The Christian Philosopher; or, Science and Religion
Another subject intimately related to the former, is the science of Geology.
This science has for its object, to investigate and describe the internal structure of the earth, the arrangement of the materials of which it is composed, the circumstances peculiar to its original formation, the different states under which it has existed, and the various changes which it appears to have undergone since the Almighty created the substance of which it is composed. From a consideration of the vast quantity of materials contained in the internal structure of our globe, and of the limited extent to which men can carry their operations, when they attempt to penetrate into its bowels, it is obvious that our knowledge of this subject must be very shallow and imperfect. The observations, however, which have been made on the structure of our globe during the last half century, and the conclusions deduced from them, are highly interesting both to the philosopher and to the Christian. Before the facts on which this branch of Natural History is founded, were accurately ascertained, various objections to the Mosaic history of the creation were started by certain skeptical philosophers, founded on partial and erroneous views of the real structure and economy of the earth; but it is now found, that the more accurately and minutely the system of nature is explored, the more distinctly do we perceive the harmony that subsists between the records of Revelation and the operations of the Creator, in the material world. If both be admitted as the effects of the agency of the same Almighty and Eternal Being, they must, in the nature of things, completely harmonize, and can never be repugnant to each other—whether we be capable in every instance of perceiving their complete coincidence or not. If any facts could be produced in the visible creation which directly contradict the records of the Bible, it would form a proof, that the oracles which we hold as Divine were not dictated by the Creator and Governor of the Universe. But although some garbled facts have been triumphantly exnibited in this view: it is now ascertained, from the discoveries which have been lately made in relation to the structure and formation of the earth, that the truth of the facts detailed in Sacred History rests on a solid and immutable basis; and that the Supreme Intelligence who arranged the fabric of heaven and earth, and he alone, communicated to the inspired writers the doctrines and facts they have recorded: and we have reason to believe, that as Geologists proceed in their researches and investigations, still more sensible proofs of the authenticity of Revelation will be brought to light
Geology has of late become an interesting object of inquiry to the student of general science, and is now prosecuted with ardor by many distinguished philosophers. The observations which have been made in various parts of the world by late navigators; the facts which have been ascertained by Pallas, Saussure, De Luc, Humboldt, Lyell, Sedgwick, and other intelligent travelers; and the discoveries which have been brought to light by modern chemists and mineralogists, have all conspired to facilitate Geological inquiries, to render them more enlightened and satisfactory, and to prepare the way for future ages establishing a rational, scriptural, and substantial theory of the earth. The man who engages at such inquiries has always at hand a source of rational investigation and enjoyment. The ground on which he treads—the aspect of the surrounding country—the mines, the caves, and the quarries which he explores—every new country in which he travels, every mountain he climbs, and every new surface of the earth that is laid open to his inspection, offer to him novel and interesting stores of information. On descending into mines, we are not only gratified by displays of human ingenuity, but we also acquire views of the strata of earth, and of the revolutions it has undergone since the period of its first formation. Our researches on the surface of the earth, amidst abrupt precipices and lofty mountains, introduce us to the grandest and most sublime works of the Creator, and present to our view the effects of stupendous forces, which have overturned mountains, and rent the foundations of nature. “In the midst of such scenes, the Geologist feels his mind invigorated; the magnitude of the appearances before him extinguishes all the little and contracted notions he may have formed in the closet; and he learns, that it is only by visiting and studying those stupendous works, that he can form an adequate conception of the great relations of the crust of the globe, and of its mode of formation.”*
* Edinburgh Encyclopædia, Art. Mineralogy
The structure of primary rocks is crystalline—(see fig. 17), they form the central parts of the most elevated mountain-chains—they never contain the fragments of other rocks—and they are particularly distinguished from all other formations in this,—that they contain no remains of organized substances. There also appears conclusive evidence, that materials composing granite, of which this class of rocks chiefly consists, were once in a state of fusion.
The class of rocks next in order to the primitive are what are termed Transition Rocks,—which are next and above the primitive on which they rest. This formation is composed of the larger fragments of all the primitive rocks consolidated into continuous masses. It is supposed that these rocks were formed, when the primary rocks were thrown up from the bed of the primeval ocean, when the disruptions caused by such powerful and mighty movements, reduced the higher parts of the primitive to fragments. These shattered fragments becoming agglutinated by their own pulverent cement, recomposed continuous strata which form the rocks to which we allude. In this class of rocks we first behold the rudiments of vitality—the dawn of organization—the first-born of earthly creatures, whose existence is recorded in imperishable characters. These consist of organized beings of the lowest orders, such as sea-shells of various descriptions, which are here found imbedded, and which afford a decisive evidence that such rocks were formed after the creation of organized beings—the rocks belonging to this class are Transition or mountain limestone—Graywacke, and graywacke slate—Slate and its varieties. Roof-slate, and the slate of which school slates are made, are well known varieties of this rock. It is sometimes called clay-slate, argillaceous slate, and argillaceous schistus. Transition rocks are the principal repositories of metallic ores, which occur both in beds and veins more abundantly in many of the rocks of this class than in primary rocks.
