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§ 3. Antiquity of Man.

“Anthropologists are now,” as we are told, “pretty well agreed that man is not a recent introduction into the earth. All who have studied the question, now admit that his antiquity is very great; and that, though we have to some extent ascertained the minimum of time during which he must have existed, we have made no approximation towards determining that far greater period during which he may have, and probably has, existed. We can with tolerable certainty affirm that man must have inhabited the earth a thousand centuries ago, but we cannot assert that he positively did not exist, or that there is any good evidence against his having existed, for a period of ten thousand centuries.”5555Wallace on Natural Selection, p. 303.

On this it may be remarked, first, that it is a historical fact that nothing is less reliable than these calculations of time. A volume might be filled with examples of the mistakes of naturalists in this matter. The world has not forgotten the exultation of the enemies of the Bible when the number of successive layers of lava on the sides of Mount Etna was found to be so great as to require, as was said, thousands upon thousands of years for their present condition. All that has passed away. Mr. Lyell calculated that two hundred and twenty thousand years were necessary to account for changes now going on on the coast of Sweden. Later geologists reduce the time to one tenth of that estimate. A piece of pottery was discovered deeply buried under the deposits at the mouth of the Nile. It was confidently asserted that the deposit could not have been made during the historic period, until it was proved that the article in question was of Roman manufacture. Sober men of science, therefore, have no confidence in these calculations requiring thousands of centuries, or even millions of years, for the production of effects subsequent to the great geological epochs.

The second remark in reference to this great antiquity claimed the human race is that the reasons assigned for it are, in the 34judgment of the most eminent men of science, unsatisfactory. The facts urged to prove that men have lived for an indefinite number of ages on the earth, are, (1.) The existence of villages built on piles, now submerged in lakes in Switzerland and in some other places, which, it is assumed, are of great antiquity. (2.) The discovery of human remains in a fossil state in deposits to which geologists assign an age counted by tens, or hundreds, of thousands of years. (3) The discovery of utensils of different kinds made of flint, in connection with the remains of extinct animals. (4.) The early separation of men into the distinct races in which they now exist. On this point Sir Charles Lyell says: “Naturalists have long felt that to render probable the received opinion that all the leading varieties of the human family have originally sprung from a single pair (a doctrine against which there appears to me to be no sound objection), a much greater lapse of time is required for the slow and gradual formation of races (such as the Caucasian, Mongolian, and Negro) than is embraced in any of the popular systems of chronology.” The Caucasian and the Negro are distinctly marked in the Egyptian monuments to which an antiquity of three thousand years is ascribed. We must, therefore, he argues, allow “for a vast series of antecedent ages” to account for the gradual formation of these distinct races.5656Principles of Geology, by Sir Charles Lyell, F. R. S., ninth edition, Boston, 1853, p. 600. Also, The Geological Evidences of the Antiquity of Man, by the same writer, Philadelphia, 1863, p. 385. In addition to all these arguments, it is contended that monuments and records exist which prove the existence of man on the earth long before the period assigned to his creation in the Bible.

Lake Dwellings.

In many of the lakes of Switzerland piles have been discovered worn down to the surface of the mud, or projecting slightly above it, which once supported human habitations. These are so numerous as to render it evident that whole villages were thus sustained over the surface of the water. These villages, “nearly all of them,” are “of unknown date, but the most ancient of them “certainly belonged to the age of stone, for hundreds of implements resembling those of the Danish shell-mounds and peat mosses have been dredged up from the mud into which the piles were driven.” Numerous bones of no less than fifty-four species of animals have been dug up from these localities, all of which, with one exception, are still living in Europe. The remains of several domesticated 35animals, as the ox, sheep, goat, and dog, are included in the number.5757Antiquity of Man, chap. ii. p. 17.

There is evidently in all this no proof of great antiquity. Even as late as during the last century, similar huts, supported on piles, were to be seen. All the animal remains found are of extant species. There is nothing to show that these lake dwellings were even as old as the time of the Romans. The fact relied upon is the absence of metal, and the presence of stone implements. Hence, it is inferred that these villages belonged to the “Stone Age.” To this succeeded the “Bronze Age,” and to that the Age of Iron. Sir Charles Lyell informs us that the Swiss geologists, as represented by M. Monet, assign “to the bronze age a date of between three thousand and four thousand years, and to the stone period an age of five thousand to seven thousand.”5858Ibid. p. 28.

