A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom
Chapter 5 - From Genesis to Geology

The First Great Effort of Compromise, Based on the Flood of Noah

Long before the end of the struggle already described, even at a very early period, the futility of the usual scholastic weapons had been seen by the more keen-sighted champions of orthodoxy; and, as the difficulties of the ordinary attack upon science became more and more evident, many of these champions endeavoured to patch up a truce. So began the third stage in the war - the period of attempts at compromise.

The position which the compromise party took was that the fossils were produced by the Deluge of Noah.

This position was strong, for it was apparently based upon Scripture. Moreover, it had high ecclesiastical sanction, some of the fathers having held that fossil remains, even on the highest mountains, represented animals destroyed at the Deluge. Tertullian was especially firm on this point, and St. Augustine thought that a fossil tooth discovered in North Africa must have belonged to one of the giants mentioned in Scripture.

In the sixteenth century especially, weight began to be attached to this idea by those who felt the worthlessness of various scholastic explanations. Strong men in both the Catholic and the Protestant camps accepted it; but the man who did most to give it an impulse into modern theology was Martin Luther. He easily saw that scholastic phrase-making could not meet the difficulties raised by fossils, and he naturally urged the doctrine of their origin at Noah's Flood.

With such support, it soon became the dominant theory in Christendom: nothing seemed able to stand against it; but before the end of the same sixteenth century it met some serious obstacles. Bernard Palissy, one of the most keen-sighted of scientific thinkers in France, as well as one of the most devoted of Christians, showed that it was utterly untenable. Conscientious investigators in other parts of Europe, and especially in Italy, showed the same thing; all in vain. In vain did good men protest against the injury sure to be brought upon religion by tying it to a scientific theory sure to be exploded; the doctrine that fossils are the remains of animals drowned at the Flood continued to be upheld by the great majority of theological leaders for nearly three centuries as "sound doctrine," and as a blessed means of reconciling science with Scripture. To sustain this scriptural view, efforts energetic and persistent were put forth both by Catholics and Protestants.

In France, the learned Benedictine, Calmet, in his great works on the Bible, accepted it as late as the beginning of the eighteenth century, believing the mastodon's bones exhibited by Mazurier to be those of King Teutobocus, and holding them valuable testimony to the existence of the giants mentioned in Scripture and of the early inhabitants of the earth overwhelmed by the Flood.

But the greatest champion appeared in England. We have already seen how, near the close of the seventeenth century, Thomas Burnet prepared the way in his Sacred Theory of the Earth by rejecting the discoveries of Newton, and showing how sin led to the breaking up of the "foundations of the great deep" "and we have also seen how Whiston, in his New Theory of the Earth, while yielding a little and accepting the discoveries of Newton, brought in a comet to aid in producing the Deluge; but far more important than these in permanent influence was John Woodward, professor at Gresham College, a leader in scientific thought at the University of Cambridge, and, as a patient collector of fossils and an earnest investigator of their meaning, deserving of the highest respect. In 1695 he published his Natural History of the Earth, and rendered one great service to science, for he yielded another point, and thus destroyed the foundations for the old theory of fossils. He showed that they were not "sports of Nature," or "models inserted by the Creator in the strata for some inscrutable purpose," but that they were really remains of living beings, as Xenophanes had asserted two thousand years before him. So far, he rendered a great service both to science and religion; but, this done, the text of the Old Testament narrative and the famous passage in St. Peter's Epistle were too strong for him, and he, too, insisted that the fossils were produced by the Deluge. Aided by his great authority, the assault on the true scientific position was vigorous: Mazurier exhibited certain fossil remains of a mammoth discovered in France as bones of the giants mentioned in Scripture; Father Torrubia did the same thing in Spain; Increase Mather sent to England similar remains discovered in America, with a like statement.

For the edification of the faithful, such "bones of the giants mentioned in Scripture" were hung up in public places. Jurieu saw some of them thus suspended in one of the churches of Valence; and Henrion, apparently under the stimulus thus given, drew up tables showing the size of our antediluvian ancestors, giving the height of Adam as 123 feet 9 inches and that of Eve as 118 feet 9 inches and 9 lines.

