Edward Hitchcock.

The religion of geology and its connected sciences online

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rendered _fiant luminaria_, let there be light; i. e., _let light be
made_; but rather, _let lights be_; that is, serve, in the expanse of
heaven, for distinguishing between day and night; and let them be, or
serve, for signs," &c. "The historian speaks (v. 16, end) of the
determination of the stars to certain uses, which they were to render to
the earth, and not of their first formation." In like manner we may
suppose that the production of light was only rendering it visible to the
earth, over which darkness hitherto brooded; not because no light was in
existence, but because it did not shine upon the earth.

Another objection to this interpretation is, that the fourth commandment
of the decalogue expressly declares, that _in six days the Lord made
heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is_, &c., and thus cuts
off the idea of a long period intervening between the _beginning_ and the
six days. I acknowledge that this argument carries upon the face of it a
good deal of strength; but there are some considerations that seem to me
to show it to be not entirely demonstrative.

In the first place, it is a correct principle of interpreting language,
that when a writer describes an event in more than one place, the briefer
statement is to be explained by the more extended one. Thus, in the second
chapter of Genesis, we have this brief account of the creation: _These are
the generations of the heavens and of the earth, when they were created,
in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens._

Now, if this were the only description of the work of creation on record,
the inference would be very fair that it was all completed in a single

Yet when we turn to the first chapter, we find the work prolonged through
six days. The two statements are not contradictory; but the briefer one
would not be understood without the more detailed. In like manner, if we
should find it distinctly stated in the particular account of the creation
of the universe, in the first chapter of Genesis, that a long period
actually intervened between the beginning and the six days, who would
suppose the statement a contradiction to the fourth commandment? It is
true, we do not find such a fact distinctly announced in the Mosaic
account of the creation. But suppose we first learn that it did exist from
geology; why should we not be as ready to admit it as if stated in
Genesis, provided it does not contradict any thing therein recorded? For
illustration: let us refer to the account given in Exodus of the parents
of Moses and their family. _And there went a man of the name of Levi, and
took to wife a daughter of Levi. And the woman conceived and bare a son,_
(that is, Moses,) _and when she saw that he was a goodly child, she hid
him three months._ (Ex. ii. 12.) Suppose, now, that no other account
existed in the Bible of the family of this Levite; we could not surely
have suspected that Moses had an elder brother and sister. But imagine the
Bible silent on the subject, and that the fact was first brought to light
in deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics in the nineteenth century; who
could hesitate to admit its truth because omitted in the Pentateuch? or
who would regard it in opposition to the sacred record? With equal
propriety may we admit, on proper geological evidence, the intercalation
of a long period between the beginning and the six days, if satisfied that
it does not contradict the Mosaic account. Hence all that is necessary, in
this connection, for me to show, is, that such contradictions would not be
made out by such a discovery.

Once more: if this long period had existed, we should hardly have expected
an allusion to it in the fourth commandment, if the views we have taken
are correct as to the manner in which the Old Testament treats of natural
events. It is literally true, that all which the Jews understood by the
heavens and the earth, was made, (_awsaw_,) that is, renovated, arranged,
and constituted, - for so the word often means, - in six literal days. Had
the sacred writer alluded to the earth while without form and void, or to
the heavenly bodies as any thing more than shining points in the
firmament, placed there on the fourth day, he could not have been
understood by the Hebrews, without going into a detailed description, and
thus violating what seems to have been settled principles in writing the
Bible, viz., not to treat of natural phenomena with scientific accuracy,
nor to anticipate any scientific discovery.

