C‎ > ‎Chalmers, Thomas - 1780-1847‎ > ‎Volume 1‎ > ‎

Bk. 2. - Chap. 2. - "Natural and Geological Proofs for a Commencement of our present Terrestrial Economy."

§1.

The historical argument which we have already attempted to unfold for the non-eternity of our present world, has been exposed to a certain collision with the speculations of those naturalists, who have founded their theories on the vestiges of certain revolutions which may have taken place in the state of our globe. It is not for the vindication of the Mosaic account that we now advert to this, but for the exposition of what we should {Page No. 229.} term the Geological argument in behalf of a Deity. On this subject there are many, and these perhaps an increasing number, who think that there might be conceded to the geologists an indefinite antiquity for the matter of our globe — and that, without violation even to the strict literalities of the book of Genesis — not one of which, save when allowance is evidently to be made for the use of popular language, they would feel disposed to give up for any imaginations or reasonings which philosophy has yet set forth upon the subject. All, according to them, which can positively be gathered from the first chapter of that book is a great primary act of creation, at how remote a period is uncertain — after which our world may have been the theatre of many changes and successive economies, the traces or memorials of which might be observable at the present day. It leaves on the one hand abundant scope to those who are employed in the investigation of these memorials, if it be granted that the Mosaic narrative fixes, only the antiquity of our present races, and not the antiquity of the earth that is peopled by them. But on the other hand we should not tamper with the record by allegorizing any of its passages or phrases. We should not for example protract the six days into so many geological periods — as if by means of a lengthened natural process to veil over the fiat of a God, that phenomenon, if we may so term it, which of all others seems the most offensive to the taste of some philosophers, and which they are most anxious to get rid of. We hold the week of the first chapter of Genesis to have been literally {Page No. 230.} a week of miracles — the period of a great creative interposition, during which by so many successive evolutions, the present economy was raised out of the wreck and materials of the one which had gone before it. But on this we need not speak decisively — for in whatever way the controversy is adjusted, there remains argument for a God. Should, in the first place, the Mosaic account be held to supersede all those speculations in Geology which would stretch the antiquity even of our earth beyond the period at which man was created — this were deferring to the historical evidence of the Old Testament — that book which of all others speaks most directly for a God, and which in fact may be regarded as the formal and express document in which the authoritative register of Creation is found. Or should it be allowed, in the second place, that the sacred penman does not fix the antiquity of our globe but only of our species — this leaves the historical argument entire, and enables us to superadd any geological argument which may be founded on certain characters of vicissitude in the history of our globe, that are alike recognised by all the systems of geology. Or, thirdly, should, instead of scripture superseding or harmonizing with geology, geology be held as superseding scripture, an imagination which of course we disown — still the argument for a creative interposition would not in consequence be banished from our world. It is the establishment of this last position to which at present we address ourselves. There are certain alleged processes in geology which if true show unequivocally, we have long thought, the {Page No. 231.} marks and footsteps of a Divinity. There are some we are aware who have founded thereupon a melancholy Deism — our business now is to demonstrate, that even in this walk of inquiry, abused as it has been thus far to the purposes of licentious speculation, there are to be met the strongest of Nature’s evidences against the system of a still dismal and wretched Atheism.

§2.

But let us here premise that our argument does not rest on the truth of any one of the geological theories. It is enough, if causes of decay and destruction are at work which are now undermining the present harmony of things; and which must therefore have brought to an end any economy that may have gone before it. All those who conceive of our globe that it had an existence, and was the theatre of physical changes anterior to the commencement of the scriptural era, agree in this. We are not called upon to intermeddle with the controversies of geological science, when it is by means of a universal article of belief that we attempt to establish the necessity of a Creative Interposition. We do not make ourselves responsible for any of the theories, although we select one for the purpose of illustration — seeing, in fact, that our argument rests not on the specialty of any of the Ante-Mosaical creeds, but on an assumption which is nearly common to them all. For generally speaking they proceed on the rise and disappearance of certain distinct and successive economies of nature on the face of our globe — the decay or destruction of each implying the extinction {Page No. 232.} of at least so many of the animal and vegetable races proper to its era. It is on this and this alone that our argument is based; and we do not need therefore, for the purpose of upholding it, to advocate any one geological system in preference to others — seeing that it rests, not on the peculiarities of one creed, but on one article very generally if not universally to be found in them.

