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Art. Ill The Testimony of Natural Theology to Christianity.
By Thomas Gisborne, A.M. London. Svo. pp. 306. 1818.
rT,HIS little volume is intended as a supplement to Dr. Paley's -*- celebrated work on the same subject, particularly with respect to the appearances exhibited in the constitution of the present world, of a penal dispensation against the sins of mankind. The best friends of that admirable writer have acknowledged that such a supplement was really wanted; and happy would it have been for the world had his own increasing infirmities not prevented him from closing his long career of usefulness with a work to which perhaps no other living hand was equal. But perhaps another impediment lay in the way which neither years nor infirmities could remove— namely, constitutional cheerfulness. Wherever he turned his eyes, the prospect was illuminated by bright skies and cloudless .sunshine. He had persuaded himself—he would have gone about to persuade us—to be happy against our own feelings and experience.
Hume said, and it was one of the last things which he said, that it was better to be born with a disposition to see things on the favourable side, than to an estate of ten thousand a year. Such have been respectively the lots of our author and his predecessor. But if Paley erred from constitution on the one hand, his successor has been carried by religious system far into the other extreme. According to him the whole landscape of human life is overspread with gloom and sorrow and suffering—and almost all the appearances of nature bear testimony to the wrath of God against the sin of man.
Of Mr. Gisborne it is impossible to speak without reverence as a man, or without respect as a writer: a long life and ample fortune devoted to the best interests of mankind—a series of writings on moral and theological subjects, calm, rational, intelligent and impressive, contribute to place him in the number of the best Christians, if not of the best writers of the age* What, then, was our disappointment when, on opening the present volume, we dis* covered a phenomenon very rare in the history of the human understanding, that at a period of life, when fancy generally cools as judgment matures, when the reasoning powers have long been exercised, the style of writing chastized, and the fervour of enthusiasm itself, in well educated men at least, usually composed into rational devotion, the whole process was, in this instance, inverted: so that had no name appeared on the title-page of the volume before us, we should have assigned it to a juvenile writer of warm fancy, exuberant style, and very imperfect intelligence on the subject which he had undertaken! We should have given him credit
for for a spirit of ardent but not well-informed piety, and should have predicted, that when his reasoning powers were cultivated, his circle of knowledge enlarged, his imagination chastized, and his luxuriances corrected, he might in time become an useful Christian philosopher. To what are we to ascribe so unusual, so unnatural a declension?
We shall begin, in the order of the work itself, with geology; a subject on which it must be confessed that the author is peculiarly unhappy and uninformed. His fundamental position is this—that the dislocated and disordered state of the earth, so inconsistent with the general harmony and order of the Creator's works, can only be accounted for by the operation of some moral cause; and as the writings of Moses assure us that an universal deluge, occasioned in part by a disruption of the strata of the earth, did actually take place for the sin of man, the present appearances of those strata are to be accounted for on that principle, and that only. That such is Mr. Gisborne's position will appear from his own words:
'In the works of God order and harmony are the rule: irregularity and confusion form the rare exception.' 'Under the divine government, an exception so portentous as that which we have been contemplating, a transformation from order and harmony to irregularity and confusion, involving the integuments of a world, cannot be attributed to any circumstance which, in common language, we call fortuitous.—It proclaims itself to have been owing to a moral cause, a moral cause demanding so vast and extraordinary an effect, a moral cause which cannot but be deeply interesting to man, cannot but be closely connected with man—the sole being on the face of this globe who is invested with moral agency, the sole being,' therefore, on this globe who is subject to moral responsibility, the sole being on this globe whose moral conduct can have had a particle of even indirect influence on the general condition of the globe which he inhabits.'
Such is our author's general statement of the subject, loosely declamatory in its style, and wildly hypothetical in its assumption. He next proceeds through a long string of citations from travellers and inferior geologists, occupying no fewer than forty pages, to prove, what every common observer would have conceded to him, the fact of such a disruption in the crust of the earth. Let this respectable author do us the credit to believe that he is in the hands of men who sincerely believe the Mosaic account of the Creation and the Deluge. And for this end let us distinctly state the points on which we do or do not agree.— 1st, That the whole i;ace of mankind, with the exception of eight persons, were swept away by a deluge, which is said to have opened the fountains of the great deep, or in other words, broken the crust of the earth. 2dly, That the immediate agent in this dispensation was God. 3dly, That the moving cause of this tremendous visitation was the actual and increasing depravity of the generation of human beings then inhabiting the earth. 4th, That there are innumerable appearances of dislocation and disruption in the exterior surface of the globe. So far we wholly accord. But on the last point—that these phsenomena can only have proceeded from a moral cause, and that they afford in consequence a positive proof of the reality of the deluge as recorded by Moses, and the anger of the Almighty against the sin of man,—we are at issue. It is but fair however to hear our author himself in support of his own conclusion.
'The violence of the internal commotions by which the dislocation of the strata constituting the exterior portion of the globe was effected, will receive irresistible proof when we advance to other results equally or more astonishing, which those convulsions produced. Agitating with kindred impetuosity the summits of the mountains and the abysses of the ocean, they confounded lands and seas in commingled devastation, and dislodging from one quarter of the world its trees, its animals, its fishes, its submarine vegetation, rolled away the spoils, and deposited them in the opposite extremities of the earth.'
Now in all this verbose and turgid representation, the facts of which are perfectly correct, our author has failed to perceive that the whole argument is a petitio principii. Instead of those convulsions, convulsions specifically produced by the Noachian deluge, we must be permitted to substitute certain convulsions. The question will then be fairly stated, and the cause tried upon its own merits.
