Edward Hitchcock.

The religion of geology and its connected sciences online

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But according to this hypothesis, the laws of nature may be so arranged as
to create every animal and plant just at the right time, and place them in
the right spot, and adjust every thing around them to their nature and
wants. In other words, it supposes law capable of doing what only infinite
wisdom and power can do. What is this but ascribing infinite perfection to
law, and imputing to it effects which only an infinite intelligence could
bring about? In other words, it is making a Deity of the laws which he
ordains. Theoretically it may be of little importance by what name men
call the Deity; but practically to impute natural effects to law, as an
independent power, is to put a blind, unintelligent agency in the place of

_In the second place, where one fact in nature looks favorable to this
hypothesis, a thousand facts teach the contrary._

Take for example the reproduction of animals. Out of every thousand
individuals we have certain evidence that nine hundred and ninety-nine are
brought into existence by the ordinary modes of generation; that is, they
depend upon progenitors. Still, if in the thousandth case the animal's
existence was clearly casual, if we could see an elephant, or an ox, start
into life without parental agency, that single case would prove the
hypothesis. But never do its advocates pretend that any of the larger
animals are produced in this way. Nor is it till they get among the
smaller and obscure animals, whose habits are very difficult to trace out,
that we find any examples where a suspicion even can exist of the
communication of vitality irrespective of parental agency. Is not a strong
presumption hence produced that further and more scrutinizing observation
will show the few excepted cases not to be real exceptions? Does not sound
philosophy demand that the proof of the casual production of the
thousandth case shall be as decided as that of the normal generation of
the nine hundred and ninety-nine? But no one, it seems to me, will pretend
that any thing like such certainty exists in a single example throughout
all nature. The presumption, then, is really more than a thousand to one
against the hypothesis.

Take an example from hybridity. While a thousand species retain from age
to age their individuality, not more than one coalesces with its neighbor,
and loses its identity. And even here, all admit that there is a constant
tendency in the hybrid race to revert to the original stock; and there is
strong reason to believe that this will sooner or later take place, and
that it would speedily occur in every case, were it not for the influence
of domestication. Such facts make the presumption very strong, that
species are permanent, and any extensive metamorphosis impossible.
Hybridity appears to be in a measure unnatural; and the old proverb true
in respect to it -

"Si furca naturam expellas,
Usque recurret."

By the hypothesis under consideration, we ought to expect at least a few
examples of the formation of new organs in animals, in the efforts of
nature to advance towards a more perfect state. It has usually been said
that the time since animals were first described is too short for such
development. But we have examples, from the catacombs of Egypt, of animals
and plants that lived in that country three thousand years ago; and yet,
according to Cuvier, - and who is a better judge? - they are precisely like
the living species. Strange that this great length of time should not have
produced even one new organ, or the marks of a conatus to produce one. We
are, indeed, pointed to the different varieties of the human species, as
examples of this progress. But these diversities, also, can be shown to be
the same now as at the earliest date of historical records; and where,
then, is the evidence that they ever have undergone, or ever will undergo,
any change of importance? There may indeed be examples of amalgamation,
but under favorable circumstances the original varieties are again

_In the third place, geology contradicts this hypothesis._

We have seen that it offers no satisfactory explanation of the gradual
increase of the more perfect animals and plants, as we rise higher in the
rocks. That fact is most perfectly explained by supposing that divine
wisdom and benevolence adapted the new species, which from time to time
were created, to the changing and improving condition of the earth. A
multitude of species have been dug from the rocks; but not one exhibits
evidence of the development of new organs in the manner described by this
hypothesis. New species often appear, but they differ as decidedly from
the previous ones as species now do; and at the beginning of each
formation there is often a very decided advance in the organic beings from
those found in the top of the subjacent formation. How can this hypothesis
explain such sudden changes, when its essential principle is, that the
progress of the development is uniform? Nothing can explain them surely
but special creating interposition.

