Christianity at the Bar of Science.
Freethought Publishing Company London 28, Stonecutter Street, E.C.1881
Printed by Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh London 28, Stonecutter Street, E.C.
Christianity at the Bar of Science.
There are still many professed Christians who are not afraid to affirm that science is not contrary to the Bible: that "God's word, rightly understood, is in perfect harmony with the discoveries of science:" that "God's revealed will must agree with the facts of nature," etc., etc. Though this has been disproved in a variety of ways, we are still confronted with these assertions, just as if science had travelled on none but biblical lines, and made all its discoveries by fasting, faith, and prayer.
1. I admit that the great Newton was strongly attached to the Bible; and had he drawn his astronomical and mathematical inspiration thence, he would have told us so.
2. If the discoveries of Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, and Kepler had been according to the Bible, Newton must have known it, and must, under the circumstances, have proclaimed and illustrated the wonderful harmony.
3. Had those discoveries agreed with scripture, they would have been merely re-discoveries, owing more than half their credit to the Bible. Could Newton have overlooked anything so advantageous to his religion? Could the clergy of those days have missed so grand an opportunity of demolishing their enemies? In a word, if the Newtonian philosophy had accorded with Bible teachings, it is inconceivable that so great and so acute a man, who knew his page 4 Bible nearly as well as his Euclid, should have passed it by without notice. Could Newton have harmonised the scriptures with his philosophy, there would have been, most certainly, one book of the "Principia" devoted to that subject, and then we should have seen that harmony as carefully and logically demonstrated as the laws of motion. Since he did not write any such work, we may be sure it was because he was not able.
4. Newton's intellect, perhaps the greatest that ever existed, seems to have worked independently of his superstition in most fields of philosophy, but in divinity as his superstition's thrall. In the regions of nature he worked freely, erect, with eyes open, unshackled with prejudice, untouched by fear; but in theology he wrought upon his knees, with eyes tightly bandaged, and his heart quivering with religious emotion. In philosophy he was a man; in divinity a child. In the former he made grand discoveries; in the latter none. The man who, in science, laid a foundation for all future builders, in religion could only believe—an act the weakest and most ignorant could perform much better than he.
That Newton, in spite of all his intellectual power, was very superstitious is made evident in his "Life" by Sir David Brewster. It there appears that Newton, in common with Locke and Boyle, believed in alchemy (vol. i., pp. 34, 35), Not only did Newton believe in this pretended science, but he even copied and annotated perhaps the most contemptible book ever written upon the subject—viz.: "'Secrets Revealed; or, An Open Entrance into the Shut Palace of the King.' Composed by a most famous Englishman, styling himself Anonymous or Euræmus Philaletha, who, by direct inspiration and reading, attained to the philosopher's stone at his age of twenty-three years, A.D. 1645. By W. C., London, 1669." "The margin of this book," says Brewster, "is covered with notes in Sir Isaac's hand;" and he remarks: "We cannot understand how a mind of such power .... could stoop to be even the copyist of the most contemptible alchemical poetry, and the annotator of a work, the obvious production of a knave or a fool" (vol. ii., p. 375).
It is clear that if Newton had employed his unfettered intellect in the case, he would have rejected the above-mentioned book with quiet contempt; but having bowed page 5 submissively to the Bible and the pretenders to divine revelation who wrote it, why should he question the claims of Euræmus Philaletha? Having accepted the Bible and its curious contents as the word of God, why should he reject the inspired trash of this later prophet?
The above facts are carefully withheld, if known, by those who boast of Newton as a Christian.
But leaving the great Newton surrounded by his well-earned and imperishable glory, I proceed to arraign the Bible at the bar of science; and the charge I bring against it is that of falsehood respecting the facts of nature.
I. Geography.—Modern discovery has demonstrated that the earth is a globe, or nearly such. This I need not stay to prove or illustrate, for even the Christians admit and teach it as one of the very common-places of popular education. But the Bible doctrine of the earth is very different from this.
