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Edward Hitchcock.

The religion of geology and its connected sciences online

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gaseous state, some condensed into fiery liquid globes, some covered with
a crust of solidified volcanic matter, and some surrounded by a liquid,
like water. Do not these facts justify the supposition, that the changes
which our earth has undergone are merely a single example of a great
principle in God's government of the natural world? If so, it presents the
divine wisdom in an interesting aspect. We see the Deity employing the
same matter for different purposes. Instead of creating it for one single
economy of organic beings, he seems to have made it the theatre for the
display of his benevolence through successive periods; but at the same
time not losing sight of the highest use he intended to make of it, by the
introduction of rational and immortal natures upon it. Human wisdom would
have pronounced this impossible; but divine wisdom, prompted by divine
benevolence, could accomplish it.

Finally, geology discloses to us chemical change as a great animating,
controlling, and conservative principle of the material universe.

When Newton brought to light the principle of gravitation, and showed how
it controls and keeps in harmonious movement the heavenly bodies, he
developed the great mechanical power by which the universe is governed.
And this power was supposed for a long time to be superior to all others.
But geology has brought out a second great controlling and conservative
agency, - the chemical power, - "the second right hand of the Creator," as
Dr. McCulloch expressively calls it. Suppose matter under the control of
gravity, and let it be balanced by a centrifugal force. You have, indeed,
harmonious motions among the celestial bodies, and, if no disturbing cause
come in, you have endless motion. But until you introduce chemical
agencies, every thing in the individual worlds would be compacted by
gravity into one dead mass of matter, destined to no resurrection. But let
chemical agencies leaven that mass, let affinity and cohesion commence
their segregating processes, and constant motion and change would follow,
with a thousand new and splendid forms. Especially when the Deity had
infused the living principle into portions of that matter, and put
chemistry, and her handmaid electricity, under the control of the vital
power, would these worlds teem with animation, and countless exhibitions
of beauty.

And in all known worlds, these chemical changes are at work unceasingly.
We know not whether those worlds are all inhabited, but we have evidence
that all are undergoing the transmutations of chemistry; not on their
surface merely, but in their deep interior. The consequence is, universal
change; change often upon a vast scale; change extending through thousands
and millions of years, and through the entire mass of immense worlds. We
have glanced, in these lectures, at the most important of those changes
which this world has undergone, and we have seen it to be almost
universal. We have found that the entire crust of the globe, many miles in
thickness, and probably to its centre, has been dissolved by heat, and
much of it also by water; that a large part of it, at least, has, by the
same chemistry, been made to constitute portions of the animal frame;
that, even now, much of its interior is held in igneous solution, and that
probably the time was when its entire mass was a molten, self-luminous
world. Indeed, the conjecture is not without some foundation, which
carries back this chemical action one step farther, and makes the world
originally a diffused mass of nebula.

At this point of the argument, geology appeals to astronomy, to show how
widely this principle of chemical change has operated, and still operates,
in the universe. We look first at the nebulæ; for here we probably find
matter in its most chaotic and attenuated form, constituting
self-luminous, diffused masses of vapor. In some of them, however, that
matter has begun to condense, doubtless by the radiation of its heat. In
the comets, we find probably similar matter, some of it still farther
advanced in the process of condensation, so that perhaps a nearly solid
nucleus may exist. In the sun and fixed stars, the condensation has gone
on so far that cohesive attraction begins to operate, the latent heat of
the vapor is extricated, and melted luminous worlds are the result. Around
them, however, there probably still floats a wide atmosphere of the more
elastic materials, which the heat dissipates, of which the zodiacal light,
perhaps, furnishes us with an example. The nebulosity which surrounds the
asteroids, Ceres, Pallas, Juno, Vesta, and Astrea, renders it probable
that, though they have advanced so far in the process of refrigeration as
to become opaque, they may still retain heat enough to dissipate much of
their substance. Still farther advanced towards the condition of a
habitable world is the moon; and yet volcanic desolation covers its
surface. Not improbably Jupiter is nearly surrounded with a fluid like
water, and Saturn by a fluid lighter than water - being still farther
advanced towards the condition of the earth.

