Edward Hitchcock.

The religion of geology and its connected sciences online

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has, at various periods, and very possibly, in some parts of the world,
long posterior to the period usually called the drift period. I agree,
therefore, in opinion with one of the most eminent and judicious of the
European geologists, Professor Sedgwick of Cambridge, when he says, "If we
have the clearest proofs of great oscillations of sea level, and have a
right to make use of them, while we seek to explain some of the latest
phenomena of geology, may we not reasonably suppose, that, within the
period of human history, similar oscillations have taken place in those
parts of Asia which were the cradle of our race, and may have produced
that destruction among the early families of men, which is described in
our sacred books, and of which so many traditions have been brought down
to us through all the streams of authentic history?" - _Geology of the Lake
District_, p. 14.

_Secondly. Admitting the deluge to have been universal over the globe, it
could not have deposited the fossil remains in the rocks._

This position is too plain to the practical geologist to need a formal
argument to sustain it. But there are many intelligent men, who do not see
clearly why the remains of marine animals and plants may not be referred
to the deluge. And if they could be, then all the demands of the geologist
for long periods anterior to man are without foundation. But they cannot
be, for the following reasons: -

First. On this supposition the organic remains ought to be confusedly
mingled together, since they must have been brought over the land
promiscuously by the waters of the deluge; but they are in fact arranged
in as much order as the specimens of a well-regulated cabinet. The
different rocks that lie above one another do, indeed, contain some
species that are common; but the most are peculiar. It is impossible to
explain such a fact if they were deposited by the deluge.

Secondly. On this theory, at least, a part of the organic remains ought to
correspond with living animals and plants, since the deluge took place so
long after the six days of creation. But with the exception of a few
species near the top of the series, the fossil species are wholly unlike
those now alive.

Thirdly. How, by this theory, can we explain the fact, that there are
found in the rocks at least five distinct races of animals and plants, so
unlike that they could not have been contemporaries? or for the fact, that
most of them are of a highly tropical character? or for the fact, that as
we rise higher in the rocks, there is a nearer and nearer approach to
existing species?

Fourthly. This theory requires us to admit, that in three hundred and
eighty days the waters of the deluge deposited rocks at least six miles in
thickness, over half or two thirds of our existing continents; and these
rocks made up of hundreds of thick beds, exceedingly unlike one another in
composition and organic contents. Will any reasonable man believe this
possible without a miracle?

But I need not multiply arguments on this point. It is a theory which no
reasonable man can long maintain after studying the subject. And if it be
indeed true, that neither in the drift, nor in the fossiliferous rocks,
can we discover any traces of the deluge, then we shall find them nowhere
on the globe. But

_Thirdly. There are no facts in geology that afford any presumption
against the occurrence of the Noachian deluge, but rather the contrary._

The geologist says only, that if any traces of it exist, he cannot
distinguish them from the effects of other analogous agencies that have
operated on the globe at various periods. Some parts of the globe do not
exhibit marks of any powerful aqueous action, such as high northern and
southern latitudes do exhibit. But the sacred record, in its account of
the access and subsidence of diluvial waters, does not require us to
suppose any great degree of violence in their action on the surface; and
although currents somewhat powerful must have been the result, yet they
may not have existed every where, nor have always left traces of their
passage where they did exist. On the other hand, the geologist will admit,
as we have already seen, that in the elevation and subsidence of mountains
and continents, and in volcanic agency generally, of which geology
contains so many examples, we have an adequate cause for extensive, if not
universal, deluges; nor can he say how recently this cause may have
operated beneath certain oceans, sufficiently to produce the deluge of the
Scriptures. So that, in fact, we have in geology a presumption in favor
of, rather than against, such a deluge. Nay, some, who have examined
Armenia, have thought they found there a deposit which could be referred
to the deluge of Noah; but I have no access to any facts on this point.

