Edward Hitchcock.

The religion of geology and its connected sciences online

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that heavy bodies uniformly tend towards the earth's centre, and that we
call the law of gravity; but if those bodies sometimes ascended, and
sometimes moved horizontally, under the same circumstances, we could not
infer the existence of such a law.

Now, there must be some cause for uniformity of operation in nature. There
must be some foreign power, which gives the uniformity, since it is
certain that the law itself can possess no efficiency. We may, indeed,
find one law dependent upon a second law, and this upon a third, and so
on. But the inquiry still arises, What gives the efficiency to this second
and third law? and still the answer must be, Something out of itself. So
that if we run back on the chain of causes ever so far, we must still
resort to the power of the Deity to find any efficiency that will produce
the final result. In most cases, we can trace back only one or two links
on the chain. For instance, we account for the falling of all bodies by
the law of gravity. But philosophers have wearied themselves in vain to
find any cause for gravity, except in the will of God. The failure of
every other hypothesis, though invented by such men as Newton and Le Sage,
has been signal. Sound philosophy, then, requires us to infer that gravity
owes its efficiency to the direct exertion of divine power. And so in all
cases, when we can no longer discover second causes for any phenomenon,
why should we imagine their existence, rather than refer it to the agency
of God? For go back as far as we may, and discover a thousand intervening
causes, the efficiency resides alone in God. We have no evidence that even
infinite power can communicate that efficiency to the laws of nature, so
that they can act without the presence and agency of God. The common idea,
which endows those laws with independent power, will not bear examination.

In the second place, if natural operations do not depend upon the exercise
of divine power, no other efficient cause can be assigned for their

We have seen that in the laws of nature, independently of the Deity, there
is no efficiency; and I know not where else we can resort for any agency
to carry forward the operations of nature, except to the same infinite
Being. The fate and chance of the ancients, the plastic nature of
Cudworth, the delegated nature of Lamarck, are indeed names invented by
men to designate a certain imaginary efficiency residing somewhere,
independent of the Deity, by which the phenomena of nature have been
supposed to be produced. But the moment they are described, they are found
to be mere imaginary agencies, meaning nothing more than the course of
nature, or the laws of nature, which we have seen possess no independent
efficiency. To a divine agency, therefore, we must resort, or be left
without any adequate cause for the complicated and wonderful processes of

In the third place, this view of the subject is strongly confirmed by the
Christian Scriptures.

How universal is the divine agency represented in the well-known
passage - _for of him, and through him, and to him, are all things_.
Equally vivid is Paul's statement on Mars Hill - _In him we live, and move,
and have our being._ How graphic a description is the 147th Psalm of God's
agency in the natural world! Not only is all good ascribed to God, but
evil also. By the mouth of Isaiah he says, _I form light and create
darkness; I make peace and create evil; I the Lord do all these things._
In short, no event in the material or spiritual world is by the sacred
writers ascribed to chance, or to nature, or the laws of nature, as it is
among men; but to the direct efficiency of God. Nor is there any
difference in this respect between miracles and common events. The one
class is represented as originating in the agency of God, just as much as
the other.

Finally. It will hardly be thought strange, in view of the preceding
considerations, that a large proportion of the most acute and
philosophical minds in modern times have preferred this view of divine
providence to any other.

Sir Isaac Newton declares that the various parts of the world, organic and
inorganic, "can be the effect of nothing else than the wisdom and skill of
a powerful, ever-living Agent, who, being in all places, is more able by
his will to move the bodies within his boundless, uniform _sensorium_,
thereby to form and reform the parts of the universe, than we are by our
will to move the parts of our own bodies."

Says Dr. Clarke, the friend and disciple of Newton, "All things which we
commonly say are the effects of the natural powers of matter, and laws of
motion, are, indeed, if we will speak strictly and properly, the effects
of God's action upon matter continually, and at every moment, either
immediately by himself, or mediately by some created, intelligent being.
Consequently there is no such thing as the course of nature, or the power
of nature, independent of the effects produced by the will of God."

In speaking of the principle of vegetable life, Sir James Edward Smith,
the eminent botanist, says, "I humbly conceive that, if the human
understanding can in any case flatter itself with obtaining, in the
natural world, a glimpse of the _immediate agency_ of the Deity, it is in
the contemplation of this _vital principle_, which seems independent of
material organization, and an impulse, of his own divine
energy." - _Introduction to Botany_, p. 26, (Boston edition.)