Geology also shows us that for a vast period the world existed without
inhabitants. Now, what was it that gave the laws of nature power, after so
long an operation unproductive of vitality, to produce organic natures?
Who can conceive of any inherent force that should thus enable them, all
at once, to do what true philosophy shows to have demanded infinite

In short, of all the sciences, geology most clearly shows special divine
interference to explain its phenomena. It presents us with such stupendous
changes, after long periods of repose, such sudden exhibitions of life,
springing forth from the bosom of universal death, that nothing but
divine, special, miraculous agency can explain the results. And of all the
vast domains of nature, it seems to me no part is so barren of facts to
sustain this hypothesis as the rocks; nor so full of facts for its
refutation. These, however, have been so fully detailed in a previous part
of this lecture that they need not be here repeated.

_In the fourth place, the prodigious increase of the power and the means
of reproduction, which we find among the lower tribes of animals, affords
a strong presumption against this hypothesis._

The animals highest on the scale, and most perfect in their organization,
have only one mode of reproduction, viz., the viviparous. Descending a
little lower, we come to the oviparous and ovoviviparous tribes. Passing
to the invertebrate animals, we meet with two other modes of reproduction,
the gemmiparous and fissiparous. In the first mode, the animal is
propagated by buds, like some plants, as the tiger lily; by the second
mode, a spontaneous division of the animal takes place.

Now, in some of the lowest of the invertebrate tribes, we find most of the
modes of propagation that have been enumerated in operation; so that the
same individual in one set of circumstances is oviparous, in another
gemmiparous or fissiparous. The consequence is, a power of multiplication
inconceivably great. Mr. Owen calculates that the _ascaris lumbricoides_,
the most common intestinal worm, is capable of producing sixty-four
millions of young; and Ehrenberg asserts that the _hydatina senta_, one of
the infusoria, increased in twelve days to sixteen millions, and another
species, in four days, to one hundred and seventy billions.

Why, now, are these astonishing powers of reproduction given to these
minute animals, if it be true that they can also be produced without
parentage, and by mere law? This latter mode would supersede the necessity
of the former; and therefore, the care taken by Providence to provide the
former is a strong presumption that the latter does not exist.

_In the fifth place, it is an instructive fact on this subject that, as
instruments have been improved, and observations have become more
searching, the supposed cases of spontaneous generation have diminished_,
until it is not pretended now that it takes place except in a very few
tribes, and those the most obscure and difficult to observe of all living
things. A hundred years ago, naturalists, and especially other men, might
easily have been made to believe that many of the smaller insects had a
casual origin. But long since, save in the matter of the acari, the
entomological field has been abandoned by the advocates of the law
hypothesis, and they have been driven from one tribe after another, till
at length some of the obscure hiding-places of the entozoa and infusoria
are now the only spots where the light is not too strong for the
large-pupiled eyes of this hypothesis. Is not the presumption hence
arising very strong that it will need only a little further improvement in
instruments and care in observation to carry daylight into these recesses,
and demonstrate the parentage and normal development of all organic

_Finally. The gross materialism inseparable from this hypothesis is a
strong argument against it._

I am not aware that any one, except Oken, perhaps, has ever attempted to
show that mind, as a spiritual essence, distinct from matter, has been
created by natural laws; in other words, that there is in nature a power
to produce mind. All such maintain that intellect is material, or, rather,
the result of organization, the mere function of the brain, as are also
life and instinct. Generally, also, they contend - and, indeed, consistency
seems to require it - that the moral powers depend chiefly upon different
developments of the brain; so that a disposition to do wrong results more
from organization than from punishable mental obliquity; indeed, the worst
of criminals are often, on this account, more to be pitied than blamed,
and the physician is of more importance than the moralist and the divine
for their reformation.

