Edward Hitchcock.

The religion of geology and its connected sciences online

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break away, and disclose the deep valleys and blue lakes, - places made
immortal by the deeds of such patriots and reformers as Tell and
Zuinglius, - we feel again the attractions of earth; and as we descend to
Lake Lucerne, we have before us such scenery as scarcely any other part of
the world can furnish. And these scenes continue, in ever-changing
aspects, wherever we wander along this enchanting lake; and though the
exhausted brain fails at length, the objects of interest do not.

From this lake we might turn our course easterly, and soon find ourselves
amid the glacial regions of the Oberland Alps - scenes full of deep and
thrilling interest. But let us rather turn southerly, and, following down
the great valley of Switzerland, find our way among the Alps of Savoy,
where the same phenomena attain their maximum of interest and sublimity,
and the great monarch of the Alps is seen, wearing his hoary crown. As we
pass along towards Lake Lehman, if the air be clear, the Bernese Alps loom
up in unrivalled majesty; and as we sail over Lake Lehman, Mont Blanc,
with some of its nearly equal associates, shows its distant yet impressive
form. Passing without notice the almost unrivalled beauties of Lehman, and
following up the Arve through its stupendous gorges, we catch views of
Mont Blanc, as we approach it, that possess overpowering sublimity. At
length, Chamouny is reached - a lovely vale in the midst of Alpine wonders.
From thence we first ascend the Flegère, thirty-five hundred feet above
the valley, and sixty-five hundred above the ocean; and there we get a
fine view of Mont Blanc and the Aiguilles, or Needles. Here distances are
vastly diminished to the eye, and you seem in near proximity even with
Mont Blanc; and, in fact, should any adventurous visitors have reached
the top of that mountain, a good spy-glass will show them from this

On the opposite side of the valley from the Flegère, and at about the same
height, is Montanvert, the most convenient spot for traversing the glacier
called the Mer de Glace. If, however, one would see the lower extremity of
that glacier, and the Arveron issuing from it, he must pass along the
right hand side of the stream, and then he can follow up the glacier to
Montanvert; and strange would it be if, in doing this, he should not hear
and see the frequent avalanche.

We have now reached the field where everlasting war is carried on between
heat and cold, summer and winter. Below us, verdure clothes the valleys,
and climbs up the slopes of the hills; and there the shepherd watches his
flocks. Above us there are fields of ice stretching many a league, save
where some needle-shaped summit of naked rock, too steep for snow to rest
upon, shoots up in lonely grandeur thousands of feet, and defies the
raging elements. From these oceans of ice shoot forth down the valleys
enormous glaciers, appearing like vast rivers of ice, winding among the
hills, and pushing, at the rate of a few inches each day, far into
regions of vegetation; one year encroaching upon the shepherd's pasture
ground, and anon, by the access of heat, driven back towards the summit;
hurling down, from time to time, as they push forward, the thundering

Without difficulty at Montanvert we can enter upon the glacier, and in
spite of the deep _crevasse_, and the elemental war, which always rages in
those lofty regions, we may make our way to their source. Nay, human feet,
as already suggested, have pressed even the top of Mont Blanc; and should
we reach this summit of the Alps, we should stand upon the loftiest point
of Europe, and behold a scene which but few eyes ever have, or ever will,
rest upon. We should

The difficult air of the iced mountain's top,
Where the birds dare not build, nor insect's wing
Flit o'er the herbless granite."

We should, in fact, have reached the climax of the sublime in natural

Thus far I have described, almost without exception, only what I have
seen. But let us now venture into regions where we have only the
description of others to guide us. Let us enter the region of ancient
Armenia, a country composed of wide plains, bounded and intersected by
precipitous mountains. As we journeyed south-easterly over one of these
plains, a remarkable conical summit would arrest our attention, at the
distance of sixty miles. Day after day, as we approached, it would creep
up higher and higher above the horizon, developing its commanding
features, and rivetting more intensely the attention upon it. As we came
near its base, we should see that its top rose far into the region of
eternal ice, whose glassy surface would reflect the light like a mirror,
and whose lower edge had shot forth enormous glaciers as far as the heat
would allow them to descend. In the plain below, we should be sweltering
in a tropical heat; but the same sun that melted us would make no
impression upon the wintry crown of the mountain. We could not keep our
eyes or thoughts turned away from an object so sublime. And it would
deepen the impression to learn that this gigantic cone, shooting up three
and a half miles, was once a volcano; and still more would it deepen our
interest to learn that this is the mountain which universal tradition in
that region regards as the Mount Ararat, the resting-place of the ark. It
would strike us forcibly to realize that what seems to us now to be a
pillar of heaven, was the patriarch's stepping-stone from the antediluvian
into the postdiluvian world.