I acknowledge that these are but slight glimpses of the geology and
chemistry of other worlds. And yet, taken in connection with the
geological history of our own globe, do they not furnish us with some
extremely probable examples of those changes to which our earth has been
subject? They show us that worlds may exist in the form of vapor, and that
some are actually at this time in the various conditions through which
geology supposes this world to have passed. Do we not, in these examples,
gather strong intimations of a great law of chemical change in the
universe? Gaseous matter, so far as we know, appears to have been the
earliest state of the universe; and then, by the agency of heat, it passes
through the successive changes of liquid and solid, which have been
described.

The chemical changes that take place on the earth, under our immediate
cognizance, through the agency of water, usually proceed, under favorable
circumstances, in a cycle; that is, the substance, after passing through a
series of changes, returns at length into the same condition from which it
started. Thus aqueous vapor, by the loss of heat, is first converted into
water, next into ice, and then, by the access of heat, into water again,
and at last into vapor. The question naturally arises, whether those
mutations, through which worlds are passing, may not form a similar cycle.
We are able to trace them through several steps, from gaseous to liquid,
and from the liquid to the solid; and we are assured, on the testimony of
Scripture, that the next change of the earth will be from solid to liquid.
And in those stars which in past ages have suddenly broken forth with
remarkable splendor, and then disappeared, may we not have examples of
other worlds burnt up, - not annihilated, - but deluged by fire, and either
dissipated or again cooled? What changes, if any, will succeed the final
conflagration of the globe, neither science nor revelation informs us.

Yet, if the laws of nature respecting heat are not entirely altered, other
changes must follow; and we have seen, in a former lecture, that those
changes are perfectly consistent with our ideas of heaven, and that they
may, in fact, enhance the happiness of heaven. They may go on forever; in
which case, we can hardly doubt but they would form a cycle, though how
wide the circuit we cannot conjecture; or they may, at least, reach an
unchanging state. I confess, however, that the idea of perpetual change
corresponds best with the analogies of the existing universe; and in
eternity, as well as in time, it may form an essential element of
happiness.

In this world, too, this unceasing change, though it presents at first
view a strong tendency to ruin, is, in fact, the grand conservative
principle of material things. In a world of life and motion like ours, it
is impossible that bodies, especially organic bodies, should not be
sometimes subject to violent disarrangements and destruction from the
mechanical agencies which exist; and were no chemical changes possible,
ultimate and irremediable ruin must be the result. But the chemical
powers, inherent in matter, soon bring forth new forms of beauty from the
ruins; and, in fact, throughout all nature, the process of renovation
usually counterbalances that of destruction; and thus far, indeed, the
former has done more than this; for every time nature has changed her
dress in past ages, she has put on more lovely robes, and a fresher
countenance. Can we doubt that this same principle of change, operating,
as it does, on a stupendous scale through the universe, is one of the
great means of its preservation? It seems, indeed, paradoxical to say that
instability is the basis of stability. But I see not why it is not
literally true; and I can hardly doubt but this principle is superior to
the laws of gravity - superior to every other law, in fact, for giving
permanence and security to the universe.

It is true that, in the case of man, connected as diminution and decay are
with the curse denounced on sin, they assume, in his view, a melancholy
aspect; and the perishable nature of all created things has ever been
viewed by the sentimentalist with sad emotions.

