Geologic Theories and Chronology
presuming to teach technical geology (for which I profess no qualification; and which lies, as I conceive, wholly outside the functions of the Church teacher), I wish, in dismissing this subject, to give you some cautions and instructions touching it’s relations with our revealed science.
This subject must concern Theologians.
There must always be a legitimate reason for Church teachers adverting to this subject; because geology, as often asserted, is virtually a theory of cosmogony, and cosmogony is but the doctrine of creation, which is one of the modes by which God reveals Himself to man, and one of the prime articles of every revealed theology. Were not all the ancient cosmogonies but natural theologies? Not a few modern geologists resent the animadversions of theologians, as of an incompetent class, impertinent and ignorant. Now I very freely grant that it is a very naughty thing for a parson, or a geologist, to profess to know what he does not know. But all logic is but logic; and after the experts in a special science have explained their premises in their chosen way, it is simply absurd to forbid any other class of educated men to understand and judge their deductions. What else was the object of their publications? Or, do they intend to practice that simple dogmatism, which in us religious teachers, they would so spurn? Surely when geologists currently teach their systems to boys in colleges, it is too late for them to refuse the inspection of an educated class of men! When Mr. Hugh Miller undertook, by one night’s lecture, to convince a crowd of London mechanics of his pet theory of the seven geologic ages, it is too late to refuse the criticism of theologians trained in philosophy?
Westmisister Confession inconsistent with it.
I would beg you to notice how distinctly either of the current theories contradicts the standards of our Church. See Conf. of Faith, ch. 4., 1. Larger Cat., Qu. 15, 120. Our Confession is not inspired; and if untrue, it should be refuted. But if your minds are made up to adopt either of these theories, then it seems to me that common honesty requires of you two things; to advertise your Presbyteries, when you apply for license and ordination, of your disbelief of these articles; that they may judge whether they are essential to our system of doctrine; and second; to use your legitimate influences as soon as you become church rulers, to have these articles expunged from our standards as false.
Let me urge upon you a wiser attitude and temper towards the new science, than many have shown, among the ministry. Some have shown a jealousy and uneasiness, unworthy of the stable dignity of the cause of inspiration. These apparent difficulties of geology are just such as science has often paraded against the Bible; but God’s word has stood firm, and every true advance of science has only redounded to its honor. Christians, therefore, can afford to bear these seeming assaults with exceeding coolness, Other pretended theologians have been seen advancing, and then as easily retracting, novel schemes of exegesis, to suit new geologic hypotheses. The Bible has often had cause here to cry, “Save me from my friends.” Scarcely has the theologian announced himself as sure of his discovery that this is the correct way to adjust Revelation to the prevalent hypotheses of the geologists, when these mutable gentlemen change their hypothesIsa. The obsequious divine exclaims: “well, I was in error thee; but now I have certainly the right exposition to reconcile Moses to the geologists.” And again the fickle science changes its ground. What can be more degrading to the authority of Revelation! As remarked in a previous lecture, unless the Bible has its own ascertainable and certain law of exposition, it cannot be a rule of faith; our religion is but rationalism. I repeat, if any part of the Bible must wait to have its real meaning imposed upon it by another, and a human science, that part is at least meaningless and worthless to our souls. It must expound itself independently; making other sciences ancillary, and not dominant over it.
Popular terms to be expected; in Bible, Reasons. But not applicable to cosmology.
It should be freely conceded that it was not God’s purpose, in giving the Bible, to foreshadow the scientific rationale of natural phenomena. Its object is theological. And the Bible is, in this respect, a strictly practical book. Hence, it properly speaks of those phenomena as they appear, and uses the popular phrases, “sun rises,”“sun sets,”“sun stood still,” etc., just as any other than a pedantic astronomer would, when not expressly teaching astronomy. Hence, we admit, that the attempt made by Rome and the Reformers to array the Bible against the Copernican System was simply foolish. The Bible only professed to speak of the apparent phase of the facts; the theory of the astronomer professed to give the non–apparent, scientific mechanism of the facts. So far as geology does the analogous thing, we should have no quarrel with it. But how far does this concession go? When Moses seems to say that God created the world and its inhabitants out of nothing, are we at liberty to treat him as we do Joshua, when he speaks of the sun as standing still? I think not. First: Moses’ reference to the facts of creation is not, like Joshua’s reference to the astronomical event, merely incidental to a narrative of human history, but is a statement of what is as much a theological doctrine as a natural fact, introduced by him for its own theological purpose. Second: Joshua’s language is defended, as being true to the apparent phase of the event. But creation had no apparent phase; for the simple reason that it had no human spectators. There is no popular language about world–making, conformed to the seeming phenomenon, as we have about the moving and setting suns which we daily seem to behold; for none of us, of any generation, have witnessed the exterior appearances of world–making. Hence, I must believe that we are not authorized to class the declarations of Moses here, with those of these oft–cited passages.
