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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 8

Science and Revelation

Science and Revelation.

It is generally supposed that the educated members of those Christian sects who hold the doctrine of Scriptural Infallibility have so modified their opinions on the subject of the creation of the world as to make the Mosaic cosmogony harmonise with the teachings of modern science. This, however, is but partially true; as there are multitudes of good Christians for whom the discoveries of the last three centuries are naught, and who regard museums, laboratories and lectures as agencies of the Father, not of lights, but of lies.

That such views as these are not extinct, and that their expression is still acceptable to persons in other respects well-informed, is evinced by an article signed J. C. H. in the May number of the Dublin University Magazine, which is known to derive its inspiration from that fountain-head of Scriptural infallibility—Trinity College, Dublin. The title of the article in question is "The Book of Genesis in relation to Modern Science," and the writer of it boldly contends for an absolutely literal interpretation of what is said in the opening chapters of the Bible concerning the formation of the heavens and the earth, and the submergence of the latter beneath the waters of the Noachian deluge. He, in fact, surrenders his reason at the very page 237 commencement of the proposed inquiry, with what results it is the object of this paper briefly to point out.

After extolling the dignity and simplicity of the biblical narrative, which "will ever appear a monument of the grandeur and the immutability of truth—truth that has withstood, for almost numberless generations, the perpetual assaults of a long succession of adversaries," J. C. H. warns the "sceptic" against expecting new grounds for his unbelief in a revision of the authorised text. Any such revision, he assures us, will yield fresh proofs of the substantial accuracy of the present version, and therefore operate more than ever to the sceptic's discomfiture:

"The very simplicity of the Biblical narrative appals the sceptical philosopher, and intensifies his incredulity, and he will not have so unpretentious a revelation to rule over his mind. He returns to his unsatisfactory philosophy, and is soon again immersed in the ever-issuing mists of perhaps, peradventure, and probably. Not so the man who knows, by a faith that is the offspring and co-equal of knowledge, the unerring certainty of the word that was from the beginning. He remains unmoved by the shifting currents of opinion, and waits for the confirmation of what he has believed, in the establishment of the knowledge of God throughout the earth. In vain may the sceptic hope for a refuge in the verbosity, or even the exactitude of a new translation. The more exact and literal the translation, the more transparent will appear the fallacies of its opponents, the more futile their attempts to alter the signification that will be presented to their view. An infallible translation of the original manuscripts (which can only be expected from an inspired historian) would be a great boon unquestionably; but the result would prove the substantial accuracy of our present version, and the utter overthrow of the expectations of those who look forward to a mitigation of the inexorable oracularity of that Book, which has God for its real Author, and the Divine Spirit for its Upholder."

The dignity and simplicity are admitted; but the former is in good measure the translator's, while the latter is shared with those oriental cosmogonies that place the earth on the back of an elephant standing on the back of a tortoise, the latter animal resting on something else, and so on, ad infinitum. Further, there are good grounds for believing, in spite of J. C. H.'s assertion to the contrary, that those who would refute his opinions from his own authorities would find their position considerably strengthened by an accurate translation of the original Hebrew. But let that pass. What really confounds us is, that men, ostensibly searching for scientific truth, should, like J. C. II., deliberately retire from the Temple of Nature, where alone her laws are to be studied, and resort to the Bible for information on subjects concerning which it was never intended to afford instruction, and requiring to be investigated by methods of research, of which the biblical writers had no knowledge whatever.

But the "sceptic," it seems, is not the only sinner; the "philosopher" of the present day having, as J. C. H. avers, so far succumbed to the spirit of unbelief, as to deny that the earth was created in the manner described, and within the period page 238 named, by the "inspired" cosmogonist. Scornfully casting aside, therefore, the profoundest speculations of modern science, this sturdy champion of orthodoxy proceeds to affirm, on the authority of "one evidently acquainted with what he was writing about,"—a remark which makes us wish his commentator possessed the same qualification,—that the universe was redeemed in the space of six natural days, by the fiat of the Almighty, from a state of dark and weltering chaos to that of cosmic brightness and beauty:

"The notion that the earth was a molten mass of fire that gradually cooled down into a spherical body, is unsupported by any reliable evidence. The marks of vitrification that may appear in the primary rocks, may be accounted for by the fact that they were produced by that God, who appeared afterwards in Sinai as a consuming fire, and made the mountain tremble at His presence, and before whom the hills are said to "melt like wax." We may reasonably presume that the earth was not consolidated without the agency of fire. His word is said to be as a fire that breaketh the rock in pieces, so sublimated is its essence, and so infinite its power."