'An objection, however, to this statement may perhaps be raised.* On the authority of certain writers on geology it may be alleged that the present earth was constructed from the materials of a former globe, and that the shells and other organic remains, imbedded in our existing strata, belonged to animals inhabiting that globe. In reply then it maybe stated that the hypothesis is gratuitous and unnecessary; and, secondly, that if true it would invalidate the hypothesis against which it is brought forward. The hypothesis is gratuitous and unnecessary.— Natural reason cannot prove it, nor shew a necessity for it. The grounds, so far as I am aware, on which it is rested, are two—that many of the shells and organic remains of marine animals, and the relics of some land animals discovered in the earth, cannot be attributed to species known at present to exist, and that the immense extent of beds of shells amalgamated into limestone, or aggregated without being conso
* In the present advanced state of geological knowledge, there is something in this way of speaking which much resembles Euler's expression relating to the Newtonian philosophy, after it had been established over all Europe, 'missis igitur iueptiis quomndani Anglorum' I
lidated, lidated, cannot be explained away except on the supposition that they are derived from the ruins of an anterior globe. As to the unknown species of marine animals, what know we of the profundities of the ocean? What know we of the species inhabiting at this moment those unsearchable depths, many miles it may be in perpendicular descent beneath the lowest level which the sounding line has reached?
'Are we to pronounce concerning those depths and their inhabitants as though the flooring (bottom) of the sea were spread before our eyes, like the surface of Salisbury Plain, or like the bottom of a pond, which by drawing a bolt we had laid dry? As to the immensity of the quantity of shells discovered, it is undeniable that on the most contracted computation of chronology, for we ask not for the high antiquity of the present earth which infidelity assigns, sixteen centuries and a half elapsed between the Creation and the Deluge. It is not too much to say, when the proverbially rapid multiplication of fishes is borne in mind, that the period of sixteen centuries was sufficient for the production of masses so enormous of shells and organic remains as should be adequate, whether quietly upheaved in unbroken strata by the expansion of submarine fires, or ground, through collision, into fragments by the fury of the waters, to account for all the actual phenomena.'
Again. 'But it is likewise urged by the objector, that relics of terrestrial animals belonging to a former world have been discovered.— Why belonging to a former world f Because the original species are not at present known. If the skeletons then of the mammoth or the megatherion, or the horns of some unknown tribe of the class of deer have been found on the surface of the earth, or dug up from bogs and cavities, may not those animals still survive in the central solitudes of America, or in the depths of northern Asia? Or may they not have been extinguished at the Deluge,' (what then becomes of the ark ?) ' or subsequently exterminated by a roving population of hunters?'
Such is our respect for Mr. Gisborne's character, that we will uot venture to pronounce this representation of the advanced state of geological knowledge designedly unfair, but we cannot forbear to say that it implies such a defect of information with respect to the latest discoveries on the subject, as must render the author, in the opinion of every well informed geologist, wholly incompetent to the task of writing or debating on the subject. We do not recollect that he mentions the name of Cuvier.*—We see no proof that he has ever looked into a work in which the, remains of animal bodies in their fossil state have been analyzed and arranged with a precision scarcely inferior to the regular classifications of recent zoology. The respective situations of almost all these in their mineralized state, prove the order in which they have existed, as well as that in which they have been deposited. But in all these strata there is
* Essay on the Theory of the Earth, by M. Cuvier. Third Edition. Jamiesuu's Translation, 1817.
not only no smgle relic of the human frame, but in none, excepting the very latest, is there any vestige of a single quadruped contemporary with man, according to the Mosaic account of the Creation. All the strata moreover in which these organic remains have been imbedded are obviously prior in their formation to the disruption by which they have been rent asunder—it follows, therefore, that allowing these facts, some of the most tremendous convulsions which have dislocated the crust of the earth have actually taken place at periods when there existed no moral agent, and consequently that they may have been produced by other than moral causes. This is all that we contend for, and it is quite sufficient to overturn Mr. Gisborne's rash and unwarranted assertion, that any other cause is unassignable and impossible. But further :— It is not beyond the limits of supposition that there may exist at present, or may be hereafter created, a planet, destined solely for the habitation of irrational, unaccountable, sinless creatures. It will then follow, according to Mr. GLsborne, independently of all testimony on the subject, that the surface of such a planet shall, from the necessity of the case, exhibit no symptoms of dislocation or disorder, that its crust shall remain unbroken, and that no vestiges of earthquakes, volcanoes or other disturbances shall appear; which amounts to saying that the operation of chemical causes, and even of gravitation itself, shall be miraculously suspended for the accommodation of those innocent and highly favoured brutes. But this is not all. The primitive rocks themselves, at once the most elevated and the most depressed among the strata of the globe, contain no organic remains whatever, but are also dislocated and disordered in a degree not inferior to that which prevails in the secondary and other strata which successive depositions have superinduced upon them. It follows, therefore, that such convulsions of the earth's surface may have taken place, not only before the existence of a moral agent, but before that of the lowest and earliest among animated beings.
We now return to M. Cuvier, whose exact and curious researches, and exquisite knowledge of comparative anatomy, have enabled him to produce a very different statement of this most interesting subject than the loose and, we are sorry to add, the flippant representation of Mr. Gisborne. That great anatomist and accurate observer has already ascertained and classified the fossil remains of seventy-eight different quadrupeds, either belonging to the oviparous or viviparous classes.
'Of these, forty-nine are distinct species hitherto unknown to natirralists. Eleven or twelve others have such entire resemblance to species already known, as to leave no doubt whatever of their identity, and the remaining sixteen or eighteen have considerable traits of resemblance