Burden of proof rests on Geologists.
It is an all–important point that, if debate arises between a geologic hypothesis and the fair and natural meaning of the Bible touching cosmogony, the geologist must bear the burden of proof. We are entitled to claim this, because the inspiration of the Scriptures is in prior possession of the field, in virtue of its own independent, historical, prophetic, internal and spiritual evidences, and of the immense and irreparable stake which every awakened soul has in its truth. Hence, the geologist does not dislodge the Bible, until he has constructed his own independent, and exclusive, and demonstrative evidence that his hypothesis must be the true one, and the only true one. Has the science ever done this? This logical obligation geologists perpetually forget. They perpetually substitute a “may be” for a “must be.” As soon as they hit upon a hypothesis which, it appears, may satisfy the known facts, they leap to the conclusion that it is the obviously, the only true one. But now, our position is not approached until such a complete, and exclusive demonstration is made. We are under no obligation, in order to defend ourselves, to substantiate another hypothesis by geologic reasoning; our defense is complete, when we show by such argument that their hypothesis comes short of an exclusive and perfect demonstration. It requires, as yet, little knowledge to show this; when the leading geologists are still differing between themselves, touching the igneous, the aqueous, the gradual and the sudden systems; when effects are so hastily and confidently ascribed to one species of natural agency, which may, very possibly, have been effected by it, or by one of several other possible agencies; when we see the greatest names assuming as premises for important deductions, statements which are corrected by the practical observation of plain men; from the oversight of important questions as to the consistency and feasibility of their theories of cosmogony, with observed facts; and last, from the truth that the most truly scientific are most cautious in asserting any such scheme with confidence.
Usual inference of cause from observed resemblences.
I have reserved the most vital point to the last. It is this: The structures of nature around us cannot present by their traits of naturalness, a universally demonstrative proof of a natural, as against a supernatural origin, upon any sound, theistic theory. Because, supposing a Creator, originating any structures or creatures supernaturally, He must also have conferred on His first things traits of naturalness. Hence, should it be found that the Creator has uttered His testimony to the supernatural origin of any observed things, that testimony cuts across and supersedes all the arguments a posteriori , from natural analogies to a natural origin. Thus, many geologists, seeing that sedimentary action by water now produces some stratified rocks, claim that they are entitled, by the similarity of effects, to ascribe all stratified rocks to sedimentary action. This, they say, is but a fair application of the axiom, that “like causes produce like effects,” which is the very corner–stone of all inductive science. But the real proposition they employ is the converse of this: that like effects imply like causes. Now, first: it is trite as true, that the proof of a proposition does not prove its converse. Second: the theist has expressly admitted another cause, namely, an infinite, personal Creator, confessedly competent to any effect He may choose to create. Hence, all theists are compelled to admit that the natural, a posteriori argument cannot universally hold, as to the origin of beings. Once admit a Creator, and that argument remains, in every case where the Creator’s absence is not proved by some positive evidence other than physical, the invalid species of induction, which Bacon exploded under the name of inductio enumerationis simplicis . Nov. Organum, Lib. 1, 105. “Inductio enim, quae procedit per enumerationem simplicem, res puerilis est, et precario concludit, et periculo exponitur ab instantia contradictoria ,” etc. In the case under discussion, any natural structure originated by the Creator, would be such a contradictory instance. Unless then the divine cause is excluded by some other than physical evidence, such induction can never be universally valid. Third: A wise God always has some “final cause,” guiding His action. We may not be presumptuous in surmising, in every case, what His final cause was; but when His own subsequent action has disclosed it, we are on safe ground; we may assuredly conclude that the use to which He has actually put a given thing is the use for which He designed it. When, therefore, we see Him subjecting all structures to natural law, we know that those which He himself created, He designed to subject to such law. Then, He must have created them as natural as though their origin also had been from nature. Fourth: To the theist, this argument is especially clear as to living, organized creatures. Supposing a Creator, the first of each species must have received from the supernatural, creative hand, every trait of naturalness; else it could not have fulfilled the end for which it was made; to be the parent of a species. What are the attributes connoted by the name of any species.
