« PreviousContinue »
at which these draw their elements of strength froin illustrations found in present phenomena, that there is no warrant to conclude that similar forces have always acted in the same degree. We find mud being deposited at a certain rate in well-known localities, but we are not shut up to the conclusion that in all time that must have been the rate of deposit. At least, if the duration of man on the earth is to be pushed back from six thousand years to sixty thousand, all who make such statements should be able to show that the phenomena which they believe entitle them to form such conclusions, have ever been produced in the same way. That bursting forth of the upland lake by the waste from water and from weather of the barrier which had hitherto permitted only a small stream to carry its superabundant waters to the plain below, has, as it bore along with it the soil on the slopes, in a night deposited many feet of mud where centuries had failed to accumulate an inch. That obstacle cast across the path of the stream has resulted in laying down mud over a wide area, and the soil now covered by it, which was some feet in thickness before it was put under water, assumes not the appearance only, but also the consistence of lake silt. You cast a stone into it, or a child drops his knife into it accidentally, and they sink even into the previously existing soil. Years after the barrier is removed, the surface mud is swept away, to repeat the same process in widely altered circumstances. A year passes, and a wise theorist, seeing the soil removed, reasons thus—It is a well ascertained fact that this kind of silt is deposited at the rate of about an inch in thickness in a hundred years ; we have it here, however, three feet thick; therefore this old knife was laid down before the mud began to be deposited, which we have seen covered it, and consequently it must be between three and four thousand years old! Unhappily for the theorist, a lad standing by claims the old knife as one which he had dropped into the pool twelve months before. The case is not imaginary. Yet on grounds as little reliable as this, many conclusions have been come to as to the period man has been on the earth, which are, unhappily, too well fitted to shake the confidence of those uninstructed in the historical statements of the word of God.
Cuvier may be held to have first given to geologists an outline of creation fitted to meet all the requirements of their rapidly-advancing science. His broad exposition of the “proofs of numerous revolutions on the surface of the earth, and of the proofs of the occurrence of revolutions before the existence of present forms of life,” in his well known work on “ The Theory of the Earth," was in reality a defence of what is now characterized as the "theory of successive creations.” It is indeed true that the sketch was only in outline, but it supplies a striking testimony to the ability of the work to find, that succeeding labourers in the same field have found room in his outline for all the discoveries that have been made. It has been to the generalizations of geologists what Raphael's outlines of figures were to his scholars—a sphere within which they could find room for treasuring up the highest fruits of talent. This “Theory" had manifest theological bearings which very soon came to have much importance attached to them. The creation described in Genesis was, then, not the only one which time had witnessed. It was only the last link in a chain of successive miraculous manifestations of divine power, the first link of which lies far below what we have now come to speak of as the lowest Silurian. Living amidst the light of advanced science, it is easy for us to look calmly on such a statement; but when it was first made public it was associated with no such advantage. Theologians were wedded to old notions, and were content to accept the most absurd theories to account for such traces of former life in a fossil state as were thrust upon the notice of men, provided these did not interfere with what they esteemed the orthodox view of the first chapter of Genesis. Burnet (1681) might allege that“ the whole earth at the first consisted of a uniform light crust, which covered over the abyss of the sea, and which, being broken for the production of the flood, formed the mountains by its fragments :" Woodward (1702) might solve all difficulties in regard to fossils, by alleging that, at the deluge, “the whole mass of the globe was dissolved, and the soft paste became penetrated by shells :" and Whiston (1708) might promulgate that “the earth was created from the atmosphere of one comet, and that it was deluged by the tail of another :" these, and many more and even greater absurdities might be stated, and the deluge made responsible for everything ; but they were unheeded, not because of their absurdity, but because they harmonized with prevailing ignorance of the works of the Creator. But when the truth was at last seen, and when an interpretation was put on nature which, in after days, was to yield rich treasures to the theologian, as opening up a field for tracing the eternal power and Godhead of the Creator wider than had before been thought of, all who stood by the new interpretation were regarded either with secret distrust or with open hatred.
The first use of a theological kind made of Cuvier's physical generalizations, is connected with his own name. He had the discrimination to see, that his theory was in apparent antagonism to the hitherto
received views as to the meaning of the first chapter of Genesis. And he seems to have thought, that if the six days be not days of twentyfour hours' duration, but long protracted epochs, the Word and the World will be found in harmony. The late Professor Jameson, who first introduced M. Cuvier's “ Theory of the Earth” to general notice, accepted this hypothesis. He says, in the preface to Cuvier's work, “The day or period between morning and evening may have been indefinitely longer than it is at present.”
This hypothesis was caught at by many, mainly, it would seem, from the scope which it afforded men of imaginative natures for the gratification of their intellectual powers. But, outside of this class were very many intelligent yet simple-minded Christians who felt, that if Genesis and Geology were to be shown in harmony the one with the other, a theory was needed much more natural and much more in keeping with the meaning they had been accustomed to assign to the commonest and most familiar words. It sorted ill with all they knew of language to have days interpreted to mean epochs of immense duration, when there was no intimation in the context that they might, as in one or two passages in scripture they do, mean lengthened periods. This desire found gratification in the theory of creation which is for the most part associated with the name of Dr. Chalmers.
