Edward Hitchcock.

The religion of geology and its connected sciences online

. (page 7 of 39)
Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 7 of 39)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

see its reasonableness. So it seems to me that the child can easily
apprehend the geological interpretation and its reasons. Why, then, should
it not be taught to children, that they may not be liable to distrust the
whole Bible, when they come to the study of geology? I rejoice, however,
that the fears and prejudices of the pious and the learned are so fast
yielding to evidence; and I anticipate the period, when, on this subject,
the child will learn the same thing in the Sabbath school and the literary
institution. Nay, I anticipate the time as not distant, when the high
antiquity of the globe will be regarded as no more opposed to the Bible
than the earth's revolution round the sun and on its axis. Soon shall the
horizon, where geology and revelation meet, be cleared of every cloud, and
present only an unbroken and magnificent circle of truth.



Death has always been regarded by man as the king of terrors, and the
climax of all mortal evils; and by Christians its introduction into the
world has generally been imputed to the apostasy of our first parents. For
the threatening announced to them in Eden was, _In the day thou eatest of
the forbidden fruit thou shalt surely die_, implying that if they did not
eat thereof they might live. But _when the woman saw the tree was good for
food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to
make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also
to her husband with her, and he did eat_. As the result, it is generally
supposed that a great change took place in animals and plants, and from
being immortal, they became mortal, in consequence of this fatal deed. But
geology asserts that death existed in the world untold ages before man's
creation, while physiology declares it to be a universal law of nature,
and a wise and benevolent provision in such a world as ours. Now, the
question is, Do not these different statements conflict with one another?
and if so, is the discrepancy apparent only, or real? These are the
questions which I now propose to examine, by all the light which we can
obtain from the Bible and from science.

_The first point to be ascertained in this investigation will be, what the
Bible teaches on this subject._

In the first place, it distinctly informs us that the death which man
experiences, came upon him in consequence of sin.

The declaration of Paul on this subject is as distinct as language can be.
_By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin, and so death
passed upon all men, for that all have sinned._ This corresponds with the
original threatening respecting the forbidden fruit. We know that our
first parents ate of it; we know, also, that they died; and the apostle
places these two facts in the relation of cause and effect.

In the second place, the Bible does not inform us whether the death of the
inferior animals and plants is the consequence of man's transgression.

In order to prove this statement, it is necessary to show that the
language of the Bible, which distinctly ascribes the introduction of death
into the world, is limited to man. The first part of the sentence from
Paul, just quoted, is indeed very general, and may include all organic
natures. _By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin._ What
terms more general or explicit than these could be used? Yet the remainder
of the sentence shows that the apostle had man mainly in his eye; _and so
death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned_. The death here
spoken of is limited expressly to man; and, therefore, it is not necessary
to show that the same terms, in the first part of the sentence, had a more
extended meaning. Death is spoken of here as the result of sin, and
cannot, therefore, embrace animals and plants, which are incapable of sin.
But after all, the first part of the sentence may intend to teach a
general truth respecting the origin of every kind of death in the world.
It will be seen in the sequel, that to such a meaning I have no objection,
if it can be established.

Another very explicit passage on the introduction of death into the world
is found in Corinthians: _Since by man came death, by man came also the
resurrection of the dead._ Here, too, the last clause of the sentence
limits the meaning to the human family. For no one will doubt that Christ
is the man here spoken of, by whom came the resurrection of the dead. Now,
unless the inferior animals and plants will share in a resurrection in
consequence of what Christ has done, and in the redemption wrought out by
him too, they cannot be included in this passage. And if neither of the
texts now quoted extend in their application beyond the human race, I know
of no other passage in the Bible that teaches, directly or inferentially,
that death among the inferior animals or plants resulted from man's
apostasy. I do not deny that there may be a connection between these
events; certainly the Scriptures do not teach the contrary. But they
appear to me rather to leave the question of such a connection undecided,
and open for the examination of philosophers. If so, we may reason
concerning the dissolution of animals, except men, without reference to
the Scriptures.

_Under the second part of this investigation, I shall endeavor to show
that geology proves violent and painful death to have existed in the world
long before man's creation._