§3.

Our object in adverting to the speculations of geology is to direct the eye to a point in the physical history which it assigns to our globe, when, on every principle of our commonly received philosophy, there would be required a special interposition on the part of a God. It is to exhibit what we have long regarded as the nearest to a direct and experimental manifestation of a Creative Process. It is to make demonstration of a time when the goodliest specimens of organization that now abound in our world did not exist — and are therefore a consequent, from which we are fully warranted to reason of the antecedent that went before it. We know not from what quarter to borrow a more effectual weapon, for putting to flight the atheistical imagination of the animaJ and vegetable kingdoms, being upheld by a chain that is lost in a posterior direction among the obscurities of the distant future, and lost in an anterior direction among the still more formidable recesses of the eternity that is past. It is enough, if, amid the loose and unsettled speculations of geology, they generally point to this, that the chain is not endless but has had a definite commencement — and that {Page No. 233.} therefore our present races were originated in a way different from that in which they are now perpetuated by successive generations.

§4.

Let us now offer then a short exposition of this argument with Guvier’s theory of the earth, on which, not to ground, but only to illustrate the argument.

§5.

The water of our present ocean holds certain substances in solution — and is thereby adapted to the support of certain marine animals. Now it is conceivable that the nature of this solution may be changed, either by coming into contact with new substances and dissolving them, or by a mere change in the proportion of its present ingredients. But it is probable, that, after the changes had been accomplished to a certain degree in the waters of the ocean, the present generation of marine animals could not exist in them. Those of them which were formed in nice dependence on the constitution of their element, would be the first to fall a sacrifice to its progressive alterations — the hardier would then follow — and, after the lapse of ages, it is conceivable that the change of element might be so great as to bring along with it the entire destruction of the existing genera.

§6.

The remains of marine animals must be accumulated every year in the bottom of the ocean. But this is not the only deposition that is going on there. There is an incessant deposition of sediment carried down by innumerable rivers, and obtained from the wearing of those various materials which compose the land. In addition to this, there may be the chemical precipitation of matter in a {Page No. 234.} solid form from the water of the ocean itself. All these depositions may be spread over the bottom of the sea in successive layers or strata. They may be hardened by long-continued pressure into the consistency of stone. There may have been thousands of shells imbedded in them — and what is more, the form even of the softer fishes may be retained m petrifaction; and handed down to the observation of very distant ages.

§7.

All this may be going on m the vast and inaccessible solitudes of the deep — but how can the vestiges of such a process ever be submitted to actual observation ? The ocean may change its place. There are known causes perfectly competent to the production of such an effect. What is now dry land may be submerged — and the deserted bed of the ocean may come to be inhabited by land animals. By an exercise of creative power the sea may be stocked with new generations, adapted to the last changes which its waters have undergone — and by another exercise of creative power, the new land which has been formed may also be peopled with living beings. If there be a rational being among the last like man, he might observe the traces of that process which took place in the last era of the history of the globe. He might learn from the vestiges of marine animals firmly imbedded in the stratified rock, that the ground he is now treading upon was at one time covered with the waters of the sea — and by comparing specimens extracted from the fossil productions around him with the fishes of the present ocean, he might come to the wonderful {Page No. 235.} conclusion that the former species have been extinguished, and given place to a new and totally dissimilar generation.

§8.

But this is not all. The various tribes of land animals now multiply and die, and deposit their remains in that very region which abounds with the marine productions of a former era. The sediment of rivers is not all carried forward immediately to the sea. A great part of it is arrested in its progress, and goes either to accumulate a soil upon their banks, or to form alluvial land at their mouths. The skeletons of land animals are enveloped in this mass of mineral substances. The ocean which has changed its place once may do it again. It may make a second irruption upon the land, and sweep away whole genera of living creatures from the globe. The surface that is left dry may be repeopled by a few out of the many who may have escaped this catastrophe — or an ever watchful Deity may again interfere; and, by another exercise of creative power, may occupy the new formed land by other generations.

