REMARKS ON CUVIER'S THEORY
OF THE EARTH, IN EXTRACTS FROM A REVIEW OF THAT THEORY WHICH WAS CONTRIBUTED TO
"THE CHRISTIAN INSTRUCTOR" IN 1814.
It is not our object to come to a full analysis of the theory of Curler, 'Ihe appearance of the work has afforded matter of triumph and satisfaction to the friends of revelation, though in these feelings, we cannot altogether svmpathize with them. It is true that his theory approximates to the information of the Book of Genesis more nearly than those of many of his predecessors ; and the occasional exhibitions which appear in the course of his pages, have the effect at least of stamping the character of a disinterested testimony upon his opinions. This leads us to anticipate the period when there will be a still closer coincidence between the theories of geologists and the Mosaical history of the creation. It is well that there is now a progress to this object ; that the chronology at least of Moses begins to be more respected; that a date so recent is ascribed to to last great catastrophe of the globe, as to make it fall more closely upon the deluge of the book of Genesis and when we recollect the eloquence, and the plausibility, and the imposing confidence with which a theorist of the day has magnified the antiquity of the present system, we shall henceforth be less alarmed at any thing in the speculations, either of Cuvier or of others, which may appear to bear hard upon the credit of the sacred historian.
He assigns no distinct cause for the earth’s revolutions, and leaves us utterly at a loss about the nature of that impelling principle, which gives rise to the sweeping and terrible movements that are thought to take place in the waters of the ocean. We expected something from him upon this subject under the article of Astronomical Causes of the Revolutions on the Earth’s Surface: nor has he chosen to advert to the theory of Laplace, though, in our apprehension, it would have imparted a great addition of plausibility to the whole speculation.
It is to the diurnal revolution of the earth round its axis, that we owe the deviation of its figure from a perfect sphere. The earth is so much flattened at the poles, and so much elevated at the equator, that, by the mean calculations upon this subject, the former are nearer to the centre of the earth than the latter by thirty-five English miles. What would be the effect then, if the axis of revolution were suddenly shifted? If the polar and equinoctial regions were to change places, there would be a tendency towards an elevation of so many miles in the one, and of a great a depression in the other, and the more transferable parts of the earth’s surface would be the first to obey this tendency.
But it is not necessary to assume so entire a change in the position of the earth’s axis, as to produce a difference of thirtyfive miles in any of the existing levels, nor would any single impetus, indeed, suffice to accomplish such a change. The transference of the poles from their present situation by a few degrees, wonld give rise to a revolution sudden enough, and mighty enough for all the purposes of a geological theory; and a change of level by a single quarter of a mile, would destroy the vast majority of living animals, and create such a harvest of fossil remains, as would give abundant employment to a whole host of future speculators.
Now, we have two observations to offer on the said theory; one in the way of a humble addition, and the other in the way of an apology for it. -
First, from the planets moving all nearly in circular orbits, it is more likely that they have done so from the very commencement of their revolutiops, than that they started at first with very unequal eccentricities, and have been reduced to orbits of almost similar form by the shocks which each of them individually sustained from comets. Assuming then, that originally the orbits were nearly circular, how comes it that they remain so, in spite of those numerous impulses, which the theory of Laplace, combined with the allegation of Cuvier that the catastrophes on the earth have been frequent, necessarily implies? Whether the impulse be in the line of the earth’s rnotion, which it may very nearly be with a few of the comets, or whether it cross that line at a considerable angle, which would be the direction of the impulse with the great majority of them, still we cannot conceive from the great velocity of the impelling body, how the planet can avoid.receiving from the shock, and far more -from the repetition of it, such a change in its eccentricity, as would have given us at this moment a planetary system made up of bodies moving in very variously elongated ellipses. The way of evading this objection, is to reduce the momentum of the comet, by assigning to it as small a density as will suit the purpose; but small as it maybe, there is momentum enough, according to the hypothesis of Laplace, to change the position of the earth’s axis. A repetition of such impulses upon the different planets in every conceivable variety of direction, would, in time, give rise to a very wide dissimilarity in their orbits; and the fact, that such a dissimilarity does not exist, militates against that indefinite antiquity, which the deifiers of matter ascribe to the present system.