"We would no way be understood," says Sir John Herschel, "to deny the
constant exercise of this [God's] direct power in maintaining the system
of nature, or the ultimate emanation of every energy, which material
agents exert, from his immediate will, acting in conformity with his own
laws." - _Discourse on Nat. Philosophy._

"A law," says Professor Whewell, "supposes an agent and a power; for it is
the mode according to which the agent proceeds, the order according to
which the power acts. Without the presence of such an agent, of such a
power, conscious of the relations on which the law depends, producing the
effects which the law prescribes, the law can have no efficiency, no
existence. Hence we infer that the intelligence by which the law is
ordained, the power by which it is put in action, must be present at all
times and in all places where the effects of the law occur; that thus the
knowledge and the agency of the divine Being pervades every portion of the
universe, producing all action and passion, all permanence and change. The
laws of nature are the laws which He, in his wisdom, prescribes to his own
acts; his universal presence is the necessary condition of any course of
events; his universal agency the only origin of any efficient
force." - _Bridgewater Treatise_, p. 270.

"The student in natural philosophy," observes the Bishop of London, "will
find rest from all those perplexities, which are occasioned by the
obscurity of causation, in the proposition which, although it was
discredited by the patronage of Malebranche and the Cartesians, has been
adopted by Clarke and Dugald Stewart, and which is by far the most simple
and sublime account of the matter - that all events which are continually
taking place in the different parts of the material universe are the
_immediate_ effects of the divine agency." - _Whewell's Bridgewater
Treatise_, p. 273.

"Jonathan Edwards," says M'Cosh in his Method of the Divine Government,
"somewhere illustrates the manner in which God upholds the universe, by
the way in which an image is upheld in a mirror. That image is maintained
by a continual flow of rays of light, each succeeding pencil of which
does not differ from that by which the image was first produced. He
conceives that the universe is, in every part of it, supported in a
similar way by a continual succession of acts of the divine will, and
these not differing from that which at first caused the world to spring
into existence. Now, it may be safely said of this theory that it cannot
be disproved. Several considerations may be urged in support of it."

Which of the views respecting divine providence that have been stated has
the best practical tendency, seems hardly to admit of doubt. If we believe
that God has submitted the direction and government of this world to a
subordinate agent, a plastic nature; or if we suppose he has impressed
matter and mind with certain general laws, which have the power of
executing themselves without his agency, and especially if in their
operation they do sometimes actually clash with one another, or even if
those laws extend to every movement of matter and mind, - still, if they do
not require divine efficiency, men cannot but feel that God is removed
from his works, and that the laws of nature, and not his agency, are their
security. But if they believe that every movement of matter or mind
requires a direct exercise of divine power or efficiency, just as much as
if every event was a miracle, it cannot but bring God near to us, and make
us realize his presence.

If we obtain a timepiece from London or Paris, which contains all the
springs and wheels requisite to keep it in operation, by occasionally
winding it up, how little do we think of the artist who constructed it,
except, perhaps, occasionally to admire his ingenuity! But if it had been
necessary for that artist to accompany the chronometer, and actually to
put forth the strength of his own arm every moment to keep it in motion,
how much more should we think of him and realize his presence! The same
effect, in a greater or less degree, will attend the belief that God must
be not only virtually, but substantially, present every where, and be
constantly exercising his power to keep in operation the vast machine of
the universe. It cannot but deeply impress the heart, and exert a most
salutary influence upon the affections, to realize that every event around
us is brought about by the immediate agency of the supreme Being.

But notwithstanding the salutary influence of this view of Providence upon
our moral feelings, and though philosophy pronounces it decidedly the most
reasonable, still it meets with strong opposition. I need not stop to
notice the objections, that it makes God the author of evil as well as
good, and that it represents man as a mere machine in the hands of the
Deity, and therefore takes away human responsibility. I say I need not
stop to answer such objections, because they lie equally strong against
any system which makes God the original author of the universe. But a more
plausible objection is, that it makes all events miraculous. This
objection is based on the supposition that every event which takes place
through the direct and immediate agency of God is a miracle. But is this
the true meaning of a miracle? Is the term ever applied to any but
extraordinary events? It may or it may not imply a contravention of the
laws of nature. But it does always imply something which the laws of
nature cannot produce, and which, of course, they cannot explain. It is
always the result of some new force coming in to the aid of the laws of
nature, or in the place of them, or even sometimes, perhaps, in opposition
to them; as when the _sun stood still upon Gibeon, and the moon in the
valley of Ajalon_. Hence an event may take place through the direct and
immediate agency of God, and yet not be a miracle. If it be neither
above, nor independent of, nor in opposition to the laws of nature, then
it forms a part of the ordinary providence of God; it is a part of the
usual, the fixed and uniform course of nature, and can be explained by
known and unalterable laws. The nature of the event is not affected at all
by the question whether it is produced by the direct efficiency of God, or
by a power inherent in those laws. We, who believe that the direct
efficiency of God is necessary to the operation, and even to the
existence, of the laws of nature, are just as firm believers in the
constancy of those laws as he who supposes them possessed of inherent
powers. When that constancy is interrupted in any way, we call it a
miracle. Hence it appears that our views of the nature of a miracle are
the same as his, viz., an event which takes place out of the ordinary
course of nature; and, therefore, our system is no more liable to the
objection that all events are made miracles than his system.

