Edward Hitchcock.

The religion of geology and its connected sciences online

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to the divine.

The same thing is true of the waters. No wave has ever been raised on
their bosom, no keel has ever ploughed their surface, which has not sent
an influence and a change into every ocean, and modified every wave, that
has rolled in upon the farthest shores. As the vessel crosses the deep,
the parted waves close in, and every trace of disturbance soon disappears
from human vision. Nevertheless, it is certain that every track thus
furrowed in the waters has sent an influence through their entire mass,
such as is calculable by distinct formulæ; and it may be that glorified
minds, by the principles of celestial mathematics, can as easily trace out
the paths of the unnumbered vessels that have crossed the waters, as the
astronomer can the paths of the planets or the comets.

The solid earth, too, is alike tenacious of every impression we make upon
it; not a footprint of man or beast is marked upon its surface, that does
not permanently change the whole globe. Every one of its countless atoms
will retain and exhibit an infinitesimal, but a real, effect through all
coming time. It is too minute, indeed, for the cognizance of the human
senses. But in a higher sphere there may be inlets of perception acute
enough to trace it through all its bearings, and thus render every atom of
the globe a living witness to the actions of every living being.

In view of these facts, we cannot regard the glowing language of Babbage
an exaggeration, when he says, "The soul of the negro, whose fettered
body, surviving the living charnel-house of his infected prison, was
thrown into the sea to lighten the ship, that his Christian master might
escape the limited justice at length assigned by civilized man to crimes
whose profit had long gilded their atrocity, will need, at the last great
day of human accounts, no living witness of his earthly agony: when man
and all his race shall have disappeared from the face of our planet, ask
every particle of air still floating over the unpeopled earth, and it will
record the cruel mandate of the tyrant. Interrogate every wave which
breaks unimpeded on ten thousand desolate shores, and it will give
evidence of the last gurgle of the waters which closed over the head of
his dying victim. Confront the murderer with every corporeal atom of his
immolated slave, and in its still quivering movements he will read the
prophet's denunciation of the prophet king."

The distinguished mathematical professor from whom I have just quoted
limits the effects of this mathematical reaction to this globe and its
atmosphere. But if, as the philosophers now generally admit, there is a
subtile and extremely elastic medium pervading all space, why must they
not extend to other worlds, yea, to the whole universe? Without an
accurate acquaintance with the facts, indeed, it will seem a mere
extravagant imagination to say that our most trivial word or action sends
a thrill throughout the whole material universe; but I see not why sober
and legitimate science does not conduct us to this conclusion. Nay, still
further, it teaches us that the vibrations and changes which our words and
actions produce upon the universe shall never cease their action and
reaction till materialism be no more.

We venture, then, to push this thought of the ingenious mathematician into
another sphere, which he did not enter. The majority, probably, of the
ablest expounders of the Bible have maintained, as previously shown, that
the apostle Peter most unequivocally teaches us that the new heavens, or
atmosphere, and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness, are merely
our present earth and atmosphere, melted and burnt by the fires of the
last day, and fitted up anew, - a second and a lovelier paradise, - to be
the everlasting abode of holiness and happiness. Indeed, to attempt to fix
any other meaning upon Peter's language makes of it a most absurd jumble
of literal and figurative expressions, and produces an inversion of
chronological events. But, admitting the literal meaning of the apostle to
be the true one, then those reactions, produced by our words and conduct
upon the present world, shall not be destroyed by the fires of the last
day, but reappear in the new economy, and modify the pulsations of the new
heavens and the new earth through all eternity.

But even though heaven should be in some other part of the universe, and
not this earth refitted, yet, if it be a material residence, why, on the
principles already explained, should it not be reached and affected by
those vibrations which the laws of mathematics assure us are now
spreading from each individual, as a centre, through the whole universe?
The conflagration of the earth will alter its chemical constitution, and
convert matter into new forms; but the mechanical character of the atoms
will not be destroyed; and when they emerge from the final catastrophe, in
new and brighter forms, they may still bear and exhibit the impress of
every word and every action which they now receive.