1. According to the Bible, the earth has "foundations." "Where wast thou," says Job's God to his illused servant, "when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measure thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof." etc.? (Job xxxvii., 4—6.)
Job, poor man, seems to have known nothing about those "foundations" or this "corner stone" of the earth; and, as his deity did not enlighten him, we can only conclude that he too had merely heard the rumor of them; that he, like Job, was totally ignorant of their whereabouts. If some sceptic had ventured to put such utter nonsense into the mouth of deity, he would be denounced as a blasphemer.
In the 104th Psalm those foundations are referred to again, and declared to be so firmly fixed as to be for ever immovable (v. 5). "The Lord of Hosts," as reported by Isaiah, boasteth thus: "Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together" (Isaiah xlviii., 13).
If Homer had put that passage into the mouth of Zeus, the orthodox would have been amongst the first to laugh at it.
On this subject the New Testament agrees with the Old: page 6 "Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundations of the earth" (Hebrews i., 10).
2. In biblical days the earth also had "pillars," somewhat like the legs of a table, no doubt. They belonged to the Lord, as the following verse declares: "The pillars of the earth are the Lord's, and he hath set the world upon them" (1 Samuel ii., 8). The Lord (or possibly Asaph?) says he bears up those earth-pillars (Psalm lxxv., 3). Occasionally God "shakes the earth out of her place, and the pillars thereof tremble" (Job ix., (i).
3. The earth had four corners, as the following texts declare: He shall "gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth" (Isaiah xi., 12). "I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth," etc., (Revelation vii., 1).
4. The earth also had "breadth" (Job xxxviii., 18) and "sides" (Jeremiah vi., 22); its length is not mentioned in the Bible, but its "ends" are (Job xxxviii, 13—xxviii., 24). Its length is thus alluded to by implication, and there is evidence that the Jews, like most other nations, considered the earth's breadth to lie north and south, its length east and west. Two very interesting relics of this doctrine still remain in our geographical nomenclature—viz., latitude and longitude, the former denoting the earth's breadth, the latter its length, at least, such was their ancient import. That one Bible writer held this erroneous doctrine may be seen in the following: "As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us" (Psalm ciii., 12). No doubt the Psalmist employs here the most expressive language he knew. He would have been astonished out of measure had he been credibly informed that east and west touch each other all the world around; and that the farther he went west the nearer he was to the east, and vice versa. This arises, of course, from the fact that the zero or starting meridian of longitude can be fixed only arbitrarily, there being nothing in nature to guide us here as there is in the zero of latitude—that is, the Equator.
5. The earth must have been a flat plane, though not a smooth one, in biblical times, else this text must be entirely unworthy of credit, a conclusion no believer can adopt for fear of consequent damnation: "Again the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and showeth him, page 7 all the kingdoms of the world" (Matthew iv., 8), "in a moment of time" adds Luke (iv., 5). This clever showman was, no doubt, very talented; but even he could not exhibit both hemispheres of a globe at once; and if he really did show Jesus all the kingdoms simultaneously, then the earth must have been at that time as flat as he who wrote the story, and also of much smaller dimensions than now.
Here I may sum up the earth according to the Bible. Behold it, an oblong plane, of unknown dimensions, diversified with hill and dale, mountain and valley, lakes, rivers, and seas. This plane has four corners, probably pointing nearly, not quite, N.E., S.E., S.W., and N.W. The whole plane is borne up by an unknown number of pillars or legs, like a huge millipedal table. The legs, in turn, rest upon the "foundations," no doubt a platform of concrete constructed for the purpose. Beyond this, I am sorry to confess, I cannot conduct my readers, for divine wisdom has not seen fit to reveal either to Job or me "whereupon the foundations are fastened."
