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ON the revival of science in the 16th century, some of the earliest conclusions at which philosophers arrived were found to be at variance with popular and long-established belief. The Ptolemaic system of astronomy, which had then full possession of the minds of men, contemplated the whole visible universe from the earth as the immovable centre of things. Copernicus changed the point of view, and placing the beholder in the sun, at once reduced the earth to an inconspicuous globule, a merely subordinate member of a family of planets, which the terrestrials had until then fondly imagined to be but pendants and ornaments of their own habitation. The Church naturally took a lively interest in the disputes which arose between the philosophers of the new school and those who adhered to the old doctrines, inasmuch as the Hebrew records, the basis of religious faith, manifestly countenanced the opinion of the earth’s immobility and certain other views of the universe very incompatible with those propounded by Copernicus. Hence arose the official proceedings against Galileo, in consequence of which he submitted to sign his celebrated recantation, acknowledging that ‘the proposition that the son is the centre of the world and immovable from its place is absurd, philosophically false, and formally heretical, because it is expressly contrary to 208the Scripture;’ and that ‘the proposition that earth is not the centre of the world, nor immovable but that it moves and also with a diurnal motion, is absurd, philosophically false, and at least erroneous in faith.’
The Romish Church, it is presumed, adheres to the old views to the present day. Protestant instincts however, in the 17th century were strongly in sympathy with the augmentation of science, and consequently Reformed Churches more easily allowed themselves to be helped over the difficulty, which, according to the views of inspiration then held and which have survived to the present day, was in reality quite as formidable for them as for those of the old faith. The solution of the difficulty offered by Galileo and others was, that the object of a revelation or divine unveiling of mysteries, must be to teach man things which he is unable and must ever remain unable to find out for himself; but not physical truths, for the discovery of which he has faculties specially provided by his Creator. Hence it was not unreasonable that, in regard to matters of fact merely, the Sacred Writings should use the common language and assume the common belief of mankind, without purporting to correct errors upon points morally indifferent. So, in regard to such a text as, ‘The world is established, it cannot be moved,’ though it might imply the sacred penman’s ignorance of the fact that the earth does move, yet it does not put forth this opinion as an indispensable point of faith. And this remark is applicable to a number of texts which present a similar difficulty.
It might be thought to have been less easy to reconcile in men’s minds the Copernican view of universe with the very plain and direct averments contained in the opening chapter of Genesis. It can scarcely be said that this chapter is not intended in part to teach and convey at least some physical truth, 209and taking its words in their plain sense it manifestly gives a view of the universe adverse to that of modern science. It represents the sky as a watery vault in which the sun, moon, and stars are set. But the discordance of this description with facts does not appear to have been so palpable to the minds of the seventeenth century as it is to us. The mobility of the earth was a proposition startling not only to faith but to the senses. The difficulty involved in this belief having been successfully got over, other discrepancies dwindled in importance. The brilliant progress of astronomical science subdued the minds of men; the controversy between faith and knowledge gradually fell to slumber; the story of Galileo and the Inquisition became a school commonplace, the doctrine of the earth’s mobility found its way into children’s catechisms, and the limited views of the nature of the universe indicated in the Old Testament, ceased to be felt as religious difficulties.
It would have been well if theologians had made up their minds to accept frankly the principle that those things for the discovery of which man has faculties specially provided are not fit objects of a divine revelation. Had this been unhesitatingly done, either the definition and idea of divine revelation must have been modified, and the possibility of an admixture of error have been allowed, or such parts of the Hebrew writings as were found to be repugnant to fact must have been pronounced to form no part of revelation. The first course is that which theologians have most generally adopted, but with such limitations, cautels, and equivocations as to be of little use in satisfying those who would know how and what God really has taught mankind, and whether anything beyond that which man is able and obviously intended to arrive at by the use of his natural faculties.
The difficulties and disputes which attended the first revival of science have recurred in the present 210century in consequence of the growth of geology. It is in truth only the old question over again—precisely the same point of theology which is involved,—although the difficulties which present themselves are fresh. The school-books of the present day, while they teach the child that the earth moves, yet assure him that it is a little less than six thousand years old, and that it was made in six days. On the other hand, geologists of all religious creeds are agreed that the earth has existed for an immense series of years,—to be counted by millions rather than by thousands; and that indubitably more than six days elapsed from its first creation to the appearance of man upon its surface. By this broad discrepancy between old and new doctrine is the modern mind startled, as were the men of the sixteenth century when told that the earth moved.
When this new cause of controversy first arose, some writers more hasty than discreet, attacked the conclusions of geologists, and declared them scientifically false. This phase may now be considered past, and although school-books probably continua to teach much as they did, no well-instructed person now doubts the great antiquity of the earth any more than its motion. This being so, modern theologians, forsaking the maxim of Galileo, or only using it vaguely as an occasional make-weight, have directed their attention to the possibility of reconciling the Mosaic narrative with those geological facts which are admitted to be beyond dispute. Several modes of doing this have been proposed which have been deemed more or less satisfactory. In a text-book of theological instruction widely used,118118 Horne’s Introduction, to the Holy Scriptures (1856, tenth Edition.) we find it stated in broad terms, ‘Geological investigations, it is now known, all prove the perfect harmony between scripture and geology, in reference to the history of creation.’211
In truth, however, if we refer to the plans of conciliation proposed, we find them at variance with each other and mutually destructive. The conciliators are not agreed among themselves, and each holds the views of the other to be untenable and unsafe. The ground is perpetually being shifted, as the advance of geological science may require. The plain meaning of the Hebrew record is unscrupulously tampered with, and in general the pith of the whole process lies in divesting the text of all meaning whatever. We are told that Scripture not being designed to teach us natural philosophy, it is in vain to attempt to make out a cosmogony from its statements. If the first chapter of Genesis convey to us no information concerning the origin of the world, its statements cannot indeed be contradicted by modern discovery. But it is absurd to call this harmony. Statements such as that above quoted are, we conceive, little calculated to be serviceable to the interests of theology, still less to religion and morality. Believing, as we do, that if the value of the Bible as a book of religious instruction is to be maintained, it must be not by striving to prove it scientifically exact, at the expense of every sound principle of interpretation, and in defiance of common sense, but by the frank recognition of the erroneous views of nature which it contains, we have put pen to paper to analyse some of the popular conciliation theories. The inquiry cannot be deemed a superfluous one, nor one which in the interests of theology had better be let alone. Physical science goes on unconcernedly pursuing its own paths. Theology, the science whose object is the dealing of God with man as a moral being, maintains but a shivering existence, shouldered and jostled by the sturdy growths of modern thought, and bemoaning itself for the hostility which it encounters. Why should this be, unless because theologians persist in clinging to theories of God’s procedure towards man, which have long 212been seen to be untenable? If, relinquishing theories, they would be content to inquire from the history of man what this procedure has actually been, the so-called difficulties of theology would, for the most part, vanish of themselves.
The account which astronomy gives of the relations of our earth to the rest of the universe, and that which geology gives of its internal structure and the development of its surface, are sufficiently familiar to most readers. But it will be necessary for our purpose to go over the oft-trodden ground, which must be done with rapid steps. Nor let the reader object to be reminded of some of the most elementary facts of his knowledge. The human race has been ages in arriving at conclusions now familiar to every child.
This earth apparently so still and stedfast, lying in majestic repose beneath the ætherial vault, is a globular body of comparatively insignificant size, whirling fast through space round the sun as the centre of its orbit, and completing its revolution in the course of one year, while at the same time it revolves daily once about its own axis, thus producing the changes of day and night. The sun, which seems to leap up each morning from the east, and traversing the skyey bridge, slides down into the west, is relatively to our earth motionless. In size and weight it inconceivably surpasses it. The moon, which occupies a position in the visible heavens only second to the sun, and far beyond that of every other celestial body in conspicuousness, is but a subordinate globe, much smaller than our own, and revolving round the earth as its centre, while it accompanies it in yearly revolutions about the sun. Of itself it has no lustre, and is visible to us only by the reflected sunlight. Those beautiful stars which are perpetually changing their position in the heavens, and shine with a soft and moon-like light, are bodies, some much larger, some less, than our earth, and like it revolve round the sun, 213by the reflection of whose rays we see them. The telescope has revealed to us the fact that several of these are attended by moons of their own, and that besides those which the unassisted eye can see, there are others belonging to the same family coursing round the sun. As for the glittering dust which emblazons the nocturnal sky, there is reason to believe that each spark is a self-luminous body, perhaps of similar material to our sun, and that the very nearest of the whole tribe is at an incalculable distance from us, the very least of them of enormous size compared with our own humble globe. Thus has modern science reversed nearly all the primâ facie views to which our senses lead us as to the constitution of the universe; but so thoroughly are the above statements wrought into the culture of the present day, that we are apt to forget that mankind once saw these things very differently, and that but a few centuries have elapsed since such views were startling novelties.