But again, it does not appear to us, that the theory of Laplace is insufficient to account for the highly inclined position of strata, which may have been deposited horizontally. By the conceived impulse of a comet, the earth receives a tendency to a change of figure. This can only be produced by the motion of its parts, and a force acting on these parts is put into operation. Who will compute the strength of the impediment which this force may not overcome, or say in how far the cohesion of the solid materials on the surface of the globe will be an effectual resistance to it? May not this force act in the very way in which Cuvier expresses the operation of his catastrophe? May it not break and overturn the strata? And will it not help our conceptions to suppose, that masses of water, struggling in the bowels of the earth for a more elevated position, may have force enough to burst their way through the solid exterior, and tainting and mingling with, the old ocean, may annihilate all the marine animals of the former era? Of the flood of the Book of Genesis, we read that the fountains of the great deep were broken up, as well as that the windows of heaven were opened.
We feel vastly little either of confidence or satisfaction, in any of these theories. - It is a mere contest of probabilities; and an actual and well established testimony should be paramount to them all. - We hold the testimony of Moses to supersede all this work of conjecture; and we shall presently take up the subject of that testimony, and inquire just how far it goes to confirm, or to falsify the speculations of this volume.
The qualifications of M. Cuvier as a comparative anatomist, give a high authority to his opinion on the nature of the fossil remains, and the kind of animals of which they form a part. His inquiries in this volume are confined to the remains of quadrupeds; and the most amusing, and perhaps the soundest argument in the whole book, is that by which he unfolds his method of constructing the entire animal from some small and solitary fragment of its skeleton. We were highly gratified with his discussion upon this subject, nor can we resist the desire of imparting the same gratification to our readers, by the following extract:
"Fortunately, comparative anatomy, when thoroughly understood, enables us to surmount all these difficulties, as a careful application of its principles instructs us in the correspondence and dissimilarity of the forms of organized bodies of different kinds, by which each may be rigorously ascertained from almost every fragment of its various parts and organs.
“Every organized individual forms an entire system of its own, all the parts of which mutually correspond, and concur to produce a certain definite purpose, by reciprocal reaction, or by combining towards the same end. Hence none of these separate parts can change their forms without a corresponding change on the other parts of the same animal, and consequently each of these parts taken separately, indicates all the other parts to which it has belonged. Thus, as I have elsewhere shown, if the viscera of an animal are so organized as only to be fittedfor the digestion of recent flesh, it is also requisite that the jaws should be so constructed as to fit them for devouring prey; the claws must be contructed for seizing and tearing it to pieces; the teeth for cutting and dividing its flesh; The entire system of the limbs, or organs of motion, for pursuing and overtaking it; and the organs of sense, for discovering it at a distanee. Nature also must have endowed the brain of the animal with instincts sufficient for concealing itself, and for laying plans to catch its necessary victims.
“Such are the universal conditions that are indispensable in the structure of carnivorous animals; every individual of that description must necessarily possess them combined together, as the species could not otherwise subsist. Under this general rule, however there are several particular modifications, depending upon the size, the manners, and the haunts of the prey for which each species of carnivorous animal is destined or fitted by nature; and, from each of these particular modifications, there result certain differences in the more minute conformations of particular parts; all, however, conformable to the general principles of structure already mentioned. Hence it follows, that in every one of their parts we discover distinct indications, not only of the classes and orders of animals, but also of their genera, and even of their species.
“In fact, in order that the jaw may be well adapted for laying hold of objects, it is necessary that its condyle should have a certain form; that the resistance, the moving power, and the fulcrum, should have a certain relative position with respect to each other; and shut the temporal muscles should be of a certain size: The hollow or depression, too, in which these muscles are lodged, must have a certain depth; and the zygomatic arch under which they pass, must not only have a certain degree of convexity, but it must he sufficiently strong to support the action of the masseter.
“To enable the animal to carry off its prey when seized, a correspondent force is requisite in the muscles which elevate the head; and this neeessurily gives rise to a determinate form of the vertebrae to which these muscles are attached, and of the occiput into which they are inserted.
“In order that the teeth of carnivorous animals may be able to cut the flesh, they require tu be sharp, more or less so in proportion to the greater or less quantity of flesh that they have to eat. It is requisite that their roots should be solid and strong, in prqportion to the quantity and the size of the bones which they have to break in pieces. The whole of these circumstances must necessarily influence the development and form of all the parts which contribute to move the jaws.
