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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/619

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NEW CHAPTERS IN THE WARFARE OF SCIENCE.

instructive; for it shows that the attempt to shape the deductions of science to meet the exigencies of theology 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. He feared that these new discoveries might be used to support the Mosaic accounts of the Deluge: all his wisdom and wit, therefore, were compacted into arguments to prove that the fossil fishes were remains of fishes intended for food, but spoiled and thrown away by travelers; that the fossil shells were accidentally dropped by Crusaders and Pilgrims returning from the Holy Land; and that sundry fossil bones found between Paris and Étampes 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.[1]

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, zoölogical, astronomical proofs that no universal deluge, or deluge covering any great extent 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 taken place save in 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

    for the most recent progress, Professor O. S. Marsh's "Address on the History and Methods of Paleontology," given at Saratoga in 1879.

  1. See Voltaire, "Dissertation sur les Changements arrivés dans notre Globe"; also, Voltaire, "Les Singularités de la Nature," chapter xii; also, Jevons, "Principles of Science," vol. ii, p. 328.