Edward Hitchcock.

The religion of geology and its connected sciences online

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requiring periods incalculably extended.

I do not wonder that, when the sceptic stands upon the banks of Niagara
River, and sees how obviously the splendid cataract has worn out the deep
gorge extending to Lake Ontario, he should feel that there is a standing
proof that the common opinion, as to the age of the world, cannot be true;
and hence be led to discard the Bible, if he supposes that to be a true

But the Niagara gorge is only one among a multitude of examples of erosion
that might be quoted; and some of them far more striking to a geologist.
On Oak Orchard Creek, and the Genesee River, between Rochester and Lake
Ontario, are similar erosions, seven miles long. On the latter river,
south of Rochester, we find a cut from Mount Morris to Portage, sometimes
four hundred feet deep. On many of our south-western rivers we have what
are called _canons_, or gorges, often two hundred and fifty feet deep, and
several miles long. Near the source of Missouri River are what are called
the Gates of the Rocky Mountains, where there is a gorge six miles long
and twelve hundred feet deep. Similar cuts occur on the Columbia River,
hundreds of feet deep, through the hard trap rock, for hundreds of miles,
between the American Falls and the Dalles. At St. Anthony's Falls, on the
Mississippi, that river has worn a passage in limestone seven miles long,
which distance the cataract has receded. On the Potomac, ten miles west of
Washington, the Great Falls have worn back a passage sixty to sixty-five
feet deep, four miles, continuously - a greater work, considering the
nature of the rock, than has been done by the Niagara. The passage for the
Hudson, through the highlands, is probably an example of river erosion; as
is also that of the Connecticut at Brattleboro' and Bellows Falls. In
these places, it can be proved that the river was once at least seven
hundred feet above its present bed. On the Deerfield River, a tributary of
the Connecticut, we have a gulf called the _Ghor_, eight miles long and
several hundred feet deep, cut crosswise through the mica slate and gneiss
by the stream.

On the eastern continent I might quote a multitude of analogous cases.
There is, for instance, the Wady el Jeib, in soft limestone, within the
Wady Arabah, south of the Dead Sea. The defile is one hundred and fifty
feet deep, half a mile wide, and forty miles long. In Mount Lebanon,
several remarkable chasms in limestone have been described by American
missionaries, as that on Dog River, (Lycus of the ancients,) six miles
long, seventy or eighty feet deep, and from one hundred and twenty to one
hundred and sixty feet wide; also, Wady Barida, whose walls are six
hundred to eight hundred feet high. On the River Ravendoor, in Kurdistan,
is a gorge, described in a letter from Dr. Perkins, one thousand feet
deep. Another on the Euphrates, near Diadeen, is seventy feet deep, and is
spanned by a natural bridge one hundred feet long. On the River Terek, in
the Dariel Caucasus, is a pass one hundred and twenty miles long, whose
walls rise from one thousand to three thousand feet high. In Africa, the
River Zaire has cut a passage, forty miles long, through mica slate,
quartz, and syenite; and in New South Wales, Cox River passes through a
gorge twenty-two hundred yards wide and eight hundred feet high.

Ninthly. Since the geological period now passing commenced, called the
_alluvial_, or pleistocene period, certain changes have been going on,
which indicate a very great antiquity to the drift period, which was the
commencement of the alluvial period, and has been considered among the
most recent of geological events. I refer to the formation of deltas and
of terraces.

Of the deltas I will mention but a single example, to which, however, many
others correspond. The Mississippi carries down to its mouth
28,188,803,892 cubic feet of sediment yearly, which it deposits; or one
cubic mile in five years and eighty-one days. Now, as the whole delta
contains twenty-seven hundred and twenty cubic miles, it must have
required fourteen thousand two hundred and four years to form it in this

Terraces occur along some of the rivers of our country from four hundred
to five hundred feet above their present beds, and around our lakes to the
height of nearly one thousand feet. They are composed of gravel, sand,
clay, and loam, that have been comminuted, and sorted, and deposited, by
water chiefly. At a height two or three times greater, on the same rivers
and lakes, we find what seem to be ancient sea beaches, of the same
materials, deposited earlier, and less comminuted. The same facts also
occur in Europe, and probably in Asia.

