Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/328

This page has been validated.
314
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

a metaphor from metallurgy, the molds have been broken and reconstructed over and over again, but the molten ore abides in the ladle of humanity. An influence so deep and permanent is not likely soon to disappear; but of the future form of religion little can be predicted. Its main concern may possibly be to purify, elevate, and brighten the life that now is, instead of treating it as the more or less dismal vestibule of a life that is to come.

The term "nonsense," which has been just applied to the views of creation enunciated by the Westminster Assembly, was used, as already stated, in reference to our present knowledge and not to the knowledge of three or four centuries ago. To most people the earth was at that time all in all; the sun and moon and stars being set in heaven merely to furnish lamplight to our planet. But though in relation to the heavenly bodies the earth's position and importance were thus exaggerated, very inadequate and erroneous notions were entertained regarding the shape and magnitude of the earth itself. Theologians were horrified when first informed that our planet was a sphere. The question of antipodes exercised them for a long time, most of them pouring ridicule on the idea that men could exist with their feet turned toward us, and with their heads pointing downward. I think it is Sir George Airy who refers to the case of an over-curious individual asking what we should see if we went to the edge of the world and looked over. That the earth was a flat surface on which the sky rested was the belief entertained by the founders of all our great religious systems. Even liberal Protestant theologians stigmatized the Copernican theory as being "built on fallible phenomena and advanced by many arbitrary assumptions against evident testimonies of Scripture."[1] Newton finally placed his intellectual crowbar beneath these ancient notions, and heaved them into irretrievable ruin.

Then it was that penetrating minds, seeing the nature of the change wrought by the new astronomy in our conceptions of the universe, also discerned the difficulty, if not the impossibility, of accepting literally the Mosaic account of creation. They did not reject it, but they assigned to it a meaning entirely new. Dr. Samuel Clarke, who was the personal friend of Newton and a supporter of his theory, threw out the idea that "possibly the six days of creation might be a typical representation of some greater periods." Clarke's contemporary, Dr. Thomas Burnet, wrote with greater decision in the same strain. The Sabbath being regarded as a shadow or type of that heavenly repose which the righteous will enjoy when this world has passed away, "so these six days of creation are so many periods or millenniums for which the world and the toils and labors of our present state are destined to endure."[2] The Mosaic account was thus reduced

  1. Such was the view of Dr. John Owen, who is described by Cox as "the most eminent of the Independent divines."
  2. Cox, vol. ii, p. 211, note.