§9.

In this way the remains of land and of sea animals may be assembled together in the same neighbourhood. The successive retreats and irruptions of the Ocean may produce, not one, but a series of alternations. And the strata which are around us, each evincing its own relative antiquity by its position, and exhibiting the remains of its own peculiar animals, may serve the double purpose of recording the great revolutions which have taken place, both in the animal and vegetable kingdoms, and upon the surface of our Globe.
{Page No. 236.}

§10.

And, apart from any violent changes in the place of the Ocean, it must be obvious that the surface of the Globe is not in a state of permanency. There is a constant wearing of the land. Even its hardest materials could not resist for ever the incessant operation of the air and the moisture and the frost to which they are subjected. The mighty continent would at length wax old and disappear; and the world that we now live in become a howling solitude of waters.

§11.

To this it now tends, and thus to all appearance must it remain through eternity, but for a change in the place of the Ocean; and a change that may happen long before the degradation of the land to its own level. A slight change in the axis of the Earth would be altogether adequate for such an effect. It is to the diurnal revolution of the Earth round its axis, that we owe the deviation of its figure from a perfect sphere. The Earth is so much flattened at the poles and so much elevated at the equator, that the former are nearer to the centre of the Earth than the latter by so many English miles. What would be the effect then if the axis of the Earth were suddenly shifted ? If the polar and equinoctial regions were to change places there would be a tendency towards an elevation of these miles in the one region, and as great a depression in the other — and the more transferable parts of the Earth’s surface would be the first to obey this tendency. The Ocean Mould rush towards the new equator. The cohesion of the solid parts, would, it is likely, offer a feeble resistance, and give way to this {Page No. 237.} mighty conatus — nor would the Earth become quiescent till a new and elevated equator was formed at right angles to the former one, and passing through the present poles.

§12.

But it is not necessary to assume so entire a change in the position of the Earth’s axis as to produce so great a difference in any of the existing levels — nor would any single impetus indeed suffice to accomplish such a change. The transference of the poles from their present situation by a few degrees, would give rise to a revolution sudden enough and mighty enough for a great physical era in the history of the Globe — and a change of level indeed for a single quarter of a mile, would overwhelm its fairest regions, and destroy the vast majority of its living animals.

§13.

To show that we fear nothing from infidel science, let us present the following extract from La Place, the ablest and most exalted of its votaries, who in his book entitled “the System of the World,” after having reasoned on the likelihood that in the course of ages a comet might interfere with our Earth, thus pictures the effects of the collision: — “It is easy to represent the effect of such a shock upon the Earth — the axis and motion of rotation changed — the waters abandoning their ancient position to precipitate themselves towards the new equator — the greater part of men and animals drowned in a universal deluge, or destroyed by the violence of the shock given to the terrestrial globe — whole species destroyed — all the monuments of human industry reversed — such are the effects which the shock of a comet would produce.”

{Page No. 238.}“We see then why the Ocean has abandoned the highest mountains on which it has left incontestable marks of its former abode. We see why the animals and plants of the south may be transported into the climates of the north, where their relics and impressions are still to be found — lastly, it explains the short period of the existence of the moral world — whose earliest monuments do not go much farther back than three thousand years. The human race reduced to a small number of individuals in the most deplorable state, occupied only with the immediate care of their subsistence, must necessarily have lost the remembrance of all sciences and of every art; and when the progress of civilization has again created new wants, every thing was to be done again as if man had been just placed upon the Earth. But whatever may be the cause assigned by philosophers to these phenomena — we may be perfectly at ease with respect to such a catastrophe during the short period of human life.”

§14.

