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THE STORY OF CREATION AS TOLD BY THEOLOGY AND BY SCIENCE.
BY T. S. ACKLAND, M.A.,
FORMERLY FELLOW OF CLARE COLLEGE, CAMBRIDGE; VICAR OF WOLD NEWTON, YORKSHIRE.
"SIRS, YE ARE BRETHREN: WHY DO YE WRONG ONE TO ANOTHER?"
CHAPTER I. THE CASE STATED CHAPTER II. DIFFICULTIES IN GEOLOGY CHAPTER III. DIFFICULTIES IN ASTRONOMY CHAPTER IV. DIFFICULTIES IN PHYSIOLOGY CHAPTER V. SCIENCE A HELP TO INTERPRETATION
THE CASE STATED.
The History of the Creation with which the Bible commences, is not a mere incidental appendage to God's Revelation, but constitutes the foundation on which the whole of that Revelation is based. Setting forth as it does the relation in which man stands to God as his Maker, and to the world which God formed for his abode, it forms a necessary introduction to all that God has seen fit to reveal to us with reference to His dispensations of Providence and of Grace.
It is, however, not uncommonly asserted that this history cannot be reconciled with a vast number of facts which modern science has revealed to us, and with theories based on observed facts, and recommended by the unquestioned ability of the men by whom they have been brought forward. At first sight there does seem to be some ground for this assertion. Geology, for instance, makes us acquainted with strata of rock of various kinds, arranged in exact order, and of an aggregate thickness of many miles, which are filled with the remains of a wonderful series of plants and animals, these remains not being promiscuously collected, but arranged in an unvarying order. It seems impossible that all these plants and animals could have lived and died, and been imbedded in the rocks in this exact succession, in six of our ordinary days. Astronomy directs our attention to changes now going on in the starry heavens which occupy ages in their development, and points to traces in the constitution of our own world which seem to indicate that it was formed by analogous means. Physiology reveals to us the fact that the different varieties of plants and animals now in existence are not separated from each other by well defined lines of demarcation, but shade into each other by almost imperceptible gradations; and geological researches show that while the existing species of animals are the representatives of those which lived and died at a period in which we can find no traces of man, they are not identical with them, but that either the old species must have died out, and been replaced by a fresh creation, or a considerable change must have taken place in the course of ages. These facts are held to be incompatible with the account of creation given by Moses, and hence it is inferred that a record, which appears to be so widely at variance with admitted facts, cannot be entitled to the authority which is claimed for it, as a fundamental portion of a Revelation made by the Creator Himself.
This difficulty is sometimes met by the assertion that the Bible was not given to us to teach us Science, but to convey to us certain information which was essential to our moral welfare, and which we could not obtain by any other means; that these discrepancies do not in any way interfere with that portion of those truths which is involved in the History of Creation, but that, however the narrative may be viewed as far as regards its details, the facts that God is the Creator of all things visible and invisible, that He is a Being of infinite Wisdom, Power, and Love, and that He has placed man in a peculiar relation to Himself, remain unaffected. On this ground it is often urged that we may pass over scientific inaccuracies as matters of no great importance.
Theologians are by no means agreed as to the nature and limits of that inspiration by which Holy Scripture was written. There are many who think that in matters purely incidental to its main object, and lying within the reach of human faculties, the sacred writers were left to the ordinary sources of information, and that many alleged difficulties may be removed by this view.
But whatever may be thought of the application of this hypothesis to some parts of the Bible, there are others to which it is plainly inapplicable, and of these the narrative of the Creation is evidently one. No theory of limited inspiration can be admitted to explain any supposed inaccuracies in that narrative. It cannot be liable to those imperfections which are inevitable when men have to obtain knowledge by the ordinary means, because there were no ordinary means by which such information could be obtained. The most carefully preserved records, the oldest traditions could not extend backwards beyond the moment when the first man awoke to conscious existence. For every thing beyond that point the only source of knowledge available was information derived from the Creator Himself. It may be that a revelation of this character was made to Adam in the days of his innocence, that it was carefully handed down to his descendants, and that Moses, under the divine direction, incorporated it into his history; or it may have been directly communicated to Moses by special inspiration—that matters not—but a divine revelation it must have been, or it is nothing; the dream of a poet, or the theory of a philosopher, if we can believe that such a philosopher existed at such a time. But if it be indeed a revelation from the Creator Himself, we cannot imagine that He could fall into any error, or sanction any misrepresentation with reference even to the smallest detail of His own work.
If then there are really any errors in this record—any assertions which the discoveries of science have proved to be untrue, we cannot account for them on any theory of limited inspiration. A single proved error would be fatal to the authority of the whole narrative. But, on the other hand, we are not justified in expecting such an account of the Creation as would commend itself to the scientific intellect of the present day. When we attempt to form a judgment upon it. We must look not only to its alleged author, but also to the purposes for which, the circumstances under which, and the persons to whom it was given. In these we may expect to meet with many limitations. It was not designed for the communication of scientific knowledge, it was necessarily conveyed in human language, and addressed to human intelligence, that language and that intelligence being, not as they are now, but as they were, taking the latest possible date that can be assigned to it, considerably more than three thousand years ago.
This last consideration affects not only the record itself, but also our facilities for understanding and forming a judgment upon it. We have to contend with difficulties of interpretation arising from our inability fully to realize the circumstances under which it was given, and to place ourselves in the mental position of its original recipients. Owing to our want of this power it may well happen, that though we are in possession of vastly increased knowledge, we may be far more liable to fall into error in some directions, in the interpretation of it, than those to whom it was originally addressed.
An additional difficulty arises from the circumstance that our knowledge, wonderfully as it has been increased of late, is yet very far from complete, and is probably in many cases still mixed with error. Hence it may very well happen that where there is complete harmony between the history and the facts, we may suspect discord owing to our misunderstanding of the record, or our misconception of the facts. In order that the harmony may be recognized in its fulness, there must be a perfect understanding of the record, and a perfect knowledge of the facts. But from both of these we are probably at present very far removed.
If a person who was a thorough master of some science undertook to write a treatise for the purpose of teaching children the rudiments of that science, we should expect, and the more strongly if the author were a master of language as well as of science, that his work should contain indications of a master's hand. We should expect that while the book conveyed clearly and simply to the minds of those for whom it was written, the truths which it was intended to teach, it should also convey to the more educated reader some intimations of a deeper knowledge on the part of its author. The choice of a word, the turn of a phrase, the order in which facts were arranged, the occurrence here and there of a sentence which an ordinary reader would pass over as unimportant, would to such a person be indications of trains of thought far more profound than those which appeared on the surface. And this recognition would be proportional to two things—the amount of scientific knowledge possessed by the reader, and his mastery of the language in which the book was written.
Such, then, are the characteristics which we may expect to find in the Record of Creation, if it be indeed, as we believe, a revelation from God, made to men in a very low stage of intellectual development. In order that we may be able to form a satisfactory judgment of it, it will be well for us to consider a little in detail two classes of difficulties. 1. Those which belong to the Revelation itself, arising from the limitations to which it was necessarily subject in its delivery. 2. Those which arise from our imperfect knowledge of the language in which it is written, and from our inability to place ourselves in the intellectual position of those to whom it was originally given.
1. When this record was committed to writing, language was in a very different condition from that in which it is now. We have an account of the first recorded exercise of the faculty of speech in Gen. ii. 19. Adam first used it to give names to all the living creatures as they passed in review before him. In accordance with this statement it appears, from the researches of philologists, that language in its earliest state was entirely, or almost entirely limited to words denoting sensible objects and actions. It seems probable that these names were derived from radicals expressing general ideas [Footnote: Max Muller's Lectures on the Science of Language, First Series Lect. viii. ix.]; but there is reason to doubt whether these radicals ever had a formal existence as words—they seem rather to have been the mental stock out of which words were produced. But the human mind had from the first powers for the exercise of which this limited vocabulary was insufficient. Even in the outer world there was much which was the object of reason and inference rather than of sense, while the whole world of consciousness was entirely unprovided with the means of expression. To meet this difficulty words, which originally denoted objects of sense, were used figuratively to express ideas which bore some resemblance or analogy, real or fancied, to their original significance. As time passed on this difficulty was gradually diminished: synonyms crept into all languages from various sources, and when once adopted, they were in many cases gradually differentiated, the various senses which the original word had borne were portioned off among them, and increased precision was thus obtained.
