Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/627

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
607
NEW CHAPTERS IN THE WARFARE OF SCIENCE.

"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."[1]

Such is 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."[2]

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 labors 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 marshaling words, 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 stated that a bigamist had been advised, 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 four-fold 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

  1. See Shields's "Final Philosophy," pp. 340 et seq., and Reusch's "Nature and the Bible" (English translation, 1886), vol. i, pp. 318-320.
  2. See Reusch, vol. i, p. 264.