Edward Hitchcock.

The religion of geology and its connected sciences online

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fill so vast a world as ours with its teeming millions, exhibiting ten
thousand diversities of size, form, and structure.

Let the atheist then exult in the belief of an eternal world. Geology
shows him that it must have been without inhabitants; and that, therefore,
the most wonderful part of the creation still remains to be accounted for;
while physiology teaches that the interference of an infinite Deity can
alone solve the enigma.

My second example from geology to disprove the notion of an eternal series
of animals and plants on the globe, is derived from the history of organic
remains. That history shows us clearly, that the earth, since its
creation, has been the seat of several distinct economies of life, each
occupying long periods, and successively passing away. During each of
these periods, distinct groups of animals and plants have occupied the
earth, the air, and the waters. Each successive group has been entirely
distinct from that which preceded it, though each group was exactly
adapted to the existing state of the climate and the food provided; so
that, had the different groups changed places with one another, they must
have perished, because their constitutions were adapted only to the state
of things during the period in which they actually lived. A distinguished
naturalist has recently declared that "he has discovered, in surveying the
entire series of fossil animal remains, five great groups, so completely
independent that no species whatever is found in more than one of
them." - _Deshayes._

Including the existing races, this would give us six entirely distinct
groups of organic beings that have lived in succession upon this globe
since it became a habitable world. But even if it should be found that a
few species are common to adjoining groups, the great truth would still
remain, that the different groups were too much unlike to be
contemporaries, and that consequently a new creation must have taken place
whenever each new group commenced its course.

It is probable the earth has changed its inhabitants more than the six
times that have been mentioned; some think as many as twelve times. But a
larger number cannot yet be proved so clearly; and could they be, they
would add nothing to this argument; for it rests mainly on the fact that
this change of organic life has even once been complete. We may, however,
very safely assume that the present animals and plants are the sixth group
that have occupied the globe.[12]

These facts being admitted, and who does not see the necessity of divine
interference, whenever one race of animals and plants passed from the
earth in order to repeople it? It is not difficult to conceive how
volcanic fires, or aqueous inundations, may have carried universal
destruction over the globe, and bereft it of inhabitants. But where, save
in the fiat of an infinite Deity, is the power that can make this universe
of death teem again with life and beauty? In the powerful language of Dr.
Chalmers, we may inquire, "Is there aught in the rude and boisterous play
of a great physical catastrophe that can germinate those exquisite
structures, which, during our yet undisturbed economy, have been
transmitted in pacific succession to the present day? What is there in the
rush, and turbulence, and mighty clamor of such great elements, of ocean
heaved from its old resting-place, and lifting its billows above the Alps
and the Andes of a former continent, - what is there in this to charm into
being the embryo of an infant family, wherewith to stock and to repeople a
now desolate world? We see in the sweeping energy and uproar of this
elemental war enough to account for the disappearance of all the old
generations, but nothing that might cradle any new generations into
existence, so as to have effloresced on ocean's deserted bed the life and
loveliness which are now before our eyes. At no juncture, we apprehend, in
the history of the world, is the interposition of the Deity more manifest
than at this; nor can we better account for so goodly a creation emerging
again into new forms of animation and beauty from the wreck of the old
one, than that the spirit of God moved on the face of chaos, and that
nature, turned by the last catastrophe into a wilderness, was again
repeopled at the utterance of his word."

Sir Isaac Newton has said, that "the growth of new systems out of old
ones, without the mediation of a divine power, seems to me apparently
absurd." He seems in this passage to have referred only to the
arrangements of matter, "with respect to size, figure, proportions, and
properties," and not to the principle of life, of instinct, or of
intellect. But when the latter are taken into the account, it must be
superlatively absurd to suppose new systems can grow out of old ones by
merely natural operations. He, indeed, who can bring himself to believe,
with a certain writer, that "the instincts of animals are nothing more
than inert and passive attractions, derived from the power of sensation,
and the instinctive operations of animals nothing more than
crystallizations produced through the agency of that power," - such a man
could probably easily persuade himself that, by the help of galvanism,
animals and plants might be the result of natural operations. Such
doctrines, however, we shall examine in another lecture.

My third example from geology, showing the non-eternity of the present
condition of the globe, is the fact of the disappearance of several large
species of animals since the commencement of the most recent or alluvial
geological period. Certain large pachydermatous and other animals, such as
the fossil elephant, the mastodon, the megatherium, the mylodon, the
megalonyx, the glyptodon, the fossil horse, ox, deer, &c., also nine or
ten species of huge birds - the dinornis, the palapteryx, aptornis,
notornis, and nestor of New Zealand, the dodo of Mauritius and Bourbon,
and the pezohaps or solitaire of Rodriguez, - have ceased to exist since
the tertiary period; some of them - the birds, for instance - since man's
creation. Now, if any important species of animals from time to time
disappear from any system of organic life, it shows a tendency to ruin in
that system; for such is the intimate dependence of different beings upon
one another, that you cannot blot out one, certainly not a large number,
without disturbing the healthy balance between the whole, and probably
bringing the whole to ultimate ruin. At any rate, if several species die
out by natural processes, no reason can be given why others should not, in
like manner, disappear. And to prove that any organic system shows a
tendency to ruin is to show that it had a beginning.