But in the infancy of mankind the figurative system was in full operation. Hence, all early documents have a strong tinge of the poetic element. Poetry, strictly so called, probably had not as yet a separate existence; but the whole spoken and written language was permeated by that poetic spirit which delights in tracing subtle analogies, and in expressing the invisible by means of the visible. The translation of the Sanscrit Hymns, which has recently appeared [Footnote: Hymns of the Big Veda Sanhita, translated by Max Muller, vol. i.], furnishes a most valuable illustration of this state of thought and of language. These hymns are probably nearly coeval with the Pentateuch. They were the production of a different branch of the human family, and indicate a different tone of thought, but they bring out very clearly the figurative character of primitive language, abounding in fanciful descriptions of natural phenomena, which, when their metaphorical, character was forgotten, passed by an easy transition into the graceful myths and legends of early Greece.
Then there was a poverty in these primitive vocabularies even in reference to sensible objects, which in many cases rendered it necessary to employ the same word in more or less extensive significations, and in the Semitic languages the power of inflexion was in some directions very limited. This limitation is most remarkable in the forms used for the expression of time. One form alone was available to express those modifications which are indicated by the imperfect, perfect, pluperfect, and aorist tenses of the classical languages.
Instances of all these sources of uncertainty meet us very early in Genesis. In the very first verse we have a word, [Hebrew script], which has great latitude of meaning. It is either the earth as a whole (ver. 1), or the land as distinguished from the water (ver. 10), or a particular country (ii. 11). In many cases, as in all these, the context at once determines the sense to be chosen; but there are other cases in which considerable difficulty arises. The whole question of the universality of the deluge turns, in a great degree, upon the signification which is assigned to this same word in the sixth and following chapters. In the second verse we have another word, [Hebrew script], which is capable of various interpretations. It is used throughout the Bible in the three distinct meanings of "wind," "breath," and "spirit." Where we read, "And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters," the Jewish paraphrase is, "And a wind of God (i.e. a great wind) moved," &c. Here there is nothing in the context to assist us in determining the sense to be chosen; but, as will be seen in the sequel, modern science indicates that the Jewish interpretation is untenable, and that our translation is, consequently, the correct one. As an instance of confusion of time, we may refer to ii. 19. In our translation this verse seems to place the creation of animals after that of man; but in xii. 1, the very same form is translated by the pluperfect, "Now the Lord had said unto Abram." It ought evidently to be translated in the same way here: "And out of the ground the Lord God had formed," &c. In ii. 5, on the other hand, the pluperfect might with advantage have given place to another form: "For the Lord God did not cause it to rain." The phenomenon referred to appears to have been local and temporary. Had the pluperfect been omitted in one case and supplied in the other two sources of apparent difficulty would have been removed.
It is very clear, then, that there could be no approach to scientific accuracy in a narrative written in such a language as this. Such accuracy is, in fact, attainable only in proportion, as science has moulded language for its own purposes. But language is at all times an index of the general mental condition of the people who use it, and so the knowledge and the ideas of the men of these primitive times must have been extremely limited in all those directions with which we have to do. Accordingly, we find no trace of any doubt whether the information with reference to external objects which was received through the senses was in all cases to be depended on. There can be little doubt that to those early observers the sky was a solid vault, on the face of which the sun, moon, and planets moved in their appointed courses; the stars were points of light, golden studs in the azure canopy; the sun and moon were just as large as they appeared to be, and the earth was a solid immovable plane of comparatively small extent. At the time of the Exodus, it seems clear that, even among a people so far advanced as the Egyptians, all that lay beyond the mountains which bounded their land on the west was believed to belong not to living men, but to disembodied spirits. It was the terrible country through which the souls of the departed made their arduous way to the Hall of Judgment [Footnote: "The Nations Around," pp. 49, 50.] Accordingly, we find that the Egyptians made no attempt to extend the limits of their empire in this direction, while the monarchs of the Mesopotamian region seem to have been equally unambitious of conquest beyond the mountain ranges which bounded the valley of the Tigris on the east. Mesopotamia, then, on the east, Egypt on the west, Armenia and Asia Minor on the north, and Arabia on the south, seem, in the view of the contemporaries of Moses, to have been the utmost regions of the world. Ignorant as they were of any countries beyond these, they were, of course, equally ignorant of the numberless varieties of plants and animals that were to be found in them, and with which we are familiar. Mining was not unknown, but the mines were few and superficial; they could not reveal much of the structure of the earth, and what little they did reveal passed unnoticed. Nothing was known of the successive beds of rock which form the crust of the earth, of the fossils with which they abound, or of the gradual changes to Which they are still subject. If any one had told the men of that generation that the solid earth on which they stood, or the everlasting hills which surrounded them, were undergoing slow but steady modifications, he would have been looked upon as a madman.
A revelation, then, addressed to men whose language, whose intellectual powers, and whose stock of ideas were thus limited, must of itself also necessarily have been both limited and destitute of precision. It could only deal with things with which they had some acquaintance, or of which they could form some idea, while, from the character of the language, and the extreme brevity of the record, the treatment of even these few subjects must have been of a vague and indefinite character. Traces of a deeper knowledge there might be, but they would not lie upon the surface. They must be carefully sought for, and then they would be discernible only by those who were in possession of the key which would unlock their hidden secrets.
Such are the limitations under which the revelation was necessarily given. We have now to consider our own especial difficulties, the obstacles which stand in our way when we would discover for ourselves all the information which the record is capable of conveying. For if this record be, as we believe, the work of the Great Architect of the Universe, then it is probable that its every detail is significant; that wherever it was possible words were chosen which, when scrutinized, would convey much more information than appeared on the surface. The great problem for us to solve is, What are the difficulties which stand in our way when we would seek this knowledge, and what are the means by which those difficulties may be surmounted, and the hidden treasure displayed?
Our first difficulty arises from a matter which, viewed in another light, is one of our greatest blessings. We are familiar with the Record through the medium of our own noble version. Probably it is impossible for any translation more exactly to represent the original as it presented itself in the first instance to the minds of those to whom it was addressed. Accordingly we learn it in our earliest childhood; its majestic phrases imprint themselves on our memory; our undeveloped minds seem capable of taking in all that it was intended to convey, and so the impressions formed of it in our infancy abide with us all our days. We are contented with them, and do not trouble ourselves to inquire whether there is not something beyond, which we have not realized.
All this time we forget that, excellent as it is, it is after all only a translation, and that the very best translation cannot represent in their fulness the ideas embodied in the original. Etymological relations between words often give a force and meaning to a sentence which it is impossible to transfuse into another language, because the same relations do not exist between the words which we are constrained to employ. Then there is an intimate relation between men's thoughts and the language which they habitually use, so that those thoughts cannot be perfectly expressed in a language whose character is different. Again in every language there are many words which bear several cognate senses, which may be represented by as many different words in the language of the translation; so that if the best word is chosen, much of the fulness of the original must be lost; while it may so happen that the selected word has also a variety of significations, which do not correspond with the varying meanings of the original word, and thus senses may be ascribed to the original which it will not bear, because the reader annexes to the word in the translation a sense different from that in which it corresponds to the original word. To all these sources of imperfection must be added the fact that our translation was made at a time when science was not yet sufficiently developed to exercise any influence upon it. There was nothing to induce the translators to attempt, where it was possible, to preserve any indications of a deeper meaning, because they had no reason to suspect that any such deeper meaning existed, or that any indications of such a meaning were to be found.
To the difficulties of translation must be added the difficulties of accumulated tradition. The characteristics which mark our own childish intellect are apparent also in the collective intellect of the human race in its earlier and ruder development. There are two characteristics of the human mind in this condition, which have had a very great effect on the interpretation of this portion of the Bible.
