Edward Hitchcock.

The religion of geology and its connected sciences online

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me to sustain. When these points are before us, with a summary of the
evidence by which they are supported, we shall be prepared to deduce
important conclusions respecting God's character and dispensations, and
man's position and destiny.

_In the first place, then, I maintain that benevolence decidedly
predominates in the present system of the world._

Let this proposition be fully understood. It does not mean that there is
no mixture of evil in the operations of nature, but only that good
decidedly overbalances the evil. And by the operations of nature I mean
those processes resulting from natural laws, which are uninfluenced by the
perverseness of man. How much of evil may be imputed to his perversion of
the gifts of Providence will be considered in another place, as will also
those cases in which evil seems inseparable from the original arrangements
of the world. All that I am now concerned to prove is, that, in a vast
majority of instances, we see the marks of benevolent design and
benevolent operation in the arrangements of nature.

This position is established, in the first place, by the fact that the
design of every natural contrivance is to produce happiness.

To show that such is the case, by an appeal to facts, would be, in truth,
to write the history of every natural process, and show its design. But it
will be sufficient to consider only such cases as appear most decidedly to
militate against my position, and to show that even these are not
designed to cause evil or suffering.

How does it happen, then, you may inquire, that evil is the result of a
multitude of contrivances and processes in nature? It is an incidental
effect, I answer; that is, an effect happening aside from the main design
of the contrivance. Take a few illustrations.

No one can doubt that the law of gravity is essential to the preservation
and comfort of the world, and to the harmonious motions of the heavenly
bodies. Yet how often does it give rise to frightful accidents to men and
animals! But when they are crushed by falling bodies, or by falling
themselves, who imagines this to be the design of gravitation? How clear
that its real object is beneficial, and that the evil resulting from it is
unavoidable in a world constituted like ours! Why the world is not
constituted differently, is an inquiry which men may try to answer; but an
answer is not important to my present object.

Take an example from the organic world. Every one is aware that without a
nervous system in animals there would be no sensibility, nor sensation,
and, of course, no enjoyment; and without these, animals would be
unconscious of danger, and would not guard against it, nor withdraw from
it. We are sure, therefore, that these two objects are the grand design of
the nervous system, and, of course, it is a benevolent design. But the
nervous system causes a great deal of suffering as well as pleasure.
Obviously, however, this is only an incidental effect, which could not be
prevented without a miracle; while the main design is to produce happiness
and guard against evil.

It may be asked, however, by what principle we can determine what is the
design of a contrivance, and what the incidental effect. Why select a
part of the effects, and call them the object aimed at by the contriver,
while we regard others as incidental, and merely permitted, not intended?

The principle on which we make this distinction is very clear. We judge of
the design of a contrivance by its predominant tendencies and effects. If
evil as often results as good, misery as often as happiness, we could not
decide whether the design was benevolent or malevolent, or an indifference
to both. But the benevolent tendency and effects of every natural
contrivance are so obvious, and so immensely outweigh all its evil
results, that we are compelled to admit the design of the Author of nature
to be benevolent. And, therefore, when we see evil occasionally result
from such contrivances, we are authorized to say that this is only an
incidental effect; not, indeed, wholly undesigned, for we cannot doubt
that God has a design in the permission of all evil. But for each
particular arrangement and movement in nature we can discover a
predominant and benevolent object.

Take another example from the human frame. In that frame we find a
multitude of organs, nearly all of which are obviously adapted to a
particular use. Now, the anatomist cannot lay his finger upon one of them,
and say, This was intended to produce derangement and suffering in the
system. Here is a muscle contrived to clog the operations of its
neighbors; here a blood-vessel adapted to corrupt the blood and produce
disease; here a gland whose object is to secrete a poisonous fluid, to
contaminate the whole system; here a nerve made to produce pain; here a
plexus of vessels suited to bring on disease. On the contrary, this
anatomist perceives at once that all the organs of the animal system, and
their collocation, are fitted in the best possible manner to produce
health. It is obvious at a glance that this is their design.