The next class is the Secondary Rocks, which lie upon the transition rocks, and appear like deposits composed of grains which once belonged to primitive rocks. Geologists now divide these rocks into upper secondary and lower secondary. The principal secondary formations are: (1.)—The coal formation, in the lower secondary series, and the rock-salt or saliferous formation in the upper secondary. The strata of the coal formation are numerous, extensive, and parallel; but they are often beset, undulating, curved, broken, and contorted in various ways. The strata connected with the coal bear evidences, in some instances, of having been rapidly deposited, as in the cases where we find the vertical stems of plants standing in their natural position, in many coal mines, and the rocks deposited around them in horizontal or slightly inclined strata. The stems of arborescent plants, two or three feet in diameter, are thus found piercing through the strata many feet. In such a case, the sand mud must have been deposited within a comparatively short time around them, otherwise in a climate such as that in which these plants grew, they would have decayed and left no indications of their existence.—Coal occurs in regular strata which vary in thickness from a few inches to several feet or yards. In the same coal formations many strata of coal occur under each other separated by a stratum of shale, sandstone, etc. The series of strata which occur together is called a coal field page 70 Coal fields are of limited extent, and the strata often dip to a common center, being often arranged in basin-shaped cavities, which appear to have been originally detached lakes that were gradually filled up by repeated depositions of carbonaceous and mineral matter. The different strata over and under the beds of coal are frequently similar, and the same series of strata is repeated for each successive stratum of coal, as shown in fig. 18. Coals are generally supposed to have had a vegetable origin; and, when we consider the abundance of vegetable remains usually found in connection with coal, and the vegetable structure which the coal itself sometimes exhibits, we can hardly doubt as to its origin. At most coal mines, even the thinnest layers of slate, when split off, show the impressions of the leaves and flat stems of the various grasses, reeds, and ferns, in all their most delicate parts. The impressions between the layers of slate sometimes give as perfect a representation of the plant, as if the plant had been pressed and dried in a book, and the leaves then opened to display it.
The upper secondary rocks comprise all the different formations above the great coal formations, to the upper limit of the chalk series. These rocks are divided into the three following formations. 1. Chalk, or cretaceous rocks, including the ferruginous and green sand. 2. Oolitic Rocks, lias limestone, and lias clay. 3. Red Sandstone, including magnesian limestone.—The red sandstone formation is characterized by the first appearance of the remains of the Saurian, or lizardshaped animals. The remains of a number of species have been found, differing in their appearance from the crocodile and alligator, some of which must have been from 60 to 120 feet in length. These animals appear to have lived in salt water, unlike any of this class with which we are acquainted at the present day, all of which belong either to the land or to fresh water. They had neither feet nor fins, but paddles like the sea turtle, and their tails were long, of the form of an oar, and fitted to propel them through the most agitated waters. The Oolitic rocks are composed of various strata of limestone, clay, sand, and sandstone. Oolite derives its name from the small globules that are imbedded in this species of rock—some of the masses of which appear composed of little rounded globules like the roes of fish. These rocks are remarkable for the great variety of organic remains they contain. The animal remains are those belonging to the land, and to fresh water. The teeth and bones of fish and reptiles are abundant. The reptiles are mostly saurian animals and turtles. Among these are the Megalo saurus, the Plesio saurus, and the Iguanodon, some of which must have been at least 70 feet in length, and of the hight of an elephant. There are also vegetable fossils in these rocks,—consisting of arborescent forms, trunks of palms, gigantic reeds, and similar vegetable productions, which are now to be found growing only in the Torrid Zone.
The next division is the Tertiary, which is considered as having been deposited after the Secondary. The strata comprehended under this class consist of beds of clay, marl, sand, puddingstones, and imperfectly consolidated limestone, which appear to have been deposited since the chalk formation. The tertiary deposits contain no beds of minerals or metallic veins, capable of exploration, except lignite and jet, which are used for fuel and ornament,—clay for pottery, sand for the manufacture of glass, pyrites for the manufacture of copperas and alum, and a valuable iron ore called hydrate of iron. This formation, however, abounds with a vast quantity of vegetable and animal remains, such as crocodiles, crabs, lobsters, several species of vertebral fish, and a vast number of testaceous exuviæ; so well preserved as to have the appearance of recent shells. The most remarkable discovery that has been made respecting the Tertiary deposits is, that many of them contain the bones of mammiferous animals (that is those which suckle their young) as perfect in their organization as any of the exising species of land animals; but most of them belong to genera or species that are extinct. These strata are further remarkable for presenting the frequent alternation of beds containing the remains of marine animals, with other beds that contain the bones of land animals or fresh water shells. The city of Paris, in France, and the country around, which are situated upon a tertiary deposit, which rests upon chalk—are remarkable for the extraordinary organic remains which they contain. Millions of marine shells compose the principal mass. Bones of marine animals, of which the genera are entirely unknown, are found in certain parts. Other bones, remarkable for their vast size, and of which some of similar genera exist only in distant countries, are found scattered in the upper beds. Not only the remains of sea animals and land quadrupeds, but also those of birds, are found in this deposit, such as the duck, the pelican, the woodcock, the starling, and the skylark. The famous locality of fossil fish at Monte Bolca, in Italy, is in tertiary strata. About 105 species have been found in those quarries, and many of them are different from any species known to exist in the neighboring seas, or even in any part of the earth.