Our earth then is but one of the lesser pendants of a body which is itself only an inconsiderable unit in the vast creation. And now if we withdraw our thoughts from the immensities of space, and look into the construction of man’s obscure home, the first question is whether it has ever been in any other condition than that in which we now see it, and if so, what are the stages through which it has passed, and what was its first traceable state. Here geology steps in and successfully carries back the history of the earth’s crust to a very remote period, until it arrives at region of uncertainty, where philosophy is reduced to mere guesses and possibilities, and pronounces nothing definite. To this region belong the speculations which have been ventured upon as to the original concretion of the earth and planets out of nebular matter of which the sun may have been the. nucleus. But the first clear view which we obtain of the early condition of the earth, presents to us a ball of matter, fluid with intense 214heat, spinning on its own axis and revolving round the sun. How long it may have continued in this state is beyond calculation or surmise. It can only be believed that a prolonged period, beginning and ending we know not when, elapsed before the surface became cooled and hardened and capable of sustaining organized existences. The water which now enwraps a large portion of the face of the globe, must for ages have existed only in the shape of steam, floating above and enveloping the planet in one thick curtain of mist. When the cooling of the surface allowed it to condense and descend, then commenced the process by which the lowest stratified rocks were formed, and gradually spread out in vast layers. Rains and rivers now acted upon the scoriaceous integument, grinding it to sand and carrying it down to the depths and cavities. Whether organized beings co-existed with this state of things we know not, as the early rocks have been acted upon by interior heat to an extent which must have destroyed all traces of animal and vegetable life, if any such ever existed. This period has been named by geologists the Azoic, or that in which life was not. Its duration no one presumes to define.
It is in the system of beds which overlies these primitive formations that the first records of organisms present themselves. In the so-called Silurian system we have a vast assemblage of strata of various kinds, together many thousands of feet thick, and abounding in remains of animal life. These strata were deposited at the bottom of the sea, and the remains are exclusively marine. The creatures whose exaviæ have been preserved belong to those classes which are placed by naturalists the lowest with respect to organization, the mollusca, articulata, and radiata. Analogous beings exist at the present day, but not their lineal descendants, unless time can effect transmutation of species, an hypothesis not generally 215accepted by naturalists. In the same strata with these inhabitants habitants of the early seas are found remains of fucoid or seaweed-like plants, the lowest of the vegetable tribe, which may have been the first of this kind of existences introduced into the world. But, as little has yet been discovered to throw light upon the state of the dry land and its productions at this remote period, nothing can be asserted positively on the subject.119119 It has been stated that a coal-bed, containing remains of land-plants, underlying strata of the lower Silurian class, has been found in Portugal.
In the upper strata of the Silurian system is found the commencement of the race of fishes, the lowest creatures of the vertebrate type, and in the succeeding beds they become abundant. These monsters clothed in mail who must have been the terror of the seas they inhabited, have left their indestructible coats behind them as evidence of their existence.
Next come the carboniferous strata, containing the remains of a gigantic and luxuriant vegetation, and here reptiles and insects begin to make their appearance. At this point geologists make a kind of artificial break, and for the sake of distinction, denominate the whole of the foregoing period of animated existences the Palæozoic, or that of antique life.
In the next great geological section, the so-called Secondary period, in which are comprised the oolitic and cretaceous systems, the predominant creatures are different from those which figured conspicuously in the preceding. The land was inhabited by gigantic animals, half-toad, half-lizard, who hopped about, leaving often their foot-prints like those of a clumsy human hand, upon the sandy shores of the seas they frequented. The waters now abounded with monsters, half-fish, half-crocodile, the well-known saurians, whose bones have been collected in abundance. Even the air had its tenantry from the same 216family type, for the pterodactyls were creatures, half-lizard, half-vampyre, provided with membranous appendages which must have enabled them to fly. In early stage of this period traces of birds appear, and somewhat later those of mammals, but of the lowest class belonging to that division, namely, the marsupial or pouch-bearing animals, in which naturalists see affinities to the oviparous tribes. The vegetation of this period seems to have consisted principally of the lower classes of plants, according to the scale of organization accepted by botanists, but it was luxuriant and gigantic.
Lastly, comes the Tertiary period, in which mammalia of the highest forms enter upon the scene, while the composite growths of the Secondary period in great part disappear, and the types of creatures approach more nearly to those which now exist. During long ages this state of things continued, while the earth was the abode principally of mastodons, elephants, rhinoceroses, and their thick-hided congeners, many of them of colossal proportions, and of species which have now passed away. The remains of these creatures have been found in the frozen rivers of the north, and they appear to have roamed over regions of the globe where their more delicate representatives of the present day would be unable to live. During this era the ox, horse, and deer, and perhaps other animals, destined to be serviceable to man, became inhabitants of the earth. Lastly, the advent of man may be considered as inaugurating a new and distinct epoch, that in which we now are, and during the whole of which the physical conditions of existence cannot have been very materially different from what they are now. Thus, the reduction of the earth into the state in which we now behold it has been the slowly continued work of ages. The races of organic beings which have populated its surface have from time to 217time passed away, and been supplanted by others, introduced we know not certainly by what means, but evidently according to a fixed method and order, and with a gradually increasing complexity and fineness of organization, until we come to man as the crowning point of all. Geologically speaking, the history of his first appearance is obscure, nor does archæology do much to clear this obscurity. Science has, however, made some efforts towards tracing man to his cradle, and by patient observation and collection of facts much more may perhaps be done in this direction. As for history and tradition, they afford little upon which anything can be built. The human race, like each individual man, has forgotten its own birth, and the void of its early years has been filled up by imagination, and not from genuine recollection. Thus much is clear, that man’s existence on earth is brief, compared with the ages during which unreasoning creatures were the sole possessors of the globe.
We pass to the account of the creation contained in the Hebrew record. And it must be observed that in reality two distinct accounts are given us in the book of Genesis, one being comprised in the first chapter and the first three verses of the second, the other commencing at the fourth verse of the second chapter and continuing till the end. This is so philologically certain that it were useless to ignore it. But even those who may be inclined to contest the fact that we have here the productions of two different writers, will admit that the account beginning at the first verse of the first chapter, and ending at the third verse of the second, is a complete whole in itself. And to this narrative, in order not to complicate the subject unnecessarily, we intend to confine ourselves. It will sufficient for our purpose to enquire, whether this account can be shown to be in accordance with our astronomical and geological knowledge. And for the 218right understanding of it the whole must be set out, so that the various parts may be taken in connexion with one another.
We are told that ‘in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.’ It has been matter of discussion amongst theologians whether the word ‘created’ (Heb. bara) here means simply shaped or formed, or shaped or formed out of nothing. From the use of the verb bara in other passages, it appears that it does not necessarily mean to make out of nothing,120120 This appears at once from verse 21, where it is said the (bara) the great whales and from verses 26 and 27, in the first of which we read, ‘God said, Let us make (hasah) man in our image,’ and in the latter, ‘So God created (bara) man in his image.’ In neither of these cases, can it be supposed to be implied that the whales, or man, were made out of nothing. In the second narrative, another word is used for the creation of man, itzer—to mould; and his formation out of the dust is circumstantially described. but it certainly might impliedly mean this in a case so peculiar as the present. The phrase ‘the heaven and the earth,’ is evidently used to signify the universe of things, inasmuch as the heaven in its proper signification has no existence until the second day. It is asserted then that God shaped the whole material universe, whether out of nothing, or out of pre-existing matter. But which sense the writer really intended is not material for our present purpose to enquire, since neither astronomical nor geological science affects to state anything concerning the first origin of matter.
In the second verse the earliest state of things is described; according to the received translation, ‘the earth was without form and void.’ The prophet Jeremiah121121 Chap. iv. 33. uses the same expression to describe the desolation of the earth’s surface occasioned by God’s wrath, and perhaps the words ‘empty and waste’ would convey to us at present something more nearly approaching the 219meaning of tohu va-bohu, than those which the translators have used.