But if such be the fact, how happens it that so few persons pass through
life without disease? Is it all to be imputed to an abuse and perversion
of the organs and powers of life? Not so, in my opinion. But those organs
are all liable to disease; and when we see how delicate and complicated
they are, we ought not to wonder that even the unavoidable causes of
derangement should often bring it on. Yet, after all, health is the rule
and the object, and disease only the exception. But I shall say more on
this subject in another part of the argument.

Some one, however, who hears me, has doubtless ere this had his thoughts
recur to the organs of carnivorous animals, the poisonous fangs of
serpents, and the organs of the scorpion, the tarantula, and of insects,
for the generation and protrusion of deadly poison. Here we have organs
expressly provided for the destruction of other animals. That such is
their design, no physiologist can doubt; and hence they are intended to
produce suffering, and not happiness.

Is this an exactly correct statement of the case? True, suffering is the
result of such organs; but the arrangement is intended to accomplish still
higher purposes. The leading one is to procure food for sustenance, the
other is self-defence. Both of these are essential to the animal's
continued existence. That suffering should be incidentally connected with
instruments or organs so important, is no more difficult to explain than
is the existence of evil any where. The object even of these contrivances,
then, is beneficial. And if so, I know of no other example in nature so
seemingly adverse to the position I have laid down, that the main object
of every natural contrivance is benevolent in its origin and results. If
this be so, how clearly does it indicate the character of the contriver to
be benevolent!

My second argument is derived from the fact that the organic functions
often produce pleasure where suffering was just as consistent with their
most perfect action; or I might say that such are the arrangements of the
natural world, that pleasure often results to sentient beings from its
operations, when they might have been as perfectly performed with the
production of pain. A few illustrations will render the meaning of this
position obvious.

As we look abroad upon nature, one of the most striking traits we discover
is its unbounded variety. With the Psalmist we involuntarily exclaim, _O
Lord, how manifold are thy works!_ It is not merely variety as to form,
texture, attitude, and arrangement; but who can describe the countless
tints of coloring which are spread over the heavens and the earth? Now,
there is in the human soul an aptitude to be pleased with variety; nay,
there is a craving for it. Nor can there be a more terrible infliction
than unvarying monotony and sameness of appearance, arrangement, and
action. If, therefore, the Creator had been malevolent, or indifferent to
the happiness of man and other sentient beings, he might have gratified
this disposition most perfectly by giving to the human soul its present
love of variety, and then spreading over the face of nature a dead
uniformity of figure, position, arrangement, and coloring; forming every
thing upon the same model. And this might have been done without impairing
at all the perfect operation of all her laws that are essential. Every
thing might have been as systematic and harmonious as it now is; but
sentient beings would have been miserable; and this must have been
supremely gratifying to infinite malevolence. He might also have so
constructed the organs of hearing, sight, and smell, that every sound
might have been ungrateful and grating, every odor repulsive, and every
prospect disgusting. While hunger would have urged animals, as it now
does, to seek food, its reception might have been painful, or utterly void
of gustatory enjoyment. So in regard to social enjoyments; we might have
been irresistibly drawn towards our fellow-men, and yet their society
might have been hateful in the extreme.

Had such a state of things existed, how very clearly we should have
inferred the malevolence of the Author of nature! Or if such a state had
been witnessed about as often as its opposite, we might reasonably have
said that he was indifferent to the happiness of his creatures. Why, then,
may we not, with equal reason, infer his benevolence, when we find, in a
vast majority of cases, - nay, for aught I know, universally, - that
pleasure is superadded to animal enjoyment where it was wholly unnecessary
to the perfect operation of nature's laws?