“To enable the claws of a carnivorous animal to seize its prey, a considerable degree of mobility is necessary in their paws and toes, and a considerable strength in the claws themselves. From these circumstances, there necessarily result certain determinate forms in all the bones of their paws, and in the distribution of the muscles and tendons by which they are moved. The fore-arm must possess a certain facility of moving in various directions, and consequently requires certain determinate forms in the bones of which it is composed. As the bones of the fore-arm are articulated with the arm bone or humerus, no change can take place in the form and structure of the former, without occasioning correspondent changes in the form of the latter. The shoulder-blade also, or scapula, requires a correspondent degree of strength in all animals destined for catching prey, by which it likewise must necessarily have an appropriate form. The play and action of all these parts require certain proportions in the muscles which set them in motion, and the impressions formed by these muscles must still farther determine the forms of all these bones.
“After these observations, it will be easily seen that similar conclusions may be drawn with respect to the hinder limbs of carnivorous animals, which require particular conformations to fit them for rapidity of motion in general; and that similar considerations must influence the forms and connexions of the vertebrae and other bones constituting the trunk of the body, to fit them for flexibility and readiness of motion in all directions. The bones also of the nose, of the orbit, and of the ears, require certain forms and structures to fit them for giving perfection to the senses of smell, sight, and hearing, so necessary to animals of prey. In short, the shape and structure of the teeth regulate the forms of the condyle, of the shoulder-blade, and of the claws, in the same manner as the equation of a curve regulates all its other properties; and, as in regard to any particular curve, all its properties may be ascertained by assuming each separate property as the foundation of a particular equation; in the same manner a claw, a shoulder-blade, a condyle, a leg or arm bone, or any other bone, separately considered, enables us to discover the description of teeth to which they have belonged; and so also reciprocally we may determine the forms of the other bones from the teeth. Thus, commencing our investigation by a careful survey of anyone bone by itself, a person who is sufficiently master of the laws of organic structure, may, as it were, reconstruct the whole animal to which that bone had belonged.
"This principle is sufficiently evident, in its general acceptation, not to require any more minute demonstration; but, when it comes to be applied in practice, there is a great number of cases in which our theoretical knowledge of these relations of forms is not sufficient to guide us, unless assisted by observation and experience.
“For example, we are well aware that all hoofed animals must necessarily be herbivorous, because they are possessed of no means of seizing upon prey. It is also evident, having no other use for their fore-legs than to support their bodies, that they have no occasion for a shoulder so vigorously organized as that of carnivorous animals; owing to which they have no clavicles or acromion processes, and their shoulder-blades are proportionally narrow. Having also no occasion to turn their fore-arms, their radius is joined by ossification to the ulna, or is at least articulated by the gynglymus with the humerus. Their food being entirely herbaceous, requires teeth with flat surfaces, on purpose to bruise the seeds and plants on which they feed. For this purpose also, these surfaces require to be unequal, and are consequently composed of alternate perpendicular layers of hard enamel and softer bone. Teeth of this structure necessarily require horizontal motions, to enable them to triturate or grind down the herbaceous food; and, accordingly, the condyles of the jaw could not be formed into such confined joints as in the carnivorous animals, but must have a flattened form, correspondent to sockets in the temporal bones, which also are more or less flat for their reception. The hollows likewise of the temporal bones, having smaller muscles to contain, are narrower, and not so deep etc. All these circumstances are deducible from each other, according to their greater or less generality, and in such manner that some are essentially and exclusively appropriated to hoofed quadrupeds, while other circumstances, though equally necessary to that description of animals are not exclusively so, but may be found in animals of other descriptions, where other conditions permit or require their existence.
"When we proceed to consider the different orders or subdivisions of the class of hoofed animals, and examine the modifications to which the general conditions are liable, or rather the particular conditions which are conjoined, according to the respective characters of the several subdivisions, the reasons upon which these particular conditions or rules of conformation are founded become less evident. We can easily conceive, in general, the necessity of a more complicated systela of digestive organs in those species which have less perfect masticatory systems; and hence we may presume that these latter animals require especially to be ruminant, which are in want of such or such kinds of teeth; and may also deduce, from the same considerations, the necessity of a certain conformation of the oesophagus, and of corresponding forms in the vertebra of the neck, &c. But I doubt whether it would have been discovered, independently of actual observation, that ruminant animals should all have cloven hoofs, and that they should be the only animals having that particular conformation; that the ruminant animals only should be provided with horns on their foreheads; that those among them which have sharp tusks, or canine teeth, should want horns, &c.;
“As all these relative conformations are constant and regular, we may be assured that they depend upon some sufficient cause; and, since we are not acquainted with that cause, we must here supply the defect of theory by observation, and in this way lay down empirical rules on the subject, which are almost as certain as those deduced from rational principles, especially if established upon careful and repeated observation. Hence, any one who observes merely the print of a cloven hoof, may conclude that it bas been left by a ruminant animal, and regard the conclusion us equally certain with any other in physics or in morals. Consequently, this single foot-mark clearly indicates to the observer the forms of the teeth, of the jaws, of the vertebrae, of all the leg-bones, thighs, shoulders, and of the trunk of the body of the animal which left the mark. It is much surer than all the marks of Zadig. Observation alone, independent entirely of general principles of philosophy, is sufficient to show that there certainly are secret reasons for all these relations of which I have been speaking.