We may now understand what is meant by a formation. There is a formation going on just now at the bottom of our present ocean by those muddy depositions which are brought to it from all the rivers; and which, laid the one over the other, will form, it is supposed, the strata of a new continent. Mixed up with this there must be a constant accumulation going on both of shells and skeletons — and from the bony parts of the numerous and rapid generations by which the sea is peopled, there must accrue a perpetual addition to the solid materials of that deposit, which, by {Page No. 239.} the operation of a coming catastrophe, may be the dry land of the next geological era. There is at present both a forming and a hardening process going forward under the waters of the deep — so that, when these waters shall have shifted their position, there will emerge a continent of the same firm and concrete texture with that which is now inhabited by ourselves — and like it too, lifted here and there into Alpine elevations, by the mighty violence that will then be abroad over the whole surface of the world. It is obvious that this new land will have been mainly built up from the waste and demolition of the present one — insomuch as now it is principally fed by the supply of new matter swept off from the earth by the flow of rivers, and transported into the cavities of the deep. It is thus that in geological language our present continent becomes the father of a new one; and that itself hath had a father and a grandfather, which venerable personage can further lay claim to an ancestry; and thus it is that on the face of our world there are characters by which to trace what may be called the pedigree of successive formations — the most recent of these formations being that which preceded the very last catastrophe; and the intervals between the catastrophes marking the distinct eras of a globe, which, for aught we know, might have been the theatre of many revolutions.

§15. 

Now to come nearer to our argument. Correspondent to the marks by which one set of professional men, even the geologists, have arranged these various formations in the order of their {Page No. 240.} antiquity — there is another set of professional men, even the anatomists or comparative anatomists, who in the course of their independent researches have by the study of fossil remains ascertained, they think, many of the species and genera of having creatures by which the world has been peopled during the respective eras of its physical history. It is certainly conceivable that a few stragglers may have survived the operation of one catastrophe — and transmitted their own proper genera and species to the era which immediately succeeded it, so as to leave a thin sprinkling of the same remains over the next formation in the series of the world’s changes. But it would appear from the observations of Cuvier and others — that though in this way an occasional species may have survived one or two of these destructive revolutions; yet that each catastrophe annihilated the great majority of the existing genera, and that a very few more swept every trace of them away from the surface of the globe. In none of the old formations hath he ascertained the vestige of the human skeleton — marking the recent origin of our own species. It is only in the latest of these formations that he discovered traces indeed of any of our existing genera of animals. And, in proportion as he carries his observation upward among the senior formations, does he lose sight of all resemblance to any of the known living creatures by which our earth is peopled. But there is still, it is affirmed, a most distinct and various and perfectly ascertained population; and these older formations are crowded with the remains of it. But they are {Page No. 241.} wholly distinct from the animals of the present system. Or, in other words, at each new catastrophe old races must have perished — and the world been stocked with new races distinct and diverse from the former ones. 

§16. 

It is to this peculiar object that the inquiries of the celebrated M. Cuvier are directed. Upon the former conclusions of geologists respecting the positions of the different strata, and the order of their formation — the grafts his own speculations as to the fossil remains which exist in them; and he finds that in proportion to the antiquity of the strata, is the dissimilarity of these remains to the present genera. Of the remains of sea animals, he says, “that their species and even their genera change with the strata; and although the same species occasionally recurs at small distances, it is generally the case that the shells of the ancient strata have forms peculiar to themselves — that they gradually disappear till they are not to be seen at all in the recent strata — still less in the existing seas, in which indeed we never discover their corresponding species, and where several even of their genera are not to be found — that on the contrary the shells of the recent strata resemble, as it respects the genera, those which still exist in the sea — and that in the last formed and loosest of these strata, there are some species which the eye of the most expert naturalist cannot distinguish from those which at present inhabit the ocean.” 

§17. 

From this extract it will be perceived that the alleged revolutions are numerous. From the {Page No. 242.} marks of rapidity and violence which are to be met with, it would also appear that they have been sudden. To this purpose might be alleged the breaking and overturning of the strata; and the heaps of debris and rounded pebbles which are found among the solid strata in various places. 

§18.

