Popular Science Monthly/Volume 44/February 1894/New Chapters in the Warfare of Science: From Creation to Evolution I
|NEW CHAPTERS IN THE WARFARE OF SCIENCE.
XIX.—FROM CREATION TO EVOLUTION.
By ANDREW DICKSON WHITE, LL.D., L.H.D.,
EX-PRESIDENT OF CORNELL UNIVERSITY.
THE VISIBLE UNIVERSE.
ABOVE the portal of the beautiful cathedral of Freiburg may be seen one of the most interesting of thought fossils. A mediæval sculptor, working into stone various theological conceptions of his time, has there represented the creation. The Almighty, in human form, sits benignly making and placing upon the heavens, like wafers upon paper, sun, moon, and planets; and, at the center, platter-like and largest of all—the earth.
The furrows of thought on the Creator's face show that he is obliged to contrive; the masses of muscle upon his arms show that he is obliged to toil; naturally, then, the sculptors and painters of the mediæval and early modern period frequently represented him as the writers whose conceptions they embodied had done: as, on the seventh day, weary after thought and toil, enjoying well-earned repose and the plaudits of the hosts of heaven.
In this fossilized thought at Freiburg, and in others revealing the same idea in sculpture, painting, and engraving during the middle ages and the two centuries following, culminated a development of human thought which had existed through thousands of years, and which has controlled the world's thinking until our own time.
Its beginnings lie far back in human history; we find them among the early records of nearly all the great civilizations, and they hold a most prominent place in the various sacred books of the world. In nearly all these there is revealed the conception of a Creator, of whom man is an imperfect image, and who literally and directly created the visible universe with his hands and fingers or voice.
Among these theories, of especial interest to us are those which controlled theological thought in Chaldea. The Assyrian inscriptions which have been recently recovered and given to the English-speaking peoples by such scholars as Layard, George Smith, Oppert, Sayce, and others, show that in the ancient religions of Chaldea and Babylonia there was elaborated a narrative of the creation which, in its most important features, must have been the source of that in our own sacred books. Or, at least, it has now become perfectly clear that from the same sources which inspired the accounts of the creation of the universe among the Chaldeo-Babylonian, the Assyrian, the Phœnician, and other ancient civilizations came the ideas which hold so prominent a place in the sacred books of the Hebrews. In the two accounts imperfectly fused together in Genesis, and also in the third account of which we have indications in the book of Job and in the Proverbs, there is presented, often with the greatest sublimity, that same early conception of the Creator and of the creation—the conception, so natural in the childhood of civilization, of a Creator who is an enlarged human being working literally with his own hands, and of a creation which is "the work of his fingers." To supplement this view there was then developed the belief in this Creator as one who, having
"from his ample palm
Launched forth the rolling planets into space,"
sits on high, enthroned "upon the circle of the heavens," perpetually controlling and directing them.
Among the early fathers of the Church this view of creation became fundamental; they impressed upon Christendom more and more strongly the belief that the universe was created in a perfectly literal sense by the hands or voice of God. Here and there sundry theologians of larger mind attempted to give a more spiritual view regarding some parts of the creative work, and of these St. Augustine was chief. Ready as he was to bend his powerful mind to meet the literal text of Scripture, he revolted against the material conception of a creation of the visible universe by the hands and fingers of a Supreme Being, and in this he was followed by Bede and a few others; but the more material conceptions prevailed, and we find them taking shape not only in the sculptures and stained glass of cathedrals, and in the illuminations of missals and psalters, but later, at the close of the middle ages, in the pictured Bibles and in general literature.
Into the Anglo-Saxon mind this ancient material conception of the creation was riveted by two poets whose works appealed especially to the deeper religious feelings. In the seventh century Cædmon paraphrased the account given in Genesis, bringing out this material conception in the most literal form; and a thousand years later Milton developed out of the various statements in the Old Testament, mingled with a theology regarding "the creative word" which had been drawn from the New, his description of the creation by the second person in the Trinity, than which nothing could be more literal and material.