Will any man dare say that Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton could or did believe the above quoted nonsense from the Bible? Christians to-day are at their wit's end. They cannot doubt the truth of modern geography, and to save the credit of the Bible they resolve its geographical statements and allusions into figures of speech. But (1) none of them can tell what figures, nor yet what truth those figures are intended to set forth, to illustrate, or impress upon the mind. And (2) the ancient Christians took the Bible texts literally, and out of respect for their divine book, resisted the spread of correct geographical ideas for twelve centuries or more. Lactantius (fourth century), the most elegant writer among the Latin Fathers, says: "Is it possible that men can be so absurd as to believe that the crops and the trees on the other side of the earth hang downwards, and that men have their feet higher than their heads? If you ask them how they defend those monstrosities? how things do not fall away from the earth on that side? they reply that the nature of things is such that heavy bodies tend towards the centre like the spokes of a wheel, while light bodies, as clouds, smoke, fire, tend from the centre to the heavens on all sides. Now, I am really at a loss what to say of those who, when they have once gone wrong, page 8 steadily persevere in their folly, and defend one absurd opinion by another." (Quoted by Draper, "Intellectual Development, of Europe;" revised edition. London, 1875. Vol. I., p. 315.)*
Augustine (fourth century) says: "It is impossible there should be inhabitants on the other side of the earth, since no such race is recorded by scripture among the descendants of Adam" (Ibid).
In the sixth century Cosmas Indicopleustes, an Egyptian monk, wrote his "Topographia Christiana sive Christianorum opinio de mundo.' It is his great aim to prove the earth not spherical but a vast oblong plain; the length, east and west, being double the breadth. Heargues from scripture, reason, testimony, and the authority of the fathers" (Mosheim's "Ecclesiastical History," edition, London, 1878, p. 219). Cosmas further argues that the earth was made on the model of the Israelitish Tabernacle, and quotes this scripture in proof: "It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in" (Isaiah xl., 22). Lecky's "Rationalism," vol. i., 268—72.
Had Cosmas been the author of this language, which represents an infinite God dwelling in a tent of his own manufacture, he would have been treated as a blasphemer; but an inspired prophet may blaspheme with impunity; nay, more, his wild utterances are still called sublime.
In the eighth century Virgilius, Bishop of Saltzburg, dared to utter his belief that the earth was globular; and Boniface, the "Apostle of Germany," called upon Pope Zachary to put down such heresy (Mosheim, p. 263, v. 3). Six hundred years later, 1377, an old man of seventy, Cecco d' Ascoli, or Ceccus Asculanus, a physician, was burnt at Florence for believing in the Antipodes.
* It seems to me a misfortune and almost a crime to write a historico-philosophical work, such as this of Draper's, without giving one definite reference to an author he quotes. Such a writer may be honest, hut the labor of checking or verifying his quotations is immense.
This conclusive logic ought to have sufficed, and Europe should have rested content beneath the benign shade of the Church, the Bible and general stupidity; but those restless pryers into nature's secrets, Columbus, De Gama, Magellan and others like them—men whose inquisitiveness was stronger than their superstition, men who rushed and sailed where angels feared to tread or fly—those tremblers of the Church's peace and discreditors of the Bible went and found the earth's lost hemisphere, and thus made a laughing-stock of infallible ignorance, and undermined the throne of the pope above and of the pope below.
Before proceeding further, I must meet one objection the orthodox sometimes urge—viz., that the Bible expressly declares that God "hangeth the earth upon nothing" (Job xxv., 7). 1. If the text in our version were correct it could surely not outweigh all those above quoted. "Every word of God is good" says the Bible, and one, I presume, as good as another. Shall we, then, explain this last text by the preceding ones, or the preceding by it? 2. The earth is not hanged at all, in any conceivable sense of that word. If it were, it would hang on something, for to hang upon nothing would be equivalent to not hanging at all. It depends from nothing; has nothing to hold it; is not hanging over anything; it has nothing above it. 3. The Hebrew word translated "nothing" is , belimeh, and according to some Jewish interpreters, is derived from , belem, and signifies a cord, rope, band (Fürst's "Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon;" l. c.). And it must be confessed that the earth hung by a rope is better sense than hung upon nothing.
