Edward Hitchcock.

The religion of geology and its connected sciences online

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remarkable luminous cloud enveloping its top aroused them from their
security. But it was too late. For at once the mountain began to sink into
the earth, and soon it had disappeared with the forty villages, and most
of the inhabitants, over a space fifteen miles long and six broad.

Still more extraordinary - the most remarkable on record - was an eruption
in Sumbawa, one of the Molucca Islands, in 1815. It began on the fifth day
of April, and did not cease till July. The explosions were heard in one
direction nine hundred and seventy miles, and in another seven hundred and
twenty miles. So heavy was the fall of ashes at the distance of forty
miles that houses were crushed and destroyed. The floating cinders in the
ocean, hundreds of miles distant, were two feet thick, and vessels were
forced through them with difficulty. The darkness in Java, three hundred
miles distant, was deeper than the blackest night; and finally, out of the
twelve thousand inhabitants of the island, only twenty-six survived the

Now, if we confine our views to such facts as these, we can hardly avoid
the conclusion that earthquakes and volcanoes are terrific exhibitions of
God's displeasure towards a fallen and guilty world. But if it can be
shown that the volcanic agency exerts a salutary influence in preserving
the globe from ruin, nay, is essential to such preservation, we must
regard its incidental destruction of property and life as no evidence of a
vindictive infliction, nor of the want of benevolence in its operation.
And the remarkable proofs which modern geology has presented of vast
accumulations of heated and melted matter beneath the earth's crust, do
make such an agent as volcanoes essential to the preservation of the
globe. In order to make out this position, I shall not contend that all
the earth's interior, beneath fifty or one hundred miles, is in a state of
fusion. For even the most able and decided of those geologists who object
to such an inference, admit that oceans of melted matter do exist beneath
the surface. And if so, how liable would vast accumulations of heat be, if
there were no safety-valves through the crust, to rend asunder even a
whole continent? Volcanoes are those safety-valves, and more than two
hundred of them are scattered over the earth's surface, forming vent-holes
into the heated interior. Most of them, indeed, have the valves loaded,
and the effort of the confined gases and vapors to lift the load produces
the terrific phenomena of earthquakes and volcanoes. But if no such
passages into the interior existed, what could prevent the pent-up gases
from accumulating till they had gained strength enough to rend a whole
continent, and perhaps the whole globe, into fragments? Is it not, then,
benevolence by which this agency prevents so dreadful a catastrophe, even
by means that bring some incidental evils along with them?

Some able writers do, indeed, object to the idea that volcanoes are
safety-valves to the globe, deriving their objections from certain facts
respecting the position of volcanic craters in the Sandwich Islands, if I
do not misrecollect. Without going into the details of that case, for want
of time and space, it seems to me that the facts respecting the connection
between earthquakes and volcanoes, admitted by all, will justify such a
view of the latter as is expressed by the term "safety-valves." For
earthquakes are but the incipient effects of the volcanic force within the
globe; and if these effects have been so terrible at the beginning, what
must be the full exhibition of that force, if not able to find a passage
for the struggling gases and lava through the strata above them? Who can
say that it might not rend a continent asunder, and, if deep enough
seated, even the whole globe?

The question will undoubtedly be asked by every reflecting mind, why
infinite wisdom and benevolence could not have devised a plan for securing
the good resulting from volcanoes and earthquakes without the attendant
evils. The same question meets us at almost every step of our examination
of the present system of the world. For we every where meet with evil,
incidentally connected with agencies whose predominant effects are
beneficial. I incline to the opinion, that the true answer to this
question is, that the evil is permitted that thereby greater good may be
secured to the universe. Still the subject of the origin of evil is one
whose full solution can hardly be expected in the present world, because
we cannot here master all its elements. When it can be solved, we can tell
why so much desolation and suffering are permitted to accompany the
earthquake and the volcano. But if we can show that benefits far
outweighing the evil are the result of this terrific agency, we gather
from it decided evidence of the divine benevolence; - the same evidence
which we gain from any other operations of nature; for in them all there
is only a preponderance of good, not unmixed good. The desolation of this
fair world by volcanic agency, and especially the destruction of life, do,
indeed, teach us that this present system of nature is adapted to a state
of probation and death, instead of a state of rewards and immortal life.
It is adapted to sinful and fallen beings, rather than to those who are
perfect in holiness and in happiness. In short, it is earth, not heaven.
It is not such a world as heaven must be, to secure unalloyed and eternal
happiness. Nevertheless, benevolence decidedly predominates in the
arrangements of the present system, even in the desolating agency under
consideration. I do not deny that God may sometimes employ this agency, as
he may every other in nature, for the punishment of the guilty. But before
we infer that this is the general use and design of volcanoes and
earthquakes, we should ponder well the questions put by our Savior _to
some that told him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with
their sacrifices_. _Suppose ye_, answered the Savior, _that these
Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they suffered such
things? I tell you nay. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower of Siloam
fell and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that
dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you nay._ Let us follow the example of Jesus
Christ, and take a more enlarged view of these startling and distressing
events. Let us inquire whether they are not the incidental effects of
agencies essential to the permanence and happiness of the great system of
the universe. This is certainly the case in regard to volcanoes. We have
strong reason to believe that they are essential to the preservation of
the globe; and of how much higher consequence is this than the
comparatively small amount of property and life which they destroy! If we
can only rise to these higher views, and not suffer our judgment to be
warped by the immediate terrors of the earthquake and the volcano, we
shall see the smile of infinite benevolence where most men see only the
wrath of an offended Deity.