One more example may suffice. Go with me to the Sandwich Islands, and we
shall get an impressive glimpse of the principal agency by which the
earth's crust has been ridged, furrowed, and dislocated. As we land upon
Hawaii, we perceive it to be composed mainly of lava of no very ancient
date. We ascend a lofty _plateau_, and many a league in advance of us we
see a column of smoke rising from a vast plain. Directing our course
thither, while yet some miles from it, we descend a steep slope to a broad
terrace, and then another slope to a second terrace. These slopes and
terraces extend circularly around the pillar of smoke like the seats of a
vast amphitheatre.

Coming near to this column, our steps are arrested on the margin of a vast
gulf, fifteen hundred feet deep, and from eight to ten miles in
circumference, whose bottom is the seat of the most remarkable volcano on
the globe; - I mean Kilauea. Wait here till night closes around us, and we
shall witness a scene of awful sublimity. Over the immense area of that
gulf will the volcanic agency beneath be exerted. Ever and anon, and
mingling in strange discord, will hissings and groanings, mutterings and
thunderings, be heard rolling from side to side, and making the earth
tremble around. Then from one and another volcanic cone - perhaps from
fifty - will the glowing lava burst forth; red-hot stones will be driven
furiously upward; vapor, and smoke, and flames will be poured out, and the
dark and jagged sides of that vast furnace will glow with unearthly
splendor; and here and there will lakes of liquid lava appear, one or two
miles in extent, heaving up their billows, and dashing their fiery spray
high into the air. O, there is not on earth a livelier emblem of the world
of despair; and yet we know it is not the lake which burneth with fire and
brimstone, nor the abode of lost spirits. We know it to be only one of the
safety-valves of our globe, and an exhibition of that mighty agency within
the globe which has heaved and dislocated its crust; and, therefore, as we
gaze upon the scene, and forget our fatigue and sleep, we experience only
the emotions of awful sublimity, which can hardly fail to rise into
adoration of that infinite Being who can say, even to this agency, Thus
far shalt thou go, and no farther.

These are samples only of those delightful emotions which he experiences,
who possesses a taste for natural scenery. And kindred emotions will be
awakened within him, wherever he wanders among the works of God. They form
some of the purest and most satisfying pleasures which this world affords.
They constitute pleasant oases along the dreary journey of life; and so
deeply does memory engrave them on her tablet, that no change of time or
circumstances can hide them from our view. Now, it is obvious that if the
Author of nature and of the human soul had been malevolent, instead of
making every thing which man meets in creation "beauty to his eye, and
music to his ear," he would have made all offensive and painful. Instead
of the delightful emotions of beauty and sublimity which now rise within
us as we open our eyes upon nature, feelings of aversion and fear would
haunt us. Every sound would have been discordant, and every sight
terrific. He could not have been even indifferent to our happiness, when
he commissioned those desolating agencies of nature, fire and water, to
ridge up and furrow out the earth's surface as the groundwork of the
future landscape. For he has taken care that the result should be a scene
productive of pleasure only to the soul that is in a healthy state.
Benevolence only, infinite benevolence, could have done this.