This part of the present paper may very well be wound up by an honest quotation from a modern orthodox source. "With regard to the earth's body, the Hebrews conceived its surface to be an immense disc, supported like the flat roof of an Eastern house by pillars, which rested on solid foundations; but where those foundations were on which the 'sockets' of the pillars rested none could tell" (Smith's "Concise Dictionary of the Bible," edition 1865, article, "Earth").page 10
Thus I have shown that the Bible (1) does not teach any geography that accords with nature; and (2) that what it does teach respecting the earth is as far from the truth as possible. To teach that the earth is flat and supported by pillars is more ridiculous than the fable of the New Zealanders, who say that it is the shape of a cocoa-nut, with the broader end always uppermost. To say that science and the Bible agree is equal to the affirmation that modern geography (for example) agrees with that of the Edda, of the Iliad, or with any fabulous cosmography whatsoever. It seems astounding that educated men can, at this time of day, muster the courage, not to say the effrontery, to affirm that the Bible and science agree. Never were the words of the Bible more fully realised than in the case of such men—"given up to strong delusion to believe a lie," as is the unfortunate case of all who bow their necks to superstition.
But if the Bible has so blundered respecting the earth, its pretended inspiration is exposed; and its statements respecting heaven must go for nought.
II. Astronomy.—The astronomy of the Bible is as absurd as its geography. In the Hebrew cosmogony "the earth was regarded not only as the central point of the universe, but as the universe itself; every other body—the heavens, sun, moon and stars—being subsidiary to, and, as it were, the complement of the earth . . . . . .It is clear that the heavens were looked upon as the adjunct of the earth—the curtain of the tent in which man dwells (Isaiah xl., 22), the sphere above which fitted the sphere below (compare Job xxii., 14, and Isaiah xl., 22)—designed solely for the purposes of beneficence in the economy of the earth. This appears from the account of its creation and offices: the existence of heaven was not prior to or contemporaneous with that of the earth, but subsequent to it; it was created on the second day (Genesis i., 6). The term under which it is described, rakia, is significant of its extension, that it was stretched out as a curtain (Psalm civ., 2) over the surface of the earth. Moreover, it depended upon the earth; it had its 'foundations' (2 Samuel xxii., 8) on the edge of the earth's circle where it was supposed to be supported by the mountains as by massive pillars (Job xxvi., 11). Its offices were (1) to support the waters which were page 11 above it (Genesis i., 7, and Psalm cxlviii., 4), and thus to form a mighty reservoir of rain and snow, which were to pour forth through its windows (Genesis vii., 11, and Isaiah xxiv., 18) and doors (Psalm lxxviii., 23), as through opened sluice-gates, for the fructification of the earth; (2) to serve as the substratum ( or firmament) in which the celestial bodies were to be fixed. As with heaven itself, so also with the heavenly bodies; they were regarded solely as the ministers of the earth . . . . . So entirely indeed was the existence of the heavens and the heavenly bodies designed for the earth that with the earth they shall simultaneously perish (2 Peter iii., 10); the curtain of the tent shall be rolled up and the stars shall of necessity drop off (Isaiah xxxiv., 4. and Matthew xxiv., 29); their sympathy with the earth's destruction being the counterpart of their joyous song when its foundations were laid (Job xxxviii., 7)."—Rev. W. L. Bevan; Smith's "Dictionary of Bible," article, "Earth."
In the above passage, with most of which I entirely agree, honest thought gets the better of credulity to such an extent that one is led to wonder how the writer can possibly believe in Bible inspiration after so mercilessly exposing its astronomical blunders.
Dr. Samuel Davidson has the following characteristic, manly note on the word "firmament": "The Hebrews certainly believed that the sky was a firm, hard, extended vault; and the etymology of the word employed by the Elohist agrees with that opinion, for the original verb involves the idea of beating out, or expanding by beating, something solid. Firmament is an excellent equivalent to the noun; expanse requires the adjective solid; 'a solid expanse.' The sentiments of the sacred writers about the phænomena of nature were those of the age they lived in; and it is impossible to reconcile them with the scientific views of modern times" ("Fresh Revision of English Old Testament," London, 1873, p. 102).