I wish it to be distinctly understood, that I am endeavoring to show,
only, that the language of Scripture will admit of an indefinite interval
between the first creation of matter and the six demiurgic days. I am
willing to admit, at least for the sake of argument, that the common
interpretation, which makes matter only six thousand years old, is the
most natural. But I contend that no violence is done to the language by
admitting the other interpretation. And in further proof of this position,
I appeal to the testimony of distinguished modern theologians and
philologists, as I have to several of the ancients. This point cannot,
indeed, be settled by the authority of names. But I cannot believe that
any will suppose such men as I shall mention were led to adopt this view
simply because geologists asked for it, while their judgments told them
that the language of the Bible would not bear such a meaning. When such
men, therefore, avow their acquiescence in such an interpretation, it
cannot but strengthen our confidence in its correctness.

"The interval," says Bishop Horsley, "between the production of the matter
of the chaos and the formation of light, is undescribed and unknown."

"Were we to concede to naturalists," says Baumgarten Crusius, "all the
reasonings which they advance in favor of the earth's early existence, the
conclusion would only be, that the earth itself has existed much more than
six thousand years, and that it had then already suffered many great and
important revolutions. But if this were so, would the relation of Moses
thereby become false and untenable? I cannot think so."

"By the phrase _in the beginning_," says Doederlin, "the time is declared
when something began to be. But when God produced this remarkable work,
Moses does not precisely define."

"We do not know," says Sharon Turner, "and we have no means of knowing, at
what point of the ever-flowing eternity of that which is alone
eternal, - the divine subsistence, - the creation of our earth, or any part
of the universe, began." "All that we can learn explicitly from revelation
is, that nearly six thousand years have passed since our first parents
began to be."

"The words in the text," says Dr. Wiseman, "do not merely express a
momentary pause between the first fiat of creation and the production of
light; for the participial form of the verb, whereby the Spirit of God,
the creative energy, is represented as brooding over the abyss, and
communicating to it the productive virtue, naturally expresses a
continuous, and not a passing action."

"I am strongly inclined to believe," says Bishop Gleig, "that the matter
of the corporeal universe was all created at once; though different
portions of it may have been reduced to form at very different periods.
When the universe was created, or how long the solar system remained in a
chaotic state, are vain inquiries, to which no answer can be given."

"The detailed history of creation in the first chapter of Genesis," says
Dr. Chalmers, "begins at the middle of the second verse; and what precedes
might be understood as an introductory sentence, by which we are most
appositely told, both that God created all things at the first, and that
afterwards - by what interval of time it is not specified - the earth lapsed
into a chaos, from the darkness and disorder of which the present system
or economy of things was made to arise. Between the initial act and the
details of Genesis, the world, for aught we know, might have been the
theatre of many revolutions, the traces of which geology may still
investigate," &c.

"A philological survey of the initial sections of the Bible, (Gen. i. 1 to
ii. 3,)" says Dr. Pye Smith, "brings out the result;"

1. "That the first sentence is a simple, independent, all-comprehending
axiom, to this effect, - that _matter_, elementary or combined, aggregated
only or organized, and _dependent, sentient, and intellectual beings_ have
not existed from eternity, either in self-continuity or succession, but
had a beginning; that their beginning took place by the all-powerful will
of one Being; the self-existent, independent and infinite in all
perfection; and that the date of that beginning is not made known."

2. "That at a recent epoch, our planet was brought into a state of
disorganization, detritus, or ruin, (perhaps we have no perfectly
appropriate term,) from a former condition."

3. "That it pleased the Almighty, wise and benevolent Supreme, out of that
state of ruin to adjust the surface of the earth to its now existing
condition, - the whole extending through the period of six natural days."

"I am forming," continues Dr. Smith, "no hypotheses in geology; I only
plead that _the ground is clear_, and that the dictates of the Scripture
_interpose no bar_ to observation and reasoning upon the mineralogical
constitution of the earth, and the remains of organized creatures which
its strata disclose. If those investigations should lead us to attribute
to the earth and to the other planets and astral spheres an antiquity
which millions or ten thousand millions of years might fail to represent,
_the divine records forbid not their deduction_." - _Script. and Geol._ p.

