Edward Hitchcock.

The religion of geology and its connected sciences online

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geology. But what connection, it will be asked, can there be between the
history of rocks and the benevolence of God? Do not the leading points of
that history consist of terrible catastrophes, aqueous or igneous, by
which the crust of the earth has been dislocated and upheaved, mountains
lifted up and overturned, the dry land inundated, now by scorching lava,
and now by the ocean, sweeping from its face all organic life, and
entombing its inhabitants in a stony grave? Who can find the traces of
benevolence in the midst of such desolation and death? Is it not the very
place where the objector would find arguments to prove the malevolence,
certainly the vindictive justice, of the Deity?

This, I am aware, is a not unnatural _prima facie_ view of this subject.
But it is a false one. Geology does furnish some very striking evidence of
divine benevolence; and if I can show this, and from so unpromising a
field gather decisive arguments on this subject, they will be so much
clear gain to the cause of Theism. This is what, therefore, I shall now
attempt to do.

_In the first place, I derive an argument for the divine benevolence from
the manner in which soils are formed by the disintegration and
decomposition of rocks._

Chemical analysis shows us that the mineral constituents of rocks are
essentially the same as those of soils; and that the latter differ from
the former, in a pulverized state, only in containing animal and vegetable
matter. Hence we cannot doubt but the soils originated from the rocks.
And, in fact, the process of their production is continually going on
under our eyes. Wherever the rocks are exposed to atmospheric agencies,
they are seen to crumble down; and, in fact, most of them, having been
long exposed, are now covered with a deposit of their own ruins, forming a
soil over them. This process is in part decomposition and in part
disintegration; and as we look upon rocks thus wasting away, we are apt to
be impressed with the idea that it is an instance of decay in nature's
works, which, instead of indicating benevolence, can hardly be reconciled
with divine wisdom. But when we learn that this is the principal mode in
which soils are produced, that without it vegetation could not be
sustained, and that a world like ours without plants must also be without
animals, this apparent ruin puts on the aspect of benevolence and wise

_My second argument in proof of the divine benevolence is derived from the
disturbed, broken, and overturned condition of the earth's crust._

To the casual observer, the rocks have the appearance of being lifted up,
shattered, and overturned. But it is only the geologist who knows the vast
extent of this disturbance. He never finds crystalline, non-fossiliferous
rocks, which have not been more or less removed from their original
position; and usually he finds them to have been thrown up by some
powerful agency into almost every possible position. The older
fossiliferous strata exhibit almost equal evidence of the operation of a
powerful disturbing force, though sometimes found in their original
horizontal position. The newer rocks have experienced less of this
agency, though but few of them have not been elevated or dislocated.
Mountainous countries exhibit this action most strikingly. There it is
shown sometimes on a magnificent scale. Entire mountains in the Alps, for
instance, appear not only to have been lifted up from the ocean's depths,
but to have been actually thrown over, so as to bring the lowest and
oldest rocks at the top of the series. The extensive range of mountains in
this country, commencing in Canada, and embracing the Green Mountains of
Vermont, the Highlands of New York, and most of the Alleghany chain as far
as Alabama, a distance of some twelve hundred miles, has also been lifted
up, and some of the strata, by a lateral force, folded together, and then
thrown over, so as now to occupy an inverted position. Let us now see
wherein this agency exhibits benevolence.

If these strata had remained horizontal, as they were originally
deposited, it is obvious that all the valuable ores, minerals, and rocks,
which man could not have discovered by direct excavation, must have
remained forever unknown to him. Now, man has very seldom penetrated the
rocks below the depth of half a mile, and rarely so deep as that; whereas,
by the elevations, dislocations, and overturnings that have been
described, he obtains access to all deposits of useful substances that lie
within fifteen or twenty miles of the surface; and many are thus probably
brought to light from a greater depth. He is indebted, then, to this
disturbing agency for nearly all the useful metals, coal, rock salt,
marble, gypsum, and other useful minerals; and when we consider how
necessary these substances are to civilized society, who will doubt that
it was a striking act of benevolence which thus introduced disturbance,
dislocation, and apparent ruin into the earth's crust?

Another decided advantage resulting from this disturbing agency is the
formation of valleys.