The next distinction of formations made by Geologists is Diluvial and Alluvial deposits—the former being generally considered as having been formed by the last general deluge, and the latter by currents of rivers and other causes now in page 71 operation. The blocks of rock and the beds of gravel spread or scattered on the surface of the ground, composed of stone or fragments foreign to the district in which they are spread, and which frequently cover the bones of unknown species of quadrupeds—are called Diluvial depositions, that is, depositions which have been caused by a deluge. The materials of these deposits are usually coarse, and composed of gravel, pebbles, and blocks of a great variety of rocks aggregated without any regularity. The sand, soil, or fragments brought down by rivers, and spread along their banks or at their mouths, are called alluvial depositions. The bones and skeletons of large animals, and especially the Mammoth, are found in diluvial gravel in many countries. In Siberia, the tusks of the fossil elephant are found in the diluvial banks of almost every river, and sometimes in such abundance that the ivory from these skeletons is an article of export. It is said that the skeleton of a whale lies on the top of mountains 3000 feet high on the coast of the Northern ocean, which could scarcely have been conveyed to such an elevation but by an immense overwhelming deluge.
Alluvial deposits are the most superficial of all the formations; they are forming every day; they envelop the remains of animals that still exist on the surfaces they have formed, and they are also mingled with the remains of animals which have existed in recent times. The alluvial beds, taken as masses, are all of loose earth, and are never covered by rocky masses; and in these beds chiefly are to be found the remains of human beings and the monuments of their industry and art. There is a constant tendency in torrents, currents, rivers, tides, winds, and similar causes, to wear down the inequalities of the land and deposit the materials in the sea. In this way deltas have been formed, such as the deltas of the Nile, the Ganges, the Mississippi, the Danube, and the Rhone. The mouths of the Mississippi are now more than 100 miles from its original entrance into the gulf of Mexico, and for hundreds of miles above most of the land seen from its banks is alluvial; so that all the mass of land alluded to has been formed by materials carried down by the rapid current of this mighty river. The delta of the Ganges commences 220 miles in a direct line from the ocean; and the town of Adria, which was once a port on the Adriatic, is now 20 miles inland; all which vast accumulations are considered as the effects of Alluvial depositions.
There is likewise a species of Rocks distinguished by Geologists by the title of Volcanic and Basaltic rocks; which owe their origin to volcanic fire, and are sometimes forced up to the surface of the earth by the action of subterranean heat. The principal volcanic rocks are basalt, lava, and greenstone. Volcanic rocks occur in shapeless masses, and are destitute of organic remains. In some parts of Europe, as in Iceland, Sicily, and the country around Naples, active volcanoes still exist, which frequently emit vast quantities of lava, ashes, and other species of matter But even in places where no active volcanoes exist, as in Auvergne, Velay, and Vivavais, in France, several hundreds of conical hills are found, with craters near their summits. These hills are composed of materials similar to those of active volcanoes, and streams of lava may sometimes be traced proceeding from the cones into the adjoining valleys, where they choke up the ancient channels of rivers, in the same manner as some of the modern lavas in Iceland have been known to do, the rivers either flowing beneath, or cutting out a passage on one side of the lava.—Trap rocks are related to volcanic, and are mostly composed of hornblende and feldspar. The term trap is derived from the German word trappa, a stair, as many of these rocks occur in a terrace form, or like the steps of a stair—a configuration which is supposed to be owing to the stopping of large sheets of lava when flowing, whether at the bottom of the sea or on dry land; for it is known that streams of lava generally terminate in abrupt precipices, similar to the beds constituting the trap ranges. These rocks are distinguished, even at a distance, from those of the stratified formations, as they occur in shapeless masses, and form hilly tracts of great irregularity of surface, or in the form of walls or dykes penetrating other rocks, which they alter in character to a certain degree at this point of contact.
Basalt is of a black or bluish-gray color. It is commonly fine-grained, and consists of an intimate admixture of feldspar and augite, a variety of hornblende, with some oxyd of iron. Many of the Western Islands of Scotland are wholly or almost composed of basalt. The island of Staffa is a complete mass of basalt. It is about two miles in circumference, and is surrounded on every side by steep cliffs, 70 feet high, formed of clusters of angular columns, containing from 5 to 7 sides each. Fingal's cave is in the S. E. corner of the island, and presents a magnificent chasm, 42 feet wide, and 227 in length. The roof, which is 100 feet high at the entrance, gradually diminishes to 50, and is composed of the projecting extremities of basaltic pillars, and the base of a causeway of the same materials.—The Giant's Causeway, in the county of Antrim, in Ireland, is another striking specimen of basaltic columns. It consists of hundreds of thousands of pentagonal and hexagonal columns (that is, columns of 5 and 6 sides) varying from 1 to 5 feet in thickness, and from 20 to 200 feet in hight. The district in which this remarkable formation occurs lies on both sides of the river Bann, and comprehends an area of 800 square miles.—Throughout this area, the basalt is found occupying all the eminences, and constituting an overlying bed of igneous rocks, at least 500 feet in thickness. The greatest mass of basalt yet known occurs in the province of Deccan in India, where it constitutes the surface over an area of many thousand square miles.
Having given the above brief sketches of the different orders of stratification, I shall conclude this department of the subject, by a few general statements respecting the organic remains imbedded in the several formations to which we have adverted.