“When we have established a general system of these relative conformations of animals, we not only discover specific constancy, if the expression may be allowed, between certain forms of certain organs, and certain other forms of different organs; we can also perceive the classified constancy of conformation, and a correspondent gradation between these two sets of organs, which demonstrate their mutual influence upon each other, almost as certainly as the most perfect deduction of reason. For example, the masticatory system is generally more perfect in the non-ruminant hoofed quadrupeds than it is in the cloven-hoofed or ruminant quadrupeds; as the former possess incisive teeth, or tusks, or almost always both of these, in both jaws. The structure also of their feet is in general more complicated, having a greater number of toes, or their phalanges less enveloped in the hoof, or a greater number of distinct metacarpal and metatarsal bones, or more numerous tarsal bones, or the fibula more completely distinct from the tibia; or, finally, that all these enumerated circumstances are often united in the same species of animal.
“It is quite impossible to assign reasons for these relations; but we are certain that they are not produced by mere chance, because, whenever a cloven- hoofed animal has any resemblance in the arrangement of its teeth to the animals we now speak of; it has the resemblance to them also in the arrangement of its feet. Thus camels, which have tusks, and also two or four incisive teeth in the upper-jaw, have one additional bone in the tarsus, their scaphoid and eüboid bones not being united into one; and have also very small hoofs with corresponding phalanges, or toe-bones. The musk animals, whose tusks are remarkably conspicuous have a distinct fibula as long as the tibia; while the other cloven-footed animals have only a small bone articulated at the lower end of the tibia in place of a fibula. We have thus a constant mutual relation between the organs of conformations, which appear to have no kind of connexion with each other; and the gradations of their forms invariably correspond, even in those cases in which we cannot give the rationale of their relations.
“By thus employing the method of observation, where theory is no longer able to direct our views, we procure astonishing results. The smallest fragment of bone, even the most apparently insignificant apophysis, possesses a fixed and determinate character, relative to the class, order, genus and species of the animal to which it belonged; insomuch, that when we find merely the extremity of a well-preserved bone, we are able, by careful examination, assisted by analogy and exact comparison, to determine the species to which it once belonged, as certainly as if we had the entire animal before us. Before venturing to put entire confidence in this method of investigation, in regard to fossil bones, I have very frequently tried it with portions of bones belonging to well-known animals, and always with such complete success, that I now entertain no doubt with regard to the results which it affords. I must acknowledge that I enjoy every kind of advantage for such investigations that could possibly be of use, by my fortunate situation in the Museum of Natural History; and, by assiduous researches for nearly fifteen years, I have collected skeletons of all the genera and sub- genera of quadrupeds, with those of many species in some of the genera, and even of several varieties of some species. With these aids, I have found it easy to multiply comparisons, and to verify, in every point of view, the application of the foregoing rules. -pp. 90 - 102.