Now, it seems quite certain, that these beaches and terraces were formed
as the continents were being drained of the waters of the ocean, and the
rivers were cutting down their beds; which last process has been going on
in many places to the present day. Yet scarcely nowhere, since the memory
of man, have even the lowest of these terraces and beaches been formed,
save on a very limited scale, and of a few feet in height. The lowest of
them have been the sites of towns and cities, ever since the settlement of
our country, and on the eastern continent much longer. Yet we see the
processes by which they have been formed now in operation; but they have
scarcely made any progress during the period of human history. How vast
the period, then, since the work was first commenced! Yet even its
commencement seems to have been no farther back than the drift epoch,
since that deposit lies beneath the terraces. But the drift period was
comparatively a very recent one on the geological scale. How do such facts
impress us with the vast duration of the globe since the first series of
changes commenced!

Finally. There is no little reason to believe that, previous to the
formation of the stratified rocks, the earth passed through changes that
required vast periods of time, by which it was gradually brought into a
habitable state. It is even believed that one of its earliest conditions
was that of vapor; that, gradually condensing, it became a melted globe of
fire, and then, as it gradually cooled, a crust formed over its surface;
and so at last it became habitable. All this is indeed hypothesis; and,
therefore, I do not place it in the same rank as the other proofs of the
earth's antiquity, already adduced. Still this hypothesis has so much
evidence in its favor, that not a few of the ablest and most cautious
philosophers of the present day have adopted it. And if it be indeed true,
it throws back the creation of the universe to a period remote beyond
calculation or conception.

Now, let this imperfect summary of evidence in favor of the earth's high
antiquity be candidly weighed, and can any one think it strange that every
man, who has carefully and extensively examined the rocks in their native
beds, is entirely convinced of its validity? Men of all professions, and
of diverse opinions concerning the Bible, have been geologists; but on
this point they are unanimous, however they may differ as to other points
in the science. Must we not, then, regard this fact as one of the settled
principles of science? If so, who will hesitate to say that it ought to
settle the interpretation of the first verse of Genesis, in favor of that
meaning which allows an intervening period between the creation of matter
and the creation of light? This is the grand point which I have aimed to
establish; and, in conclusion, I beg leave to make a few remarks by way of

First. This interpretation of Genesis is entirely sufficient to remove all
apparent collision between geology and revelation. It gives the geologist
full scope for his largest speculations concerning the age of the world.
It permits him to maintain that its first condition was as unlike to the
present as possible, and allows him time enough for all the changes of
mineral constitution and organic life which its strata reveal. It supposes
that all these are passed over in silence by the sacred writers, because
irrelevant to the object of revelation, but full of interest and
instruction to the men of science, who should afterwards take pleasure in
exploring the works of God.

It supposes the six days' work of creation to have been confined entirely
to the fitting up the world in its present condition, and furnishing it
with its present inhabitants. Thus, while it gives the widest scope to the
geologist, it does not encroach upon the literalities of the Bible; and
hence it is not strange that it should be almost universally adopted by
geologists as well as by many eminent divines.

I would not forget to notice in this connection, however, a recent
proposed extension of this interpretation by Dr. John Pye Smith, founded
on the principle already illustrated, that the sacred writers adapted
their language to the state of knowledge among the Jews. By the term
_earth_, in Genesis, he supposes, was designed not the whole terraqueous
globe, but "the part of our world which God was adapting for the
dwelling-place of man and animals connected with him." And the narrative
of the six days' work is a description adapted to the ideas and
capacities of mankind in the earliest ages, of a series of operations, by
which the Being of omnipotent wisdom and goodness adjusted and furnished,
not the earth generally, but, as the particular subject under
consideration here, a PORTION of its surface for most glorious purposes.
This portion of the earth he conceives to have been a large part of Asia,
lying between the Caucasian ridge, the Caspian Sea and Tartary on the
north, the Persian and Indian Seas on the south, and the high mountain
ridges which run at considerable distance on their eastern and western
flanks. This region was first, by atmospheric and geological causes of
previous operation, under the will of the Almighty, brought into a
condition of superficial ruin, or some kind of general disorder, probably
by volcanic agency; it was submerged, covered with fogs and clouds, and
subsequently elevated, and the atmosphere, by the fourth day, rendered
pellucid. - _Script. and Geol._ p. 275, 2d edit.