Theology so perverts the mental and moral faculties that well-intentioned men, once enmeshed in this pseudo-science, follow fables as earnestly as benighted travellers are said to pursue a will-o'-the-wisp. To err is human; but none err so hopelessly and egregiously as theologians. Hence it is that when they speak out the plain truth, as the above- page 12 quoted gentlemen do, the effect is so refreshing. Not to spoil that effect by any remarks of mine, I next proceed to show in detail what Bible astronomy really is.
1. In Genesis i., 6—9, we are presented with the history of the creation and offices of the heaven or firmament. The name, as appears from the above quotations, fixes its meaning and shows us what to look for. The reader may see the natural phænomenon which the inspired writers allude to any clear night or day, bending as an immense vault above him, no matter to what part of the world he may journey, no matter how high he may rise in a balloon. At night it is studded all over with stars, or filled with the pale radiance of the moon; by day the sun lights it up to excess; or gauzy mist, or morning or evening hours dim down the splendor, and leave the heavens in all their wealth of blue.
That sky, by day or night, is worthy of our deepest thought or our deepest wonder. The man who views it without emotion is beyond the reach of poetry; nature for him has neither grandeur nor beauty. Who knows not the hot fever of life? the rush? the hurry? the wild dreams? the strife of tongues and pens? the malice and the fraud? the endless struggle? the sultry sweltering heat in brain and blood? the overcharge of electricity that must escape or wreck the frame? Just as the earth relieves herself by flashing lightning to the clouds so may the tired and jaded sons of men relieve their throbbing brains by converse with the skies. Not as theologians and theosophists pretend, by converse with the unseen, but by a study of those real lights scattered through the mighty space around us. Tracing out the constellations or natural groups of stars with the naked eye, or peering through the telescope upon mountains, crags, and craters in the moon, upon the spots and faculæ of the sun, on Jupiter's satellites and belts, on Saturn's marvellous rings, or, infinitely further still, upon the double and multiple stars, or upon Orion's nebula—an hour at these dispels the fever-heat, obliviates all the ills of life, and braces up and tones again the nerves for any duty or danger that may come.
That firmament puzzled all the ancients in every quarter of the earth. Everyone who saw it was prepared to swear that it was real, a solid thing. We know better, it is true; but page 13 we have no room to boast. Science, the growth of centuries, the secured results of the labors of earth's great ones, has taught us its nature. We have truth and experience to guide us; the Bible writers had nothing better than "the inspiration of the Almighty" to conduct them; and when we remember this we shall not be disposed to treat them severely for the folly they displayed. Our best scientists would soon be as foolish as Moses, if they followed inspiration. The pity is that men of to-day, who might, if they would, avail themselves of all the advantages of science, bow down to the transmitted errors of those who lived in the very dawn of human reason, and treat them with profounder respect than they show to the established facts of science.
The word translated firmament in the authorised version of the Bible is, in Hebrew, rekia; of which Dr. Fürst ("Heb. Lex.") says it is properly a thing spread out; an extended surface, either a pavement, a floor, or an upper vaulted arch. It was conceived to be solid; hence the Septuagint, Aquila, Symmachus, and Theodotion * all trans-late the word by the Greek (stereoma), which signifies a solid body. The Latin Vulgate translates it firmamentum, a word with similar meaning, and followed by the English translators. Luther renders it Veste—veste des himmels, the stronghold, or fastness of the heavens. This view was in strict keeping with ancient Greek notions, for Homer speaks of the arch of heaven as (sidereon), the iron (sky)—"Odyss." xv., 328. In the "Iliad" (17) he calls the sky (chalkeon), the brazen, or the firm, rigid vault. "Scripture represents rekia as a solid cast metal-mirror, (Job, xxxvii., 18,) borne up by the highest mountains as its pillars." I have not quoted Fürst verbatim, except in the last sentence.