Says Dr. Bedford, "We ought to understand Moses as saying, _indefinitely
far back, and concealed from us in the mystery of eternal ages, prior to
the first moment of mundane time_, God created the heavens and the
earth." - Smith, _Script. and Geol._ 4th edit.

"My firm persuasion is," says Dr. Harris, "that the first verse of Genesis
was designed, by the divine Spirit, to announce the absolute origination
of the material universe by the Almighty Creator; and that it is so
understood in the other parts of holy writ; that, passing by an indefinite
interval, the second verse describes the state of our planet immediately
prior to the Adamic creation, and, that the third verse begins the account
of the six days' work."

"If I am reminded, in a tone of animadversion, that I am making science,
in this instance, the interpreter of Scripture, my reply is, that I am
simply making the works of God illustrate his word in a department in
which they speak with a distinct and authoritative voice; that "it is all
the same whether our geological or theological investigations have been
prior, if we have not forced the one into accordance with the
other." - (Davidson, _Sacred Hermeneutics_.) "And that it might be
deserving consideration, whether or not the conduct of those is not open
to just animadversion, who first undertake to pronounce on the meaning of
a passage of Scripture, irrespective of all the appropriate evidence, and
who then, when that evidence is explored and produced, insist on their _a
priori_ interpretation as the only true one." - _Pre-Adamite Earth_, p.

"Our best expositors of Scripture," says Dr. Daniel King, of Glasgow,
"seem to be now pretty generally agreed, that the opening verse in Genesis
has no necessary connection with the verses which follow. They think it
may be understood as making a separate and independent statement regarding
the creation proper, and that the phrase 'in the beginning' may be
expressive of an indefinitely remote antiquity. On this principle the
Bible recognizes, in the first instance, the great age of the earth, and
then tells us of the changes it underwent at a period long subsequent, in
order to render it a fit abode for the family of man. The work of the six
days was not, according to this view, a creation in the strict sense of
the term, but a renovation, a remodelling of pre√Ђxisting
materials." - _Principles of Geology explained_, &c. p. 40, 1st edit.

"Whether the Mosaic creation," says Dr. Schmucker, of the Lutheran church
in this country, "refers to the present organization of matter, or to the
formation of its primary elements, it is not easy to decide. The question
is certainly not determined by the usage of the original words, [Hebrew]
which are frequently employed to designate mediate formation. Should the
future investigations of physical science bring to light any facts,
indisputably proving the anterior existence of the matter of this earth,
such facts would not militate against the Christian Scriptures."

"That a very long period," says Dr. Pond, - "how long no being but God can
tell, - intervened between the creation of the world and the commencement
of the six days' work recorded in the following verses of the first
chapter of Genesis, there can, I think, be no reasonable doubt."

But I need not adduce any more advocates of the interpretation of Genesis,
for which I contend. Men more respected and confided in by the Christian
world I could not quote, though I might enlarge the number; but I trust it
is unnecessary. I trust that all who hear me are satisfied that the Mosaic
history of the creation of the world does fairly admit of an
interpretation which leaves an undefined interval between the creation of
matter and the six days' work. Let it be recollected that I do not
maintain that this is the most natural interpretation, but only that the
passage will fairly admit it by the strict rules of exegesis. The question
still remains to be considered, whether there is sufficient reason to
adopt it as the true interpretation. To show that there is, I now make my
appeal to geology. This is a case, it seems to me, in which we may call in
the aid of science to ascertain the true meaning of Scripture. The
question is, Does geology teach, distinctly and uncontrovertibly, that the
world must have existed during a long period prior to the existence of the
races of organized beings that now occupy its surface?

To give a popular view of the evidence sustaining the affirmative of this
question is no easy task. It needs a full and accurate acquaintance with
the multiplied facts of geology, and, what is still more rare, a
familiarity with geological reasoning, in order to feel the full force of
the arguments that prove the high antiquity of the globe. Yet I know that
I have a right to presume upon a high degree of scientific knowledge, and
an accurate acquaintance with geology, among those whom I address.