The fact is, God has made all nature "beauty to our eye and music to our
ear," when it was wholly unnecessary for the perfect operation of her
laws; and the inference is irresistible, that he delights in the happiness
of his creatures. Nor can the fact that evil exists in the world destroy
the force of this argument, unless that evil is so general as to be
obviously the design of the Creator in devising and arranging the system
of the world. While we admit its existence, we say that it is only
incidental, and that pleasure is so often superadded unnecessarily, as to
prove happiness to be the design, and evil the exception.

The two arguments above presented are the evidence on which Dr. Paley
relies to prove the divine benevolence. They are, indeed, as it seems to
me, unanswerable. But if I mistake not, they do by no means exhaust the
storehouse of nature's proofs of this fundamental principle of natural
and revealed religion. I derive a third argument for the predominance of
benevolence in the works of nature from the variety of means often
provided for the performance of important functions; so that animals and
plants can adapt themselves to different circumstances, and prolong their

The examples which I have in mind to illustrate this argument are all
derived from the organic world. I refer, for instance, to the fact that
nearly all our muscles, and many other important organs, as the hands, the
feet, the eyes, and the lungs, are in pairs, so that if one meets with an
injury, or is destroyed, the other can, to some extent, perform the office
of both. The brain has two hemispheres, and one of them may be seriously
wounded without destroying the healthy action of the other.

But perhaps the most appropriate example is in the blood-vessels, whose
inosculations are so numerous that even though large arteries and veins be
tied, the blood will find its way through the smaller ones, which
ultimately will so enlarge as to keep up the circulation nearly as well as
before the injury. And, in fact, almost every one of the large
blood-vessels has been tied by the surgeon with little ultimate injury to
the patient.

In the process of deglutition, or swallowing the nourishment essential to
the existence of all the more perfect animals, - since the food and the air
for respiration pass for a time through a common opening, the pharynx, - it
is extremely important that the passage to the lungs should be most
vigilantly guarded; since strangulation would follow the introduction
there of any thing but air. Accordingly, the entrance of the glottis is so
sensitive, that the approach of the food causes it to close. But lest this
security should sometimes fail, we have an additional guard in the
epiglottis, which shuts down like a valve upon the orifice. Even with this
double precaution, strangulation sometimes follows the act of deglutition.
How much oftener would it occur, had not benevolence thus multiplied its
vigilant sentinels at the point of danger!

Another illustration of this argument lies in the fact, that many of the
organs of animals and plants possess the power, when an exigency requires
it, of greatly increasing their action. When, for instance, an unusual
quantity of osseous matter is requisite to repair a broken bone, the
glands, whose office it is to elaborate that matter, are capable of
secreting an extraordinary quantity, until the injury is repaired.

Of an analogous character is the sympathy existing between the different
organs, so that when one has an unusual amount of labor to perform, the
rest impart of their nervous energy to sustain their overtasked companion.
Thus, and thus only, could animals be carried through many of the severe
exigencies of their existence. Their organs help one another, just as if
they were conscious of one another's necessities, and were prompted by
benevolence to aid the weakest.

In like manner, some of the organs possess the power of vicarious
secretion; that is, of producing, in peculiar circumstances, secretions
that are usually made by other glands. How they can do this, and how they
can know when to do it, are among the mysteries of physiology.
Nevertheless, the object of this arrangement is most obvious, viz., the
continuance of health and life in spite of accidents, which would
otherwise prove fatal.

The same vicarious system is manifest in the well-known examples, where
the loss of one or more of the senses gives increased acuteness to the
rest. The sense of touch, for instance, in the blind man, has sometimes
proved no mean substitute for eyes; and, indeed, any of the senses by
cultivation, in peculiar exigencies, may be prodigiously strengthened.

