Consistency of Geological Discoveries with Sacred History.
IT may seem just matter of surprise, that many learned and religious men should regard with jealousy and suspicion the study of any natural phenomena, which abound with proofs of some of the highest attributes of the Deity; and should receive with distrust, or total incredulity, the announcement of conclusions, which the geologist deduces from careful and patient investigation of the facts which it is his province to explore. These doubts and difficulties result from the disclosures made by geology, respecting the lapse of very long periods of time, before the creation of man. Minds which have been long accustomed to date the origin of the universe, as well as that of the human race, from an era of about six thousand years ago, receive reluctantly any information, which if true, demands some new modification of their present ideas of cosmogony;
[009 DISCOVERIES WITH SACRED HISTORY.] and, as in this respect, Geology has shared the fate of other infant sciences, in being for a while considered hostile to revealed religion; so like them, when fully understood, it will be found a potent and consistent auxiliary to it, exalting our conviction of the Power, and Wisdom, and Goodness of the Creator. *
No reasonable man can doubt that all the phenomena of the natural world derive their origin from God; and no one who believes the Bible to be the word of God, has cause to fear any discrepancy between this, his word, and the results of any discoveries respecting the nature of his works; but the early and deliberative stages of scientific discovery are always those of perplexity and alarm; and during these stages the human mind is naturally circumspect, and slow to admit new conclusions in any department of knowledge. The prejudiced persecutors of Galileo apprehended danger to religion, from
* Hæc et hujusmodi cœlorurn phænomena, ad Epocham sexmillennem, salvis naturæ legibus, ægrè revocari possunt. Quin fatendum erit potius non eandem fuisse originem, neque coævam, Telluris nostræ et totius Universi: sive Intellectualis, sive Corporei. Neque mirum videri debet hæc non distinxisse Mosem, aut Universi originem non tractâsse seorsim ab illâ mundi nostri sublunaris: Hæc eniin non distinguit populus, aut separatim æstimat. — Rectè igitur Legislator sapientissimus philosophis reliquit id negotii, ut ubi maturuerit ingenium humanum, per ætatem, usum, et observationes, opera Dei alio ordine digererent, perfectionibus divinis atque rerum naturæ adaptato. — Burnet's Archœologiœ Philosophicœ. C. viii. p. 306. 4to. 1692.
[010 CONSISTENCY OF GEOLOGICAL] the discoveries of a science, in which a Kepler,* and a Newton found demonstration of the most sublime and glorious attributes of the Creator. A. Herschel has pronounced that "Geology, in the magnitude and sublimity of the objects of which it treats, undoubtedly ranks in the scale of sciences next to astronomy; and the history of the structure of our planet, when it shall be fully understood, must lead to the same great moral results that have followed the study of the mechanism of the heavens; Geology has already
* Kepler concludes one of his astronomical works with the following prayer, which is thus translated in the Christian Observer, Aug. 1834, p. 495.
"It remains only that I should now lift up to heaven my eyes and hands from the table of my pursuits, and humbly and devoutly supplicate the Father of lights. O thou, who by the light of nature dost enkindle in us a desire after the light of grace, that by this thou mayst translate us into the light of glory; I give thee thanks, O Lord and Creator, that thou hast gladdened me by thy creation, when I was enraptured by the work of thy hands. Behold, I have here completed a work of my calling, with as much of intellectual strength as thou hast granted me. I have declared the praise of thy works to the men who will read the evidences of it, so far as my finite spirit could comprehend them in their infinity. My mind endeavoured to its utmost to reach the truth by philosophy; but if any thing unworthy of thee has been taught by me — a worm born and nourished in sin — do thou teach me that I may correct it. Have I been seduced into presumption by the admirable beauty of thy works, or have I sought my own glory among men, in the construction of a work designed for thine honour? O then graciously and mercifully forgive me; and finally grant me this favour, that this work may never be injurious, but may conduce to thy glory and the good of souls."
