Edward Hitchcock.

The religion of geology and its connected sciences online

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This is the grand problem of theology; and though I would not say that our
reasoning clears it of all difficulties, yet it does seem to me that, by
letting the light of this subject fall upon the question, we come nearer
to its solution than by viewing it in any other aspect. For this subject
shows us that benevolence decidedly predominates in all the arrangements
of the material universe, and then it assigns good reasons why this
benevolence is not unmixed; in other words, why severity is sometimes
mingled with goodness. It shows us that God, with a prospective view of
man's sin, adapted the world to a fallen being; making it, instead of a
place of unmingled happiness, a state of trial and discipline; not as a
full punishment, (for that is reserved to a future state,) but as an
essential means of delivering this immortal being from his ruin and
misery, and of fitting him for future and endless holiness and happiness.
Thus, instead of indicating indifference or malevolence in God, because he
introduced evil into the world, it is a striking evidence of his
benevolence. Such a plan is, in fact, the conjoint result of infinite
wisdom and benevolence for rescuing the miserable and the lost. Had God
placed such a being in a world adapted to one perfectly holy, his
sufferings would have been vastly greater, and his rescue hopeless.

Thus far do both reason and revelation conduct us in a plain path; and
that, probably, is as far as is necessary for all the purposes of
religion. Up to this point, infinite benevolence pours its radiance upon
the path, and we see good reasons for the evils incident to this life;
nay, we see that they are the result of that same benevolence which strews
the way with blessings; that, in fact, they are only necessary means of
the greatest blessings. I am aware that there is a question lying farther
back, in the outskirts of metaphysical theology, which still remains
unanswered, and probably never can be settled in this world, because some
of its elements are beyond our reach. The inquisitive mind asks why it was
necessary for infinite wisdom and power to introduce evil, or allow it to
be introduced, into any system of created things. Could not such natures
have been bestowed upon creatures, that good only might have been their
portion? A plausible answer is, that evil exists because it can ultimately
be made subservient of greater good, taking the whole universe into
account, than another system. Certainly to fallen man we have reason to
believe natural evils are the grand means of his highest good; and hence
we derive an argument for the same conclusion in respect to the whole
system of evil. Indeed, such are the divine attributes, that it is absurd
to suppose God would create any system which was not the best possible in
existing circumstances. But even though we cannot solve these questions in
their abstract form, and as applied to the whole creation, it is
sufficient for every practical purpose of religion if we can show, as we
have endeavored to do in this lecture, how the present system of the world
for a fallen being illustrates, instead of disproving, the divine

Here, then, is the resolution of some of the darkest enigmas of human
existence, which philosophy, unaided by revelation, has never solved. Here
we get hold of the thread that conducts us through the most crooked
labyrinths of life, and enables us to let into the deepest dungeons of
despondency and doubt, the light of hope and of heaven.

Here, too, we find the powerful glass by which we can pierce the clouds
that have so long obscured the full-orbed splendors of the divine
benevolence. To some, indeed, - and they sagacious philosophers, - that
cloud has seemed surcharged only with vengeance. And even to those who
have caught occasional glimpses of the noble orb behind, the cloud over
its face has always seemed to be tinged with some angry rays. Indeed, so
long as this is a sinful state, justice will not allow all the glories of
the divine goodness to be revealed. And yet, through the glass which
philosophy and faith have put into our hands, we can see that the disk is
a full-orbed circle, and that no spots mar and darken its clear surface.
How gloriously, then, when all those clouds shall have passed away, and
the last taint of evil shall have been blotted out by the final
conflagration, shall that sun, in the new heavens, send down its light and
heat upon the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness!

On the other hand, how sad the prospect which the analogies of this
subject open before him who misimproves his earthly probation, and goes
out of the world unprepared for a higher and purer state of existence! If
we can see reasons why on earth God should mingle goodness and severity in
this man's lot, we can also see reasons why the manifestations of
benevolence should all be withdrawn when he passes into a state of
retribution. For if an individual can resist the mighty influences for
good which the present state of discipline affords, and only become worse
under them all, his case is utterly hopeless, and Heaven can do no more,
consistently with the eternal principles of the divine government, to
save him. Infinite benevolence gives him over, and no longer holds back
the sword of retributive justice. Nay, the justice which inflicts the
punishment is only benevolence in another form. And this it is that makes
the infliction intolerable. How much more terrible to the wayward child
are the blows inflicted by a weeping, affectionate father, than if
received from an enemy! God is that affectionate Father; and he punishes
only because he loves the universe more than the individual; and he has
exhausted the stores of infinite mercy in vain to save him. Wicked men
sometimes tell us that they are not afraid to trust themselves in the
hands of infinite benevolence; whereas it is eminently this quality of the
divine character which, above all others, they have reason to fear. For
if, even in this world of probation and hope, God finds it necessary to
mingle so much severity with goodness, what but a cup of unmingled
bitterness shall be put into his hands who goes into eternity unrenewed
and unpardoned, and finds that even infinite benevolence has become his
eternal enemy!



