Edward Hitchcock.

The religion of geology and its connected sciences online

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accurately acquainted with all the branches of the subject. Eminent as a
theologian and a philologist, and fully possessed of all the facts in
geology and natural history, he gives us his opinion, not as a young man,
fond of novelties, but in the full maturity of judgment and of years.
"From these instances," says he, "of the scriptural idiom in the
application of phraseology similar to that in the narrative concerning the
flood, I humbly think that those terms do not oblige us to understand a
literal universality; so that we are exonerated from some otherwise
insuperable difficulties in natural history and geology. If so much of the
earth was overflowed as was occupied by the human race, both the physical
and the moral ends of that awful visitation were answered." - _Scrip. and
Geol._ p. 214, 4th ed.

"Let us now take the seat of the antediluvian population," continues Dr.
Smith, "to have been in Western Asia, in which a large district, even at
the present day, lies considerably below the level of the sea. It must not
be forgotten that six weeks of continued rain would not give an amount of
water forty times that which fell on the first, or a subsequent day, for
evaporation would be continually carrying up the water to be condensed,
and to fall again; so that the same mass of water would return many times.
If, then, in addition to the tremendous rain, we suppose an elevation of
the bed of the Persian and Indian Seas, or a subsidence of the inhabited
land towards the south, we shall have sufficient cause in the hands of
almighty justice for submerging the district, covering its hills, and
destroying all living beings within its limits, except those whom divine
mercy preserved in the ark. The drawing off of the waters would be
effected by a return of the bed of the sea to a lower level, or by the
elevation of some tracts of land, which would leave channels and slopes
for the larger part of the water to flow back into the Indian Ocean, while
the lower part remained a great lake, or an inland sea, the Caspian." - p.

It is a circumstance favoring the above suggestions of Dr. Smith, that
there is a tract of country ten degrees of latitude in breadth, embracing
most of Asia Minor, ancient Armenia and Georgia, and part of Persia,
extending at least as far east as the Caspian Sea, and probably much
farther, in which volcanic agency has been in operation at a comparatively
recent period. I am not aware that we have evidence of any eruption of
lava in those regions, within historic times, except, perhaps, some mud
volcanoes in the Caucasian range. The Katekekaumene, or Burnt District, of
Asia Minor, and Mount Ararat, probably experienced eruptions at a date
somewhat earlier, though at a comparatively recent date. Yet important
changes of level may have been the result of volcanic agency in Central
Asia, as recently as the Noachian deluge, without leaving any traces which
would be obvious, without more careful observation than has yet been made
in those regions. Especially might a subsidence of the surface have taken
place, and not have left any striking evidence of its occurrence. Still
more difficult would it now be to discover the marks of vertical movements
in the bed of the Indian Ocean at the time of the deluge.

I will venture to add another suggestion. If the bed of the Indian Ocean
was uplifted by volcanic matter, struggling to get vent, vapor enough
might have been liberated to account, on natural principles, for the forty
days' rain of the deluge. For it is well known that in volcanic eruptions
drenching rains are often the result of the sudden condensation of the
aqueous vapor.

We are here met, however, by a serious objection to the hypothesis, which
gives only a limited extent to the deluge. If the present Mount Ararat, in
Armenia, is the mountain on which the ark first rested, a deluge which
covered its top must, by its flux and reflux, have overspread nearly all
other portions of the globe, for that mountain rises seventeen thousand
seven hundred feet above the ocean. But we are informed by Jerome, that
the name Ararat was given generally to the mountains of Armenia; (indeed,
that is the meaning of the name;) and long before geology existed,
Shuckford suggested that some spot farther east corresponds better with
the scriptural account of the place where the ark rested. For it is said
of the families of the sons of Noah, that, as they journeyed from the
east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar. Now, Shinar, or Babylonia,
lies nearly south of the Armenian Ararat, and the probability, therefore,
is, that the true Ararat, from whose vicinity the descendants of Noah
probably emigrated, lay much farther to the south. Again, if the ark
rested upon the present Ararat, it is impossible, except by a miracle,
that those who came out of it could have reached the plain below; for so
exceedingly difficult of access is it, that it is doubtful whether, since
the deluge, any one ever succeeded in reaching its summit, till the year
1829. Indeed, it is an article in the creed of the Armenian church that
its ascent is impossible. That the almost universal tradition of Eastern
nations should have fixed upon that mountain as the resting-place of the
ark is not strange, considering that there is no mountain in all Asia so
striking to behold.