[011 DISCOVERIES WITH SACRED HISTORY.] proved by physical evidence, that the surface of the globe has not existed in its actual state from eternity, but has advanced through a series of creative operations, succeeding one another at long and definite intervals of time; that all the actual combinations of matter have had a prior existence in some other state; and that the ultimate atoms of the material elements, through whatever changes they may have passed, are, and ever have been, governed by laws, as regular and uniform, as those which hold the planets in their course. All these results entirely accord with the best feelings of our nature, and with our rational conviction of the greatness and goodness of the Creator of the universe; and the reluctance with which evidences, of such high importance to natural theology, have been admitted by many persons, who are sincerely zealous for the interests of religion, can only be explained by their want of accurate information in physical science; and by their ungrounded fears lest natural phenomena should prove inconsistent with the account of creation in the book of Genesis.
It is argued unfairly against Geology, that because its followers are as yet agreed on no complete and incontrovertible theory of the earth; and because early opinions advanced on imperfect evidence have yielded, in succession, to more extensive discoveries; therefore nothing certain
[012 CONSISTENCY OF GEOLOGICAL] is known upon the whole subject; and that all geological deductions must be crude, unauthentic, and conjectural.
It must be candidly admitted that the season has not yet arrived, when a perfect theory of the whole earth can be fixedly and finally established, since we have not yet before us all the facts on which such a theory may eventually be founded; but, in the mean while, we have abundant evidence of numerous and indisputable phenomena, each establishing important and undeniable conclusions; and the aggregate of these conclusions, as they gradually accumulate, will form the basis of future theories, each more and more nearly approximating to perfection; the first, and second, and third story of our edifice may be soundly and solidly constructed; although time must still elapse before the roof and pinnacles of the perfect building can be completed. Admitting therefore, that we have yet much to learn, we contend that much sound knowledge has been already acquired; and we protest against the rejection of established parts, because the whole is not yet made perfect.
It was assuredly prudent, during the infancy of Geology, in the immature state of those physical sciences which form its only sure foundation, not to enter upon any comparison of the Mosaic account of creation with the structure
[013 DISCOVERIES WITH SACRED HISTORY.] of the earth, then almost totally unknown; the time was not then come when the knowledge of natural phenomena was sufficiently advanced to admit of any profitable investigation of this question; but the discoveries of the last half century have been so extensive in this department of natural knowledge, that, whether we will or not, the subject is now forced upon our consideration, and can no longer escape discussion. The truth is, that all observers, however various may be their speculations, respecting the secondary causes by which geological phenomena have been brought about, are now agreed in admitting the lapse of very long periods of time to have been an essential condition to the production of these phenomena.
It may therefore be proper, in this part of our enquiry, to consider how far the brief account of creation, contained in the Mosaic narrative, can be shown to accord with those natural phenomena, which will come under consideration in the course of the present essay. Indeed some examination of this question seems indispensable at the very threshold of an investigation, the subject matter of which will be derived from a series of events, for the most part, long antecedent to the creation of the human species. I trust it may be shown, not only that there is no inconsistency between our interpretation of the phenomena of nature and of the Mosaic
[014 CONSISTENCY OF GEOLOGICAL] narrative, but that the results of geological enquiry throw important light on parts of this history, which are otherwise involved in much obscurity .
If the suggestions I shall venture to propose require some modification of the most commonly received and popular interpretation of the Mosaic narrative, this admission neither involves any impeachment of the authenticity of the text, nor of the judgment of those who have formerly interpreted it otherwise, in the absence of infor mation as to facts which have but recently been brought to light; and if, in this respect, geology should seem to require some little concession from the literal interpreter of scripture, it may fairly be held to afford ample compensation for this demand, by the large additions it has made to the evidences of natural religion, in a department where revelation was not designed to give information.
The disappointment of those who look for a detailed account of geological phenomena in the Bible, rests on a gratuitous expectation of finding therein historical information, respecting all the operations of the Creator in times and places with which the human race has no concern; as reasonably might we object that the Mosaic history is imperfect, because it makes no specific mention of the satellites of Jupiter, or the rings of Saturn, as feel disappointment at
[015 DISCOVERIES WITH SACRED HISTORY.] not finding in it the history of geological phenomena, the details of which may be fit matter for an encyclopedia of science, but are foreign to the objects of a volume intended only to be a guide of religious belief and moral conduct.
