was a prevailing belief that fossil remains, in general, might be brought under the head of "sports of Nature," a pious turn being given to this phrase by the suggestion that these "sports" were in accordance with some inscrutable purpose of the Almighty.
Such remained a leading orthodox mode of explanation in the Church, Catholic and Protestant, for centuries.
But the better scientific method could not be entirely suppressed; and, near the beginning of the seventeenth century, De Clave, Bitaud, and De Villon revived it in France. Straightway, the theological faculty of Paris protested against the scientific doctrine as unscriptural, destroyed the offending treatises, banished their authors from Paris, and forbade them to live in towns or enter places of public resort.
The champions of science, though repressed for a time, quietly labored on, and especially in Italy. Half a century later, Steno, a Bane, and Scilla, an Italian, went still further in the right direction; and, though they and their disciples took great pains to throw a tub to the whale, in the shape of sundry vague concessions based upon the book of Genesis, geological truth was more and more developed by them.
In France, the old theological spirit remained more powerful. At the middle of the eighteenth century Buffon made another attempt to state simple geological truths; but the theological faculty of the Sarbonne dragged him at once from his high position, forced him to recant ignominiously, and to print his recantation. This humiliating document reminds us painfully of that forced upon Galileo nearly a hundred years before. It runs as follows: "I declare that I had no intention to contradict the text of Scripture, that I believe most firmly all therein related about the creation, both as to order of time and matter of fact. I abandon everything in my book respecting the formation of the earth, and generally all which may be contrary to the narrative of Moses."
It has been well observed by one of the greatest of modern authorities that the doctrine which Buffon thus "abandoned" is as firmly established as the earth's rotation upon its axis. Yet one hundred and fifty years were required to secure for it even a fair hearing; the prevailing doctrine of the Church continued to be that "in the beginning God made the heavens and the earth"; that "all things were made at the beginning of the world"; and that to say that stones and fossils were made before or since "the beginning" is contrary to Scripture. Again, we find theological substitutes for scientific explanation ripening into phrases more and more hollow, making fossils "sports of Nature," or "mineral concretions," or "creations of plastic force," or "models" made by the Creator before he had fully decided upon the best manner of creating various beings.
- See Morley, "Life of Palissy the Potter," vol. ii, p. 315, et seq.
- See citation and remark in Lyell's "Principles of Geology," chap, iii, p. 57.