But the most brilliant service rendered to the theological theory came from another quarter for, in 1726, Scheuchzer, having discovered a large fossil lizard, exhibited it to the world as the "human witness of the Deluge": this great discovery was hailed everywhere with joy, for it seemed to prove not only that human beings were drowned at the Deluge, but that "there were giants in those days." Cheered by the applause thus gained, he determined to make the theological position impregnable. Mixing together various texts of Scripture with notions derived from the philosophy of Descartes and the speculations of Whiston, he developed the theory that "the fountains of the great deep" were broken up by the direct physical action of the hand of God, which, being literally applied to the axis of the earth, suddenly stopped the earth's rotation, broke up "the fountains of the great deep," spilled the water therein contained, and produced the Deluge. But his service to sacred science did not end here, for he prepared an edition of the Bible, in which magnificent engravings in great number illustrated his view and enforced it upon all readers. Of these engravings no less than thirty-four were devoted to the Deluge alone.

In the midst all this came an episode very comical but very instructive; for it shows that the attempt to shape the deductions of science to meet the exigencies of dogma may mislead heterodoxy as absurdly as orthodoxy.

About the year 1760 news of the discovery of marine fossils in various elevated districts of Europe reached Voltaire. He, too, had a theologic system to support, though his system was opposed to that of the sacred books of the Hebrews; and, fearing that these new discoveries might be used to support the Mosaic accounts of the Deluge, all his wisdom and wit were compacted into arguments to prove that the fossil fishes were remains of fishes intended for food, but spoiled and thrown away by travellers; that the fossil shells were accidentally dropped by crusaders and pilgrims returning from the Holy Land; and that the fossil bones found between Paris and Etampes were parts of a skeleton belonging to the cabinet of some ancient philosopher. Through chapter after chapter, Voltaire, obeying the supposed necessities of his theology, fought desperately the growing results of the geologic investigations of his time.

But far more prejudicial to Christianity was the continued effort on the other side to show that the fossils were caused by the Deluge of Noah.

No supposition was too violent to support this theory, which was considered vital to the Bible. By taking the mere husks and rinds of biblical truth for truth itself, by taking sacred poetry as prose, and by giving a literal interpretation of it, the followers of Burnet, Whiston, and Woodward built up systems which bear to real geology much the same relation that the Christian Topography of Cosmas bears to real geography. In vain were exhibited the absolute geological, zoological, astronomical proofs that no universal deluge, or deluge covering any large part of the earth, had taken place within the last six thousand or sixty thousand years; in vain did so enlightened a churchman as Bishop Clayton declare that the Deluge could not have extended beyond that district where Noah lived before the Flood; in vain did others, like Bishop Croft and Bishop Stillingfleet, and the nonconformist Matthew Poole, show that the Deluge might not have been and probably was not universal; in vain was it shown that, even if there had been a universal deluge, the fossils were not produced by it: the only answers were the citation of the text, "And all the high mountains which were under the whole heaven were covered," and, to clinch the matter, Worthington and men like him insisted that any argument to show that fossils were not remains of animals drowned at the Deluge of Noah was "infidelity." In England, France, and Germany, belief that the fossils were produced by the Deluge of Noah was widely insisted upon as part of that faith essential to salvation.

But the steady work of science went on: not all the force of the Church - not even the splendid engravings in Scheuchzer's Bible - could stop it, and the foundations of this theological theory began to crumble away. The process was, indeed, slow; it required a hundred and twenty years for the searchers of God's truth, as revealed in Nature - such men as Hooke, Linnaeus, Whitehurst, Daubenton, Cuvier, and William Smith - to push their works under this fabric of error, and, by statements which could not be resisted, to undermine it. As we arrive at the beginning of the nineteenth century, science is becoming irresistible in this field. Blumenbach, Von Buch, and Schlotheim led the way, but most important on the Continent was the work of Cuvier. In the early years of the present century his researches among fossils began to throw new light into the whole subject of geology. He was, indeed, very conservative, and even more wary and diplomatic; seeming, like Voltaire, to feel that "among wolves one must howl a little." It was a time of reaction. Napoleon had made peace with the Church, and to disturb that peace was akin to treason. By large but vague concessions Cuvier kept the theologians satisfied, while he undermined their strongest fortress. The danger was instinctively felt by some of the champions of the Church, and typical among these was Chateaubriand, who in his best-known work, once so great, now so little - the Genius of Christianity - grappled with the questions of creation by insisting upon a sort of general deception "in the beginning," under which everything was created by a sudden fiat, but with appearances of pre-existence. His words are as follows: "It was part of the perfection and harmony of the nature which was displayed before men's eyes that the deserted nests of last year's birds should be seen on the trees, and that the seashore should be covered with shells which had been the abode of fish, and yet the world was quite new, and nests and shells had never been inhabited." But the real victory was with Brongniart, who, about 1820, gave forth his work on fossil plants, and thus built a barrier against which the enemies of science raged in vain.