The first of these is the impatience of doubt and uncertainty. The power of recognizing the imperfection of our knowledge, and the consequent necessity of suspending our judgment, is a power which is only gradually acquired with the accumulation of experience. The young untrained mind finds it difficult to realize the truth that any information communicated to it is not altogether within the grasp of its faculties. It must attach some definite meaning to the words; it must image to itself some way in which great events were brought about, great works were accomplished. It finds it difficult to realize a fact as accomplished, unless it can also picture to itself some way in which it might have been effected. For this purpose such knowledge as it has at its command is employed, and where that fails recourse is had to the imagination to supply the deficiency. Thus it has been with ourselves in our childhood, and thus it was in the childhood of the world. Knowledge was indeed sought, but it was not sought in the right way, and so the search often resulted in error, and this error produced its effect in the interpretation of the passage in question. The old school of inquirers started from certain abstract principles, and endeavoared to reduce the results of observation to conformity with those principles. This was the case with astronomy. The old astronomers taking as axioms the two assumptions that everything connected with the heavenly bodies must be perfect, and that the circle is the only perfect figure, easily satisfied themselves that the orbits of all the heavenly bodies must be circles. Hence came the
"Cycle on epicycle, orb on orb,"
by which they sought to account for the phenomena which they observed. When once the method was changed, when once it had occurred to Kepler that, as it seemed to be impossible to account for the apparent motion of Mars by any theory of circular orbits, it might be worth while to try to ascertain by observation what its orbit really was, a few years of patient labour sufficed to solve the problem.
It was science such as this, then, that our forefathers brought to the interpretation of the Mosaic Record, and the consequence was that when, from time to time, facts were casually brought to light which might have led the way to vast discoveries, their true significance was never discerned; all that was sought from them was some additional support to the old views. Thus sometimes gigantic bones were exhumed: without investigation, it was at once assumed that they were human bones, and they were brought forward to prove the truth of the statement, "There were also giants in the earth in those days." Sea-shells were found on mountain sides, far from and high above the sea—they were evidences of the Deluge.
The second characteristic of that state of mind is its admiration of the startling and the vast. In these alone it recognizes the tokens of unlimited power. It is unable to appreciate those more majestic manifestations of power which are discerned by the enlightened eye, when a stupendous scheme is developed, gradually and imperceptibly, but without pause or hesitation through a long succession of ages; when a multitude of seemingly discordant elements are at last brought together in a perfect work; when a power, unseen and unnoticed, slowly but surely overrules the working of ten thousand apparently independent agents, through a thousand generations, and moulds their separate works into one harmonious whole. Such a manifestation of power as this was beyond the grasp of the untrained mind; but to such intellects there was something irresistibly fascinating in the idea of a world rising into perfect existence in a moment, of innumerable hosts of living creatures called into being at a word. Such was the meaning of the account of creation which naturally suggested itself to the untrained mind, and there was nothing in science in those early days to throw any doubt upon it, and so this belief was unhesitatingly and almost universally adopted. Here and there, indeed, some man of deeper thought than his brethren, such as St. Augustine [Footnote: See St. Augustine, "De Genesi ad Literam," Liber Imperfectus, and Libri Duodecim, and also "Confessionum" Liber xiii.], suspected that there might be more in that seemingly simple record than was generally acknowledged; but such men had no means of verifying their conjectures, and their number was very small. For three thousand years the old view was practically unquestioned, it received the tacit sanction of the Church, it gradually became identified in the minds of all with the record itself, and was as much an article of faith as the very Creed.
This was the state of things, when at last science awoke from its long slumber, and began for the first time to employ its energies in the right direction. Very soon discoveries were made which startled the minds of all believers in the Bible. The first shock which the old belief sustained was from the establishment of the Copernican view of the Solar System. That the world was the immovable centre of the universe, around which sun, moon, and planets moved in their appointed courses, was universally held to be the express teaching of the Bible; and when Galileo ventured to maintain the new views in Italy, the Roman Curia took up the question, and by the agency of the Inquisition wrung from him a reluctant retractation of his so-called heresy. But it was of no avail. The new doctrine was true, and it could not be crushed. Fresh evidence of its truth was continually coming forward, till at last it was universally received. Then the defenders of the Bible had recourse to the suggestion that as the Bible was not intended to teach us science, such errors were of no consequence, But this argument, though perfectly sound with reference to such passages as Joshua x. 12-14, where an event is described as it appeared to those who witnessed it, is not admissible in such a passage as Psalm xcvi. 10, where the supposed immobility of the earth is alleged as a proof of God's sovereignty, and is made the foundation of the duty of proclaiming that sovereignty among the heathen. When the supposed proof was found to be a fallacy, the statement in support of which it was alleged would be more or less shaken. In such a passage, then, the theory of limited inspiration is evidently untenable. At last the only sensible course was adopted. Recourse was had to the original, and it was at once apparent that the supposed difficulty had no real existence, but that there was a very trifling inaccuracy in the translation; for that the word translated "shall not be moved" really signified "shall not be shaken or totter." The same word is used in Psalm xvii. 5, "Hold up my goings in Thy paths, that my footsteps SLIP NOT." Instead, then, of an error, we have an exact description of the earth's motion—a motion so steady and equable, that for thousands of years no single individual out of the myriads who were continually carried along by it had ever suspected its existence.
Well had it been for all if the lesson thus taught had been deeply laid to heart. But unhappily it was entirely unnoticed. Science pursued its way with increasing energy, and more facts were year by year brought to light which seemed entirely to contradict the teaching of the Bible, and again alarm and distrust sprung up in the minds of what, for want of a better name, we may perhaps be allowed to designate as the "Theological Party." The power of the Church of Rome was by this time so far curtailed that the old means of repression were no longer available; but the old spirit survived, and not in Rome only. There was the same blind distrust, the same mistaken zeal for supposed truth, the same indignation which naturally arises when things which we hold precious are attacked, and, as it seems to us, without any sufficient reason.
There was indeed much to account for and even to justify the feelings of anger and alarm which were excited, for the time when these discoveries began to be brought prominently forward was the latter half of the last century. At that time the famous French Academy was doing its deadly work, and the new discoveries were gladly hailed by the infidel philosophers of France, as weapons against the Bible. But the reception given to these discoveries by the theological party, though partially justified by the circumstances of the times, was nevertheless very mischievous in its results. For though the new discoveries were hailed enthusiastically by the infidel school, a very large portion of the men by whom they were made, and of those who were convinced of their truth, were men of a very different character. They were simple earnest seekers after truth as it is displayed in God's works. Their belief in the Bible rested in most cases on the authority of others. They had not investigated for themselves its external evidences; in many cases they had neither the ability nor the opportunity to do so; nor had many of them as yet become practically familiar with that internal evidence which the faithful Christian carries within him, though in time they might have become so, had they not been driven into infidelity by the reception which was given to their discoveries. When men of this character were informed by those to whom they were accustomed to look up as teachers in religious matters, that the discoveries, of the truth of which they were so firmly convinced, and in which they took such justifiable pride, were contradictory to the teaching of the Bible, they were placed in a position of extreme difficulty. For this statement was, in fact, a demand made upon them that they should give up these discoveries as erroneous, or else renounce their belief in the Bible. But their belief in the Bible rested in the main on the authority of others; they felt themselves incompetent judges of the evidence on which it rested, while they were fully acquainted with, and competent judges of, the grounds on which their own discoveries were based. The evidence on which they acted was, to their minds, quite as convincing as the Biblical evidence was to the minds of their antagonists. Two things, then, were pronounced incompatible by what seemed to be a competent authority; they could not adhere to both, and the natural consequence was that their assent was given to those statements which rested on evidence which they thoroughly understood, and the Bible was rejected. Thus it has come to pass that many of our scientific men, if not professed unbelievers, have yet learnt to look upon the Bible with suspicion and distrust. To some of them, as is evident from their writings, their position is a matter of profound sorrow.
There have, indeed, been many noble exceptions to this state of things. Many men whose pre-eminence in scientific knowledge and research is admitted by all, have yet clung in childlike trust to the Bible. They have recognized its authority, they have been satisfied that God's Word could not be in opposition to His Work, and they have been content to wait in unquestioning faith for the day when all that now seems dark and perplexing shall be made clear. But there have also been very many with whom this has not been the case, and their unbelief has not affected themselves alone. The knowledge of it has had a deadly effect upon thousands who were utterly incompetent to form any judgment on either theological or scientific subjects, but who gladly welcomed anything which would help to justify them to their own consciences in their refusal to submit themselves to a law which, in their ignorance, they deemed to be harsh and intolerable. There has also been another class of sufferers. Many persons who loved the Bible, but whose education, and, consequently, whose powers of judgment in the matter were very limited, have received very great injury from the doubt which has been thrown on its authority. Unable of themselves to form a judgment on the subject, they could not be unmoved by the opinion expressed by those whom they regarded as better informed than themselves. Hence their faith has received a shock always painful and dangerous, often perhaps fatal.