We may fairly ask 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 similar 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 developement of all the mysterious agencies that uphold the mechanism of the material world. Such a revelation might indeed be suited to beings of a more exalted order than mankind, and the
[016 CONSISTENCY OF' GEOLOGICAL] attainment of such knowledge of the works as well as of the ways of God, may perhaps form some part of our happiness in a future state; but unless human nature had been constituted otherwise than it is, the above supposed communication of omniscience would have been imparted to creatures, utterly incapable of receiving it, under any past or present moral or physical condition of the human race; and would have been also at variance with the design of all God's other disclosures of himself, the end of which has uniformly been, not to impart intellectual but moral knowledge.
Several hypotheses have been proposed, with a view of reconciling the phenomena of Geology, with the brief account of creation which we find in the Mosaic narrative. Some have attempted to ascribe the formation of all the stratified rocks to the effects of the Mosaic Deluge; an opinion which is irreconcileable with the enormous thickness and almost infinite subdivisions of these strata, and with the numerous and regular successions which they contain of the remains of animals and vegetables, differing more and more widely from existing species, as the strata in which we find them are placed at greater depths. The fact that a large proportion of these remains belong to extinct genera, and almost all of them to extinct species, that lived and multiplied and died on or near
[017 DISCOVERIES WITH SACRED HISTORY.] the spots where they are now found, shows that the strata in which they occur were deposited slowly and gradually, during long periods of time, and at widely distant intervals. These extinct animals and vegetables could therefore have formed no part of the creation with which we are immediately connected.
It has been supposed by others, that these strata were formed at the bottom of the sea, during the interval between the creation of man and the Mosaic deluge; and that, at the time of that deluge, portions of the globe which had been previously elevated above the level of the sea, and formed the antediluvian continents, were suddenly submerged; while the ancient bed of the ocean rose to supply their place. To this hypothesis also, the facts I shall subsequently advance offer insuperable objections.
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
[018 CONSISTENCY OF GEOLOGICAL] 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 earliest 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, no sound critical, or theological objection, to the interpretation of the word "day," as meaning a long period; but there will be no necessity for such extension, in order to reconcile the text of Genesis with physical appearances, if it can be shown that the time indicated by the phenomena of Geology* may be found in the undefined interval, following the announcement of the first verse.
In my inaugural lecture, published at Oxford, 1820, pp. 31, 32, I have stated my opinion in
* A very interesting treatise on the Consistency of Geology with Sacred History has recently been published at Newhaven, 1833, by Professor Silliman, as a supplement to an American edition of Bakewell's Geology, 1833. The author contends that the period alluded to in the first verse of Genesis, " In the beginning," is not necessarily connected with the first day, and that it may be regarded as standing by itself, and admitting of any extension backward in time which the facts may seem to require.
He is further disposed to consider the six days of creation as periods of time of indefinite length, and that the word "day" is not of necessity limited to twenty-four hours.
[019 DISCOVERIES WITH SACRED HISTORY.] favour of the hypothesis, " which supposes the word 'beginning,' as applied by Moses in the first verse of the book of Genesis, to express 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 and revolutions 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 with them 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."
I have great satisfaction in finding that the view of this subject, which I have here expressed, and have long entertained, is in perfect accordance with the highly valuable opinion of Dr. Chalmers, recorded in the following passages of his Evidence of the Christian Revelation, chap. vii.: — "Does Moses ever say, that when God created the heavens and the earth he did more, at the time alluded to, than transform them out of previously existing materials? Or does he ever say that there was not an interval of many ages between the first act of creation described in the first verse of the Book of Genesis, and said to have been performed at the
[020 CONSISTENCY OF GOLOGICAL] beginning, and those more detailed operations, the account of which commences at the second verse, and which are described to us as having been performed in so many days? Or, finally, does he ever make us to understand that the genealogies of man went any farther than to fix the antiquity of the species, and, of consequence, that they left the antiquity of the globe a free subject for the speculation of philosophers?"
It has long been matter of discussion among learned theologians, whether the first verse of Genesis should be considered prospectively, as containing a summary announcement of that new creation, the details of which follow in the record of the operations of the six successive days; or as an abstract statement that the heaven and earth were made by God, without limiting the period when that creative agency was exerted. The latter of these opinions is in perfect harmony with the discoveries of Geology.
