Edward Hitchcock.

The religion of geology and its connected sciences online

. (page 3 of 39)
Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 3 of 39)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

principles of science, and especially of geology, are so well settled that
we can employ them in this manner.

As to the more mathematical sciences, there will be no one to doubt but
some of their principles must be admitted as infallible truth; for our
minds are so constituted that they are incapable of resisting a fair
presentation of mathematical demonstration. Now, there is scarcely any
physical science that is not based more or less upon mathematical truth;
and as to the facts in those sciences, some of them are so multiplied, and
speak so uniformly the same language, that we doubt them no more than we
do a mathematical demonstration. Other classes of facts are less decided;
and in some cases they are so insulated as to be regarded as anomalies, to
be set aside until better understood. The same grades of certainty exist
in respect to inferences from the facts of science. Some theories are
scarcely less doubtful than mathematics; others are as strong as probable
reasoning can make them; and others are merely plausible. Hypotheses are
still less to be trusted, though sometimes extremely probable.

Now, most of the physical sciences embrace facts, theories, and
hypotheses, that range widely along the scale of probability, from decided
demonstration to ingenious conjecture. It is easy, however, in general, to
distinguish the demonstrated and the permanent from the conjectural and
the fanciful; and when we bring the principles of any science into
comparison with religion, it is chiefly the former that should be
considered, although scientific hypothesis may sometimes be made to
illustrate religious hypothesis. But, passing by all other sciences, it is
my desire to present before you, on this occasion, the claims of geology,
as having fundamental principles so well settled that they claim attention
from the interpreter of the Bible. I ought, however, to remark, that there
exists a strange jealousy of this science even among intelligent men; a
suspicion that its votaries have jumped at strange and dangerous
conclusions through the influence of hypothesis, and that in fact the
whole science is little else but hypothesis, and that there is almost no
agreement even among its ablest cultivators. It is indeed a comparatively
recent science, and its remarkable developments have succeeded one another
so rapidly, as to leave men in doubt whether it would not prove a dazzling
meteor, instead of a steady and permanent luminary. When the men who are
now in the full maturity of judgment and reason, (and whose favorable
opinion I am, therefore, anxious above that of all others to secure,) when
these were young, geology did not constitute a branch of finished
education; and amid the pressure of the cares and duties of middle life,
how few find the leisure, to say nothing of the disposition, carefully to
investigate a new and extensive science! Even though younger men should be
found standing forth as the advocates of geology, yet how natural for
those more advanced to impute this to the ardor and love of novelty,
characteristic of youth!

There is another difficulty, in relation to this subject, that embarrasses
me. It is not even yet generally understood that geology is a branch of
knowledge which requires long and careful study fully to understand; that
a previous knowledge of many other sciences is indispensable in order to
comprehend its reasonings; that its reasonings are in fact, for the most
part, to be mastered only by long and patient consideration; and finally,
and more especially, that they will appear inconclusive and feeble, unless
a man has become somewhat familiar with specimens of rocks and fossils,
and has examined strata as they lie in the earth. How very imperfect must
be the most intelligent man's knowledge of botany, who had never examined
any plants; or of chemistry, who had not seen any of the simple
substances, nor experiments upon them in the laboratory; or of
crystallography, whose eyes had perhaps never rested upon a crystal. No
less important is it that he, who would reason correctly about rocks and
their organic contents, should have studied rocks. But upon such an amount
of knowledge it is no disparagement to say we have no right to presume in
all, even of publicly educated men. Before such a state of preparation can
exist, it is necessary that practical geology, at least, should be
introduced into our schools of every grade, as it might be with great

It ought to be mentioned, in this connection, that, within a few years
past, geology has experienced several severe attacks of a peculiar
character. Men of respectable ability, and decided friends of revelation,
having got fully impressed with the belief that the views of geologists
are hostile to the Bible, have set themselves to an examination of their
writings, not so much with a view of understanding the subject, as of
finding contradictions and untenable positions. The next step has been to
write a book against geology, abounding, as we might expect from men of
warm temperament, of such prejudices, and without a practical knowledge of
geology, with striking misapprehensions of facts and opinions, with
positive and dogmatic assertions, with severe personal insinuations, great
ignorance of correct reasoning in geology, and the substitution of wild
and extravagant hypotheses for geological theories.