Many attempts have been made to overcome the difficulty which has thus arisen. When geologists first began to study the lessons which are to be learnt from fossils, a suggestion was made which, though it was soon shown to be untenable, has still perhaps a few supporters. It was said that these fossils were not what they seemed to be, the remains of creatures which once lived, but simple stones, fashioned from the first in their present form by the will of the Creator. But such an idea is at variance with all that either Nature or Revelation teaches us concerning God. All those who have any familiarity with the subject cannot but feel that the suggestion of such a solution of the difficulty is little short of a suggestion that the Almighty has stamped a lie upon the face of His own Work.
Another proposed solution, which for a time seemed satisfactory, assumed several successive creations and destructions of the world to have taken place in the interval between the first and second verses of Genesis. To these all the fossil remains were ascribed, while the present state of things was supposed to be the result of the operations recorded in the remainder of the chapter. But as geological knowledge advanced, it soon became clear that there were no breaks in the chain of life; no points at which one set of creatures had died out, while another had not yet arisen to fill up the void, but that all change had been gradual and progressive, and that species still living on the earth are identical with some which were in existence when the lowest tertiary strata were in process of formation—a time which must have been many thousand years prior to the appearance of man.
Other attempts have been made upon literary grounds. Hugh Miller [Footnote: Testimony of the Rocks.] carefully worked out a suggestion derived from a German source, that the history of Creation was presented to Moses in a series of six visions, which appeared to him as so many days with intervening nights. More recently Dr. Rorison [Footnote: In Answers to "Essays and Reviews."] has maintained that the first chapter of Genesis is not a history at all, but a poem—"the Hymn of Creation." There is, however, nothing in the chapter itself to confirm either of these views. When visions are recorded elsewhere we are told that they are visions, but no such hint is given us here. Nor do we find in the passage any of the characteristics of Hebrew poetry. It is inserted in an Historical document, and in the absence of any proof to the contrary, it is plainly itself also to be regarded as History.
But there remains yet one method to be attempted. If there is reason to believe that the Bible is the Word of God, just as the universe is His Work, then we may well expect that each of them will throw light upon and help us to a right understanding of the other. And if there be one part beyond all others in which this may be confidently looked for, it is that part in which the Divine Architect describes His own work. We know how difficult it is to understand a complicated process, or a complex piece of machinery, from a mere written description; and how our difficulty is lessened if we have the opportunity of inspecting the machinery or the process. Just in the same way we may expect to encounter difficulties, and to form erroneous conclusions when we study by itself such a document as the history of Creation, and we may well expect that those difficulties will be diminished, and those errors corrected by an examination of that material universe, the production of which it describes. And, on the other hand, if science—the study of the universe—is found to throw light upon and to receive light from the Bible, this is a fresh proof that the Bible and the universe are from the same source; the authority of the Bible is more firmly established, and the conclusions arrived at by men of science are confirmed.
But before this can be done to any good purpose, something is required from both the contending parties. The theological party must be prepared to sacrifice many an old opinion, many a cherished belief. Great care must be taken to discriminate between the genuine statements of the Mosaic Record, and the old interpretations which have been incorporated into and identified with those statements. Some, perhaps, may fear lest, in rejecting those interpretations, they may be setting at nought an authority to which they ought to submit, since these interpretations seem to have the sanction of the Church. But it can hardly be maintained that those promises of Divine guidance and protection from error which were given to the Church extended to such matters as this. No question of faith or duty is involved in the interpretation which we may give to the details of Creation. If there are some parts of the Bible in which the earliest interpretation is unquestionably the true one, there are also other parts, such as many of the prophecies, which became intelligible only when light was thrown upon them by subsequent events. And so it seems to be with the Record of Creation: it can only be rightly understood in proportion as we become acquainted with the details of the matters to which it refers. Any interpretation which was put upon it before those details were brought to light must of necessity be liable to error.
But something is also required of the opposite party. At the very threshold of the investigation they must be asked to lay aside, so far as is possible, those prejudices against the Bible which have naturally arisen in their minds from the obstinacy with which views, which they knew to be untenable, have been forced upon their acceptance as the undoubted teaching of God, so that they may enter upon the investigation with unbiassed minds. Then they must be careful to distinguish between established facts, and theories however probable. There is something very fascinating in a well constructed theory. Theories have again and again done such good service in opening the way, first, to the discovery, and then to the arrangement of facts, that we are very apt to assign to them an authority far beyond that to which they are really entitled. When, for instance, we have ascertained that a certain number of facts are explained by some particular theory, we are apt to assume prematurely, that the same theory must account for and be in harmony with all similar and related facts; or, if we have satisfied ourselves that certain results MAY have been produced in a particular way, we are in great danger of being led to conclude that they MUST have happened in that way. No mere theory can have any weight against a statement resting on solid evidence, but where the evidence is weak, or, what is practically the same thing, where the knowledge of that evidence is defective, a probable theory must carry great weight in influencing our judgment. Care must therefore be taken to keep theories in their proper place. Where we have to deal with well-established facts, any interpretations to which those facts may lead us may be taken as also established, but interpretations which are suggested by theories only must be regarded as provisional, and liable to future modification or rejection, as our knowledge increases.
The Mosaic Record itself, when carefully examined, seems to be peculiarly open to the process suggested. No doubt there is yet much work for Philology to do in its interpretation [Footnote: Such words, for instance, as [Hebrew script:],[Hebrew script:], [Hebrew script], used of different creative acts, may imply some difference of which we are ignorant. So again the uses of the words [Hebrew script], [Hebrew script:], and [Hebrew script:] for "man," may have a bearing on some of those questions which now seem most perplexing.], but one thing seems certain—there is in it an absence of all detail. The facts to which it has reference are stated in the briefest and most simple manner, without the slightest reference to the means by which they were effected, or, apart from the question of the days, the time which was occupied in their accomplishment. When stripped of all that is traditional, and examined strictly by itself, the narrative seems greatly to resemble one of those outline maps which are supplied to children who are learning geography, on which only a few prominent features of the country are laid down, and the learner is left to fill in the details as his knowledge advances. Only in this case the details have already been filled in by the light of very imperfect knowledge, aided by a fertile imagination. These we must obliterate if we would restore the possibility of a faithful delineation, and we must be careful, in future, to avoid a similar error. We must put down nothing as certain which has not been conclusively shown to be so.
This last caution is specially needed at the present time, for, proud as we are of our advance in science, the amount of what is certainly known is probably very much less than we imagine. A great deal that was received as certain a few years ago, is now considered to be doubtful, or even recognized as a mistake and abandoned. This is especially the case with Astronomy, which seems to be almost in a state of revolution. Dependent, as it is almost entirely, upon mechanical and optical aid, every improvement and discovery in these departments changes its position, bringing to light new facts, and modifying the aspect of those which were previously known. The very basis of all astronomical calculations, the standard of time, is now no longer relied upon as invariable. It is suspected of a change resulting from a gradual retardation in the rate of the earth's rotation on its axis, produced by tidal friction. When the binary stars were discovered, the discovery was hailed as a proof of the universal prevalence of the law of gravitation. Later observations have thrown doubt upon that conclusion, as many pairs are known to exist, which, though they have what is termed a "common proper motion," or are journeying through space together, have no relative motion, which they must show, if they were moving under the influence of their mutual attractions. The supposed simplicity of the solar system has given place to extreme complexity. A century ago, six planets, ten satellites, and a few comets, were supposed to constitute the whole retinue of the sun: now, instead of this, we have two groups of four planets each, the individual members of each group closely resembling each other in all points within our knowledge, while in all these points the groups differ greatly. Between these two groups lies a belt of very small planets, of which the 1st was discovered on the first day of the present century, and the 124th this year, and the number of known satellites has increased from 10 to 17. Add to this the meteoric groups, and their suspected connexion with certain comets, and the perplexing questions suggested by the Solar Corona and the Zodiacal light, and it will be seen that our knowledge is in a transitional state; that with so many problems unsolved, any apparent contradiction to the sacred record will require a careful scrutiny to ascertain that the grounds on which it is brought forward are well established.