If we suppose the strata spread uniformly over the earth's entire surface,
then the ocean must envelop the whole globe. But, admitting such
interruptions in the strata to exist as would leave cavities, where the
waters might be gathered together into one place, and the dry land appear,
still that dry land must form only an unbroken level. Streams of water
could not exist on such a continent, because they depend upon inequalities
of surface; and whatever water existed must have formed only stagnant
ponds, and the morasses which would be the consequence would load the air
with miasms fatal to life; so that we may safely pronounce the world
uninhabitable by natures adapted to the present earth. But such,
essentially, must have been the state of things, had not internal forces
elevated and fractured the earth's crust. For that was the origin of most
of our valleys - of all the larger valleys, indeed, which checker the
surface of primary countries. Most of them have been modified by
subsequent agencies; but their leading features, their outlines, have been
the result of those internal disturbances which spread desolation over the
surface. We are apt to look upon such an agency as an exhibition of
retributive justice, rather than of benevolence. And yet that admirable
system for the circulation of water, whereby the rain that falls upon the
surface is conveyed to the ocean, whence it is returned by evaporation,
depends upon it. It imparts, to all organic nature, life, health, and
activity; and had it not thus ridged up the surface, stagnation and death
must have reigned over all the earth. In the unhealthiness of low, flat
countries, at present, we see the terrible condition of things in a world
without valleys. Can we doubt, then, that it was the hand of benevolence
that drove the ploughshare of ruin through the earth's crust, and ridged
up its surface into a thousand fantastic forms?

It will more deeply impress us with this benevolence to remember that most
of the sublime and the beautiful in the scenery of a country depends upon
this disturbing agency. Beautiful as vegetable nature is, how tame is a
landscape where only a dead level is covered with it, and no swelling
hills, or jutting rocks, or murmuring waters, relieve the monotonous
scene! And how does the interest increase with the wildness and ruggedness
of the surface, and reach its maximum only where the disturbance and
dislocation have been most violent!

Some may, perhaps, doubt whether it can have been one of the objects of
divine benevolence and wisdom, in arranging the surface of this world, so
to construct and adorn it as to gratify a taste for fine scenery. But I
cannot doubt it. I see not else why nature every where is fitted up in a
lavish manner with all the elements of the sublime and beautiful, nor why
there are powers in the human soul so intensely gratified in contact with
those elements, unless they were expressly adapted for one another by the
Creator. Surely natural scenery does afford to the unsophisticated soul
one of the richest and purest sources of enjoyment to be found on earth.
If this be doubted by any one, it must be because he has never been placed
in circumstances to call into exercise his natural love of the beautiful
and the sublime in creation. Let me persuade such a one, at least in
imagination, to break away from the slavish routine of business or
pleasure, and in the height of balmy summer to accompany me to a few
spots, where his soul will swell with new and strong emotions, if his
natural sensibilities to the grand and beautiful have not become
thoroughly dead within him.

We might profitably pause for a moment at this enchanting season of the
year, (June,) and look abroad from that gentle elevation on which we
dwell, now all mantled over with a flowery carpet, wafting its balmy odors
into our studies. Can any thing be more delightful than the waving
forests, with their dense and deep green foliage, interspersed with grassy
and sunny fields and murmuring streamlets, which spread all around us? How
rich the graceful slopes of yonder distant mountains, which bound the
Connecticut on either side! How imposing Mount Sugar Loaf on the north,
with its red-belted and green-tufted crown, and Mettawampe too, with its
rocky terraces on the one side, and its broad slopes of unbroken forest on
the other! Especially, how beautifully and even majestically does the
indented summit of Mount Holyoke repose against the summer sky! What
sunrises and sunsets do we here witness, and what a multitude of
permutations and combinations pass before us during the day, as we watch
from hour to hour one of the loveliest landscapes of New England!