And at length to bring our argument to a point. In conjunction with these phenomena, take the two following doctrines which are now held as being among the most firmly established in natural history. In the first place, were it not for certain residual phenomena which can with difficulty be disposed of, there is now about utterly exploded the old doctrine of a spontaneous or equivocal generation. As far as can be traced with positive certainty by the eye of observation, it is not known that either animal or vegetable is brought into existence in any other way than by transmission from an animal or vegetable of the same species. Many of those appearances which were at one time conceived to indicate the contrary to this, on a more strict and close examination, have been reduced to the ordinary process — and the more narrowly that the search is prosecuted, the more is the semblance of exception done away — insomuch that we might hold it as being nearly the universal creed of naturalists, that throughout both the animal and the vegetable kingdom, each individual hath had a parent of his own likeness. This may at least be affirmed of all the distinct and definite specimens which compose the great bulk whether of the zoology or botany of our present era — so far at least, as that it might with all safety be {Page No. 243.} affirmed of all the species which are known to propagate themselves, that there has not yet been discovered the slightest tendency to the formation of the individuals of these species in any other way than by ordinary generation. However indeterminate the questions may yet be which respect certain obscure or animalcular cases, this surely does not affect the generality or invariableness of the doctrine in regard to all the well-known members whether of the vegetable or animal family — to the palpable trees or plants of the former, to the palpable quadrupeds or birds of the latter, as exemplified in the lion the horse the dog or the elephant. Whatever discovery might have yet been made, or whatever lack of discovery might yet remain in the microscopic or otherwise dark and perhaps inaccessible departments of nature — this does not affect the obvious and unexcepted truth as it relates to the overwhelming majority of our living generations; viz., that among all the other complicated processes, whether of fermentation or of putrefaction or of electric and chemical agency, which are now going on in the vast laboratory of nature, there is not one of them which approximates in the least towards the formation of such organic beings — each of which in fact is the link of a chain composed of links that are altogether similar to itself — each formed, and formed in no other way, than by a derivative process along the steps of a successive generation. It will at once be seen therefore how many are those exquisite and complex structures which are formed by the collocation of parts; and such a collocation as a {Page No. 244.} well known physical law doth transmit, but which no physical law can originate that we are acquainted with — insomuch that we perceive not the slightest tendency to aught like the spontaneous formation of them. This holds true of all those individuals in our existing animal and vegetable races that come forth in the established one of their transmission, so perfectly organized — yet without that line we never observe even the smallest abortive or partial approximation to them. The mechanical and the chemical, however variously they are blended, never once approach in any of their results to the physiological, at least in such specimens as these. So that if we can but demonstrate a beginning for any such separate and independent races in the physiological kingdom, we shall obtain in our opinion the nearest possible view that is anywhere afforded within the limits of our creation of the fiat of a God. 

§19. 