"What does not fade? The tower that long had stood
The crush of thunder, and the warring winds,
Shook by the slow but sure destroyer Time,
Now hangs in doubtful ruins o'er its base;
And flinty pyramids and walls of brass
Descend; the Babylonian spires are sunk;
Achaia, Rome, and Egypt moulder down.
Time shakes the stable tyranny of thrones;
And tottering empires rush by their own weight.
This huge rotundity we tread grows old,
And all those worlds that roll around the sun.
The sun himself shall die, and ancient night
Again involve the desolate abyss." - _Akenside._

If we turn now our thoughts away from man's dissolution, and think how
speedily chemical power will raise nature out of her grave, in renovated
and increased beauty, this universal tendency to decay puts on the aspect
of a glorious transformation. We connect the changes around us with those
which have taken place in the great bodies of the universe; we see them
all to be but parts of a far-reaching plan of the Deity, by which the
stability of the world is maintained, and its progressive improvement
secured. When we look forward, fancy kindles at the developments of divine
power, wisdom, and benevolence which will in this manner be made in the
round of eternal ages. We see that what our ignorance had mistaken for a
defect in nature is, in fact, a great conservative principle of the
universe, which Newton did not discover because geology had not yet
unfolded her record.

Such are the developments of the divine character and plans unfolded to us
by geology. Compare them now with the views which have hitherto
prevailed. The common opinion has been, and still, indeed, is, that about
six thousand years ago this earth, and, in fact, the whole material
universe, were spoken into existence in a moment of time; and that, in a
few thousand more, they will, by a similar fiat, be swept from existence,
and be no more. On the other hand, geology places the time when the matter
of the universe was created out of nothing at an epoch indefinitely but
immensely remote. Since that epoch, this matter has passed through a
multitude of changes, and been the seat of numerous systems of organic
life, unlike one another, yet all linked together into one great system by
a most perfect unity; each minor system being most beautifully adapted to
its place in the great chain, and yet each successive link becoming more
and more perfect. Nor does geology admit that any evidence exists of the
future annihilation of the material universe; but rather of other changes,
by which new and brighter displays of divine wisdom and benevolence shall
be brought out, it may be in endless succession. Geology is not, indeed,
insensible to the displays of the divine character which are exhibited on
the present theatre of the world. Indeed, she distinctly recognizes the
act which is now passing as the most perfect of all. Yet this scene of the
great drama she regards as only one of the units of a similar series of
changes that have gone by or will hereafter come; the chain stretching so
far into the eternity that is past and the eternity that is to come, that
the extremities are lost to mortal vision.

Do any shrink back from these immense conclusions, because they so much
surpass the views they have been accustomed to entertain respecting the
beginning and the end of the material universe? But why should they be
unwilling to have geology liberalize their minds as much in respect to
duration as astronomy has done in respect to space? Perhaps it is a
lingering fear that the geological views conflict with revelation. Such
fears formerly kept back many from giving up their souls to the noble
truths of astronomy. But they learnt, at length, that astronomy merely
illustrates, and does not oppose, revelation. It showed men how to
understand certain passages of sacred writ respecting the earth and
heavenly bodies which they had before misinterpreted. Just so is it with
geology. There is no collision between its statements and revelation. It
only enables us more correctly to interpret some portions of the Bible;
and then, when we have admitted the new interpretation, it brings a flood
of light upon the plans and attributes of Jehovah. Geology, therefore,
should be viewed, as it really is, the auxiliary both of natural and
revealed religion. And when its religious relations are fully understood,
theology, I doubt not, will be as anxious to cultivate its alliance as she
has been fearful of it in days past.

"Shall it any longer be said," remarks Dr. Buckland, "that a science which
unfolds such abundant evidence of the being and attributes of God, can
reasonably be viewed in any other light than as the efficient auxiliary
and handmaid of religion? Some few there still may be whom timidity, or
prejudice, or want of opportunity, allow not to examine its evidence; who
are alarmed by the novelty, or surprised by the magnitude and extent, of
the views which geology forces on their attention; and who would rather
have kept closed the volume of witness which has been sealed up for ages
beneath the surface of the earth than to impose on the student in natural
theology the duty of studying its contents - a duty in which, for lack of
experience, they may anticipate a hazardous or laborious task, but which,
by those engaged in it, is found to be a rational, and righteous, and
delightful exercise of the highest faculties in multiplying the evidence
of the existence, and attributes, and providence of God. The alarm,
however, which was excited by the novelty of its first discoveries, has
well nigh passed away; and those to whom it has been permitted to be the
humble instruments of their promulgation, and who have steadily
persevered, under the firm conviction that 'truth can never be opposed to
truth,' and that the works of God, when rightly understood, and viewed in
their true relations, and from a right position, would at length be found
to be in perfect accordance with his word, are now receiving their high
reward in finding difficulties vanish, objections gradually withdrawn, and
in seeing the evidences of geology admitted into the list of witnesses to
the truth of the great fundamental doctrines of theology." - _Bridgewater
Treatise_, vol. i. p. 593.