In the oldest of the sedimentary rocks, the remains of animals occur in
vast numbers; nor will any one, I trust, of ordinary intelligence, doubt
but these relics once constituted living beings. Through the whole series
of rocks, six miles in thickness, we find similar remains, even increasing
in numbers as we ascend; but it is not till we reach the very highest
stratum, the mere superficial coat of alluvium, that we find the remains
of man. The vast multitudes, then, of organized beings that lie entombed
in rocks below alluvium, must have yielded to death long before man
received his sentence, _Dust thou art, and to dust shalt thou return._
Will any one maintain that none of these animals preceded man in the
period of their existence? Then why are the remains of men not found with
theirs? for his bony skeleton is as likely to be preserved and petrified
as theirs. Moreover, so unlike to man and other existing tenants of the
globe are many of these ancient animals, that the sure laws of comparative
anatomy show us, that both races could not live and flourish in a world
adapted to the one or the other. If the temperature had been warm enough
for the fossil tribes, and all the circumstances of food and climate
congenial to their natures, they would have been unsuited to the present
races; and if adapted to the latter, the former must have perished. The
difference between the animals and plants dug out of the rocks in this
latitude, and those now inhabiting the same region of country, is
certainly as great as that between the animals and plants of the torrid
and temperate zones; in most cases it is greater. Now, suppose that the
animals and plants of the temperate zones were to change places with those
between the tropics. A few species might survive, but the greater part
would be destroyed. Hence, _a fortiori_, had the living beings now
entombed in the rocks been placed in the same climate with those now alive
upon the globe, the like result would have followed. I say _a fortiori_;
that is, for a stronger reason, the greater number must have perished; and
the stronger reason is, the greater difference between fossil and living
species, than between the latter in torrid and temperate latitudes. It is
true that man is among the species capable of being acclimated to great
extremes. And yet no physiologist will imagine that even his nature could
have long survived in such a climate as formerly existed, when probably
the atmosphere was loaded with carbonic acid and other mephitic gases,
and with moisture and miasms, the result of a rank vegetation, and of a
temperature higher than now exists in equatorial countries.

This argument, furnished by comparative anatomy, to show that man and the
fossil animals could not have been contemporaries, will probably seem to
have little force to those who are not familiar with the history of
organic life on the globe, and the distribution of species. It is not
generally known that both animals and plants are usually confined to a
particular district, and that a removal beyond its boundaries, or the
access of a few more degrees of cold, or heat, than is common in the place
assigned them by nature, will destroy them. To him who understands this
curious history, the argument under consideration is perfectly
satisfactory, to prove the existence and consequent dissolution of myriads
of living beings, anterior to man. "Judging by these indications of the
habits of the animals," says the distinguished anatomist, Sir Charles
Bell, "we acquire a knowledge of the condition of the earth during their
period of existence; that it was suited at one time to the scaly tribe of
the lacertæ, with languid motion; at another, to animals of higher
organization, with more varied and lively habits; and finally, we learn
that at any period previous to man's creation, the surface of the earth
would have been unsuitable to him. Any other hypothesis than that of a new
creation of animals, suited to the successive changes in the inorganic
matter of the globe, the condition of the water, atmosphere, and
temperature, brings with it only an accumulation of difficulties." - _The
Hand, its Mech._, &c. pp. 31 and 115.

But when arguing with those who do not feel the force of this argument, I
would fall back upon that derived from the fact, that of the ten thousand
species of animals dug out of the rocks beneath alluvium, no relic of man
has been found; and ask them whether they can explain such a fact, except
by the supposition that man was not their contemporary.

In his admirable Bridgewater Treatise, Dr. Buckland has conclusively shown
that the same great system of organization and adaptation has always
prevailed on the globe. It was the same in those immensely remote ages,
when the fossil animals lived, as it now is. And there is one feature of
that system which deserves notice in this argument. At present, we know
that there exist large tribes of animals, called carnivorous, provided
with organs expressly designed to enable them to destroy other animals,
and of course to inflict on them violent and painful death. Exactly
similar tribes, and in a like proportion, are found among the fossil
animals. They were not always the same tribes; but when one class of
carnivora disappeared, another was created to take their place, in order
to keep down the excessive multiplication of other races, which appears to
be the grand object accomplished by the carnivorous races. And that
animals of such an organization not only lived in the ages preceding man's
creation, but actually destroyed contemporary species, we have the
evidence in the remains of the one animal enclosed in the body of another,
by whom it was devoured for food and both are now converted into rock, and
will testify to the most sceptical, that death among animals existed in
the world before man's transgression.

_Under the third part of this investigation, I shall attempt to show that
physiology teaches us that death is a general law of organic natures._

It is not confined to animals, but embraces also plants. As they
correspond in a striking manner to animals in their reproduction and
growth, so they do in their decay and dissolution. In short, wherever in
nature we find life and organization, death is inevitable. The amount of
vital energy varies in different species, and in individuals; but in them
all, it at length becomes exhausted, and the functions cease. After a
certain period, the vessels which convey the nutritive materials, and
elaborate the proximate principles, become choked with excrementitious
matter, assimilation is performed imperfectly, and gradually the vital
energies are overpowered, and yield up their charge to the disorganizing
power of chemical agencies. We can hardly see why the delicate machinery
cannot hold out longer than it does, or even indefinitely. But experience
shows us that an irresistible law of nature has fixed the period of its
operations. In the expressive language of Scripture, which applies to
plants as well as animals, _there is no discharge in that war_.