My third example from geology, demonstrating the special interference of
the Deity in the affairs of this world, is the fact of the comparatively
recent commencement of the human race. That man was among the very last of
the animals created is made certain by the fact that his remains are found
only in the highest part of alluvium. This is rarely more than one hundred
feet in thickness, while the other fossiliferous strata, lying beneath the
alluvium, are six miles thick.

Hence man was not in existence during all the period in which these six
miles of strata were in a course of deposition, and he has existed only
during the comparatively short period in which the one hundred feet of
alluvium have been formed; nay, during only a small part of the alluvial
period. His bones, having the same chemical composition as the bones of
other animals, are no more liable to decay; and, therefore, had he lived
and died in any of the periods preceding the alluvial, his bones must have
been mixed with those of other animals belonging to those periods. But
they are not thus found in a single well-authenticated instance, and,
therefore, his existence has been limited to the alluvial period. Hence he
must have been created and placed upon the globe - such is the testimony of
geology - during the latter part of the alluvial period.

I might include in this example nearly all the other species of existing
animals and plants, since it is only a very few of these that are found
fossil, and such species are limited to the tertiary strata. But since
this might make some confusion in the argument, and since man is
confessedly at the head of the existing creation, I prefer to let his case
stand out alone, and to regard it _instar omnium_.

Here, then, we have a case in which geology can lay her finger upon the
precise epoch, in the revolutions of our globe, in which the most
complicated, perfect, and exalted being that ever dwelt upon its surface
first began to be. It was not the commencement of a mere zoöphyte, or
cryptogamean plant, in which we see but little superiority to unorganized
matter, except in their possession of a low degree of vitality. But we
have a being complicated enough to contain a million of parts, endowed
with the two great attributes of life, sensibility and contractility, in
the highest degree, and, above all, possessing intellect and moral powers
far more wonderful than organization and animal life.

As to the period when the creation of such a being, by the most
astonishing of all miracles, took place, I believe there is no diversity
of opinion. At least, all agree that it was very recent; nay, although
geology can rarely give chronological dates, but only a succession of
events, she is able to say, from the monuments she deciphers, that man
cannot have occupied the globe more than six thousand years.

Now, if it was difficult to conceive how successive races of the inferior
animals and plants could have originated in the laws of nature, without
the special interference of the Deity, that difficulty increases in a
rapid ratio as we ascend on the scale of organization and intellect, and
attempt in the same manner to account for the origin of man without the
miraculous agency of Deity. The thorough-going materialist, however, does
not shrink from the effort. "Thought," says Bory de St. Vincent, "being
the necessary result of a certain kind of organization, wherever this
order is established, thought is necessarily derived from it; and it is no
more possible for the molecules of matter, arranged in a certain manner,
not to produce thought, than for brass, when smitten, not to return a
sound, or for creatures formed by this matter, after such and such laws,
not to walk, not to breathe, not to reproduce; in a word, not to exercise
any of the faculties which result from their peculiar mechanism of
organization." - Dict. Clas. _D. Hist. Nat._ art. _Matière_.

This may seem, upon a superficial view, to be settling this matter at
once. But it merely shifts the difficulty from one part of the subject to
another. Admitting the premises of the materialist to be correct, it does
indeed show us the proximate cause of thought. But the mind immediately
inquires how a certain organization became possessed of such wonderful
power. Is it inherent in matter, or is it a power communicated to
organization by a supreme Being? If the latter, it is just what the
Theist contends for; if the former, then there is just as much necessity
for the original interposition of the Deity, in order to give matter such
an astonishing power, as there is, on the theory of the immaterialist, to
impart a spiritual and immortal principle to matter. The materialist will,
indeed, say that matter has possessed this power from eternity. But this
supposition, evidently absurd, does in fact invest matter with the
attributes of Deity; since those attributes, and those alone, are
sufficient to account for the phenomena. And besides, how is the fact to
be explained that this power was not exerted till six thousand years ago?

But with the exception of the materialist, I am sure that most reasoning
minds will feel as if the creation of the human family was one of the most
stupendous, perhaps the most stupendous, exercise of infinite power and
wisdom which the universe exhibits. If any change whatever demands a Deity
for its accomplishment, it must be this; and, therefore, geology presents,
in the case of man, the most striking example which nature could furnish
of a beginning of organic and intellectual life on the globe. It shows us
that there was a time, and that not remote, when the first link of the
curious chain of the human family, now constantly lengthening by
inflexible laws, was created.