Let us now turn our steps to that huge pile of mountains called the White
Hills of New Hampshire. We will approach them through the valley of the
Saco River, and at the distance of thirty miles they will be seen looming
up in the horizon, with the clouds reposing beneath their naked heads. As
the observer approaches them, the sides of the valley will gradually close
in upon him, and rise higher and higher, until he will find their naked
granitic summits almost jutting over his path, to the height of several
thousand feet, seeming to form the very battlements of heaven. Now and
then will he see the cataract leaping hundreds of feet down their sides,
and the naked path of some recent landslip, which carried death and
desolation in its track. From this deep and wild chasm he will at length
emerge, and climb the vast ridge, until he has seen the forest trees
dwindle, and at length disappear; and standing upon the naked summit,
immensity seems stretched out before him. But he has not yet reached the
highest point; and far in the distance, and far above him, Mount
Washington seems to repose in awful majesty against the heavens. Turning
his course thither, he follows the narrow and naked ridge over one peak
after another, first rising upon Mount Pleasant, then Mount Franklin, and
then Mount Monroe, each lifting him higher, and making the sea of
mountains around him more wide and billowy, and the yawning gulfs on
either side more profound and awful, so that every moment his interest
deepens, and reaches not its climax till he stands upon Mount Washington,
when the vast panorama is completed, and the world seems spread out at his
feet. Yet it does not seem to be a peopled world, for no mighty city lies
beneath him. Indeed, were it there, he would pass it almost unnoticed. For
why should he regard so small an object as a city, when the world is
before him? - a world of mountains, bearing the impress of God's own hand,
standing in solitary grandeur, just as he piled them up in primeval ages,
and stretching away on every side as far as the eye can reach. On that
pinnacle of the northern regions no sound of man or beast breaks in upon
the awful stillness which reigns there, and which seems to bring the soul
into near communion with the Deity. It is, indeed, the impressive Sabbath
of nature; and the soul feels a delightful awe, which can never be
forgotten. Gladly would it linger there for hours, and converse with the
mighty and the holy thoughts which come crowding into it; and it is only
when the man looks at the rapidly declining sun that he is roused from his
revery and commences his descending march.

Let such a man next accompany me to Niagara. We will pass by all minor
cataracts, and place ourselves at once on the margin of one that knows no
rival. Let not the man take a hasty glance, and in disappointment conclude
that he shall find no interest and no sublimity there. Let him go to the
edge of the precipice, and watch the deep waters as they roll over, and,
changing their sea-green brightness for a fleecy white, pour down upon the
rocks beneath, and dash back again in spray high in the air. Let him go to
the foot of the sheet, and look upward till the cataract swells into its
proper size. Let him, on the Canada shore, take in the whole breadth of
the cataract at once; and as he stands musing, let him listen to the deep
thunderings of the falling sheet. Let him go to Table Rock, and creep
forward to its jutting edge, and gaze steadily into the foaming and
eddying waters so far beneath him, until his nerves thrill and vibrate,
and he involuntarily shrinks back, exclaiming, -

"How dreadful
And dizzy 'tis to cast one's eyes so low!
I'll look no more,
Lest my brain turn."

Next, let him stand upon that rock till the sun approaches so near the
western horizon that a glorious bow, forming an almost entire circle on
the cataract and the spray, shall clothe the scene with unearthly beauty,
and, in connection with the emerald green of the waters, give it a
brilliancy fully equal to its sublimity. And finally, if he would add the
emotions of moral to natural sublimity, let him follow to Ontario, the
deep gulf through which all these waters flow, and, gathering up the
evidence, which he will find too strong to resist, that they themselves
have worn that gulf backward seven miles, let him try the rules of
geological arithmetic to see if he can reach the period of its
commencement. Surely, when he reviews the emotions of that day, he will
never again doubt that the magnificent scenery of our world is the result
of benevolent design on the part of the Creator.

