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

Final Efforts at Compromise - The Victory of Science Complete

Before concluding, it may be instructive to note a few especially desperate attempts at truces or compromises, such as always appear when the victory of any science has become absolutely sure. Typical among the earliest of these may be mentioned the effort of Carl von Raumer in 1819. With much pretension to scientific knowledge, but with aspirations bounded by the limits of Prussian orthodoxy, he made a laboured attempt to produce a statement which, by its vagueness, haziness, and "depth," should obscure the real questions at issue. This statement appeared in the shape of an argument, used by Bertrand and others in the previous century, to prove that fossil remains of plants in the coal measures had never existed as living plants, but had been simply a "result of the development of imperfect plant embryos"; and the same misty theory was suggested to explain the existence of fossil animals without supposing the epochs and changes required by geological science.

In 1837 Wagner sought to uphold this explanation; but it was so clearly a mere hollow phrase, unable to bear the weight of the facts to be accounted for, that it was soon given up.

Similar attempts were made throughout Europe, the most noteworthy appearing in England. In 1853 was issued an anonymous work having as its title A Brief and Complete Refutation of the Anti-Scriptural Theory of Geologists: the author having revived an old idea, and put a spark of life into it - this idea being that "all the organisms found in the depths of the earth were made on the first of the six creative days, as models for the plants and animals to be created on the third, fifth, and sixth days."

But while these attempts to preserve the old theory as to fossil remains of lower animals were thus pressed, there appeared upon the geological field a new scientific column far more terrible to the old doctrines than any which had been seen previously.

For, just at the close of the first quarter of the nineteenth century, geologists began to examine the caves and beds of drift in various parts of the world; and within a few years from that time a series of discoveries began in France, in Belgium, in England, in Brazil, in Sicily, in India, in Egypt, and in America, which established the fact that a period of time much greater than any which had before been thought of had elapsed since the first human occupation of the earth. The chronologies of Archbishop Usher, Petavius, Bossuet, and the other great authorities on which theology had securely leaned, were found worthless. It was clearly seen that, no matter how well based upon the Old Testament genealogies and lives of the patriarchs, all these systems must go for nothing. The most conservative geologists were gradually obliged to admit that man had been upon the earth not merely six thousand, or sixty thousand, or one hundred and sixty thousand years. And when, in 1863, Sir Charles Lyell, in his book on The Antiquity of Man, retracted solemnly his earlier view - yielding with a reluctance almost pathetic, but with a thoroughness absolutely convincing - the last stronghold of orthodoxy in this field fell.

The supporters of a theory based upon the letter of Scripture, who had so long taken the offensive, were now obliged to fight upon the defensive and at fearful odds. Various lines of defence were taken; but perhaps the most pathetic effort was that made in the year 1857, in England, by Gosse. As a naturalist he had rendered great services to zoological science, but he now concentrated his energies upon one last effort to save the literal interpretation of Genesis and the theological structure built upon it. In his work entitled Omphalos he developed the theory previously urged by Granville Penn, and asserted a new principle called "prochronism." In accordance with this, all things were created by the Almighty hand literally within the six days, each made up of "the evening and the morning," and each great branch of creation was brought into existence in an instant.

Accepting a declaration of Dr. Ure, that "neither reason nor revelation will justify us in extending the origin of the material system beyond six thousand years from our own days," Gosse held that all the evidences of convulsive changes and long epochs in strata, rocks, minerals, and fossils are simply "appearances" - only that and nothing more. Among these mere "appearances," all created simultaneously, were the glacial furrows and scratches on rocks, the marks of retreat on rocky masses, as at Niagara, the tilted and twisted strata, the piles of lava from extinct volcanoes, the fossils of every sort in every part of the earth, the foot-tracks of birds and reptiles, the half-digested remains of weaker animals found in the fossilized bodies of the stronger, the marks of hyenas, teeth on fossilized bones found in various caves, and even the skeleton of the Siberian mammoth at St. Petersburg with lumps of flesh bearing the marks of wolves' teeth - all these, with all gaps and imperfections, he urged mankind to believe came into being in an instant. The preface of the work is especially touching, and it ends with the prayer that science and Scripture may be reconciled by his theory, and "that the God of truth will deign so to use it, and if he do, to him be all the glory." At the close of the whole book Gosse declared: "The field is left clear and undisputed for the one witness on the opposite side, whose testimony is as follows: "In six days Jehovah made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is." This quotation he placed in capital letters, as the final refutation of all that the science of geology had built.