But upon the whole, the probability is strong that some other elevation,
less lofty and steep, was the radiating point of the postdiluvian races of
man and other animals. The fact of Noah's sending forth a dove from the
ark, which came back in the evening with an olive leaf in her mouth,
strengthens the preceding view. For neither upon the present Ararat, nor
around it, does the olive grow, because it is too cold. Indeed, all its
upper part is covered with perpetual ice. But if the Ararat of Scripture
lay nearer the tropics, the olive might find upon it a congenial spot. A
distinguished botanist adduced the fact about the olive as evidence
against the Bible. But how easily refuted, if the theory now under
examination be true!

In favor of this supposition, I might have urged another consideration,
which, in my mind, has no little weight. It is impossible that the waters
of the deluge should have covered the earth for a year, without destroying
nearly all the existing vegetation. Yet nothing is said of the
preservation of seeds in the ark; and if they had been preserved,
certainly nothing but miraculous power, and that of the most remarkable
kind, could have scattered them through the remotest continents and
islands, so as to form distinct botanical districts, such as have been
described. The olive, from which a leaf was plucked by the dove sent out
of the ark, was probably situated upon elevated ground, and where it
remained but a short time beneath the waters, and therefore did not lose
its vitality.

It is probable that the theory which makes the deluge limited in extent
will meet with more favor than any other, with candid and intelligent men,
to meet the suggested difficulties of the case. But some, who are
unwilling to abandon the idea of the universality of the deluge, avoid
these difficulties by supposing a new creation to have taken place at that
epoch. That such a new creation occurred at the commencement of several
geological periods can hardly admit a doubt. And a presumption is hence
derived in favor of a similar act at the beginning of the postdiluvian
period, preceded as it was, like the other geological periods, by an
almost entire destruction of organic life.

The principal objection to this view is, that no notice is taken of such a
new creation in the Bible. And it would seem that an event of so much
importance would hardly be passed in silence; and yet the bringing into
existence new races of the inferior animals and plants could have but
little bearing upon the object of revelation, which respects almost
exclusively the spiritual condition of man. One, however, can hardly see
why pairs and septuples of the animals, even in a limited district, need
to have been preserved in the ark, if a new creation were to follow the
coming catastrophe; nor why the creation of the antediluvian animals, so
soon to perish, should have been so particularly described, while no
notice was taken of the postdiluvian races, which were to occupy the earth
so much longer time.

A third theory has been suggested by some, embracing both those which have
been described. They admit the deluge to have been of limited extent, but
suppose this limitation not to be sufficient to explain all the facts of
revelation and of science, without a new creation also, at the
commencement of the postdiluvian period. They suppose, indeed, that
geology and natural history teach the occasional extinction of species,
and the creation of others, even in our own times. And in regard to this
latter view, it may at least be said that it is not contradicted by the
Bible. Nay, one would almost suppose that the Psalmist were describing
such a state of things when he says, _Thou hidest thy face; they_
[animals] _are troubled. Thou takest away their breath; they die and
return to their dust. Thou sendest forth thy spirit; they are created; and
thou renewest the face of the earth._ The resemblance between this
language and that employed to describe the original creation is striking.
Indeed, the same word (_bawraw_) is used.

