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The Geological Theory of the Age of the Earth—The Criteria by which it is to be Tested.
Among the various speculations that are adverse to the teachings of the Bible, and naturally lead those who accept them, to doubt and reject its inspiration, the theory of modern geology in respect to the age of the world, holds, we believe, a conspicuous place; and from the title and air with which it is invested of an inductive science, from the great number of interesting and extraordinary facts that are alleged as demonstrating it, and from the acquiescence and sanction it receives from men of learning and worth, is one of the most imposing and seductive.* Geolo- * We are aware that this statement will be received by some, not simply with incredulity, but with offence, as though it carried with it an implication that geologists are intentionally the authors of the gists have not confined themselves to the discovery and description of the great facts of the science;— that the crust generally of the continents and islands
scepticism which their theory is the means of generating; while a still greater number—who, indeed, are of little consideration either on the score of religion or learning—will denounce it as the mere ebullition of ignorance and bigotry, which the least tincture of science would have been sufficient to suppress. There is no class of the learned perhaps so intolerant of criticism in this relation as the cultivators of the natural sciences, and none who have the misfortune to have so large a share of ostentatious vindicators and eulogists among infidels themselves, and that grade of paragraphists and critics—whose advocacy is almost equally undesirable—who only forage and skirmish in the suburbs of knowledge, and attempt to make themselves of consequence by affecting to be the patrons of learning, dogmatizing on subjects with which they have little acquaintance, and assailing and aspersing those whom they think they may safely abuse. The question has been largely debated by geologists themselves ever since the dawn of the science, and is still in dispute. Scarce a volume appears on the subject without a chapter on this theme. Have they acquired an exclusive right to treat it? Have all others forfeited their title to receive what God has revealed respecting the origin of the world, and to vindicate that revelation from the impeachment which lies couched in the geological theory? If not, why is it not as legitimate a subject of inquiry and criticism as any other? The extreme sensitiveness which a certain class of geologists exhibit on the subject is the result, we apprehend, of weakness, rather than of strength; it has its origin in the consciousness that they are not able satisfactorily to reconcile their theory with the teachings of the Scriptures; not in a lofty feeling of injured innocence—not in a cloudless conviction that their system is not justly obnoxious to the charge.
We scarcely need say that we shall not confound the distinction between geologists themselves and the doctrines which they teach. The question we are to debate respects the import of their theory, not their personal reception or rejection of Christianity. That many of them are sincere believers in the inspiration of the Scriptures and of genuine piety, notwithstanding their geological theory, we do not has received its present form since the creation of plants and animals; that it consists of a series of different rocky and earthy beds, in many places very numerous and of great depth, which have either been deposited from the ocean or thrown up from beneath; that many of them are interspersed with the relics of other rocks, and of plants, shells, the bones of fish, and the skeletons of land quadrupeds, a large share of which are of species and genera that no longer exist; and that subsequently to their formation, most of them have been raised into new positions, contorted, dislocated, and broken into fragments; but they have, on the ground of these facts, framed theories respecting the causes of which they are the result, and the sources from which their materials were derived, that have led them to conclusions that conflict with the inspired account given in Genesis of the creation. Proceeding on the assumption that they are the product of forces like those that are now giving birth to somewhat similar effects, as on voldoubt; that on some of them that theory, nevertheless, has a very unhappy influence, we regard as equally indisputable. But of that we shall, for the present, leave others to judge, and address ourselves exclusively to the bearings of the doctrines and implications of their theory on the inspired history of the creation and deluge, without deeming it necessary to offer any apology for stating and maintaining what the sacred word teaches on the subject, or pointing out the elements of their hypothesis, which are, in our judgment, at war alike with that record and with their own principles. To a candid discussion of the subject, no fair-minded man should object.
canic mountains, at the mouths of rivers, and on the shores of seas, they have inferred that their deposition must have occupied a period immensely larger than that which is assigned to the earth by the Mosaic record. If they are the result, they reason, of the chemical and mechanical forces that are now in activity, and operating with only their present intensity, instead of being the work of but six thousand years, they must have required an almost inconceivable duration; they must have been the growth of an incalculable round of ages.* And thence, unfor* Thus Dr. Buckland says:
"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 to have been an essential condition to the production of these phenomena."
"My fire now burns with fuel, and my lamp is shining with the light of gas, derived from coal that has been buried for countless ages in the deep and dark recesses of the earth."
"We shall view them with less contempt when we learn from the records of geological history that there was a time when reptiles not only constituted the chief tenants and most powerful possessors of the earth, but extended their dominion also over the waters of the seas; and that the annals of their history may be traced back through thousands of years, antecedent to that latest point in the progressive stages of animal creation, when the first pair of the human race were called into existence."—Bridg. Treat, pp. 13, 66, 167.
Professor Sedgwick, of Cambridge, England, holds the same theory: "We see, from the form and structure of the solid masses on the surface of the earth, that many parts of it have been elaborated during successive periods of time ; and if we cannot point out the first traces of organic life, we can find at least an indication of its beginning. During the evolution of countless succeeding ages, mechani
tunately, mistaking that conclusion from a mere hypothesis for a scientific induction from those facts, and elevating it to the rank of a demonstrated truth, they have exhibited geology as contradicting the Scriptural history of the creation, and prepared the way for the inference that that history is not true, and cannot therefore have proceeded from God.
cal and chemical laws seem to have undergone no change ; but tribes of sentient beings were created and lived their time upon earth. At succeeding epochs new tribes of beings were called into existence, not merely as the progeny of those that had appeared before them, but as new and living proofs of creative interference; and, though formed on the same plan, and bearing the same marks of wise contrivance, oftentimes as unlike those creatures which preceded them as if they had been matured in a different portion of the universe, and cast upon the earth by the collision of another planet. At length, within a few thousand years of the days in which we live (aperiod short indeed if measured by the physical monuments of the past) man and his fellow beings are placed upon the earth."—Discourse on the Studies of the University of Cambridge, 1833.
"By the geometer were measured the regions of space and the relative distance of the heavenly bodies; by the geologist myriads of ages were reckoned, not by arithmetical computation, but by a train of physical events—a succession of phenomena in the animate and inanimate worlds—signs which convey to our minds more definite ideas than figures can do of the immensity of time."—LyelVs Principles of Geology, p. 63.
"We cannot but believe that every impartial mind, which fairly examines this subject, will be forced to the conclusion that the facts of geology do teach, as conclusively as any science not founded on mathematics can teach, that the globe must have existed during a period indefinitely long anterior to the creation of man. We are not aware that any practical and thorough geologist doubts this, whatever are his views in respect to revelation."—Hitchcock's Geology and Revelation, p. 22.