Contrivance, adaptation, and design are some of the most striking features
of the natural world. They are obvious throughout the whole range of
creation, in the minutest as well as in the most magnificent objects; in
the most complicated as well as in the most simple. So universally present
are they, that whenever we meet with any thing in nature which seems
imperfectly adapted to other objects, as the organ of an animal or plant,
which exhibits malformation, it excites general attention, and the mere
child need not be told that, in its want of adaptation to other objects,
it is an exception in the natural world.

In order to illustrate what I mean by contrivance, adaptation, and design,
let me refer to a familiar example - the human eye. Made up of three coats
and three humors, of solids and fluids, of nerves, blood-vessels, and
muscles, and rivalling the most perfect optical instrument, it must have
required the most consummate contrivance to give the requisite quantity
and position to parts so numerous and unlike, for producing the phenomena
of vision. Yet how perfectly it is done! How few, out of the hundreds of
millions of eyes of men and other animals, fail of vision through any
natural defect!

No less marvellous are the adaptations of the eye. In order to be adapted
to the wonderful effect which we call light, its coats and humors must be
transparent, and possess a certain density and opacity, that the rays may
form an image on the retina. Yet to prevent confusion in the image, the
transparency must be confined to the central parts of the eye, and a dark
plexus of veins and muscles must be so situated as to absorb the
scattering rays. In order to adapt the eye to different distances, and to
the greater or less intensity of the light, delicate muscles must be so
situated as to contract and dilate the pupil, and lengthen and shorten the
axis. That the eye might be directed to different objects, strong muscles
must be attached to its posterior surface; and that the eyelid might
defend it from injuries in front, a very peculiar muscle must give it
power to close. No less perfect is the adaptation of the eye to the
atmosphere, or, rather, there is a mutual adaptation; and it is as proper
to say that the atmosphere is adapted to the eye, as that the eye is
adapted to the atmosphere. In like manner, there is a striking relation
between the eye and the sun and other heavenly bodies, and between the eye
and day and night; so that we cannot doubt but they were made for one
another. We might, indeed, extend the relations of the eye to every object
in the universe; and the same may be said of every organ of plants and
animals. The adaptation between them is as wide as creation. And it is the
wonderful harmony between so many millions of objects that makes us feel
that infinite wisdom alone could have produced it.

The design of the multiplied contrivances and adaptations exhibited by the
eye is too obvious to need a formal statement. Comparatively few
understand the wonderful mechanism of the eye; but we should consider it
proof of idiotism, or insanity, for the weakest mind to doubt what is the
object of the eye. This is, to be sure, a striking example. But out of
the many organs of animals, how few are there of which we do not see the
design! And as the subject is more examined, the few excepted cases are
made still fewer. They are more numerous in plants, because we cannot so
well understand them, and because of their microscopic littleness. They
are so few, however, throughout all nature, that they never produce a
doubt that, for every individual thing in creation, there is a distinct
object. If we confine our views to the most simple parts of matter, we can
see design in them. If we take a wider view, and examine those minor
systems which are produced by the grouping of the elements of matter, we
shall see design there; and if we rise still higher in our examination,
and compare systems still more extensive, until we group all material
things, wise and beautiful design is still inscribed upon all. In fine,
creation is but a series of harmonies, wheel within wheel, in countless
variety, yet all forming one vast and perfect machine. Examine nature as
widely and as minutely as we may, we never find one part clashing with
another part; no laws, governing one portion of creation, different from
those governing the others. Amid nature's infinitely diversified
productions and operations we find but one original model or pattern. As
Dr. Paley finely expresses it, "We never get amongst such original or
totally different modes of existence as to indicate that we are come into
the province of a different Creator, or under the direction of a different
will." All appears to have been the work of one mighty mind, capable of
devising and creating the vast system so perfectly that every part shall
beautifully harmonize with every other part; a mind capable of holding in
its capacious grasp at once the entire system, and seeing the relation and
dependence of all its parts, from the minutest atom up to the mightiest
world. In short, the unity of design which pervades all creation is
perfect, more so than we witness in the most finished machine of human
construction; for

"In human works, though labored on with pain,
A thousand movements scarce one object gain;
In God's, one single can its end produce,
Yet serves to second too some other use."