Now, if this system of materialism is true, we ought to embrace it,
without any fear of ultimate bad effects. But a philosopher will hesitate
long before he adopts a system which thus seems to degrade man from his
lofty standing as a spiritual, accountable, and immortal being, and makes
his intellectual and moral powers dependent upon the structure of the
brain, and, therefore, destined to perish with the material organization,
with no hope of future existence, unless God chooses to recreate the man.
Nay, if there be no distinct spirit in man, what evidence have we that
there is one in Jehovah? A true philosopher, I say, will demand very
strong evidence before he adopts any hypothesis that leads a logical mind
to such conclusions; and I see not how the one under consideration can
terminate in any thing else.

Such are the reasons that lead me to reject the hypothesis of creation by
law. I have endeavored to treat the subject in a candid and philosophical
manner, not charging atheism upon its advocates when they declare
themselves Theists and Christians. Neither have I called in the aid of
ridicule, as might easily be done, and as, in fact, has been done by
almost every opponent of the system who has written upon it. I have
endeavored to show that the hypothesis, tried in the balances of sound
philosophy, is found wanting; because, in the first place, the facts
adduced to sustain it are insufficient; and secondly, because, where one
fact seems to favor it, a thousand testify against it. Is not the
conclusion a fair one, that the hypothesis has no solid foundation? Is not
the evidence against it overwhelming? Yet it has many advocates, and I
must think - I hope not uncharitably - that these are the reasons: First,
because men do not like the idea of a personal, present, overruling Deity;
and secondly, because there is very little profound and thorough knowledge
of natural history in the community. It is just such an hypothesis as
chimes in with the taste of that part of the world who have a smattering
of science, and who do not wish to live without some form of religion, but
who still desire to free themselves from the inspection of a holy God, and
from the responsibility which his existence and presence would impose.
Depend upon it, gentlemen, you will meet these delusions not unfrequently
among the cultivated classes of society, where they have already done
immense mischief. You will, indeed, find all the eminent comparative
anatomists and physiologists, such as Cuvier and Owen; such chemists as
Liebig; such zo√ґlogists as Agassiz and Edward Forbes; such botanists as
Hooker, Henslow, Lindley, Torrey, and Gray; and such geologists as De la
Beche, Lyell, Murchison, Sedgwick, D'Orbigny, Buckland, and Miller,
decided in their rejection of these views. But when even educated men
obtain only a smattering of natural science, they find something very
fascinating in this hypothesis; and this is just the religion, or,
rather, the irreligion, that suits the superficial, selfish, and
pleasure-seeking exquisites of fashionable drawing-rooms, theatres, and
watering-places. You will find, therefore, the need of thoroughly studying
this subject, or you will not be able, as you would wish, to vindicate the
cause of true science and true religion.

I cannot terminate this discussion without referring to an ingenious
analogy, suggested by Hugh Miller, in his "Footprints of the Creator," and
drawn from the facts he had stated respecting the degradation of species.
No one who has thoroughly studied Bishop Butler's Analogy of Natural and
Revealed Religion to the Course of Nature will venture to say that Mr.
Miller's suggestions are mere fancy. As the ideas are entirely original
with him, I give them in his own words.