A little reflection will convince any one, that in such a system as exists
in the world, this universal decay and dissolution are indispensable. For
dead organic matter is essential to the support and nourishment of living
beings. Admit, for the sake of the argument, (although it is obviously
absurd in respect to the carnivorous races,) that animals might be
supported by vegetable food. Yet, if plants must furnish nourishment for
their successors, as well as for animals, the organic matter must at
length be exhausted. And, furthermore, how could animals feed on plants
without destroying, as they now do, multitudes of minute insects and
animalcules? It is obvious, also, that, for a variety of reasons, the
multiplication of animals must soon be arrested, or famine would be the
result, or the world would be more than full. In short, it would require
an entirely different system in nature from the present, in order to
exclude death from the world. To the existing system it is as essential
as gravitation, and apparently just as much a law of nature.

To strengthen this argument still further, comparative anatomy testifies
that large classes of animals have a structure evidently intended to
enable them to feed on other tribes. The teeth of the more perfect
carnivorous animals are adapted for seizing and tearing their prey, while
those which feed on vegetables have cutting and grinding teeth, but not
the canine. So the whole digestive apparatus in the carnivora is more
simple, and of less extent, than in the herbivorous tribes, while in the
former the gastric juice acts more readily upon flesh, and in the latter
upon vegetables. The muscular apparatus, also, is developed in greater
power in the former than in the latter, especially in the neck and fore
paw. Throughout all the classes of animals, those which feed on flesh are
armed with poisonous fangs, or talons, or beaks, or other formidable
weapons, while the vegetable feeders are usually in a great measure
defenceless. In short, in the one class we find a perfect adaptation, in
all the organs, for destroying, digesting, and assimilating other animals,
and in the other class, an arrangement, equally obvious, for procuring and
digesting vegetables. Indeed, you need only show the anatomist the
skeleton, or even a very small part of the skeleton, of an unknown animal,
to enable him, in most cases, to decide, what is the food of that animal,
with almost as much certainty as if he had for years observed its habits.
Who can doubt, then, that when a carnivorous animal employs the weapons
with which nature has furnished it for the destruction of another animal,
in order to satisfy its hunger, that it acts in obedience to a law of its
being, originally impressed upon its constitution by the Creator? It is
true, that even the flesh-eating animals may be taught for a time to
subsist upon vegetable products. But this is unnatural; and such an
animal usually pays the price of thus inverting its original instinct, by
disease and premature decay. In a state of nature, an animal would starve
rather than thus violate its instinctive desires.

I will allude to only one other fact, that shows death to be inseparable
from organized beings, without a constant miraculous interference, in such
a world as ours. Animal organization, in all conceivable circumstances,
must be liable to accident, from mere mechanical force, by which life
would be destroyed. It may be possible, perhaps, to conceive of a material
tenement for the soul, which should be unaffected by all forms of
mechanical violence and chemical action; if, for instance, its
constitution were analogous to that supposed medium through which light,
heat, and electricity, and perhaps gravitation, act. But, surely, our
present bodies are far enough removed from such conditions, being of all
terrestrial things the most liable to ruin from the causes above

The conclusions from all these facts and reasonings are, that death is an
essential feature of the present system of organized nature; that it must
have entered into the plan of creation in the divine mind originally, and
consequently must have existed in the world before the apostasy of man.
Whether the entire system of death had any connection with that event, or
whether there is any thing peculiar in the death endured by the human
family, will be questions for examination in a subsequent part of my

In opposition to these conclusions, however, the common theory of death
maintains that, when man transgressed, there was an entire change
throughout all organic nature; so that animals and plants, which before
contained a principle of immortal life, were smitten with the hereditary
contagion of disease and death. Those animals which, before that event,
were gentle and herbivorous, or frugivorous, suddenly became ferocious or
carnivorous. The climate, too, changed, and the sterile soil sent forth
the thorn and the thistle, in the place of the rich flowers and fruits of
Eden. The great English poet, in his Paradise Lost, has clothed this
hypothesis in a most graphic and philosophical dress; and probably his
descriptions have done more than the Bible to give it currency. Indeed,
could the truth be known, I fancy that, on many points of secondary
importance, the current theology of the day has been shaped quite as much
by the ingenious machinery of Paradise Lost as by the Scriptures; the
theologians having so mixed up the ideas of Milton with those derived from
inspiration, that they find it difficult to distinguish between them.

In the case under consideration, Milton does not limit the change induced
by man's apostasy to sublunary things, but, like a sagacious philosopher,
perceives, also, that the heavenly bodies must have been diverted from
their paths.

"At that tasted fruit,
The sun, as from Thyestian banquet, turned
His course intended; else-how had the world
Inhabited, though sinless, more than now,
Avoided pinching cold and scorching heat?"

This change of the sun's path, as the poet well knew, could be effected
only by some change in the motion of the earth.