"He took the golden compasses, prepared
In God's eternal store, to circumscribe
This universe and all created things.
One foot he centered, and the other turned
Round through the vast profundity obscure,
And said, 'Thus far extend, thus far thy bounds:
This be thy just circumference, world!'
But as the evolution of theology proceeded, two new points in this materialistic view were especially developed. The first of these was that no material substance existed before the creation of the material universe that—"God created everything out of nothing." Some venturesome thinkers, basing their reasoning upon the first verses of Genesis, hinted at a different view—namely, that the mass, "without form and void," existed before the universe; but this doctrine was soon swept out of sight. The vast majority of the fathers were explicit on this point. Tertullian especially was very severe against those who took any other view than that generally accepted as orthodox; he declared that, if there had been any pre-existing matter out of which the world was formed. Scripture would have mentioned it; that by not mentioning it God has given us a clear proof that there was no such thing; and he threatens Hermogenes, who takes the opposite view, with "the woe which impends on all who add to or take away from the written word."
St. Augustine, who shows signs of a belief in a pre-existence of matter, made his peace with the prevailing belief by the simple reasoning that, "although the world had been made of some material, that very same material must have been made out of nothing."
In the wake of these great men the universal Church steadily followed. The Fourth Lateran Council declared that God created everything out of nothing; and at the present hour the great majority of the faithful—whether Catholic or Protestant—are taught the same doctrine. On this point the syllabus of Pius IX and the Westminster Catechism fully agree.
The other point of which there came a great theological development referred to the time occupied by the Almighty in the creation. The natural tendency of theology was, of course, more and more to glorify the great miracle; and, as a result of this tendency, it began to be held that the so-called Mosaic account of the creation in six days must be subordinated to the text, "He spake, and they were made," and that in some mysterious manner God created the universe in six days, yet brought all things into existence in a moment. Origen and Athanasius especially promoted this view in the East, and St. Augustine in the West.
Serious difficulties were found in reconciling these two views, which to the natural mind seemed absolutely contradictory; but by ingenious use or suppression of facts, by dexterous play upon phrases, and by plentiful metaphysics a reconciliation was effected, and men came at least to believe that they believed in a creation of the universe instantaneous and at the same time in six days.
Some of the efforts to reconcile these two accounts were so fruitful as to deserve especial record. The fathers, Eastern and Western, developed out of the double account in Genesis, with the indications of the Psalms, the Proverbs, and the book of Job, a vast mass of sacred science bearing upon this point. As regards the whole work of creation, stress was laid upon certain occult powers in numerals. Philo Judæus had declared that the world was created in six days because "of all numbers six is the most productive"; he had explained the creation of the heavenly bodies on the fourth, day by "the harmony of the number four"; of the animals on the fifth day by the five senses; of man on the sixth day by the same virtues in the number six which had caused it to be set as a limit to the creative work; and, greatest of all, the rest on the seventh day by the vast mass of mysterious virtues in the number seven.
St. Jerome held that the reason why God did not pronounce the work of the second day "good" is to be found in the fact that there is something essentially evil in the number two, and this was echoed centuries afterward afar off in Britain by Bede.
St. Augustine brought this view to bear upon the Church in the following statement: "There are three classes of numbers—the more than perfect, the perfect, and the less than perfect, according as the sum of them is greater than, equal to, or less than the original number. Six is the first perfect number; wherefore we must not say that six is a perfect number because God finished all his works in six days, but that God finished all his works in six days because six is a perfect number."
Reasoning of this sort echoed along through the mediœval Church until a year after the discovery of America. It was reechoed in the Nuremberg Chronicle as follows: "The creation of things is explained by the number six, the parts of which, one, two, and three, assume the form of a triangle."
This view of the creation of the universe in six days, each made up of an evening and a morning, as stated in the first of the accounts given in Genesis, became virtually universal. Peter Lombard and Hugo of St. Victor, authorities of vast weight in the Church, gave it their sanction in the twelfth century, and impressed it for ages upon the mind of the Church.
