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Consistency of Geological Discoveries with Sacred History.
It may seem just matter of surprise, that many learned and religious men should regard with jealousy and suspicion the study of any natural phenomena, which abound with proofs of some of the highest attributes of the Deity; and should receive with distrust, or total incredulity, the announcement of conclusions, which the geologist deduces from careful and patient investigations of the facts which it is his province to explore. These doubts and difficulties result from the disclosures made by Geology, respecting the lapse of very long periods of time before the creation of man. Minds which have long been accustomed to date the origin of the universe, as well as that of the human race, from an era of about six thousand years ago, receive reluctantly any information, which if true, demands some new modification of their present ideas of cosmogony; and, as in this respect, Geology has shared the fate of other infant sciences, in being for a while considered hostile to revealed religion; so like them, when fully understood, it will be found a potent and consistent auxiliary to it, exalting our conviction of the power, and Wisdom, and Goodness of the Creator.*
* Ha;c et hujusmodi ccelorum phenomena, ad Epocham scxmillennem, salvis naturse legibus, eegre revocari possunt. Quin fatendum erit potius iion candem fuisse originem, nequc coeevam, Tclluris nostras et totius Universi: sive Intellectualis, sive Corpnrei. Nequc minim videri debet hsec non distinxisse Mosein, aut Universi originem non tractasse scorsim ab ilia, mundi nostri sublunaris: Hsec cnim non distinguit populus, aut separalim a?stimat.—Recto igitur Legislator sapicnlissinius philosophic reliquit id negotii, ut ubi maturuerit ingenium humanum, per setatem, usum, et observations, opera Dei alio ordine digerirent, perfectionibus divinis atquc rerum natura e adaptato.—Burnel's Archaeulogia? Philosophicae. C. viii. p. 306. 4to. 1692.
No reasonable man can doubt that all the phenomena of the natural world derive their origin from God; and no one who believes the Bible to be the word of God; has cause to fear any discrepancy between this, his word, and the results of any discoveries respecting the nature of his works; but the early and deliberate stages of scientific discovery are always those of perplexity and alarm, and during these stages the human mind is naturally circumspect, and slow to admit new conclusions in any department of knowledge. The prejudiced persecutors of Galileo apprehended danger to religion from the discoveries of a science, in which a Kepler,* and a Newton found demonstrations of the most sublime and glorious attributes of the Creator. A Herschel has pronounced that " Geology, in the magnitude and sublimity of the objects of which it treats, undoubtedly ranks in the scale of sciences next to astronomy;" and the history of the structure of our planet, when it shall be fully understood, must lead to the same great moral results that have followed the study of the mechanism of the heavens; Geology has already proved by physical evidence, that the surface of the globe has not existed in its actual state from eternity, but has advanced through a series of creative operations, succeeding one another at long and definite intervals of time; that all the actual combinations of matter have had a prior existence in some other state; and that the ultimate atoms of the material elements, through whatever changes they may have passed, are, and ever have been, governed by laws, as regular and uniform, as those which hold the planets in their course. All these results entirely accord with the best feelings of our nature, and with our rational coviction of the greatness and goodness of the Creator of the universe; and the reluctance with which evidences, of such high importance to natural theology, have been admitted by many persons, who are sincerely zealous for the interests of religion, can only be explained by their want of accurate information in physical science; and by their ungrounded fears lest natural phenomena should prove inconsistent with the account of the creation in the book of Genesis.
• Kepler concludes one of his astronomical works with the following' prayer, which is thus translated in the Christian Observer, Aug., 1834, p. 495.