I might now refer to certain recent discoveries in astronomy, which have
the same bearing upon the general argument as the examples that have been
quoted from geology, although less decisive. After the famous
demonstration of the eternity of the universe by La Grange, provided the
present laws of gravity alone control it, we could hardly expect that, so
soon, even astronomy would furnish proof of a disturbing cause, which must
ultimately and inevitably bring ruin among the heavenly bodies, if some
counteracting agency be not exerted. Yet such a source of derangement
exists in the supposed medium extending through all space, which has
already shown its retarding influence upon Enke's, Biela's, and Halley's
comets. And who can say that some of the vast periods which geology
discloses may not have been commensurate with those intervening between
catastrophes among the heavenly bodies as the result of the universal
resisting ether? At present, however, we can say only that we know such
long periods have existed in geology, and probably in astronomy. And their
mere existence is fatal to the idea of the eternity of the world in its
present state.

If, then, geology can clearly demonstrate the present state of the globe
to have had a beginning; if she can show us the period, by fair induction,
when one liquid, fiery ocean enveloped the whole earth; if she can show us
five or six economies of organic life successively flourishing and passing
away; if she can trace man back to his origin at a comparatively recent
date; if, in fact, she can show us that the most important operations on
the globe, and the most complicated and exalted organic races, had a
beginning; and if astronomy affords glimpses of similar changes, - then why
may we not safely leave the subject of the world's eternity an undecided
question, consistently with the most perfect Theism? If we can prove that
the power, the wisdom, and the benevolence of the Deity have again and
again interfered with the regular sequence of nature's operations, and
introduced new conditions and new and more perfect beings, by using the
matter already in existence, what though we cannot, by the light of
science, run back to the first production of matter itself? What though
the atheist should here be allowed to maintain his favorite theory that
matter never had a beginning? What doctrine of natural religion is
thereby unfavorably affected, if we can only show the interposition of the
Deity in all of matter's important modifications? Such an admission would
not prove matter to be eternal, but only that science has not yet placed
within the reach of man the means of proving its non-eternity. And really,
such an admission would be far more favorable to the cause of truth than
to rely, as theologians have done, on metaphysical subtilties to prove
that matter had a beginning. For the sceptical mind will not merely remain
unconvinced by such arguments, but be very apt to draw the sweeping
inference that all the doctrines of natural and revealed religion rest on
similar dreamy abstractions.

But is natural theology in fact destitute of all satisfactory proof that
the matter of the universe had a beginning? Such proof, it seems to me,
she will seek in vain in the wide fields of physical and mathematical
science; and the solution of the question which metaphysics offers, as we
have seen, does not satisfy. But there are sources of evidence on this
point which seem to me of the most satisfactory kind.

In the first place, we may derive from science some presumptive proof of a
commencement of the matter of the universe. The fact that the organic
races on the globe had a beginning affords such proof. For matter could
not have originated itself; nor is there any proof of its eternal
existence; and to assume that it did eternally exist, without proof, is
far more unphilosophical than to admit its origination in the divine will.
For since God has complete control over matter, it is probable that he
created it with such properties as he wished it to possess. And
furthermore, to the power and wisdom that could set in motion the heavenly
bodies, and create and adapt existing organisms out of preëxistent matter,
we can assign no limits, and hence conclude them to be infinite.
Therefore they are sufficient to the production of matter, which could not
have demanded more than infinite wisdom and power.

Now, in confirmation of these presumptions, we may appeal to the Bible. It
is true that writers have been accustomed to consider it contrary to sound
logic to draw from revelation any support or illustrations of natural
religion. But why should an historical fact possess less value, if
transmitted to us through the channel of sacred, rather than profane,
writers? Now, it would be regarded as perfectly good reasoning to seize
upon any facts stated by heathen philosophers and historians, illustrative
of natural religion. But the Scriptures carry with them, to say the least,
quite as strong evidence of their authenticity and claims to be credited,
as any ancient uninspired writer. We place them on the same ground as any
other history, and demand for them only that they should be believed so
far as we have testimony to their authenticity. If a man, after careful
examination of their evidences, comes to the conclusion that they are mere
fables, then to him their testimony is of no value to prove or illustrate
any truth of natural religion. But if he is convinced that they are worthy
of credence, then their statements may decide a point about which the
light of nature leaves him in uncertainty. In this way the Bible is used
by the natural theologian, just as he would employ any curious object in
nature - say, the human hand, or the eye. These organs exist, and their
mechanism is to be accounted for either with or without a God. And so the
Bible exists, and its contents are to be accounted for; and if they
clearly evince the agency of a Deity, then we may use them, just as we
would use the eye or the hand, to prove or illustrate important truths in
natural theology.