If, now, we cross the Atlantic, we shall easily find scenes of natural
beauty and sublimity, that have long elicited the wonder and delight of
thousands of genuine taste. Shall we turn our steps first to the valleys
and mountains of Wales? To an American eye, indeed, they lack one
important feature, in being so destitute of trees. But then their wild
aspect, their ragged and rocky outlines, present a picture of the
sublimity of desolation rarely equalled. And as you ascend the
mountains, - Snowdon, for instance, the highest of them all, - you find
their summits, not rounded, as our American mountains, by former drift
agency, nor forming continuous ridges, but shooting up in ragged peaks and
edges, as if they formed the teeth of mother earth; although, in fact, it
was the tooth of time that has gnawed them into their present forms. As
you approach the summit, you feel animated in anticipation of the splendid
prospect about to open upon you. But the clouds begin to gather, and soon
envelop the mountain top; and though you reach the pinnacle, the dense
mist limits your vision to a circle of a few rods in diameter. But ere
long the vapor begins to break away, and the lofty cliffs and deep caverns
around you are revealed. Now and then, the lake, so often found in the
recesses of these mountains, is half seen through the opening cloud, and,
magnified by the obscurity, it seems more distant and grand than if
distinctly visible. Gradually the clouds open in various directions,
disclosing gulf after gulf, lake after lake, mountain after mountain, and,
finally, the Irish Channel, dotted with sails; and the whole scene lies
spread out before you in glories that cannot be described. You are
standing upon the pinnacle of England, and you feel as if almost the whole
of it lay within the circle of vision. After enjoying so splendid a scene,
you are thankful that the cloud hid it at first from your sight, and so
much enhanced your pleasure by opening vista after vista, till the whole
became one magnificent circle of picturesque beauty and sublimity.[14]

To relieve the mind after gazing long on such scenes of rugged grandeur,
let us turn our course southerly, and follow down the romantic banks of
the Wye, where every turn presents some new beauties, occasionally
disclosing the ruins of some old castle, or magnificent abbey, (Tinton,)
and at length Bristol, with its aristocratic adjunct, Clifton, turns your
thoughts from the works of nature to those of man. And yet, even Clifton's
elegant Crescent is but a meagre show by the side of the magnificent gorge
which the Avon has cut in the rocks just before it enters Bristol Channel.

Passing over to the Isle of Wight, and traversing its shores, we shall
witness many unique examples of natural beauty, swelling sometimes into
sublimity, - such are the chalk cliffs near its western extremity, from two
hundred to six hundred feet high, - sometimes hollowed out into magnificent
domes, and the pillars of chalk, called _Needles_, in the midst of the
sea, alive with sea gulls and cormorants, and forming the remnants of the
chalk bridge that once united the island to England. There, too, Alum Bay,
with its many-colored strata of clay, unites the interesting in geology
with the picturesque in scenery.

Along the southern coast, also, are the stupendous cliffs and the romantic
under-cliffs, as well as the ragged _chines_, where an almost tropical
climate attracts the invalid, while the cool sea breezes draw thither the
wealthy and the fashionable.

But if sublime scenery pleases us more, we must traverse the Highlands of
Scotland, -

"Land of brown heath and shaggy furze,"

land of lofty and naked mountains, embosoming lakes of great beauty, and
full of historic and poetic interest.

Passing over Loch Lomond, the queen of Scottish lakes, you go through the
long shadow of Ben Lomond, propped by many lesser mountains. Rising into
the Highlands, the sterility and wildness increase, and reach their
maximum in Glencoe, whose wildness and sublimity are indeed indescribable;
but if seen, they can never be forgotten. Still farther north, Ben Nevis
lifts its uncovered head above all other mountains in the British Isles;
so high, indeed, that often, during the whole summer, it retains a portion
of its snowy, wintry mantle.

Yet farther north, we come to the unique terraces, called the _Parallel
Roads of Glen Roy_, formerly supposed to be the work of giants; but now,
that they are known to be the product of nature, proving not only objects
of great scenographical interest, but a problem of special importance and
difficulty in geology.

If we should pass from Scotland to the north-east part of Ireland, taking
Staffa in our way, we should find in the basaltic columns of Fingal's
Cave, and the Giant's Causeway, what seems, at first view, to be
stupendous human structures, or rather the architecture of giants. But you
soon find it to be only an example -

"Where nature works as if defying art,
And, in defiance of her rival powers,
By these fortuitous and random strokes,
Performing such inimitable feats,
As she, with all her rules, can never reach."