In the first place, I must recur to a principle already briefly stated in
a former lecture, viz., that a careful examination of the rocks presents
irresistible evidence, that, in their present condition, they are all the
result of second causes; in other words, they are not now in the condition
in which they were originally created. Some of them have been melted and
reconsolidated, and crowded in between others, or spread over them. Others
have been worn down into mud, sand, and gravel, by water and other agents,
and again cemented together, after having enveloped multitudes of animals
and plants, which are now imbedded as organic remains. In short, all known
rocks appear to have been brought into their present state by chemical or
mechanical agencies. It is indeed easy to say that these appearances are
deceptive, and that these rocks may, with perfect ease, have been created
just as we now find them. But it is not easy to retain this opinion, after
having carefully examined them. For the evidence that they are of
secondary origin is nearly as strong, and of the same kind too, as it is
that the remains of edifices lately discovered in Central America are the
work of man, and were not created in their present condition.

In the second place, processes are going on by which rocks are formed on a
small scale, of the same character as those which constitute the great
mass of the earth. Hence it is fair to infer, that all the rocks were
formed in a similar manner. Beds of gravel, for instance, are sometimes
cemented together by heat, or iron, or lime, so as to resemble exactly the
conglomerates found in mountain masses among the ancient rocks. Clay is
sometimes converted into slate by heat, as is soft marl into limestone, by
the same cause. In fact, we find causes now in operation that produce all
the varieties of known rocks, except some of the oldest, which seem to
need only a greater intensity in some of the causes now at work to produce
them. By ascertaining the rate at which rocks are now forming, therefore,
we can form some opinion as to the time requisite to produce those
constituting the crust of the globe. If, for instance, we can determine
how fast ponds, lakes, and oceans are filling up with mud, sand, and
gravel, conveyed to their bottoms, we can judge of the period necessary to
produce those rocks which appear to have been formed in a similar manner;
and if there is any evidence that the process was more rapid in early
times, we can make due allowance.

In the third place, all the stratified rocks appear to have been formed
out of the fragments of other rocks, worn down by the action of water and
atmospheric agencies. This is particularly true of that large proportion
of these rocks which contain the remains of animals and plants. The mud,
sand, and gravel of which these are mostly composed, must have been worn
from rocks previously existing, and have been transported into lakes, and
the ocean, as the same process is now going on. There the animals and
plants, which died in the waters, and were transported thither by rivers,
must have been buried; next, the rocks must have been hardened into stone,
by admixture with lime, or iron, or by internal heat; and, finally, have
been raised above the waters, so as to become dry land. Beds of limestone
are interstratified with those of shale, sandstone, and conglomerate; but
these form only a small proportion of the whole, and, besides, were mostly
formed in an analogous manner, though by agencies more decidedly chemical.

Now, for the most part, this process of forming rocks by the accumulation
of mud, sand, and gravel is very slow. In general, such accumulations, at
the bottom of lakes and the ocean, do not increase more than a few inches
in a century. During violent floods, indeed, and in a few limited spots,
the accumulation is much more rapid; as in the Lake of Geneva, through
which the Rhone, loaded with detritus from the Alps, passes, where a delta
has been formed two miles long and nine hundred feet thick, within eight
hundred years.[7] And occasionally such rapid depositions probably took
place while the older rocks were in the course of formation. But in
general, the work seems to have gone on as slowly as it usually does at

Yet, in the fourth place, there must have been time enough since the
creation to deposit at least ten miles of rocks in perpendicular
thickness, in the manner that has been described. For the stratified rocks
are at least of that thickness in Europe, and in this country much
thicker; or, if we regard only the fossiliferous strata as thus deposited,
(since some geologists might hesitate to admit that the non-fossiliferous
rocks were thus produced,) these are six and a half miles thick in Europe,
and still thicker in this country. How immense a period was requisite for
such a work! Some do, indeed, contend that the work, in all cases, as we
have allowed it in a few, may have been vastly more rapid than at the
present day. But the manner in which the materials are arranged, and
especially the preservation of the most delicate parts of the organic
remains, often in the very position in which the animals died, show the
quiet and slow manner in which the process went on.