_My third argument in favor of the divine benevolence is founded on the
arrangements for the distribution of water on the globe._

We should expect on so uneven a surface as the earth presents, that this
element, which forms the liquid nourishment of all organic life, and which
in many other ways seems indispensable, must be very unequally
distributed, and fail entirely in many places; and yet we find it in
almost every spot where man erects his habitation. And those places where
there is a deficiency are usually extended plains; not, as we should
expect, the mountainous regions. The latter are usually well watered; and
this is accomplished in three ways. In the first place, in most
mountainous countries, the strata are so much tilted up, as to prevent the
water from running off. In the second place, the pervious strata are
frequently interrupted by faults sometimes filled by impervious matter. In
the third place, the comminuted materials that cover the rocks as soils,
are often so fine, or of such a nature, as to prevent the passage of
water; and thus much of the water that falls upon elevated land remains
there, while enough percolates through the pervious materials to water the
valleys and supply the streams. These carry it to the lakes and the ocean,
where it is returned by evaporation in the form of clouds, and thus an
admirable system of circulation is kept up, whereby this essential element
is purified, and conveyed to every part of the surface where man or beast
require it.

There is one recent discovery, which deserves notice here, because it
depends upon the geological structure of the earth. When pervious and
impervious strata alternate, and are considerably inclined, water may be
brought from great depths by hydrostatic pressure, if the impervious
stratum be bored through and the water-bearing deposit be reached. A
perpetual fountain may thus be produced, and water be obtained in a region
naturally deficient in it. An Artesian fountain of this description, in
the suburbs of Paris, has been brought from the enormous depth of eighteen
hundred feet![16]

Now, just consider that to deprive the earth of water is to deprive it of
inhabitants, and you cannot but see in the means by which it is so widely,
nay, almost universally, diffused, and made to circulate for
purification, - the most decided marks of divine benevolence. Why is it not
as striking as the curious means by which the blood and the sap of animals
and plants are sent to every part of the system to supply its waste, and
give it greater development?

_I derive a fourth geological argument for the benevolence of the Deity,
from the manner in which the metallic ores are distributed through the
earth's crust._

It can hardly be doubted, by the geologist, that nearly every part of the
earth's crust, and its interior too, have been some time or other in a
melted state. Now, as the metals and their ores are usually heavier than
other rocks, we should expect that they would have accumulated at the
centre of the globe, and have been enveloped by the rocks so as to have
been forever inaccessible to man. And the very great weight of the central
parts of the earth - almost twice that of granite - leads naturally to the
conclusion that the heavier metals may be accumulated there, though this
is by no means a certain conclusion; since at the depth of thirty-four
miles air would be so condensed by the pressure of the superincumbent mass
as to be as heavy as water; water at the depth of three hundred and
sixty-two miles would become as heavy as quick-silver; and at the centre
steel would be compressed into one fourth, and stone into one eighth, of
its bulk at the surface. Still it is most probable that the materials
naturally the heaviest would first seek the centre. And yet, by means of
sublimation, and expansion by internal heat, or the segregating power of
galvanic action, or of some other agents, enough of the metals is
protruded towards the surface, and diffused through the rocks in beds, or
veins, so as to be accessible to human industry. Here, then, we find
divine benevolence, apparently in opposition to gravity, providing for
human comfort.

I have said that these metals were accessible to human industry. And it
does require a great deal of labor, and calls into exercise man's highest
ingenuity to obtain them. They might have been spread in immense masses
over the surface; they might all have been reduced to a metallic state in
the great furnace, which we have reason to suppose is always in blast,
within the earth. But then there would have been no requisition upon the
exertion and energy of man. And to have these called into exercise is an
object of greater importance to society than to supply it with the metals.
God, therefore, has so distributed the ores as to stimulate man to explore
and reduce them, while he has placed so many difficulties in the way as to
demand much mental and physical effort for their removal. Man now,
therefore, receives a double benefit. While the metals themselves are of
immense service, the discipline of body and mind requisite for obtaining
them is of still greater value. This is the combined result of infinite
wisdom and benevolence.

