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The New Zealand Evangelist

Notices Of Books. The New Zealand Magazine, No. I

Notices Of Books. The New Zealand Magazine, No. I.

Taylor's Geological Observations on Genesis.

In our schoolboy days, “playing at soldiers” was a favourite game; the spirit of the age was reflected in the sports of the youth; but a quarter of a century has produced changes in public taste; the pen has become more popular among us than the sword; and playing at literature is now a favourite amusement with both old and young. If the boy is the father of the man, and if the sports and amusements of childhood become the serious pursuits of manhood, bright prospects and a high literary character await this infant colony; for its literary taste has been quite precocious. The poor infant could scarcely stand alone when it was seen amusing itself quite seriously twice a week with a couple of mimic newspapers; by and bye another juvenile display was made, and our tiny pages were ushered into light; and now, before its tenth birthday has been celebrated, forth comes a veritable, full grown quarterly, bristling with as many learned capitals, M.A., M.D., F.R.S., &c. &c., as if Wellington was the seat of a royal university.

We hail with pleasure every well directed exercise of the pen; every vigorous, healthy exhibition of literary skill; and we regard the Number before us as, upon the whole, a creditable and favourable specimen of colonial periodical literature. The most unpopular element in this publication, so far as we page 276 can learn, is the price; and, certainly, it would be a decided improvement if that were reduced at least one half, if instead of five shillings and three-pence, each number were sold at half-a-crown. Still it is hardly fair to keep comparing it with the same class of publications at home; for without doubt, when New Zealand has made the same advances as Great Britain; when Wellington shall have equalled London; when our local broadsheets shall have rivalled in size and talent the Times and the Economist; then will the New Zealand Magizine equal if not surpass the Quarterly and the Edinburgh Reviews; and our own humble Evangelist will be without a rival in Evangelical Christendom.

The only article in this number that crosses our path, and comes fairly within the range of our criticism, is one entitled “Geological Observations on the Book of Genesis, by the Rev. R. Taylor, M. A., F. G. S.” We rejoice to see the re-union of literature and religion,—to see Scripture and science, the word and the works of God studied side by side; and the harmony of both the divine volumes so clearly and beautifully set forth, by so many eminent theologians, and distinguished philosophers of the present day. Geology has not only opened up a new and most interesting field of study among the works of God, but it has introduced a new element into Scripture interpretation. It has completely overturned the universally received interpretations of certain passages, but it has on the other hand given additional confirmation to the truth of the bible, and established certain disputed portions upon a foundation of immoveable rock. Now, although often confounded, there is a most important distinction, between rejecting certain long admitted human interpretations of merely historical passages, and rejecting the bible as the revelation of God's will for our salvation,—the standard of our religious belief, and the rule of our duty to God and man. Geology corrects the erroneous interpretation, but instead of overthrowing, confirms the claims of the bible to be the word of God.