The next doctrine which we have now to make use of is no less the universal faith of naturalists than the former. It is that the species do not run the one into the other. They are separated; and that, by barriers which are permanent and invincible. Should there even be a mingling of two contiguous species — the power either of transmitting this one anomaly, or of extending it any further, ceases as in the mule, with the immediate offspring. There is thus an instantaneous check in the way of that transformation by which the species may have been confounded and merged into one another — or at length been metamorphosed into other races which {Page No. 245.} bore no resemblance whatever to their progenitors. Within the limits of a species there might be manifold varieties — but these limits can never be transgressed to the formation of another distinct and enduring species in the animal kingdom. Let us combine these two doctrines. There is in reference to almost, if not universally, to all actual races no spontaneous generation — therefore in the existing generation of each species we behold the present link of a chain, all whose preceding links have been similar to the one that is before our eyes. There is no transition of the species into each other — therefore they present us with so many separate chains, and which have maintained the separation during the whole currency of their existence. They diverge not into other species, nor is one species appended to another. They have either had distinct origins, or they have been distinct from all eternity. If the latter, it is not likely that they would have survived an indefinite number of catastrophes each of which might have swept off whole genera from the face of our earth, and all of which would (but for new collocations which no observed law can account for) have by this time left it in a state of desolation. But it is more distinct and decisive than any likelihood — that in the older formations no vestiges of our present genera are to be found; and that under our present economy, or even in the more recent formations, there are no vestiges of the older genera. A few of the earlier species, it would appear, may have survived one or two of those dreadful shocks to which our planet is exposed — but in the whole {Page No. 246.} amount, it seems palpable, that on the one hand there has been an entire destruction of the ancient species, and on the other an entire renovation of species wholly distinct and dissimilar from the former. The older claims of succession have been suddenly terminated, as if broken off at their lower extremities. And the more recent chains, instead of being to be traced through the midway passage of a great geological tempest, for the older formations, those earlier records of our globe hold out no indication of them — the recent chains have after a catastrophe had their first and definite origin. Now the question is. Who or what is the originator ? All the busy processes of nature which are going on around us, fail towards even so much as the formation of an organic being, endowed with the faculty of self-transmission. All the possible combinations which human ingenuity can dense, are baffled in the enterprise. And, save by that peculiar tie which connects the one link of this concatenation with the other, there is not in all the known resources of nature and art, another method by which such a creature can be formed. How then are the first links to be accounted for ? Is there aught in the rude and boisterous play of a great physical catastrophe that can germinate those exquisite structures, which during our yet undisturbed economy have been transmitted in pacific succession to the present day? What is there in the rush and turbulence and mighty clamour of such great elements — of ocean heaved from its old resting place, and lifting its billows above the Alps and the Andes of a {Page No. 247.} former continent — what is there in this to charm into being the embryos of an infant family wherewith to stock and to repeople a now desolated world ? We see in the sweeping energy and uproar of this elemental war, enough to account for the disappearance of all the old generations — but nothing that might cradle any new generations into existence, so as to have effloresced on ocean’s deserted bed the life and the loveliness which are now before our eyes. At no juncture, we apprehend, in the history of the world — is the interposition of Deity more manifest than at this — nor can we better account for so goodly a creation emerging again into new forms of animation and beauty from the wreck of the old one, than that the spirit of God moved on the face of the chaos — and that nature, turned by the last catastrophe into a wilderness, was again repeopled at the utterance of His word. 

§20. 

Those rocks which stand forth in the order of their formation, and are each imprinted with their own peculiar fossil remains, have been termed the archives of nature where she hath recorded the changes that have taken place in the history of the globe. They are made to serve the purpose of scrolls or inscriptions on which we might read of those great steps and successions by which the earth has been brought to its present state. And should these archives of nature be but truly deciphered, we are not afraid of their being openly confronted with the archives of revelation. It is unmanly to blink the approach of light from whatever quarter of observation it may fall upon us — and these are not the best friends of Christianity {Page No. 248.} who feel either dislike or alarm, when the torch of science or the torch of history is held up to the Bible. For ourselves, we are not afraid, when the eye of an intrepid, if it be only of a sound philosophy, scrutinizes however jealously all its pages. We have no dread of any apprehended conflict between the doctrines of scripture and the discoveries of science — persuaded as we are, that whatever story the geologists of our day shall find to be engraven on the volume of nature, it will only the more accredit that story which is graven on the volume of revelation. 

§21. 

“And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven. And God created great whales, and every living creature that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God said that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the waters in the seas, and let fowl multiply in the earth. And the evening and the morning were the fifth day. And God said. Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind, cattle, and creeping thing, and the beast of the earth after his kind: and it was so. And God made the beast of the earth after his kind, and the cattle after their kind, and every thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind; and God saw that it was good. And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over {Page No. 249.} the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image; in the image of God created He him: male and female created He them.” 

§22. 

We have again to repeat that our reasoning is applicable not to one only but to all the Ante-Mosaic theories. To have place for it indeed, we have only to assume that the world has undergone such revolutions or been the subject of such violent operations as have been destructive of entire species that formerly existed upon its surface. Of this it is admitted by all that there are undoubted vestiges — giving us therefore sound reason to believe, that on the supposition of an eternal world, all the species by which it was peopled at some highly remote period must, by the continuance and repetition of the causes which destroyed several of them, have at length been swept away. The question would thus meet us — whence arose the species now in actual being ? seeing that they have not subsisted from eternity. All nature and experience reclaim against the spontaneous generation of them — thus leaving us no other inference, than that organic structures of collocation so manifold and exquisite could only have sprung from the hands of a designer, from the fiat of a God. 