“Now, this is a most interesting specimen of M. Cuvier. It bespeaks the tone and the habit of a philosopher, and is well calculated to gain a favourable hearing, if not an authority, to all his other speculations. But it is quite true that a man may excel in one department of investigation, and fall short in another; and none more readily than the antemosaical philosophers, who oppose him, to exclaim, that, though M. Cu’vier be a good anatomist, it does not follow that he is a geologist. Now we profess to be neither the one nor the other. The science of our professional department is different from both, and all that we ask of the geological infidels of the day is, that they will do us the same justice in reference to their speculations, that they take to themselves in reference to M. Cuvier. A man may be a good geologist, and be able to construct as good a system as the mineralogical appearances around him enable him to do. But this system is neither more nor less than the announcement of past facts, and geology forms only one of the channels by which we may reach them. But there are other channels, and the most direct and obvious of them all to the knowledge of the past is the channel of history. The recorded testimony of those who were present or nearer than ourselves to the facts in question, we hold to be a likelier path to the information we are in quest of, than the inferences of a distant posterity upon the geological phenomena around them, just as an actual history of the legislation of old governments, is a trustier document than an ingenious speculation on the progress and the principles of human society. You protest against the knife and demonstrations of the anatomist as instruments of no authority in your department. We protest against the hammer of the mineralogist and the reveries of the geologian, as instruments of no authority in ours. You think that Cuvier is very slender in geology, and that he has been most Un-philosophically rash in leaving his own province, and carrying his confident imaginations into a totally different field of inquiry. We cannot say, that you are very slender in the philosophy of history and historical evidence, for it is a ground you scarcely ever deign to touch upon. But surely it is a distinct subject of inquiry. It has its own principles, and its own probabilities. You must pronounce upon the testimony of Moses on appropriate evidence. It is the testimony of a witness nearer than yourselves to the events in question; and if it be a sound testimony, it carries along with it the testimony of a Being who was something more than an actual spectator of the creation. He.was both spectator and agent. And yet all that mighty train of evidence which goes to sustain the revealed history of God’s administrations in the world, is by you overlooked and forgotten; and while you so readily lift the cry against the unphilosophical encroachment of foreign principles into your department, you make no conscience of elbowing your own principles into a field which does not belong to them.
But it is high time to confront the theory of our geologist with the sacred history with a view both to lay down the points of accordancy, and to show in how far we are compelled to modify the speculation, or to disown it altogether.
First, then it is so far well that Cuvier admits the very last catastrophe to have been so recent, and accomplished too like all his former catastrophes, by the agency of water. The only modification we have to offer here is, that whereas Cuvier represents it to be an operation of so violent a nature as to agitate and displace every thing that was moveable - we guess, from the history that an olive tree was still standing, and not lying loosely on the ground, with part of its foliage. If we are correct in our assumption as to the specific gravity of the olive tree, it would, if separated from the soil, have been borne up on the surface of the water - and in that case the circumstance of a leaf being recently plucked or torn from the tree, would have been no indication whatever of the waters being abated from off the earth.
Again, the researches of M. Cuvier present us with no fact militating against the recent creation of the human species. It has been said to be the subject of a recent discovery - but at the time of writing this volume, M. Cuvier could assert that no human remains had been hitherto discovered among the extraneous fossils. This be holds to be a decisive proof, that man did not exist in those countries where the fossil bones of other animals are to be found. This is no proof, however, that he did not exist in some other quarters of the globe antecedent to the last or any given number of catastrophes. He may have been confined to some narrow regions which escaped the operation of the catastrophe, from which he issued out to repeople the new formed land; or, the fossil remains of the human species, may exist in the bottom of the present ocean, and remain concealed from observation till some new catastrophe lay them open to the inquirers of a future era - But this is all gratuitous, and must give way to the positive information of authentic history.
There is one very precious fruit to be gathered out of those investigations, an argument for the exercise of a creative power, more convincing perhaps than any that can be drawn from the slender resources of natural theism. If it be true, that in the oldest of the strata, no animal remains are to be met with, marking out an epoch anterior to the existence of living beings in the field of observation - if it be true that all the genera which are found in the first of the peopled strata are destroyed. If it be true that no traces of our present genera are to be met with in the early epochs of the globe, how came the present races of animated nature into being? It is not enough to say, that like man they may have been confined to narrower regions, and escaped the operation of the former catastrophes, or that their remains may be buried under the present ocean. Enough for our purpose, that they could not have existed from all eternity. Enough for us the fact, that each catastrophe has the chance of destroying, or does in fact destroy; a certain number of genera. If this annihilating process went on from eternity, the work of annihilation would long ago have been accomplished, and there is not a single species of living creatures that could have survived the multiplicity of chances for its extinction afforded by an indefinite number of catastrophes. If then there were no replacement of new genera, the face of the world would at this moment have been one dreary and unpeopled solitude; and the question recurs, how did this replacement come to be effected? The doctrine of spontaneous generation we believe to be generally exploded; and there is not a known instance of an animal being brought into existence, but by means of a previous animal of the same species. The transition of the genera into one another is most ably and conclusively contended against by the author before us, who proves them to be separated by permanent and invincible barriers. Between the one principle and the other the commencement of new genera is totally inexplicable on any of the known powers and combinations of matter, and we are carried upwards to the primary link which connects the existence of a created being with the fiat of the Creator.