Let any one sail along the coast for a few miles at the Giant's Causeway,
enter some of the deep and echoing caverns, overhung by the basaltic mass,
and see the columns rising tier above tier, sometimes four hundred feet in
height, and assuming every wild and fantastic shape; or let him walk over
the acres of columns, whose tops are as perfectly polygonal and as
accurately fitted to one another as the most skilful architect could make
them, and he will confess how superior Nature is, when she would present a
model for human imitation; and how with accurate system she can combine
the wildest disorder, and thus delight by symmetry, while she awes by

Let us next pass over to continental Europe. We have reached the Rhine at
Bonn, and the steamboat takes us at once into the midst of the romantic
Drachenfels, or seven mountains, the result of volcanic agency, and still
presenting more or less of the conical outline peculiar almost to modern
volcanoes. These are the commencement of the romantic scenery of the
Rhine. From thence to Bingen, some sixty or seventy miles, that river has
cut its way through hills and mountains, sometimes rising one thousand
feet. Along their base, the inhabitants have planted many a well-known
town, while old castles, half crumbled down, recall continually the
history of feudal ages; and here, too, springs up a multitude of
remembrances of startling events in more recent times. The mind, indeed,
finds itself drawn at one moment to some historical monument, and the next
to scenery of surpassing beauty or sublimity; now the bold, overhanging
rock, now the deep recess, now the towering mountain, now the quiet dell
with its romantic villages; while every where on the north bank, the
vine-clad terraces show us what wonders human industry can accomplish.

Nor does the Rhine lose its interest when we have emerged from its _Ghor_
into its more open valley, from Bingen to Basle, in Switzerland. On its
right bank, the Vosges Mountains, and on its left, the Black Forest, with
not infrequent volcanic summits, afford a fine resting-place for the eye,
as the rail car bears us rapidly over the rich intervening level. Or if we
turn aside, - as to Heidelberg, on the Neckar, - what can be a more splendid
sight than to stand by the old castle above the town, and look down the
valley as the sun is sinking in the west!

But after all, it is in Switzerland, and there only, that we meet with the
climax of scenographical wonders. Nowhere else can we find such lakes in
the midst of such mountains; such pleasant valleys bordered by such
stupendous hills; such gorges, and precipices, and passes, and especially
such glaciers; such avalanches, such snow-capped mountains, while
vegetation at their base, and far up their sides, is fresh and luxuriant.

Embark, for instance, at Zurich, and, crossing its beautiful lake, direct
your course towards Mount Righi. As the heavy diligence lifts you above
the lake, you begin to catch glimpses of the grandeur of the Swiss
mountains to the south, piercing the clouds far off. Passing the romantic
Zug, you come to the valley between the Rossberg and the Righi, and the
denuded face of the former tells you whence came the mass of ruins over
which you clamber, and which buried the villages of Goldau, Bussingen, and
Rothen several hundred feet deep with blocks of stone and soil. Long and
steep is your ascent of Righi, nearly six thousand feet above the sea. But
the views you obtain by the way become wider and grander at every step.
Reaching the summit near sunset, you may be gratified by a panoramic view
of a large part of Switzerland, embracing its wildest and grandest
scenery. Yet, if the clouds prevent, you wait for the morning, in the hope
of being more fortunate. With the earliest dawn you awake, and proceed to
the summit of the mountain, where hundreds, perhaps, from all civilized
lands, are congregated, to witness the rising of the sun. But a dense
cloud envelops the mountain, and hope almost dies within you. Wait,
however, a few moments, and the rising sun will depress the clouds below
the mountain's summit, and a scene of glory shall open upon you, which can
never be erased from your memory. Look now, for the sun's first rays have
shed a flood of glory over the clouds which now fill the valleys beneath
your feet. A fleecy white predominates; but the colors of the prism tinge
the edges of the clouds, and no part of the solid earth rises above them,
save the pinnacle on which you stand, and to the south the higher peaks of
the Bernese Alps, - the Jungfrau, the Eiger, the Shreckhorn, and the
Wetterhorn, - covered with snow and glaciers, and seeming too pure to
belong to earth. Indeed, the whole scene seemed to me to be unearthly; the
fittest emblem that my eyes ever rested upon of celestial scenes; and one
cannot repress the desire, when looking upon it, to be borne away on wings
over the glorious scene, and to repose for a time upon the gorgeous bed,
forgetful of the lower world. Yet when, at length, the clouds begin to

Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 15 of 39)