Having spoken of the several dynasties of animals that have succeeded one
another on the globe, in a passage which we have already quoted, he says,
"Passing on to the revealed record, we learn that the dynasty of man in
the mixed state and character is not the final one; but that there is to
be yet another creation, or, more properly, re-creation, known
theologically as the resurrection, which shall be connected in its
physical components, by bonds of mysterious paternity, with the dynasty
which now reigns, and be bound to it mentally by the chain of identity,
conscious and actual; but which, in all that constitutes superiority,
shall be as vastly its superior as the dynasty of responsible man is
superior to even the lowest of the preliminary dynasties. We are further
taught that, at the commencement of this last of the dynasties, there will
be a re-creation of not only elevated, but also of degraded beings - a
re-creation of the lost. We are taught yet further that, though the
present dynasty be that of a lapsed race, which at their first
introduction were placed on higher ground than that on which they now
stand, and sank by their own act, it was yet part of the original design,
from the beginning of all things, that they should occupy the existing
platform; and that redemption is thus no afterthought, rendered necessary
by the fall, but, on the contrary, part of a general scheme, for which
provision had been made from the beginning; so that the divine Man,
through whom the work of restoration has been effected, was in reality, in
reference to the purposes of the Eternal, what he is designated in the
remarkable text, _the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world_. Slain
from the foundation of the world! Could the assertors of the stony science
ask for language more express? By piecing the two records together, - that
revealed in Scripture and that revealed in the rocks, - records which,
however widely geologists may mistake the one, or commentators
misunderstand the other, have emanated from the same great Author, - we
learn that in slow and solemn majesty has period succeeded period, each in
succession, ushering in a higher and yet higher scene of existence; that
fish, reptiles, mammiferous quadrupeds, have reigned in turn; that
responsible man, 'made in the image of God,' and with dominion over all
creatures, ultimately entered into a world ripened for his reception; but,
further, that this passing scene, in which he forms the prominent figure,
is not the final one in the long series, but merely the last of the
_preliminary_ scenes; and that that period to which the by-gone ages,
incalculable in amount, with all their well-proportioned gradations of
being, form the imposing vestibule, shall have perfection for its occupant
and eternity for its duration. I know not how it may appear to others, but
for my own part I cannot avoid thinking that there would be a lack of
proportion in the series of being, were the period of perfect and
glorified humanity abruptly connected, without the introduction of an
intermediate creation of _responsible_ imperfection with that of the
dying, irresponsible brute. That scene of things in which God became man,
and suffered, _seems_, as it no doubt _is_, a necessary link in the

A single concluding thought forces itself upon my mind. It is this: How
ingenious and persevering men are in deluding themselves on the subject of
religion! Since the time of Christ, what countless devices have they
framed to escape from the lofty truths and spiritual piety of his gospel!
Nor are they satisfied with this; for the gospel has shed so much light
upon the religion of nature, that even this is more than men like; and,
therefore, every science is ransacked for facts to neutralize all
religion. Men's consciences do not permit them to throw off all the forms
of religion; and, therefore, they are satisfied if they can only tear out
its heart. They like to preserve and to embalm its external covering, as
the naturalist does the skin of an animal for his cabinet. And as the
latter fills his specimen with straw and arsenic, and fits glass eyes into
it, so do men fill up their religious specimen with error and vain
speculation, and fit into its head the eyes of false philosophy, and then
claim for it intellectual worship. It is the business of educated men to
show that such caricatures are neither science nor religion. May you,
gentlemen, have your full share in this most useful and noble work.[19]



Next in importance to the question whether the Deity exists, is the
inquiry whether he exerts any direct agency in upholding the universe and
in controlling its events. This point has been discussed in all ages in
which there have been philosophers or theologians, and the current of
opinion has fallen principally into three channels.

In the first place, some have removed the Deity entirely from his works
into a fancied extra-mundane sphere, where in solitude he might enjoy the
blessedness of his own infinite nature, without the trouble of directing
the events of the universe, or watching over the works of his hand.
Forgetful of the great principle, that the intellectual powers produce
happiness only when called into exercise, they have fancied that the care
of the universe must be a burden to its Creator, and that it would
derogate from his dignity. It is supposed, therefore, that the world has
been given up to the rule of fate or chance.

In the second place, a more numerous class have maintained that the
Supreme Being, after creating the world, committed its preservation and
government either to a subordinate agent, or to the laws which he
impressed upon matter and mind, which possess an inherent power to execute
themselves; so that, in fact, God exercises no direct and immediate agency
in natural operations. The learned and usually profound Cudworth adopted
the hypothesis of a _plastic nature_, as he terms it, by which he means a
vital, spiritual, and unintelligent, yet subordinate agent, by whose
agency the world is governed and its operations carried on. At first view,
this hypothesis would seem to lead inevitably to atheism; but such was not
the intention of its author. Still, it is obviously so clumsy, that had it
not been the product of a great mind, it never would have received so much
notice, or called forth such mighty efforts for its refutation, as have
been bestowed upon it.

