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GEOLOGY AND THE HOLY SCRIPTURES.
[We have received from a reverend gentleman, highly distinguished both for his piety
and his learning, the following communication on the subject of our review of Dr. BUCKLAND'S Bridgewater Treatise. As a scriptural and philological argument, it might, by strict construction, be deemed somewhat out of place in the Magazine of Popular Science ; but a consideration of the importance of the subject, and the interest which it is peculiarly calculated to excite in the minds of religious readers, particularly when so able and influential a person as the writer of this paper has entered into the discussion in our own pages, have decided us to waive this distinction, and to present it to our readers, without remark or comment. ]
To the Editor of the Magazine of Popular Science. SIR,—With cordial approbation of the design and the general execution of your article, in the last month, upon Dr. Buckland's Bridgewater Treatise, I request your candid indulgence of some brief remarks.
The observations in pp. 337—339, appear to me capable of being misunderstood, or of being construed injuriously in various ways to the interests of both science and religion. The tendency of those observations
appears to be, First, to assume (or at least to warrant the assumption) that the Holy Scriptures contain allegations and implications with respect to the natural history of our earth, which are contradicted and disproved by the demonstrations of modern geology ; and, Secondly, that it is the duty of a philosopher to abstain from any discussion of this discrepancy, and from any inquiry whether it be real or only apparent: as if it were said, Let these two branches of knowledge be kept far away from each other: let philosophers and geologists pursue their own course, and let theology and religion practise their own duties, and watch over their own interests; but let neither interfere with the other; let no inquiry ever be made whether they are in accordance or in opposition.
This short way of dismissing the matter has, indeed, been adopted by some eminent men; but I appeal, Sir, to your impartial reflection, whether it is not absurd and impracticable.
1. It is absurd. Truth throughout her whole domain, illimitable as is its extent, is one in principle, and harmonious in details. It is no other than the having our conceptions in accordance with the reality of things. And Truth in expression (= veracity) is the adapting of our language, written or spoken, to the honest utterance of our conceptions. A mere child, if he will reflect a moment, perceives that a proposition cannot be true and false, under the same circumstances ; unless there be some artifice practised in the use of terms. An assertion cannot be true in theology, and false in geology, or any department whatever of scientific knowledge; nor inversely. It really is an insult tó men's understandings, to admit indirectly, that there are affirmations or doctrines in the records of revealed religion, which are disproved by the clearest evidence of science; and then to proscribe investigation, with a solemn pretence of mysteries not to be inquired into, an hypocritical tone of reverence for sacred things. The veil is transparent; no man can be deceived by it: but it is lamentable that any should attempt to VOL. II.
deceive by it. We greatly wrong the interests of knowledge, and prejudice our own improvement, when we but seem to admit that theology is an insulated portion of science, which may be safely pursued by itself, and which yields no advantages to other departments. True theology, on the contrary, attracts to itself, illustrates, and harmonizes all other knowledge. It is the science which relates to the Author and Preserver of the whole dependent universe ; whatever may be known concerning Him, for the noblest purposes of intellectual improvement, of personal virtue, and of diffusive happiness. It is formed by strict induction from the works and the word of God; natural notices, and positive revelation. It is the friend of all science; it appropriates all truth; it holds fellowship with no error.'
2. It is impracticable. This kind of ban upon a reasonable, an inevitable query, is never submitted to by any person of sound understanding. Either he receives the assumption,-and, as its consequence, he rejects covertly or openly the truth and authority of the Bible ; or he searches out the matter fairly and fully, and then he learns that the assumption is false.
Is it then the fact, that such fair and impartial inquiry will bring out this result? Is it, after all, an erroneous assumption, that the declarations of Scripture and the sensible demonstrations of geological science, pointedly contradict each other? Does not the Bible teach that the moment of the Supreme Being's first putting forth his creating power, was only about six thousand years ago ? And do not the undeniable phenomena of stratification, and other facts, demonstrate that our globe (to say nothing of the rest of the solar system, and the astral universe,) has existed, has passed through countless changes, such as are continually in progress, and others of a more intense character, which rational estimation must suppose to have required a period for their production so vast as to fill us with astonishment which no calculator ventures to lay down,—which probably amounts to millions and millions of years ?