Such representations as these, I am aware, will, upon first thought, seem
to most minds little better than the dreams of fancy, although founded
upon the laws of mathematics. For how soon does every trace disappear from
the earth of the most terrible convulsions and the mightiest human
efforts! The shout of countless multitudes, the thunder and the crash of
battle, and even the volcano's bellowing, are soon succeeded by unbroken
silence; and we cannot discover a trace of any of those countless scenes
of noise and convulsion that have been acted upon the world's busy stage.
How practically absurd, then, to imagine that any influence goes out from
the feeble efforts of individuals, that can be recognized, either now or
hereafter, on the wide field of the universe!

Such objections as these, however, are based upon the impression, of which
it is hard to divest ourselves, that our present means of distinguishing
the effects of physical forces are as perfect as we can hope for in
eternity. And yet, who will doubt that, when our present gross bodies
shall be laid aside, the soul, looking forth from a spiritual body, with
quickened powers and unobstructed vision, shall penetrate a new world in
the infinitesimal parts of creation? What absurdity in the supposition
that then the minutest movement among the atoms, which can now be
discovered only by the mathematics of quantities infinitely small, may
then stand out as distinctly to our inspection as do now the features of
the landscape? What absurdity in the supposition that, even now, there are
finite minds in the universe who possess this quickened power of
perception, and, though in distant worlds, do actually know what is
passing here by the vibrations which our words and actions produce upon
elastic matter?

Thus far I have spoken of the influence of our words and actions only upon
the material universe, although the principle with which I started
includes thoughts also. But are not actions merely the external
manifestation of thoughts and purposes? and, therefore, is not thought the
efficient agency that impresses the universe? I shall also attempt to show
that there are other modes in which the intellect may do this, aside from
ordinary words and actions.

But I proceed to the second proof of the general principle. _And I derive
it from what may be called optical reactions; that is, the reaction of
light and the substances on which it impinges._ These exert such an
influence upon it, that, when it is thrown back from them, and enters the
organs of vision, or even a transparent lens, with a screen behind it, it
produces an image of those objects; in other words, what we call vision.

Now, it is this fact, in connection with the progressive motion of light,
that forms the basis of this branch of the argument. Though light moves
with such immense velocity, that, for all practical purposes on earth, it
is instantaneous, yet, in fact, it does occupy a little more than a second
for every two hundred thousand miles which it passes over. Hence a flash
of lightning occurring on earth would not be visible on the moon till a
second and a quarter afterwards; on the sun, till eight minutes; at the
planet Jupiter, when at its greatest distance from us, till fifty-two
minutes; on Uranus, till two hours; on Neptune, till four hours and a
quarter; on the star of Vega, of the first magnitude, till forty-five
years; on a star of the eighth magnitude, till one hundred and eighty
years; and on a star of the twelfth magnitude, till four thousand years;
and stars of this magnitude are visible through telescopes; nor can we
doubt that, with better instruments, stars of far less magnitude might be
seen; so that we may confidently say that this flash of lightning would
not reach the remotest heavenly body till more than six thousand years - a
period equal to that which has elapsed since man's creation.

Now, suppose that, on these different heavenly bodies, beings exist with
organs of vision sufficiently acute to discern a flash of lightning on
earth, or, rather, to see all the scenes on that hemisphere of our world
that is turned towards them; it is obvious that, on the remotest star, the
earth would be seen, at this moment, just coming forth from the Creator's
hand, in all the freshness of Eden's glories, with our first parents in
the beauty of innocence and happiness, and all the beasts of the field and
the fowls of the air playing around them. On a star of the twelfth
magnitude would be seen the world as it showed itself four thousand years
ago; on a star of the eighth magnitude, as it appeared one hundred and
eighty years ago; and so on to the moon, where would be seen the
occurrences of the present moment. And since there are ten thousand times
ten thousand worlds, scattered through these extremes of distance, is it
not clear that, taking them all together, they do at this moment contain a
vast panorama of the world's entire history, since the hour when the
morning stars sang together, and the sons of God shouted for joy on
creation's morning?