Hence English literature has been prolific of such works as "A Comparative
Estimate of the Mineral and Mosaic Geologies," by Granville Penn; the
"Geology of Scripture," by Fairholme; "Scriptural Geology," by Dr. Young;
"Popular Geology subversive of Divine Revelation," by Rev. Henry Cole;
"Strictures on Geology and Astronomy," by Rev. R. Wilson; "Scripture
Evidences of Creation, and Geology, and Scripture Cosmogony," by anonymous
authors; and many other similar productions that might be named. The warm
zeal displayed, and doubtless felt, by these writers for the Bible; their
familiar reference to eminent geological authors, as if they understood
them; the skill in philology, which they frequently exhibit; and the want
of a wide-spread and accurate knowledge of geology in the community, - have
given to these works a far more extensive circulation than those works
have had, which view geology as illustrating and not opposing revelation.
Foremost among these is the lectures of the venerable and learned Dr. John
Pye Smith, late principal of the Homerton Divinity College, London, "On
the Relations between the Holy Scriptures and some Parts of Geological
Science."[4] This work, the result of long and patient research, and
emanating from a man of eminent piety as well as learning, affords a full
refutation of all the works that have been named, and in the kindness and
candor of its spirit exhibits a fine contrast to their intolerance and
dogmatism. In the profound works of Dr. Harris, entitled "The Pre-Adamite
Earth," and "Man Primeval," the connections of geology and revelation are
briefly but ably treated, and also its connection with natural religion.
Quite recently, a small and more popular work on this subject has been
published by Rev. David King, LL. D., of Glasgow, well worthy of
attention. "The Course of Creation," by Rev. John Anderson, D.D. of recent
publication, displays much learning and candor. But the causes that have
been mentioned have secured a much wider circulation for the class of
works first named, than for the latter, among the religious community
generally. The consequence is, that the public mind is possessed of many
prejudices unfavorable to the religious bearings of geology, and
unfavorable to an impartial examination of its claims.

Under these circumstances, all that I can do is to state definitely what I
apprehend to be the established principles of the science that have a
bearing upon religious truth, and refer my hearers to standard works on
the subject for the proof that they are true. If any will not take the
trouble to examine the proofs, I trust they will have candor and
impartiality enough not to deny my positions.

The first important conclusion, to which every careful observer will come,
is, that the rocks of all sorts, which compose the present crust of the
globe, so far as it has been explored, at least to the depth of several
miles, appear to have been the result of second causes; that is, they are
now in a different state from that in which they were originally created.

It is indeed a favorite idea with some, that all the rocks and their
contents were created just as we now meet them, in a moment of time; that
the supposed remains of animals and plants, which many of them contain,
and which occur in all states, from an animal or plant little changed, to
a complete conversion into stone, were never real animals and plants, but
only resemblances; and that the marks of fusion and of the wearing of
water, exhibited by the rocks, are not to be taken as evidences that they
have undergone such processes, but only that it has pleased God to give
them that appearance and that in fact it was as easy for God to create
them just as they now are as in any other form.

It is a presumption against such a supposition, that no men, who have
carefully examined rocks and organic remains, are its advocates. Not that
they doubt the power of God to produce such effects, but they deny the
probability that He has exerted it in this manner; for throughout nature,
wherever they have an opportunity to witness her operations, they find
that when substances appear to have undergone changes, by means of
secondary agencies, they have in fact undergone them; and, therefore, the
whole analogy of nature goes to prove that the rocks have experienced
great changes since their deposition. If rocks are an exception to the
rest of nature, - that is, if they are the effect of miraculous
agency, - there is no proof of it; and to admit it without proof is to
destroy all grounds of analogical reasoning in natural operations; in
other words, it is to remove the entire basis of reasoning in physical
science. Every reasonable man, therefore, who has examined rocks, will
admit that they have undergone important changes since their original

In the second place, the same general laws appear to have always prevailed
on the globe, and to have controlled the changes which have taken place
upon and within it. We come to no spot, in the history of the rocks, in
which a system different from that which now prevails appears to have
existed. Great peculiarities in the structure of animals and plants do
indeed occur, as well as changes on a scale of magnitude unknown at
present; but this was only a wise adaptation to peculiar circumstances,
and not an infringement of the general laws.

In the third place, the geological changes which the earth has undergone,
and is now undergoing, appear to have been the result of the same
agencies, viz., heat and water.

Fourthly. It is demonstrated that the present continents of the globe,
with perhaps the exception of some of their highest mountains, have for a
long period constituted the bottom of the ocean, and have been
subsequently either elevated into their present position, or the waters
have been drained off from their surface. This is probably the most
important principle in geology; and though regarded with much scepticism
by many, it is as satisfactorily proved as any principle of physical
science not resting on mathematical demonstration.

Fifthly. The internal parts of the earth are found to possess a very high
temperature; nor can it be doubted that at least oceans of melted matter
exist beneath the crust, and perhaps even all the deep-seated interior is
in a state of fusion.

Sixthly. The fossiliferous rocks, or such as contain animals and plants,
are not less than six or seven miles in perpendicular thickness, and are
composed of hundreds of alternating layers of different kinds, all of
which appear to have been deposited, just as rocks are now forming, at the
bottom of lakes and seas; and hence their deposition must have occupied an
immense period of time. Even if we admit that this deposition went on in
particular places much faster than at present, a variety of facts forbids
the supposition that this was the general mode of their formation.