Geology, so far as our present subject is concerned, stands upon a somewhat different footing. Though a much younger science than astronomy, it has one great advantage over it; the facts with which it has to do are for the most part discernible by the unaided senses, and it is therefore independent of instrumental help. Many changes have occurred in the views of Geologists, but in the main they have reference to processes [Footnote: Such, for instance, is the modification of the views of geologists as to the relative effects of "disruption" and "denudation" in determining the features of the earth's surface.] rather than to results, and it is the results with which we are chiefly concerned.
Physiologists have entered on the contest with the Bible on two different, and seemingly contradictory grounds. Some of them have maintained that the varieties of mankind are so distinct, that it is impossible they can all be descended from a single human pair, while others assert that not only all the varieties of mankind, but all the varieties of living beings are descended from a single progenitor. Between the advocates of these two systems there must be such an enormous difference as to the extent to which variation is possible, as to justify us in assuming that the fundamental principles of physiological science are not yet satisfactorily ascertained.
These are the three branches of science which come especially into collision with the Mosaic Record of the Creation. Of these Geology is the most important, because it is able to bring forward unquestionable facts which are in direct opposition to the traditionary interpretation Astronomy and physiology have little to object except theoretical views; the hypotheses of Laplace and Darwin. These, however, will have to be carefully considered. It will be necessary for us first to ascertain whether there really exists any such fundamental discrepancy between the record and ascertained facts, or theories so far as they are supported by facts, and stand on a probable footing, as should render all attempts at harmonizing them vain. If this is found not to be the case, we shall then be in a position to inquire whether modern discoveries afford us any really valuable light, and can assist us to form a somewhat more extended and accurate idea of the processes described by the sacred historian.
DIFFICULTIES IN GEOLOGY.
The principal points on which there is a supposed discrepancy between the Mosaic Record and the discoveries of geologists are as follows:—
THE MOSAIC RECORD APPEARS TO ASSERT—
I. That the world in all its completeness, as it now exists, was moulded out of material in a chaotic state in six ordinary days. Geologists have ascertained, beyond the possibility of a doubt, that the process must have occupied countless ages.
II. That the first appearance of animal life was on the fifth of those six days. Geologists have discovered that animal life was in existence at the very earliest period to which they have as yet been able to extend their investigations.
III. That all living creatures are divided into two classes, and that the first of these classes was created on the fifth, the second on the sixth day; and that each class, in all its divisions, with the exception of man, came into existence simultaneously. Geologists trace the rise and increase of each class through a long course of ages.
IV. That death entered into the world through the sin of man. The very existence of fossils implies that it was the law of all animal life from the first.
V. That till the fall all creatures lived exclusively on vegetable food. Geologists have ascertained the existence of carnivorous creatures from a very remote period.
Besides these, there are some other supposed difficulties and inaccuracies of a less important character, which may be noticed, in passing, when the true meaning of the record is under discussion.
SECTION 1. THE DAYS.
The question of the days is beyond all doubt the most important of those which have to be discussed. On the one hand, the impression naturally left upon the reader of the first chapter of Genesis is that natural days are meant, and this impression is not removed by a cursory inspection of the original. On the other hand, if there is any one scientific belief which rests on peculiarly solid ground, it is the belief that the formation of the world occupied a period which is beyond the grasp of the most powerful imagination.
There is, indeed, some reason to think that the time claimed by geologists is somewhat exaggerated. Their views are in many cases based on the assumption that change is now going on, on the surface of the earth, as it did in all past time—that it is the same in character, in intensity, and in rate. But there are good reasons for supposing that almost all the causes which lead to change are gradually decreasing in intensity. The chief causes by which changes are brought about are the upheaval and subsidence of the earth's surface; the destructive agencies of wind, storms at sea, rain and frost; and the action of the tides. Of these, all but the last are directly dependent on the action of heat, and there is every reason to believe that the heat of the earth is in process of gradual dissipation. If this be the case, all those agencies which are dependent on it must
[Footnote: It is thought probable that this process is complete, or nearly so, in the moon. If this be the case, it is in all probability in progress in the case of the earth, though, owing to the much greater bulk of the latter, it occupies a longer period. —Lockyer, Lessons in Astronomy, p. 93.] be declining in intensity; but the rate of that decrease is unknown; it may be in arithmetical, or it may be in geometrical progression. It is, then, by no means impossible that changes, which now only become discernible with the lapse of centuries, might, at some past period of our globe's history, have been the work of years only. Nor is it at all probable that the present rate of change, which is assumed as the basis of the calculation, is known with any approach to accuracy. Exact observations are of very recent date; both the inclination and the means for making them are the growth of the last two centuries, and the changes which have to be ascertained are of a class peculiarly liable to modification from a variety of local and temporary causes, so that a very much longer period must elapse before we can arrive at average values which may be relied on as even approximately accurate.
Another circumstance, which seems to merit more attention than it has received, is the very frequent recurrence in Greek mythology of allusions to creatures which have been usually regarded as the creations of a poetic fancy, but which bear a strong resemblance to the Saurian and other monsters of the Oolite and Cretaceous formations. Of course, it is not impossible that these things may have been purely poetic imaginings; but, if so, it is very remarkable that such realizations of those imaginings should be afterwards discovered. It would seem much more probable that these legends were exaggerated traditions of creatures which actually existed when the first colonists reached their new homes, in numbers comparatively small, but still sufficient to occasion much danger and alarm to the early settlers, and to cause their destroyers to be regarded as among the greatest heroes of the time and the greatest benefactors of mankind. The Hindoo tradition of the tortoise on whose back stands the elephant which upholds the world, and the account of Leviathan in the Book of Job, seem to point in the same direction. [Footnote: For additional instances see Tylor's Early History of Mankind, p. 303.]
But, after all, the question is not one of a few thousands of years more or less, but of six common days, or many thousands of years. It may help us to arrive at a right conclusion on the subject if we endeavour to ascertain, in the first instance, whether there are any strongly-marked indications that the writer of the first chapter of Genesis did possess some accurate information on some points in the history of Creation which he was not likely to obtain by his own researches. For this purpose we will place in parallel columns the leading facts recorded by Moses, and a table of the successive formations of the rocks, abridged from the last edition (1871) of Sir C. Lyell's Student's Geology. This process will bring to light certain coincidences which may serve as landmarks for our investigation.
The Days. THE ROCKS.
1. Creation of light.
2. Creation of the Atmosphere.
The earth covered with water Laurentian. 3. [implied]. Cambrian. Upheaval of land. Silurian. Creation of terrestrial Flora. Devonian. Carboniferous.
4. The sun and moon made "Luminaries." Permian. Triassic.
Triassic. 5. Creation of birds and reptiles Jurassic. Cretaceous, Eocene.
6. Creation of land animals. Eocene. Creation of man. Miocene. Pleiocene. Post Tertiary.
Laurentian: Upper Laurentian unconformably placed on Lower Laurentian, which contains Eozoon Canadense.
Cambrian: Traces of volcanic action. Ripple marks indicating land.
Silurian: Earliest fish.
Devonian: Earliest land plants.
Carboniferous: The coal measures. Peculiarly abundant vegetation. Earliest known reptile.
Permian: Foot-prints of birds and reptiles—with a few remains of the latter.
Jurassic: The first bird, and the first mammal. The age of reptiles.
Cretaceous: Reptiles passing away, mammalia abundant and of large size.
Post Tertiary: Human remains found only in the most recent deposits. In this table we see certain points of strongly-marked coincidence:—
1. The oldest rocks with which we are acquainted—the Lower Laurentian [Footnote: The age of granite is uncertain.—Lyell'a Student's Geology, p. 548.]—were formed under water, but had begun to be elevated before the next series, the Upper Laurentian, were deposited. Ripple marks are found in the Cambrian group [Footnote: Ibid. p. 470], indicating that the parts where they occur formed a sea-beach, and, consequently, that dry land was in existence at that time.
2. The earliest fossil land plants as yet discovered are found in the Devonian series, and they gradually increase till, in the Carboniferous strata, they attain the extreme abundance which gave rise to the coal measures.
3. The age of reptiles. The earliest known reptile is found in the Carboniferous strata. In the Permian and Triassic groups the numbers gradually increase, till in the Lias, Oolite, and Cretaceous systems, this class attains a very great development both numerically and in the magnitude of individual specimens. During the same period the first traces of birds are found. The first actual fossil bird was found in the upper Oolite.