Without attempting to decide which of these theories has the highest claim
upon our belief, it is sufficient to remark, that either of them
reconciles the facts of geology and natural history with the inspired
record; nor does the adoption of either of them require us to put a forced
and unnatural construction upon the language of the Bible. Even then, if
we should admit that a construction agreeing with these theories is not
the most natural meaning, yet if the facts of natural history
unequivocally require such an interpretation to harmonize the Bible with
nature, it is assuredly one of those cases where science must be allowed
to modify our exegesis of Scripture. In the view of sound philosophy, such
modification at once disarms scepticism of its cavils.

With two remarks of a practical character, I close the discussion of this

First. The history of opinions respecting the Noachian deluge furnishes a
salutary lesson to those employed in the examination of analogous
subjects. We have seen these opinions assume almost every possible shape;
yet, until recently they have all been maintained with the most positive
and dogmatic assurance; and each particular theory has been regarded as
involving the essence of the Bible, as being the _articulus stantis vel
cadentis ecclesiæ_, and whoever denied it virtually denied the Bible. But
all reasonable and truly scientific men are fast coming to the conclusion,
that the deluge has had very little to do with the present configuration
of the globe, and that it is doubtful whether any trace of its occurrence
will ever be found in nature; so that, on the one hand, all the alarms and
denunciations of misguided Christians on this subject might have been
spared; and, on the other hand, if the hasty exultation of the infidel, in
his supposed discovery of discrepancy between nature and Moses, had been
suppressed until the subject was understood, he would not have experienced
the mortification of entire defeat.

It is, indeed, very humiliating to human nature to find so many of the
wise, the talented, and the religious so confident and zealous, yet so
erroneous. But it is a salutary lesson. It shows us the vast importance of
being thoroughly acquainted with a subject before we dogmatize upon it. It
should not, indeed, discourage us, and produce a universal scepticism on
all subjects not admitting a mathematical demonstration; but it should
make us cautious in examining the grounds of our conclusions, and modest
in maintaining them.

Secondly. It is interesting to observe how, amid all the diversities and
fluctuations of opinion on this subject, the Bible has remained

The infidel felt confident that the arrows which he drew from this quiver
would certainly pierce Christianity to the heart. But they rebounded from
her adamantine breastplate, blunted and broken; and no one will have the
courage to pick them up and hurl them again. The physico-theological
school at one time felt certain, that no other theory but an entire
dissolution of the crust of the globe at the deluge, could possibly be
made consistent with the Bible. More recently, it has been supposed
equally necessary, to reconcile geology and revelation, that we should
admit the antediluvian continents to have sunk beneath the ocean at that
time. Still later, it has been thought quite certain that the surface of
the earth bore the most striking marks of a universal deluge, probably
identical with that of Scripture. At length, the extreme opinion is now
generally reached, that no trace of the deluge of Noah remains. And
equally wide and well established is the belief that, amid all these
fluctuations of theory, the Bible has stood as an immovable rock amid the
conflicting waves. The final result is, that we have only slightly to
modify the interpretation of the Mosaic account, in conformity with the
laws of language, to make it entirely consistent with the notion that all
traces of the deluge have disappeared. Thus, in the midst of human
opinions, veering to every point of the compass, the Bible has ever
remained fixed to one point. Not so with false systems of religion. The
Hindoo religion contains a false astronomy, as well as anatomy and
physiology; and the Mohammedan Koran distinctly advances the Ptolemaic
hypothesis of the universe; so that you have only to prove these religions
false in science in order to destroy their claim to infallibility. But the
Bible, stating only facts, does not interfere with, neither is affected
by, the hypotheses of philosophy. Often, indeed, in past ages, have men
set up their hypotheses as oracles in the temple of nature, to be
consulted rather than the Bible. But, like Dagon before the ark, they have
fallen to the earth, and been broken in pieces before the Word of God;
while this has ever stood and ever shall stand, in sublime simplicity and
undecaying strength, amid the wrecks of every false system of philosophy
and religion.



In our attempts thus far to elucidate the religion of geology, our
attention has been directed to those points where this science has been
supposed to conflict with revelation; and I trust it has been made
manifest that the collision was rather with the interpretation than with
the meaning of Scripture; and that, in fact, geology, instead of coming
into collision with the Bible, affords us important aid in understanding
it aright. We now advance to a part of the subject which has a more direct
bearing upon natural religion. And here, if I mistake not, we shall find
the illustration of religious truth from this science, as we might expect,
more direct and palpable.