Such are the wonderful contrivance, adaptation, and design which the
material world every where exhibits. But the geologist carries us back
through periods of immense antiquity, and digs out from the deep strata
evidences of other systems of organic life, which have flourished and
passed away; other economies, which have existed on the globe anterior to
the present. And how was it with these? Had they any relation to the
existing system? Were they governed by different laws, or are they all but
parts of one great and harmonious system, embracing the whole of the
earth's past duration? We could not decide these questions beforehand; but
geology brings to light unequivocal evidence that the latter supposition
is the true one; that is, in the language of the poet, -

"All are but parts of one stupendous whole,
Whose body nature is, and God the soul."

To present the evidence of this conclusion will be my object in this

_In the first place, the laws of chemistry and crystallography,
electricity and magnetism, have ever been the same in all past conditions
of the earth._

Chemistry has attained to such a degree of perfection that the analyst
can now determine the composition of the various vegetable, animal, and
mineral substances which he meets, with an extreme degree of accuracy. In
many instances, he can do this in two ways. He can always separate the
elements which exist in a compound, and ascertain their relative quantity;
and this is called _analysis_. And sometimes he can take those elements
and cause them to unite, so as to form a particular compound; and this is
called _synthesis_. By these methods he has ascertained that, amid the
vast variety of substances in nature, there are only about sixty-four
which cannot be reduced to a more simple form, and are therefore called
_elements_, or simple substances. Now, the chemist finds that, when these
elements unite to form compounds, certain fixed laws are invariably
followed. They combine in definite quantities, which are always the same,
or some multiple of the same weight; so that each element has its peculiar
and invariable combining weight; and it cannot be made to combine in any
other proportion. You may mix two or more elements together in any
proportion, but it is only a certain definite quantity of each that will
combine, while the rest will remain in excess. Hence the same compound
substance, from whatever part of the world it comes, or under however
diverse circumstances produced, consists of the same ingredients in the
same proportion. These laws are followed with mathematical precision, and
we have reason to believe that the same compound substance, produced in
different parts of the world, never differs in its composition by the
smallest conceivable particle. Indeed, with the exception of the planetary
motions and crystallography, chemical combination is the most perfect
example of practical mathematics to be found in nature.

Such are the laws which the chemist finds invariably to regulate all the
changes that now take place in the constitution of bodies. What evidence
is there that the same laws have ever prevailed? In the rocks we have
chemical compounds, produced in all ages of the world's history, since
fire and water began to form solid masses. Now, these may be, and have
been, analyzed; and the same laws of definite proportion in the
ingredients, which now operate, are found to have controlled their
formation. The oldest granite and gneiss, which must have been the
earliest rocks produced, are just as invariable in their composition as
the most recent salt formed in the laboratory. And the same is true of the
silicates, the carbonates, the sulphates, the oxides, chlorides,
fluorides, and other compounds which constitute the rocks of different
ages. We never find any produced under the operation of different laws.

Now, the almost invariable opinion among chemists is, that the reason why
the elements unite thus definitely is, that they are in different
electrical states, and therefore attract one another. Hence the most
important laws of electricity have been coeval with those of chemistry;
indeed, they are identical; nor can we doubt, if such be the fact, that
every other electrical law has remained unchanged from the beginning. And
from the intimate connection, if not complete identity, between
electricity and magnetism, it is impossible to doubt that the laws which
regulate the latter are of equal antiquity with those of the former.
Indeed, we find evidence in all the rocks, especially those which are
prismatic and concretionary, of the active influence of galvanism and
electro-magnetism in their production.

The reasoning is equally decisive to prove the unchanging character of the
laws which regulate the formation of crystals. The chemist finds that the
same substance, when it crystallizes, invariably takes the same
geometrical forms. The nucleus or primary form, with a few exceptions, of
no importance in the present argument, to which all these secondary forms
may be reduced by change, is one particular solid, with unvarying angles;
and all the secondary forms, built upon the primary, correspond in their
angles. In short, in crystallography we have another example of perfect
practical mathematics, as perfect as the theory.

Now, the oldest rocks in the globe contain crystals, and so do the rocks
of all ages, sometimes of the same kind as those produced in the chemist's
laboratory. And they are found to correspond precisely. It matters not
whether they were the produce of nature's laboratory countless ages ago,
or of the skill of the nineteenth century, - the same mathematics ruled in
their formation with a precision which infinite wisdom alone could secure.