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From Mr. Taylor's reputation as a divine and a geologist, we commenced the perusal of his article with high expectations, and read it once and again with considerable care. Our expectations, however, we are sorry to say, were by no means realized. The subject, we know, is beset with difficulties; the most eminent geological divines are not agreed as to the most satisfactory solution of them, and we are not disposed to dogmatize. We perfectly agree with Mr. Taylor,—as every one else does, with the exception perhaps of the Dean of York, and a few Puseyite prints that seek celebrity by attacking science through the sides of the British Association,—that the first verse of Genesis, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” refers to a period indefinitely anterior to the creation of man; and in this way ample time is secured for the longest geological periods intervening. Whether the six days refer to the real changes effected upon our earth during six indefinite epochs, as Mr. Taylor supposes; or the apparent changes during the six days immediately before the creation of Adam; or whether they are to be explained on some other principle, the most eminent writers are not yet agreed. But a fuller acquaintance with geological facts, and deeper researches in scripture criticism, will doubtless remove many of these and similar difficulties. What we cannot explain now, will be easily explained hereafter. At present, geology, above most other sciences, requires to follow Bacon, not Aristotle,—to use the inductive, not the deductive logic—to collect facts, not draw conclusions—to investigate, not theorize. Mr. Taylor's mind appears to us to be better fitted for observing and recording facts, than deducting from these general principles: and we should certainly have liked if he had speculated less, and adhered more closely to facts fully established. Newton's principle is equally applicable to science and theology,—to admit nothing as true that is not clearly established by the evidence proper to the subject, and to receive every thing page 278 thus proved, however contrary to pre-conceived opinions. Tried by this principle, Mr. Taylor's theory would shrink into narrow dimensions: it is interesting—we had almost said romantic—but it wants proof; the most of it is mere conjecture. It has been found that when, to obviate doctrinal or historical difficulties in scripture, conjectural readings of the text have been proposed, in almost every instance further investigation proved these to be both wrong and uncalled for; and in like manner, when to obviate other difficulties, scientific conjectures have been proposed, further investigation will doubtless prove them to be unfounded and unnecessary. A short time ago the nebular hypothesis was supposed to explain almost all the difficulties of astronomy, and the whole process of world-making was represented as going on, from thin fleecy vapour up to radiant suns, with as much order and simplicity as the successive operations in a pin-manufactory; but the moment Lord Rosse's telescope was directed to the heavens, the whole beautiful hypothesis vanished “like the baseless fabric of a vision.”

Mr. Taylor thinks it probable that the angels had their abode upon the earth before the creation of man—that they were tempted to use their great powers for sinful purposes—that they might have succeeded in altering the course of our planet—but unable to use it as a vehicle to transport them to other orbs they whirled it from its course, and thus caused its destruction—“that our planet was destroyed for the sin of its first inhabitants.” To us, the proofs in support of these and similar statements are quite inconclusive. We can see no more reason for connecting the convulsions of inanimate matter, or the death of the lower animals,” with sin, than for connecting the withering of the leaves in autumn, or the falling of snow and the freezing of water in winter, with the same cause. It has been abundantly proved that carnivorous animals lived, devoured their prey, died or were devoured in turn, during the long geological eras that preceded the creation of man; page 279 just in the same way that similar carnivorous animals have lived and preyed, since man was placed upon the earth. But there is no necessity for tracing the death of any of these creatures to the sin of either angels or men. Their Creator, who gave life to these animals, had a perfect right to recall his gifts at whatever time, and in whatever manner he saw fit; they were tenants at will, and held their life entirely at his pleasure, and had no claim for its continuance. And as for the convulsions of the globe, they were, so far as we can see, awful and glorious manifestations—not of wrath—but of goodness, by which the earth was gradually prepared as a habitation for man, and the animals necessary for his service. Even when man was created, although belonging to an entirely different and immeasurably higher order of existence, and placed under a higher order of laws,—he had no claim upon his Creator for a continuance of life, till it pleased God, by an act of sovereign grace, to enter into a covenant with Adam, on behalf of himself and all his natural posterity, in which life was promised to Adam and his descendants, on condition of his obedience,—the obedience being restricted to a single point,—the not tasting of the forbidden fruit. So long as this condition was performed, life could have been claimed in virtue of the divine promise. Death was the penalty; but death as a punishment was evidently restricted to man, and was vastly more extensive in its effects than when applied to the lower animals. It involved moral effects, of which they could know nothing. The lower animals are not the subjects of God's moral government; they have no sense of right and wrong; no fear of death—no dread, or no hope of any thing hereafter; being under no moral laws they cannot violate them; hence they cannot commit sin; their killing one another is not the sin of murder; death to them is not therefore the punishment of sin; and no parallel can be drawn between the destruction of the lower animals and the death of man. The two belong to orders of being entirely distinct, and are page 280 under laws of a totally different character. Besides, man was placed not only under a different law, but to that law was superadded a covenant, increasing the privileges of man, but necessarily aggravating his fall; the higher he was raised, the height was greater from which he had to fall. This subject would open up an interesting and important field of enquiry; but enough, we trust, has been said to shew that there is no necessity for connecting, without proof, the sin of the fallen angels with the pre-Adamic convulsions of our globe, and the death of the ancient races of its inhabitants.