Such, then, in conclusion of the subject, is the religion of geology. It
has been described as a region divided between the barren mountains of
scepticism and the putrid fens and quagmires of infidelity and atheism;
producing only a gloomy and a poisonous vegetation; covered with fogs, and
swept over by pestilential blasts. But this report was made by those who
saw it at a distance. We have found it to be a land abounding in rich
landscapes, warmed by a bright sun, blest with a balmy atmosphere, covered
by noble forests and sweet flowers, with fruits savory and healthful. We
have ascended its lofty mountains, and there have we been greeted with
prospects of surpassing loveliness and overwhelming sublimity. In short,
nowhere in the whole world of science do we find regions where more of the
Deity is seen in his works. To him whose heart is warmed by true piety,
and whose mind has broken the narrow shell of prejudice, and can grasp
noble thoughts, these are delightful fields through which to wander. More
and more they must become the favorite haunts of such hearts and such
minds. For there do views open upon the soul, respecting the character and
plans of the Deity, as large and refreshing as those which astronomy
presents. Nay, in their practical bearing, these views are far more
important. Mechanical philosophy introduces an unbending and unvarying law
between the Creator and his works; but geology unveils his providential
hand, cutting asunder that law at intervals, and planting the seeds of a
new economy upon a renovated world. We thus seem to be brought into near
communion with the infinite mind. We are prepared to listen to his voice
when it speaks in revelation. We recognize his guiding and sustaining
agency at every step of our pilgrimage. And we await in confident hope and
joyful anticipation those sublime manifestations of his character and
plans, and those higher enjoyments which will greet the pure soul in the
round of eternal ages.




LECTURE XIV.

SCIENTIFIC TRUTH, RIGHTLY UNDERSTOOD, IS RELIGIOUS TRUTH.


The connection between science and religion has ever been a subject of
deep interest to enlightened and reflecting minds. Too often, however, up
to the present time, has the theologian, on the one hand, looked with
jealousy upon science, fearful that its influence was hurtful to the cause
of true religion; while, on the other hand, the philosopher, in the pride
of a sceptical spirit, has scorned an alliance between science and
theology, and even fancied many a discrepancy. Both these opinions are
erroneous; and disastrously have they operated, as well upon science as
upon religion. The position which I take, and which I shall endeavor to
maintain, is, that _scientific truth, rightly understood, is religious
truth_.

The proposition may be misunderstood at its first announcement, but I
hope, ere its examination be finished, to satisfy you that it is true; and
if so, that it ought to reconcile religion to science, and science to
religion.

In arriving at correct conclusions concerning this statement, much will
depend on the meaning which we attach to the phrase _religious truth_.
Religion is properly defined to be piety towards God. This piety implies
two things: first, a correct knowledge of God; and secondly, the exercise
of proper affections in view of that knowledge. The former constitutes the
theoretic part of religion, and is investigated solely by the
understanding. The latter constitutes the practical part of religion, and
depends much upon the will, the heart, or the moral powers of man. All
truth, therefore, which illustrates the divine character or government, or
which tends to produce right affections towards God, is properly
denominated religious truth. If, then, I can show that all scientific
truth, rightly understood, has one or both of these effects, it will
follow that it is strictly religious truth.