_In the second place, the laws of meteorology have ever been the same as
at present._

Under meteorological laws I include all atmospheric phenomena. And
although we have no direct proof from geology in respect to the more rare
of these phenomena, such as the aurora borealis and australis, and
transient meteors, yet in respect to the existence of clouds, wind, and
rain, the evidence is quite striking. In several places in Europe, and in
many in this country, are found, upon layers of the new red sandstone, the
distinct impressions of rain drops, made when the rock was fine mud. They
correspond precisely with the indentations which falling rain-drops now
make upon mud, and they show us that the phenomena of clouds and storms
existed in that remote period, and that the vapor was condensed as at
present. In the fact that the animals entombed in the rocks of various
ages are found to have had organs of respiration, we also infer the
existence of an atmosphere analogous to that which we now breathe. The
rain-drops enable us to proceed one step farther; for often they are
elongated in one direction, showing that they struck the ground obliquely,
doubtless in consequence of wind. In short, the facts stated enable us to
infer, with strong probability, that atmospheric phenomena were then
essentially the same as at present; and analogy leads us to a similar
conclusion as to all the past periods of the world's history, certainly
since animals were placed upon it. What a curious register do these
rain-drops present us! an engraving on stone of a shower that fell
thousands and thousands of ages ago! They often become, too, an
anemoscope, pointing out the direction of the wind, while the petrified
surface shows us just how many drops fell, quite as accurately as the most
delicate pluviameter. What events in the earth's pre-Adamic history would
seem less likely to come down to us than the pattering of a shower?

_In the third place, the agents of geological change appear to have been
always the same on the earth._

Whoever goes into a careful examination of the rocks will soon become
satisfied that no fragment of them all remains in the condition in which
it was originally created. Whatever was the original form in which matter
was produced, there is no longer any example of it to be found. The
evidence of these changes is as strong almost as that constant changes are
going on in human society. And we find them constantly progressing among
the rocks, as well as among men; nor do the agents by which they are
produced appear to have been ever different from those now in operation.
The two most important are heat and water; and it is doubtful whether
there is a single particle of the globe which has not experienced the
metamorphic action of the one or the other. Indeed, it is nearly certain
that every portion of the globe has been melted, if not volatilized. All
the unstratified rocks have certainly been fused, and probably all the
stratified rocks originated from the unstratified, and have been modified
by water and heat. In many of these rocks, especially the oldest, we
perceive evidence of the joint action of both these agents. Evidently they
were once aqueous deposits; but they appear to have been subsequently
subjected to powerful heat. As we ascend on the scale of the stratified
rocks, the marks of fire diminish, and those of water multiply, so that
the latest are mere mechanical or chemical depositions from water.

In these facts, then, we see proof that heat and water have been the chief
agents of geological change since the first formation of a solid crust on
the globe; for some of the rocks now accessible, as already stated, date
their origin at that early period. We might also trace back the agency of
heat much farther, if the hypothesis adopted by not a few eminent
geologists be true, which supposes the earth to have been once in a
gaseous state from intense heat. But to press this point will add very
little to my argument, even could I sustain it by plausible reasoning. I
will only say, that, so far as we know any thing of the state of the earth
previous to the consolidation of its crust, heat appears to have been the
chief agent concerned in its geological changes.

Among other agencies of less importance, that have always operated
geologically, is gravity. Its chief effect, at present is to bring the
earth's surface nearer and nearer to a level, by causing the materials,
which other agencies have loosened from its salient parts, to subside into
its cavities and valleys. It also condenses many substances from a gaseous
to a liquid or solid state, especially those deep in the earth's crust,
and thus brings the particles more within the reach of cohesive
attraction and chemical affinity, often changing the constitution, and
always the solidity, of bodies. And in the position of the ancient
mechanical rocks, occupying as they do the former basins of the surface,
and in the superior consolidation of the earlier strata, we find proof of
the action of gravity in all past geological time.

Electricity too, in the form of galvanism, has never been idle. We have
reason to think that it operates at this moment in accumulating metallic
ores in veins; and this segregation appears to have operated in all ages,
not only in filling veins, but also, probably, in giving a laminated
character and jointed structure to mountains of slate, as well as a
concretionary and prismatic form to others.

Last, though not least, we may reckon among the agents of geological
change the forces of cohesion and affinity. When water and heat, gravity
and galvanism, have brought the atoms of bodies into a proper state, these
agents are always ready to change their form and constitution; and they
have ever been at hand to operate by the same laws, and we witness their
effects in the oldest as well as the newest rocks found in the earth's
crust. This point, however, has been sufficiently considered, when
treating of the unvarying uniformity of the laws of chemistry and

But though the nature of the agencies above considered has never changed,
the intensity or amount of their action has varied; how much is a point
not yet settled among geologists. Some regard that intensity, as it has
existed during the present or alluvial period, as a standard for all
preceding periods; that is, the intensity of these forces has never varied
more during any period of the earth's history than it has since the
alluvial period commenced. Most geologists, however, regard this as an
extreme opinion, and think they see evidence in geology of a far greater
intensity in these agencies in past periods than exists at present. They
think they have proof that the world was once only a molten mass of
matter, and some evidence that previously it was in a state of vapor. They
believe that vast mountains, and even continents, have sometimes been
thrown up from the ocean's bed by a single mighty paroxysmal effort; and
such effects they know to be far greater than the causes of change now in

Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 20 of 39)