The earth itself is supposed to be submerged under the waters of the deep, over which the breath of God—the air or wind—flutters while all is involved in darkness. The first special creative command is that which bids the light appear, whereupon daylight breaks over the two primæval elements of earth and water—the one lying still enveloped by the other; and the space of time occupied by the original darkness and the light which succeeded, is described as the first day. Thus light and the measurement of time are represented as existing before the manifestation of the sun, and this idea, although repugnant to our modern knowledge, has not in former times appeared absurd. Thus we find Ambrose (Hexaemeron lib. 4, cap. 3) remarking:—‘We must recollect that the light of day is one thing, the light of the sun, moon, and stars another,—the sun by his rays appearing to add lustre to the daylight. For before sunrise the day dawns, but is not in full refulgence, for the midday sun adds still further to its splendour.’ We quote this passage to show how a mind unsophisticated by astronomical knowledge understood the Mosaic statement; and we may boldly affirm that those for whom it was first penned could have taken it in no other sense than that light existed before and independently of the sun, nor do we misrepresent it when we affirm this to be its natural and primary meaning. How far we are entitled to give to the writer’s words an enigmatical and secondary meaning, as contended by those who attempt to conciliate them with our present knowledge, must be considered further on.
The work of the second day of creation is to erect the vault of Heaven (Heb. rakia; Gr. στερέωμα; Lat. firmamentum) which is represented as supporting an ocean of water above it. The waters are said to be divided, so that some are below, some above the vault. 220That the Hebrews understood the sky, firmament, or heaven to be a permanent solid vault, as it appears to the ordinary observer, is evident enough from various expressions made use of concerning it. It is said to have pillars (Job xxvi. 1), foundations (2 Sam. xxii. 8), doors (Ps. lxxviii. 23), and windows (Gen. vii. 1). No quibbling about the derivation of the word rakia, which is literally something beaten out,122122 The root is generally applied to express the hammering or beating out of metal plates; hence something beaten or spread out. It has been pretended that the word rakia may be translated expanse, so as merely to mean empty space. The context sufficiently rebuts this. can affect the explicit description of the Mosaic writer, contained in the words ‘the waters that are above the firmament,’ or avail to show that he was aware that the sky is but transparent space.
On the third day, at the command of God, the waters which have hitherto concealed the earth are gathered together in one place—the sea,—and the dry land emerges. Upon the same day the earth brings forth grass, herb yielding seed and fruit trees, the destined food of the animals and of man (v. 29). Nothing is said of herbs and trees which are not serviceable to this purpose, and perhaps it may be contended, since there is no vegetable production which may not possibly be useful to man, or which is not preyed upon by some animal, that in this description the whole terrestrial flora is implied. We wish, however, to call the attention of the reader to the fact, that trees and plants destined for food are those which are particularly singled out here as the earliest productions of the earth, as we shall have occasion to refer to this again presently.
On the fourth day, the two great lights, the sun and moon, are made (Heb. hasah) and set in the firmament of heaven to give light to the earth, but more particularly to serve as the means of measuring time, and of marking out years, days, and seasons. This is the most prominent office assigned to them (v. 14-18). 221The formation of the stars is mentioned in the most cursory manner. It is not said out of what materials all these bodies were made, and whether the writer regarded them as already existing, and only waiting to have a proper place assigned them, may be open to question. At any rate, their allotted receptacle—the firmament—was not made until the second day, nor were they set in it until the fourth; vegetation, be it observed, having already commenced on the third, and therefore independently of the warming influence of the sun.
On the fifth day the waters are called into productive activity, and bring forth fishes and marine animals, as also the birds of the air.123123 In the second narrative of creation, in which no distinction of days is made, the birds are said to have been formed out of the ground. Gen ii. It is also said that God created or formed (bara) great whales and other creatures of the water and air. On the sixth day the earth brings forth living creatures, cattle, and reptiles, and also ‘the beast of the field,’ that is, the wild beasts. And here also it is added that God made (hasah) these creatures after their several kinds. The formation of man is distinguished by a variation of the creative fiat. ‘Let us make man in our image after our likeness.’ Accordingly, man is made and formed (bara) in the image and likeness of God, a phrase which has been explained away to mean merely ‘perfect, sinless,’ although the Pentateuch abounds in passages showing that the Hebrews contemplated the Divine being in the visible form of a man.124124 See particularly the narrative in Genesis xviii. Modern spiritualism has so entirely banished this idea, that probably many may not without an effort be able to accept the plain language of the Hebrew writer in its obvious sense in the 26th verse of the 1st chapter of Genesis, though they will have no difficulty in doing so in the (3rd verse of the 5th chapter, where the same words ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ are used. Man is said to have been created male and female, and the narrative contains 222nothing to show that a single pair only is intended.125125 It is in the second narrative of creation that the formation of a single man, out of the dust of the earth, is described, and the omission to create a female at the same time, is stated to have been repaired by the subsequent formation of one from the side of the man. He is commanded to increase and multiply, and to assume dominion over all the other tribes of beings. The whole of the works of creation being complete, God gives to man, beast, fowl, and creeping thing, the vegetable productions of the earth as their appointed food. And when we compare the verses Gen. i. 29, 30, with Gen. ix. 3, in which, after the Flood, animals are given to man for food in addition to the green herb, it is difficult not to come to the conclusion that in the earliest view taken of creation, men and animals were supposed to have been, in their original condition, not carnivorous. It is needless to say that this has been for the most part the construction put upon the words of the Mosaic writer, until a clear perception of the creative design which destined the tiger and lion for flesh-eaters, and latterly the geological proof of flesh-eating, monsters having existed among the pre-adamite inhabitants of the globe, rendered it necessary to ignore this meaning.
The 1st, 2nd, and 3rd verses of the second chapter of Genesis, which have been most absurdly divided from their context, conclude the narrative.126126 The common arrangement of the Bible in chapters is of comparatively modern origin, and is admitted, on all hands, to have no authority or philological worth whatever. In many cases, the division is most preposterous, and interferes greatly with an intelligent perusal of the text. On the seventh day God rests from His work, and blesses the day of rest, a fact which is referred to in the Commandment given from Sinai as the ground of the observance of Sabbatic rest imposed upon the Hebrews.
Remarkable as this narrative is for simple grandeur, it has nothing in it which can be properly called poetical. It bears on its face no trace of mystical or symbolical meaning. Things are called by their right names with a certain scientific exactness widely different 223from the imaginative cosmogonies of the Greeks, in which the powers and phenomena of nature are invested with personality, and the passions and qualities of men are represented as individual existences.
The circumstances related in the second narrative of creation are indeed such as to give at least some ground for the supposition that a mystical interpretation was intended to be given to it. But this is far from being the case with the first narrative, in which none but a professed mystifier of the school of Philo could see anything but a plain statement of facts. There can be little reasonable dispute then as to the sense in which the Mosaic narrative was taken by those who first heard it, nor is it indeed disputed that for centuries, putting apart the Philonic mysticism, which after all did not exclude a primary sense, its words have been received in their genuine and natural meaning. That this meaning is primâ facie one wholly adverse to the present astronomical and geological views of the universe is evident enough. There is not a mere difference through deficiency. It cannot be correctly said that the Mosaic writer simply leaves out details which modern science supplies, and that, therefore, the inconsistency is not a real but only an apparent one. It is manifest that the whole account is given from a different point of view from that which we now unavoidably take; that the order of things as we now know them to be, is to a great extent reversed, although here and there we may pick out some general analogies and points of resemblance. Can we say that the Ptolemaic system of astronomy is not at variance with modern science, because it represents with a certain degree of correctness some of the apparent motions of the heavenly bodies?
The task which sundry modern writers have imposed upon themselves is to prove, that the Mosaic narrative, however apparently at variance with our knowledge, is essentially, and in fact true, although 224never understood properly until modern science supplied the necessary commentary and explanation.
Two modes of conciliation have been propounded which have enjoyed considerable popularity, and to these two we shall confine our attention.
The first is that originally brought into vogue by Chalmers and adopted by the late Dr. Buckland in his Bridgewater Treatise, and which is probably still received by many as a sufficient solution of all difficulties. Dr. Buckland’s treatment of the case may be taken as a fair specimen of the line of argument adopted, and it shall be given in his own words. ‘The word beginning,’ he says, ‘as applied by Moses in the first verse of the book of Genesis, expresses an undefined period of time which was antecedent to the last great change that affected the surface of the earth, and to the creation of its present animal and vegetable inhabitants, during which period a long series of operations may have been going on; which as they are wholly unconnected with the history of the human race, are passed over in silence by the sacred historian, whose only concern was barely to state, that the matter of the universe is not eternal and self-existent, but was originally created by the power of the Almighty.’ ‘The Mosaic narrative commences with a declaration that ‘in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.’ These few first words of Genesis may be fairly appealed to by the geologist as containing a brief statement of the creation of the material elements, at a time distinctly preceding the operations of the first day; it is nowhere affirmed that God created the heaven and the earth in the first day, but in the beginning; this beginning may have been an epoch at an unmeasured distance, followed by periods of undefined duration during which all the physical operations disclosed by geology were going on.’