In other parts of Europe desperate attempts were made even later to save the letter of our sacred books by the revival of a theory in some respects more striking. To shape this theory to recent needs, vague reminiscences of a text in Job regarding fire beneath the earth, and vague conceptions of speculations made by Humboldt and Laplace, were mingled with Jewish tradition. Out of the mixture thus obtained Schubert developed the idea that the Satanic "principalities and powers" formerly inhabiting our universe plunged it into the chaos from which it was newly created by a process accurately described in Genesis. Rougemont made the earth one of the "morning stars" of Job, reduced to chaos by Lucifer and his followers, and thence developed in accordance with the nebular hypothesis. Kurtz evolved from this theory an opinion that the geological disturbances were caused by the opposition of the devil to the rescue of our universe from chaos by the Almighty. Delitzsch put a similar idea into a more scholastic jargon; but most desperate of all were the statements of Dr. Anton Westermeyer, of Munich, in The Old Testament vindicated from Modern Infidel Objections.

The following passage will serve to show his ideas: "By the fructifying brooding of the Divine Spirit on the waters of the deep, creative forces began to stir; the devils who inhabited the primeval darkness and considered it their own abode saw that they were to be driven from their possessions, or at least that their place of habitation was to be contracted, and they therefore tried to frustrate God's plan of creation and exert all that remained to them of might and power to hinder or at least to mar the new creation." So came into being "the horrible and destructive monsters, these caricatures and distortions of creation," of which we have fossil remains. Dr. Westermeyer goes on to insist that "whole generations called into existence by God succumbed to the corruption of the devil, and for that reason had to be destroyed"; and that "in the work of the six days God caused the devil to feel his power in all earnest, and made Satan's enterprise appear miserable and vain."

Such was the last important assault upon the strongholds of geological science in Germany; and, in view of this and others of the same kind, it is little to be wondered at that when, in 1870, Johann Silberschlag made an attempt to again base geology upon the Deluge of Noah, he found such difficulties that, in a touching passage, he expressed a desire to get back to the theory that fossils were "sports of Nature."

But the most noted among efforts to keep geology well within the letter of Scripture is of still more recent date. In the year 1885 Mr. Gladstone found time, amid all his labours and cares as the greatest parliamentary leader in England, to take the field in the struggle for the letter of Genesis against geology.

On the face of it his effort seemed Quixotic, for he confessed at the outset that in science he was "utterly destitute of that kind of knowledge which carries authority," and his argument soon showed that this confession was entirely true.

But he had some other qualities of which much might be expected: great skill in phrase-making, great shrewdness in adapting the meanings of single words to conflicting necessities in discussion, wonderful power in erecting showy structures of argument upon the smallest basis of fact, and a facility almost preternatural in "explaining away" troublesome realities. So striking was his power in this last respect, that a humorous London chronicler once advised a bigamist, as his only hope, to induce Mr. Gladstone to explain away one of his wives.

At the basis of this theologico-geological structure Mr. Gladstone placed what he found in the text of Genesis: "A grand fourfold division" of animated Nature "set forth in an orderly succession of times." And he arranged this order and succession of creation as follows: "First, the water population; secondly, the air population; thirdly, the land population of animals; fourthly, the land population consummated in man."

His next step was to slide in upon this basis the apparently harmless proposition that this division and sequence "is understood to have been so affirmed in our time by natural science that it may be taken as a demonstrated conclusion and established fact."

Finally, upon these foundations he proceeded to build an argument out of the coincidences thus secured between the record in the Hebrew sacred books and the truths revealed by science as regards this order and sequence, and he easily arrived at the desired conclusion with which he crowned the whole structure, namely, as regards the writer of Genesis, that "his knowledge was divine."

Such was the skeleton of the structure; it was abundantly decorated with the rhetoric in which Mr. Gladstone is so skilful an artificer, and it towered above "the average man" as a structure beautiful and invincible - like some Chinese fortress in the nineteenth century, faced with porcelain and defended with crossbows.

Its strength was soon seen to be unreal. In an essay admirable in its temper, overwhelming in its facts, and absolutely convincing in its argument, Prof. Huxley, late President of the Royal Society, and doubtless the most eminent contemporary authority on the scientific questions concerned, took up the matter.

Mr. Gladstone's first proposition, that the sacred writings give us a great "fourfold division" created "in an orderly succession of times," Prof. Huxley did not presume to gainsay.