§23. 

There are many who, in expounding the science of natural theology, would shrink from all recognition of scripture — as if this were a mixing together of things altogether disparate or incongruous. There is a want, we shall not say of {Page No. 250.} good feeling, but of good philosophy in this — unless we confine ourselves to the express object, of ascertaining how much of evidence for a God is furnished by the light of nature alone. The strength of the argument, upon the whole, on the side of religion, is often weakened by this jealous or studied disunion of the truth in one department from the truth in another; but believing as we do that, instead of a conflict, there is a corroborative harmony between them — we shall advert once more to the Mosaic account of the Creation; and, more especially as the reconciliation of this history with the indefinite antiquity of the globe seems not impossible; and that without the infliction of any violence on any of the literalities of the record. 

§24. 

The following are the two first verses in the book of Genesis. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep: and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Now let it be supposed that the work of the first day in the Mosaic account of the creation, begins with the Spirit of God moving upon the face of the waters. The detailed history of creation in the first chapter of Genesis 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 {Page No. 251.} to arise. By this hypothesis neither the first verse, nor the first halt” of the second verse forms any part of the narrative of the first day’s operations, — the whole forming a preparatory sentence disclosing to us the initial act of creation at some remote and undefined period; and the chaotic state of the world, at the commencement of those successive acts of creative power, by which out of rude and undigested materials the present harmony of nature was ushered into being. 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, and to which she in fact has confidently appealed as the vestiges of so many successive continents that have now passed away. The whole speculation has ministered a vain triumph to infidelity — seeing first that the Historical Evidence of Scripture is quite untouched by those pretended discoveries of natural science; and that, even should they turn out to be substantial discoveries, they do not come into collision with the narrative of Moses. Should, in particular, the explanation that we now offer be sustained, this would permit an indefinite scope to the conjectures of geology — and without any undue liberty with the first chapter of Genesis. We may here state that there is no argument, saving that grounded on the usages of popular language, which would tempt us to meddle with the literalities of that ancient, and as appears to us authoritative record. Its main difficulty lies in the work of the fourth day, upon which God is said to have made two great {Page No. 252.} lights, the greater to rule the day and the lesser to rule the night, and the stars also. Yet even this could be got over, if we adopt a principle which even Granville Penn has found necessary for the adjustment of his views — though himself a violent and we think an unnecessary alarmist upon this question. He supposes the Mosaic description to’ proceed not in the order of creation actually, but in its order optically — or in other words, that the sun and moon were not first made, but first made visible on the fourth day. We earnestly recommend, however, the perusal of his mineral and Mosaical geologies — not because of our great confidence in his skill or science as a naturalist, but because of a certain admirable soundness in many of those views that are purely theological. If he have erred in the one science, there is a redeeming force in the worth and stability of certain weighty aphorisms that he has given forth in relation to the other science. He does not respect enough the indications of nature and experience — and certain it is, that these might be so far disregarded as to invalidate some of our best arguments on the side of theism. If, for example, fossil remains are not to be looked upon as the vestiges of living creatures, it would follow, that what we have been in the habit of considering as forms of nice and excellent adaptation may have been produced without an object, and so after all be perfectly meaningless. We may assume with all safety that real shells were never formed by nature without the design of covering an animal — and hence, if we ever meet in any situation, how{Page No. 253.} ever novel or unexpected, with a shell or a tooth, we should confidently refer to the fish which the one inclosed, to the jaw-bone in which the other was inserted. Else we shall give countenance to the atheist’s argument, that even animals themselves might have been casual productions. 
{Page No. 254.} 

§25. 