‘The first verse of Genesis, therefore, seems explicitly to assert the creation of the universe; the 225heaven, including the sidereal systems; and the earth, especially specifying our own planet, as the subsequent scene of the operations of the six days about to be described; no information is given as to events which may have occurred upon this earth, unconnected with the history of man, between the creation of its component matter recorded in the first verse, and the era at which its history is resumed in the second verse: nor is any limit fixed to the time during which these intermediate events may have been going on: millions of millions of years may have occupied the indefinite interval, between the beginning in which God created the heaven and the earth, and the evening or commencement of the first day of the Mosaic narrative.’
’ The second verse may describe the condition of the earth on the evening of this first day (for in the Jewish mode of computation used by Moses each day is reckoned from the beginning of one evening to the beginning of another evening). This first evening may be considered as the termination of the indefinite time which followed the primeval creation announced in the first verse, and as the commencement of the first of the six succeeding days in which the earth was to be filled up, and peopled in a manner fit for the reception of mankind. We have in this second verse, a distinct mention of earth and waters, as already existing and involved in darkness; their condition also is described as a state of confusion and emptiness (tohu bohu), words which are usually interpreted by the vague and indefinite Greek term chaos, and which may be geologically considered as designating the wreck and ruins of a former world. At this intermediate point of time the preceding undefined geological periods had terminated, a new series of events commenced, and the work of the first morning of this new creation was the calling forth of light from a temporary darkness, which had overspread the ruins of the ancient earth.’226
With regard to the formation of the sun and moon, Dr. Buckland observes, p. 27, ‘We are not told that the substance of the sun and moon was first called into existence on the fourth day; the text may equally imply that these bodies were then prepared and appointed to certain offices, of high importance to mankind, ‘to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day, and over the night, to be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and for years.’ The fact of their creation had been stated before in the first verse.’
The question of the meaning of the word bara, create, has been previously touched upon; it has been acknowledged by good critics that it does not of itself necessarily imply ‘to make out of nothing,’ upon the simple ground that it is found used in cases where such a meaning would be inapplicable. But the difficulty of giving to it the interpretation contended for by Dr. Buckland, and of uniting with this the assumption of a six days’ creation, such as that described in Genesis, at a comparatively recent period, lies in this, that the heaven itself is distinctly said to have been formed by the division of the waters on the second day. Consequently during the indefinite ages which elapsed from the primal creation of matter until the first Mosaic day of creation, there was no sky, no local habitation for the sun, moon, and stars, even supposing those bodies to have been included in the original material. Dr. Buckland does not touch this obvious difficulty, without which his argument that the sun and moon might have been contemplated as pre-existing, although they are not stated to have been set in the heaven until the fourth day, is of no value at all.
Dr. Buckland appears to assume that when it is said that the heaven and the earth were created in the beginning, it is to be understood that they were created in their present form and state of completeness, the heaven raised above the earth as we see it, or 227seem to see it now. This is the fallacy of his argument. The circumstantial description of the framing of the heaven out of the waters, proves that the words ‘heaven and earth,’ in the first verse, must be taken either proleptically, as a general expression for the universe, the matter of the universe in its crude and unformed shape, or else the word bara must mean formed, not created, the writer intending to say ‘God formed the heaven and earth in manner following,’ in which case heaven is used in its distinct and proper sense. But these two senses cannot be united in the manner covertly assumed in Dr Buckland’s argument.
Having, however, thus endeavoured to make out that the Mosaic account does not negative the idea that the sun, moon, and stars had ‘been created at the indefinitely distant time designated by the word beginning,’ he is reduced to describe the primæval darkness of the first day as ‘a temporary darkness, produced by an accumulation of dense vapours upon the face of the deep.’ ‘An incipient dispersion of these vapours may have readmitted light to the earth, upon the first day, whilst the exciting cause of light was obscured, and the further purification of the atmosphere upon the fourth day, may have caused the sun and moon and stars to re-appear in the firmament of heaven, to assume their new relations to the newly modified earth and to the human race.’
It is needless to discuss the scientific probability of this hypothesis, but the violence done to the grand and simple words of the Hebrew writer must strike every mind. ‘And God said, Let there be light—and there was light—and God saw the light that it was good. And God divided the light from the darkness, and God called the light day, and the darkness called he night; and the evening and the morning were the first day.’ Can any one sensible the value of words suppose, that nothing more is here described, or intended to be described, than the partial clearing 228 away of a fog? Can such a manifestation of light have been dignified by the appellation of day? Is not this reducing the noble description which has been the admiration of ages to a pitiful caput mortuum of empty verbiage?
What were the new relations which the heavenly bodies according to Dr. Buckland’s view, assumed to the newly modified earth and to the human race? They had, as we well know, marked out seasons, days and years, and had given light for ages before to the earth, and to the animals which preceded man as its inhabitants, as is shown, Dr. Buckland admits, by the eyes of fossil animals, optical instruments of the same construction as those of the animals of our days, and also by the existence of vegetables in the early world, to the development of which light must have been as essential then as now.
The hypothesis adopted by Dr. Buckland was first promulgated at a time when the gradual and regular formation of the earth’s strata was not seen or admitted so clearly as it is now. Geologists were more disposed to believe in great catastrophes and sudden breaks. Buckland’s theory supposes that previous to the appearance of the present races of animals and vegetables there was a great gap in the globe’s history,—that the earth was completely depopulated, as well of marine as land animals; and that the creation of all existing plants and animals was coæval with that of man. This theory is by no means supported by geological phenomena, and is, we suppose, now rejected by all geologists whose authority is valuable. Thus writes Hugh Miller in 1857—‘I certainly did once believe with Chalmers and with Buckland that the six days were simply natural days of twenty-four hours each—that they had comprised the entire work of the existing creation—and that the latest of the geologic ages was separated by a great chaotic gap from our own.My labours at the time as a practical geologist 229 had been very much restricted to the palæozoic and secondary rocks, more especially to the old red and carboniferous systems of the one division, and the oolitic system of the other; and the long-extinct organisms organisms which I found in them certainly did not conflict with the view of Chalmers. All I found necessary at the time to the work of reconciliation was some scheme that would permit me to assign to the earth a high antiquity, and to regard it as the scene of many succeeding creations. During the last nine years, however, I have spent a few weeks every autumn in exploring the late formations, and acquainting myself with their particular organisms. I have traced them upwards from the raised beaches and old coast lines of the human period, to the brick clays, Clyde beds, and drift and boulder deposits of the Pleistocene era; and again from them, with the help of museums and collections, up through the mammaliferous crag of England to its red and coral crags; and the conclusion at which I have been compelled to arrive is, that for many long ages ere man was ushered into being, not a few of his humbler contemporaries of the fields and woods enjoyed life in their present haunts, and that for thousands of years anterior to even their appearance, many of the existing molluscs lived in our seas. That day during which the present creation came into being, and in which God, when he had made ‘the beast of the earth after his kind, and the cattle after their kind,’ at length terminated the work by moulding a creature in His own image, to whom He gave dominion over them all, was not a brief period of a few hours’ duration, but extended over, mayhap, millenniums of centuries. No blank chaotic gap of death and darkness separated the creation to which man belongs from that of the old extinct elephant, hippopotamus, and hyæna; for familiar animals, such as the red deer, the roe, the fox, the wild cat, and the badger, lived throughout the 230period which connected their time with our own; and so I have been compelled to hold that the days of creation were not natural but prophetic days, and stretched far back into the bygone eternity.’127127 Testimony of the Rocks, P. 10.
Hugh Miller will be admitted by many as a competent witness to the untenability of the theory of Chalmers and Buckland on mere geological grounds. He had, indeed, a theory of his own to propose, which we shall presently consider; but we may take his word that it was not without the compulsion of what he considered irresistible evidence that he relinquished a view which would have saved him infinite time and labour, could he have adhered to it.