"Thus," says the unknown author of a little work entitled "The Stars and
the Earth," in which these ideas were first developed - "thus the universe
encloses the _pictures_ of the past, like an indestructible and
incorruptible record, containing the purest and the clearest truth; and as
sound propagates itself in the air, wave after wave, or, to take a still
clearer example, as thunder and lightning are in reality simultaneous, but
in the storm the distant thunder follows at the interval of minutes
[seconds?] after the flash, so, in like manner, according to our ideas,
the pictures of every occurrence propagate themselves into the distant
ether, upon the wings of the ray of light; and although they become weaker
and smaller, yet, in immeasurable distance, they still have color and
form; and as every thing possessing color and form is visible, so must
these pictures also be said to be visible, however impossible it may be
for the human eye to perceive it with the hitherto discovered optical

This last statement of the writer every one will acknowledge is true when
applied to God; for who will doubt that his eye can take in at a glance
that universe which he has made? And to do that is to have before him the
entire daily history of our globe; nay, probably, also, of every other
world. Indeed, such a supposition affords us a lively conception of the
divine omniscience, since we have only to suppose this panorama of the
indefinite past to extend indefinitely into the future, and the infinite
picture will also be present at this moment before the divine mind.

But is the supposition an absurdity, that there may be in the universe
created beings, with powers of vision acute enough to take in all these
pictures of our world's history, as they make the circuit of the
numberless suns and planets that lie embosomed in boundless space? Suppose
such a being at this moment upon a star of the twelfth magnitude, with an
eye turned toward the earth. He might see the deluge of Noah, just
sweeping over the surface. Advancing to a nearer star, he would see the
patriarch Abraham going out, not knowing whither he went. Coming still
nearer, the vision of the crucified Redeemer would meet his gaze. Coming
nearer still, he might alight upon worlds where all the revolutions and
convulsions of modern times would fall upon his eye. Indeed, there are
worlds enough and at the right distances, in the vast empyrean, to show
him every event in human history.

We may proceed a step farther, and inquire whether such an exaltation of
vision as we have supposed may not be hereafter enjoyed by the glorified
human mind when it passes into the spiritual body. We can hardly believe
such a transformation possible. But suppose an individual born blind to
grow up to manhood and intelligence without ever having been told any
thing about vision. Then suppose the oculist to attempt an operation for
the restoration of his sight, and, to prepare him for the transition, let
the wonders of human vision be described to him, and he be told that, by a
few moments of suffering, he can be put in possession of this astonishing
faculty; would it not appear as improbable to him as it now does to us, to
imagine that our vision can be so clarified and exalted, that we can
discern the events which are passing in distant worlds as easily as we now
do those immediately around us.

But if such a power of reading human history, from its panorama spread out
on the face of the universe, be now possessed by unfallen beings in other
spheres, what idea must they form of the character of man? At one time,
they must regard the race as given up to hopeless rebellion, and the
inflictions of vindictive justice. And then, anon, they would see the
sceptre of mercy stretched out, and a few faithful soldiers marching under
the banner of virtue and fighting the battles of the Lord. Surely they
would need a revelation to understand the anomalies and solve the
paradoxes which passed under their eyes. They would wonder why a world so
filled with tokens of divine goodness, yet so disfigured by wickedness in
every form, had not long since been struck from its orbit by the hand of
divine justice.

Thus far, in the present argument, I have been following, for the most
part, in the track marked out by others. But I now venture to advance into
regions hitherto untrodden for any such purpose; yet I trust that the
light which we may find to guide our steps may not prove the bewildering
gleam of an _ignis fatuus_, but the lamp of true science.