Both these lines of speculation—as to the creation of everything out of nothing, and the reconciling of the instantaneous creation of the universe with its creation in six days—were still further developed by sundry great thinkers of the middle ages.
St. Hilary, of Poictiers, reconciled the two conceptions as follows: "For, although according to Moses there is an appearance of regular order in the fixing of the firmament, the laying bare of the dry land, the gathering together of the waters, the formation of the heavenly bodies, and the arising of living things from land and water, yet the creation of the heavens, earth, and other elements is seen to be the work of a single moment."
St. Thomas Aquinas drew from St. Augustine a subtle distinction which for ages eased the difficulties in the case: he taught in effect that God created the substance of things in a moment, but gave to the work of separating, shaping, and adorning this creation six days.
In the seventeenth century the old view, in exact accordance with the first of the two accounts in Genesis, was sanctioned by Bossuet. In his universal history he declared, "Moses teaches us that this Potent Architect wished to create the universe in six days to show that he did not act under necessity or blind impetuosity, as certain philosophers imagine."
The early reformers accepted and developed the same view, and Luther especially showed himself equal to the occasion. With his usual boldness he declared, first, that Moses "spoke properly and plainly, and neither allegorically nor figuratively," and that therefore "the world with all creatures was created in six days." And then he goes on to show how, by a great miracle, the whole creation was also instantaneous.
Melanchthon also insisted that the universe was created out of nothing and in a mysterious way, both in an instant and in six days, citing the text: "He spake, and they were made; he commanded, and they were created."
Calvin opposed the idea of an instantaneous creation, and laid especial stress on the creation in six days; having called attention to the fact that the biblical chronology shows the world to be not quite six thousand years old and that it is now near its end, he says that "creation was extended through six days that it might not be tedious for us to occupy the whole of life in the consideration of it."
Peter Martyr clinched the matter by declaring: "So important is it to comprehend the work of creation in the faith that we see the creed of the Church take this as its starting point. Were this article taken away there would be no original sin, the promise of Christ would become void, and all the vital force of our religion would be destroyed." The Westminster divines in drawing up their Confession of Faith specially laid it down as necessary to believe that all things visible and invisible were created not only out of nothing but in exactly six days.
Nor were the Roman divines less strenuous than the Protestant reformers regarding the necessity of holding closely to the so-called Mosaic account of creation. As late as the middle of the eighteenth century, when Buff on attempted to state simple geological truths, the theological faculty of the Sorbonne forced him to make and to publish a most ignominious recantation which ended with these words: "I abandon everything in my book respecting the formation of the earth, and generally all which may be contrary to the narrative of Moses."
But to these discussions was added yet another, which, beginning in the early days of the Church, was handed down the ages until it has died out among the theologians of our own time.
In the first of the biblical accounts light is created and the distinction between day and night thereby made on the first day, while the sun and moon are not created until the fourth day. Masses of profound theological and pseudo-scientific reasoning have been developed to account for this—masses so great that for ages they have obscured the simple fact that the original text is a precious revelation to us of one of the most ancient and universal of recorded beliefs—the belief that light and darkness are conditions or entities independent of the heavenly bodies, and that the sun, moon, and stars exist not merely to maintain or increase light but to "divide the day from the night, to be for signs and for seasons, and for days and for years," and "to rule the day and the night."
Of this belief we find survivals among the early fathers, and especially in St. Ambrose; in his work on creation he tells us: "We must remember that the light of day is one thing and the light of the sun, moon, and stars another—the sun by his rays appearing to add luster to the daylight. For before sunrise the day dawns but is not in full refulgence, for the sun adds still further to its splendor." This view became one of the "treasures of sacred knowledge committed to the Church," and was faithfully received by the middle ages. The mediæval mysteries and miracle plays give curious evidences of this: In a performance of the creation, when God separates light from darkness, the stage direction is, "Now a painted cloth is to be exhibited, one half black and the other half white." This theory, leaving out all quibblings and special pleadings, which in the light of modern knowledge are fast coming to be recognized as profoundly immoral, was without doubt the understanding and the belief of the person or persons who compiled from the Chaldean and other earlier statements the account of creation in the first of our sacred books.