Still the struggle was not ended, and, a few years later, a forlorn hope was led in England by Granville Penn.

His fundamental thesis was that "our globe has undergone only two revolutions, the Creation and the Deluge, and both by the immediate fiat of the Almighty"; he insisted that the Creation took place in exactly six days of ordinary time, each made up of "the evening and the morning"; and he ended with a piece of that peculiar presumption so familiar to the world, by calling on Cuvier and all other geologists to "ask for the old paths and walk therein until they shall simplify their system and reduce their numerous revolutions to the two events or epochs only - the six days of Creation and the Deluge." The geologists showed no disposition to yield to this peremptory summons; on the contrary, the President of the British Geological Society, and even so eminent a churchman and geologist as Dean Buckland, soon acknowledged that facts obliged them to give up the theory that the fossils of the coal measures were deposited at the Deluge of Noah, and to deny that the Deluge was universal.

The defection of Buckland was especially felt by the orthodox party. His ability, honesty, and loyalty to his profession, as well as his position as Canon of Christ Church and Professor of Geology at Oxford, gave him great authority, which he exerted to the utmost in soothing his brother ecclesiastics. In his inaugural lecture he had laboured to show that geology confirmed the accounts of Creation and the Flood as given in Genesis, and in 1823, after his cave explorations had revealed overwhelming evidences of the vast antiquity of the earth, he had still clung to the Flood theory in his Reliquiae Diluvianae.

This had not, indeed, fully satisfied the anti-scientific party, but as a rule their attacks upon him took the form not so much of abuse as of humorous disparagement. An epigram by Shuttleworth, afterward Bishop of Chichester, in imitation of Pope's famous lines upon Newton, ran as follows:

"Some doubts were once expressed about the Flood:
Buckland arose, and all was clear as mud."
On his leaving Oxford for a journey to southern Europe, Dean Gaisford was heard to exclaim: "Well, Buckland is gone to Italy; so, thank God, we shall have no more of this geology!"

Still there was some comfort as long as Buckland held to the Deluge theory; but, on his surrender, the combat deepened: instead of epigrams and caricatures came bitter attacks, and from the pulpit and press came showers of missiles. The worst of these were hurled at Lyell. As we have seen, he had published in 1830 his Principles of Geology. Nothing could have been more cautious. It simply gave an account of the main discoveries up to that time, drawing the necessary inferences with plain yet convincing logic, and it remains to this day one of those works in which the Anglo-Saxon race may most justly take pride, - one of the land-marks in the advance of human thought.

But its tendency was inevitably at variance with the Chaldean and other ancient myths and legends regarding the Creation and Deluge which the Hebrews had received from the older civilizations among their neighbours, and had incorporated into the sacred books which they transmitted to the modern world; it was therefore extensively "refuted."

Theologians and men of science influenced by them insisted that his minimizing of geological changes, and his laying stress on the gradual action of natural causes still in force, endangered the sacred record of Creation and left no place for miraculous intervention; and when it was found that he had entirely cast aside their cherished idea that the great geological changes of the earth's surface and the multitude of fossil remains were due to the Deluge of Noah, and had shown that a far longer time was demanded for Creation than any which could possibly be deduced from the Old Testament genealogies and chronicles, orthodox indignation burst forth violently; eminent dignitaries of the Church attacked him without mercy and for a time he was under social ostracism.

As this availed little, an effort was made on the scientific side to crush him beneath the weighty authority of Cuvier; but the futility of this effort was evident when it was found that thinking men would no longer listen to Cuvier and persisted in listening to Lyell. The great orthodox text-book, Cuvier's Theory of the Earth, became at once so discredited in the estimation of men of science that no new edition of it was called for, while Lyell's work speedily ran through twelve editions and remained a firm basis of modern thought.