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
[021 DISCOVERIES WITH SACRED HISTORY.] 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 heaven," including the sidereal systems ;* " and the earth," more 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
* The Hebrew plural word, shamaim, Gen. i. 1, translated heaven, means etymologically, the higher regions, all that seems above the earth: as we say, God above, God on high, God in heaven; meaning thereby to express the presence of the Deity in space distinct from this earth. — E. B. Pusey.
[022 CONSISTENCY OF GEOLOGICAL] evening or commencement of the first day of the Mosaic narratlve.*
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,
* I have much satisfaction in subjoining the following note by my friend, the Regius Professor of Hebrew in Oxford, as it enables me to advance the very important sanction of Hebrew criticism, in support of the interpretations by which we may reconcile the apparent difficulties arising from geological phenomena, with the literal interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis. — " Two opposite errors have, I think, been committed by critics, with regard to the meaning of the word bara, created; the one, by those who asserted that it must in itself signify "created out of nothing ;" the other, by those who endeavoured, by aid of etymology, to show that it must in itself signify "formation out of existing matter." In fact, neither is the case; nor am I aware of any language in which there is a word signifying necessarily "created out of nothing ;" as of course, on the other hand, no word when used of the agency of God would, in itself, imply the previous existence of matter. Thus the English word, create, by which bara is translated, expresses that the thing created received its existence from God, without in itself conveying whether God called that thing into existence out of nothing, or no; for our very addition of the words " out of nothing," shows that the word creation has not, in itself, that force: nor indeed, when we speak of ourselves as creatures of God's hand, do we at all mean that we were physically formed out of nothing. In like manner, whether bara should be paraphrased by "created out of nothing" (as far as we can comprehend these words), or, " gave a new and distinct state of existence to a substance already existing," must depend upon the context, the circumstances, or what God has elsewhere revealed, not upon the mere force of the word. This is plain, from its use in Gen. i. 27, of the creation of man, who, as we are instructed, chap. ii. 7, was formed out of previously existing matter, the 'dust of the ground.' The word bara
[023 DISCOVERIES WITH SACRED HISTORY.] 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
is indeed so far stronger than asah, " made," in that bara can only be used with reference to God, whereas asah may be applied to man. The difference is exactly that which exists in English between the words by which they are rendered, "created" and " made." But this seems to me to belong rather to our mode of conception than to the subject itself; for making, when spoken of with reference to God, is equivalent to creating.
The words accordingly, bara, created — asah, made — yatsar, formed, are used repeatedly by Isaiah, and are also employed by Amos, as equivalent to each other. Bara and asah express alike a formation of something new (de novo), something whose exist ence in this new state originated in, and depends entirely upon the will of its creator or maker. Thus God speaks of Himself as the Creator " boree" of the Jewish people, e. g. Isaiah xliii. 1, 15; and a new event is spoken of under the same term as " a creation," Numb. xvi. 30, English version, " If the Lord make a new thing:" in the margin, Heb. "create a creature." Again, the Psalmist uses the same word, Ps. civ. 30, when describing the renovation of the face of the earth through the successive generations of living creatures, "Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created; and thou renewest the face of the earth." The question is popularly treated by Beausobre, Hist. de Manicheisme, tom. ii. lib. 5, c. 4; or, in a better spirit, by Petavius Dogm. Theol. tom. iii. de opificio sex dierum, lib. 1, c. 1, §8.
After having continually re-read and studied this account, I can come to no other result than that the words " created" and " made" are synonymous, (although the former is to us the stronger of the two), and that, because they are so constantly interchanged; as, Gen. i. ver. 21, "God created great whales :" ver. 25, "God made the beast of the earth ;" ver. 26, "Let us make man;" ver. 27, "So God created man." At the same time it is
[024 CONSISTENCY OF GEOLOGICAL] verse, and as the commencement of the first of the six succeeding days, in which the earth was to be fitted 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
very probable that bara, "created," as being the stronger word, was selected to describe the first production of the heaven and the earth.