Have we, then, no sufficiently reliable evidence of igneous agency in the formation of our earth in volcanic and seismic phenomena at the present time, and in the enormous mass of plutonic and metamorphic rocks, indicating how much more energetic and widespread it must have been in the past? Is it nothing to the purpose that the appearance of the moon, the only celestial body whose surface can be examined by the telescope, is, when so examined, that of a huge cinder? or that the sun, as shown by the spectroscopic analysis of his rays, is in so intensely heated a condition, that the heavy metals exist on or near his surface in the gaseous form? or that the fixed stars, differing as do their spectra from each other and from the solar spectrum, are themselves independent illuminating centres of incandescent material? It may be that we are not entitled to regard the igneous origin of our earth as an established scientific truth; but the facts and analogies which strongly favour this view are at any rate both numerous and striking. Nor is it likely that their weight will be diminished by the logical procedure of a controversialist who, after contending that the fiery origin of the earth is "unsupported by any reliable evidence," finds it necessary to admit that "the earth was not consolidated without the agency of fire," in order to account for certain "marks of vitrification" with which the Almighty arbitrarily impressed his handiwork, either, we presume, for variety's sake, or with a view to preparing for the sceptics and philosophers of these latter days a "strong delusion so that they should believe a lie."

We are next told that "the earth, then, was covered with water and darkness, and therefore must, at this period, have been perfectly unserviceable and barren; neither organic nor inorganic life could possibly exist." Now, although it is well known that so high an organisation as that of the fish is often found where page 239 rays of light never penetrate; yet it is very improbable that life existed before light, but not for the reasons assigned by J. C. H., who affirms that the sun is not the original source of the light we enjoy, but only perpetuates what was called into existence by the divine fiat prior to the creation of that luminary. He further affirms that vegetables are older than the stars, and after recounting and contending for the scientific validity of the successive acts of creation, as narrated in Genesis, coolly asks:

"What is there incredible in all this? Is it less credible than the monstrous inventions of the human imagination on this great subject? What ground is there for the "indefinite-period" theory, and the interpolation of ages of ages, assumed by some? We have seen included (as in a circle) the beginning and completion of the creation of God, the evolution of the matter of the earth, the firmament with its multitudinous clusters of planetary phenomena, and all tilings with which the earth was replenished and filled. All this was accomplished in six natural days, as declared in Genesis, and in the Decalogue."

What is there incredible in all this? As in the elements of mathematics, some things are so evident that they cannot be proved, so it is that logicians who are accustomed to dispute upon a reasonable basis find their ground cut from under them by those who admit nothing, and who, when pressed to their own first principles, solve all difficulties by assuming miraculous agency. What answer can be made to anyone who feels bound to recognise in Nature the operation of constant and immutable law, to those who assert that the "reign of law," occasionally interrupted, dates from a certain point, and that before this all was chaos and confusion? Those who think with J. C. H. will not be answered from the scientific stand-point; nor will they see what a consistent adherence to the literal interpretation of a statement like that in the opening chapters of Genesis really involves. For if the statement in question is to be trusted, then is the whole fabric of modern science a dangerous lie; the so-called fanatics who persecuted Galileo were after all in the right; and the apparent triumphs of modern intellectual research are but a snare of the devil to catch the souls of men by gratifying their vanity. Vain and presumptuous, too, are the aims of those who would mitigate the heavy-handed labours of man and the social disabilities of woman, seeing that these were determined and rendered perpetual by the primeval curse.

J. C. H.'s account of the condition of terrestrial affairs prior to the infliction of this "curse" is truly exhilarating:

"The beasts of the field lived together in perfect amity, the fishes of the sea performed their appointed part in undisturbed tranquility, the birds of the air mingled together in peaceful security; the whole animated world, from the largest leviathan to the tiniest minnow, from the shark to the trout, was bound together by the law of peace; and on the sixth day man and woman were created to preside gloriously over all, under the all-seeing, all-approving eye of the Father of the universe. Love and peace reigned alone. If, as has been averred, the animal world began as soon as they were made to slay and devour each other, what a tragic spectacle for the sinless Adam to behold! What a barbarous contradiction to the benevolence that page 240 declared all things to be very good! To make God delight in slaughter for the sake of slaughter, is marvellous presumption. The narrative affirms that vegetable and herbivorous productions alone were the allotted food of both men and animals—the vicious propensities that subsequently took possession of them were at this point unknown. To affirm that the peculiar conformation of the teeth, jaws, and claws, &c., of certain animals, and their adaptability for crushing, breaking, and tearing in pieces, is a proof that they were intended to, and did originally ravage and destroy, slay and eat their prey, is singularly illogical. It was the evil principle that was afterwards superadded that gave scope for violence, and rendered those formidable weapons dangerous and destructive; but it was not long so from the beginning, ere sin, that originated the law of death, had entered the world, and changed the disposition of all flesh."

So that the huge saurians of the lias, though possessing conical teeth like the crocodile of the Ganges or the Nile, lived exclusively, in paradisaical times, upon a mild diet of sea-weed; while the pig of the period peacefully cropped the meadows or employed his formidable tusks in rooting up primeval potatoes. In a word, the claw, the beak, and the crushing jaw, were just as characteristic of the animals during the period of Adam's innocence as they are of existing carnivora; but, then, these instruments were not permitted to exhibit their normal functions, until sin, operating through the disobedience of the first human pair, "changed the disposition of all flesh." What a chimera!