Without professing to adopt fully this view of my learned and venerable
friend, I cannot but remark, that it explains one or two difficulties on
this subject, which I shall more fully explain farther on. One is, the
difficulty of conceiving how the inferior animals could have been
distributed to their present places of residence from a single centre of
creation without a miracle. Certain it is, that, as the climate and
position of land and water now are, they could not thus migrate without
certain destruction to many of them. But by this theory they might have
been created within the districts which they now occupy.

Another difficulty solved by this theory is, that several hundred species
of animals, that were created long before man, as their remains found in
the tertiary strata show, still survive, and there is no evidence that
they ever became extinct; nor need they have been destroyed and
recreated, if Dr. Smith's theory be true. Nevertheless, it does not appear
to me essential to a satisfactory reconciliation of geology and
revelation, that we should adopt it. But coming from such high authority,
and sustained as it is by powerful arguments, it commends itself to our
candid examination.

Secondly. I remark, that it is not necessary that we should be perfectly
sure that the method which has been described, or any other, of bringing
geology into harmony with the Bible, is infallibly true. It is only
necessary that it should be sustained by probable evidence; that it should
fairly meet the geological difficulty on the one hand, and do no violence
to the language or spirit of the Bible on the other. This is sufficient,
surely, to satisfy every philosophical mind, that there is no collision
between geology and revelation. But should it appear hereafter, either
from the discoveries of the geologist or the philologist, that our views
must be somewhat modified, it would not show that the previous views had
been insufficient to harmonize the two subjects; but only that here, as in
every other department of human knowledge, perfection is not attained,
except by long-continued efforts.

I make these remarks, because it is well known that other modes, besides
that which I have defended, have been proposed to accomplish the same
object; and it is probable that, even to this day, one or two of these
modes may be defended, although the general opinion of geologists is in
favor of that which I have exhibited.

Some, for instance, have supposed that the fossiliferous strata may all
have been deposited in the sixteen hundred years between the creation and
the deluge, and by that catastrophe have been lifted out of the ocean.
Others have imagined them all produced by that event. But the most
plausible theory regards the six days of creation as periods of great,
though indefinite length, during which all the changes exhibited by the
strata of rocks took place. The arguments in defence of this view are the
following: 1. The word _day_ is often used in Scripture to express a
period of indefinite length. (Luke xvii. 24. John viii. 56. Job xiv. 6.)
2. The sun, moon, and stars were not created till the fourth day; so that
the revolution of the earth on its axis, in twenty-four hours, may not
have existed previously, and the light and darkness that alternated may
have had reference to some other standard. 3. The Sabbath, or seventh day,
in which God rested from his work, has not yet terminated; and there is
reason to suppose the demiurgic days may have been at least of equal
length. 4. This interpretation corresponds remarkably with the traditional
cosmogonies of some heathen nations, as the ancient Etruscans and modern
Hindoos; and it was also adopted by Philo and other Jewish writers. 5. The
order of creation, as described in Genesis, corresponds to that developed
by geology. This order, according to Cuvier and Professor Jameson, is as
follows: 1. The earth was covered with the sea without inhabitants. 2.
Plants were created on the third day, and are found abundantly in the coal
measures. 3. On the fifth day, the inhabitants of the waters, then flying
things, then great reptiles, and then mammiferous animals, were created.
4. On the sixth day, man was created.