_My seventh geological argument for the divine benevolence is derived from
the manner in which coal, rock salt, marble, gypsum, and other valuable
materials were prepared for the use of man, long before his existence._

If a created and intelligent being from some other sphere had alighted on
this globe during that remote period when the vegetation now dug out of
the coal formation covered the surface with its gigantic growth, he might
have felt as if here was a waste of creative power. Vast forests of
sigillaria, lepidodendra, coniferæ, cycadeæ, and tree ferns would have
waved over his head, with their imposing though sombre foliage, while the
lesser tribes of calamites and equisetaceæ would have filled the
intervening spaces; but no vertebral animal would have been there to
enjoy and enliven the almost universal solitude. Why, then, he must have
inquired, is there such a profusion of vegetable forms, and such a
colossal development of individual plants? To what use can such vast
forests be applied? But let ages roll by, and that same being revisit our
world at the present time. Let him traverse the little Island of Britain,
and see there fifteen thousand steam engines moved by coal dug out of the
earth, and produced by these same ancient forests. Let him see these
engines performing the work of two millions of men, and moving machinery
which accomplishes what would require the unaided labors of three or four
hundred millions of men, and he could not doubt but such a result was one
of the objects of that rank vegetation which covered the earth ere it was
fit for the residence of such natures as now dwell upon it. Let him go to
the coal fields of other countries, and especially those of the United
States, stretching over one hundred and fifty thousand square miles,
containing a quantity absolutely inexhaustible, and already imparting
comfort to millions of the inhabitants, and giving life and energy to
every variety of manufacture through the almost entire length of this
country, and destined to pour out their wealth through all coming time,
long after the forests shall all have been levelled, - and irresistible
must be the conviction upon his mind, that here is a beautiful example of
prospective benevolence on the part of the Deity. In those remote ages,
while yet the earth was unfitted for the higher races of animals that now
dwell upon it, it was eminently adapted to nourish that gigantic flora
which would produce the future fuel of the human race, when that crown of
all God's works should be placed upon the earth. Ere that time, those
forests must sink beneath the ocean, be buried beneath deposits of rock
thousands of feet thick. But during all that period, all those chemical
changes which are essential to convert them into coal would be
accomplished, and, at last, man would find access, by his ingenuity and
industry, to the deep-seated beds whence his fuel might be drawn. Nor
would these vast repositories fail him till the consummation of all
things. Surely there was no waste, but there was a far-reaching plan of
benevolence in the profusion of vegetable life in the earlier periods of
our planet.

Essentially the same remark will apply to the limestone, gypsum, rock
salt, and several other mineral products of the earth, which are almost
indispensable to man in a civilized state. For these, too, were produced
by slow processes, during those vast periods of duration that preceded
man's existence. Limestone has been chiefly elaborated by the organs of
animals, many of them of microscopic littleness. Yet lofty ranges of
mountains and immense deposits in the intervening valleys have been the
result. Nearly one seventh part of the crust of the globe, it has been
said, is thus constituted of the works or remains of animals. And can we
doubt but that these rocks are thus spread over the surface of the globe
because they are needed by all mankind, like air and water? It must have
been benevolence that so arranged the agencies by which they were
produced, during the revolution of primeval ages, that they have this wide
diffusion. Gypsum and fossil salt are more sparingly diffused; but still
enough is always to be found to meet the demand. Nor is it reasonable to
doubt that the same prospective goodness which provided for coal and
limestone, commissioned other agencies to lay up a store of gypsum, salt,
bitumen, clay, and other substances dug out of the earth for man's

_My eighth geological argument for the divine benevolence is based upon
the perfect adaptation of the natures of animals and plants to the varying
condition of the globe through all the periods of its past history._