The subject to which I wish first to call your attention is the world's
eternity, or the eternal existence of matter. This was the universal
belief of the philosophers of antiquity, and, indeed, of most reasoning
minds where the Bible has not been known. The grand argument by which this
opinion was sustained is the well-known _ex nihilo nihil fit_, (nothing
produces nothing.) Hence men inferred that not even the Deity could create
matter out of nothing; and, therefore, it must be eternal. Most of the
ancient philosophers, however, did not hence infer the non-existence of
the Deity. But they endeavored to reconcile the existence of eternal
matter with an eternal Spirit. They supposed both to be self-existent and
coëxistent. From this rational thinking principle they supposed all good
to be derived; while from the material irrational principle all evil
sprung. Plato taught that God, of his own will, united himself with
matter, although he did not create it, and out of it produced the present
world; so that it was proper to speak of the world as created, although
the matter was from eternity. Aristotle and Zeno taught that God's union
with matter was necessary; and hence they considered the world eternal. In
the opinion of Epicurus, God was entirely separated from matter, which
consisted of innumerable atoms, floating about from eternity, like dust in
the air, until at last they assumed the present form of the world.

In modern times, the belief in the eternity of matter has usually been
connected with, or made the basis of, a refined and popular system of
atheism. I refer to the pantheism of Spinoza. He maintains that there
exists in the universe but one substance, variously modified, whose two
principal attributes are infinite extension and infinite intelligence.
This substance, the [Greek: to pan] of Spinoza, he regarded as God; and
hence his system is called _Pantheism_. Under various modifications, it
has been adopted by many sceptical minds, and is, undoubtedly, the most
common and plausible system of atheism extant. Other modern writers, among
whom may be mentioned that anomalous philosopher Bayle, have advocated the
views of the ancients respecting the eternity of matter.

It may seem strange, but it is true, that some Christian philosophers and
divines have been, in ancient and modern times, the advocates of the
eternity of matter. The ancient Christians adopted it from Plato. Thus we
find Justin Martyr maintaining that God formed the world from an eternal,
unorganized material. And the schoolmen, who followed Aristotle, taught
that "God had created the world from eternity." On this ground, even some
Protestant theologians have asserted that it was absurd to speak of an
eternal God who is not an eternal Creator.

A principle which has thus been adopted by so many acute minds
unenlightened by revelation, and by some who possessed that divine
testimony, must be sustained by some plausible arguments. The principal
one relied on is, that the changes which are going on in the material
world are proved to be only transmutations, which follow one another in
series that return into themselves, and which may, therefore, have been
going on from eternity; and if this be admitted, it is as easy to suppose
matter to be self-sustained, and to have fallen into its present order of
itself, as to suppose the interference of an infinite Spirit. "How do we
know," says Dr. Chalmers, in stating the atheistic argument, "that the
world is a consequent at all? Is there any greater absurdity in supposing
it to have existed, as it now is, at any specified point of time,
throughout the millions of ages that are past, than that it should so
exist at this moment? Does what we suppose might have been then, imply any
greater absurdity, than what we actually see to be at present? Now, might
not the same question be carried back to any point or period of duration,
however remote? or, in other words, might we not dispense with a beginning
for the world altogether?" "For aught we can know _a priori_," says Hume,
"matter may contain the source or spring of order originally within itself
as well as mind does; and there is no more difficulty in conceiving that
the several elements, from an internal, unknown cause, may fall into the
most exquisite arrangement, than to conceive that their ideas, in the
great universal mind, from a like internal cause, fall into that
arrangement. If this material world rests upon a similar ideal world,
this ideal world must rest upon some other, and so on without end. It
were better, therefore, never to look beyond the present material world.
By supposing it to contain the principle of its order within itself, we
really assert it to be God; and the sooner we arrive at that divine Being,
so much the better."

