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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 31

Milton's Hypothesis

Milton's Hypothesis.

We now come to what I would call Milton's Hypothesis—the hypothesis that the present condition of things has endured for a comparatively moderate time, and at the commencement of that time came into existence within the course of six days. I doubt not that it may have excited some surprise in your mind that I should have spoken of this as Milton's hypothesis, rather than that I should choose the terms which are much more familiar to you, such as "the doctrine of creation," or "the Biblical doctrine," or "the doctrine of Moses," all of which terms as applied to the hypothesis to which I have just referred, are certainly much more familiar to you than the title of the Miltonic hypothesis. But I have had, what I cannot but think are very weighty reasons for taking the course which I have pursued. For example, I have discarded the title of the hypothesis of creation, because my present business is not with the question as to how Nature has originated, as to the causes which have lead to her origination, but as to the manner and order of her origination. Our present inquiry is not why the objects which constitute Nature came into existence, but when they came into existence, aud in what order. This is a strictly historical page 13 question, a question its completely historical as that about the date at which the Angles and the Jutes invaded England. But the other question about creation is a philosophical question, and one which cannot be solved or approached or touched by the historical method. What we want to know is whether there is evidence in the facts, F o far as they are known, that things arose in the way described by Milton, or not; and when that question is settled, it will be time enough to inquire as to why they arose.

In the second place, I have not spoken of it as the Biblical hypothesis. It is quite true that persons as diverse in their general views as Milton the Protestant, and the Jesuit Father Suarez, agree in giving the 1st chapter of Genesis the interpretation as adopted by Milton. It is quite true that that interpretation, unless I mistake, is that which has been instilled into every one of us in our childhood; but I do not for one moment venture to say that it could properly be called the Biblical doctrine. In the first place, it is not my business to say what the Hebrew text contains, and what it does not; and in the second place, were I to say that this was the Biblical hypothesis, I should be met by the authority of many eminent scholars, to say nothing of men of science, who in recent times have absolutely denied that this doctrine is to be found in Genesis at all. If we are to listen to them, we must believe that what seem so clearly defined as days of creation—as if very great pains had been taken that there should be no mistake—that these are not days at all, but periods that we may make just as long as convenience requires. We are also to understand that it is consistent with that phraseology to believe that plants and animals may have been evolved by natural processes, lasting for millions of years, out of similar rudiments. A person who is not a Hebrew scholar can only stand by and admire the marvellous flexibility of a language which admits of such diverse interpretations. (Applause and laughter.)