"It remains only that I should now lift up to Heaven my eyes and hands from the table of my pursuits, and humbly and devoutly supplicate the Father of lights. O thou, who by the light of nature dost enkindle in us a desire after the light of grace, that by this thou mayst translate us into the light of glory; I give thee thanks, O Lord and Creator, that thou hast gladdened me by thy creation, when I was enraptured by the work of thy hands. Behold, I have here completed a work of my calling, with as much of intellectual strength as thou hast granted me. I have declared the praise of thy works to the men who will read the evidences of it, so far as my finite spirit could comprehend them in their infinity. My mind endeavoured to its utmost to reach the truth by philosophy; but if any thing unworthy of thee has been taught by me—a worm born and nourished in sin—do thou teach me that I may correct it Have I been seduced into presumption by the admirable beauty of thy works, or have I sought my own glory among men, in the construction of a work designed for thine honour.' O then graciously and mercifully forgive me; and finally grant me this favour, that this work may never be injurious, but may conduce to thy glory and the good of souls."
It is argued unfairly against Geology, that because its followers are as yet agreed on no complete and incontrovertible theory of the earth; and because early opinions advanced on imperfect evidence have yielded, in succession, to more extensive discoveries; therefore nothing certain is known upon the whole subject; and that all geological deductions must be crude, unauthentic, and conjectural.
It must be candidly admitted that the season has not yet arrived, when a perfect theory of the whole earth can be fixedly and finally established, since we have not yet before us all the facts on which such a theory may eventually be founded; but in the mean while, we have abundant evidence of numerous and indisputable phenomena, each establishing important and undeniable conclusions; and the aggregate of these conclusions, as they gradually accumulate, will form the basis of future theories, each more and more nearly approximating to perfection; the first, and second, and third story of our edifice may be soundly and solidly constructed; although time must elapse before the roof and pinnacles of the perfect building can be completed. Admitting therefore, that we have yet much to learn, we contend that much sound knowledge has been already acquired; and we protest against the rejection of established parts, because the whole is not yet made perfect. an investigation, the subject matter of which will be derived from a series of events, for the most part, long antecedent to the creation of the human species. I trust it may be shown, not only that there is no inconsistency between our interpretation of the phenomena of nature and of the Mosaic narrative, but that the results of geological inquiry throw important light on parts of this history, which are otherwise involved in much obscurity.
It was assuredly prudent, during the infancy of Geology, in the immature state of those physical sciences which form its only sure foundation, not to enter upon any comparison of the Mosaic account of creation with the structure of the earth, then almost totally unknown; the time was not then come when the knowledge of natural phenomena was sufficiently advanced to admit of any profitable investigation of this question; but the discoveries of the last half century have been so extensive in this department of natural knowledge, that, whether we will or not, the subject is now forced upon our consideration, and can no longer escape discussion. The truth is, that all observers, however various may be their speculations, respecting the secondary causes by which geological phenomena have been brought about, are now agreed in admitting the lapse of very long periods of time to have been an essential condition to the production of these phenomena.
It may therefore be proper, in this part of our inquiry, to consider how far the brief account of creation, contained in the Mosaic narrative, can be shown to accord with those natural phenomena, which will come under consideration in the course of the present essay. Indeed some examination to this question seems indispensable at the very threshold of
If the suggestions I shall venture to propose require some modification of the most commonly received and popular interpretation of the Mosaic narrative, this admission neither involves any impeachment of the authenticity of the text, nor of the judgment of those who have formerly interpreted it otherwise, in the absence of information as to facts which have but recently been brought to light; and if, in this respect, geology should seem to require some little concession from the literal interpreter of scripture, it may fairly be held to afford ample compensation for this demand, hy the large additions it has made to the evidences of natural religion, in a department where revelation was not designed to give information.
The disappointment of those who look for a detailed account of geological phenomina in the Bible, rests on a gratuitous expectation of finding therein historical information, respecting all the operations of the Creator in times and places with which the human race has no concern; as reasonably might we object that the Mosaic history is imperfect, because it makes no specific mention of the satellites of Jupiter, or the rings of Saturn, as feel disappointment at not finding in it the history of geological phenomena, the details of which may be fit matter for an encyclopedia of science, but are foreign to the objects of a volume intended only to be a guide of religious belief and moral conduct.
We may fairly ask of those persons who consider physical science a fit subject for revelation, what point they can imagine short of a communication of Omniscience, at which