But whether contemplated from a geological point of view, or whether from a philological one, that is, with reference to the value of words, the use of language, and the ordinary rules which govern writers whose object it is to make themselves understood by those to whom their works are immediately addressed, the interpretation proposed by Buckland to be given to the Mosaic description will not bear a moment’s serious discussion. It is plain, from the whole tenor of the narrative, that the writer contemplated no such representation as that suggested, nor could any such idea have entered into the minds of those to whom the account was first given. Dr. Buckland endeavours to make out that we have here simply a case of leaving out facts which did not particularly concern the writer’s purpose, so that he gave an account true so far as it went, though imperfect. ‘We may fairly ask,’ he argues, ‘of those persons who consider physical science a fit subject for revelation, what point they can imagine short of a communication of Omniscience at which such a revelation might have stopped without imperfections of omission, less in degree, but 231similar in kind, to that which they impute to the existing narrative of Moses? A revelation of so much only of astronomy as was known to Copernicus would have seemed imperfect after the discoveries of Newton; and a revelation of the science of Newton would have appeared defective to La Place: a revelation of all the chemical knowledge of the eighteenth century would have been as deficient in comparison with the information of the present day, as what is now known in this science will probably appear before the termination of another age; in the whole circle of sciences there is not one to which this argument may not be extended, until we should require from revelation a full development of all the mysterious agencies that uphold the mechanism of the material world.’ Buckland’s question is quite inapplicable to the real difficulty, which is, not that circumstantial details are omitted—that might reasonably be expected—but that what is told, is told so as to convey to ordinary apprehensions an impression at variance with facts. We are indeed told that certain writers of antiquity had already anticipated the hypothesis of the geologist, and two of the Christian fathers, Augustine and Episcopius, are referred to as having actually held that a wide interval elapsed between the first act of creation, mentioned in the Mosaic account, and the commencement of the six days’ work.128128 See Dr. Pusey’s note—Buckland’s Bridgewater Treatise, pp. 24, 25. If, however, they arrived at such a conclusion, it was simply because, like the modern geologist, they had theories of their own to support, which led them to make somewhat similar hypotheses.
‘After all,’ says Buckland, it should be recollected that the question is not respecting the correctness of the Mosaic narrative, but of our interpretation of it,’ proposition which can hardly be sufficiently reprobated. 232Such a doctrine, carried out unreservedly, strikes at the root of critical morality. It may, indeed, be sometimes possible to give two or three different interpretations to one and the same passage, even in a modern and familiar tongue, in which case this may arise from the unskilfulness of the writer or speaker who has failed clearly to express his thought. In a dead or foreign language the difficulty may arise from our own want of familiarity with its forms of speech, or in an ancient book we may be puzzled by allusions and modes of thought the key to which has been lost. But it is no part of the commentator’s or interpreter’s business to introduce obscurity or find difficulties where none exist, and it cannot be pretended that, taking it as a question of the use of words to express thoughts, there are any peculiar difficulties about understanding the first chapter of Genesis, whether in its original Hebrew or in our common translation, which represents the original with all necessary exactness. The difficulties arise for the first time, when we seek to import a meaning into the language which it certainly never could have conveyed to those to whom it was originally addressed. Unless we go the whole length of supposing the simple account of the Hebrew cosmogonist to be a series of awkward equivocations, in which he attempted to give a representation widely different from the facts, yet, without trespassing against literal truth, we can find no difficulty in interpreting his words. Although language may be, and often has been, used for the purpose, not of expressing, but concealing thought, no such charge can fairly be laid against the Hebrew writer.
‘It should be borne in mind,’ says Dr. Buckland, ‘that the object of the account was, not to state in what manner, but by whom the world was made.’ Every one must see that this is an unfounded assertion, inasmuch as the greater part of the narrative consists in a minute and orderly description of 233the manner in which things were made. We can know nothing as to the object of the account, except from the account itself. What the writer meant to state is just that which he has stated, for all that we can know to the contrary. Or can we seriously beleive that if appealed to by one of his Hebrew hearers or readers as to his intention, he would have replied, My only object in what I have written is to inform you that God made the world; as to the manner of His doing it, of which I have given so exact an account, I have no intention that my words should be taken in their literal meaning.
We come then to this, that if we sift the Mosaic narrative of all definite meaning, and only allow it to be the expression of the most vague generalities, if we avow that it admits of no certain interpretation, of none that may not be shifted and altered as often as we see fit, and as the exigencies of geology may require, then may we reconcile it with what science teaches. This mode of dealing with the subject has been broadly advocated by a recent writer of mathematical eminence, who adopts the Bucklandian hypothesis, a passage from whose work we shall quote.129129 Scripture and Science not at Variance. By J. H. Pratt, M.A., Archdeacon of Calcutta, 1859. Third edition, p. 34.
‘The Mosaic account of the six days’ work is thus harmonized by some. On the first day, while the earth was ‘without form and void,’ the result of a previous convulsion in nature, ‘and darkness was upon the face of the deep,’ God commanded light to shine upon the earth. This may have been effected by such a clearing of the thick and loaded atmosphere, as to allow the light of the sun to penetrate its mass with a suffused illumination, sufficient to dispel the total darkness which had prevailed, but proceeding from a source not yet apparent on the earth. On the second day a separation took place in 234the thick vapoury mass which lay upon the earth, dense clouds were gathered up aloft and separated by an expanse from the waters and vapours below. On the third day these lower vapours, or fogs and mists which hitherto concealed the earth, were condensed and gathered with the other waters of the earth into seas, and the dry land appeared. Then grass and herbs began to grow. On the fourth day the clouds and vapours so rolled into separate masses, or were so entirely absorbed into the air itself, that the sun shone forth in all its brilliancy, the visible source of light and heat to the renovated earth, while the moon and stars gave light by night, and God appointed them henceforth for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and for years, to his creatures whom he was about to call into existence, as he afterwards set or appointed his bow in the clouds, which had appeared ages before, to be a sign to Noah and his descendants. The fifth and sixth days’ work needs no comment.
‘According to this explanation, the first chapter of Genesis does not pretend (as has been generally assumed) to be a cosmogony, or an account of the original creation of the material universe. The only cosmogony which it contains, in that sense at least, is confined to the sublime declaration of the first verse, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ The inspired record thus stepping over an interval of indefinite ages with which man has no direct concern, proceeds at once to narrate the events preparatory to the introduction of man on the scene; employing phraseology strictly faithful to the appear- ances which would have met the eye of man, could, he have been a spectator on the earth of what passed during those six days. All this has been commonly supposed to be a more detailed account of the general truth announced in the first verse, in short, a cosmogony: such was the idea of Josephus; such probably was the idea of our translators; for their version, 235without form and void, points to the primæval chaos, out of which all things were then supposed to emerge; and these words standing in limine, have tended, perhaps more than anything else, to foster the idea of a cosmogony in the minds of general readers to this very day.
‘The foregoing explanation many have now adopted. It is sufficient for my purpose, if it be a possible explanation, and if it meet the difficulties of the case. That it is possible in itself, is plain from the fact above established, that the Scriptures wisely speak on natural things according to their appearances rather than their physical realities. It meets the difficulties of the case, because all the difficulties hitherto started against this chapter on scientific grounds proceeded on the principle that it is a cosmogony; which this explanation repudiates, and thus disposes of the difficulties. It is therefore an explanation satisfactory to my own mind. I may be tempted to regret that I eau gain no certain scientific information from Genesis regarding the process of the original creation; but I resist the temptation, remembering the great object for which the Scripture was given—to tell man of his origin and fall, and to draw his mind to his Creator and Redeemer. Scripture was not designed to teach us natural philosophy, and it is vain to attempt to make a cosmogony out of its statements. The Almighty declares himself the originator of all things, but he condescends not to describe the process or the laws by which he worked. All this he leaves for reason to decipher from the phenomena which his world displays.
‘This exploration, however, I do not wish to impose on Scripture; and am fully prepared to surrender it, should further scientific discovery suggest another better fitted to meet all the requirements of the case.’
We venture to think that the world at large will continue to consider the account in the first chapter of 236Genesis to be a cosmogony. But as it is here admitted that it does not describe physical realities, but only outward appearances, that is, gives a description false in fact, and one which can teach us no scientific truth whatever, it seems to matter little what we call it. If its description of the events of the six days which it comprises be merely one of appearances and not of realities, it can teach us nothing regarding them.