In the fifth place, it is certain that, since man existed on the globe,
materials for the production of rocks have not accumulated to the average
thickness of more than one hundred or two hundred feet; although in
particular places, as already mentioned, the accumulations are thicker.
The evidence of this position is, that neither the works nor the remains
of man have been found any deeper in the earth than in the upper part of
that superficial deposit called _alluvium_. But had man existed while the
other deposits were going on, no possible reason can be given why his
bones and the fruits of his labors should not be found mixed with those of
other animals, so abundant in the rocks, to the depth of six or seven
miles. In the last six thousand years, then, only one five hundredth part
of the stratified rocks has been accumulated. I mention this fact, not as
by any means an exact, but only an approximate, measure of the time in
which the older rocks were deposited; for the precise age of the world is
probably a problem which science never can solve. All the means of
comparison within our reach enable us to say, only, that its duration must
have been immense.

In the sixth place, during the deposition of the stratified rocks, a great
number of changes must have occurred in the matter of which they are
composed. Hundreds of such changes can be easily counted, and they often
imply great changes in the waters holding the materials in solution or
suspension; such changes, indeed, as must have required different oceans
over the same spot. Such events could not have taken place without
extensive elevations and subsidences of the earth's crust; nor could such
vertical movements have happened without much intervening time, as many
facts, too technical to be here detailed, show. Here, then, we have
another evidence of vast periods of time occupied in the secondary
production and arrangements of the earth's crust.

In the seventh place, numerous races of animals and plants must have
occupied the globe previous to those which now inhabit it, and have
successively passed away, as catastrophes occurred, or the climate became
unfit for their residence. Not less than thirty thousand species have
already been dug out of the rocks; and excepting a few hundred species,
mostly of sea shells, occurring in the uppermost rocks, none of them
correspond to those now living on the globe. In Europe, they are found to
the depth of about six and a half miles; and in this country, deeper; and
no living species is found more than one twelfth of this depth. All the
rest are specifically and often generically unlike living species; and the
conclusion seems irresistible, that they must have lived and died before
the creation of the present species. Indeed, so different was the climate
in those early times, - it having been much warmer than at present in most
parts of the world, - that but few of the present races could have lived
then. Still further: it appears that, during the whole period since
organized beings first appeared on the globe, not less than four, or five,
and probably more - some think as many as ten or twelve - entire races have
passed away, and been succeeded by recent ones; so that the globe has
actually changed all its inhabitants half a dozen times. Yet each of the
successive groups occupied it long enough to leave immense quantities of
their remains, which sometimes constitute almost entire mountains. And in
general, these groups became extinct in consequence of a change of
climate; which, if imputed to any known cause, must have been an extremely
slow process.

Now, these results are no longer to be regarded as the dreams of fancy,
but the legitimate deductions from long and careful observation of facts.
And can any reasonable man conceive how such changes can have taken place
since the six days of creation, or within the last six thousand years? In
order to reconcile them with such a supposition, we must admit of
hypotheses and absurdities more wild and extravagant than have ever been
charged upon geology. But admit of a long period between the first
creative act and the six days, and all difficulties vanish.

In the eighth place, the denudations and erosions that have taken place on
the earth's surface indicate a far higher antiquity to the globe, even
since it assumed essentially its present condition, than the common
interpretation of Genesis admits. The geologist can prove that in many
cases the rocks have been worn away, by the slow action of the ocean, more
than two miles in depth in some regions, and those very wide; as in South
Wales, in England. As the continents rose from the ocean, the slow
drainage by the rivers has excavated numerous long and deep gorges,

Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 5 of 39)