Before Geology determined the true character of the petrified remains of plants and animals, speculation had suggested many curious explanations of their nature and origin. Fossils, especially when in a fragmentary condition, are, as a rule, not readily distinguishable; and such specimens as attracted notice by their resemblance to existing forms were usually regarded, during the infancy of geological science, as mere lusus naturæ. We question, however, whether J. C. H.'s prattle on this subject has ever been equalled either for its absurdity or its impudence:

"When God commanded the earth to bring forth abundantly the natural products of creation, what reason have we to imagine the work of creation was confined to the surface of the earth? In the prodigality of God's creative energy, the whole earth, within and without, may have been impregnated with organic phenomena, which, in due time, perished where they were created, even in the strata of the earth itself, in the crevices and vacuous recesses that everywhere interpenetrated the mass of universal matter. . . In like manner, when the mandate of the fifth day went forth, the whole of the animal world would not necessarily be restricted to the surface of the earth; but the inner recesses of nature, under the procreative energy of Omnipotence, might be made to produce monstrous creatures, and creatures of various kinds, which, perishing, and being excluded from the external air, wore preserved from putrefaction, and ultimately petrefied, or were chemically combined with earthy matter, till modern research brought them to the light of day."

Such is J. C. H.'s way of accounting, agreeably with his conception of Creation as recorded in Genesis, for "those gigantic creatures whose fossilised remains have astonished and delighted the savants of the present day." His theory is, perhaps, a little in advance of that propounded some time since, by an English page 241 journal of strong evangelical leanings, to the effect that Satan, when the Almighty was engaged in manufacturing our earth's crust, surreptitiously inserted, here and there, the fossilised remains in question, shrewdly foreseeing how that in the latter days they might be the means of turning many away from the truth. But let the reader mark what it supposes. It supposes the existence, at the time when our earth was made, of vast subterranean regions where a luxuriant vegetation flourished and tree-ferns attained prodigious dimensions; where rain fell, leaving its imprint on the soft sandy beaches of the seas that filled the depressions of this wonderful cavern; where animal life abounded in all its forms; and where stratified matter was arbitrarily and preternaturally aggregated, instead of regularly and naturally accumulating, through a long course of ages, upon the surface of the earth. With regard to the "crevices and vacuous recesses" where monsters, like the ichthyosaurus, were created merely to spend their term of existence and then perish, it is sufficient to remark that they were placed in situations where they could only exist by supernatural agency, and that, having no natural life or volition of their own, they could never have performed such acts as the prehension and deglutition of food. What follows? Simply this—that the undigested bones of small animals which have been found occupying the position of the stomach in some of these extinct carnivora must—climax of absurdity!—have been created in situ!

So confident is J. C. H. that Science will eventually succumb to Revelation, that he would have us prepare ourselves for the overthrow, at any moment, of the apparently well-established but antiscriptural, and therefore untenable, doctrines of the Astronomer and the Geologist. He asserts that the alleged motion of the earth is beginning to be seriously questioned (can any of our readers inform us by whom?)—the science of the Bible being opposed to it, not only in Genesis, but in the book of Joshua, and in the Psalms. And as for Geology:

"In vain docs she exercise her ingenuity to impose on mankind a mere fiction of the brain; in vain does she pretend to see evidence of super-immense, pre-adamite antiquity in the petrified organisms of a by-gone age. What evidence does she produce in support of such fallacious statements? Something which she metaphorically entitles the stone-book, that can neither see, nor hear, nor speak. For this dumb prodigy we are called upon to put away Moses and his declarations, which commend themselves to t he reason and understanding of all men. The existence of the fossil remains has not been satisfactorily accounted for, the rocks are silent, the geological hammer can wake no intelligible response, the fossils are dumb, and the Bible gives no encouragement to the fanaticism of imaginative philosophy."

Perhaps not; any more than it does to the fanaticism of a brazen-faced and almost atheistic effrontery which, in dealing with a purely scientific matter, would substitute "Moses and his declarations" for the living oracles of God's truth as inscribed, in glowing and ineffaceable characters, on all that we see around, page 242 above, and beneath us. For ourselves, we cling to Nature, "dumb prodigy" that she is, and to her "stone-book that can neither see, nor hear, nor speak," as a thousand times more eloquent and trustworthy than the so-called revelation contained in the "paper-book" which robs the mass of Protestants of their reason, as well as of their living reverence for the living God. Idolatry in any shape is bad; but of all forms of idolatry, surely none are so degrading and contemptible as that which, like the Bible-worship of modern Christendom, provokingly attempts to put out the eyes of men under the pretence of enabling them to see.