If I mistake not, there is such a relation between the amount of useful
metals and the wants of society as could have resulted only from divine
benevolence. The metal most widely diffused, and the only one occurring in
all the rock formations, from the oldest to the newest, is iron; - the
metal by far the most important to civilized society. This is also by far
the most abundant, and easily obtained. It often forms extensive beds, or
even mountain masses upon the surface. All the other metals are confined
almost exclusively to the older rocks. Among them, lead, copper, and zinc
are probably most needed, and accordingly they are next in quantity and in
the facility with which they may be explored. Manganese, mercury, chrome,
antimony, cobalt, arsenic, and bismuth are more difficult to obtain; but
the supply is always equal to the demand. In the case of tin, silver,
platinum, and gold, we find some interesting properties to compensate in a
great measure for their scarcity. Gold and platinum possess a remarkable
power of resisting those powerful agents of chemical change which destroy
every thing else. They are never oxidized in the earth, and with a very
few exceptions, the most powerful reagents leave them untouched, while
platinum will not yield in the most powerful heat of the furnace. Gold,
silver, and tin are capable of an astonishing extension, whereby they may
be spread over the surface of the more abundant metals to protect and
adorn them; and since the discovery of the galvanic mode of accomplishing
this, so easily is it done, that I know not but a gold or silver surface
is to become as common as metallic articles.

_My fifth geological argument for the divine benevolence is derived from
the joint and desolating effects of ice and water upon the earth's
surface, both before and after man's creation._

In northern countries, and perhaps in high southern latitudes, it seems
that after the deposition of the tertiary rocks, and after the surface had
assumed essentially its present shape, it was subjected for a long time to
a powerful agency, whereby the rough and salient parts were worn down and
rounded, the rocks in place smoothed and furrowed, valleys scooped out,
huge blocks of stone transported far from the parent bed, piled up, and
thick accumulations of bowlders, sand, and gravel, strewn promiscuously
over the surface. At the commencement of this process, the ocean, probably
loaded with ice, stood above a large part of the present continents. It
soon began to subside, or the land to rise, and a more quiet action
succeeded. The joint action of the ocean and the glaciers on the land
ground down into sand, clay, and loam, the coarser drift, and sorted it in
the form of beaches, terraces, and alluvial deposits. All this while, both
the land and the water seem to have been, for the most part, destitute of
inhabitants. But these were the very processes needed for man and his
contemporary races, who were to appear during the latter part of the
pleistocene period. In other words, the soils were thus got ready for
nourishing the vegetation necessary to sustain the new creation, which
would convert these desolate and deserted sea-beds into regions of
fertility and happiness to teeming millions.

Now, just consider what must have been the effect of these mighty aqueous
and glacial agencies upon the earth's surface. Over the level regions they
strewed the finer materials; and where the rocks had been thrown up into
ridges and displaced by numerous fissures, or subsequently worn into
bluffs and precipices by the ocean, it needed just such an agency to
smooth down those irregularities, to fill up those gulfs, to give to the
hills and valleys a graceful outline, and to cover all the surface with
those comminuted materials that would need only cultivation to make them a
fertile soil. Some rocks do, indeed, decompose and form soils; but this
process would be too slow, unless in moist and warm regions, where it is
easier to find a footing for plants than in climes more uncongenial to
their growth. We cannot then hesitate to regard this tremendous agency of
ice and water in northern and high southern regions as decidedly
beneficial in its influence. It must, indeed, have spread terrible
destruction over those regions. But it seems that a time was chosen for
its operation when the globe was almost destitute of organic life, and not
long before the time when a new and nobler creation than those previously
occupying the earth was to be placed upon it. Desolating as this agency
must have appeared, and actually was, at the time, yet who can doubt, when
we see the ultimate fruits of it, that its origin was divine benevolence?

In the ultimate results of aqueous inundations at the present day, we can
trace the same benevolent design. Those floods do, indeed, produce partial
evils; nay, life, as well as property, often falls a prey to them. But
they produce those alluvial soils which are more prolific of vegetation
than any other on the globe. Who has not heard of the fertility of the
banks of the Nile, the Niger, the Ganges, the Amazon, and the Mississippi?
all of them the fruit of inundations. Truly, such floods as these may be
said _to clap their hands_ in praise of the divine goodness.