But, generally speaking, geologists are not guilty of disowning the act of creation. It is in theorizing on the manner of the act, (and that too in the face of testimony which they do not attempt to dispose of,) that they make the most glaring deviation from the spirit and principles of the inductive philosophy. We have no experience in the formation of worlds. Set aside revelation, and we cannot say whether the act of creation is an instantaneous act, or a succession of acts; and no man can tell whether God made this earth and these heavens in a moment of time, or in a week, or in a thousand years, more than he can tell whether the men of Jupiter, if there be any such, live ten years or ten centuries. Both questions lie out of the field of observation; and it is delightful to think, that the very principle which constitutes the main strength of the atheistical argument, goes to demolish all those presumptuous speculations, in which the enemies of the Bible attempt to do away the authority of the sacred historian. 'The universe,’ says Hume, 'is a singular effect;’ and we, therefore, can never know if it proceeded from the hand of an intelligent Creator. But if the Creator takes another method of making us know, the very singularity of the effect is the reason why we should be silent when he speaks to us; and why we, in all the humility of conscious ignorance, should yield our entire submission to the information he lays before us. Surely, if without a revelation, the singularity of the effect leaves us ignorant of the nature of the cause, it leaves us equally ignorant of the modus operandi of this cause. If experience furnish nothing to enlighten us upon this question, 'Did the universe come from the hand of an intelligent God?’ it furnishes as little to enlighten us upon the question, 'Did God create the universe in an instant, or did he do it in seven days, or did he do it in any other number of days that may be specified?’ These are points which natural reason, exercising itself upon natural appearances, does not qualify us to know; and it were well if a maxim, equally applicable to philosophers and to children, were to come in here for our future direction, 'that what we do not know we should be content to learn;’ and if a revelation, bearing every evidence of authenticity, undertakes the office of informing us, it is our part cheerfully to acquiesce, and obediently to go along with it. On this principle we refuse to concede the literal history of Moses, or to abandon it to the fanciful and ever-varying interpretations of philosophers.
We have to thank the respectable editor of this work, Mr Jameson, for his becoming deference to the authority of the Jewish legislator, and his no less becoming and manly expression of it. But we cannot consent to the stretching out of the days, spoken of in the first chapter of Genesis, into indefinite periods of time. We fear that the slower revolution of the earth round her axis, is too gratuitous to make the admission of it at all consistent with the just rules of philosophizing; and there is, therefore, no other alternative left to us, but to take the history just as it stands. We leave it to geologists to judge, whether our concluding observations allow them room enough for bringing about a consistency between the first chapter of Genesis and their theories. In the mean time, we assert that the history in this chapter, maintains throughout an entire consistency with itself; a consistency which would be utterly violated, if we offered to allegorize the days, or to take them up in any other sense than that in which they obviously and literally present themselves. What shall we make of the institution of the Sabbath, if we surrender the Mosaic history of the creation? Is it to be conceived, that the Jews would understand the description of Moses in any other sense than in the plain and obvious one? Is it to be admitted, that God would incorporate a falsehood in one of His commandments, or at least prefer a reason for the observance of it which was calculated to deceive, and had all the effect of a falsehood? We cannot but resist this laxity of interpretation, which, if suffered in one chapter of the Bible, may be carried to all of them, may unsettle the dearest articles of our faith, and throw a baleful uncertainty over the condition and the prospects of the species.
We have heard it preferred as an impeachment against the consistency of the Mosaic account that the day and night were made to succeed each other antecedently to the formation of the sun. This is very true; but it was not antecedent to the formation of light; it was not antecedent to the division of the light from the darkness; it may not have been antecedent to the formation of luminous matter; and though all this matter was not assembled into one body till the fourth day, it may have been separated and made to reside in so much greater abundance in one quarter of the heavens than in the other, as to have given rise to a region of light and a region of darkness. Such an arrangement would, with the revolution of the earth’s axis, give rise to a day and a night. Enough for the purpose of making out this succession, if the light formed on the first day was unequally dispersed over the surrounding expanse, though it was not till this light was fixed and concentrated in one mass, that the sun could be said to rule the day.