The point, however, upon which the interpretation of the first chapter of Genesis appears to me really to turn, is, whether the two first verses are merely a summary statement of what is related in detail in the rest of the chapter, and a sort of introduction to it, or whether they contain an account of an act of creation. And this last seems to me to be their true interpretation, first, because there is no other account of the creation of the earth; secondly, the second verse describes the condition of the earth when so created, and thus prepares for the account of the work of the six days; but if they speak of any creation, it appears to me that this creation " in the beginning" was previous to the six days, because, as you will observe, the creation of each day is preceded by the declaration that God said, or willed, that such things should be ("and God said"), and therefore the very form of the narrative seems to imply that the creation of the first day began when these words are first used, i. e. with the creation of light in ver. 3. The time then of the creation in ver. 1 appears to me not to be defined: we are told only what alone we are concerned with, that all things were made by God. Nor is this any new opinion. Many of the fathers (they are quoted by Petavius, l. c. c. 11, § i.-viii.) supposed the two first verses of Genesis to contain an account of a distinct and prior act of creation; some, as Augustine, Theodoret, and others, that of the creation of matter; others, that of the elements; others again (and they the most numerous) imagine that, not these visible heavens, but what they think to be called elsewhere "the highest heavens," the "heaven of heavens," are here spoken of, our visible heavens being related to have been created on the second day. Petavius himself regards the light as the only act of creation of the first day (c. vii. " de opere primæ diei, i.e.
[025 DISCOVERIES WITH SACRED HISTORY.] 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
luce"), considering the two first verses as a summary of the account of creation which was about to follow, and a general declaration that all things were made by God.
Episcopius again, and others, thought that the creation and fall of the bad angels took place in the interval here spoken of: and misplaced as such speculations are, still they seem to show that it is natural to suppose that a considerable interval may have taken place between the creation related in the first verse of Genesis and that of which an account is given in the third and fol lowing verses. Accordingly, in some old editions of the English Bible, where there is no division into verses, you actually find a break at the end of what is now the second verse; and in Luther's Bible (Wittenburg, 1557) you have in addition the figure 1 placed against the third verse, as being the beginning of the account of the creation on the first day.
This then is just the sort of confirmation which one wished for, because, though one would shrink from the impiety of bending the language of God's book to any other than its obvious meaning, we can not help fearing lest we might be unconsciously influenced by the floating opinions of our own day, and therefore turn the more anxiously to those who explained Holy Scripture, before these theories existed. You must allow me to add that I would not define further. We know nothing of creation, nothing of ultimate causes, nothing of space, except what is bounded by actual existing bodies, nothing of time, but what is limited by the revolution of those bodies. I should be very sorry to appear to dogmatize upon that, of which it requires very little reflection, or reverence, to confess that we are necessarily ignorant. "Hardly do we guess aright of things that are upon earth, and with labour do we find the things that are before us; but the things that are in heaven who hath searched out?" — Wisdom, ix. 16. — E. B. Pusey.
[026 CONSISTENCY OF GEOLOGICAL] 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.*
We have further mention of this ancient earth and ancient sea in the ninth verse, in which the waters are commanded to be gathered together into one place, and the dry land to appear; this dry land being the same earth whose material creation had been announced in the first verse, and whose temporary submersion and temporary darkness are described in the second verse; the appearance of the land and the gathering together of the waters are the only facts affirmed respecting them in the ninth verse, but neither land nor waters are said to have been created on the third day.
A similar interpretation may be given of the fourteenth and four succeeding Verses; what is
* I learn from Professor Pusey that the words " let there be light," yehi or, Gen. i. 3, by no means necessarily imply, any more than the English words by which they are translated, that light had never existed before. They may speak only of the substitution of light for darkness upon the surface of this, our planet: whether light had existed before in other parts of God's creation, or had existed upon this earth, before the darkness described in v . 2, is foreign to the purpose of the narrative.
[027 DISCOVERIES WITH SACRED HISTORY.] herein stated of the celestial luminaries seems to be spoken solely with reference to our planet, and more especially to the human race, then about to be placed upon it. We are not told that the substance of the sun and moon were first called into existence upon 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 stars also are mentioned (Gen. i. 16) in three words only, almost parenthetically; as if for the sole purpose of announcing, that they also were made by the same Power, as those luminaries which are more important to us, the sun and moon. This very slight notice of the countless host of celestial bodies, all of which are probably suns, the centres of other planetary systems, whilst our little satellite, the moon, is mentioned as next in importance to the sun, shows clearly that astronomical phenomena are here spoken of only according to their relative importance to our earth, and to mankind, and without any regard
* See notes, p. 22 and p. 26.