The following are the objections to this interpretation: 1. The word _day_
is not used figuratively in other places of Genesis, (unless perhaps Gen.
ii. 4,) though it is sometimes so used in other parts of Scripture. 2. In
the fourth commandment, where the days of creation are referred to, (Exod.
xx. 9, 10, 11,) no one can doubt but that the six days of labor and the
Sabbath, spoken of in the ninth and tenth verses, are literal days. By
what rule of interpretation can the same word in the next verse be made to
mean indefinite periods? 3. From Gen. ii. 5, compared with Gen. i. 11, 12,
it seems that it had not rained on the earth till the third day - a fact
altogether probable if the days were of twenty-four hours, but absurd if
they were long periods. 4. Such a meaning is forced and unnatural, and,
therefore, not to be adopted without urgent necessity. 5. This hypothesis
assumes that Moses describes the creation of all the animals and plants
that have ever lived on the globe. But geology decides that the species
now living, since they are not found in the rocks any lower down than man
is, (with a few exceptions,) could not have been contemporaries with those
in the rocks, but must have been created when man was; that is, on the
sixth day. Of such a creation no mention is made in Genesis. The inference
is, that Moses does not describe the creation of the existing races, but
only of those that lived thousands of years earlier, and whose existence
was scarcely suspected till modern times. Who will admit such an
absurdity? If any one takes the ground that the existing races were
created with the fossil ones, on the third and fifth days, then he must
show, what no one can, why the remains of the former are not found mixed
with the latter. 6. Though there is a general resemblance between the
order of creation, as described in Genesis and by geology, yet when we
look at the details of the creation of the organic world, as required by
this hypothesis, we find manifest discrepancy, instead of the coincidence
asserted by some distinguished advocates of these views. Thus the Bible
represents plants only to have been created on the third day, and animals
not till the fifth; and hence, at least, the lower half of the
fossiliferous rocks ought to contain nothing but vegetables. Whereas, in
fact, the lower half of these rocks, all below the carboniferous,
although abounding in animals, contain scarcely any plants, and those in
the lowest strata, fucoids, or sea-weeds. But the Mosaic account of the
third day's work evidently describes flowering and seed-bearing plants,
not flowerless and seedless algæ. Again: reptiles are described in Genesis
as created on the fifth day; but reptilia and batrachians existed as early
as the time when the lower carboniferous, and even old red sandstone
strata, were in a course of deposition, as their tracks on those rocks in
Nova Scotia and Pennsylvania evince. In short, if we maintain that Moses
describes fossil as well as living species, we find discrepancy, instead
of correspondence, between his order of creation and that of geology. But
admit that he describes only existing species, and all difficulties

It appears, then, that the objections to this interpretation of the word
_day_ are more geological than exegetical. It has accordingly been mostly
abandoned by men, who, from their knowledge both of geology and scriptural
exegesis, were best qualified to judge. And even those who are inclined to
adopt it do also believe in the existence of a long period between the
beginning and the demiurgic days. From the earliest times, however, in
which we have writings upon the Scriptures, we find men doubting whether
the demiurgic days of Moses are to be taken in a strictly literal sense.
Josephus and Philo regarded the six days' work as metaphorical. Origen
took a similar view, and St. Augustin says, "It is difficult, if not
impossible, for us to conceive what sort of days these were." In more
modern times, we find many able writers, as Hahn, Hensler, De Luc,
Professors Lee and Wait, of the University of Cambridge, Faber, &c.,
adopting modifications of the same views. Mr. Faber, however, a few years
since, abandoned this opinion; and for the most part, geologists and
theologians prefer to regard the six days as literal days of twenty-four
hours. But, generally, they would not regard the opposite opinion to be as
unreasonable as it would be to reject the Bible from any supposed
collision with geology. Yet, in general, they suppose it sufficient, to
meet all difficulties, to allow of an indefinite interval between the
"beginning" and the six days' work of creation.