Organic remains are not found promiscuously scattered through the rocks, but each formation has its peculiar group of animals and plants; and on comparing together the larger groups of strata, we find scarcely any organic remains common to any two of them. These fossil animals and plants are found together in groups, very much as living plants and animals are—different groups occupying different portions of the surface of the earth and of the ocean. Hence it is concluded, that these remains were once living plants and animals, which, in different periods, occupied the ocean and the dry land, grouped together as we now find them, and that, as they died, they became enveloped in rock, near the places where they passed their existence.
Some of the formations and deposits to which we have alluded, particularly the Mountain limestone, consist almost entirely of the shells and co- page 72 ralline productions of sea animals, and this formation is often a thousand or more feet in thickness, and many miles in length and breadth. In what are termed the Silurian formations is found a long succession of strata many thousand feet in thickness, and imbedding not fewer than 375 species belonging to the animal kingdom.
It is considered as an established fact, that of more than 3000 species of plants and animals that are found in a fossil state in the secondary rocks, not a single species corresponds with any now living on the globe; and even out of 3000 fossil species in the Tertiary formation less than 600 are identical with living species. In short, in all the different formations, until we come to the uppermost and the newest, the thousand species they contain are all different from any in the now existing creation, though possessing family analogies.
It is a remarkable fact, that notwithstanding the great variety of fossils observed in the early formations, the remains of Man are not to be found in these formations. The remains of human beings and the vestiges of the arts and operations of man are discovered only in or upon those earthly masses which are demonstrably posterior to all regular geological deposits—or, the Diluvial and Alluvial formations—and under circumstances indicating the human species to have been among the recent productions of the Creator's power, and that man was created at a period posterior to those great changes and convulsions which destroyed so many millions of millions of animated beings. Had this not been the case, it is almost certain that numerous remains of the human species would have been found in the early formations.
“The phenomena of Geology show that the original formation of the rocks has been accompanied, in nearly all its stages, by a process of waste, decay, and recomposition. The rocks, as they were successively deposited, were acted upon by air and water, heat, etc., broken into fragments or worn down into grains out of which new strata were formed. Even the newer secondary rocks, since their consolidation, have been subject to great changes, of which very distinct monuments remain. Thus, we have single mountains, which from their structure can be considered only as remnants of great formations, or of great continents no longer in existence.—Mount Meisner, in Hesse, six miles long, and three broad, rises about 1800 feet above its base, and 2100 above the sea, overtopping all the neighboring hills for 40 or 50 miles round. The lowest part of the mountain consists of the same shell, limestone, and sandstone, which exist in the adjacent country. Above these are, first, a bed of sand, then a bed of fossil wood 100 feet thick at some points, and the whole is covered by a mass of basalt, 500 feet in hight. On considering these facts it is impossible to avoid concluding, that this mountain which now overtops the neighboring country, occupied at one time the bottom of a cavity in the midst of the higher lands. The vast mass of fossil wood could not all have grown there, but must have been transported by water from a more elevated surface, and lodged in what was then a hollow. The basalt which covers the wood must also have flowed in a current from a higher site; but the soil over which the basalt and the wood passed has been swept away, leaving this mountain as a solitary memorial to attest its existence. Thus also on the side of Mount Jura next the Alps, where no other mountain interposes, there are found vast blocks of granite (some of them of 1000 cubic yards) at the hight of more than 2000 feet above the lake of Geneva. These blocks are foreign to the rocks among which they lie, and have evidently come from the opposite chain of the Alps; but the land which constituted the inclined plane over which they were rolled or transported has been worn away, and the valley of Lower Switzerland, with its lakes, now occupies its place. Transported masses of primitive rocks of the same description are found scattered over the north of Germany, which Von Buck ascertained, by their characters, to belong to the mountains of Scandinavia; and which therefore carry us back to a period when an elevated continent, occupying the basin of the Baltic, connected Saxony and Norway.”*
The production of a bed for vegetation is effected by the decomposition of rocks. This decomposition is effected by the expansion of water in pores or the fissures of rocks, by heat or congelation, by the solvent power of moisture, and by electricity, which is known to be a powerful agent of decomposition. As soon as the rock begins to be softened, the seeds of lichens, which are constantly floating in the air, make it their resting-place. Their generations occupy it until a finely divided earth is formed, which becomes capable of supporting mosses and heath; acted upon by light and heat, these plants imbibe the dew and convert constituent parts of the air into nourishment. Their death and decay afford food for a more perfect species of vegetable; and at length a mold is formed, in which even the trees of the forest can fix their roots, and which is capable of rewarding the labors of the cultivator.—The decomposition of rock tends to the renovation of soils, as well as their cultivation. Finely divided matter is carried by rivers from the higher districts to the low countries, and alluvial lands are usually extremely fertile. By these operations the quantity of habitable surface is constantly increased; precipitous cliffs are gradually made gentle slopes, lakes are filled up, and islands are formed at the mouths of great rivers; so that, as the world grows older, its capacity for containing an increased number of inhabitants is gradually enlarging.
* Supplement to the Encyclopædia Britannica, 6th edit vol. vi.