Fully admitting the assumptions in the last query, I deny that of the preceding one.
It is to be lamented that the common habits of expression nourish the opinion, that the authority of Scripture maintains the commencement of dependent nature to have been as has been stated : and it is scarcely less to be lamented that theories have been propounded for conciliating the facts of nature and the Scripture narrative, which rest upon either a defective acquaintance with those facts, or a disregard to the plain use of language in that narrative. Of the former kind are the schemes for finding the time requisite for the terrene formations, in the period from the creation of the first man, to the Noachian deluge; of the latter, those which interpret the days of successive operation, laid down in the primeval record, as if they were indefinite periods.
It will appear evident to any one who will reflect upon the case, that the records of revelation must have been written in the phraseology and idioms of the people and the age to which they were given ; or they would have been unintelligible. Upon this principle we account for the manner in which natural phenomena are currently described ; and for the expressions which impute to the Infinite Spirit the form, the organs,
and the mental affections of a human being; and various other characteristics of the parabolic style of the Hebrew Scriptures. Such language was a condescension to the infirmities of mortals, and best adapted to the instruction of the general mass of mankind : but it is self-evident that it must be interpreted in a manner congruous with the perfect attributes of the Deity, and the reality of things.
A philological survey of the initial section of the Bible (Gen. i. 1, to ii. 3.) brings out the result :
i. That the first sentence is a simple, independent, all-comprehending, axiom, to this effect--that matter, elementary or combined, aggregated only or organized, and dependent sentient and intellectual beings, have not existed from eternity, either in self-continuity or succession, but had a beginning ; that their beginning took place by the all-powerful will of ONE BEING, the Self-existent, Independent, and Infinite in all perfections ; and that the date of that beginning is not made known.
ii. That, at a recent epoch, our planet was brought into a state of disorganization, detritus, or ruin, (perhaps we have no perfectly appropriate term,) from a former condition.
iii. That it pleased the Almighty, Wise, and Benevolent Supreme, out of that state of ruin, to adjust the surface of the earth to its now existing condition ; partly by the operation of the mechanical and chemical causes (what we usually call Laws of Nature,) which Himself had established; and partly, that is, whenever it was necessary, by His own creative power, or other immediate intervention; the whole extending through the period of six natural days.
It has been indeed maintained, that the conjunction and, with which the next sentence begins, connects the succeeding matter with the preceding, so as to forbid the intercalating of any considerable space of time. To this we reply, that the Hebrew conjunction, agreeably to the simplicity of ancient languages, expresses an annexation of subject or a continuation of speech, in any mode whatever, remote as well as proximate. For denoting such different modes of annexation, the Greek and other languages have a variety of particles; but their use is in Hebrew compensated by the shades of meaning which the tone in oral speech, and the connexion in writing, could supply. To go no further than the first two leaves of the Hebrew bible, we find this copula rendered in our authorized version, by thus, but, now, and also.
This interpretation is what I have been labouring to diffuse for more than thirty years, in private and in public, by preaching, by academical lecturing, and by printing. But it is not my interpretation, though I believe that I originally derived it from the sole study of the Bible-text. Clemens of Alexandria, Origen, Basil, Chrysostome, and
. Augustine, among the fathers (though not in a truly philosophical way, which was not to be expected), departed from the vulgar notion : and some judicious interpreters of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries have done the same, in particular, Bishop Patrick and Dr. David
, Jennings. Of modern Scripture critics I say nothing; for prejudice, justly or unjustly, may lie against them. Not that the question is to be settled by human authority. Our only appeal for decision is to the Bible itself, fairly interpreted.
But the mention of venerable names may
be useful, to allay the apprehensions of some good persons, who only hear obscurely of these subjects, and have not the means of forming an independent judgment on solid grounds.