In the truly scientific system of theology by the venerable Dr. Knapp, we
find a proposed interpretation of the Mosaic account of the creation, that
would bring it into harmony with geology. "If we would form a clear and
distinct notion of this whole description of creation," says he, "we must
conceive of six separate _pictures_, in which this great work is
represented in each successive stage of its progress towards completion.
And as the performance of the painter, though it must have natural truth
for its foundation, must not be considered, or judged of, as a delineation
of mathematical or scientific accuracy, so neither must this pictorial
representation of the creation be regarded as literally and exactly true."
He then alludes to the various hypotheses respecting the early state of
the matter of the globe, and says, "Any of these hypotheses of the
naturalist may be adopted or rejected, the Mosaic geogony

Thirdly. The interpretation of Genesis, for which I have contended in this
lecture, does not affect injuriously any doctrine of revelation. The
community have, indeed, been taught to believe that the universe was all
brought into existence about six thousand years ago; and it always
produces a temporary evil to change the interpretation of a passage of the
Bible, even though, as in this case, it be the result of new light shed
upon it; because it is apt to make individuals of narrow views lose their
confidence in the rules of interpretation. But when the change is once
made, it increases men's confidence in the Word of God, which is only
purified, but not shaken, by all the discoveries of modern science. In the
present case, it does not seem to be of the least consequence, so far as
the great doctrines of the Bible are concerned, whether the world has
stood six thousand, or six hundred thousand years. Nor can I conceive of
any truth of the Bible, which does not shine with at least equal
brightness and glory, if the longest chronological dates be adopted.

Yet, fourthly. I maintain that several of these doctrines are far more
strikingly and profitably exhibited, if the high antiquity of the globe be
admitted. The common interpretation limits the operations of the Deity, so
far as the material universe is concerned, to the last six thousand years.
But the geological view carries the mind back along the flow of countless
ages, and exhibits the wisdom of the Deity carrying forward, with infinite
skill, a vast series of operations, each successive link springing out of
that before it, and becoming more and more beautiful, until the glorious
universe in which we live comes forth, not only the last, but the best of
all. All this while, too, we perceive the heart of infinite Benevolence at
work, either in fitting up the world for its future races of inhabitants,
or in placing upon it creatures exactly adapted to its varying condition;
until man, at last, the crown of all, makes it his delightful abode, with
nothing to lament but his own apostasy, - with every thing perfect but
himself. Can the mind enter such an almost boundless field of
contemplation as this, and not feel itself refreshed, and expanded, and
filled with more exalted conceptions of the divine plans and divine
benevolence than could possibly be obtained within the narrow limits of
six thousand years? But I will not enlarge; for I hope I may be allowed,
in future lectures, to enter this rich field of thought, when we have more
leisure to survey its beautiful prospects, and pluck its golden fruit.

Finally. If the geological interpretation of Genesis be true, then it
should be taught to all classes of the community. It is, indeed, unwise to
alter received interpretations of Scripture without very strong reasons.
We should be satisfied that the new light, which has come to us, is not
that of a transient meteor, but of a permanent luminary. We should, also,
be satisfied, that the proposed change is consistent with the established
rules of philology. If we introduce change of this sort before these
points are settled, even upon passages that have no connection with
fundamental moral principles, we shall distress many an honest and pious
heart, and expose ourselves to the necessity of further change. But on the
other hand, if we delay the change long after these points are fairly
settled, we shall excite the suspicion that we dread to have the light of
science fall upon the Bible. Nor let it be forgotten how disastrous has
ever been the influence of the opinion that theologians teach one thing,
and men of science another. Now, in the case under consideration, is there
any reason to doubt the high antiquity of the globe, as demonstrated by
geology? If any point, not capable of mathematical demonstration in
physical science, is proved, surely this truth is established. And how
easily reconciled to the inspired record, by an interpretation entirely
consistent with the rules of philology, and with the scope of the
passage, and the tenor of the Bible! It seems to me far more natural, and
easy to understand, than that interpretation which it became necessary to
introduce when the Copernican system was demonstrated to be true. The
latter must have seemed to conflict strongly with the natural and most
obvious meaning of certain passages of the Bible, at a time when men's
minds were ignorant of astronomy, and, I may add, of the true mode of
interpreting the language of Scripture respecting natural phenomena.
Nevertheless, the astronomical exegesis prevailed, and every child can now

Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 6 of 39)