Numerous species of animals have been found imbedded in the secondary strata—no living examples of which are now to be found in any quarter of the globe. Among the most remarkable of these are the following:—1. The Mammoth, which bears a certain resemblance to the elephant, but is much larger, and differs considerably in the size and form of the tusks, jaws, and grinders. The fossil remains of this animal are more abundant in Siberia than in other countries; there being scarcely a spot, from the river Don to Kamtschatka, in which they have not been found. Not only single bones and perfect skeletons of this animal are frequently to be met with; but, in a late instance, the whole animal was found preserved in ice. This animal was discovered on the banks of the frozen ocean, near the mouth of the river Jena, in 1799; and in 1805, Mr. Adams got it conveyed over a space of 7000 miles to Petersburg, where it is deposited in the museum. The flesh, skin, and hair, were completely preserved, and even the eyes were entire. It was provided with a long mane, and the body was covered with hair. This hair was of different qualities. There were stiff black bristles from twelve to fifteen inches long, and these belonged to the tail, mane, and ears. Other bristles were from nine to ten inches long, and of a brown color; and beside these, there was a coarse wool, from four to five inches long, of a pale yellow color. This mam-moth was a male; it measured nine feet four inches in hight, and was sixteen feet four inches long, without including the tusks. The tusks, measuring along the curve, are nine feet six inches; and the two together weigh 360 lbs. avoirdupois. The head alone, without the tusks, weighs 414 lbs. avoirdupois. The remains of this animal have been found likewise in Iceland, Norway, Scotland, England, and in many places through the continent onward to the Arctic ocean.
2. The Megatherium. A complete skeleton of this colossal species was found in diluvial soil near Buenos Ayres, and sent to Madrid. The specimen is fourteen feet Long, and seven Spanish feet in hight.
3. The Great Mastodon of the Ohio, of which the following figure is a representation. This species appears to have been as tall as the elephant, but with longer and thicker limbs. It had tusks like the elephant, and appears to have lived on roots. Its remains abound in America, particularly on the banks of the Ohio.
4. The Tapir, which also abounds in America. The one named Gigantic Tapir, is about eighteen feet long, and twelve feet high.
5. The Irish Elk, or Elk of the Isle of Man. This gigantic species, now apparently extinct, occurs in a fossil state, in Ireland, Isle of Man, England, Germany, and France. The most perfect specimen of this species, which was found in the Isle of Man, may be seen in the museum of the University of Edinburgh. It is six feet high, nine feet long, and in hight, to the tip of the right horn, nine feet seven and a half inches.†
Such are a few of the facts which the researches of modern Geology have disclosed. Let us now consider what are the conclusions which have been deduced from them.
* Sup. to Encyc. Brit., vol. vi.
† An Engraving of this skeleton may be seen in Vol. Sixth of Sup. to Encyc. Brit., 6th edit.
2. Another conclusion which has been deduced from the above stated facts, is, that during the changes which the globe has undergone, since its original production out of nothing, several destructions and subsequent new creations of animals and plants have taken place, perhaps at very different and very distant epochs. The greater part of geologists conclude, that four or five distinct epochs of destruction and renewal may be traced in the organic remains contained in the different strata; in other words, that whole groups have been swept at once from existence by some powerful catastrophe, and their places supplied by other races, called into existence by the creating energy of the Almighty. The records of geology seem to testify that such was the condition of the globe, in those early periods, as to temperature and other circumstances, that our present races of animals could not have then existed, and that such was the nature and constitution of these primeval beings, that they could not exist in the present constitution and circumstances of our globe; their natures being adapted to the different conditions of the earth, at different periods of its existence.
3. A third conclusion is, that the successive changes to which our globe has been subjected, have been improvements in its condition as a habitable world, that there has been a correspondent advance toward perfection in the natures of the animals and plants which have been placed upon its surface; and that the Deity, during this long period of successive changes, was gradually fitting up this world for the ultimate residence of moral and intellectual beings, such as the human species that now inhabit it. For it appears next to certain that the race of man could not have inhabited this globe in any of the past periods of its duration, prior to that era in which he was placed upon it. It would appear that the Deity did not think proper to prepare a suitable habitation for man by a miracle, or a direct interposition of his Almighty energy, but by the agency of those physical laws which he had impressed upon the elementary principles of the material universe. And in order that matter might not exist in vain, my-riads of brings were brought into existence, under the direction of Infinite Wisdom, endowed with faculties and natures adapted to those peculiar states of the terraqueous globe in which they were to pass their existence.
Such are a few of the facts connected with the constitution of our globe, and the conclusions which have been deduced from them. It now remains that we inquire into their accordance with the records of the Sacred history.
It has been too frequently taken for granted by theologians and commentators, that the whole system of the material universe was brought into existence within the period of 6000 years from the present time; and hence, some of them who have been anxious to reconcile the Mosaic and Geological chronologies, have attempted to show that all the formations and changes in the strata of the earth, to which we have alluded, might have been effected within the period of 6000 years, and particularly during the continuance of the deluge in the days of Noah. Some of them have insinuated that the coralline reefs, which exhibit vast accumulations of calcareous matter, and which abound on the coast of New Holland, and among the islands of the Pacific ocean, have been all formed since the present order of things commenced; and therefore that all the other formations to which we have already alluded, even the oldest, may have been formed within the same period. It has also been insinuated, that it appears derogatory to the Wisdom and Power of the Creator to suppose, that for thousands of years the earth should have been occupied merely with vegetables and animals of the lowest orders, and that many species of each class were alternately created, and permitted to retire out of existence.