Scientific truth is but another name for the laws of nature. And a law of
nature is merely the uniform mode in which the Deity operates in the
created universe. It follows, then, that science is only a history of the
divine operations in matter and mind.

In order to avoid mistake, we must make a distinction between the
principles of science, and the application of those principles to the
useful arts of life. The principles themselves are an illustration of the
divine wisdom and benevolence, but their application to the arts
illustrates the ingenuity and wisdom of man. At the most, therefore, the
latter only indirectly and remotely exhibits the character of the Deity,
while the former directly shows forth his perfections.

I now proceed to establish my general proposition, by showing, in the
first place, that _all scientific truth is adapted to prove the existence
or to illustrate the perfections of the Deity_.

After all that has been written on the subject of natural theology, by
such men as Newintyt, Ray, Derham, Wollaston, Clarke, Butler, Tucker,
Paley, Chalmers, Crombie, Brown, Brougham, Harris, M'Cosh, and the authors
of the Bridgewater Treatises, I need not surely go into details to prove
that science in general is a great storehouse of facts to illustrate the
divine perfections and government. It is, indeed, a vast repository, from
which materials have been drawn on which to build the argument for the
divine existence and character. Efforts have been made, it is true, in
modern times, to show that the whole argument from design is inconclusive.
It is said, that though the operations of nature seem to show design and
contrivance, they need no higher powers than those that exist in nature
itself. They do not prove the existence of an independent personal agent,
separate from the material world. Animals, and even plants, possess an
inherent power of adapting themselves to circumstances; and may not a
higher exercise of this same power explain all the operations of nature
without any other Deity?

This argument appears to me to be utterly set aside by the following
considerations: In the first place, there is no power inherent in
vegetable or animal natures which can properly be called the power of
contrivance and design, except so far as it exists in their minds. All
other examples show merely the operation of impulse, or instinct, and will
not at all explain that wide-reaching contrivance and design which cause
all the operations of nature to conspire to certain great results, and to
constitute one, and only one, great system. In the second place, the
operations of intellect furnish us with the only examples in nature of
that kind of contrivance and design which must have arranged and adapted
the parts of the universe. But in the third place, no intellect, within
our knowledge, is capacious enough to have contrived and arranged the
universe. Indeed, to the capacity of that mind which could have done this
we can assign no limits, and, therefore, infer it to be infinite. In other
words, we infer the existence of the Deity. In the fourth place, the whole
force of this argument rests upon the supposed uniformity of nature. For
no one imagines that there exists at present, in nature, any power of
contrivance and design sufficient to work a miracle; in other words, to
introduce new races of animals and plants. "Could this uniformity once be
broken up," says an ingenious expositor of this atheistic argument, "could
this rigid order be once infringed for a good and manifest reason, it
would change the whole face of the argument. Could we see the sun stand
still in heaven, that the wicked might be overthrown, then should we be
assured of a personal power with a distinct will, whose agents and
ministers these laws were. Such an event would be a miracle. But if such
events have happened, they are not a part of nature; it is not nature that
tells us of them, and it is only with her that we are at present
concerned." - _President Hopkins, Quarterly Observer_, Oct. 1833, p. 309.

Geology, however, does reveal to us miracles of stupendous, import,
miracles of creation, which infinite power and wisdom alone could have
produced. Hence, if the testimony of that science be admitted, this
reasoning can no longer stand the test of examination, and it must be
acknowledged that the argument for God's existence from design, which has
ever been so satisfactory to every mind not clouded by metaphysics, is
left standing on an immovable foundation.

To return to the point from which we started: it is not necessary, I say,
to go into a detailed examination of each particular science, and show how
its principles prove and illustrate the being and attributes of the Deity,
for the work has already been done more ably and thoroughly than I can do
it, and admitted by all, save the few who reject the argument from design
altogether. There are a few sciences, however, which have been hitherto
chiefly passed by, because they were not supposed capable of throwing any
light of consequence upon theology. Let us see whether these sciences are
as barren of religious interest as has been supposed.



Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 36 of 39)