Now, in all these cases, where the vicarious principle is brought into
operation, or sympathy concentrates the power of many organs in one, or
the loss of one organ or sense quickens the sensibility of the rest, do we
not recognize the prospective care and kindness of infinite benevolence?
Do you say that it merely shows infinite wisdom, which adjusts means to
ends with consummate skill, in order to be sure of success in its designs?
Why, then, I inquire, should these provisions for trying exigencies in the
animal system always tend to the happiness of the creature? Surely there
were other means at the command of infinite wisdom for securing the
existence of the animal, which would bring misery upon it instead of
happiness. The benevolent tendency of the design, therefore, proves the
benevolent feelings of the designer.

The extraordinary provisions that are made in some cases for the
multiplication of animals and plants, in order to prevent the extinction
of any races, and to give life and happiness to as many animals as can be
sustained, is another indication of benevolent care on the part of the
Creator. Not less than five modes of reproduction are known to exist,
viz., the viviparous, the ovo-viviparous, the oviparous, the gemmiparous,
and the fissiparous; and among the lowest families of animals several of
these modes exist in the same species, so that their extinction, or even
deficient multiplication, is scarcely possible.

The same benevolence is manifested in the power possessed by animals and
plants to adapt themselves to different circumstances. Often are they
thrown into conditions widely diverse as to food, temperature, and
exposure to chemical and mechanical agencies, with no possibility on their
part of avoiding them. This is eminently true of man; and were not animals
able to adapt themselves to these various states, they must perish. True,
there are limits to this adaptation; but they are wide enough to
accomplish the great purposes of existence, and to make us comfortable and
happy amid great changes in our condition. Nor is this power of adaptation
among animals limited to their physical nature. Their mental habits admit
of an oscillation equally wide, so that, ere long, we become happy in a
condition which at first was painful in the extreme. New habits take the
place of the old ones so gradually that we scarcely realize the change.

Now, if this power were not possessed in such a world as ours, could
organic natures not bend at all to circumstances, constant suffering and
premature dissolution would be the result. The power of adaptation,
therefore, looks like the benevolent provision of a kind Father, who
wishes to make his creatures as happy as he can in the circumstances in
which his wisdom has placed them. Certainly, malevolence, or indifference
to their happiness, would not have introduced this power of adaptation
into their natures; for it is certain that their continued existence might
have been secured in some other way, had no reference been had to their

I base my fourth argument for the predominance of benevolence, in the
arrangements of nature, upon the aggregate results of the most destructive
and terrific agencies which she employs.

The immediate effects of these agencies are often so appalling and so
unmixed with good, that men view them only as penal inflictions; or, when
the sufferers are unconscious of guilt, as mysterious dispensations of
evil, which need the light of another world to reconcile with infinite
benevolence. When the tornado or sirocco's hot breath sweeps over the
devoted land; when the river overflows its banks, and ingulfs the
defenceless inhabitants along its course, or the giant waves of the ocean
roll in upon the devoted shore; when the heaving earthquake overturns in a
moment vast cities, and the earth swallows them in its bosom; or when the
volcano pours out its suffocating smoke and its scorching lava, and
obliterates from earth the defenceless town, as once Herculaneum and
Pompeii were converted into petrified cities, - in the midst of such
desolating agencies, where can we discover a gleam of benevolence? Not
surely in the immediate effects. But suppose the tornado, the flood, the
earthquake, and the volcano are essential to the preservation of the earth
from a far wider ruin, so that, in fact, while they destroy some property
and life, they preserve a far greater amount, and are essential to such
preservation, - why is it not benevolence that gives a slight play to these
terrific elements, while it checks their wild war so soon as the requisite
security has been obtained? When the storm has sufficiently purified the
atmosphere, when the flood has enriched the wide alluvial fields, and the
earthquake and the volcano have given vent to the pent-up fires in the
earth, so that they no longer threaten to rend a continent asunder, then a
restraining power is put upon them, and they are allowed no more range
than is essential to the general good. We may not, indeed, see why the
good could not be secured without the evil. But this question leads to the
inquiry, whether the present system of the universe is the best possible;
and that it is so we have the guaranty of the divine perfections. Those
perfections admit the existence of evil; but at the same time they take
care that the aggregate result of the greatest evils should be beneficial.