But, to come more particularly to the subject in hand. Had Moses, in his history of the Creation, positively declared that every portion of the material world was created out of nothing, within 1650 years of the period of the deluge, or about 6000 years ago, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile the facts of geology with the Mosaic history. But no such position is to be found either in the writings of Moses or throughout any other portion of sacred Scripture. For the illustration of this point, it may be proper for a little to consider the meaning and import of the 1st verse of the first chapter of Genesis: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”
This proposition is to be considered as a Preface to the following narrative of the arrangements connected with our terrestrial system, and, indeed, to the whole of Divine Revelation; and a more comprehensive, emphatic, and appropriate introduction can scarcely be conceived. By the heavens and the earth, we are here undoubtedly to understand the whole frame of the material universe, with all the bodies it contains, wherever existing throughout immensity—whether suns, planets, comets, nebulæ, or whatever else exists throughout the regions of boundless space. All the bodies comprehended under this general expression are here said to have been created, that is, brought from nothing into existence by the energy of an Eternal and Omnipotent agent. The original Hebrew word, Bara, does not indeed necessarily convey this idea, as it most frequently signifies “to produce something new or wonderful,” or “to arrange, to renovate, or new-model” something which was previously in existence. It is a matter of rational inference, however, and strictly accordant with just philosophical principles, that the material universe was created out of nothing. It is such an inference as cannot be resisted without doing violence to the fundamental laws of human belief. This magnificent frame of the universe is here said to have been brought into existence by God, the God of Israel, the Self-existent and Eternal Jehovah. This declaration was intended to teach the Israelites, and all others, that the material world as to its original atoms, did not arise without a cause, or out of pre-existent materials; that the beautiful order it now exhibits did not originate from the fortuitous concourse of atoms, as some heathen philosophers imagined, and that it did not derive its existence from any of the gods of the nations, as some of their blinded worshipers foolishly imagined. In opposition to all such chimerical, absurd, and atheistical notions, Moses declares, “In the beginning God”—the God of Israel—“created the heavens and the earth.” As if he had said, That God who delivered you from the land of Egypt, after having displayed so many signs and wonders; who divided the waters of the Red sea before you, and who appeared in awful majesty at Mount Sinai; that God whom you are commanded to worship, and whose laws you are bound to obey—is the Great Being who reared that wonderful fabric of heaven and earth which your eyes behold.
The period when this astonishing effect was produced is also here declared, “In the beginning.” Upon a proper conception of the meaning of this expression depends, in a great measure, the reconciliation of the geological and the Mosaic chronology. The phrase here stated, “In the beginning,” is used to denote the commencement of an era, or of a series of successive events. It evidently implies that, at what period soever in the long lapse of past duration, any part of the material creation was brought into existence, it derived that existence from the Self-existent and Eternal Divinity. But no specific period is here stated. Had Moses expressly told his readers that this period, when the first materials of creation were brought into existence, was about 2500 years from the time in which he wrote, then there would have been an almost insuperable difficulty in reconciling the discoveries of geology with such a statement. But no such assertion, either directly or by implication, is to be found throughout the whole range of Divine revelation. Ten thousands of years, or even millions of ages, may have elapsed since the first portions of matter were created, or previous to what is termed the first day's work, in the arrangements of our globe,—for anything that the Scripture asserts to the contrary. No limit is fixed to the time which may have elapsed between the period when the component materials of our globe were created, and the period when it began to be reduced into the order in which we now behold it; and no information is given as to the events which may have occurred during this interval. For it appears to have been the chief design of the Sacred Historian to give a narration of those events which were introductory to the placing of man upon the earth. And in this point of view it is important to remark, that the passage before us is entirely independent of the narrative of the six days’ work which follows, and is to be considered simply as a general and most important truth, forming an appropriate introduction both to the following narrative and to the whole system of Revelation.
It is therefore to be regretted that certain theologians should still persist in maintaining that the whole material creation must be limited to a period within 6000 years from this date, when Scripture is silent on this point; for in so doing they put an argument into the hands of the philosophical infidel, which it is in his power to wield against the truth and authority of Revelation.
If the propriety of the explanation now given be admitted, then it completely removes every objection against the Mosaic record, derived from the supposed antiquity of the earth. Although it could be proved that some of the strata of our globe were formed millions of ages ago; although we should conceive what is neither impossible, nor altogether improbable—that our globe, in another form, has been the abode, for thousands of ages, of intellectual beings analogous to man, who are now transported to another region of creation—or that it has been the habitation of numerous and diversified races both of sentient and intellectual natures, and that millions of millions of ages have rolled on since the Creator put forth his Omnipotent energy, and since such stupendous revolutions commenced—neither of such views is in the least discordant with any doctrine or fact recorded in the sacred oracles. The Psalmist declares in reference to creation, when addressing the Almighty, “Of old hast thou laid the foundations of the earth, and the heavens are the works of thy hands;” and the Apostle Paul declares, “Thou Lord, In the Beginning, hast laid the foundations of the earth.” But no specific period is stated here, or in any other portion of Scripture; and the expression Of Old is not only correspondent with what we have now stated, but seems to imply the idea of the high antiquity of the earth.
The circumstance now adverted to—that Moses specifies no definite period as the commencement page 76 of the material creation—I consider as a corroborative argument for the truth of Divine Revelation. Had he written at random, or from vague tradition, or had he intended merely to give play to an exuberant fancy, in describing what no uninspired mortal could ever have known—it is not likely he would have used language so cautious and appropriate, as not to have interfered with any subsequent discoveries that might be made in the constitution of the material universe. Among all the cosmogonies which have been composed by heathen writers, either from tradition or from their own fancies, there is not one which accords with the discoveries of modern times; but, on the contrary, they all contain statements in direct opposition to facts which are known to exist in the material system. But the inspired writers were—perhaps unconsciously to themselves—directed to use such language as, when rightly interpreted, would be quite consistent with all the views and discoveries that might be opened of the works of God to the latest generations.