It is, however, a mere arbitrary speculation that there ever was a stone age. It is founded on the assumption that the original condition of man was one of barbarism, from which he elevated himself by slow degrees; during the first period of his progress he used only implements of stone; then those of bronze; and then those of iron; and that thousands of years elapsed before the race passed from one of these stages of progress to another. Hence, if remains of men are found anywhere in connection with stone implements, they are referred to the stone age. According to this mode of reasoning, if in an Indian village flint arrow-heads and hatchets should be found, the inference would be that the whole world was in barbarism when those implements were used. Admitting that at the time the lake dwellings were inhabited, the people of Switzerland, and even all the people of Europe, were unacquainted with the use of the metals, that would not prove that civilization was not at its height in Egypt or India. Moreover, the assumption that the original state of man was one of barbarism, is not only contrary to the Bible and to the convictions of the great body of the learned, but, as is believed, to the plainest historical facts.

Fossil Human Remains.

Much more weight in this discussion is attached to the discovery of human remains in the same localities and under the same circumstances with those of animals now extinct. From this it is inferred that man must have lived when those animals still inhabited the earth. These human remains are not found in any of the ancient fossiliferous rocks. The Scriptural fact that man was the last of 36the living creatures which proceeded from the hand of God, stands unimpeached by any scientific fact. A nearly perfect human skeleton was found imbedded in a limestone rock on the island of Guadaloupe. That rock, however, is of modern origin, and is still in process of formation. The age assigned to this fossil is only about two hundred years. A fragment of conglomerate rock was obtained at the depth of ten feet below the bed of the river Dove, in England, containing silver coins of the reign of Edward the First. This shows that it does not require many years to form rocks, and to bury them deeply under the surface. The remains on which stress is laid are found only in caverns and buried under deposits of peat or of earthy matter. Geologists seem to be agreed as to the fact that human bones have been found in certain caves in France, Belgium, and England intimately associated with the remains of animals now living, and with those of a few of the extinct races.

The fact being admitted, the question is, How is it to be accounted for? This juxtaposition is no certain proof of contemporaneousness. These caverns, once the resort of wild beasts, became to men places of concealment, of defence, of worship, or of sepulture, and, therefore, as Sir Charles Lyell himself admits, “It is not on the evidence of such intermixtures that we ought readily to admit either the high antiquity of the human race, or the recent date of certain lost species of quadrupeds.”5959Principles of Geology, ninth edition, p. 740.

In immediate connection with the passage just referred to, Lyell suggests another method by which the remains of animals belonging to very different ages of the world might become mixed together. That is, “open fissures” which “serve as natural pitfalls.” He quotes the following account from Professor Sedgwick of a chasm of enormous but unknown depth, which “is surrounded by grassy shelving banks, and many animals, tempted toward its brink, have fallen down and perished in it. The approach of cattle is now prevented by a strong lofty wall; but there can be no doubt that, during the last two or three thousand years, great masses of bony breccia must have accumulated in the lower parts of the great fissure, which probably descends through the whole thickness of the scar-limestone to the depth of perhaps five or six hundred feet.” To this Lyell adds, “When any of these natural pit-falls happen to communicate with lines of subterranean caverns, the bones, earth, and breccia may sink by their own weight, or be washed into the vaults below.”6060Ibid. pp. 740, 741.


There is a third way in which this intermingling of the bones of animals of different ages may be accounted for. With regard to the remarkable caverns in the province of Liege, Sir Charles Lyell says that Dr. Schmerling, the naturalist, by whom they had been carefully and laboriously examined, did not think they were “dens of wild beasts, but that their organic and inorganic contents had been swept into them by streams communicating with the surface of the country. The bones, he suggested, may often have been rolled in the beds of such streams before they reached their underground destination.”6161Antiquity of Man, p. 64. It is clear, therefore, that no conclusive argument to prove that man was contemporary with certain extinct animals can be drawn from the fact that their remains have in some rare instances been found in the same localities.

Human Bones found deeply buried.

Still less weight is to be attached to the fact that human bones have been found deeply buried in the earth. Every one knows that great changes have been made in the earths surface within the historic period. Such changes are produced sometimes by the slow operation of the causes which have buried the foundations of such ancient cities as Jerusalem and Rome far beneath the present surface of the ground. At other times they have been brought about by sudden catastrophes. It is not surprising that human remains should be found in peat-bogs, if as Sir Charles Lyell tells us, “All the coins, axes, arms, and other utensils found in British and French mosses, are Roman; so that a considerable portion of the peat in European peat-bogs is evidently not more ancient than the age of Julius Cæsar.”6262Principles of Geology, p. 721.