As to Mr. Gladstone's second proposition, that "this great fourfold division... created in an orderly succession of times... has been so affirmed in our own time by natural science that it may be taken as a demonstrated conclusion and established fact," Prof. Huxley showed that, as a matter of fact, no such "fourfold division" and "orderly succession" exist; that, so far from establishing Mr. Gladstone's assumption that the population of water, air, and land followed each other in the order given, "all the evidence we possess goes to prove that they did not"; that the distribution of fossils through the various strata proves that some land animals originated before sea animals; that there has been a mixing of sea, land, and air "population" utterly destructive to the "great fourfold division" and to the creation "in an orderly succession of times"; that, so far is the view presented in the sacred text, as stated by Mr. Gladstone, from having been "so affirmed in our own time by natural science, that it may be taken as a demonstrated conclusion and established fact" that Mr. Gladstone's assertion is "directly contradictory to facts known to every one who is acquainted with the elements of natural science"; that Mr. Gladstone's only geological authority, Cuvier, had died more than fifty years before, when geological science was in its infancy [and he might have added, when it was necessary to make every possible concession to the Church]; and, finally, he challenged Mr. Gladstone to produce any contemporary authority in geological science who would support his so-called scriptural view. And when, in a rejoinder, Mr. Gladstone attempted to support his view on the authority of Prof. Dana, Prof. Huxley had no difficulty in showing from Prof. Dana's works that Mr. Gladstone's inference was utterly unfounded.

But, while the fabric reared by Mr. Gladstone had been thus undermined by Huxley on the scientific side, another opponent began an attack from the biblical side. The Rev. Canon Driver, professor at Mr. Gladstone's own University of Oxford, took up the question in the light of scriptural interpretation. In regard to the comparative table drawn up by Sir J. W. Dawson, showing the supposed correspondence between the scriptural and the geological order of creation, Canon Driver said: "The two series are evidently at variance. The geological record contains no evidence of clearly defined periods corresponding to the `days' of Genesis. In Genesis, vegetation is complete two days before animal life appears. Geology shows that they appear simultaneously - even if animal life does not appear first. In Genesis, birds appear together with aquatic creatures, and precede all land animals; according to the evidence of geology, birds are unknown till a period much later than that at which aquatic creatures (including fishes and amphibia) abound, and they are preceded by numerous species of land animals - in particular, by insects and other `creeping things."' Of the Mosaic account of the existence of vegetation before the creation of the sun, Canon Driver said, " No reconciliation of this representation with the data of science has yet been found"; and again: "From all that has been said, however reluctant we may be to make the admission, only one conclusion seems possible. Read without prejudice or bias, the narrative of Genesis i, creates an impression at variance with the facts revealed by science." The eminent professor ends by saying that the efforts at reconciliation are "different modes of obliterating the characteristic features of Genesis, and of reading into it a view which it does not express."

Thus fell Mr. Gladstone's fabric of coincidences between the "great fourfold division" in Genesis and the facts ascertained by geology. Prof. Huxley had shattered the scientific parts of the structure, Prof. Driver had removed its biblical foundations, and the last great fortress of the opponents of unfettered scientific investigation was in ruins.

In opposition to all such attempts we may put a noble utterance by a clergyman who has probably done more to save what is essential in Christianity among English-speaking people than any other ecclesiastic of his time. The late Dean of Westminster, Dr. Arthur Stanley, was widely known and beloved on both continents. In his memorial sermon after the funeral of Sir Charles Lyell he said: "It is now clear to diligent students of the Bible that the first and second chapters of Genesis contain two narratives of the creation side by side, differing from each other in almost every particular of time and place and order. It is well known that, when the science of geology first arose, it was involved in endless schemes of attempted reconciliation with the letter of Scripture. There were, there are perhaps still, two modes of reconciliation of Scripture and science, which have been each in their day attempted, and each has totally and deservedly failed. One is the endeavour to wrest the words of the Bible from their natural meaning and force it to speak the language of science." And again, speaking of the earliest known example, which was the interpolation of the word "not" in Leviticus xi, 6, he continues: "This is the earliest instance of the falsification of Scripture to meet the demands of science; and it has been followed in later times by the various efforts which have been made to twist the earlier chapters of the book of Genesis into apparent agreement with the last results of geology - representing days not to be days, morning and evening not to be morning and evening, the Deluge not to be the Deluge, and the ark not to be the ark."

After a statement like this we may fitly ask, Which is the more likely to strengthen Christianity for its work in the twentieth century which we are now about to enter - a large, manly, honest, fearless utterance like this of Arthur Stanley, or hair-splitting sophistries, bearing in their every line the germs of failure, like those attempted by Mr. Gladstone?

The world is finding that the scientific revelation of creation is ever more and more in accordance with worthy conceptions of that great Power working in and through the universe. More and more it is seen that inspiration has never ceased, and that its prophets and priests are not those who work to fit the letter of its older literature to the needs of dogmas and sects, but those, above all others, who patiently, fearlessly, and reverently devote themselves to the search for truth as truth, in the faith that there is a Power in the universe wise enough to make truth-seeking safe and good enough to make truth-telling useful.

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