4. The age of mammalia. The first remains—two teeth of a small marsupial—were discovered in the Rhaetic beds of the Upper Trias, and a somewhat similar discovery has been made in beds of corresponding periods in Devonshire and North America. During the subsequent periods the numbers slowly increase, till in the Tertiary strata the mammalian becomes the predominant type.
5. The earliest traces of man—flint implements—are found in the Post Tertiary strata.
We have then in the Mosaic narrative five points which correspond in order and character to five points in the Geological record; and with reference to two, at least, of these points, we cannot imagine any cause for the coincidence in the shape of a fortunate conjecture, because, so far as we can tell, there was nothing apparent on the face of the earth to suggest to the mind of the writer the long past existence of such a state of things as has been revealed to us by the discovery of the Carboniferous and Reptilian remains. It seems then that Moses must have been in possession of information which could not be obtained from any ordinary source. But if he was thus acquainted with the order in which the development took place, there is nothing improbable in the supposition that he was not altogether ignorant of the length of time which that development required.
Let us suppose then that his knowledge did extend a little farther; let us suppose him to have been aware that each of the Creations which he describes was a process occupying many thousands of years—how could he have imparted this knowledge to his readers? What modification could he have introduced into his narrative, which without changing its general character, or detracting from its extreme simplicity, should have embodied this fact?
This amounts to the question: What words significant of definite periods of time were in use, and consequently at the writer's command, at this time? No language is very rich in such words; but in the early Hebrew they seem to have been very scanty. The day, week, month, year, and generation (this last usually implying the time from the birth of a man to that of his son, but possibly in Gen. xv. 16, a century) are all that we find. These in their literal sense were evidently inadequate. Nor could the deficiency be supplied by numerals, even if the general style of the narrative would have admitted their use, for we find in Genesis no numeral beyond the thousand. There was no word at all in early Hebrew equivalent to our words "period" and "season." When such an idea was to be expressed, it was done by the use of the word "day," either in the singular, or more commonly in the plural. Thus, "the time of harvest;" "the season of the first ripe fruit," are literally "the days of harvest," "the days of the first ripe fruit." In Isaiah xxxiv. 8, the singular is used, and followed by the word year in the same indefinite sense. "It is the day of the Lord's vengeance, and the year of recompenses for the controversy of Zion."
The only method then which was open to the writer was to make use of one of the words above mentioned in an extended sense, just as he used the word [Hebrew script] (earth) in several senses. But if one of them was to be employed, the one which he has chosen seems the best; not only because its use in that way was common, but because the brevity of the time covered by its natural significance would in itself be a hint of the way in which it was used. That which was impossible in a day might be possible in a year or a generation. The extended significance of the word would become apparent just in proportion as the time covered by its natural significance was inadequate for the processes ascribed to it.
An additional reason may, perhaps, be found for the choice of the word "day," in the accordance of its phenomena with some, at least, of the processes which Moses describes—the dawn, the light slowly increasing to the perfect day, and then fading away gradually into night—these do seem aptly to represent the first scanty appearance, the gradual increase, and the vast development of plants, of the reptiles and of the mammalia, and in the case of the first two classes, their gradual passing away.
But if the word was thus employed in a figurative, and not in its natural sense, we may expect to find some indications in the context that this was the case. Such indications we do find. The fact that the work of Creation was distributed into days, is, in itself, significant. There is no reason to believe that in the opinion of the writer each day's work tasked to the utmost the power of the Creator. Moses was evidently as well aware as we are, that to Him it would have been equally easy, had He so willed, to call everything into instant and perfect being at a single word. Nor was the detailed description necessary to establish the foundation of all religion—the right of the Creator to the entire obedience of His creature For this the short recapitulation which (ch. ii. 4) prefaces the more detailed account of man's peculiar relation to his Maker would have been sufficient. Some purpose, however, there must have been for this more particular account which precedes the summary. We may trace two probable reasons. It brings before us the method of the Divine Working in the light of an orderly progress. But beside this, it is of infinite service to us, in enabling us more thoroughly to realize the Fatherly character and ever watchful care of our Creator. As far as that care itself was concerned, it was unimportant whether the work was instantaneous or progressive; but it was very important to us, in so far as it affected our conceptions of God, and of our relations to Him. For all our conceptions of God must rest ultimately on our self-consciousness; we can form no idea of Him except in so far as that idea is analogous to something which comes within the range of our own experience. Now to us and to our feelings there is a very wide difference between an act performed in a moment, and a work over which we have lovingly dwelt, and to which we have devoted our time, our labour, and our thought, for months or years. The one may pass from our mind and be forgotten as quickly as it was performed, but in the other we commonly feel an abiding interest. When therefore the great Creator is represented to us as thus dwelling upon His work, carrying it on step by step, through the long ages, to its completion, we find it far less difficult to realize that other truth, so precious to us, that His care and His tender mercies are over all His works, that the loving watchfulness which still upholds all, and provides for all, is but the continuance of that care which was displayed in the creation of all. Creation, Providence and Grace are blended together in one continuous manifestation of the Divine Wisdom, Power, and Love.
But for this purpose it is of little importance to us whether Creation is described as taking place in a moment, or in six ordinary days. If the division into six days indicates orderly progress and watchful care, we naturally expect to find the same indications in each of the subordinate parts. To our imperfect conceptions each single day's work would bear that same character of vast instantaneous action which seemed so undesirable. It would not help us to realize what it is so important that we should thoroughly feel. The very fact then that the history of Creation is divided into days carries with it a strong presumption that those days are not ordinary days.
In the 14th and following verses, when Moses is describing the formation of the heavenly luminaries, he is particular in mentioning that one part of their office was to "rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness." Hence it is sometimes inferred that he was under a mistake in speaking of day and night at an earlier period. But such a mistake seems incredible. To suppose that Moses did not perceive that what he wrote in the 14th and following verses was incompatible with what he had written in the 4th and 5th verses, if such an incompatibility really existed, is to impute to him an amount of ignorance or carelessness which is at variance with the whole character of his writings from beginning to end. Instead of this it will be shown hereafter that, in all probability, his statements rested on a wide knowledge of facts. If then, under such circumstances, he uses the word "day" long before he comes to the formation of the sun, the natural inference is that he did so designedly—that it was his intention that his readers should understand that he was speaking of something very different from that natural day which is regulated by sunrise and sunset.
The way too in which he introduces the mention of the first and following days is apparently significant, though its full meaning is probably more than we can at present understand. In ver. 5 he carefully defines light and darkness as the equivalents of day and night; but in the next verse he passes over these words, and introduces two new ones, which he has not defined; these two words being as much out of place before the creation of the atmosphere as light and darkness are supposed to have been before the Creation of the Sun. And not only does he introduce two new words, but he introduces them in a very remarkable and, with our present knowledge, unaccountable manner. Had he said "And there was morning and there was evening, one day," we should have found no difficulty in harmonizing; his words with what he had previously said concerning the evolution of light. But he first of all reverses the order, and then does not supply the natural termination to his sentence—"And there was evening and there was morning,"—"one night" would seem to be the natural conclusion; but instead of that we read, "there was evening and there was morning, one day." Whatever farther significance then may be hereafter discovered in this remarkable statement, one thing at all events seems clear, that it was designed to call attention to the fact that the day spoken of was not a natural day. Probably certain stages in the progress of the work were indicated, which farther investigations may disclose to us. A few years ago such stages seemed to be discernible, but the continued progress of discovery has partly obliterated the supposed lines of demarcation. Still further discoveries may bring to light other divisions.
In the opening of the second chapter we are told that God rested on the seventh day from all His work, and His rest is spoken of in such a way as to carry our thoughts at once to the Fourth Commandment. In that commandment the duty of hallowing a seventh portion of our time is based on the fact that "in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day." But the analogy entirely fails unless the days of the Creator's work bore the same proportion to the day of His rest which man's six days of labour bear to his Sabbath. Now we are expressly told in other parts of Scripture that the Divine Sabbath is not yet ended (Heb. iii. iv.), and we are led to infer that it will not end till He that sitteth upon the throne shall say, "Behold I make all things new." If then the Sabbath of the Creator is measured by thousands of years—the whole duration of man upon the earth—it follows that the days of His work must have been of corresponding length.