I have no doubt the clergy themselves would object if we attributed to Homer correct notions in astronomy; and they would laugh at the attempt to reconcile modern science with the views of that immortal bard. Yet I beg to pledge myself to do that for Homer, if they can do it for the Bible.
* These three men each translated, so it is said, the Hebrew Bible into Greek, in the second century.
This quotation is curious. Gesenius admits that some of the Bible texts are erroneous—inspiration and infallibility have erred. How can we trust the Bible when unsupported by science or profane history, then? But "they also knew the correct state of things." This is very serious. What! did those men who wrote the geographical and astronomical nonsense now found in the Bible know that they were mis-representing the facts of nature? I charge them with errors, Gesenius charges them with wilful falsehood.
Besides, if they knew the truth they are guilty of setting the Church on a false track; and are, therefore, to blame for all the persecution the Church inflicted upon scientists. Where was the Holy Spirit of truth when the inspired penmen wrote wilful untruths respecting nature, that he did not correct them, and thus prevent that 1,000 years of utter gloom, the millennium of Bible and priests, which preceded the revival of learning? When he permitted his amanuenses thus to write, did he not foresee how Cecco d' Ascoli and Giordano Bruno would breathe their last in murderous flames for uttering truths that he had withheld? What would be said of a man, a mere man, who wilfully or carelessly dictated a lie that eventually led two good and noble men to the stake? If the Bible writers merely blundered, as I charitably suppose, we merely regret the consequences of their mistakes; but, if Gesenius be correct, they become criminals, not blunderers.
* Mists do not go up from the earth. Water-vapor is raised into the atmosphere, where it condenses into mist, rain, etc.
2. But the firmament was not only solid, not only did it serve as a roof for the earth, it was also the floor of an immense reservoir of water, or rather, a celestial ocean which, before the Flood at least, existed above it. "And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so" (Genesis, i., 7).
The upper waters were intelligent—or else the Psalmist could not have been very much so—"Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens" (Psalms cxlviii., 4). The firmament had "windows," or trap-doors, or sluices, or flood-gates:—"I will open the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to contain" (Malachi iii., 10). There was far too much of a "blessing" vouchsafed through those windows in Noah's day; for then they were opened to let the water down in cataracts upon the poor earth (Genesis vii., 11).
How could windows be fixed in an "expanse" of nothing? For that is the absurdity they reduce themselves to who say that the firmament is merely the "expanse." There are no people that contradict, misrepresent, and distort the Bible so much as its professed friends.
It may add to the interest of this paper to insert here a few facts respecting the Chaldæan cosmology. According to Diodorus Siculus, they held that the universe was of the form of a boat turned upside down. The kind of boat referred to is of peculiar form; it is nearly round. And it is said that an orange with its top cut off and then placed upon its cut surface will very well represent what the Chaldæans thought the universe to be. Imagine an orange thus cut and all but its rind removed. Then place it on the cut surface, and you have a kind of minature tent. On the top outside, which represents the convex surface of the earth, men dwell. The interior was the abyss where the dead were housed, and where the sun shone at night. Above the earth extended the sky, revolving with its stars around an eastern mountain. The heavens were regarded page 16 as a hemispherical skull-cap, and the "foundations of the heavens" rested on the extremities of the earth, beyond what Homer called the "Ocean stream," or the great water that was supposed to encircle the world. The firmament, here as in the Bible, supported a celestial ocean called Ziku.
But the Chaldæans carried their speculations further.. Hea, their great spirit of the world, the soul of all natural phænomena, though he had no father, was eternally begotten, and emerged from the celestial ocean which was personified as the goddess Ziku. Hence, no doubt, arose the queer story told by Berosus of Oannes, the fish-god, who taught the Babylonians their religious and social laws. In Berosus' days the myth had lost its primal sense. Hea, or Oannes was the God from the ocean above, and hence the Great Fish, or fish-god. In later times it was supposed that he combined the form of a fish with that of a man; and literally emerged from the sea below. (Lenormant's "Chaldæan Magic," pp. 153—7.)