Natural History answers: they are precisely those regularly transmitted by natural generation. Then, in order to be the parent of a natural species, the first thing, while supernatural in origin, must have been thoroughly natural in all essential traits. Fifth: If we deny this, we must assign a natural parent before the first–created parent of each species of generated organisms. Thus we should be involved in a multitude of infinite series, without cause external to themselves; a result which science herself has repudiated, as an impossible absurdity. Suppose then, that by some chance, a physicist should examine the very remains of one of those organisms which God creatively produced, as a bone of Adam’s body; he would, of course, find in it the usual traits of naturalness. Yet he could not thence infer for this thing a natural origin; since, according to the supposed case, it was a first thing. Hence, it is concluded with mathematical rigidity, that when we grant an omnipotent Creator anywhere in the past, the argument from naturalness of traits to a natural origin ceases to be universally conclusive.
Illustrated by Circumstantial Evidence.
This case is exactly illustrated by what lawyers term “circumstantial evidence” in a court of justice. The science of law, charged with the solemn issues of life and death, has exactly defined the proper rules for this species of evidence. Before a man can be convicted upon circumstantial evidence, the prosecution must show that their hypothesis of his guilt not only may satisfy all the circumstances known, but that it is the only possible hypothesIsa. And the enlightened judge will rule, that the defense are entitled to test that fact even by their imaginations. If they can suppose or invent another hypothesis, unsupported by a single positive proof, that demonstrates the fact, that the hypothesis of guilt is not the only possible one, the accused must be discharged. But let us suppose that, just when the circumstantial evidence of guilt seemed complete, an eye witness is adduced, who swears that he saw the crime perpetrated by another. Let us suppose that other agent was naturally competent to the act. Then the judge will rule, that the whole farther discussion must turn on the consistency and credibility of that witness. He will say to the accusers: that if they have any valid way to impugn the witness’ competency, or credibility, they may do so; otherwise, in presence of his positive evidence, their circumstantial proof, in spite of all its ingenuity and plausibility, is utterly broken down. Now the a posteriori argument of the geologists is such a circumstantial pro of. The Bible is the parole–witness; if its competency and trustworthiness stand, their case has collapsed before it.
Again: why should the Theistic philosopher desire to push back the creative act of God to the remotest possible age) and reduce His agency to the least possible minimum, as is continually done in these speculations? What is gained by it? Instead of granting that God created a kosmo" , world, some strive continually to show that He created only the rude germs of a world, ascribing as little as possible to God, and as much as possible to natural law. Cui bono ; if you are not hankering after Atheism? Is a completed result any harder for infinite powers than a germinal one? What is natural law; end whet its source? It originated in the creative power, and is maintained, energized, and regulated by the perpetual providence of God. Do you crave to push God away, as far as possible? It does not help you to say, natural law directed the formation of this mass of marble, instead of supernatural creation; for God is as near and as infinite in His common, natural, as in His first, supernatural working.
Illustrated by Nebular Hypothesis.
But if you must persist in recognizing nothing but natural forces, wherever you see a natural analogy, I will show you that it will land you, if you are consistent, no where short of absolute atheism. Suppose that nebular theory of the origin of the solar system were true, which the anti–Christian, La Place, is said to have suggested as possible, and which so many of our nominal Christians have adopted, without proof, as certain. An observer from some other system, fully imbued with the principles of modern science, comes to inspect, at the stage that he finds only a vast mass of incandescent vapor, rotating from west to east around an axis of motion. If he uses the confident logic of our geologists, he must reason thus: “Matter is naturally inert; momentum must come from impact; therefore, this rotary motion which I now behold, must be the result of some prior force, either mechanical, electrical, or some other. And again, I see only vapor. Vapor implies evaporation; and sensible heat suggests latent heat, rendered sensible either by electrical or chemical action, or compression. There must, therefore, have been a previous, different, and natural condition of this matter now volatilized, heated, and rotating. The geologists of the 19th century, therefore, will be mistaken in calling this the primitive condition of the system.” Before each first, then, there must still be another first. This is, therefore, the eternity of Naturalism—it is Atheism.