One more indication, so strong that in itself it seems sufficient to decide the question, is to be found in the 4th verse of the second chapter. [Footnote: It is not unusual with critics of the German school to assert that this is an independent account of the Creation. But the assertion does not appear to have any valid foundation. The supposed grounds for it are well discussed in the "Speaker's Commentary," vol. i. p. 23, and in "Aids to Faith," Essay v., Sections 2, 4, 5. It has already been pointed out that the supposed variations in order rest entirely on the translation.] In that verse all that is ascribed to the six days in the preceding chapter is summed up as the work of a single day. If then the word is used in a natural sense in the first chapter, it is clearly used in an extended sense in the second chapter. But if it had been used in a natural sense in the first chapter, there would have been no need whatever for its use here. Its place would have been taken—and most appropriately—by the word [Hebrew script], a week, with which Moses was familiar (ch. xxix. 28; Deut. xvi. 10). Its use here would have connected the weekly division of time with the Creation, and as its presence would have been thus strongly significant, its absence is a no less significant indication that the six days spoken of in the preceding chapter are something very different from six natural days.
Three points, therefore, seem to be clear:—
1. However the chapter may be interpreted, there are in it coincidences with ascertained facts so marked that they cannot possibly be fortuitous. They prove therefore that Moses was in possession of some accurate information on the subject on which he was writing.
As we proceed with our subject we shall come upon many more indications of this, some of them exceedingly remarkable. It is therefore by no means improbable that he was acquainted with the fact, that the work which he was describing was one which had occupied a long series of ages.
2. Supposing that Moses was acquainted with all which has now been discovered by geologists, and that he was desirous of imparting that knowledge to his readers, the language which he has employed is the most appropriate that, under the circumstances, he could have chosen for the purpose. 3. The phenomena exhibited by the context indicate not only that he had this intention, but that he also intended that such of his readers as were competent to entertain the idea, should have sufficient indications to guide them to his meaning.
Whatever then may be the real significance of the "days"—a point which the knowledge at present in our possession seems insufficient to explain—it seems very clear that something very different from natural days is intended. And this is a sufficient answer to the objection which is founded on that interpretation. That there would be very many points which as yet we are unable fully to understand, has been already shown to be not only possible but probable; and among them it appears this question of the true meaning of the days must be left for the present. When we come to consider subsequently the great number of points in which harmony between the narrative and discovered facts is brought out on investigation, [Footnote: Chap. v.] we may well be content to leave many points unexplained till our knowledge is greatly increased.
SECTION 2. FIRST TRACES OF LIFE.
The second objection has reference to the relative antiquity of the various forms of life, of which we find traces in the successive strata of the rocks. If it be assumed that the apparent coincidences which have been pointed out between the Mosaic narrative and the geological records are real, and that the traditional interpretation is the true one, then we ought to find—
1. No traces at all of animal life below the Trias.
2. No traces of mammalia below the Cretaceous formation.
But the examination of the rocks leads to a very different result. Traces of life have been found, probably in the Laurentian, certainly in the Cambrian rocks. The earliest known fish is the Pteraspis, which has been discovered in the upper Silurian formation at Leintwardine, in Shropshire. The first member of the reptilian order, Archegesaurus, occurs in the coal measures; and the first traces of a mammalian—two teeth—occur at the junction of the Lias and Trias. In every case, then, we meet with traces of life at a period long anterior to that at which we should naturally expect them.
In order to ascertain the real weight of this objection we hare to investigate two points:—
1. What are the animals to which the Mosaic Record refers?
2. What does it really tell us about the creation of those animals?
1. It is commonly assumed that all living creatures are comprehended under the terms used in describing the work of the fifth and sixth days. But a more careful examination shows that there is no real ground for this assumption. The first point which presents itself is the omission of the Hebrew word for fish, [Hebrew script], in the account of the fifth day—an omission the more marked, because the word does occur in vv. 26, 28, in which dominion over all living creatures is granted to man. The two words which are used in ver. 21 are [Hebrew script] from [Hebrew script], to stretch out, to extend, and [Hebrew script], from [Hebrew script], identical with [Hebrew script], to trample with the feet. The description then points us to animals of great size, especially length, which trample with the feet. "Great sea- monsters," Gesenius calls them. These words clearly indicate the Saurian and allied tribes of reptiles; and when we turn to the rocks we find the remains of these creatures occurring in great numbers, precisely at the point which Moses assigns to them.
Again, in the account of the sixth day, three classes of animals are mentioned; but we have no means whatever of ascertaining what kinds of animals were comprehended in these three classes, or whether they included all the mammalia then known to the Jews; much less then are we justified in inferring that they comprehend all mammalia that were then, or ever had been in existence.
But it may perhaps appear strange, that the account of the Creation of living beings should be of such limited extent, embracing only reptiles, birds, and mammals. A little consideration, however, will remove this apparent strangeness. We should, perhaps, naturally expect to have some notice of the first appearance of animal life; but from the circumstances under which Moses wrote such a notice was simply impossible. The lowest and simplest form of life with which we are now acquainted is the Amoeba Princeps, a minute particle of jelly-like substance, called sarcode—scarcely larger than a small grain of sand—and with no distinction of organs or limbs. [Footnote: Carpenter, The Microscope and its Revelations, p. 428.] The oldest known fossil, Eozoon Canadense, is of a class but little above this—the foraminifera; we may therefore deem it probable that life began with some form not very unlike the Amoeba. How could the formation of such a creature have been described to the contemporaries of Moses? They could have had no idea of its existence. To describe the first beginnings of life then, was, under the circumstances, an absolute impossibility. But if a part only of the long series of animal life could possibly be noticed, the determination of the point at which he should first speak of it would be left to the writer, guided as he would be by considerations of the object for which, and the persons for whom, he wrote, which we must necessarily in our position be unable duly to estimate. All that we are entitled to expect is that the account, so far as it extends, should be in accordance with facts.
The next point to be ascertained is, "Does the Mosaic Record intimate that the creations of reptiles on the fifth, and of mammals on the sixth days were entirely new creations, i.e. that no creatures of these classes had existed before?" There is no direct assertion to this effect; it is only an inference, though a natural one, when we consider the circumstances under which it was drawn. When, however, we turn to the original we find the 20th verse worded in a way which seems designed to avoid the suggestion of such an inference. Literally translated it is, "Let the waters swarm swarms, the soul of life." Such creatures then may have existed before, but not in swarms. And in the account of the sixth day, as has been already noticed, three forms of mammalia are specified, and we have no knowledge as to the varieties included in these three forms. Nor is there here any intimation that it was the first creation of such animals. The greater part of the earlier fossils belong to the Marsupialia and Mouotremata, and we have no reason to believe that these classes have existed in historic times in Europe, Asia, or Africa. They are now confined (with the exception of the opossums, which are American) to Australia. They were therefore entirely unknown to the Jews, and in consequence necessarily omitted in a document intended for their use.
What has been said with reference to reptiles is also applicable to birds. The first traces of them are found in the ornithichnites of the new red sandstone, and the first fossil—Archaeopteryx, in the Solenhofen strata, belonging to the Oolite. From the nature of the case the remains are necessarily scanty, since birds would be less exposed than other animals to those casualties which would lead to their preservation as fossils, but enough traces have been found to show that in the period corresponding to the fifth day they were very numerous, and attained in many instances to a gigantic stature. A height of from ten to twelve feet was not uncommon.
When, therefore, we notice that the fifth and sixth days correspond to two periods, in the first of which reptiles and birds, and in the second mammalia, were the prominent types, the words of the sacred historian seem to have an adequate interpretation in that fact. There is no contradiction between the two records. Moses describes but a very few of the facts which geology has brought to light, but those few facts are in exact accordance with the results of independent observation. The acts of Creation of which Moses speaks correspond to remarkable developments of the orders of animals to which he refers. To have noticed the time of the appearance of the first individual member of each class, as distinguished from the time when that class occupied the foremost place in the ranks of creation, would have been inconsistent with the simplicity and brevity of the narrative, while it would have been unintelligible to those for whom the narrative was intended, since these primeval types had passed out of existence ages before the creation of man. It is, however, noteworthy, that the first appearances of the several orders follow precisely the same arrangement as the times of their greatest development.
SECTION 3. SIMULTANEOUS CREATION.