It has been supposed by some who cannot be persuaded to admit the notion of the high antiquity of the earth, that the rocks, with all the fossil petrifactions they contain, were created just as we find them, in a moment of time. “The Divine Being,” they affirm, “might as easily have made matter to assume the form of a shell, a fish, a lizard, or a water-worn pebble, such as we find in these rocks, or of any other shape or structure.” To all who have bestowed the least attention on the strata of the earth and their fossil remains, such statements and reasonings must appear foolish and absurd in the highest degree. To use the words of Professor Silliman: “We will not inquire whether Almighty Power inserted plants and animals in mineral masses, and was thus exerted in working a long series of useless miracles without design or end, and therefore incredible. The man who can believe, for example, that the Iguanodon, with his gigantic form, 70 feet in length, 10 in height, and 15 in girth, was created in the midst of consolidated sandstone, and placed down 1000 or 1200 feet from the surface of the earth, in a rock composed of ruins and fragments, and containing vegetables, shells, fish, and rolled pebbles—such a man can believe anything, with or without evidence. If there be any such persons, we must leave them to their own reflections, since they cannot be influenced by reason and sound argument; with them we can sustain no discussion, for there is no common ground on which we can meet.”
But why, I would ask, should the idea of the high antiquity of the earth frighten any persons from acquiescing in it, when it is not in the least repugnant to the declarations of Scripture? So far from contracting or distorting our views of the Divine perfections, it tends to expand our conceptions of the plans and operations of the Deity. If periods of duration almost too great for human powers to estimate, have been employed since the original creation of our globe, to bring it to its present state,—if vast successive revolutions, at different eras, have taken place upon its surface—if the waters of the mighty deep have at different periods overflowed the solid land—if the place where we now stand was once a portion of the bottom of the ocean, over which its mighty billows for ages had rolled—if subterraneous fires have at different periods raised up from the bottom of the deep those huge mountains which now lift their summits to the clouds—if lofty mountains have been sunk down many thousand feet below their ancient level, so as to form deep valleys of the bottom of the seas—if the Almighty, after creating the matter of our globe, impressed certain laws upon its elementary substances, and left these laws to operate as they now do, with only occasional interferences—if races of animated beings have occupied the globe for myriads of ages—if new races have been created at different periods and subsequently destroyed—or if numerous orders of intelligent existence may have occupied the surface of the globe ages before man was introduced to this terrestrial scene—if tremendous convulsions have shaken the firm foundations of the earth—in short, if by all the processes to which we have alluded, our globe was gradually prepared for the purposes it now fulfills, and that the Creator chose to employ these rather than the special interposition of miraculous power—such considerations tend to exhibit the power, wisdom, and benevolence of the Deity, in a new point of view, and to enlarge our conceptions of the magnificent plans of him who is “The King eternal, immortal, and invisible,” who is “wonderful in counsel and excellent in working.” We are here shown that the space which has intervened between the present time and the period when man was first placed upon the globe, is but one of the units of a vast series of chronological periods which have gone before, and which stretch backward into the abyss of immeasurable duration. It is but a single link of the great chain which stretches from the moment when matter first arose from nothing, to diversify the wilds of immensity, down to the hour which is now pas sing over us. And who knows but that the system of the globe with which we are presently connected may be but one link in an interminable series of events connected with other orders of intelligences, which will be unfolded during the revolutions of a coming eternity.
The science of astronomy directs our views to regions of space which are immeasurable by mortals, and perhaps even by intelligences of a higher order, and discloses to our sight ten thousands and millions of magnificent orbs, whose existence was not even suspected 200 years ago. Geology directs our views to a stupendous series of events stretching back to the ages of a past eternity. The one conducts our vision to the far distant regions of immensity;—the other to the immeasurable periods of past duration; the one enlarges our conceptions of space, and the innumerable objects with which it is diversified;—the other expands our ideas of time, and the revolutions which have marked its progress. But astronomy has done more than this. Like Geology, it extends our views to periods of time immensely long in the flux of past duration—periods during which thousands of the luminaries of heaven have existed and displayed their radiance. Sir W. Herschel, in his remarks on the Nebulæ, has concluded, from a variety of ingenious reasonings and observations, that these nebulæ which assume a milky light or appearance, cannot be less than about 7000 times the distance of the star Sirius, or 168 thousand billions of miles; and from other observations, it is inferred that other bodies in the heavens are removed to a much greater distance. Now, light, notwithstanding its amazing velocity of 192,000 miles in a second, would be nearly thirty thousand years ere it could fly from such a nebulæ to the earth. Since, therefore, it is a fact that the light of such bodies has actually been seen, and consequently, that it must have been traveling at least many thousands of years before it could have reached the eyes of any of the inhabitants of our globe; it follows, that such bodies page 77 must have been brought into existence at far distant periods of past duration, otherwise they could not thus have darted their light through such vast spaces of immensity.