Nor would we limit this position to evils springing out of the nature or
the changes of the inanimate world; for some of the severest evils are
dependent upon the organization or operation of animate nature. Man, for
instance, finds himself often grossly annoyed by some species of the
inferior animals, in his comfort, property, and even life. And he wonders
why infinite wisdom and benevolence should permit certain species to
exist, when they seem fitted only to annoy the rest. But he knows not what
he desires when he wishes their extinction. For such is the balance of
organic nature, that to strike out even one species, is like removing a
link from a chain. Once broken, every other link is affected, and the
whole chain lies useless upon the ground. Or, to speak without a figure,
if you blot out certain species of animals or plants, you disturb the
balance of the whole system of organic nature; nor can you tell where the
disturbance thus introduced will end. It may lead to the excessive
multiplication of species still more injurious than those you have
destroyed. At any rate, since the perfections of the Deity lead to the
conclusion that the existing proportion between different species is the
best, all things considered, and change in the balance must be injurious,
we may conclude, that though noxious animals and plants may produce
individual inconvenience and injury, the aggregate effects upon the whole
of organic nature are salutary, and, therefore, indicative of benevolence.

Similar reasoning will, I think, apply to the existence of that large
class of animals called carnivorous. These are evidently intended to prey
upon other animals; and for this purpose they are provided with weapons
for seizing and destroying their prey. It is often extremely painful to a
man of kind feelings to witness the scenes of blood and havoc which these
flesh-eating animals produce. But we forget two things. The first is, that
in order to keep the numbers of animated beings full in the different
tribes, it is necessary that there should be a great excess of numbers
created, to meet all the casualties to which they are exposed; and that
excess must in some way or other be removed from life. Secondly, all the
enjoyment of the carnivorous races is so much clear gain to the sum of
animal happiness; for the excess of numbers in the tribes of vegetable
feeders suffer no more in being destroyed by the carnivorous races, than
if they died in some other way; not so much, indeed, as if they perished
by famine. We may safely conclude, then, that even this system of mutual
slaughter, when viewed in all its relations, is the means, in such a world
as ours, of increasing the amount of enjoyment, and is, therefore, a
benevolent provision.

This course of reasoning may be extended, as I judge, to the greatest of
all mortal evils, - I mean death. In the case of the inferior animals, the
amount of physical or mental suffering from this cause is comparatively
small. And if they survive the change of death, surely there is
benevolence in so easy a translation. Or, if they do not exist hereafter,
the stroke of death is a small deduction from the happiness of a whole
life. In man's case, we must not take into the account the aggravations of
death which his own misconduct produces. And aside from these, what a
blessing it would be to be transferred to a more exalted state of being,
by an experience no more painful than that of a Christian dying what may
be called a natural death, by mere decay! Then, too, how much greater
happiness is the result of a succession of beings on earth, than one
undying race would enjoy, both because the successive races would be ever
passing through novel scenes, which would soon become monotonous to a
continuous race, and because, as we have already suggested, a succession
of races admits of the existence, at any one time, of a far greater number
of species! Then, too, we must not forget the salutary moral influence
which man experiences from the expectation of death; so great, indeed,
that without it, it seems doubtful whether the world would be any thing
better than a Pandemonium. In making indissoluble the connection between
sin and death, therefore, in such a system as the present, benevolence
presided with wisdom and justice in the councils of Jehovah.

But in the third lecture I have treated this whole subject so much more
fully, that I need not add any thing further in this connection.

I base my fifth and last argument, to prove the predominance of
benevolence in the present system of nature, on the fact that good so
often results from evil as a natural consequence. Or, to state the
argument in another form, good seems generally to be the object or final
cause of evil, whereas evil flows only incidentally from good.

This argument scarcely differs from the last, except in the more general

Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 18 of 39)