The very slight changes in climate, situation, and food, that will destroy
most species of animals and plants, is hard to be realized by man, whose
nature will sustain very great changes of this kind. So will most of the
animals and plants that have been domesticated by man, and which accompany
him into every soil and climate. But the great mass of animals and plants
would perish by such a transplantation. They are adapted to a particular
region, often of narrow limits; and to remove them from thence, even to
one slightly diverse, is to cause their deterioration and final
destruction. In other words, their natures are exactly adapted to the
place of habitation assigned them. And it must have required infinite
wisdom thus to fit the delicate machinery of animal and vegetable
organization to the great variety of circumstances on the globe in which
it is placed. But we find that same wisdom to have been manifested in all
the vast periods of organic life. We have the most unequivocal evidence
that the condition of the earth has undergone important changes. We cannot
examine the remarkable flora and fauna of the older rocks, the gigantic
sauroid fishes, the huge orthoceratites and ammonites, the heteroclitic
trilobites, and the strange sigillaria and lepidodendra, calamites and
asterophyllites, the lofty coniferæ, and the anomalous cycadeæ, - we cannot
examine these without realizing that a state of the globe very different
from the present must have existed when they had possession of it. And
when we contemplate also the enormous saurians and batrachians of the
middle secondary rocks, and the colossal quadrupeds of the tertiary
strata, we cannot doubt that a tropical or an ultra-tropical climate must
have prevailed in high northern latitudes during their existence. We
perceive that there has been a gradual decrease of temperature on the
surface from the earliest times. In each successive race of organized
beings which have been placed on the globe, there must have been,
therefore, some change of constitution to adapt them to the altered state
of the climate and productions of the earth. And we find this alteration
to have been always made with consummate skill, so as to secure the most
complete development of organic beings, and the greatest enjoyment to
sensitive natures. Malevolence would not have done this; for it might with
infinite knowledge at command, have filled each successive period of the
world with natures unadapted to the mutable condition of things, capable,
indeed, of a prolonged existence, not to enjoy, but only to suffer. But
infinite benevolence was fitting up this world by slow secondary agencies
for the elevated races which now occupy it, especially for one species,
rational and immortal; and it lavished its kindness and wisdom by filling
the world, during those preparatory ages, with multitudes of happy beings,
fitted exactly to each altered condition of the air, the water, and the

_My ninth and last geological argument for the divine benevolence is
founded upon the permanence and security of the world, in spite of the
mighty changes it has undergone, and the powerful agencies to which it is
now subject._

When we learn from the records of geology, as they are inscribed upon the
rocks, how numerous and thorough have been the revolutions of the surface
and the crust of the globe in past ages; how often and how long the
present dry land has been alternately above and beneath the ocean; how
frequently the crust of the globe has been fractured, bent, and
dislocated, - now lifted upward, and now thrown downward, and now folded
by lateral pressure; how frequently melted matter has been forced through
its strata and through its fissures to the surface; in short, how every
particle of the accessible portions of the globe has undergone entire
metamorphoses; and especially when we recollect what strong evidence there
is that oceans of liquid matter exist beneath the solid crust, and that
probably the whole interior of the earth is in that condition, with
expansive energy sufficient to rend the globe into fragments, - when we
review all these facts, we cannot but feel that the condition of the
surface of the globe must be one of great insecurity and liability to
change. But it is not so. On the contrary, the present state of the globe
is one of permanent uniformity and entire security, except those
comparatively slight catastrophes which result from earthquakes,
volcanoes, and local deluges. Even the climate has experienced no general
change within historic times, and the profound mathematical researches of
Baron Fourier have demonstrated that, even though the internal parts of
the globe are in an incandescent state, beneath a crust thirty or forty
miles, the temperature at the surface has long since ceased to be affected
by the melted central mass; that it is not now more than one seventeenth
of a degree higher than it would be if the interior were ice; and that
hundreds of thousands of years will not see it lowered, from this cause,
more than the seventeenth part of a degree. And as to the apprehension
that the entire crust of the globe may be broken through, and fall into
the melted matter beneath, just reflect what solidity and strength there
must be in a mass of hard rock from fifty to one hundred miles in
thickness, and your fears of such a catastrophe will probably vanish.

Now, such a uniformity of climate and security from general ruin are
essential to the comfort and existence of animal nature. But it must have
required infinite wisdom and benevolence so to arrange and balance the
mighty elements of change and ruin which exist in the earth, that they
should hold one another in check, and make the world a quiet, unchanged,
and secure dwelling-place for so many thousands of years. Surely that
wisdom must have been guided by infinite benevolence. And it would seem
from geology that the same union of wisdom and benevolence have always
arranged the past conditions of the earth. For, during each of the periods
of organic existence, uniformity and security seem to have prevailed so
long as the purposes of the Deity required. In early times, indeed, when
animals were mostly confined to the waters, it was not necessary that the
dry land should be as exempt as at present from catastrophes; and probably
they were then more frequent; and it may be that, while there were
uniformity and security in one portion of the globe, or in one element,
there might have been disturbance and desolation in others. And it is
doubtful whether such general quiet has ever prevailed for so long a time
as during the present, or historic period. We see a reason for this in the
fact that never before were so many animals in existence, with a structure
so delicate and complicated.