As typical of his more moderate opponents we may take Fairholme, who in 1837 published his Mosaic Deluge, and argued that no early convulsions of the earth, such as those supposed by geologists, could have taken place, because there could have been no deluge "before moral guilt could possibly have been incurred" - that is to say, before the creation of mankind. In touching terms he bewailed the defection of the President of the Geological Society and Dean Buckland - protesting against geologists who "persist in closing their eyes upon the solemn declarations of the Almighty"

Still the geologists continued to seek truth: the germs planted especially by William Smith, "the Father of English Geology" were developed by a noble succession of investigators, and the victory was sure. Meanwhile those theologians who felt that denunciation of science as "godless" could accomplish little, laboured upon schemes for reconciling geology with Genesis. Some of these show amazing ingenuity, but an eminent religious authority, going over them with great thoroughness, has well characterized them as "daring and fanciful." Such attempts have been variously classified, but the fact regarding them all is that each mixes up more or less of science with more or less of Scripture, and produces a result more or less absurd. Though a few men here and there have continued these exercises, the capitulation of the party which set the literal account of the Deluge of Noah against the facts revealed by geology was at last clearly made.

One of the first evidences of the completeness of this surrender has been so well related by the eminent physiologist, Dr. W. B. Carpenter, that it may best be given in his own words:

"You are familiar with a book of considerable value, Dr. W. Smith's Dictionary of the Bible. I happened to know the influences under which that dictionary was framed. The idea of the publisher and of the editor was to give as much scholarship and such results of modern criticism as should be compatible with a very judicious conservatism. There was to be no objection to geology, but the universality of the Deluge was to be strictly maintained. The editor committed the article Deluge to a man of very considerable ability, but when the article came to him he found that it was so excessively heretical that he could not venture to put it in. There was not time for a second article under that head, and if you look in that dictionary you will find under the word Deluge a reference to Flood. Before Flood came, a second article had been commissioned from a source that was believed safely conservative; but when the article came in it was found to be worse than the first. A third article was then commissioned, and care was taken to secure its `safety.' If you look for the word Flood in the dictionary, you will find a reference to Noah. Under that name you will find an article written by a distinguished professor of Cambridge, of which I remember that Bishop Colenso said to me at the time, `In a very guarded way the writer concedes the whole thing.' You will see by this under what trammels scientific thought has laboured in this department of inquiry."

A similar surrender was seen when from a new edition of Horne's Introduction to the Scriptures, the standard textbook of orthodoxy, its accustomed use of fossils to prove the universality of the Deluge was quietly dropped.

A like capitulation in the United States was foreshadowed in 1841, when an eminent Professor of Biblical Literature and interpretation in the most important theological seminary of the Protestant Episcopal Church, Dr. Samuel Turner, showed his Christian faith and courage by virtually accepting the new view; and the old contention was utterly cast away by the thinking men of another great religious body when, at a later period, two divines among the most eminent for piety and learning in the Methodist Episcopal Church inserted in the Biblical Cyclopaedia, published under their supervision, a candid summary of the proofs from geology, astronomy, and zoology that the Deluge of Noah was not universal, or even widely extended, and this without protest from any man of note in any branch of the American Church.

The time when the struggle was relinquished by enlightened theologians of the Roman Catholic Church may be fixed at about 1862, when Reusch, Professor of Theology at Bonn, in his work on The Bible and Nature, cast off the old diluvial theory and all its supporters, accepting the conclusions of science.

But, though the sacred theory with the Deluge of Noah as a universal solvent for geological difficulties was evidently dying, there still remained in various quarters a touching fidelity to it. In Roman Catholic countries the old theory was widely though quietly cherished, and taught from the religious press, the pulpit, and the theological professor's chair. Pope Pius IX was doubtless in sympathy with this feeling when, about 1850, he forbade the scientific congress of Italy to meet at Bologna.

In 1856 Father Debreyne congratulated the theologians of France on their admirable attitude: "Instinctively," he says, "they still insist upon deriving the fossils from Noah's Flood." In 1875 the Abbe Choyer published at Paris and Angers a text-book widely approved by Church authorities, in which he took similar ground; and in 1877 the Jesuit Father Bosizio published at Mayence a treatise on Geology and the Deluge, endeavouring to hold the world to the old solution of the problem, allowing, indeed, that the "days" of Creation were long periods, but making atonement for this concession by sneers at Darwin.

In the Russo-Greek Church, in 1869, Archbishop Macarius, of Lithuania, urged the necessity of believing that Creation in six days of ordinary time and the Deluge of Noah are the only causes of all that geology seeks to explain; and, as late as 1876, another eminent theologian of the same Church went even farther, and refused to allow the faithful to believe that any change had taken place since "the beginning" mentioned in Genesis, when the strata of the earth were laid, tilted, and twisted, and the fossils scattered among them by the hand of the Almighty during six ordinary days.