The data by which the rate of deposits is determined are so uncertain that no dependence can be placed upon them. Sir Charles Lyell says, “the lowest estimate of the time required” for the formation of the existing delta of the Mississippi, is more than one hundred thousand years.6363Antiquity of Man, p. 43. According to the careful examination made by gentlemen of the Coast Survey and other United States officers, the time during which the delta has been in progress is four thousand four hundred years.6464See Report upon the Physics and Hydraulics of the Mississippi River, etc., by Captain A. A. Humphreys and Lieutenant H. L. Abbott, Corps of Topographical Engineers, U. S. Army, 1861, p. 435. Since the memory of man, or, since fishing-huts have been built on the coasts of Sweden, there has been such a subsidence of the coast that “a fishing-hut having 38a rude fire-place within, was struck, in digging a canal, at a depth of sixty feet.”6565Dana’s Manual of Geology, p. 586. “At the earthquake in 1819 about the Delta of the Indus, an area of two thousand square miles became an inland sea, and the fort and village of Sindree sunk till the tops of the houses were just above the water. Five and a half miles from Sindree, parallel with this sunken area, a region was elevated ten feet above the delta, fifty miles long and in some parts ten broad.”6666Ibid. p. 588. While such changes, secular and paroxysmal, gradual and sudden, have been in operation for thousands of years, it is evident that the intermingling of the remains of recent with those of extinct races of animals furnishes no proof that the former were contemporaneous with the latter.

Flint Implements.

Quite as much stress has been laid on the discovery of certain implements made of flint under deposits which, it is contended, are of such age as prove that man must have existed on the earth for ages before the time assigned in the Bible for his creation. To this argument the same answer is to be given. First, that the presence of the works of human art in such deposits is no proof that men were contemporaneous with such deposits; in view of the upheavals and displacements which all geologists admit are of frequent occurrence in the history of our globe. And secondly, the facts themselves are disputed, or differently interpreted by men of science of equal authority. This is especially true of the flint arrows, beads, and axes found in the valley of the Somme in France.6767To these Lyell devotes the seventh and eight chapters of his work on the Antiquity of Man. Lyell is confident that the argument from them is conclusive. Later examinations, however, have led others to a different conclusion. This is a question for scientific men to decide among themselves, and which they alone are competent to decide. So long however, as men of the highest rank as naturalists maintain that science knows of no facts inconsistent with the Scriptural account of the origin of man, the friends of the Bible are under no obligation to depart from the generally received interpretation of the Scriptures on this subject. Professor Guyot, as all who know him or have heard his public lectures, are well aware, teaches that there are no known facts which may not be accounted for on the assumption that man has existed seven or eight thousand years on this earth. It is well known also that this doctrine, until very 39recently, was universal among scientific men. Cuvier was so convinced on this point that he could hardly be brought to look at what purported to be the fossil remains of man. This conviction on his part, was not a prejudice; nor was it due to a reverence for the Bible. It was a scientific conviction founded on scientific evidence. The proofs from all sources of the recent origin of man were considered such as to preclude the possibility of his being contemporaneous with any of the extinct races of animals. And even those who were led to admit that point, were in many cases disposed to regard the fact as proving not the antiquity of man, but the existence to a much later period than generally supposed, of animals now extinct. The occurrence of human relics with the bones of extinct animals, “does not seem to me,” says Prestwich, “to necessitate the carrying of man back in past time, so much as the bringing forward of the extinct animals toward our own time.”6868Quoted by Professor Dana, Manual of Geology, p. 582. The fact that the monuments of human art cannot pretend to a higher antiquity than a few thousand years, renders it utterly incredible that man has existed on the earth hundreds of thousands or, as Darwin supposes, millions of years.

Argument from the Races of Men and from Ancient Monuments

Another argument is founded on the assumption that the difference between the Caucasian, Mongolian, and negro races, which is known to have been as distinctly marked two or three thousand years before Christ as it is now, must have required countless ages to develop and establish. To this it is obvious to answer, First, that differences equally great have occurred in domestic animals within the historic period. Secondly, that marked varieties are not unfrequently produced suddenly, and, so to speak, accidentally. Thirdly, that these varieties of race are not the effect of the blind operation of physical causes, but by those causes as intelligently guided by God for the accomplishment of some wise purpose. Animals living in the arctic regions are not only clothed in fur for their protection from the cold, but the color of their clothing changes with the season. So God fashions the different races of men in their peculiarities to suit them to the regions which they inhabit. Dr. Livingstone, the great African traveller, informs us that the negro type, as it is popularly conceived of, occurs very rarely in Africa, and only in districts where great heat prevails in connection with great moisture. The tribes in the interior of that continent differ greatly, he says, both in hue and contour.