It is contrary to all we know of God's works, either from nature or revelation, to suppose that the earth was ever the abode of either angels, or beings superior to man. Progression is written on all God's works, but this would be retrogression. And while we unhesitatingly reject the developement theory so plausibly set forth in the “Vestiges of Creation,” as being as repugnant to science as to scripture, we can see nothing, in the pages of scripture or the records of geology, that gives the slightest warrant for believing that any class of beings, superior or even equal to man, ever existed on our globe before the creation of Adam.

At what period the angels were created, in what place they were located, at what time or by what cause they fell, we know not. The views of President Edwards, written about a century ago, are as well supported by scripture and reason as any we have seen. He endeavours to show, as highly probable, that when God first revealed to the angels his purpose, that one possessed of human nature should be his son,—should be his best beloved,—should be united to his eternal son—should be their head and king—and that “all the angels of God should worship him;”—Lucifer, the prince of the heavenly host, spurned the idea of ministering to the race of mankind, and of worshipping one who should be born of that race, and thus, “lifted up with pride,“he fell from the highest state of glory page 281 and blessedness, to the lowest state of degradation and misery, and drew into the same rebellion a multitude of inferior spirits, over whom he still rules, and who are called his angels. (See Edwards’ works, vol.ii. pp. 607—612, 8vo. London, 1840.)

The idea of a comet being the agent employed to produce the flood wants only proof to make it admissable. Whiston, the successor of Newton at Cambridge, more than a hundred and fifty years ago, supposed at first that a comet had been the cause of the flood; afterwards “he thought he could prove that a comet did at that time pass very near the earth, and that it was the same that appeared in 1688. But the uncertainty of the comet's return in 1758, and the absolute failure of that which ought to have appeared in 1788 or 1789, must render Whiston's calculations for such a length of time extremely dubious.” (Ency. Brit.—Art. Deluge.)

With Mr. Taylor's ideas about atmospheric phenomena during the antediluvian period we cannot agree. His theory appears to us to be an unnatural forcing of both scripture and science. He says, that before the flood, “As Saturn is surrounded with his belts, so the earth was canopied by a stratum of water suspended at a great elevation, like one vast transparent cloud.”—“There was then no rain upon the earth's surface;” “there were no floating clouds;” and “the first mention made of wind” is after the flood. After this, from causes specified, “clouds were formed; rain fell; and the rainbow was first seen.”

