A strange and singular argument has frequently been brought against the truth of the facts presented to us by Geology,—facts which every instructed person may confirm by the evidence of his senses. It has been asserted that they cannot be true; because, if admitted, they lead inevitably to the conclusion, that the earth has existed for an enormous period, extending, perhaps, over millions of years; whereas, it was supposed, from the history of the creation as delivered by Moses, that the [63/64] earth was first created about six thousand years ago.
A different interpretation has been lately put upon that passage of the sacred writings; and, according to the highest authorities of the present time, it was not the intention of the writer of the book of Genesis to assign this date to the creation of our globe, but only to that of its most favoured inhabitants.
Now, it is obvious that additional observations, and another advance in science, may at no distant period render necessary another interpretation of the Mosaic narrative; and this again, at a more remote time, may be superseded by one more in accordance with the existing knowledge of that day. And thus, the authority of Scripture will be gradually undermined by the weak though well-intentioned efforts of its friends in its support. For it is clear that when a work, translated by persons most highly instructed in its language, and seeking, [64/65] in plainness and sincerity, to understand its true meaning, admits of such discordant interpretations, it can have little authority as a history of the past, or a guide to the future.
It is time, therefore, to examine this question by another light, and to point out to those who support what is called the literal interpretation of Scripture, the precipice to which their doctrines, if true, would inevitably lead; and to show, not by the glimmerings of elaborate criticism, but by the plainest principles of common sense, that there exists no such fatal collision between the words of Scripture and the facts of nature. And first, let us examine what must of necessity be the conclusion of any candid mind from the mass of evidence presented to it. Looking solely at the facts in which all capable of investigation agree—facts which it is needless to recite, they having been so fully and ably stated in the works of Mr. Lyell and [65/66] Dr. Buckland, — we there see, and with no theoretic eye, the remains of animated beings, more and more differing from existing races, as we descend in the series of strata. Not merely are the petrified bones preserved, displaying marks of the insertion of every muscle necessary for the movement of the living animal, but in some cases we discover even the secretions of their organs, prepared either for nourishment or for defence. Almost every stratum we pause to examine, affords indubitable evidence of having, at some former period, existed for ages at the bottom of some lake or estuary, some inland sea, or some extensive ocean teeming with animal existence, or of having been the surface of a country covered with vegetation, which perished and was renewed at distant and successive periods.
Those, however, who, without the knowledge which enables them to form an opinion on the subject, feel any latent wish that this evidence should be overthrown, would do [66/67] well to remember that geology also furnishes strong evidence in favour of the much more direct statement of Moses, as to the recent creation of man. And although we must ever feel a certain degree of caution in admitting negative evidence as conclusive; yet, in the present instance, the fact that the multitude of fossil bones which have been discovered, and which, when examined by persons duly qualified for the task, have been uniformly pronounced to be those of various tribes of animals, and not those of the human race, undoubtedly affords strong corroborative evidence in confirmation of the Mosaic account.
In truth, the mass of evidence which combines to prove the great antiquity of the earth itself, is so irresistible, and so unshaken by any opposing facts, that none but those who are alike incapable of observing the facts, and of appreciating the reasoning, can for a moment conceive the present state of its [67/68] surface to have been the result of only six thousand years of existence. What, then, have those accomplished who have restricted the Mosaic account of the creation to that diminutive period, which is, as it were, but a span in the duration of the earth's existence, and who have imprudently rejected the testimony of the senses, when opposed to their philological criticisms? Undoubtedly, if they have succeeded in convincing either themselves or others, that one side of the question must be given up as untenable; those who are so convinced are bound to reject that which rests on testimony, not that which is supported by still existing facts. The very argument which Protestants have opposed to the doctrine of transubstantiation,1 would, if [68/69] their view of the case were correct, be equally irresistible against the book of Genesis.
But let us consider what would be the conclusion of every reasonable being in a parallel case. Let us imagine a manuscript written three thousand years ago, and professing to be a revelation from the Deity, in which it was stated that the colour of the paper of the very book now in the reader's hands is black, and that the colour of the ink in the characters which he is now reading is white:—with that reasonable doubt of his own individual faculties which would become the inquirer into the truth of a statement said to be derived from so high an origin, he would ask of all those around him, whether to their senses the paper appeared to be black and the ink to be white. If he found the senses of other individuals agree with his own, then he would [69/70] undoubtedly pronounce the alleged revelation a forgery, and those who propounded it to be either deceived or deceivers. He would rightly impute the attempted deceit to moral turpitude, to gross ignorance, or to interested motives in the supporters of it; but he certainly would not commit the impiety of supposing the Deity to have wrought a miraculous change upon the senses of our whole species, and then to demand their belief in a fact directly opposed to those senses;—thus throwing doubt upon every conclusion of reason in regard to external objects, and amongst others, upon the very evidence by which the authenticity of that questionable manuscript was itself supported, and even upon the fact of its existence when before their eyes.
Thus, then, had those who attempt to show that the account of the creation, in the book of Genesis, is contradicted by the discoveries of modern science, succeeded, they would have destroyed the testimony of Moses—they would [70/71] have uncanonised one portion of Scripture, and by implication have thrown doubt on the remainder. But minds which thus failed to trace out the necessary consequences of their own argument, were not likely to have laid very secure foundations for the basis on which it rested; and I shall presently prove that the contradiction they have imagined can have no real existence; and that whilst the testimony of Moses remains unimpeached, we may also be permitted to confide in the testimony of our senses.