And here let it be observed, that it does not fall upon the defenders of Moses to bring forward positive or specific proofs for the truth of any system reconcileable with his history, beyond the historical evidence of the history itself. A thousand systems may be devised, one of which only can be true, but each of which may be consistent with all the details of the book of Genesis. We cannot, and we do not offer any one of these systems as that which is to be positively received, but we offer them all as so many ways of disposing of the objections; and while upon us lies the bare task of proposing them, upon our antagonists lies the heavy work of’ overthrowing them all before they can set aside the direct testimony of the sacred historian, or assert that his account of the creation is contradicted by known appearances.
We crave the attention of our readers to the above remark; and, satisfied that the more they think of it, the more will they be impressed with its justness, we spare ourselves the task of bestowing upon it any further elucidation. -
We conclude with adverting to the unanimity of geologists in one point, the far superior antiquity of this globe to the commonly received date of it, as taken from the writings of Moses. What shall we make of this? We may feel a security as to the points in which they differ, and, confronting them with one another, may remain safe and untouched between them. But when they agree, this security fails. There is no neutralization of authority among them as to the age of the world; and Cuvier, with his catastrophes and his epochs, leaves the popular opinion nearly as far behind him, as they who trace our present continent upward through an indefinite series of ancestors, and assign many millions of years to the existence of each generation.
Should the phenomena compel us to assign a greater antiquity to the globe than to that work of 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 the 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 this beginning was. We know the general impression to be, that it was on the earlier part of the first day, and that the first act of creation formed part of the same day’s work with the formation of 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 the 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; and as we have already proved the necessity of direct exercises of creative power to keep up the generations of living creatures; so Moses may, for any thing we know, be giving us the full history of the last great interposition, and be describing the successive steps by which the mischiefs of the last catastrophe were repaired.
I take a friend to see a field which belongs to me, and I give him a history of the way in which I managed it. In the beginning I enclosed that field. It was then in a completely wild and unbroken state. I pared it. This took up one week. I removed the great stones out of it. This took up another week. On the third, week, I entered the plough into it: and thus, by describing the operations of each week, I may lay before him the successive steps by which I brought my field into cultivation. It does not strike me that there is any violence done to the above narrative, by the supposition that the enclosure of the field was a distinct and anterior thing to the first week’s operation. The very description of its state after it was enclosed, is an interruption to the narrative of the operations, and leaves me at liberty to consider the work done after this description of the state of the field as the whole work of the first week. The enclosure of the field may have taken place one year, or even twenty years before the more detailed improvements were entered upon.
The first clause of the second verse is just such another interruption; and it is remarkable, that there is no similar example of it in describing the work of any of the following days, so as to divide one part of the day’s work from the other. It is true, that, in some cases, it is said that God saw it to be good; but there is no imperfection ascribed to any thing, as it resulted immediately from the creating power. It is always said to be good in that state in which it came directly out of his hand; and if in the second verse, it is said of the earth, not that it was good, but that it was without form and void; this may look not like a description of its state immediately after it came out of the hand of God, but of its state after one of those catastrophes which geologists assign to it.
It is further remarkable, that there is a unity in the work of, each of the five days. The work of the second day relates only to the firmament; of the third day, to the separation of sea and land; of the fourth day, the formation of the celestial bodies; of the fifth, to the creation of the sea; and of the sixth, to that of land animals. This unity of work would be violated on the first day, if the primary act of creation were to form part of it; and the uniformity is better kept up by separating the primary act from all the succeeding operations, and making the formation and division of light, the great and only work of the first day.
The same observation may apply to all the celestial bodies that are visible to this world. The creation of the heavens may have taken place as far antecedently to the details of the first chapter of Genesis, as the creation of the earth. It is evident, however, that if the earth had been at some former period the fair residence of life, she had now become void and formless; and if the sun and moon and stars at some former period had given light, that light had been extinguished. It is not our part to assign the cause of a catastrophe which carried so extensive a destruction along with it; but he were a bold theorist indeed, who could assert, that, in the wide chambers of immensity, no such cause is to be found. A thousand possibilities may be devised, each of which is consistent with the literal history of Moses; and though it is not incumbent on the one party to bring forward any one of these possibilities in the shape of a positive announcement, each of them must be overthrown by the other before that history can be abandoned; and it will be found, that while the friends of the Bible are under no necessity to depart from the sober humility of the inductive spirit, the charge of unphilosophical temerity lies upon its opponents.