The discoveries of modern astronomy likewise disclose to us certain facts which lead us to the conclusion, that certain progressive operations are going forward, analogous to those which appear to have been carried forward in remote ages, in relation to our globe.—Had our limits permitted, we might have shown that some of the comets appear to be in an early stage of their progress toward becoming habitable worlds—that many of the nebulæ give evidence of a gradual progression toward condensation—that the appearance of new stars, the disappearance of others which had long shone in the heavens, and the gradual diminution of the light of others—the changes which appear to be occasionally taking place on the surfaces of the sun and the planets, along with other celestial phenomena—are indications that progression toward perfection, and perpetual change, are not peculiar to our world, but are principles in the Creator's government pervading the wide-extended universe.
In short, progressive improvement toward perfection forms a characteristic of the plans of the Almighty, not only in the physical, but also in the moral world. In the first instance, after the flood, the knowledge of the true God was chiefly confined to the family of Abraham; afterward, it was disseminated among the tribes of Israel, but circumscribed within the small territory of Judea; in process of time it was partially diffused among the surrounding nations; after the Christian era it spread abroad through the greater part of the Roman Empire; it has now extended its influence over most of the European nations, and over a certain portion of the tribes that inhabit Asia, Africa, and America. It is still in progress; and, on the foundation of the declarations of inspired prophets, we now look forward to the period when “the glory of Jehovah shall be revealed, and when all flesh shall see it together;” when “all the ends of the world shall remember and turn to the Lord,” and “when righteousness and praise shall spring forth before all nations.” And the scenes of a coming eternity will doubtless display changes and revolutions far surpassing in grandeur all the events which have happened during the myriads of ages which have already passed, and which will excite the astonishment and adoration of an admiring universe.—Even in an intellectual and political point of view, the nations are making progress toward perfection. “Old things are passing away,” and new scenes of improvement are gradually unfolding. The state of society, in the island in which we dwell, 2000 years ago, presents nearly as great a contrast to what is now, as the chaotic state of our globe exhibited before it was reduced to the beauty and order in which we now behold it.—In short, everything we contemplate in the scene around us is progressive; the faculties of the human mind, and the corporeal powers from infancy to manhood—the growth of all the animal and vegetable races—the improvements of art, and the discoveries of science—education, civilization, and political economy—the cultivation of the earth, the mode of traveling by sea and land, and hundreds of other objects and movements demonstrate that progression is a law which pervades both the intellectual and the corporeal universe;—and, in the future world, the expansion of the human faculties, and the progress of the mind from one scene of material and intellectual grandeur to another, will form one portion of the happiness of renovated spirits: and as such a progression will never cease, their felicity will be of perpetual duration; for, if a finite spirit were to stop short in its excursions, or to arrive at a boundary where it could proceed no farther—from that moment its happiness would begin to diminish, and misery, to a certain extent, would infallibly ensue.
I have only to add, that whatever may be affirmed respecting the antiquity of the materials of which the earth is composed, it is admitted by every Geologist, that our globe, as to its present state and arrangement, has been comparatively of short duration. All the physical monuments which exist, and the progressive changes which have happened in the strata of the earth, as well as historical monuments, and the concurrent tradition of many nations, bear witness to this truth, that the first appearance of man upon the face of the globe cannot be referred to a period farther back than five or six thousand years from the present time.
Had the limits assigned to the present article permitted, I might have introduced some remarks on the 2d verse of the 1st chapter of Genesis, “The earth was without form and void,” etc., or as it has sometimes been translated—“Afterward the earth became waste and desolate”—which expressions evidently imply that, at the period here alluded to, the substance or materials of the globe did exist; for we are told that the earth “was,” or “had become,” desolate or waste, previous to the arrangements which are subsequently described.
How long it had continued in this state, or in any of its previous states—whether a year, a century, or thousands of years, we are not informed, nor is there any expression in scripture which determines this, so that we are left at full liberty to carry our views on this point as far back into the ages of past duration as the facts connected with the structure of our globe may warrant, without controverting any position contained in the Sacred Oracles.—I might likewise have shown that the sun and stars must have been brought into existence before the period called the “fourth day,” at which time they were appointed “to rule the day, and to be for signs and seasons, and for days and years”—and that the Creator, either through the medium of physical causes, or by a direct interposition of his power, produced the effects described in the Sacred Narrative—such as the separation of the ocean from the dry land—in the periods of time there specified. But the proof and illustration of such positions would occupy too much space in the present work.*
* For a further illustration of some of these topics, the author respectfully refers the reader to a Lecture, lately published, entitled “Discoveries of Modern Geology not inconsistent with Revelation”—being the 6th of a series of Lectures to Young Men, delivered in Broughton Place Chyrch, Edinburgh, in March, 1842.
But, amidst all the revolutions and catastrophes that have taken place in the constitution of our globe, there is the clearest evidence of an All-wise and superintending Providence directing every event. Amidst the convulsions which have rent its strata—that have “carried hills into the midst of the seas”—and raised mountains from the bottom of the ocean—these are striking indications of Divine Benevolence in preparing our world for the comfort and accommodations its inhabitants now enjoy. The facts disclosed by geological investigation tend to enlarge our conceptions of the attributes of the Divinity, and of the sublimity of his plans and arrangements in the universe; and to demonstrate that his creating power has been repeatedly exercised during countless ages, in calling into existence numerous orders of beings, and in carrying forward his arrangements to a glorious consummation