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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 29

Professor Huxley not an Authority on the Bible

Professor Huxley not an Authority on the Bible.

Assuredly in the face of such contradictory authority upon matters upon which one is competent to form no judgment, he will abstain from giving any opinion, as I do; and in the third place, I have carefully abstained from speaking of this as a Mosaic doctrine, because we are now assured upon the authority of the highest critics, and even of dignitaries in the church, that there is no evidence whatever that Moses ever wrote this chapter, or knew anything about it. I don't say—I give no opinion—it would be an impertinence on my part to volunteer an opinion upon such subject. But that being the state of opinion among the scholars and clergy, it is well for us the laity, who stand outside, to avoid entangling ourselves in such a vexed question. So, as there is a doubt, and as happily Milton leaves us no conceivable ambiguity as to what he means, I will continue to speak of it as the Miltonian hypothesis. (Applause.)

Now then we have to test that hypothesis. For my part I have no prejudice one way or the other. If there is evidence in favour of this view, I have no sort of theoretical difficulties in the way of accepting it, but there must be evidence. We men of science get an awkward habit—no I won't call it that, for it is a valuable habit—of reasoning, so that we believe nothing unless there is evidence for it, and we have a way of looking upon belief which is not based upon evidence not only as illogical, but as immoral. We will, if you please, test this view in the light of facts, for by what I have said you will understand that I don't propose to discuss the question of what testimonial evidence is to be adduced in favour of this view. If those, whose business it is to judge, are not united as to the authenticity of the document or the fact as to who it is bears witness, the discussion of testimonial evidence is superfluous. But one regards this less because the circumstantial evidence, if carefully considered, brings him to the conclusion that the theory is inadequate altogether, and cannot be adduced. And the considerations upon which I base that conclusion are of the simplest possible character. Whatever the flexbility of interpretation of Milton's views, it is quite impossible to deny that the kernel of the whole matter is a page 14 statement as to a certain order or succession of living forms. It is stated that plants, for example, made their appearance upon the third day, and not before. And you will understand that by plants was meant the plants which now live—the trees and shrubs which we now have. It is one of two things—either the existing plants here been the result of a different origination of which we have no record for supposition, or else they have arisen by that dreaded process of evolution from the original stock. And in the second place, it is clear that there was no animal life before the fourth day, and then on the fourth day marine animals and birds appeared. And, it is further clear, that terrestrial life made its appearance upon the sixth day and not before. Hence it follows that in this record, if in this large mass of circumstantial evidence as to what really has happened in the past history of the Globe—if in that we find down to a certain point indications of the existence of terrestrial animals, it is perfectly certain that all that has taken place since that time must be referred to the sixth day. In this great carboniferous formation, from whence America has derived so vast a proportion of her actual and potential wealth, in that formation and in the beds of coal which are formed from the vegetation of that period, we find abundant evidence of the existence of terrestrial animals. They have been described not only by European naturalists, but by your own naturalists. There are to be found in the coal of your own coalfields numerous insects allied to our own cockroaches. There are to be found there scorpions of large size, and so similar to existing scorpions that it requires the practical eye of the naturalist to distinguish them—and even spiders. Inasmuch as these things can be proved to have had full life in the carboniferous epoch, it is perfectly clear that if the Miltonic account is correct, those huge rocks extending from the middle of the palaeozoic formations must belong to the day or period, which is termed by Milton the sixth day of the creation. But further, it is expressly stated that aquatic animals took their origin upon the fifth, and did not exist before, hence all formations in which aquatic animals can be proved to exist and therefore lived at the time these formations were deposited, all those must have been deposited during the time since the period which Milton speaks of as the fifth day. But there is absolutely no fossiliferous rock in which you do not find the remains of marine animals. The lowest forms of life in the silurian are marine animals, and if the view which is entertained by Principal Dawson and Dr. Carpenter of the eozoön be correct, if it is true that animal remains exist at a period as far antecedent to the deposit in the coal as the coal is from us, at the very bottom, in a series of stratified rock, in what are called the Laurentian strata, it follows plainly enough from this that the whole series of stratified rocks, if they are to be brought into harmony with Milton at all, must be referred to the sixth day, and we cannot hope to find the slightest trace of the work of the other days in our stratified formations. When one comes to consider this, one sees how absolutely futile are the attempts that have been made to run a parallel between the stratified rocks as we know them, and the account which Milton gives of it. The whole series of stratified rocks must be referred to the two last periods. It is of course futile to look in carboniferous rocks in the miocene for animals, which according to the hypothesis, were of the sixth day. Not only is there this objection to any attempt to run a parallel between the Miltonic account and the actual facts, but there is further difficulty. In the Miltonic account, the order in which animals should have made their appearance in the stratified rock would be this:—Fishes, including the great whale, and birds; after that, all varieties of terrestrial animals. Nothing could be further from the facts as we find them. As a matter of fact, we know of not the slightest evidence of the existence of birds before what are their indicated (pointing to the chart), as the jurassic, and perhaps the triassic formations.