The way is now prepared for inquiring what geology teaches respecting the
ordinary and extraordinary providence of God over this world.

The evidences of ordinary providence, which are common to geology and
other sources of proof, I shall pass by; both because they are familiar to
all, and because I have, in a former lecture, shown the existence and
operation of the present laws of nature in all past ages. But there is one
feature of the past condition of the world taught by geology to which I
would call your attention, as exhibiting a more impressive view of the
wisdom and skill of ordinary providence than almost any other department
of nature presents. When the heavenly bodies are once put under the
control of the two great forces that guide them, viz., the centrifugal and
centripetal, we see no reason why they may not move on forever in their
accustomed paths. But the two great agents of geological change, fire and
water, have an aspect of great irregularity and violence, and are
apparently less under the control of mathematical laws. In the mighty
intensity of their action in early times, we can hardly see how there
could have been much of security or permanence in the state of the globe,
without the constant restraining energy of Jehovah. We feel as if the
earth's crust must have been constantly liable to be torn in pieces by
volcanic fires, or drenched by sweeping deluges. And yet the various
economies of life on the globe, that have preceded the present, have all
been seasons of profound repose and uniformity. The truth is, these mighty
agencies have been just as much under the divine control as those which
regulate the heavenly bodies; and I doubt not but the laws that regulate
their action are as fixed and mathematical as those which guide the sun,
moon, and planets. Still, it must have required infinite wisdom and power
so to arrange the agencies of nature that the desolating action of fire
and water should take place only at those epochs when every thing was in
readiness for the ruin of an old economy and the introduction of a new
one. Geological agencies differ from astronomical in this - that the former
must be allowed an irregular action within certain limits; whereas the
latter act with unvarying uniformity in all circumstances. If the former
had not some room for irregular action, they would not act at all; but if
allowed too much liberty, they will destroy what they were intended to
preserve. And God does restrain, and always has restrained them, just at
the point where desolation would be the result of their more powerful
operation. I do not, indeed, contend that it requires more power or wisdom
to bind those mighty agencies within proper limits than to control the
heavenly bodies. But to our limited faculties it certainly seems a more
difficult work; and, therefore, the geological history of the globe gives
us a more impressive idea of the ordinary providence of God than we see in
the calm and uniform movements of nature around us.

_In the second place, geology furnishes us with some very striking
examples of miraculous providence._

In disproving the eternity of the organic world, in a former lecture, I
adduced and illustrated these examples so fully, that I shall do little
more in this place than give a recapitulation of that argument.

If we suppose the earth originally to have been merely a diffused mass of
vapor, like comets, or nebulæ, I can conceive how, by the operation of
such natural laws as now exist, it might have been condensed into a solid
globe; into a melted state, indeed, from the amount of heat extricated in
the condensation. Those same laws might subsequently form over the molten
mass a solid crust, which, at length, might be ridged and furrowed by the
action of internal heat, so as to form the basis of continents and the
beds of oceans. In due time, the vapors might condense, so as to fill
those basins with water; and, by the mutual and alternate action of the
waters above and the heat beneath, the rocks might be comminuted, so as to
form the basis of soils. So far might the arrangements of the world have
proceeded by natural laws; in other words, by the ordinary providence of
God. But at this point we must bring in an extraordinary agency of the
Deity, or the world would have remained, in the expressive language of
revelation, _without form and void_; that is, invisible and unfurnished.
You have, indeed, the framework of a world, but the most difficult and
complicated part of the work, the creation of plants and animals, remains
yet to be performed. Here, then, is the precise point where you must call
in the miraculous agency of the Deity, or the earth would forever remain
an uninhabited waste. For if it does not require miraculous agency to
bring into existence animals and plants, I know not what can require it,
or prove its operation. I can almost as easily conceive how matter might
spring from nothing fortuitously, certainly I can as easily conceive of
its eternity, as that organism and life can result from the ordinary laws
of nature.

It may be, however, that I shall here be met by the statement, that some
distinguished geologists maintain the probable existence of organized
beings on the globe at an indefinitely earlier period than that in which
their remains first appear in the rocks. They contend that the extreme
heat which has melted the older rocks has obliterated all traces of
organic existence below a certain line. Now, in order to meet this
difficulty, it is not necessary to show this opinion to be erroneous. We
have only to advance another step in our general argument, which brings us
upon ground admitted to be good by the geologists above alluded to. They
all of them believe that many new animals and plants have from time to
time appeared on the globe; that, in fact, there have been several almost
entire changes in its inhabitants. Most of them suppose these new races to
have been introduced in large numbers at particular epochs, though some
prefer the theory which supposes the new species to have been introduced
one by one, as the old ones became extinct. But even this supposition does
not essentially affect my argument; because they all allow that these
successive species were really new, and could not have been the result of
any metamorphosis of the old species. And it is the fact that new organic
beings have, from time to time, been created, that is alone essential to
my argument. Whether they were created by groups or singly, is an
interesting geological question; but, in either case, miraculous power
must have been put forth as really and as efficiently to call into
existence a single new species of animalcula, or sea-weed, as to introduce
an entirely new race. The successive economies of organic life that have
existed on the earth, and passed from it, do most unequivocally
demonstrate the extraordinary or miraculous providence of God.