_Fourthly. There are reasons, both in natural history and in the
Scriptures, for supposing that the deluge may not have been universal over
the globe, but only over the region inhabited by man._

This is a position of no small importance, and will, therefore, require
our careful examination. And in the beginning, I wish to premise, that I
assume the deluge to have been brought about by natural operations, or in
conformity with the laws of nature. I feel no reluctance in admitting it
to have been strictly miraculous, provided the narrative will allow of
such a conclusion. But if it was miraculous, then we must give up the idea
of philosophizing about it, and believe the facts simply on the divine
testimony. For how can we philosophize upon an event that is brought about
by the direct efficiency of God, and without reference to existing natural
laws, and, it may be, in contravention of them, unless, indeed, the
history contains such contradictions as even infinite power and wisdom
could not make harmonious? Some writers endeavor to show the conformity of
the sacred history of the deluge to established natural laws, until they
meet with some objection too strong to be answered, when they turn round
and declare the whole occurrence to have been miraculous. This I conceive
to be absurd, and I shall accordingly proceed on the supposition that the
whole event was a penal infliction, brought about by natural laws; or, at
least, if there was any thing miraculous, it consisted in giving greater
power to natural operations, without interfering with the regular sequence
of cause and effect. And does not the narrative leave the impression on
the mind of the reader, that it was brought about by natural means? The
sacred writer distinctly assigns two natural causes of the increase of the
waters, viz., a rain of forty days and the breaking up of the fountains of
the great deep, which doubtless means an overflow of the ocean; and, to
hasten the subsidence of the waters, it is said that God made a wind to
blow over the surface. It is no proof of miraculous agency, that the whole
work is referred to the immediate power of God, for it is well known that
this is the usual mode in which the sacred writers speak of natural

The first difficulty in the way of supposing the flood to have been
literally universal, is the great quantity of water that would have been

The amount necessary to cover the earth to the tops of the highest
mountains, or about five miles above the present oceans, would be eight
times greater than that existing on the globe at this time. From whence
could this immense volume of water have been derived? A great deal of
ingenuity has been devoted to give an answer to this inquiry. By some it
has been supposed, that most of the earth's interior is occupied by water,
and the theorist had only to devise means for forcing it to the surface.
One does this by the forcible compression of the crust; another, by the
expansive power of internal heat; another, by the generation of various
gases through galvanic action. Others have maintained that the
antediluvian continents were sunk beneath the ocean at that time, though
such find it hard to tell us why there was a rain of forty days upon land
that was ready to subside beneath the ocean. Others have resort to a
comet's impinging against the earth, and throwing the waters of the ocean
over the land. But they were not aware that comets are mere vapor. Others
suppose (and surely theirs is the most plausible theory) that the
elevation of the bed of some ocean, by volcanic agency, threw its waters
over the adjoining continents, and the mighty wave thus produced would not
stop till it had swept over all other continents and islands. But in this
case, it is evident that the continent first overflowed must have been
left dry before the wave had reached other continents, so that, in fact,
all parts of the earth would not have been enveloped simultaneously; and
besides, how unlike such a violent rushing of the waters over the land is
the scriptural account! In short, so unsatisfactory have been most of the
theories to account for the water requisite to produce a universal deluge,
that most writers have resorted, in the end, to miraculous agency to
obtain it. And that, in fact, is the most satisfactory mode of getting
over this difficulty, if the Scriptures unequivocally teach the
universality of the deluge.

A second objection to such a universality is, the difficulty of providing
for the animals in the ark.

Calculations have indeed been made, which seemed to show that the ark was
capacious enough to hold the pairs and septuples of all the species. But,
unfortunately, the number of species assumed to exist by the calculators
was vastly below the truth. It amounted only to three or four hundred;
whereas the actual number already described by zoölogists is not less than
one hundred and fifty thousand; and the probable number existing on the
globe is not less than half a million. And for the greater part of these
must provision have been made, since most of them inhabit either the air
or the dry land. A thousand species of mammalia, six thousand species of
birds, two thousand species of reptiles, and one hundred and twenty
thousand species of insects are already described, and must have been
provided with space and food. Will any one believe this possible, in a
vessel not more than four hundred and fifty feet long, seventy-five feet
broad, and forty-five feet high?