Dissatisfied with the scheme of conciliation which has been discussed, other geologists have proposed to give an entirely mythical or enigmatical sense to the Mosaic narrative, and to consider the creative days described as vast periods of time. This plan was long ago suggested, but it has of late enjoyed a high degree of popularity, through the advocacy of the Scotch geologist Hugh Miller, an extract from whose work has been already quoted. Dr. Buckland gives the following account of the first form in which this theory was propounded, and of the grounds upon which he rejected it in favour of that of Chalmers:130130 Bridgewater Treatise, p. 17.—
‘A third opinion has been suggested both by learned theologians and by geologists, and on grounds independent of one another—viz., that the days of the Mosaic creation need not be understood to imply the same length of time which is now occupied by a single revolution of the globe, but successive periods each of great extent; and it has been asserted that the order of succession of the organic remains of a former world accords with the order of creation recorded in Genesis. This assertion, though to a certain degree apparently correct, is not entirely supported by geological facts, since it appears that the most ancient marine animals occur in the same division of the lowest transition strata with the 237earliest remains of vegetables, so that the evidence of organic remains, as far as it goes, shows the origin of plants and animals to have been contemporaneous: if any creation of vegetables preceded that of animals, no evidence of such an event has yet been discovered by the researches of geology. Still there is, I believe, by no sound critical or theological objection to the interpretation of the word ‘day’ as meaning a long ‘period.’
‘There is one other class of interpreters, however, with whom I find it impossible to agree,—I mean those who take the six days to be six periods of unknown indefinite length. This is the principle of interpretation in a work on the Creation and the Fall, by the Rev. D. Macdonald; also in Mr. Hugh Miller’s posthumous work, the Testimony of the Rocks, and also in an admirable treatise on the Præ-Adamite Earth in Dr. Lardner’s Museum of Science. In this last it is the more surprising because the successive chapters are in fact an accumulation of evidence which points the other way, as a writer in the Christian Observer, Jan. 1858, has conclusively shown. The late M. D’Orbigny has demonstrated in his Prodrome de Palæontologie, after an elaborate examination of vast multitudes of fossils, that there have been at least twenty-nine distinct periods of animal and vegetable existence—that is, twenty nine creations separated one from another by catastrophes which have swept away the species existing at the time, with a very few solitary exceptions, never exceeding one and a-half per cent, of the whole number discovered which have either survived the catastrophe, or have been erroneously designated. But not a single species of the 238preceding period survived the last of these catastrophes, and this closed the Tertiary period and ushered in the Human period. The evidence adduced by M. D’Orbigny shows that both plants and animals appeared in every one of those twenty-nine periods. The notion, therefore, that the ‘days’ of Genesis represent periods of creation from the beginning of things is at once refuted. The parallel is destroyed both in the number of the periods (thirty, including the Azoic, instead of six), and also in the character of the things created. No argument could be more complete; and yet the writer of the Præ-Admite Earth, in the last two pages, sums up his lucid sketch of M. D’Orbigny’s researches by referring the account in the first chapter of Genesis to the whole creation from the beginning of all things, a selection of epochs being made, as he imagines, for the six days or periods.’
In this trenchant manner do theological geologists overthrow one another’s theories. However, Hugh Miller was perfectly aware of the difficulty involved in his view of the question, and we shall endeavour to show the reader the manner in which he deals with it.
He begins by pointing out that the families of vegetables and animals were introduced upon earth as nearly as possible according to the great classes in which naturalists have arranged the modern flora and fauna. According to the arrangement of Lindley, he observes—‘Commencing at the bottom of the scale we find the thallogens, or flowerless plants, which lack proper stems and leaves—a class which includes all the algæ. Next succeed the acrogens, or flowerless plants that possess both stems and leaves—such as the ferns and their allies. Next, omitting an inconspicuous class, represented by but a few parasitical plants incapable of preservation as fossils, come the endogens— monocotyledonous flowering plants, that include the palms, the liliaceæ, and several other families, all 239characterised by the parallel venation of their leaves. Next, omitting another inconspicuous tribe, there follows a very important class, the gymnogens—polycotyledonous trees, represented by the comferæ and cycadaceæ. And last of all come the dicotyledonous exogens—a class to which all our fruit and what are known as our forest trees belong, with a vastly preponderating majority of the herbs and flowers that impart fertility and beauty to our gardens and meadows.’ The order in which fossils of these several classes appear in the strata, Hugh Miller states to be as follows:—In the Lower Silurian we find only thallogens, in the Upper Silurian acrogens are added. The gymnogens appear rather prematurely, it might be thought, in the old red sandstone, the endogens (monocotyledonous) coming after them in the carboniferous group. Dicotyledonous exogens enter at the close of the oolitic period, and come to their greatest development in the tertiary. Again, the animal tribes have been introduced in an order closely agreeing with the geological divisions established by Cuvier. In the Silurian beds the invertebrate creatures, the radiata, articulata, and mollusca, appear simultaneously. At the close of the period, fishes, the lowest of the vertebrata, appear: before the old red sandstone period had passed away, reptiles had come into existence; birds, and the marsupial mammals, enter in the oolitic period; placental mammals in the tertiary; and man last of all.
Now, these facts do certainly tally to some extent with the Mosaic account, which represents fish and fowl as having been produced from the waters on the fifth day, reptiles and mammals from the earth on the sixth, and man as made last of all. The agreement, however, is far from exact, as according to geological evidence, reptiles would appear to have existed ages ages before birds and mammals, whereas here the creation of birds is attributed to the fifth day, that of reptiles to the sixth. There remains, moreover, the insuperable 240difficulty of the plants and trees being represented as made on the third day—that is, more than an ago before fishes and birds; which is clearly not the case.
Although, therefore, there is a superficial resemblance in the Mosaic account to that of the geologists, it is evident that the bare theory that a ‘day’ means an age or immense geological period might be made to yield some rather strange results. What becomes of the evening and morning of which each day is said to have consisted? Was each geologic age divided into two long intervals, one all darkness, the other all light? and if so, what became of the plants and trees created in the third day or period, when the evening of the fourth day (the evenings, be it observed, precede the mornings) set in? They must have passed through half a seculum of total darkness, not even cheered by that dim light which the sun, not yet completely manifested, supplied on the morning of the third day. Such an ordeal would have completely destroyed the whole vegetable creation, and yet we find that it survived, and was appointed on the sixth day as the food of man and animals. In fact, we need only substitute the word ‘period’ for ‘day’ in the Mosaic narrative to make it very apparent that the writer at least had no such meaning, nor could he have conveyed any such meaning to those who first heard his account read.
‘It has been held,’ says Hugh Miller, ‘by accomplished philologists, that the days of Mosaic creation may be regarded without doing violence to the Hebrew language, as successive periods of great extent.’132132 Testimony, p. 133. We do not believe that there is any ground for this doctrine. The word ‘day’ is certainly used occasionally in particular phrases, in an indefinite manner, not only in Hebrew, but other languages. As for instance, Gen. xxxix. 11—‘About this time,’ Heb. literally, 241about this day.’ But every such phrase explains itself and not only philology but common sense disclaims the notion, that when ‘day’ is spoken of in terms like those in the first chapter of Genesis, and described as consisting of an evening and a morning, it can be understood to mean a seculum.
Archdeacon Pratt, treating on the same subject, says (p, 41, note), ‘Were there no other ground of objection to this mode of interpretation, I think the wording of the fourth commandment is clearly opposed to it. Ex. xx. 8. ‘Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. 9. Six days shalt thou labour and do all thy work. 10. But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God. In it thou, shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates. 11. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day; wherefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and hallowed it.’
‘Is it not a harsh and forced interpretation to suppose that the six days in v. 9 do not mean the same as the six days in v. 11, but that in this last place they mean six periods? In reading through the eleventh verse, it is extremely difficult to believe that the seventh day is a long period, and the sabbath day an ordinary day, that is, that the same word day should be used in two such totally different senses in the same short sentence and without any explanation.’
Hugh Miller saw the difficulty; but he endeavours to escape the consequences of a rigorous application of the periodic theory by modifying it in a peculiar, and certainly ingenious manner. ‘Waiving,’ he says, ‘the question as a philological one, and simply holding with Cuvier, Parkinson and Silliman, that each of the six days of the Mosaic account in the first chapter 242were what is assuredly meant by the day133133 The expression, Gen. ii. 4. ‘In the day that the Lord God created the earth and heaven,’ to which Hugh Miller here refers, may possibly mean ‘at the time when,’ meaning a week, year, or other limited time. But there is not the smallest reason for understanding it to mean ‘a lengthened period,’ i.e., an immense lapse of time. Such a construction would be inadmissible in the Hebrew, or any other language. It it difficult to acquit Hugh Miller of an equivocation here. In real truth, the second narrative is, as we have before observed, of distinct origin from the first, and we incline to the belief that, in this case also, ‘day’ is to be taken in its proper signification. referred to in the second, not natural days but lengthened periods, I find myself called on, as a geologist, to account for but three out of the six. Of the period during which light was created, of the period during which it firmament was made to separate the waters from the waters, or of the period during which the two great lights of the earth, with the other heavenly bodies, became visible from the earth’s surface—we need expect to find no record in the rocks. Let me, however, pause for a moment, to remark the peculiar character of the language in which we are first introduced in the Mosaic narrative, to the heavenly bodies—sun, moon, and stars. The moon, though absolutely one of the smallest lights of our system, is described as secondary and subordinate to only its greatest light, the sun. It is the apparent, then, not the actual, which we find in the passage—what seemed to be, not what was; and as it was merely what appeared to be greatest that was described as greatest, on what grounds are we to hold that it may not also have been what appeared at the time to be made that has been described as made? The sun, moon, and stars, may have been created long before, though it was not until this fourth day of creation that they became visible from the earth’s surface.’134134 Testimony, p. 134.