But the testimony of the Bible, as to the origin of the world, is most
explicit and decided. It declares that _in the beginning God created the
heavens and the earth; and that the worlds were formed by the word of God,
so that the things which are seen were not made of things which do
appear_. The obvious meaning of this latter passage is, that the material
universe was created out of nothing. ([Greek: ta mê phainomena].) How much
more satisfactory this simple and consistent statement, than a volume of
abstract argument to prove the non-eternity of the world!

Now, if the testimony of the Scriptures on all other points has been found
correct, why should we not receive with unhesitating credence, and even
with joy, the sublime announcement with which that volume opens? True, we
are not compelled to admit this statement, in order to save Theism from
refutation, because geology shows us the commencement of several economies
on the globe, which point us to a divine Author. But the doctrine of
matter's creation out of nothing gives a desirable completeness to the

In looking back upon the subject, which has thus been discussed, too
briefly for its merits, but too prolixly for your patience, several
important inferences force themselves upon our attention.

And first, it furnishes a satisfactory reply to a well-known objection,
otherwise unanswerable, against the argument from design in nature to
prove the existence of a Deity. We present ten thousand examples of
exquisite design and adaptation in nature to the atheist. He admits them
all; but says, it was always so, and therefore requires no other Deity but
the power eternally inherent in nature. At your metaphysical replies to
his objections he laughs; but when you take him back on geological wings,
and bid him gaze on man, just springing, with his lofty powers, from the
plastic hands of his Creator, and then, still earlier, you point him to
system after system of organic life starting up in glorious variety and
beauty on the changing earth, and even still nearer the birth of time, you
show him the globe, a glowing ocean of fire, swept of all organic life, he
is forced to exclaim, "A God! a personal God! an infinitely wise and
powerful God!" What though he still clings to the notion of matter's
eternity? you have forced him to see the hand of Deity in its wonderful
arrangements and metamorphoses; the hand of such a Deity as might have
brought it into existence in a moment, by the word of his power.[13]

Secondly. The subject presents us with a new argument for the existence of
a God, or rather a satisfactory modification of the argument from design.
In that argument, as derived from other sciences, the Theist finds,
indeed, multiplied and beautiful proofs of adaptation and apparent design;
but then he cannot, as already observed, from those sciences derive proof
of the commencement either of matter or its arrangements; and then, too,
the sceptic, with plausible ingenuity, can take his stand upon law as the
efficient agent in nature's movements and harmonies. But when geology
shows us, not the commencement of matter, but of organism, and presents us
with full systems of animals and plants springing out of inorganic
elements, where is the law that exhibits even a tendency to such results?
Nothing can explain them but the law of miracles; that is, creation by
divine interposition. Thus is the idea of a Deity forced nakedly upon us,
as the only possible solution of the enigmas of creation. The
metaphysical Theist must waste half his strength in battling the
questions about the beginning of matter, and the laws of matter; nor can
he ever entirely dislodge the enemy from these strongholds of atheism. But
the geological Theist takes us at once into a field where work has been
done, which neither eternal law, nor eternal matter, but an infinite
personal Deity only, could accomplish.

In conclusion, I would merely refer to the interesting fact, that geology
should prove almost the only science that presents us with exigencies
demanding the interposition of creating power. And yet, up to the present
time, geology has been looked upon by many Christian writers with jealous
eye, because it was supposed to teach the world's eternity, and so to
account for natural changes by catastrophes and the gradual operation of
existing agencies, as to render a Deity unnecessary, either for the
creation or regulation of the world. One of these writers has even most
uncharitably and unreasonably said, that "the mineral geology, considered
as a science, can do as well without God (though in a question concerning
the origin of the earth) as Lucretius did." - Granville Penn, _Comparative
Estimate_, &c. - How much ground there is for such an allegation, let the
developments made in this lecture answer. Surely, in this case, geology
has followed the directions of the Oriental poet: -

"Learn from yon Orient shell to love thy foe,
And strew with pearls the hand that brings thee woe;
Free, like yon rock, from base, vindictive pride,
Emblaze with gems the wrist that rends thy side.
Mark where yon tree rewards the stony shower
With fruit nectareous or the balmy flower.
All nature calls aloud, - 'Shall man do less
Than heal the smiter, and the railer bless?'"

Misunderstood or misinterpreted though this science has been, she now
offers her aid to fortify some of the weakest outposts of religion. And
thus shall it ever be with all true science. Twin sister of natural and
revealed religion, and of heavenly birth, she will never belie her
celestial origin, nor cease to sympathize with all that emanates from the
same pure home. Human ignorance and prejudice may for a time seem to have
divorced what God has joined together. But human ignorance and prejudice
shall at length pass away, and then science and religion shall be seen
blending their parti-colored rays into one beautiful bow of light, linking
heaven to earth and earth to heaven.



The subject of the present lecture is the divine benevolence, as taught by

Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 14 of 39)