Now, in what manner have these ingenious arguments been met? Until quite
recently, no one has supposed that any light on this subject could be
derived from geology. Indeed, even now, by many, that science is regarded
as favoring the idea of the world's eternity. Neither has it been thought
that, on a question of natural theology, like this, it was proper to
appeal to the Bible. Philosophers and divines, however, have attempted to
reply to these arguments, irrespective of geology and revelation; and they
have generally convinced themselves that they have been successful. But to
my mind, I must confess, this has always appeared the weakest spot in
natural religion. Some of the arguments to prove the world not eternal do,
indeed, appear, at first statement, very profound; but they rather silence
than convince; and the longer we reflect upon them, the more apt are we to
doubt their force.

And here I am constrained to bear testimony to the masterly manner in
which this subject has been treated by Dr. Chalmers. Perceiving that the
defences of natural religion on this subject were weak, in spite of much
show of strength, he has laid out his giant force of intellect in clearing
away the rubbish and building a rampart of rock. His remarkable skill in
seizing upon and bringing out prominently the great principles of a
difficult subject, and turning them round and round till they fill every
eye, is here most happily exerted.

Let us now proceed, in the first place, to examine the arguments that have
been adduced to prove the non-eternity of the world, independent of
geology and revelation; and in the second place, to derive from these two
sources of evidence the true ground on which that proposition rests.

The first supposed proof that the world has not eternally existed is
derived from what is called the _a priori_ argument for the existence of
the Deity, originally proposed by the monk Anselmus, and afterwards more
fully illustrated in England by Dr. Samuel Clarke. Take the following
brief summary of this argument, as applied to the eternity of matter, in
the words of Dr. Crombie.

"Whatever has existed from eternity, independent and without any external
cause, must be self-existent. Whatever is self-existent must exist
necessarily, by an absolute necessity in the nature of the thing. This is
also self-evident. It follows, therefore, that unless the material world
exist necessarily, by an absolute necessity in its own nature, so that it
must be a contradiction to suppose it not to exist, it cannot be
independent and eternal. In order to disprove this absolute necessity, he
[Dr. Clarke] reasoned thus: If matter be supposed to exist necessarily,
then in that necessary existence is included the power of gravitation, or
it is not. If not, then in a world merely material, and in which no
intelligent being presides, there never could have been any motion. But if
the power of gravitation be included in the pretended necessary existence
of matter, then it follows necessarily, that there must be a vacuum; it
follows, likewise, that matter is not a necessary being. For if a vacuum
actually be, then it is plainly more than possible for matter not to be."

Is it not passing strange that such a dreamy argumentation as this - and it
is a fair sample of Dr. Clarke's extended work on the existence of the
Deity - should have been regarded as sound logic by many of the acutest
minds, and that a majority even of the ablest metaphysicians, up almost
to the present day, should have felt satisfied with it? A few minds,
indeed, long ago perceived its fallacy, among whom was Alexander Pope, who
thus sarcastically describes it: -

"Be that my task, replies a gloomy Clarke,
Sworn foe to mystery, yet divinely dark.
Let others creep by timid steps and slow,
On plain experience lay foundation low,
By common sense to common notions bred,
And last to nature's cause through nature led,
All-seeing in thy mists, we need no guide,
Mother of arrogance, and source of pride!
We nobly take the high _priori_ road,
And reason downward till we doubt of God."
_Dunciad_, Book IV.

It is impossible, on this occasion, to go into a formal refutation of this
famous argument. But this is unnecessary; since, as Dr. Chalmers says, it
"has fallen into utter disesteem and desuetude." Indeed, the language of
Dr. Thomas Brown on this subject is not too severe, when he says, that he
"conceives the abstract arguments that have been adduced to show that it
is impossible for matter to have existed from eternity, by reasoning on
what has been termed necessary existence, and the incompatibility of this
necessary existence with the qualities of matter, to be relics of the mere

Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 12 of 39)