« AnteriorContinuar »
immeasurable round of ages. The facts, for example, that the strata are often very numerous and of great thickness, that they consist of certain substances, and are arranged in a specific or uniform order, is no basis for the logical deduction of such a conclusion, just as the fact that the great pyramid of Egypt consists of a certain series of stones of certain specific characters, and arranged in a certain order, is no logical ground for the inference that a vast series of ages was occupied in its erection—inasmuch as the time required for its formation did not depend on the magnitude of the effect, but on the measure of the forces by which it was accomplished.
It is not, therefore, a demonstrative science, in the usual sense of the term. Its facts do not furnish the media of deducing a set of general laws peculiar to itself, by which all the phenomena of which it treats can be explained. And consequently, it cannot, by possibility, furnish a scientific confutation of the Mosaic account of the creation. The fancy of such a demonstration is a mere fallacy, veiled under the forms of a philosophical induction; and stated arithmetically, is simply equivalent to the following problem in the rule of three:—As the depth of the primary strata or any one of them is to the period which was employed in its formation, so is the depth of the whole series to the periods which their deposition occupied—in which, as the second term, on which the problem turns, must be arbitrarily assumed, or guessed on only probable grounds, the result, instead of being scientifically demonstrated, is necessarily a mere deduction from a conjecture, and without value.
Geology, accordingly, in place of a systematic body of truths deduced from a few primary axioms or laws, that are demonstrated by experiment, and furnish a scientific solution of all the phenomena presented by the strata of the earth, consists only of facts or truths that are ascertained by observation. It is no more a demonstrative science than any other branch of knowledge that is acquired solely by that method, such as the topography of countries. The investigation of the fallen capitals of Assyria, by Botta, Layard, and others, and their statements respecting their date and destruction, present a very exact parallel to it. Instead of an affair of axioms or laws, it is simply a question of substances and their relations and conditions, that is determined by inspection. It is entitled, therefore, to the name of a science in no higher sense than that it presents a minute and accurate description of the elements of which the crust of the earth is composed, the order in which the strata are arranged, their depth and extent, and the vegetable and animal relics that are imbedded in them, and in some instances gives a probable hypothesis of the sources whence their materials were drawn, the means by which they were originally arranged horizontally, and the forces by which they have since been modified in structure, and thrown into their present conditions. To accomplish anything beyond this, to demonstrate that the date of the creation was infinite ages ago, is wholly without its sphere. It might almost as well be assigned the task of determining any other date in chronology, or resolving any other question with which it has no logical connexion.
Another impression that needs to be corrected, to which the language and representations of writers on the subject have given birth, is, that no person can be competent to offer objections to the theories that are formed respecting it, except professed geologists themselves. An attempt by men of other pursuits to controvert their deductions, and especially by expositors and theologians, is treated as an ill-judged and absurd intrusion into a sphere for which they can have no qualifications—as nothing else indeed than an attempt to solve the problems of one branch of knowledge by the principles of another with which it has no affinity. It is, accordingly, often met by mere appeals to prejudice, repelled with sneers as unworthy of consideration, or denounced in terms of discourtesy and passion quite inconsistent with the calmness and impartiality of philosophers who regard themselves as able to verify their doctrines by scientific processes, that have the force of unanswerable demonstration. That the works that are usually quoted as specimens of the ill-judged attempts of "the divine and man of letters" to treat of the subject, such as those of Penn, Nolon, and Cole, betray a very unfortunate inacqaintance with many of the topics which they discuss, and indulge in unjustifiable imputations on those whom they assail, we shall not deny. That they undertook a task for which they were inadequately qualified, is no ground, however, for the conclusion that no others who are not professors of the science can be warranted in discussing it. Great as their errors are, they are not greater than those into which some of the geologists of their period fell; nor do the asperities in which they indulged, transcend those that have disfigured the controversies which geologists have waged with each other. The objection is absurd indeed, in the absolute form in which it is often presented, inasmuch as the question whether an argument against the geological theory is entitled to consideration or not, must depend on its character, not on the class from which it proceeds.
In the first place, this opposition to the criticism of their theory by any except of their own profession, is chargeable with much the same inconsideration and injustice which they impute to the divines who venture to arraign their doctrines at the bar of the Bible, and show that they contradict the history God has there given of the work of the creation. For it certainly lies within the proper province of the sacred interpreter and theologian to ascertain what the import is of the record in Genesis, and of other parts of the sacred volume which treat of the creation, and to determine whether the dogmas of geology contra- •vene it or not. They do not step out of their sphere in that part of their labors. It is their proper and peculiar province. They are equally in their sphere also when, on finding that the teachings of the sacred word are contradicted by the speculations of geologists, they point out the error, and defend the Bible from the inferences which might otherwise be drawn against its inspiration. It is a task to which their profession directly calls them, and which they cannot refuse to fulfill, without a gross dereliction of their office. When, therefore, these objectors charge them in doing this with transcending their proper profession, they are themselves guilty of the unfairness which they unjustly impute to them. It is the mere geologist, plainly, who quits his proper sphere, when he attempts to decide that the record of the creation in Genesis is not inconsistent with his theory of the age of the world—not the philologist and theologian who venture to decide that it is. How is it that geologists have any higher right to determine what the