Argument just, as against exclusion of Creator.
This argument is usually dismissed by geologists with a sort of summary contempt, or with a grand outcry of opposition. It does indeed cut deep into the seductive pride of their science, sweeping off at one blow that most fascinating region, the infinite past. It is urged, for instance, that my argument would subvert the foundations of all natural science. They exclaim, that to concede this would be to surrender the whole organon of scientific discovery. I answer, no. Within the domain of time, the known past of human history, where its testimony proves the absence of the supernatural, the analogical induction is perfectly valid. And there is the proper domain of natural science. In that field, their method of reasoning is a useful organon , and a legitimate; let them use it there, to the full, for the good of man. But in the unknown eternity of the past, prior to human history, it has no place; it is like the mariner’s compass carried into the stellar spaces. That compass has a known attraction for the poles of this globe; and therefore on this globe, it is a valued guide. But away in the region of Sirius, where we know not whether the spheres have poles, or whether they are magnetic, it is naught. He who should follow it would be a madman.
Objection from Fossils answered.
Another objection, supposed to be very strong, is drawn from the fossil remains of life. The geologists say triumphantly, that however one might admit my view as to the mere strata , it would be preposterous when applied to the remains of plants and animals buried in these strata , evidently alive thousands of ages ago. They assert roundly that, in order to make any application of this argument, anywhere, I shall have to hold the preposterous assertion, that all the fossil remains of vegetable and animal life, which lived during the vast, pre–Adamite ages, are mere stones, never alive: or that, in other words, we must refuse the evidence of our own senses, and suppose the Creator imposed this cheat on them. This supposed consequence we expressly repudiate. And it is very easy to show that it does not follow. In attempting to fix the relative age and order of strata and fossils, geology reasons in a circle. Sir Chas. Lyell states that a stratigraphical order has been inferred from three classes of data. 1. The observed order of strata where actually found in juxtaposition. 2. The kinds of organic life contained in the different strata . 3. The material and structure of the strata themselves. Evidently such inferences are invalid, from two grounds. First: they have not proved that the azoic stratified rocks, a large class by their own showing, may not have had an immediate, supernatural origin: for I have evinced that their naturalness of structure alone is no proof against this. If then, these stratified rocks are really as old as the ligneous, here is a huge chasm in their system. Second: They reason in a circle, in that they argue the relative oldness of certain fossils from the strata in which they are found; and then argue the oldness of the strata from the assumed age of the fossils. For instance: they conclude that the non–fossiliferous clayslate is a very old stratified rock, because without fossils. Again, they have concluded that some given species of fossil life is very old, because found in a stratum very near that very old slate. Then they infer that some other stratum is very old, because this fossil is found in it! Third: Concede once (I care not where in the unknown past) an almighty Creator of infinite understanding, (as you must, if you are not an atheist,) and then both power and motive for the production of these living structures at and after a supernatural creation, become infinitely possible. It would be an insane pride of mind, which should conclude that, because it could not comprehend the motive for the production, death, and entombment of all these creatures under such circumstances, therefore it cannot be reasonable for the Infinite Mind to see such a motive. So that my same formula applies here also. Once concede an Infinite Creator, and all inferences as to the necessarily natural origin of all the structures seen, are fatally sundered.
Creation had a moral end.
In fine, if that account of the origin of the universe, which theology gives us, is to be heeded at all, the following appears the most philosophical conception of a creation: That God, in producing a world which His purposes required to pass under the immediate domain of natural laws, would produce it with just the properties which those laws perpetuate and develop. And here appears a consideration which brings theology and cosmogony into unison. What was God’s true end in the creation of a material world? Reason and Scripture answer: To furnish a stage for the existence and action of a moral and rational creature. The earth was made for man to inhabit. As the light would be but darkness, were there no eye to see, so the moral design of the world would be futile without a human mind to comprehend it, and praise its Maker. Now, such being God’s end in creation, it seems much more reasonable to suppose that He would produce at once the world which He needed for His purpose, rather than spend hundreds of thousands of years in growing it.