_My third argument is based upon electric reactions._

Whatever may be the true nature of electricity, it is convenient, and
probably leads to no error, to speak of it as a fluid, or rather two
fluids. For we find two kinds of electricity, denominated positive and
negative; and it is a general fact, that, when a body is brought into one
electrical state, it throws other bodies around it into the opposite
state, by a power called induction. Those bodies, whose electrical
condition has been thus altered, will act on others lying in a remoter
circle, and these upon others, and so on, we cannot tell how widely, for
we have reason to suppose that electricity is a power that extends through
all nature. It can hardly be doubted that is the force which constitutes
what we call chemical affinity by which the constituent parts of all
compound bodies are held together; and in those stony and metallic masses,
that occasionally fall from the heavens, we have proof that this same
power holds sway in other worlds; for the most reasonable supposition is,
that these meteors move like the planets through the regions of celestial
space, and give us some idea of the constitution of planetary worlds. If
so, the same chemical laws, and, of course, the same chemical forces,
prevail there as in our planet. Indeed, the uniformity of nature would
lead us to such a conclusion were there no facts like those of meteors to
teach it directly. It follows, from these principles, that, whenever we
change the electrical condition of bodies around us, we start a movement
to whose onward march we can assign no limits but the material universe.
These waves of influence consist of a series of attractions and
repulsions, and are independent of the mechanical reactions already
considered, which are produced by onward impulses alone.

Now, a change in the electric condition of bodies is produced often by the
slightest mechanical, chemical, thermal, physiological, and probably even
mental change in man. The usual way of exciting currents of electricity is
by friction. But chemical action, as in the galvanic battery, produces a
still more energetic and uninterrupted current. The slightest change of
temperature, also, may disturb the electric equilibrium perceptibly. It
has been of late ascertained, likewise, that a change of physiological
condition - that is, a change as to healthy and normal action - affects the
electricity of the parts of the system, and consequently of surrounding
bodies. Substitute a man in the place of a galvanic battery, making his
two hands the electrodes, and there will go out from him an electric
current, that shall sensibly deflect the needle of a galvanometer, an
instrument employed for showing the presence of small portions of

Nay, further, it seems to be most probably established as a fact in
science, that a man, in the condition above specified, by a simple act of
his will upon his muscles, by which those of one arm only shall be
braced, will thereby send an electrical current of one sort through the
galvanometer, while a like volition, which shall brace the muscles of the
other arm will set in motion an opposite current.

It is also ascertained, that of the two sorts of nerves which supply every
muscle, the nerve of sensibility is a positive pole of a Voltaic circuit,
while the nerve of motion, or the muscle into which it passes, is a
negative pole. So that the sensor nerves act as electric telegraphs to
carry the sensations to the brain, and inform it what is needed, while the
motor nerves bring back the volition to the muscles - the brain acting as a
galvanic battery, very much like the electric organs of certain fishes.

From these statements it clearly follows, that, besides the mechanical
effects produced by our actions, there is also an electric influence
excited and propagated by almost every muscular effort, every chemical
change within us, every variation in the state of health, or vigor, and
especially by every mental effort; for no thought, probably, can pass
through the mind which does not alter the physiological, chemical, and
electric condition of the brain, and consequently of the whole system. The
stronger the emotion, the greater the change; so that those great mental
efforts, and those great decisions of the will, which bring along
important moral effects, do also make the strongest impression upon the
material universe. We cannot say how widely, by means of electric force,
they reach; but if so subtile a power does, as we have reason to suppose,
permeate all space, and all solid matter, there may be no spot in the
whole universe where the knowledge of our most secret thoughts and
purposes, as well as our most trivial outward act, may not be transmitted
on the lightning's wing; and it may be, that, out of this darkened world,
there may not be found any spot where beings do not exist with
sensibilities keen enough to learn, through electric changes, what we are
doing and thinking.

If there be no absurdity in supposing that even the mechanical influence
of our actions may be felt throughout the universe, still less is it
absurd to infer the same results from electric agencies.