Seventhly. The remains of animals and plants found in the earth are not
mingled confusedly together, but are found arranged, for the most part, in
as much order as the drawers of a well-regulated cabinet. In general, they
appear to have lived and died on or near the spots where they are now
found; and as countless millions of these remains are often found piled
together, so as to form almost entire mountains, the periods requisite
for their formation must have been immensely long, as was taught in the
preceding proposition.

Eighthly. Still further confirmation of the same important principle is
found in the well-established fact, that there have been upon the globe,
previous to the existing races, not less than five distinct periods of
organized existence; that is, five great groups of animals and plants, so
completely independent that no species whatever is found in more than one
of them, have lived and successively passed away before the creation of
the races that now occupy the surface. Other standard writers make the
number of these periods of existence as many as twelve. Comparative
anatomy testifies that so unlike in structure were these different groups,
that they could not have coëxisted in the same climate and other external

Ninthly. In the earliest times in which animals and plants lived, the
climate over the whole globe appears to have been as warm as, or even
warmer than, it is now between the tropics. And the slow change from
warmer to colder appears to have been the chief cause of the successive
destruction of the different races; and new ones were created, better
adapted to the altered condition of the globe; and yet each group seems to
have occupied the globe through a period of great length, so that we have
here another evidence of the vast cycles of duration that must have rolled
away even since the earth became a habitable globe.

Tenthly. There is no small reason to suppose that the globe underwent
numerous changes previous to the time when animals were placed upon it;
that, in fact, the time was when the whole matter of the earth was in a
melted state, and not improbably also even in a gaseous state. These
points, indeed, are not as well established as the others that have been
mentioned; but, if admitted, they give to the globe an incalculable

Eleventhly. It appears that the present condition of the earth's crust and
surface was of comparatively recent commencement; otherwise the steep
flanks of mountains would have ceased to crumble down, and wide oceans
would have been filled with alluvial deposits.

Twelfthly. Among the thirty thousand species of animals and plants found
in the rocks,[5] very few living species have been detected; and even
these few occur in the most recent rocks, while in the secondary group,
not less than six miles thick, not a single species now on the globe has
been discovered. Hence the present races did not exist till after those in
the secondary rocks had died. No human remains have been found below those
alluvial deposits which are now forming by rivers, lakes, and the ocean.
Hence geology infers that man was one of the latest animals that was
placed on the globe.

Thirteenthly. The surface of the earth has undergone an enormous amount of
erosion by the action of the ocean, the rivers, and the atmosphere. The
ocean has worn away the solid rock, in some parts of the world, not less
than ten thousand feet in depth, and rivers have cut channels through the
hardest strata, hundreds of feet deep and several miles long; both of
which effects demand periods inconceivably long.

Fourteenthly. At a comparatively recent date, northern and southern
regions have been swept over and worn down by the joint action of ice and
water, the force in general having been directed towards the equator.
This is called the _drift_ period.

Fifteenthly. Since the drift period, the ocean has stood some thousands of
feet above its present level in many countries.

Sixteenthly. There is evidence, in regard to some parts of the world, that
the continents are now experiencing slow vertical movements - some places
sinking, and others rising. And hence a presumption is derived that, in
early times, such changes may have been often repeated, and on a great

Seventeenthly. Every successive change of importance on the earth's
surface appears to have been an improvement of its condition, adapting it
to beings of a higher organization, and to man at last, the most perfect
of all.

Finally. The present races of animals and plants on the globe are for the
most part disposed in groups, occupying particular districts, beyond whose
limits the species peculiar to those provinces usually droop and die. The
same is true, to some extent, as to the animals and plants found in the
rocks; though the much greater uniformity of climate, that prevailed in
early times, permitted organized beings to take a much wider range than at
present; so that the zoölogical and botanical districts were then probably
much wider. But the general conclusion, in respect to living and extinct
animals, is, that there must have been several centres of creation, from
which they emigrated as far as their natures would allow them to range.

It would be easy to state more principles of geology of considerable
importance; but I have now named the principal ones that bear upon the
subject of religion. A brief statement of the leading truths of theology,
whether natural or revealed, which these principles affect, and on which
they cast light, will give an idea of the subjects which I propose to
discuss in these lectures.

The first point relates to the age of the world. For while it has been the
usual interpretation of the Mosaic account, that the world was brought
into existence nearly at the same time with man and the other existing
animals, geology throws back its creation to a period indefinitely but
immeasurably remote. The question is not whether man has existed on the
globe longer than the common interpretation of Genesis requires, - for here
geology and the Bible speak the same language, - but whether the globe
itself did not exist long before his creation; that is, long before the
six days' work, so definitely described in the Mosaic account? In other
words, is not this a case in which the discoveries of science enable us
more accurately to understand the Scriptures?