The literal translation of the words veeth haccocabim, is, "And the stars." — E. B. Pusey.
[028 CONSISTENCY OF GEOLOGICAL] to their real importance in the boundless universe. It seems impossible to include the fixed stars among those bodies which are said (Gen. i. v. 17.) to have been set in the firmament of the heaven to give light upon the earth; since without the aid of telescopes, by far the greater number of them are invisible. The same principle seems to pervade the description of creation which concerns our planet: the creation of its component matter having been announced in the first verse, the phenomena of Geology, like those of astronomy, are passed over in silence, and the narrative proceeds at once to details of the actual creation which have more immediate reference to man.*
* The following observations by Bishop Gleig (though, at the time of writing them, he was not entirely convinced of the reality of facts announced by geological discoveries) show his opinion of the facility of so interpreting the Mosaic account of creation, as to admit of an indefinite lapse of time prior to the existence of the human race.
"I am indeed strongly inclined to believe that the matter of the corporeal universe was all created at once, though different portions of it may have been reduced to form at very different periods; when the universe was created, or how long the solar system remained in a chaotic state are vain enquiries, to which no answer can be given. Moses records the history of the earth only in its present state; he affirms, indeed, that it was created, and that it was without form and void, when the spirit of God began to move on the surface of the fluid mass; but, he does not say how long that mass had been in the state of chaos, or whether it was, or was not the wreck of some former system, which had been inhabited by living creatures of different kinds from those which occupy the present. I say this, not to meet
[029 DISCOVERIES WITH SACRED HISTORY.] The interpretation here proposed seems moreover to solve the difficulty, which would otherwise attend the statement of the appearance of light upon the first day, whilst the sun and moon and stars are not made to appear until the fourth. If we suppose all the heavenly bodies, and the earth, to have been created at the indefinitely distant time, designated by the word beginning, and that the darkness described on the evening of the first day, was a temporary darkness, produced by an accumulation of dense vapours
the objection which has sometimes been urged against the Mosaic cosmogony, from its representing the works of creation as being no more than six or seven thousand years old, for Moses gives no such representation of the age of those works. However distant the period may be, and it is probably very distant, when God created the heavens and the earth; there has been a time when it was not distant one year, one day, or one hour. Those, therefore, who contend that the glory of the Almighty God manifested in his works, cannot be limited to the short period of six or seven thousand years, are not aware that the same objection may be made to the longest period which can possibly be conceived by the mind of man. No assignable quantity of successive duration bears any proportion to eternity, and though we should suppose the corporeal universe to have been created six millions or six hundred millions of years ago, a caviller might still say, and with equal reason, that the glory of Almighty God manifested in his works cannot be so limited. It is not to silence such objections as this, that I have admitted the existence of a former earth and visible heavens to be not inconsistent with the cosmogony of Moses, or indeed with any other part of scripture, but only to prevent the faith of the pious reader from being unsettled by the discoveries, whether real or pretended, of our modern geologists. If these philosophers have
[030 CONSISTENCY OF GEOLOGICAL] "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 still obscured; and the further purification of the atmosphere, upon the fourth day, may have caused the sun and moon and stars to reappear in the firmament of heaven, to assume their new relations to the newly modified earth, and to the human race.*
We have evidence of the presence of light during long and distant periods of time, in which
really discovered fossil bones that must have
to species and genera of animals, which now nowhere exist, either on
earth or in the ocean, and if the destruction of these genera or
cannot be accounted for by the general deluge, or any other catastrophe
to which we know, from authentic history, that our globe has been
subjected, or if it be a fact, that towards the surface of the earth
found strata, which could not have been so disposed as they are, but by
the sea, or at least some watery mass remaining over them in a state of
tranquillity, for a much longer period than the duration of Noah's
if these things be indeed well ascertained, of which I am however by no
means convinced, there is nothing in the sacred writings forbidding us
to suppose that they are the ruins of a former earth, deposited in the
chaotic mass of which Moses informed us that God formed the present
His history, as far as it comes down, is the history of the present
and of the primeval ancestors of its present inhabitants; and one of
most scientific and ingenious of geologists has clearly proved,
that the human race cannot be much more ancient than it appears to be
the writings of the Hebrew lawgiver.' '_Stack-house's Bible, by
Gleig, p. 6, 7, 1816.