The third and most important objection to this universality of the deluge
is derived from the facts brought to light by modern science, respecting
the distribution of animals and plants on the globe.

It was the opinion of Linnæus that all animals and plants had their
commencement in a particular region of the earth, from whence they
migrated into all other parts of its surface. And had no new facts come to
light since his day, to change the aspect of the subject, one would
hesitate long before adopting views opposed to so distinguished a
naturalist. But new facts, in vast numbers, have been multiplying ever
since his day, and zoölogists and botanists now almost universally adopt
the opinion, early promulgated by Dr. Prichard, in his admirable work on
the Physical History of Man, that there must have been several centres of
creation, from which the animals and plants radiated only so far as the
climate and food were adapted to their natures, except a few species
endowed with the power of accommodating themselves to all climates.
Certain it is that they are now thus distributed; and it is inevitable
death for most species to venture beyond certain limits. If tropical
animals and plants, for instance, were to migrate to the temperate zones,
and especially to the frigid regions, they could not long survive; and
almost equally fatal would it be for the animals and plants of high
latitudes to take up their abode near the equator. But even within the
tropics we find distinct species of animals and plants on opposite
continents. Indeed, naturalists reckon a large number of botanical and
zoölogical districts, or provinces, as they are called, within which they
find certain peculiar groups of animals and plants, with natures exactly
adapted to that particular district, but incapable of enduring the
different climate of adjoining districts. They differ considerably as to
the number of these districts, because the plants and animals of our globe
are by no means yet fully described, and because the districts assigned to
the different classes do not fully coincide; but as to the existence of
such a distribution, they are of one opinion. The most reliable divisions
of this kind make twenty-five botanical provinces, and five kingdoms and
fourteen provinces among animals.[10]

The fact that man, and some of the domesticated animals, and a few plants,
are found in almost every climate, has, until recently, blinded the eyes
of naturalists to the manner in which the great mass of animals and plants
are confined within certain prescribed limits. But so soon as the general
fact is stated, we immediately recur to abundant proof of its truth. We
should be disposed to question the veracity of that traveller who should
visit a new and remote country, and describe its vegetable and animal
productions as essentially the same as in our own; and all because the
analogy of other portions of the globe leads us to expect that a new
geographical province shall present us with a peculiar _fauna_ and
_flora_; that is, with peculiar groups of animals and plants.

It is obvious that the facts which have been stated have an important
bearing upon the mode in which the animals were brought together to enter
the ark, and were afterwards distributed through the earth, if the deluge
were universal. Certain it is that, without miraculous preservation, they
could never have been brought together, nor again dispersed. We have
reason to suppose that the ark was constructed in some part of the
temperate zone. Now, suppose the animals of the torrid zone at the present
day to attempt, by natural means, to reach the temperate zone; who does
not know that nearly all of them must perish? Nor is it any easier to
conceive how, after the flood, they could have migrated into all
continents, and islands, and climates, and how each species should have
found the place exactly fitted to its constitution, as we now find them.
Indeed, the idea of their collection and dispersion in a natural way is
altogether too absurd to be believed. And we must, therefore, resort to a
miracle, or suppose a new creation to have taken place after the deluge,
or admit the flood to have been limited. If the latter supposition be not
inconsistent with the Bible, it completely relieves the difficulty. If we
suppose the limited region of Central Asia, where man existed, to have
been deluged, and pairs and septuples of the most common animals in that
region only to have been kept alive in the ark, the entire account will
harmonize with natural history. The question, then, whether such a view is
consistent with the Bible, becomes of great interest; and to this point I
beg leave next to direct your attention.