The theory founded upon this hint is that the Hebrew writer did not state facts, but merely certain appearances, and those not of things which really happened, 243as assumed in the explanation adopted by Archdeacon Pratt, but of certain occurrences which were presented to him in a vision, and that this vision greatly deceived him as to what he seemed see; and thus, in effect, the real discrepancy of the narrative with facts is admitted. He had in all, seven visions, to each of which he attributed the duration of a day, although indeed each picture presented to him the earth during seven long and distinctly marked epochs. While on the one hand this supposition admits all desirable latitude for mistakes and misrepresentations, Hugh Miller, on the other hand, endeavours to show that a substantial agreement with the truth exists, and to give sufficient reason for the mistakes. We must let him speak for himself. ‘The geologist, in his attempts to collate the Divine with the geologic record, has, I repeat, only three of the six periods of creation to account for135135 A very inadmissible assertion. Any one, be he geologist, aetronomer, theologian, or philologist, who attempts to explain the Hebrew narrative, is bound to take it with all that really belongs to it. And in truth, if the fourth day really represented an epoch of creative activity, geology would be able to give some account of it. There is no reason to suppose that any intermission has taken place.—the period of plants, the period of great sea-monsters and creeping things, and the period of cattle and beasts of the earth. He is called on to question his systems and formations regarding the remains of these three great periods, and of them only. And the question once fairly stated, what, I ask, is the reply? All geologists agree in holding that the vast geological scale naturally divides into three great parts. There are many lesser divisions—divisions into systems, formations, deposits, beds, strata; but the master divisions, in each of which we find a type of life so unlike that of the others, that even the unpractised eye can detect the difference, are simply three: the Palaeozoic, or oldest fossiliferous division; the secondary, 244or middle fossiliferous division; and the tertiary, or latest fossiliferous division. In the first, or palæozoic division, we find corals, crustaceans, molluscs, fishes; and in its later formations, a few reptiles. But none of these classes give its leading character to the palæozoic; they do not constitute its prominent feature, or render it more remarkable as a scene of life than any of the divisions which followed. That which chiefly distinguished the palæozoic from the secondary and tertiary periods was its gorgeous flora. It was emphatically the period of plants—‘of herbs yielding seed after their kind.’ In no other age did the world ever witness such a flora; the youth of the earth was peculiarly a green and umbrageous youth—a youth of dusk and tangled forests, of huge pines and stately araucarians, of the reed-like calamite, the tall tree-fern, the sculptured sigillaria, and the hirsute lepidodendrons. Wherever dry land, or shallow lakes, or running stream appeared, from where Melville Island now spreads out its icy coast under the star of the pole, to where the arid plains of Australia lie solitary beneath the bright cross of the south, a rank and luxuriant herbage cumbered every foot-breadth of the dank and steaming soil; and even to distant planets our earth must have shone through the enveloping cloud with a green and delicate ray. . . . The geologic evidence is so complete as to be patent to all, that the first great period of organized being was, as described in the Mosaic record, peculiarly a period of herbs and trees ‘yielding seed after their kind.’
‘The middle great period of the geologist—that of the secondary division—possessed, like the earlier one, its herbs and plants, but they were of a greatly less luxuriant and conspicuous character than their predecessors, and no longer formed the prominent trait or feature of the creation to which they belonged. The period had also its corals, its crustaceans, molluscs, its fishes, and in some one or two exceptional 245instances, its dwarf mammals. But the grand existences of the age—the existences in which it excelled every other creation, earlier or later—were its enormous creeping things—its enormous monsters of the deep, and, as shown by the impressions of their footprints stamped upon the rocks, its gigantic birds. It was peculiarly the age of egg-bearing animals, winged and wingless. Its wonderful whales, not however, as now, of the mammalian, but of the reptilian class,—ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs, and cetosaurs, must have tempested the deep; its creeping lizards and crocodiles, such as the teliosaurns, megalosaurus, and iguanodon—creatures, some of which more than rivalled the existing elephant in height, and greatly more than rivalled him in bulk—must have crowded the plains, or haunted by myriads the rivers of the period; and we know that the foot-prints of at least one of its many birds are of fully twice the size of those made by the horse or camel. We are thus prepared to demonstrate, that the second period of the geologist was peculiarly and characteristically a period of whale-like reptiles of the sea, of enormous creeping reptiles of the land, and of numerous birds, some of them of gigantic size; and in meet accordance with the fact, we find that the second Mosaic period with which the geologist is called on to deal, was a period in which God created the fowl that flieth above the earth, with moving (or creeping) creatures, both in the waters and on land, and what our translation renders great whales, but that I find rendered in the margin great sea-monsters. The tertiary period had also its prominent class of existences. Its flora seems to have been no more conspicuous than that of the present time; its reptiles occupy a very subordinate place; but its beasts of the field were by far the most wonderfully developed, both in size and numbers, that ever appeared on earth. Its mammoths and its mastodons, its rhinoceri and its hippopotami, its enormous 246dinotherium, and colossal megatherium, greatly more than equalled in bulk the hugest mammals of the present time, and vastly exceeded them in number * * * ‘Grand, indeed,’ says an English naturalist, ‘was the fauna of the British Islands in these early days. Tigers as large again as the biggest Asiatic species lurked in the ancient thickets; elephants a nearly twice the bulk of the largest individuals that now exist in Africa or Ceylon roamed in herds; at least two species of rhinoceros forced their way through the primæval forest; and the lakes and rivers were tenanted by hippopotami as bulky and with as great tusks as those of Africa.’ The massive cave-bear and large cave-hyæna belonged to the same formidable group, with at least two species of great oxen (Bos longifrons and Bos primigenius), with a horse of smaller size, and an elk (Megaceros Hibernicus) that stood ten feet four inches in height. Truly this Tertiary age—this third and last of the great geologic periods—was peculiarly the age of great ‘beasts of the earth after their kind, and cattle after their kind.’’
Thus by dropping the invertebrata, and the early fishes and reptiles of the Palæozoic period as inconspicuous and of little account, and bringing prominently forward the carboniferous era which succeeded them as the most characteristic feature of the first great division, by classing the great land reptiles of the secondary period with the moving creatures of the waters, (for in the Mosaic account it does not appear that any inhabitants of the land were created on the fifth day). and evading the fact that terrestrial reptiles seem to have preceded birds in their order of appearance upon earth, the geologic divisions are tolerably well assimilated to the third, fifth, and sixth Mosaic days. These things were represented, we are told, to Moses in visionary pictures, and resulted in the short and summary account which he has given.
There is something in this hypothesis very near to 247the obvious truth, while at the same time something very remote from that truth is meant to be inferred. If it be said the Mosaic account is simply the speculation of some early Copernicus or Newton who devised a scheme of the earth’s formation, as nearly he might in accordance with his own observations of nature, and with such views of things as it was possible for an unassisted thinker in those days to take, we may admire the approximate correctness of the picture drawn, while we see that the writer, as might be expected, took everything from a different point of view from ourselves, and consequently represented much quite differently from the fact. But nothing of this sort is really intended. We are asked to believe that a vision of creation was presented to him by Divine power, for the purpose of enabling him to inform the world of what he had seen, which vision inevitably led him to give a description which has misled the world for centuries, and in which the truth can now only with difficulty be recognised. The Hebrew writer informs us that on the third day ‘the earth brought forth grass, the herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind;’ and in the 29th verse, that God on the sixth day said, ‘Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed, to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to everything that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat.’ Can it be disputed that the writer here conceives that grass, corn, and fruit, were created on the third day, and with a view to the future nourishment of man and beast? Yet, according to the vision hypothesis, he must have been greatly deceived; for that luxuriant vegetation which he saw on the third day, consisted not of plants destined 248for the food of man, but for his fuel. It was the flora of the carboniferous period which he beheld; concerning which Hugh Miller makes the following remark, p. 24:—‘The existing plants whence we derive our analogies in dealing with the vegetation of this early period, contribute but little, if at all, to the support of animal life. The ferns and their allies remain untouched by the grazing animals. Our native club-mosses, though once used in medicine, are positively deleterious; the horsetails, though harmless, so abound in silex, which wraps them round with a cuticle of stone, that they are rarely cropped by cattle; while the thickets of fern which cover our hill-sides, and seem so temptingly rich and green in their season, scarce support the existence of a single creature, and remain untouched in stem and leaf from their first appearance in spring, until they droop and wither under the frosts of early winter. Even the insects that infest the herbaria of the botanist almost never injure his ferns. Nor are our resin-producing conifers, though they nourish a few beetles, favourites with the herbivorous tribes in a much greater degree. Judging from all we yet know, the earliest terrestrial flora may have covered the dry land with its mantle of cheerful green, and served its general purposes, chemical and others, in the well-balanced economy of nature; but the herb-eating animals would have fared but ill, even where it throve most luxuriantly; and it seems to harmonize with the fact of its unedible character that up to the present time we know not that a single herbivorous animal lived amongst its shades. The Mosaic writer is, however, according to the theory, misled by the mere appearance of luxurious vegetation, to describe fruit trees and edible seed-bearing vegetables as products of the third day.