* See note, p. 26.
See Cuvier's Essay on the Theory of the Earth.
[031 DISCOVERIES WITH SACRED HISTORY.] the many extinct fossil forms of animal life succeeded one another upon the early surface of the globe: this evidence consists in the petrified remains of eyes of animals, found in geological formations of various ages. In a future chapter I shall show, that the eyes of Trilobites, which are preserved in strata of the transition formation, (Pl. 45, Figs. 9, 10, 11), were constructed in a manner so closely resembling those of existing crustacea; and that the eyes of Ichthyosauri, in the lias, (Pl. 10, Figs. 1, 2), contained an apparatus, so like one in the eyes of many birds, as to leave no doubt that these fossil eyes were optical instruments, calculated to receive, in the same manner, impressions of the same light, which conveys the perception of sight to living animals. This conclusion is further confirmed by the general fact, that the heads of all fossil fishes and fossil reptiles, in every geological formation, are furnished with cavities for the reception of eyes, and with perforations for the passage of optic nerves, although the cases are rare, in which any part of the eye itself has been preserved. The influence of light is also so necessary to the growth of existing vegetables, that we cannot but infer, that it was equally essential to the development of the numerous fossil species of the vegetable kingdom, which are coextensive and coeval with the remains of fossil animals.
[032 CONSISTENCY OF GEOLOGICAL] It appears highly probable from recent discoveries,* that light is not a material substance, but only an effect of undulations of ether; that this infinitely subtle and elastic ether pervades all space, and even the interior of all bodies; so long as it remains at rest, there is total darkness; when it is put into a peculiar state of vibration, the sensation of light is produced: this vibration may be excited by various causes; e. g. by the sun, by the stars, by electricity, combustion, &c. If then light be not a substance, but only a series of vibrations of ether, i. e. an effect produced on a subtle fluid, by the excitement of one or many extraneous causes, it can hardly be said, nor is it said, in Gen. i. 3, to have been created,though it may be literally said to be called into action.
Lastly, in the reference made in the Fourth Commandment, Exod. xx. 11, to the six days of the Mosaic creation, the word asah, "made," is the same which is used in Gen. i. 7, and Gen. i. 16, and which has been shown to be less strong and less comprehensive than bara, "created ;" and as it by no means necessarily implies creation out of nothing, it may be here employed
* For a general statement of the undulatory theory
light, see Sir John Herschell, art. Light, part iii. sec. 2. Encyc.
See also Professor Airy's Mathematical Tracts, 2nd edit. 1831, p. 249;
and Mrs. Somerville's Connection of the Physical Sciences, 1834, p. 185.
See Note, P. 26.
[033 DISCOVERIES WITH SACRED HISTORY.] to express a new arrangement of materials that existed before.*
After all, it should be recollected that the question is not respecting the correctness of the Mosaic narrative, but of our interpretation of it; and still further, it should be borne in mind that the object of this account was, not to state in what manner, but by whom, the world was made. As the prevailing tendency of men in those early days was to worship the most glorious objects of nature, namely, the sun and moon and stars; it should seem to have been one important point in the Mosaic account of creation, to guard the Israelites against the Polytheism and idolatry of the nations around them; by announcing that all these magnificent celestial bodies were no Gods, but the works of One Almighty Creator, to whom alone the worship of mankind is due.
* See Note, p. 22.
Having thus far ventured to enter into a series of explana~ tions, which I think will reconcile even the letter of the text of Genesis with the phenomena of Geology, I forbear to say more on this important subject, and have much satisfaction in being able to refer my readers to some admirable articles in the Christian Observer (May, June, July, August, 1834) for a very able and comprehensive summary of the present state of this question; explaining the difficulties with which it is surrounded, and offering many temperate and judicious suggestions, as to the spirit in which investigations of this kind ought to be conducted. I would also refer to Bishop Horsley's Sermons, 8vo. 1816, vol. iii. ser. 39; to Bishop Bird Sumner's Records of Creation, vol. i. p. 356; Douglas's Errors regarding Religion, 1830, p. 261-264,