As if anticipating the questions which were soon to be eagerly debated, so early as 1804 his mind h teristics of the opening words of the Bible. Even at that time he held that the writings of Moses do not fix the age of the earth, but only the age of man. In the article “ Christianity," written for the Edinburgh Encyclopædia in 1813, he asks—“Does Moses ever say that that there was not an interval of many ages betwixt the first act of creation, described in the first verse of the book of Genesis, and said to have been formed at the beginning, and those more detailed operations, the account of which commences at the second ?” And, in a review of Cuvier's “Theory of the Earth” in 1814, he fully brought out his theory. “Should," he remarks, "the phenomena compel us to assign a greater antiquity to the globe than to that work of six days detailed in the book of Genesis, there is still one way of saving the credit of the literal history. The first creation of the earth and heavens may have formed no part of that work. This took place at the beginning, and is described in the first verse of Genesis. It is not said when the beginning was. We know the general impression to be that it was in the earlier part of the first day, and the first act of creation formed part
of the same day's work with the formation of the light. We ask our readers to turn to that chapter, and to read the first five verses of it. Is there any forcing in the supposition that the first verse describes the primary act of creation, and leaves us at liberty to place it as far back as we may; that the first half of the second verse describes the state of the earth (which may already have existed for ages, and been the theatre of geological revolutions) at the point of time anterior to the detailed operations of this chapter; and that the motion of the Spirit of God, described in the second clause of the second verse, was the commencement of these operations? In this case, the creation of light may have been the great and leading event of the first day, and Moses may be supposed to give us, not a history of the first formation of things, but of the formation of the present system.”
Such, as stated by himself, is the theory of Chalmers. At the period when it was first brought clearly out, it was generally accepted by Christians as satisfactory. Whatever be its defects, it served a most important purpose for many years. The minds of theologians were set at rest, and men of science were enabled to give themselves earnestly, and without more than random charges of infidelity being urged against them, to the great work to which they believed themselves called. But for this, Christian men might have been scared from the study of geology, and the whole of that broad and, even to Christians, most interesting field would have been given up, in Britain at least, to the enemies of revelation. It is, moreover, the hypothesis which more than any other influences the mind of the church at the present time, though open to several objections. I can only indicate these. However interesting it would be to discuss them fully, to do so now would lead me away from the object especially kept in view in this outline of theories of creation. The words of scripture are, “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” But it is said, “if the earth in this passage includes the whole globe, this hypothesis becomes untenable; because at that time the whole earth was covered by the ocean, whereas science teaches us that at the period at which the present condition of the earth was realized, there was no general chaos.” The force of this objection is greatly weakened by holding it a settled point that there was no general chaos—or, as it ought to be stated, no period of such disturbance from physical causes as would warrant the use of the words“ darkness was upon the face of the deep.” But, as has been urged above, this is not admitted.
Another objection to this theory is found in the ordinary sequence
of the words of scripture. It will be observed that every sentence in the first five verses begins with the word “and," as if intimating an unbroken series of acts following one another immediately in the ord of time even; and, it is asked, had there been creations on the earth before the present one, if this rendering of the words is true, would the narrative have been thus continuous ?" We know not how the value of this objection could be better set before the reader than by quoting Mr. H. Miller's answer to it. Mr. Miller wrote as follows in 1853:
"Between the creation of the matter of which the earth is composed, as enunciated in the first verse, and the earth's void and chaotic state, as described in the second, a thousand creations might have intervened. As may be demonstrated from even the writings of Moses himself, the continuity of a narrative furnishes no evidence whatever that the facts which it records were continuous.
“Take for instance, the following passage :— There went out a man of the house of Levi, and took to wife a daughter of Levi. And the woman conceived and bare a son; and when she saw that he was a goodly child, she hid him three months. And when she could no longer hide him, she took for him an ark of bulrushes, and daubed it with slime and with pitch, and put the child therein ; and she laid it in the flags by the river's brink.' The narrative here is quite as continuous as in the first three verses of Genesis. In the order of the relation, the marriage of the parents is as directly followed in the one case by the birth of a son, as the creation of matter is followed in the other by the first beginnings of the existing state of things. The reader has as slight grounds to infer in the one case, that between the marriage of the parents and the birth of the child, the births of several other children of the family had taken place, as to infer in the other, that between the creation of matter and the subsisting creation there had taken place several other creations. And if the continuity of the narrative would not justify the inference in the one case, just as little can it justify it in the other. We know, however, from succeeding portions of scripture, that the father and mother of this child had several other children born to them in the period that intervened between their marriage and his birth. They had a son named Aaron, who had been born at least two years previous; and a daughter Miriam, who was old enough at the time to keep sedulous watch over the little ark of bulrushes, and to suggest to Pharaoh's daughter that it might be well for her to go and call one of the Hebrew women to be nurse to the child. It was essential, in the course of scripture narrative, that we should be introduced to person