The introduction of death into the world, and the specific character of
that death described in Scripture as the consequence of sin, are the next
points where geology touches the subject of religion. Here, too, the
general interpretation of Scripture is at variance with the facts of
geology, which distinctly testify to the occurrence of death among animals
long before the existence of man. Shall geology here, also, be permitted
to modify our exposition of the Bible?

The subject of deluges, and especially that of Noah, will next claim our
attention. For though it is now generally agreed that geology cannot
detect traces of such a deluge as the Scriptures describe, yet upon some
other bearings of that subject it does cast light; and so remarkable is
the history of opinions concerning the Noachian deluge, that it could not
on that account alone be properly passed in silence.

It is well known that the philosophy of antiquity, almost without
exception, regarded matter as eternal; and in modern times, metaphysical
theology has done its utmost to refute the supposed dangerous dogma.
Geology affords us some new views of the subject; and although it does not
directly refute the doctrine, it brings before us facts of such a nature
as to show, that, so far as religion is concerned, such a refutation is of
little importance. This will furnish another theme of discussion.

It may be thought extravagant, but I hazard the assertion, that no science
is so prolific of direct testimony to the benevolence of the Deity as
geology; and some of its facts bear strongly upon the objections to this
doctrine. So important a subject will, therefore, occupy at least one or
two lectures.

In all ages, philosophers have, in one form or another, endeavored to
explain the origin and the phenomena of creation by a power inherent in
nature, independent of a personal Deity, usually denominated _natural
law_. And in modern times this hypothesis has assumed a popular form and a
plausible dress. Not less than one lecture is demanded for its
examination, especially as its advocates appeal with special confidence to
geology for its support.

In existing nature, no one fact stands out more prominently than unity of
design; and it is an interesting inquiry, whether the same general system
prevailed through the vast periods of geological history as that which now
adorns our globe. This question I shall endeavor to answer in the
affirmative, by appealing to a multitude of facts.

Another question of deep interest in theology is, whether the Deity
exercises over the world any special providence; whether he ever
interferes with the usual order of things by introducing change; or
whether he has committed nature to the control of unalterable laws,
without any direct efficiency. Light is thrown on these points by the
researches of geology, if I mistake not; and I shall not fail to attempt
its development.

This science also discloses to us many new views of the vast plans of the
Deity, and thus enlarges our conceptions of his wisdom and knowledge. In
this field we must allow ourselves to wander in search of the golden

In the course of the discussion, we shall direct our attention to the new
heavens and the new earth described in the Bible, and inquire whether
geology does not cast a glimpse of light upon that difficult subject.

In approaching the close of our subject, we shall introduce a few lectures
having a wider range, and deriving less elucidation from geology than from
other sciences. One is a consideration of the physical effects of human
actions upon the universe. And in conclusion of the whole subject, we
shall endeavor to show that the bearings of all science, when rightly
understood, are eminently favorable to religion, both in this world and
the next.

With a few miscellaneous inferences from the principles advanced, I shall
close this lecture.

In the first place, we see that the points of connection between geology
and religion are numerous and important. A few years since, geology,
instead of being appealed to for the illustration of religious truth, was
regarded with great jealousy, as a repository of views favorable to
infidelity, and even to atheism. But if the summary which I have exhibited
of its religious relations be correct, from what other science can we
obtain so many illustrations of natural and revealed religion?
Distinguished Christian writers are beginning to gather fruit in this new
field, and the clusters already presented us by such men as Dr. Chalmers,
Dr. Pye Smith, Dr. Buckland, Dr. Harris, and Dr. King, are an earnest of
an abundant harvest. I hazard the prediction that the time is not far
distant when it will be said of this, as of another noble science, "The
undevout _geologist_ is mad."

Secondly. I would bespeak the candid attention of those sceptical minds,
that are ever ready to imagine discrepancies between science and religion,
to the views which I am about to present. The number of such is indeed
comparatively small; yet there are still some prepared to seize upon every
new scientific fact, before it is fully developed, that can be made to
assume the appearance of opposition to religion. It is strange that they
should not ere this time despair of making any serious impression upon the
citadel of Christianity. For of all the numerous assaults of this kind
that have been made, not one has destroyed even an outpost of religion.
Just so soon as the subject was fully understood, every one of them has
been abandoned; and even the most violent unbeliever never thinks, at the
present day, of arraying them against the Bible. One needs no prophetic
inspiration to be confident that every geological objection to
Christianity, which perhaps now and then an unbeliever of limited
knowledge still employs, will pass into the same limbo of forgetfulness.

Finally. I would throw out a caution to those friends of religion who are

Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 3 of 39)