We are at a loss to understand, whether Mr. Taylor confines this era of perpetual calm and cloudless sunshine, to the period from the Deluge back to the creation of man, or to the indefinitely anterior era, the creation of the firmament; or whether he would extend it back to the still more remote antiquity, when the earth was, as he thinks probable the habitation of angels and Megatheria. If he confines his remarks to the historical period, his proofs are truly slender to support such a theory. Scripture speaks page 282 doubtfully, science no less so. If he extends it to the former period, scripture is silent, and science distinctly against him. We have no mention of wind or rain till after the flood, therefore he concludes, there were neither till that time. On a similar principle Dr. Paley endeavours to prove, that there was no Sabbath observed in the world till the time of Moses. But negative proof is no proof. It appears to us, that the Mosaic account of the creation and the flood, can be explained far more satisfactorily, by supposing that clouds, winds, and rains, were all in existence from the days of Adam to those of Noah. We pass over the second verse of Genesis, “The Spirit, or Breath of God moved upon the face of the waters;” although we no not think, that the doctrine of the personality of the Holy Spirit would be effected by the belief, that the chaotic waves were upheaved by mighty winds,—that the darkness was thus dispelled, and the first elements of life were thus communicated to the afterwards teeming waters; and this verse might be pressed to utter such a meaning. But when we come to Genesis iii. 8., we read that “they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day.” In the Hebrew, as in the margin, it is, in, or during the wind, or breeze of the day. Here then is wind before the flood, and that daily. Moreover, the sacred writer speaks of wind and rain at the time of the flood as ordinary well known phenomena, not as things new and unheard of. From the general way in which it is stated, Gen. ii. 5. 6., that “the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth; but there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground,” it is uncertain to what period this refers. It was before the creation of man; for “there was not a man to till the ground,” and it would appear from the context, that it was before either herb or plant existed on the earth; before the appearance or existence of vegetable life. What interpretation can be more-simple or natural, than to consider that in this brief summary, allusion is made page 283 to the process of evaporation, as being then established and continued,—to the waters being in vapour, mist, or clouds, in the expanse or firmament,—and being condensed, as at present, by cold they descended again in showers of rain upon the earth; and vegetable life afterwards appearing, the grourd was thus clothed wlth herbs and plants? That the idea of a transparent canopy of water above the firmament is quite fanciful, may be shewn from the scriptures themselves. In Gen. i. 17.,it is said, “God set the sun and the moon in the firmament.” This canopy must therefore have been beyond the sun and the moon. But any one may see that in this instance the sacred writer is speaking of things as they appeared, not as they were; just as he speaks elsewhere of the sun's rising and setting.

We have no account it is true of a rainbow till after the flood; but we have no mention again of the rainbow in the whole bible, except once in Ezekiel, and twice in Revelation. It was just as natural and suitable for God to select an existing phenomenon—the rainbow, as the sign of his covenant with Noah; as for him to select an existing institution—the Sabbath, as the sign of his covenant with Israel, when he brought them out of Egypt. (Deut. v. 15.) In Job xxxviii, and Prov. viii, we find clouds, rain, winds, and all atmospheric phenomena, spoken of as contemperancous with the earliest events and changes upon the earth.

But we have other witnesses bringing “confirmation strong as holy writ in support of our views, and to show that there were both winds and rains, and consequently clouds and rainbows, long before either Noah or Adam were upon the earth. The history of these ancient winds and rains has been “written by the finger of God upon tablets of stone,” and sealed up in archives that have only been opened within the last few years. In the new red sandstone,—belonging to what is called the secondary formation, a very remote geological period,—the foot-prints of animals and the marks or impressions of rain page 284 drops, have been distinctly and repeatedly discovered. “Mr. Lyell has observed the little dimples, formed by falling rain, perserved on sandstones.” “At the meeting of the American Association of Geologists, in April 1843, Mr. Redfield and Dr. Emmons exhibited fine fossil rain marks in the new red sandstones of New Jersey, and in the Potsdam sandstones, lower down in the rocks than heretofore observed.” (North British Review, vol. 1. p. 31) Dr. Mantell, in his “Medals of Creation,” vol II. p. 813, gives a representation of one of the small foot prints of the natural size, on a block of stone, with the surface sprinkled with hemispherical markings produced by drops of rain. The stone is from the new red sand stone of Massachussetts, and was discovered and described by Dr. Deane of Greenfield.

We have also seen it stated, though we cannot at present discover the authority, that not only have the rain marks been discernable, but the very angle at which the rain had fallen could be distinctly marked; thus clearly proving that there must at that time have been wind as well as rain.

If there are thus such indubitable evidences of rain and wind during the age of birds and reptiles, long before the fall or even the creation of man, can we really be expected to believe,—in the absence of every thing bearing the semblance of proof, either from science or scripture,—that there were neither rains, winds, clouds, nor rainbows, from the planting of Eden till the building of the ark, and the destruction of the antediluvian world!

These scientific romances on the wonders of worldmaking may please the speculative, and those who delight in the marvellous rather than the true; but the enunciation of one clearly ascertained geological fact, or one fully established theological principle, is of more real worth than a whole volume of such doubtful speculation.