The Christ is called a fish in Ecclesiastical iconography and symbolism. Is this the origin of the epithet? He too is descended from the celestial ocean. I am not aware that any archæologist has yet satisfactorily explained the symbol. (See Didron's "Christian Iconography," vol. I. 344—367.) The celestial ocean myth may also have given rise to the notion of the "river of the water of life," and of holy water.
After this digression, I must return and finish my task. The firmament having been fashioned and spread out, the stars were fixed into or on it, the Sun and Moon especially to light the earth, and rule the day and night, and to mark out the seasons (Genesis i., 14—18). Here in the story the Sun and Moon are both treated as "lights," whereas the Moon is no light, any more than looking-glasses or reflectors are lights. The Sun is a luminous body, not on fire, properly speaking, but its surface, to an unknown depth, is intensely incandescent. Hence he shines with his own incomparable splendor, and floods us and other planets with his light and heat. The Bible writers never suspected that the Moon, like the earth, received all her light from the Sun, and merely reflected it. It was almost infinitely too great a task for inspiration to guess that those stars which unceas- page 17 ingly wandered through and through the Zodiac—Mars, and Jupiter, and Saturn—or those two that swung, pendulam-like, now to the east and again to the west of the Sun—Mercury and Venus, were not stars brilliant with native light, but only planets like the earth, reflecting the solar splendor. Prophets and priests never soared so high—at least, not in Judaea. Not to inspiration and prayer, not to divine visions and angelic hints and messages, do we owe this knowledge; but to the uninspired watchers and workers of Ancient Chaldæa, Egypt, and other lands. How the writer of Genesis would have stared with wonder, or smiled with incredulity, or foamed with fury, had he been told that that lamp, the Sun, made as he says to light the earth, was as large as the earth itself! Had he been informed that that Sun was more than a million times the size of the earth, as is really the case, he might well have given up the ghost with astonishment. And the same catastrophe might have happened, had he been informed that the Sun was as heavy (to use a popular term) as 310,000 bodies like the earth. These stupendous facts, part of the harvest of thousands of years' of hard toil, were "for ever hid from the eyes" of inspiration.
What a grotesque story the first chapter of Genesis appears when examined in the light of science! It is but the babble of the world's childhood; a fragment of ancient folk-lore; a scrap from the world's great nursery: worth its weight in diamonds to him who loves the past, as all such stories are. But to ascribe it to the pens of men who understood science is to insult their memory; to ascribe it to an All-wise God is too laughable even to be blasphemous.
Would not the man be an idiot who should propose to make a lamp as big as all London merely to light one ordinary dwelling house? Yet his notion would be just parallel to that of the ancient story-teller who gravely wrote that the sun was made" to give light upon the earth."
The sun, moon and stars were fixed or set in the firmament, else, to be sure, they would fall to the ground! And, alas! for us, this will happen at last, though not in "our day" perhaps. Prayer and faith will, no doubt, postpone the dire event, but not for ever. Warning has already been given repeatedly. Thus, in Daniel's day, there lived a he-goat, such as even that redoubtable lion-tamer could, I page 18 should presume, scarcely control. This remarkable beast, at first, had but one horn, between its eyes; later on, he got four "notable" ones instead of this, and out of one of the four (which, is not said) there sprouted a little one that "waxed exceeding great," aye, "even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them" (Daniel viii., 10). The only other beast that I ever read of, capable of a feat like that, was Fenris, a famous wolf rather too well known to Odin, Thor and the other gods of ancient Scandinavia. I do not remember that Fenris ever did "cast down" any of the stars; but I presume that he could if he had been sufficiently mischievous, for I read (Mallet's "Northern Antiquities") that when this beast opened his mouth his lower jaw rested upon the earth while his snout touched the sky! By the way, Daniel's four nameless beasts, his ram with the two unequal horns, his he-goat, along with Fenris, the old serpent of Eden, Aaron's rod, Balaam's donkey, Job's leviathan, Ezekiel's cherubs, Jonah's whale, the many- headed beasts that John saw, and those before the throne all over eyes, as Job was all over boils, would make the finest menagerie in existence. I wonder if any angelic Barnum or Wombwell is now making the tour of the universe with those valuable specimens of the animal creation, or, if not, whether geologists will ever secure their skeletons, skulls or antlers, or their foot-prints in consolidated sand or slime! Should such discoveries ever be made, theologians will run wild with joy, and sceptics must hide their diminished heads. And should one of the stars also be discovered which that terrible goat poked down with his horn and then furiously stamped upon—should one of those be found with the "marks of the beast "still upon its surface, then woe to unbelief!
