I shall select only a

The first is, that the organic remains found in the alluvium considerably
above the drift, which always lies below the alluvium, are many of them of
extinct species. Whether the genuine drift - a heterogeneous mass of
fragments, driven pellmell together - contains any organic relics, is to me
very doubtful. But if the stratified deposits subsequent to the drift
present us with beings no longer alive on the globe, much more would the
drift. Now, the presumption is, that extinct animals and plants belong to
a creation anterior to man, especially if they exhibit a tropical
character, - as those do which are usually assigned to the drift, - since we
have no evidence of a tropical climate in northern latitudes till we get
back to a period far anterior to man.

Secondly. No remains of man or his works have been found in drift, nor
indeed till we rise almost to the top of the alluvial deposit. Even
ancient Armenia has now been examined geologically, with sufficient care
to make it almost certain that human remains do not exist there in drift,
if drift is found there at all; of which there may be a question.

Thirdly. The agency producing drift must have operated during a vastly
longer period than the three hundred and eighty days of Noah's deluge. It
would be easy to show to a geologist that the extensive erosions which are
referrible to that agency, and the huge masses of detritus which have been
the result, must have demanded centuries, and even decades of years. Nor
will any supposed increase of power in the agency explain the results,
without admitting a long period for their action.

Fourthly. Water appears to have been the principal agent in the Noachian
deluge; but in the production of drift, ice was at least equally

Finally. The phenomena of deltas, terraces, and ancient sea-beaches, make
the period of the drift immensely more remote than the deluge of Noah,
since these phenomena are all posterior to the drift period. I need not go
into the details of this argument here, since I have drawn them out in my
second lecture. But of all the arguments ever adduced to prove the great
length of time occupied in geological changes, this - which, so far as the
terraces are concerned, has never before, I believe, been adduced - seems
to me the most convincing to those who carefully examine the subject.

We may be sure, then, that the commencement of the drift period, and the
deluge of Noah, cannot have been synchronous. But the drift agency,
connected, as nearly all geologists seem now to be ready to admit, with
the vertical movements of continents, may have operated, and undoubtedly

Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 10 of 39)