We regret that Penn, or Gisborne, or any other of our Scriptural geologists, should have entered upon this controversy without a sufficient preparation of natural science; and laid as much stress too on the argument which they employed, as if the whole truth and authority of revelation depended on it. It is thus that the cause of truth has often suffered from the misguided zeal of its advocates, anxiously struggling for every one position about which a question may have been raised; and so landing themselves at times in a situation of most humiliating exposure to the argument or ridicule of their adversaries. They {Page No. 255.} weaken the line of defence by extending it. They multiply their vulnerable points by spreading their detachments and their outworks over too great a surface, when they might have concentrated their strength within the limits of an impregnable fortress. They raise too loud an outcry of alarm, and lift too high a note of preparation, on the assault by their enemies of some insignificant outpost which might with all safety be conceded to them — so that when it does come to be occupied by assailants, there is just as tremendous a shout of victory on the one side, as there was of misplaced dread and violence upon the other. Meanwhile the citadel abideth in its ancient security, as commanding in its site and as strong in all its essential battlements as ever — and, in the consciousness of this strength, might they who look abroad from its turrets, eye with perfect tolerance, if not with complacency, tho petty warfare that is occasionally breaking out at their remoter outskirts. It is right to be vigilant — but it is not right to waste the strength or the credit of a good cause upon the defence of an untenable position — and more especially, if that position be wholly insignificant. It is thus that in the management of what may be called intellectual tactics, it is good to keep by the strong points of an argument, and to abstain by all means from laying any more of weight on the minor or collateral reasonings than these reasonings will bear. 

§26. 

We have long regarded the contest between the cause of revelation on the one hand, and the infidelity of the geological schools upon the other, {Page No. 256.} as merely an affair of outposts, which, however terminating, will leave the main strength of the Christian argument unimpaired. We have already endeavoured to show, how without any invasion even on the literalities of the Mosaic record, the indefinite antiquity of the globe might safely be given up to naturalists, as an arena whether for their sportive fancies or their interminable gladiatorship. On this supposition the details of that operation narrated by Moses, which lasted for six days on the earth’s surface, will be regarded as the steps, by which the present economy of terrestrial things was raised, about six thousand years ago, on the basis of an earth then without form and void. While, for aught of information we have in the Bible, the earth itself may, before this time, have been the theatre of many lengthened processes — the dwelling place of older economies that have now gone by; but whereof the vestiges subsist even to the present day, both to the needless alarm of those who befriend the cause of Christianity, and to the unwarrantable triumph of those who have assailed it. 

§27. 

Let us never quit the strongholds of the Christian argument in hazarding a mere affair of outposts, unless we are quite sure of the ground we stand upon. There are certain zealous defenders of Christianity who in this way have done an injury to the cause. And it does give rise to a most unnecessary waste of credit and confidence, it does give the enemies of religion a most unnecessary triumph, when its defenders expose their ignorance in the maintenance of a position, which {Page No. 257.} even though given up leaves Christianity as firmly based as ever, on those miraculous and prophetic and experimental evidences which substantiate the Bible as the authentic record of an authentic communication from Heaven to Earth, as a Book indited by holy men of God, who stood charged, not with the matters of physical science, but with those transcendently higher matters which relate to the moral guidance and the moral destiny of our species,  

§28. 

Yet whatever room there might be for wise and sound policy in managing the Christian argument, there is no reason at all for the pusillanimous feeling of dismay. Our cause may suffer a partial and temporary discredit from the mismanagement of its friends — but not all the strength and subtlety of its most powerful adversaries can achieve its permanent overthrow. Those days have gone by of triumphant anticipation to the enemies of the cross, when the wit of Voltaire, and the eloquence of Rousseau, and the sophistry of Hume, entered into menacing combination on the side of infidelity. These have all been withstood — and on the arena, too, of literary and intellectual debate — where many a feat of championship has been performed, in repelling those successive attacks, which under the semblance of philosophy have been made upon the Faith. For after all it is but a semblance and nothing more. That demi-infidel spirit, which for a generation or two has kept such hold of the seats of philosophy, did not find its ascendancy there till we had sunk down to an age of little men. Those great master-spirits of a former age, after whom {Page No. 258.} there appeared the pigmies of what may be called a second-rate philosophy, were wholly exempted from it. In the days of proudest achievement and most colossal minds it was comparatively unknown — and so far from feeling a disgrace or a descent in Christianity, the illustrious names of Newton and Locke and Bacon and Boyle stand all associated with the defence and illustration of it.
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