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It might be thought to have been less easy to reconcile in men's minds the Copernican view of the universe with the very plain and direct averments contained in the opening chapter of Genesis. It can scarcely be said that this chapter is not intended in part to teach and convey at least some physical truth; and, taking its words in their plain sense, it manifestly gives a view of the universe adverse to that of modern science. It represents the sky as a watery vault, in which the sun, moon, and stars are set. But the discordance of this description with facts does not appear to have been so palpable to the minds of the seventeenth century as it is to us. The mobility of the earth was a proposition startling not only to faith, but to the senses. The difficulty involved in this belief having been successfully got over, other discrepancies dwindled in importance. The brilliant progress of astronomical science subdued the minds of men. The controversy between faith and knowledge gradually fell to slumber. The story of Galileo and the Inquisition became a school commonplace. The doctrine of the earth's mobility found its way into children's catechisms, and the limited views of the nature of the universe indicated in the Old Testament ceased to be felt as religious difficulties.
It would have been well if theologians had made up their minds to accept frankly the principle, that those things for the discovery of which man has faculties specially provided are not fit objects of a divine revelation. Had this been unhesitatingly done, either the definition and idea of divine revelation must have been modified, and the possibility of an admixture of error have been allowed, or such parts of the Hebrew writings as were found to be repugnant to fact must have been pronounced to form no part of revelation. The first course is that which theologians have most generally adopted, but with such limitations, cautels, and equivocations, as to be of little use in satisfying those who would know how and what God really has taught mankind, and whether anything beyond that which man is able and obviously intended to arrive at by the use of his natural faculties.
The difficulties and disputes which attended the first revival of science have recurred in the present century in consequence of the growth of geology. It is, in truth, only the old question over again, - precisely the same point of theology which is involved, although the difficulties which present themselves are fresh. The school-books of the present day, whilo they teach the child that the earth moves, yet assure him that it is a little less than six thousand years old, and that it was made in six days. On the other hand, geologists of all religious creeds are agreed that the earth has existed for an immense series of years, — to be counted by millions rather than by thousands; and that indubitably more than six days elapsed from its first creation to the
appearance of man upon its surface. By this broad discrepancy between old and new doctrine is the modern mind startled, as were the men of the sixteenth century when told that the earth moved.
When this new cause of controversy first arose, some writers, more hasty than discreet, attacked the conclusions of geologists, and declared them scientifically false. This phase may now be considered past; and, although school-books probably continue to teach much as they did, no well-instructed person now doubts the great antiquity of the earth any more than its motion. This being so, modern theologians, forsaking the maxim of Galileo, or only using it vaguely as an occasional make-weight, have directed their attention to the possibility of reconciling the Mosaic narrative with those geological facts which are admitted to be beyond dispute. Several modes of doing this have been proposed, which have been deemed more or less satisfactory. In a text-book of theological instruction widely used,* we find it stated in broad terms, “ Geological investigations, it is now known, all prove the perfect harmony between Scripture and geology, in reference to the history of creation.”
In truth, however, if we refer to the plans of conciliation proposed, we find them at variance with each other, and mutually destructive. The conciliators are not agreed among themselves, and each holds the views of the other to be untenable and unsafe. The ground is perpetually being shifted, as the advance of geological science may require. The plain meaning of the Hebrew record is unscrupulously tampered with ; and, in general, the pith of the whole process lies in divesting the text of all meaning whatever. We are told, that, Scripture not being designed to teach us natural philosophy, it is in vain to attempt to make out a cosmogony from its statements. If the first chapter of Genesis convey to us no information concerning the origin of the world, its statements cannot, indeed, be contradicted by modern discovery. But it is absurd to call this harmony. Statements such as that above quoted are, we conceive, little calculated to be serviceable to the interests of theology,
* Horne's Introduction to the Holy Scriptures, 1856, tenth edition.
still less to religion and morality. Believing, as we do, that, if the value of the Bible, as a book of religious instruction is to be maintained, it must be, not by striving to prove it scientifically exact at the expense of every sound principle of interpretation, and in defiance of common sense, but by the frank recognition of the erroneous views of nature which it contains, we have put pen to paper to analyze some of the popular conciliation theories. The inquiry cannot be deemed a superfluous one, nor one which, in the interests of theology, had better be let alone. Physical science goes on unconcernedly pursuing its own paths. Theology, the science whose object is the dealing of God with man as a moral being, maintains but a shivering existence, shouldered and jostled by the sturdy growths of modern thought, and bemoaning itself for the hostility which it encounters. Why should this be, unless because theologians persist in clinging to theories of God's procedure towards man, which have long been seen to be untenable? If, relinquishing theories, they would be content to inquire from the history of man what this procedure has actually been, the so-called difficulties of theology would, for the most part, vanish of themselves.
The account which astronomy gives of the relations of our earth to the rest of the universe, and that which geology gives of its internal structure and the development of its surface, are sufficiently familiar to most readers. But it will be necessary for our purpose to go over the oft-trodden ground, which must be done with rapid steps. Nor let the reader object to be reminded of some of the most elementary facts of his knowledge. The human race has been ages in arriving at conclusions now familiar to every child.
This earth, apparently so still and steadfast, lying in majestic repose beneath the ethereal vault, is a globular body, of comparatively insignificant size, whirling fast through space round the sun as the centre of its orbit, and completing its revolution in the course of one year; while, at the same time, it revolves daily once about its own axis, thus producing the changes of day and night. The sun, which seems to leap up each morning from the east, and, traversing the skyey bridge, slides down into the west, is relatively, to our earth, motionless. In size and weight, it inconceivably surpasses it. The moon, which occupies a position in the visible heavens only second to the sun, and far beyond that of every other celestial body in conspicuousness, is but a subordinate globe, much smaller than our own, and revolving round the earth as its centre, while it accompanies it in yearly revolutions about the sun. Of itself it has no lustre, and is visible to us only by the reflected sunlight. Those beautiful stars, which are perpetually changing their position in the heavens, and shine with a soft and moon-like light, are bodies, some much larger, some less, than our earth, and, like it, revolve round the sun, by the reflection of whose rays we see them. The telescope has revealed to us the fact, that several of these are attended by moons of their own; and that, besides those which the unassisted eye can see, there are others belonging to the same family coursing round the sun. As for the glittering dust which emblazons the nocturnal sky, there is reason to believe that each spark is a self-luminous body, perhaps of similar material to our sun; and that the very nearest of the whole tribe is at an incalculable distance from us, the very least of them of enormous size com