If the inspired writers may be trusted, the stars must have been set or fixed in the firmament more than once. For in Revelation vi., 13, we read that, when the sixth seal of the curious old book was opened, "The stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig-tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind." Yet they seem all right and in their places at present. Possibly, though, the fig-tree has produced another crop, and the firmament followed suit with a new eruption of stars.page 19
Jesus, if rightly reported in the gospels, shared to the full, as might have been expected, the astronomical notions of his day. Though he "came down from heaven," he knew no more of the stars he passed on the way than of the globe on which he dwelt. He thought eclipses of the sun and moon were "signs," or miracles, portents hinting at coming disasters (Luke xxi., 25). Speaking of his own "coming," he says: "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken," etc. (Matthew xxiv., 29). How can an educated clergyman read this solemn rant without laughing?
"We, while the stars from heaven shall fall,
And mountains are on mountains hurled,
Shall stand unmoved amidst them all,
And smile to see a burning world."—57th Hymn.
"Stand th' omnipotent decree:
Jehovah's will be done!
Nature's end we wait to see,
And hear her final groan;
Let this earth dissolve, and blend
In death the wicked and the just;
Let those ponderous orbs descend
And grind us into dust.
"Rests secure the righteous man!
At his Redeemer's beck,
Sure to' emerge, and rise again
And mount above the wreck;
Lo! the heavenly spirit towers,
Like flame, o'er nature's funeral pyre,
Triumphs in immortal powers,
And claps his wings of fire.
"Nothing hath the just to lose,
By worlds on worlds destroyed;
Far beneath his feet he views,
With smiles, the flaming void:
page 20 Sees the universe renewed,
The grand millennial reign begun;
Shouts, with all the sons of God.
Around the eternal throne!
"Resting in this glorious hope
To be at last restored.
Yield we now our bodies up
To earthquake, plague, or sword:
Listening for the call divine,
The latest trumpet of the seven,
Soon our soul and dust shall join,
And both fly up to heaven."—61st Hymn.*
In this hymn the Bible astronomy is adopted entire, by implication, if not in a formal way; and what Charles Wesley wrote John endorsed, for he published the above hymns "for the use of the people called Methodists;" and, therefore, the Methodists of to-day, if they follow Wesley, must accept the science of the Bible. In the hymn just quoted there is seen all the fanaticism of an early Christian; a fanaticism that renders the heart indifferent to suffering, however horrible and revolting: a fanaticism which would drive its victim to risk "earthquake, plague and sword"; that would send him in rapture to the stake, to burn there himself or to burn a heretic; a fanaticism that bids a man shout for joy while a universe turns to ashes, and triumph in his own victory and reward while countless millions are destroyed and doomed to endless torture! This is the very spirit of Jesus, of his apostles, and of him who wrote the Revelation. For the sake of heaven's reward they dare, they face, they endure anything; and they pity the damned as much as a miser pities the starving!
* I quote an edition of Wesley's Hymns dated 1863.
As I am not, in this case, either judge or jury, but merely the prosecuting counsel, I shall not presume to pass sentence on the prisoner at the bar,—that is not my function. I merely give way now to the counsel for the defence, and shall be happy to hear what he or they have to advance in defence of Christianity, or in extenuation of its faulty teachings.