"Some say he bid the angels turn askance
The poles of earth, twice ten degrees and more,
From the sun's axle; they with labor pushed
Oblique the centric globe."

Next we have the effect upon the lower orders of animals described.

"Discord first,
Daughter of sin, among the irrational
Death introduced: through fierce antipathy,
Beast now with beast 'gan war, and fowl with fowl,
And fish with fish; to graze the herb all leaving,
Devoured each other."

The question arises here, whether such views are sustained by the Bible
and by science. Few, I presume, would seriously maintain that the act of
our first parents, which produced what Dr. Chalmers calls "an unhingement"
of the human race, resulted likewise in a change in the motion of the
earth and the heavenly bodies; since the Bible so clearly describes the
previous ordination of days, years, and seasons, on the fourth day of
creation. And is there any thing in the language of the Bible that will
justify the opinion that such changes as this theory supposes took place
in the productions of the earth, and in the nature of its animals? No
anatomist can surely be made to believe that, without a constant miracle,
our carnivorous animals can have become herbivorous, without such a change
in their organization as must have amounted to a new creation. And such a
metamorphosis can hardly have passed unnoticed by the sacred writer. True,
only the gramineous and herbaceous substances are in the Bible given to
the inferior animals for food, while the fruits are assigned to man. But
this passage seems only to be a designation of one part of vegetable
productions to men, and another to other animals, and can hardly be
supposed to preclude the idea that there might be other tribes requiring
animal food.

The sentence pronounced upon the serpent for his agency in man's apostasy
seems, at first view, favorable to the opinion that animal natures
experienced at the same time important changes; for he is supposed to have
been deprived of limbs, and condemned henceforth to crawl upon the earth,
and to make the dust his food. But is it the most probable interpretation
of this passage, which makes the tempter a literal serpent, or only a
symbolical one? The naturalist does not surely find that serpents live
upon dust, for they all are carnivorous, and they are as perfectly adapted
to crawl upon the ground as other animals to different modes of
progression; and though _cursed above all cattle_, they are apparently as
happy as other animals. Hence the probability is, that an evil spirit is
described in Genesis under the name and figure of a serpent. This
conclusion is supported by other parts of Scripture, where the tempter is
in several places declared to be _the devil_, _the old serpent_, and _the
great dragon_.

A part of the sentence passed upon man seems, also, at first view, to
imply an important change in the vegetable productions of the earth; for
the ground is cursed for man's sake: it would henceforth produce to him
thorns and thistles, and in the sweat of his brow must he eat of the
fruits of it, all the days of his life. Now, will not the condition and
character of Adam show how this curse might be fulfilled, without any
change in the productions of the soil? The garden of Eden, where man had
lived in his innocence, was doubtless some sunny and balmy spot, where the
air was delicious, and the earth poured forth her abundant fruits
spontaneously; and although he was called to keep and dress that garden,
yet, with a contented and holy heart, and with no factitious wants, the
work was neither labor nor sorrow. But now he is driven from that garden
into regions far less fertile, where the sterile soil can be made to
yield its fruits only by the sweat of the brow, and where the thorn and
the thistle dispute their right of soil with salutary plants; and in his
heart, too, unholy and unsubdued passions have place, which will infuse
sorrow into all his labors.

As I have remarked in another place, I cannot see why the functions of
animal and vegetable organization might not have gone on forever without
decay and death, if such had been the Creator's will. In other words, I do
not see why the operation of the organs should at length be impeded and
cease, as we know they do universally. Hence I can conceive that it might
have been otherwise originally; and in the case of man it is possible, as
we shall see farther on, that a change of this sort may have taken place
at the time of his apostasy. But, after all, it strikes me that the Bible
furnishes very clear evidence that the same system of decay and death
prevailed before the apostasy which now prevails. The command given, both
to animals and to man, to be fruitful and multiply, implies the removal of
successive races by death; otherwise the world would ere long be
overstocked. A system of death is certainly a necessary counterpart to a
system of reproduction; and hence, where we know the one to exist, the
presumption is very strong that the other exists also. There is no escape
from this inference, except to call in the aid of miraculous power to
preserve the proper balance among different races of animals, by
preventing their multiplication. Such an interference I am always ready to
admit, where the Scriptures assert it. But to imagine a miracle without
proof, merely to escape a fair conclusion, is, to say the least, very
wretched logic. God never introduces a miracle where he can employ the
ordinary agency of nature for accomplishing his purposes. Nor should we
resort to one without the express testimony of the Bible, which, on this
subject, is our only source of evidence.

We have in Scripture the same kind of proof that plants were subject to
decay and death, before the fall, as we have in respect to animals. For in
the account of the creation of plants on the third day, we find them

Online LibraryEdward HitchcockThe religion of geology and its connected sciences → online text (page 7 of 39)