If we understand the scriptural account to denote a literal universality,
it is certainly very natural to inquire why such universality was
necessary, since the deluge is represented as a penal infliction upon man.
For it seems difficult to believe as some writers have attempted to prove,
that the human family had become very numerous, or had extended far beyond
the spot where they were first planted, in less than two thousand years;
especially when we recollect how few were the children of patriarchs whose
age amounted to many centuries, and how very probable it is that the
extreme wickedness of most of the antediluvians tended to their extinction
rather than their multiplication. Why, then, for the sake of destroying
man, occupying probably only a limited portion of one continent, was it
necessary to depopulate all other continents and islands, inhabited only
by irresponsible animals, who had no connection with man? If the
Scriptures unequivocally declare that such was the fact, we are bound to
believe it on divine testimony. But if their language admits of a
different interpretation, it seems reasonable to adopt it.

And here I am willing to acknowledge that the language of the Bible on
this subject seems, at first view, to teach the universality of the flood,
unequivocally. _The waters_, say they, _prevailed exceedingly upon the
earth, and all the high hills that were under the whole heaven were
covered._ Again: _Behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the
earth to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath of life, from under
heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die._ If such language
be interpreted by the same rules which we should apply to a modern
composition, it could in no way be understood to teach a limited deluge or
a partial destruction. But in respect to this ancient record, two
considerations are to be carefully weighed.

In the first place, the terms employed are not to be judged of by the
state of knowledge in the nineteenth century, but by its state among the
people to whom this revelation was first addressed. When the earth was
spoken of to that people, (the ancient Jews,) they could not have
understood it to embrace a much wider region than that inhabited by man,
because they could not have had any idea of what lay beyond those limits.
And so of the phrase _heaven_; it must have been coëxtensive with the
inhabited earth only. And when it was said that all animals would die by
the deluge, they could not have supposed the declaration to embrace
creatures far beyond the dwellings of men, because they knew nothing of
such regions. Why, then, may we not attach the same limited meaning to
these declarations? Why should we suppose that the Holy Spirit used terms,
adapted, indeed, to the astronomy and geography of the nineteenth century,
but conveying only a false idea to those to whom they were addressed?

In the second place, in all ages and nations, and especially among
ancient ones, "universal terms are often used to signify only a very large
amount in number or quantity." - Dr. Smith, _Scrip. and Geol._ p. 212, 4th
ed. - The Hebrew [Hebrew], (_kol_,) the [Greek: pas], and the English
_all_, are alike employed in this manner, to signify _many_. There are
some very striking cases of this sort in the Bible. Thus in Genesis it is
said that _all countries came into Egypt to Joseph to buy corn, because
the famine was sore in all lands_. This certainly could apply only to the
well-known countries around Egypt; for transportation would have been
impossible to the remotest parts of the habitable globe. In the account of
the plagues that came upon Egypt, it is said that _the hail smote every
herb of the field, and brake every tree of the field_; but, in a few days
afterwards, it is said of the locusts that _they did eat every herb of the
land and all the fruit of the trees which the hail had left_. _This day_,
said God to the Israelites, while yet in their journeyings, _will I begin
to put the fear of thee and the dread of thee upon the face of the nations
under all the heavens_. But it is obvious that only the nations contiguous
to the Israelites, chiefly the Canaanites, are here meant. In the New
Testament, it is said that, at the time of the pentecost, there were
dwelling at Jerusalem _Jews, devout men, out of every nation under
heaven_. Yet, in the enumeration, which follows this passage, of the
different places from which those Jews had come, we find only a region
extending from Italy to Persia, and from Egypt to the Black Sea. It could
have been a district of only about that size which Paul meant, when he
said to the Colossians that the _gospel was preached to every creature
which is under heaven_. In the First Book of Kings, it is said that _all
the earth sought the presence of Solomon, to hear his wisdom_; - a passage
which requires as much limitation as the others above quoted. A similar
mode of expression is employed by Christ, when he says of the queen of
Sheba that she came from _the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the
wisdom of Solomon_; for her residence, being probably on the Arabian Gulf,
could not have been more than twelve or fourteen hundred miles from
Jerusalem. A like figurative mode of speech is employed in the description
of Peter's vision, in which he saw a great sheet let down to the earth,
_wherein were all manner of four-footed beasts of the earth, and wild
beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air_. Who will suppose,
since it is wholly unnecessary for the object, which was to convince Peter
that the Mosaic distinction into clean and unclean beasts was abolished,
that he here had a vision of all the species of terrestrial vertebral
animals on the globe?