This objection may be very briefly disposed of, though it appears to be one which has made a very deep impression on Mr. Darwin. [Footnote: Origin of Species, p 1, &c.] It is entirely an inference drawn from the old interpretation of the six days. While that interpretation was received it followed, as a necessary consequence, that the creation of all kinds of plants on the third day, and of reptiles, birds, and mammalia on the fifth and sixth days respectively, must have been simultaneous. But if that interpretation is proved to be untenable, the inference drawn from it falls to the ground. The language of the narrative seems to point in an opposite direction. There is one instance in the chapter in which the words used seem to point to an instantaneous result. "And God said 'Let light be' and Light was," though in this case the words probably have a further significance, which has been brought out by the discovery of the nature of light. But in these three cases the command is first recorded, with (in two cases) the addition "and it was so," and then the narrative goes on to speak of the fulfilment of the command, as if the command and its fulfilment were distinct things.
SECTION 4. DEATH. CARNIVOROUS ANIMALS.
These two objections may advantageously be considered together, since the fifth is in a great measure, though not entirely, dependent upon the fourth. For if death, in the common sense of the word, was unknown till the fall of Adam, it follows as a necessary consequence that no carnivorous creatures could have existed before that time. On the other hand, it may be considered as the natural death of large classes of animals to be devoured by the carnivora; so that if there were no carnivorous animals prior to the Fall, one of the avenues to death, at all events, had not been opened.
There is really no ground at all for the first of these objections in the actual history of Creation. It is only when the threat held out to Adam (ii. 17) is viewed in the light of St. Paul's comment upon it (Rom. v. 12; viii. 20) that the supposition can be entertained. This, then, is the real foundation of the difficulty.
But, first of all, there is no reason to suppose that St. Paul's words refer to any death but that of man. Now, it may well have been, that although man, having a body exactly analogous to those of the animals, would naturally have been subject, like them, to the ordinary laws of decay and death, yet in the case of a creature who possessed so much which raised him above the level of the lower animals, there may have been some provision made which should exempt him from this necessity. That this was the case appears probable from the mention made in the narrative of the Tree of Life. We have no intimation whether the action of the fruit of this tree was physical or sacramental, but that, in one way or other, it had the power to preserve man from physical death seems almost certain from the way in which it is spoken of after the Fall (iii. 22-24). But the mention of the Tree of Life leads to the inference that the case of Adam was entirely exceptional.
In the next place, it does not seem probable that that dissolution of the body which was the natural lot of all other animals was the whole, or even the chief part, of the evil consequence of Adam's fall. That it was included in the penalty seems probable, but it only constituted a comparatively unimportant part of that penalty. The threat was, "In THE DAY that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die," and we cannot doubt that the Divine words were exactly fulfilled, though Adam's natural death did not take place for many hundred years. But the guilty creatures, covering their nakedness with fig-leaves, crouching among the trees of the garden in the vain hope of hiding themselves from the face of their Maker, who were to transmit an inheritance of sin and shame and misery to their yet unborn posterity, were surely very different beings from those whom the Creator but a short time before had pronounced "very good." The true life of the soul was gone; the image of God defaced. This was the real, the terrible death. If death in its full sense means nothing more than the dissolution of the body, our Lord's words, "He that liveth and believeth in Me shall never die," have failed of their fulfilment. That promise has been in force for more than eighteen centuries, and yet no case has occurred of a Christian, however holy he may have been, or however strong his faith, who has escaped the universal doom. The Church of the Patriarchs could point to an Enoch, the Jewish Church to an Elijah, who were exempted from the universal penalty; but Christianity can point to no such exemption, nor does she need it. To her members, to die is to sleep in Jesus; to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, for the penalty of death is cancelled.
Though, then, it seems by no means improbable that Adam, if he had not fallen, would have been exempt from the dissolution of the body, yet this is not absolutely certain, and even if it were certain, his case would be an exceptional one: no inference as to the immortality of the animal creation could have been drawn from it.
The supposition that all animals prior to the fall lived entirely on vegetable food rests partly on this groundless inference, and partly on the Divine Words recorded in verse 30: "And to every beast of the field, and to every fowl of the air, have I given every green herb for meat." But it is important to notice that these words are not recorded as addressed to the animals, like the command to be fruitful and multiply. Had this been the case, any omission to mention the flesh of other animals, might have been looked upon as significant. Instead of this they are addressed to Adam, and they follow other words in which the same things are assigned to Adam for his food. They come then in the form of a limitation to the rights granted to Adam, rather than of a definition of the rights of the lower animals. Adam was to have the free use of every green herb, but he was not to account himself the exclusive owner of it. The beast of the field and the fowl of the air were to be co-proprietors with him; they were to have the use of it as freely as himself; but that they were to be restricted to the use of vegetable food nowhere appears. Accordingly we know that carnivorous creatures have existed from the first, and that though to a superficial observer this may appear a cruel arrangement, yet in reality it is a most merciful provision, by which aged, weak, or maimed animals are preserved from the agonies of death by starvation.
We may conclude then that there is no real contradiction between the conclusions at which Geologists have arrived, and the words actually made use of by Moses, but that all such supposed contradictions have arisen from meanings being attached to those words, which, though possible or even probable, were not the only possible meanings. When the difficulty has been suggested, and the words have in consequence been more closely examined, it appears that they are capable of an interpretation in strict harmony with every fact which Geologists have as yet discovered, and that in many cases there are not wanting indications that the writer intended them to be thus understood.
DIFFICULTIES IN ASTRONOMY.
These objections, so far as they are based or supposed to be based on ascertained facts, are very few and insignificant. The chief of them are as follows:—
1. Moses describes light, and the division of night and day as existing before the Creation of the Sun.
2. Moses describes the firmament as a solid vault.
3. Moses speaks of the stars as created on the fourth day, only two days before Adam, whereas astronomers have asserted that many of them are so distant that the light by which we see them must have been on its way ages before Adam was created.
That part of the first objection which refers to the existence of light prior to the creation of the Sun, appears so extremely childish that it might have been thought unnecessary to notice it, had it not been solemnly propounded in such a work as "Essays and Reviews." [Footnote: Page 219] Anyone who is in possession of a telescope of but moderate power may satisfy himself of its futility on any starlight night. He has only to turn his telescope to one or two of the more conspicuous nebulae; the Great Nebula in Orion, for instance, or the Ring Nebula in Lyra, and his eye will receive light which has not come from any Sun, for it is a well- ascertained fact that these nebulae are nothing but vast masses of incandescent gas. And this objection is singularly inappropriate in the mouth of the opponents of the Mosaic Record, inasmuch as the Nebular hypothesis is with them the favourite method of accounting for the present state of things. The view which they bring forward as an alternative to the Mosaic account assumes the very state of things which, when, alleged by Moses, they denounce as impossible. The other part of this objection, which refers to the division of day and night, will be more advantageously discussed when we come to consider the actual accounts of the first and fourth days' work. It will then appear probable that the statements which Moses has made on this subject, instead of being indications of ignorance, are the result of a profound knowledge of the subject on which he was writing.
Next, it is alleged that Moses describes the firmament as a solid vault.[Footnote: Essays and Reviews, p. 220.] "The work of the second day of creation is to erect the vault of heaven, which is represented as supporting an ocean of water above it." That the Greek and Latin translations in this place do seem to imply the idea of solidity seems indisputable; and from the Latin the word "firmament" has passed into our own language. But there is no reason to think that the Hebrew word has any such meaning. It is derived from a root signifying "to beat out—to extend." [Footnote: May not this root, [Hebrew script], have some connexion with [Hebrew script], "to be light," from which is derived the Aramaic "Raca" of Matt. v. 22?] The verb is often applied to the beating out of metals, but not always. It is a new doctrine in etymology, that the meaning of a verbal noun is to be deduced from the nouns which often supply objects to its root, instead of from the meaning of the root itself. But even if it can be shown that the word did originally involve such a meaning, that would be nothing to the purpose. It would only be in the same case with a vast number of other words, which, though etymologically untrue, are habitually used without inconvenience, because they do convey to the minds of others the idea which we intend to convey, their etymology being lost sight of. Probably, the very persons who bring forward the objection do sometimes use the word "firmament," though they know the error which is involved in it. Nor would they be any more accurate if they substituted for it the Saxon word "heaven," since that also involves a scientific inaccuracy. The word used by Moses was the commonly recognized name for the object of which he was writing; and no objection to his use of it can be maintained, unless it can be shown that in using it he rejected some other word equally intelligible to all, and which was at the same time etymologically correct. But there is no ground for the assumption that any such word existed in the time of Moses or at any subsequent period.