Tuesday, 10 March 2015


A fierce controversy has been commenced in the Times, with some prospect of a continuation, on the subject of the incompatibility of recent geological speculations with the history of the Creation recorded in the inspired volume. The original propounder of the discussion is a writer who signs himself "Anti-Megatherium" and the chief objects of his invective are Drs. Buckland and Sedgwick. In the purpose of these invectives we confess we have very considerable sympathy ; the object of the writer being, as we suppose, to vindicate the sacred narrative against the attacks of a fallacious science, but we are sadly afraid that sometimes a misplaced zeal may do the work of deliberate hostility.
 There is a saying of the Count de Maistre on this subject which deserves to be quoted. It occurs in the fourth Conversation of the "Soirees de St. Petersbourg," and is to the following purpose:— "Against the narrative of Moses appeals have been made to History, Chronology, Astronomy, and Geology, &c. These observations have disappeared before the further researches of Science; but those men were greatly wise who despised them before and without inquiry; or who inquired only to find an answer, without ever doubting that there was an answer. Whenever a proposition is proved by the kind of evidence which is suited to it, any objection of whatever kind, even if it appear unanswerable, should not be allowed a hearing. God will some day give us grace to discover the solution of the apparent contradiction."
 This is surely a very proper answer to those "timid Christians," as Dr. Wiseman calls them, who are always jealously suspicious of the discoveries of science and the cultivation of general learning; and who, perhaps, nourish, unconsciously to themselves, a secret but not very honourable fear that Holy Writ may some day be caught tripping by these remorseless and unpalateable inquiries into the physical history of the world.
 The present, undoubtedly, is not the moment to underrate the evil tendencies and intentions of that school of geologists—which is not yet extinct—who deliberately strive to pervert geological science into an engine of assault against Christianity. There are still plenty of " men of science" who nourish the same views, and who are possessed by a passion for overthrowing the Cosmogony of Moses by the aid of Ichthyosauri and fossil shells. These perverters of science are to be met with in every assembly of sprouting naturalists, and their shallow and flimsy sophistry is but too apt to gain the assent of young, half-informed, and thoughtless persons, who are but very moderately acquainted with the boundaries of natural and supernatural knowledge. Such evildoers we should be anxious to visit with the utmost severity of censure. But, at same time, we think that those inquirers who in a modest, reverent, and undogmatic spirit pursue their researches into the phenomena of nature, (to the best of their ability) accumulating facts, and honestly drawing inferences from them; animated by no spirit of hostility to revelation; and endeavouring as best they may to reconcile their discoveries with the text of Holy Writ, ought to be met with by a very different treatment. If their interpretations of the Bible are—as will happen to men who have not made theology their study — occasionally unsound, let the error be pointed out and demonstrated. But we protest against a violent and indiscriminate assault against a particular class of researches, because some of the conclusions appear at variance with a narrow construction of the text of Scripture—a construction upon which the opinions of the soundest Divines are perhaps by no means uniformly agreed.
 There is, to be sure, for Catholics a certain additional peril when the sacred text is handled by Protestant inquirers, who, with the best intentions towards Christianity in general, are not bound by those Canons of theological criticism, which the Church recognises and has adopted; and hence, as has been abundantly proved, the too frequent Anti-Catholic tendency of the works of these modern English men of science. Hence, too, the absolute necessity of guarding the education of youth from the defilement of these anti-Catholic speculations. But this is a very different thing from a blind, unreasoning hostility to the conclusions of science, because at the first blush they seem to run counter to the sacred text, when the contradiction is any thing but necessary or unavoidable, and when the writers who try to establish the conclusions complained of, are perhaps, animated by a wish the very reverse of that which is attributed to them.
 When Dr. Chalmer's expresses a doubt whether the creation was any thing more than a "transformation of previously existing materials," we heartily agree with " Anti-Megatherium" in denouncing a speculation which is at once needless for any scientific purpose, and is at direct variance with any possible meaning of passages of Scripture, where the world is said to have been made by God out of nothing. (2 Mach. c. vii.) But what shall we say to the following tirade, taken from the same letter ?