It would be easy to multiply similar passages. In many of them we should
find that the phrase _all the earth_ signifies the land of Palestine; in a
few, the Chaldean empire; and in one, that of Alexander of Macedon.

Now, so similar is the phraseology of the passages just quoted to that
descriptive of the deluge, so universal are the terms, while we are sure
that their meaning must be limited, that we are abundantly justified in
considering the deluge as limited, if other parts of the Bible, or the
facts of natural history, require such a limitation. Indeed, so obviously
analogous are the passages quoted to the Mosaic account of the deluge,
that distinguished writers have regarded the deluge as limited, long
before geology existed, or natural history had learned the manner in which
organic life is distributed on the globe; nay, at a period when
naturalists, with Linnæus at their head, supposed animals and plants to
have proceeded from one centre: - an opinion that seemed to sustain the
notion of the universality of the flood. The inference, then, that it was
limited, must have been made chiefly on exegetical grounds.

"I cannot see," says Bishop Stillingfleet, more than a century ago, "any
urgent necessity from the Scripture to assert that the flood did spread
over all the surface of the earth. That all mankind, those in the ark
excepted, were destroyed by it, is most certain, according to the
Scriptures. The flood was universal as to mankind; but from thence follows
no necessity at all of asserting the universality of it as to the globe of
the earth, unless it be sufficiently proved that the whole earth was
peopled before the flood, which I despair of ever seeing
proved." - _Origines Sacræ_, B. III. chap. 4, p. 337, ed. 1709.

Matthew Poole, well known for his valuable and extensive commentaries on
the Bible, thus expresses himself: "It is not to be supposed that the
entire globe of the earth was covered with water. Where was the need of
overwhelming those regions in which there were no human beings? It would
be highly unreasonable to suppose that mankind had so increased before the
deluge as to have penetrated to all the corners of the earth. It is,
indeed, not probable that they had extended themselves beyond the limits
of Syria and Mesopotamia. Absurd it would be to affirm that the effects of
the punishment inflicted upon men alone applied to places in which there
were no men. If, then, we should entertain the belief that not so much as
the hundredth part of the globe was overspread with water, still the
deluge would be universal, because the extirpation took effect upon all
the part of the globe which was inhabited. If we take this ground, the
difficulties which some have raised about the deluge fall away as
inapplicable, and mere cavils; and irreligious persons have no reason left
them for doubting the truth of the Holy Scriptures." - _Synopsis on Gen._
vii. 19.

Poole wrote nearly two centuries ago. In more recent times, we find
authorities equally eminent for learning and candor adopting the same
views. "Interpreters," says Dathe, "do not agree whether the deluge
inundated the whole earth, or only those regions then inhabited. I adopt
the latter opinion. The phrase _all_ does not prove the inundation to have
been universal. It appears that in many places [Hebrew] (_kol_) is to be
understood as limited to the thing or place spoken of. Hence all the
animals said to have been introduced into the ark were only those of the
region inundated. So, also, only those mountains are to be understood,
which were surmounted by the waters." - _Pentateuchus a Dathio_, p. 63.

But no modern writer has treated this subject with so much candor and
ability - and the same may be said of his whole work on the "Relation of
the Holy Scriptures to some Parts of Geological Science" - as Dr. John Pye
Smith. We can say of him, what we can say of very few men, that he is

Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 11 of 39)