Such are the evidences of divine benevolence, drawn from a field at first
view most unpromising. And yet, when we come to look beyond the surface,
where do we find more decisive or more numerous indications of God's
beneficence? They are not like many hasty generalizations, which
superficial examination has often brought from natural phenomena in proof
of this same truth, but which, although beautiful at first view, must be
abandoned upon careful research. But these, though repulsive at first,
gain solidity and beauty by examination. And they are the more interesting
because they come from an unexpected quarter. Men have been accustomed to
search among the drift piled up by water and ice, among dislocated and
rent strata of rocks, among mountains overturned and fields made desolate
by volcanic eruptions, for the mementoes of penal inflictions; but they
have not imagined that divine benevolence might be seen among these
disturbances and desolations; and that simply because they confined their
views to the immediate effect of geological agencies, and did not enlarge
their views to take in their connection with the great system of the
universe. But now that we find the stamp of benevolence even here, we
learn an instructive lesson. Every reflecting mind is aware that the
doctrine of divine benevolence lies at the foundation of all natural and
revealed religion, and that until this be established we labor in vain to
erect a superstructure. It is well known, also, that the existence of
natural and moral evil has been considered a strong objection to this
great truth. Now, geology furnishes us with many examples, in which
agencies, often fraught with terrific evils, are nevertheless eminently
beneficial when the whole extent of their operation is taken into account.
Why is it not a fair inference that, in all other cases where evils stand
out prominently, they are only incidental results of some wide system of
operations, of which our limited vision embraces only a part, but whose
tendencies as a whole are eminently salutary, and whose incidental evils
do, in fact, increase the salutary effects? If so, what reason have we to
believe that, when the light of eternity shall clarify our mental eye, and
enlarge our knowledge of the present system of the universe, we shall find
all "partial evil to be universal good," and that our narrow views alone
threw obscurity and difficulty over this subject in this life? O, if even
here so many rays of divine love find their way into our narrow
prison-house, what will be their brightness when they pour in upon us from
the unveiled glories of the heavenly world!



The geological proofs of the divine benevolence considered in the last
lecture present only a partial view of that glorious characteristic of
Jehovah. I am tempted, therefore, to exhibit it in its more general aspect
and broader relations. This will necessarily bring into view other
important religious truths respecting man's fallen condition and
character, and, as a consequence, the modified aspect of the divine
goodness in such a world.

To those destitute of a revelation this world has, indeed, ever seemed an
inextricable maze, an enigma too dark for human wisdom to solve. Nor have
those favored with the Bible agreed in their modes of clearing up the
mystery. Having endeavored to explain all by following out some leading
and favorite idea, their theories have varied as these predominant
conceptions differed. One, for instance, fixes his gaze so intently upon
the divine benevolence that he is blind to every manifestation of
Jehovah's sterner attributes. Another, deeply impressed with the story of
man's original apostasy, sees only vindictive justice, and penal
infliction, and disordered action, in all the movements of nature and the
trials and sufferings of man. A third, captivated by the discoveries of
modern geology, relative to the existence of suffering and death in the
world before man's creation, and learning, moreover, from physiology,
that death is a general law of all organized natures, vegetable as well as
animal, is led to doubt whether the disorders of the world have any
important connection with man's apostasy.

Now, it were easy to show that our views on these subjects have a most
important bearing upon our entire system of theology; and, therefore, they
deserve our most thorough and candid examination. To such an examination I
now invite your serious attention.

It is not my object to appeal to the Scriptures to prove the divine
benevolence. That were an easy task. So, were this an unfallen world,
every object and event would be redolent of God's goodness. But where sin
and death abound, that goodness must assume a different aspect, since its
unmixed manifestation would work mischief. Now, the point aimed at in this
lecture is to ascertain whether natural religion can point out decisive
evidence of divine benevolence. We can conceive it quite possible that in
a fallen world God might find it necessary so to mingle displays of
justice with those of goodness, that man might be in doubt which

There is another reason for considering this subject apart from scriptural
evidence. We need to establish the doctrine of divine benevolence as a
basis on which to rest the evidences of inspiration; or, rather, we want
to be able to assume God's benevolence, in arguing for the truth of the
Bible, and in judging of its contents. This doctrine, therefore, is one of
the most important, as it is certainly the most difficult, in natural

Obviously the first step in this investigation must be to ascertain what
is the real state of this world, as a manifestation of the benevolence and
justice of God. In other words, we need to ascertain what exhibitions of
these attributes are presented to us in nature, and in the economy of
Providence, and how much of the evil in the world is to be imputed to
man's perversion of the gifts of God. I shall proceed, therefore, to state
the main points on this subject which fair and candid reasoning seems to

Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 17 of 39)