The idea that it must have taken countless ages for men to rise from the lowest barbarism to the state of civilization indicated by the monuments of Egypt, rests on no better assumption. The earliest state of man instead of being his lowest, was in many respects his highest state. And our own experience as a nation shows that it does not require millenniums for a people to accomplish greater works than Egypt or India can boast. Two hundred years ago this country was a wilderness from the Atlantic to the Pacific. What is it now? According to Bunsen it would require a hundred thousand years to erect all these cities, and to build all these railroads and canals.

It is further urged as a proof of the great antiquity of man that the monuments and monumental records of Egypt prove that a nation existed in the highest state of civilization at the time of, or immediately after, the flood. The chronology of the Bible, it is argued, and the chronology of Egypt are thus shown to be irreconcilable.

In reference to this difficulty it may be remarked, that the calculations of Egyptologists are just as precarious, and in many stances just as extravagant as those of geologists. This is proved by their discrepancies. It may be said, however, that even the most moderate students of Egyptian antiquities assign a date to the reign of Manes and the building of the pyramids inconsistent with the chronology of the Bible. To this it may be replied that the chronology of the Bible is very uncertain. The data are for the most part facts incidentally stated; that is, not stated for the purposes of chronology. The views most generally adopted rest mainly on the authority of Archbishop Usher, who adopted the Hebrew text for his guide, and assumed that in the genealogical tables each name marked one generation. A large part, however, of Biblical scholars adopt the Septuagint chronology in preference to the Hebrew; so that instead of four thousand years from the creation to the birth of Christ, we have nearly six thousand years. Besides it is admitted, that the usual method of calculation founded on the genealogical tables is very uncertain. The design of those tables is not to give the regular succession of births in a given line, but simply to mark the descent. This is just as well done if three, four, or more generations be omitted, as if the whole list were complete. That this is the plan on which these genealogical tables are constructed is an admitted fact. “Thus in Genesis xlvi. 18, after recording the sons of Zilpah, her grandsons and her great-grandsons, the writer adds, ‘These are the sons of Zilpah . . . . . and 41these she bare unto Jacob, even sixteen souls.’ The same thing recurs in the case of Bilhah, verse 25, ‘she bare these unto Jacob: all the souls were seven.’ Compare, verses 15, 22. No one can pretend that the author of this register did not use the term understandingly of descendants beyond the first generation. In like manner, according to Matthew i. 11, Josias begat his grandson Jechonias, and verse 8, Joram begat his great-great-grandson Ozias. And in Genesis x. 15-18, Canaan, the grand son of Noah, is said to have begotten several whole nations, the Jebusite, the Amorite, the Girgasite, the Hivite, etc., etc. Nothing can be plainer, therefore, than that in the usage of the Bible, to bear and ‘to beget’ are used in a wide sense to indicate descent, without restricting this to the immediate offspring.”6969The Pentateuch Vindicated from the Aspersions of Bishop Colenso, by William Henry Green, Professor in the Theological Seminary, Princeton, N. J., New York, 1863, p. 132.

The extreme uncertainty attending all attempts to determine the chronology of the Bible is sufficiently evinced by the fact that one hundred and eighty different calculations have been made by Jewish and Christian authors, of the length of the period between Adam and Christ. The longest of these make it six thousand nine hundred and eighty-four, and the shortest three thousand four hundred and eighty-three years. Under these circumstances it is very clear that the friends of the Bible have no occasion for uneasiness. If the facts of science or of history should ultimately make it necessary to admit that eight or ten thousand years have elapsed since the creation of man, there is nothing in the Bible in the way of such concession. The Scriptures do not teach us how long men nave existed on the earth. Their tables of genealogy were intended to prove that Christ was the son of David and of the Seed of Abraham, and not how many years had elapsed between the creation and the advent.7070Herzog’s, Encyklopädie, article “Zeitrechnung,” which quotes the Benedictine work L’Art de vérifior les Dates. T. i., pp. xxvii.-xxxvi.

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