In the Lutheran branch of the Protestant Church we also find echoes of the old belief. Keil, eminent in scriptural interpretation at the University of Dorpat, gave forth in 1860 a treatise insisting that geology is rendered futile and its explanations vain by two great facts: the Curse which drove Adam and Eve out of Eden, and the Flood that destroyed all living things save Noah, his family, and the animals in the ark. In 1867, Phillippi, and in 1869, Dieterich, both theologians of eminence, took virtually the same ground in Germany, the latter attempting to beat back the scientific hosts with a phrase apparently pithy, but really hollow - the declaration that "modern geology observes what is, but has no right to judge concerning the beginning of things." As late as 1876, Zugler took a similar view, and a multitude of lesser lights, through pulpit and press, brought these antiscientific doctrines to bear upon the people at large - the only effect being to arouse grave doubts regarding Christianity among thoughtful men, and especially among young men, who naturally distrusted a cause using such weapons.

For just at this time the traditional view of the Deluge received its death-blow, and in a manner entirely unexpected. By the investigations of George Smith among the Assyrian tablets of the British Museum, in 1872, and by his discoveries just afterward in Assyria, it was put beyond a reasonable doubt that a great mass of accounts in Genesis are simply adaptations of earlier and especially of Chaldean myths and legends. While this proved to be the fact as regards the accounts of Creation and the fall of man, it was seen to be most strikingly so as regards the Deluge. The eleventh of the twelve tablets, on which the most important of these inscriptions was found, was almost wholly preserved, and it revealed in this legend, dating from a time far earlier than that of Moses, such features peculiar to the childhood of the world as the building of the great ship or ark to escape the flood, the careful caulking of its seams, the saving of a man beloved of Heaven, his selecting and taking with him into the vessel animals of all sorts in couples, the impressive final closing of the door, the sending forth different birds as the flood abated, the offering of sacrifices when the flood had subsided, the joy of the Divine Being who had caused the flood as the odour of the sacrifice reached his nostrils; while throughout all was shown that partiality for the Chaldean sacred number seven which appears so constantly in the Genesis legends and throughout the Hebrew sacred books.

Other devoted scholars followed in the paths thus opened - Sayce in England, Lenormant in France, Schrader in Germany - with the result that the Hebrew account of the Deluge, to which for ages theologians had obliged all geological research to conform, was quietly relegated, even by most eminent Christian scholars, to the realm of myth and legend.

Sundry feeble attempts to break the force of this discovery, and an evidently widespread fear to have it known, have certainly impaired not a little the legitimate influence of the Christian clergy.

And yet this adoption of Chaldean myths into the Hebrew Scriptures furnishes one of the strongest arguments for the value of our Bible as a record of the upward growth of man; for, while the Chaldean legend primarily ascribes the Deluge to the mere arbitrary caprice of one among many gods (Bel), the Hebrew development of the legend ascribes it to the justice, the righteousness, of the Supreme God; thus showing the evolution of a higher and nobler sentiment which demanded a moral cause adequate to justify such a catastrophe.

Unfortunately, thus far, save in a few of the broader and nobler minds among the clergy, the policy of ignoring such new revelations has prevailed, and the results of this policy, both in Roman Catholic and in Protestant countries, are not far to seek. What the condition of thought is among the middle classes of France and Italy needs not to be stated here. In Germany, as a typical fact, it may be mentioned that there was in the year 1881 church accommodation in the city of Berlin for but two per cent of the population, and that even this accommodation was more than was needed. This fact is not due to the want of a deep religious spirit among the North Germans: no one who has lived among them can doubt the existence of such a spirit; but it is due mainly to the fact that, while the simple results of scientific investigation have filtered down among the people at large, the dominant party in the Lutheran Church has steadily refused to recognise this fact, and has persisted in imposing on Scripture the fetters of literal and dogmatic interpretation which Germany has largely outgrown. A similar danger threatens every other country in which the clergy pursue a similar policy. No thinking man, whatever may be his religious views, can fail to regret this. A thoughtful, reverent, enlightened clergy is a great blessing to any country. and anything which undermines their legitimate work of leading men out of the worship of material things to the consideration of that which is highest is a vast misfortune.

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