But we might abandon even this strong ground of our argument, and still
geology would afford us a most unequivocal example of the creative agency
of the Deity. That science shows, beyond all question, that man, and most
of his contemporary races of animals and plants, have not always occupied
this globe; and, indeed, that they were not placed upon it till nearly
every form buried in the rocks had passed away. And since those races
which now inhabit the globe have among them a larger proportion of highly
organized and more complicated species than have ever before been
contemporaries, - especially since man is among them, confessedly the most
perfect in organization and in intellect of all the beings that ever
occupied this planet, - we can here point to the highest exercise of
creative power ever exhibited in this lower world, as a certain memento of
God's extraordinary or miraculous providence. Indeed, who, that has any
adequate idea of the wonders of man's intellectual, moral, and immortal
nature, and of the strange extremes that meet and harmonize in his
physical and intellectual constitution, will believe that any loftier
miracle has ever been exhibited on this globe than his creation?

But I have already dwelt so long upon this whole argument in a former
lecture, that I will add no more in this place. If the facts which I have
stated do not prove the miraculous agency of the Deity in past ages, I
know not how it can be proved. But assuming this position to be
established, and several inferences of importance will follow.

_In the first place, this subject removes all philosophical presumption
against a special revelation from heaven._

If we can prove that the Deity has often so interfered with the course of
nature as to introduce new species, nay, whole races of animals and plants
upon the globe, - if, in a comparatively recent period, he has created a
moral and immortal being, endowed with all the powers of a free and an
accountable agent, - it would surely be no more wonderful if he should
communicate to that being his will by a written revelation. Indeed, the
benevolence of the Deity, as we learn it from nature, would create a
presumption that such a revelation would be given, if it appear, as we
know it does, that no sufficient knowledge is inherent in his nature to
guide him in the path of duty; since such a revelation would be no greater
miracle than to people the world, originally destitute of life, and then
to repeople it again and again, with so vast a variety of organic natures.
Philosophy has sometimes been disinclined to admit the claims of
revelation, because it implies a supernatural agency of the Deity; and,
until recently, revelation seemed to be a solitary example of special
interference on the part of Jehovah. But geology adds other examples, long
anterior to revelation - examples registered, like the laws of Sinai, on
tables of stone. And the admission of the geological evidence of special
interference with the regular sequence of nature's operations ought to
predispose the mind for listening to the appropriate proofs of a moral
communication to ignorant and erring man.

_In the second place, the subject shows us how groundless is the famous
objection to the miracles recorded in Scripture, founded on the position
that they are contrary to experience._

"It is," says Mr. Hume, "a maxim worthy of our attention, that no
testimony is sufficient to establish a miracle, unless the testimony be of
such a kind, that its falsehood would be more miraculous than the fact
which it endeavors to establish." Hence he asserts, that "the evidence of
testimony, when applied to a miracle, carries falsehood on the very face
of it, and is more properly a subject of derision than of argument," and
that "whoever believes the Christian religion is conscious of a continued
miracle in his own person, which subverts all the principles of his
understanding, and gives him a determination to believe what is most
contrary to custom and experience."

At the time when Mr. Hume wrote, and with his great skill in weaving
together metaphysical subtilties, such an argument might deceive
superficial minds; for then a miracle was supposed to be contrary to all
experience. But geology has disclosed many new chapters in the world's
history, and shown the existence of miracles earlier than chronological
dates. Even Mr. Hume would hardly deny that the creation of whole series
of animals and plants was miraculous; and yet, in proof of that creation,
we need not depend upon testimony; for we can read it with our own eyes
upon the solid rocks. Such proof appeals directly to our common sense; nor
can any ingenious quibble, concerning the nature of human testimony,
weaken its influence in producing conviction.

And if God has wrought stupendous miracles of creation in order to people
the world, who does not see that it is still more probable he would
perform other miracles when they were needed to substantiate a revelation
of his will to those moral and accountable beings, who needed its special
teachings to make them acquainted with their God, their duty, and their

_Finally. The subject removes all presumption against the exercise of a
special and miraculous providence in the divine government of the world._

In all ages of the world, philosophers, and even many theologians, have

Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 26 of 39)