_My sixth geological argument for the divine benevolence is derived from
the existence of volcanoes._

The first impression made on the mind by the history of volcanic action
is, that its effects are examples rather of vindictive justice than of
benevolence. And such is the light in which they are regarded by Mr.
Gisborne, an able English divine, in his "Testimony of Natural to Revealed
Religion." He looks, indeed, upon all the disturbances that have taken
place in the earth's crust as evidence of a fallen condition of the world,
as mementoes of a former penal infliction upon a guilty race. And aside
from the light which geology casts upon the subject, this would be a not
improbable conclusion. Take for an example the case of volcanoes and

A volcano is an opening made in the earth's crust by internal heat, which
has forced melted or heated matter through the vent. An earthquake is the
effect of the confined gases and vapors, produced by the heat upon the
crust. When the volcano, therefore, gets vent, the earthquake always
ceases. But the latter has generally been more destructive of life and
property than the former. Where one city has been destroyed by lava, like
Herculaneum, Pompeii, and Stabiæ, twenty have been shaken down by the
rocking and heaving of earthquakes. The records of ancient as well as
modern times abound with examples of these tremendous catastrophes.
Preëminent on the list is the city of Antioch. Imagine the inhabitants of
that great city, crowded with strangers on a festival occasion, suddenly
arrested on a calm day, by the earth heaving and rocking beneath their
feet; and in a few moments two hundred and fifty thousand of them are
buried by falling houses, or the earth opening and swallowing them up.
Such was the scene which that city presented in the year 526; and several
times before and since that period has the like calamity fallen upon it;
and twenty, forty, and sixty thousand of its inhabitants have been
destroyed at each time. In the year 17 after Christ, no less than thirteen
cities of Asia Minor were in like manner overwhelmed in a single night.
Think of the terrible destruction that came upon Lisbon in 1755. The sun
had just dissipated the fog in a warm, calm morning, when suddenly the
subterranean thundering and heaving began; and in six minutes the city was
a heap of ruins, and sixty thousand of the inhabitants were numbered among
the dead. Hundreds had crowded upon a new quay surrounded by vessels. In a
moment the earth opened beneath them, and the wharf, the vessels, and the
crowd went down into its bosom; the gulf closed, the sea rolled over the
spot, and no vestige of wharf, vessels, or man ever floated to the
surface. How thrilling is the account left us by Kircher, who was near, of
the destruction of Euphemia, in Calabria, a city of about five thousand
inhabitants, in the year 1638! "After some time," says he, "the violent
paroxysm of the earthquake ceasing, I stood up, and, turning my eyes to
look for Euphemia, saw only a frightful black cloud. We waited till it had
passed away, when nothing but a dismal and putrid lake was to be seen
where the city once stood." In like manner did Port Royal, in the West
Indies, sink beneath the waters, with nearly all its inhabitants, in less
than one minute, in the year 1692.

Still more awful, though usually less destructive, is often the scene
presented by a volcanic eruption. Imagine yourselves, for instance, upon
one of the wide, elevated plains of Mexico, far from the fear of
volcanoes. The earth begins to quake under your feet, and the most
alarming subterranean noises admonish you of a mighty power within the
earth that must soon have vent. You flee to the surrounding mountains in
time to look back and see ten square miles of the plain swell up, like a
bladder, to the height of five hundred feet, while numerous smaller cones
rise from the surface still higher, and emit smoke; and in their midst,
six mountains are thrown up to the height, some of them at least, of
sixteen hundred feet, and pour forth melted lava, turning rivers out of
their course, and spreading terrific desolation over a late fertile plain,
and forever excluding its former inhabitants. Such was the eruption, by
which Jorullo, in Mexico, was suddenly thrown up, in 1759.

Still more terrific have been some of the eruptions in Iceland. In 1783,
earthquakes of tremendous power shook the whole island, and flames burst
forth from the ocean. In June these ceased, and Skaptar Jokul opened its
mouth; nor did it close till it had poured forth two streams of lava, one
sixty miles long, twelve miles broad, and the other forty miles long, and
seven broad, and both with an average thickness of one hundred feet.
During that summer the inhabitants saw the sun no more, and all Europe was
covered with a haze.

Around the Papandayang, one of the loftiest mountains in Java, no less
than forty villages were reposing in peace. But in August, 1772, a

Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 16 of 39)