Hugh Miller’s treatment of the description of the first dawn of light is not more satisfactory than that of Dr. Buckland. He supposes the prophet in his 249dream to have heard the command ‘Let there be light’ enunciated, whereupon ‘straightway a grey diffused light springs up in the east, and casting its sickly gleam over a cloud-limited expanse of steaming vaporous sea, journeys through the heavens towards the west. One heavy, sunless day is made the representative of myriads; the faint light waxes fainter,—it sinks beneath the dim, undefined horizon.’
We are then asked to imagine that a second and a third day, each representing the characteristic features of a great distinctly-marked epoch, and the latter of them marked by the appearance of a rich and luxuriant vegetation, are presented to the seer’s eye; but without sun, moon, or stars as yet entering into his dream. These appear first in his fourth vision, and then for the first time we have ‘a brilliant day,’ and the seer, struck with the novelty, describes the heavenly bodies as being the most conspicuous objects in the picture. In reality we know that he represents them (v. 16) as having been made and set in the heavens on that day, though Hugh Miller avoids reminding us of this.
In one respect the theory of Hugh Miller agrees with that advocated by Dr. Buckland and Archdeacon Pratt. Both these theories divest the Mosaic narrative of real accordance with fact; both assume that appearances only, not facts, are described, and that in riddles, which would never have been suspected to be such, had we not arrived at the truth from other sources. It would be difficult for controversialists to cede more completely the point in dispute, or to admit more explicitly that the Mosaic narrative does not represent correctly the history of the universe up to the time of man. At the same time, the upholders of each theory see insuperable objections in details to that of their allies, and do not pretend to any firm faith in their own. How can it be otherwise when the task proposed is to evade the plain meaning of language, and to introduce obscurity into one of the simplest stories ever told, 250for the sake of making it accord with the complex system of the universe which modern science has unfolded? The spectacle of able and, we doubt not, conscientious writers engaged in attempting the impossible is painful and humiliating. They evidently do not breathe freely over their work, but shuffle and stumble over their difficulties in a piteous manner; nor are they themselves again until they return to the pure and open fields of science.
It is refreshing to return to the often-echoed remark, that it could not have been the object of a Divine revelation to instruct mankind in physical science, man having had faculties bestowed upon him to enable him to acquire this knowledge by himself. This is in fact pretty generally admitted; but in the application of the doctrine, writers play at fast and loose with it according to circumstances. Thus an inspired writer may be permitted to allude to the phenomena of nature according to the vulgar view of such things, without impeachment of his better knowledge; but if he speaks of the same phenomena assertively, we are bound to suppose that things are as he represents them, however much our knowledge of nature may be disposed to recalcitrate. But if we find a difficulty in admitting that such misrepresentations can find a place in revelation, the difficulty lies in our having previously assumed what a Divine revelation ought to be. If God made use of imperfectly informed men to lay the foundations of that higher knowledge for which the human race was destined, is it wonderful that they should have committed themselves to assertions not in accordance with facts, although they may have believed them to be true? On what grounds has the popular notion of Divine revelation been built up? Is it not plain that the plan of Providence for the education of man is a progressive one, and as imperfect men have been used as the agents for teaching mankind, is it not to be expected that their teachings should be partial and, to 251some extent, erroneous? Admitted, as it is, that physical science is not what the Hebrew writers, for the most part, profess to convey, at any rate, that it is not on account of the communication of such knowledge that we attach any value to their writings, why should we hesitate to recognise their fallibility on this head?
Admitting, as is historically and in fact the case, that it was the mission of the Hebrew race to lay the foundation of religion upon the earth, and that Providence used this people specially for this purpose, is it not our business and our duty to look and see how this has really been done? not forming for ourselves theories of what a revelation ought to be, or how we, if entrusted with the task, would have made one, but enquiring how it has pleased God to do it. In all his theories of the world, man has at first deviated widely from the truth, and has only gradually come to see how far otherwise God has ordered things than the first daring speculator had supposed. It has been popularly assumed that the Bible, bearing the stamp of Divine authority, must be complete, perfect, and unimpeachable in all its parts, and a thousand difficulties and incoherent doctrines have sprung out of this theory. Men have proceeded in the matter of theology, as they did with physical science before inductive philosophy sent them to the feet of nature, and bid them learn in patience and obedience the lessons which she had to teach. Dogma and groundless assumption occupy the place of modest enquiry after truth, while at the same time the upholders of these theories claim credit for humility and submissiveness. This is exactly inverting the fact; the humble scholar of truth is not he who, taking his stand upon the traditions of rabbins, Christian fathers, or school-men, insists upon bending facts to his unyielding standard, but he who is willing to accept such teaching as it has pleased Divine Providence to afford, without 252murmuring that it has not been furnished more copiously or clearly.
The Hebrew race, their works, and their books, are great facts in the history of man; the influence of the mind of this people upon the rest of mankind has been immense and peculiar, and there can be no difficulty in recognising therein the hand of a directing Providence. But we may not make ourselves wiser than God, nor attribute to Him methods of procedure which are not His. If, then, it is plain that He has not thought it needful to communicate to the writer of the Cosmogony that knowledge which modern researches have revealed, why do we not acknowledge this, except that it conflicts with a human theory which presumes to point out how God ought to have instructed man? The treatment to which the Mosaic narrative is subjected by the theological geologists is anything but respectful. The writers of this school, as we have seen, agree in representing it as a series of elaborate equivocations—a story which ‘palters with us in a double sense.’ But if we regard it as the speculation of some Hebrew Descartes or Newton, promulgated in all good faith as the best and most probable account that could be then given of God’s universe, it resumes the dignity and value of which the writers in question have done their utmost to deprive it. It has been sometimes felt as a difficulty to taking this view of the case, that the writer asserts so solemnly and unhesitatingly that for which he must have known that he had no authority. But this arises only from our modern habits of thought, and from the modesty of assertion which the spirit of true science has taught us. Mankind has learnt caution through repeated slips in the process of tracing out the truth.
The early speculator was harassed by no such scruples, and asserted as facts what he knew in reality only as probabilities. But we are not on that account to doubt his perfect good faith, nor need we attribute 253to him wilful misrepresentation, or consciousness of asserting that which he knew not to be true. He had seized one great truth, in which, indeed, he anticipated the highest revelation of modern enquiry—namely, the unity of the design of the world, and its subordination to one sole Maker and Lawgiver. With regard to details, observation failed him. He knew little of the earth’s surface, or of its shape and place in the universe; the infinite varieties of organized existences which people it, the distinct floras and faunas of its different continents, were unknown to him. But he saw that all which lay within his observation bad been formed for the benefit and service of man, and the goodness of the Creator to his creatures was the thought predominant in his mind. Man’s closer relations to his Maker is indicated by the representation that he was formed last of all creatures, and in the visible likeness of God. For ages, this simple view of creation satisfied the wants of man, and formed a sufficient basis of theological teaching, and if modern research now shows it to be physically untenable, our respect for the narrative which has played so important a part in the culture of our race need be in nowise diminished. No one contends that it can be used as a basis of astronomical or geological teaching, and those who profess to see in it an accordance with facts, only do this sub modo, and by processes which despoil it of its consistency and grandeur, both which may be preserved if we recognise in it, not an authentic utterance of Divine knowledge, but a human utterance, which it has pleased Providence to use Providence a special way for the education of mankind.254
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