 " Dr. Buckland's supposed discoveries, and those, I presume of his brother mineralogists, and geologists, lead, as I have said above, to the monstrous conclusion, which they utter without blush or shame, that this world must have been preceded by another, in which man did not exist; but, in his place, certain irrational animal, for whose inhabitancy exclusively, not only was the world formed, but over which these brute animals presided. And what, Sir, do your readers think were the brutes for whom the omniscient Being created the last world before this, in order, I suppose, that they might admire His works, adore His goodness, and sing His praises ? Crocodiles and lizards! Nay, start not, gentlemen, who have never read the marvellous works of Professors Buckland and Sedgwick,—start not at the words ; the last world, according to them, was made out of the old materials of a world before it; and was much longer in existence than the present world, being the exclusive abode—nay, the fee-simple and hereditary possession of lizards and crocodiles! 'During these ages of reptiles,' says Professor Buckland (they are his italics), ' neither the carnivorous nor lacustrine mammalia of the tertiary periods had begun to appear.' Sir, I will venture to assert that there is not in all the books of any kind now extant upon earth such disgusting nonsense to be found as in the following passage, gravely composed by Dr. Buckland, and, indeed, irresistibly resulting from his preceding positions:—
" ' When we see so large and important a range as has been assigned to reptiles among the former population of our planet, we cannot but regard with feelings of new and unusual interest the comparatively diminutive existing orders of that most ancient family of quadrupeds,with the very name of which we usually associate a sentiment of disgust. We shall view them with less contempt when we learn from the records of geological history that there was a time when reptiles not only constituted the chief tenants and most powerful possessors of the earth, but extended their dominion also over the waters of the sea, and that the annals of their history may be traced back through thousands of years antecedent to that latest point in the progressive stages of animal creation when the first parents of the human race were called into existence.'—Vol. 1, p 167.
 " ' These extinct animals and vegetables (oh for a salad out of the latter during this weather !) could, therefore, (Dr. Buckland states elsewhere), have formed no part of the creation with which we are immediately connected.' "—Page 17
 Now, we have no pretension to write confidently on Geology, or on the interpretation of the Book of Genesis as connected with that science. But so far as we can understand the quotation from Dr. Buckland's work, we confess that we can see nothing in it either to disgust us or to alarm our faith. Indeed we think there is nothing in this passage which differs in any material point from the statements of Dr. Wiseman in his admirable "Lectures on the Connection between Science and Revealed Religion ;" nor does this great Catholic writer conceive that there is any real variance between " the startling discoveries of modern science" and the Mosaic account of the creation. On the contrary, he wisely takes occasion from the perfect agreement between these very discoveries and the sacred text to adduce a powerful argument in favour of that revelation which the most unsuspected improvements of physical science have failed to convict of the smallest (even apparent) inaccuracy. We shall quote a passage or two from these lectures, and we hope that our doing so may lead some of our readers to whom they have previously been unknown, to commence a speedy acquaintance with them.
 Dr. Wiseman first states some reasons for believing, that there may have been an interval between the first act of Creation, and the subsequent ordering of things as they now exist.
   " In the first place, the modern geologist must, and gladly will, acknowledge the accuracy of the statement, that after all things were made, the earth must have been in a state of chaotic confusion; in other words, that the elements, which later were to combine in the present arrangement of the globe, must have been totally disturbed, and probably in a state of conflicting action. What the duration of this anarchy was, what peculiar features it presented, whether it was one course of unmodified disorder, or was interrupted by intervals of peace and quiet, of vegetable and animal existence, the Scripture has concealed from our knowledge; while it has said nothing to discourage such investigation as may lead us to any specific hypothesis regarding it. Nay, it would seem as though that indefinite period had been purposely mentioned, to leave scope for the meditation and the imagination of man. The words of the text do not merely express a momentary pause between the first fiat of creation, and the production of light; for the participial form of the verb, whereby the spirit of God, the creative energy, is represented as brooding over the abyss, and communicating to it the productive virtue, naturally expresses a continuous, not a passing, action. The very order observed in the six days' creation, which has reference to the present disposition of things, seems to show that divine power loved to manifest itself by gradual developements, ascending as it were, by a measured scale from the inanimate to the organised, from the insensible to the instinctive, from the irrational to man. And what repugnance is there in the supposition, that, from the first creation of the rude embryo of this beautiful world, to the dressing out thereof with its comeliness and furniture, pro portioned to the wants and habits of man, it may have also chosen to keep a similar ratio and scale, through which life should have progressively advanced to perfection, both in its outward power, and in its outward instruments. If the appearances discovered by geology shall manifest the existence of any such plan, who will venture to say that it agrees not, by strictest analogy, with the ways of God, in the physical and moral rule of this world ? Or who will assert that it clashes with His sacred word, seeing that in this indefinite period, wherein this work of gradual developement is placed, we are left entirely in the dark ? Unless, indeed, with one now enjoying high ecclesiastical preferment, we suppose allusion made to such primeval revolutions, that is destructions and reproductions in the first chapter of Ecclesiastes; or with others we take the passages wherein worlds are said to have been created in their most literal sense."—(p. 102, 3 ; last edition.)