I, therefore, with many, feel greatly obliged to Dr. Buckland for having come in aid of this, which I believe to be, the true sense and meaning of the sacred writers. I am framing no hypotheses in geology; I only plead that the ground is clear, and that the dictates of Scripture interpose no bar to observations and reasonings upon the mineralogical constitution of the earth, and the remains of organized creatures which its strata disclose. If those investigations should lead us to attribute to the earth, and to the other planetary and astral spheres, an antiquity which millions or ten thousand millions of years might fail to represent, the divine records forbid not their deduction. Let but the geologist maintain what his science so loudly proclaims, that the universe around us has been formed, at whatever epoch, or through whatever succession of epochs, to us unknown, by the power and wisdom of an Almighty first
Let him but reject the absurdities of pre-existent matter, of an eternal succession of finite beings, of formations without a former, laws without a lawgiver, and nature without a God. Let him but admit that man is but of yesterday, and that the design of revelation is to train him to the noblest purity and happiness in the immortal enjoyment of his Creator's beneficence; and he will find the doctrines of the Bible not an impediment, but his aid and his joy.
I have written much more than I anticipated, and I will tax your indulgence no longer; otherwise, confirmation and illustration might be brought from various passages of Scripture, and it would plainly appear that a just interpretation of the idioms of the Hebrew language, marked with archaic simplicity, would show them to be susceptible of an unforced accommodation to philosophical truth ; just as, in every modern language, phrases of current parlance, which, literally taken, would be absurd, are continually used by the masters of science as well as by
In such cases, error is neither given nor taken, and to affect philosophical precision would be miserable pedantry. This general principle may, I humbly think, be satisfactorily applied to the account of the Noachian Deluge, and to the obviating of some of its difficulties, though others will probably remain as a proper test of our disposition to rely implicitly on the infinite wisdom, goodness, and power of the glorious Author and Preserver of all things; “ in whose hand are the deep places of the earth, and the strength of the hills is His also.”
J. P. S. Dec. 10, 1836.
QUESTIONS FOR SOLUTION RELATING TO METEOROLOGY, HYDROGRAPHY, AND THE ART OF NAVIGATION.
By M. Arago.
(Continued from p. 397, vol. II.)
PHENOMENA OF THE SEA. ON THE MEANS OF DRAWING UP SEA-WATER FROM GREAT DEPTHS, AND OF
ASCERTAINING IN WHAT PROPORTION THE TWO PRINCIPAL CONSTITU
ENTS OF ATMOSPHERIC AIR ARE CONTAINED IN IT*. CHEMISTS have long since proved, that water becomes impregnated with the gases which rest on its surface. This absorption takes place in consequence of true chemical affinities existing between the water and the different gases; when their effects on oxygen and azote, the two principal constituents of atmospheric air, are carefully examined, the affinity is found to be much stronger with regard to the first than the second. Hence it follows, that the waters of seas and rivers, being always in contact with the atmosphere, become at length impregnated with gaseous mixtures, in which oxygen predominates. Indeed, the very accurate experiments of MM. von Humboldt and Gay-Lussac have proved that rain-water, the water of the Seine, and snow-water, contain a mixture of oxygen and azote, in every 100 parts of which there are from 29 to 32 of oxygen; though the proportion of oxygen in atmospheric air is constantly equal to 21 parts only, and that in all seasons and climates. MM. von Humboldt and Provençal have in addition to this ascertained, that the absolute volume of mingled gases contained in water near the surface is zo of the volume of water.
It follows as a necessary consequence of these properties, that the vast extent of sea which covers a large part of the globe, is impregnated with a mixture of gases, the proportions of which, near the surface, must be similar to those just mentioned. I have ascertained that it is so at the depth of eleven hundred yards; for, in an experiment I formerly made in the Mediterranean, sea-water, drawn from that depth, yielded a mixture which contained 28 parts of oxygen
in But here several important questions in terrestrial physics present themselves, which cannot be solved by the apparatus I then employed. In proportion to the descent into the sea, does the pressure of the superior portion upon the inferior become greater; and as a column of seawater eleven yards in height, is nearly of the same weight as a column of air of an equal base extending from the surface of the earth to the limit of the atmosphere, it follows that at a depth of eleven hundred yards the water sustains a pressure of a hundred atmospheres. How enormous, then, must this pressure be on beds still lower, if the mean depth of the sea, at a distance from the coasts, extends to several miles, as the laws of gravitation seem to indicatet! It has also been proved, by direct experiment, that water, whose surface is in contact with compressed gases,
* This part of the subject was drawn up by M. Biot. + Mécanique Céleste, tom, ii. p. 200.