It would seem, from recent discoveries, that electricity has a more
intimate connection with mental operations than any other physical force.
If not identical with the nervous influence, it seems to be employed by
the mind to accompany that influence to every part of the system; and the
greater the mental excitement, the more energetic the electric movement.
It seems to us a marvellous discovery, which enables man to convey and
register his thoughts at the distance of thousands of miles by the
electric wires. Should it excite any higher wonder to be told, that, by
means of this same power, all our thoughts are transmitted to every part
of the universe, and can be read there by the neuter perceptions of other
beings as easily as we can read the types or hieroglyphics of the electric
telegraph? Yet what a startling thought is it, that the most secret
workings of our minds and hearts are momentarily spread out in legible
characters over the whole material universe! nay, that they are so woven
into the texture of the universe, that they will constitute a part of its
web and woof forever! To believe and realize this is difficult; to deny it
is to go in the face of physical science. How many things we do believe
that are sustained by evidence far less substantial!

_My fourth argument in support of the general principle is based upon
odylic reaction._

And what is odylic reaction? What is odyle? you will doubtless inquire.
It is, indeed, a branch of science emphatically new. I know of no account
of it, save what appears in a late work, of nearly five hundred pages, by
Baron Reichenbach, of Vienna, entitled "Researches on Magnetism,
Electricity, Heat, Light, Crystallization, and Chemical Attraction, in
their Relations to the Vital Force," translated by William Gregory,
professor of chemistry in the University of Edinburgh. This writer
endeavors to show, by a great number of experiments, that there exists in
all bodies, and throughout the universe, a peculiar principle, analogous
to magnetism, electricity, light, and heat, yet distinct from them all, to
which he gives the name of _odyle_. It is most manifest in powerful
magnets; next in crystals, and exists in the human body, the sun, moon,
stars, heat, electricity, chemical action, and, in fact, the whole
material universe. Those who are most sensitive to this influence are
persons of feeble health, especially somnambulists; but it is found that
about one third of individuals, taken promiscuously, and many in good
health, are sensible of it; and it was by a series of observations on
persons of all classes and conditions for years, that the facts have been
elicited. The inquiry seems to have been conducted with great fairness and
scientific skill, and the author has the confidence of several of the most
distinguished scientific men in Europe. If there be no mistake in the
results, they promise to explain philosophically many popular
superstitions, and also the phenomena of mesmerism, without a resort to
superhuman agency, either satanic or angelic. They yield, also, an
interesting support to the principle of this lecture. Says Baron
Reichenbach, "There is nothing in these observations [which he had just
detailed] that, after the contents of the preceding treatises, can much
surprise us; but they are certainly a fine additional confirmation of what
has been stated in regard to the sun and moon, and also of the fact that
the whole material universe, even beyond our earth, acts on us with the
very same kind of influence which resides in all terrestrial objects; and
lastly, it shows that we stand in a connection of mutual influence,
hitherto unsuspected, with the universe; so that, in fact, the stars are
not altogether devoid of action on our sublunary, perhaps even on our
practical, world, and on the mental processes of some heads." - P. 162.

By the experiments here referred to by this author, he had endeavored to
show, that even the light of the stars exerted an odylic influence upon
the human system; that is, certain effects independent altogether of their
light; and if there be no mistake in the experiments, they certainly do
show this. Such a fact almost realizes the suggestions already made, that
beings in other spheres may possess such an exaltation of sensibilities as
to be able to learn what is going on in this world, and that it is easy to
conceive how our sensorium may be raised to the same exalted pitch.

_My fifth argument, illustrative of the general principle, is based upon
chemical reaction._

Mechanical reaction changes the form and position of bodies; chemical
reaction alters their constitution. By the decomposition of some
compounds, the elements are obtained for forming others; and such changes
are going on around us and within us in great numbers unperceived. In the

Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 32 of 39)