Two varieties of opinion exist among those who believe the world governed
and sustained by natural laws, established by the Deity. Some maintain
that these laws are general, not particular; not extending to minor
events, but only the more important; not providing for species, but only
for families. Hence they suppose that these general cases may interfere
with one another, and produce results apparently repugnant to the
intention of their Author. Others, shocked at the absurdity of such
conclusions, believe the laws of nature to extend to every event, and
never to interfere with one another, and always to act in accordance with
the divine will and appointment, but without any direct agency exerted by
the Deity. They suppose these laws - in other words, secondary agencies - to
have the power of producing all natural phenomena.

In the third place, there are others who believe that a law can have no
efficiency without the presence and agency of the lawgiver. They,
therefore, suppose every event in the natural world to be the result of
the direct and immediate agency of God. What we call laws are only the
uniform mode of his operation. They agree with the advocates of the
last-named theory in supposing the laws of nature to extend to every
event, and to be in accordance with the ordination of the Deity; but they
differ in maintaining that the presence and direct efficiency of a
lawgiver are essential to the operation of natural laws.

I should then define a Special Providence to be an event brought about
apparently by natural laws, yet, in fact, the result of a special agency,
on the part of the Deity, to meet a particular exigency, either by an
original arrangement of natural laws, or by a modification of second
causes, out of sight at the time.

The doctrine, which supposes the Deity to exercise a superintendence and
direction over all the affairs of the universe, in any of the modes that
have been mentioned, whether by a subordinate agent, or by laws, general
or particular, with inherent self-executing power, or by the direct
efficiency of the divine will, is called the doctrine of divine
providence. If the superintendence extend only to general laws, it is
called a general providence. If those laws reach every possible case, it
is called a particular or universal providence.

By a _Miraculous Providence_ is meant a superintendence over the world
that interferes, when desirable, with the regular operations of nature,
and brings about events, either in opposition to natural laws, or by
giving them a less or greater power than usual. In either of these cases,
the events cannot be explained by natural laws; they are above, or
contrary to, nature, and, therefore, are called miracles, or prodigies.

There may be, and, as I believe, there is, another class of occurrences,
intermediate between miracles and events strictly natural. These take
place in perfect accordance with the natural laws within human view, and
appear to us to be perfectly accounted for by those laws; and yet, in some
way or other, we learn that they required some special exercise of divine
power, out of human view, for their production. Thus, according to the
views of most Christian denominations, conversion takes place in the human
heart in perfect accordance with the laws of mind, and could be
philosophically explained by them; yet revelation assures that it _is not
of blood,_ [natural descent,] _nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the
will of man, but of God_. Divine power, therefore, is essential to the
change, although we see only the operation of natural causes. So a storm
may appear to us to be perfectly accounted for by natural laws; and yet
divine efficiency might have produced a change in some of those laws out
of our sight, and thus meet a particular exigency. Such events I call
_special providence_; and I maintain that we cannot tell how frequently
they may occur.

It is chiefly the bearings of science, especially of geology, upon the
doctrine of miraculous and special providence, which I wish to consider.
But it may form a useful introduction, to state the evidence, which goes
to show that the agency of the Deity, in the ordinary operations of
nature, is a direct efficiency; or, in other words, that the laws of
nature are only the modes in which divine agency operates.

In the first place, if we suppose ever so many secondary causes to be
concerned in natural events, the efficiency must, after all, be referred
to God.

What is a secondary cause? or, in other words, what is a law of nature
considered as a cause? It is simply a uniform mode of operation. We find

Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 25 of 39)