 Then after describing the "lizards and crocodiles," the extinct species, that excite so much the disgust of " Anti-Megatherium," the lecturer proceeds to adopt and enforce, in very beautiful language notions, very much resembling the " disgusting nonsense" which has been quoted from Dr. Buckland.
 " These examples, out of many may be sufficient to show you, that the species of animals found imbedded in limestone, or other rocks, have no corresponding types in the present world; and that, if we consider them in contrast with the existing genera; which are found in more superficial beds, we must conclude that they were not destroyed by the same revolution, as swept the latter from the face of the earth, to be renewed from the specimens preserved by God's command.
 "Some naturalists have, in spite of the valuable use made, by our geologists, of fossil remains, even in the comparison of mineralogical strata, persisted in excluding them from geology, as foreign to the science. But it is impossible to shut our eyes to the new light which these discoveries have shed upon its study, and, consequently, to neglect considering the relation in which the science thus enlarged, stands to the scriptural account. So far, I think that, however negative our conclusion may appear, it is highly important; for the first step in the connexion of any science with revelation, after it has passed through the tumultuary period of crude, conflicting theory, is, that it gives no result adverse to revelation. And this is, in fact, a positive confirmation. For, as I will more fully demonstrate in my concluding lecture, the beautiful manner in which the scriptural narrative, subjected to the examination of the most different pursuits, defies their power therein to discover any error, forms, in the aggregate of various examples, a strong positive truth of its unassailable veracity. Thus here, had the Scripture allowed no interval between creation and organisation, but declared that they were simultaneous, or closely consecutive, acts, we should, perhaps, have stood perplexed in the reconciliation between its assertions and modern discoveries. But when, in stead of this, it leaves an undecided interval between the two, nay more, informs us that there was a state of confusion and conflict, of waste and darkness, and a want of a proper basin for the sea, which thus would cover first one part of the earth, and then another; we may truly say, that the geologist reads in those few lines the history of the earth such as his monuments have recorded it, a series of disruptions, elevations, and dislocations; sudden inroads of the unchained element, entombing successive generations of ampbidious animals; calm but unexpected subsidence of the waters, embalming in their various beds their myriads of aquatic inhabitants; alternations of sea and land and fresh-water lakes; an atmosphere obscured by dense carbonic vapour, which by gradual absorption in the waters, was cleared away, and produced the pervading mass of calcereous formations; till at length came the last revolution preparatory for our creation; when the earth, being now sufficiently broken for that beautiful diversity which God intended to bestow on it, or to produce those landmarks and barriers which his foreseeing councils had designed the work of ruin was suspended, save for one more great scourge; —and the earth remained in that state of sullen and gloomy prostration, from which it was recalled by the reproduction of light, and the subsequent work of six days' creation.
 " But I think we may well say, that even on this first point of our geological investigation, science has gone farther, than I have stated. For I think we are in a fair way to discover so beautiful a simplicity of action in the causes which have produced the present form of the earth, and, at the same time, such a manifest approach to the progressive method manifested in the known order of God's works, as to confirm, if such a term may be used; all that he hath manifested in his own sacred word."
 We have only to add, that in the lecture (the fifth) from which these passages are quoted will be found a sufficient refutation of the old story of the Canon Recupero, which is positively not even founded on fact, is an invention of an English traveller, Brydone, who repaid the good Canon's kindness by belying and slandering him.

Morning Chronicle 22 November 1845

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