Thus down to a period almost within living memory it was held, virtually "always, everywhere, and by all," that the universe, as we now see it, was created literally and directly by the voice or hands of the Almighty, or by both—out of nothing—in an instant or in six days, or in both—and for the convenience of the dwellers upon the earth, which was at the base and foundation of the whole structure.
But there had been implanted along through the ages germs of another growth in human thinking, some of them even as early as the Babylonian period. In the Assyrian inscriptions we find recorded the Chaldeo-Babylonian idea of a development of the imiverse out of the primeval flood or "great deep," and of the animal creation out of the earth and sea. This idea, recast, partially at least, into monotheistic form, passed naturally into the sacred books of the neighbors and pupils of the Chaldeans—the Hebrews; but its development in Christendom afterward was checked, as we shall hereafter see, by the more powerful influence of other inherited statements which appealed more simply and powerfully to the mind of the Church.
Far more striking was the effect of this idea, rewrought by the early Ionian philosophers, to whom it was doubtless transmitted from the Chaldeans through the Phœnicians. In the minds of Ionians like Anaximander and Anaximenes it was most strikingly developed; the first of these conceived of the visible universe as the result of processes of evolution, and the latter pressed further the same mode of reasoning, dwelling on agencies in cosmic development recognized in modern science.
This geneal idea of evolution in Nature thus took strong hold upon Greek thought and was developed in many ways, some wonderfully ingenious, some curiously perverse. Plato, indeed, withstood it; but Aristotle sometimes developed it so as to remind us of modern views.
Among the Romans Lucretius caught much, from it, extending the evolutionary process virtually to all things.
In the early Church, as we have seen, the idea of a creation direct, material, and by means like those used by man, was allpowerful for the exclusion of conceptions based on evolution. From the more simple and crude of the two views of creation given in the Babylonian legends, and thence incorporated into Genesis, rose the stream of orthodox thought on the subject, which grew into a flood and swept on through the middle ages and into modern times. Yet here and there in the midst of this flood were to be seen high grounds of thought held by strong men. Scotus Erigena and Duns Scotus, among the schoolmen, bewildered though they were, had caught some rays of this ancient light, and passed on to their successors, in modified form, doctrines of an evolutionary process in the universe.
In the latter half of the sixteenth century these evolutionary theories seemed to take more definite form in the mind of Giordano Bruno, who evidently divined the fundamental fact of what is now known as the "nebular hypothesis"; but with his murder by the Inquisition at Rome this idea seemed utterly to disappear—dissipated by the flames which in 1600 consumed his body on the Campo del Fiore.
Yet within a generation after Bruno's death the world was introduced into a new realm of thought in which an evolution theory of the visible universe was sure to be rapidly developed. For there came, one after the other, five of the greatest men our race has produced—Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Descartes, and Newton—and when their work was done the old theological conception of the universe was gone; "the spacious firmament on high," "the crystalline spheres," the Almighty enthroned upon the circle of the heavens, and with his own hands, or with angels as his agents, keeping sun, moon, and planets in motion for the benefit of the earth, opening and closing the "windows of heaven," letting down upon the earth the "waters above the firmament," setting his bow in the cloud, hanging out signs and wonders, hurling comets, casting forth the lightnings to scare the wicked, and shaking the earth in his wrath—all this has disappeared.
These five men had given a new divine revelation to the world; and through the last, Newton, had come a vast new conception, destined to be fatal to the old theory of creation, for he had shown throughout the universe, in place of almighty caprice, all-pervading law. The bitter opposition of theology to the first four of these men is well known; but the fact is not so widely known that Newton, in spite of his deeply religious spirit, was also strongly opposed. It was vigorously urged against him that by his statement of the law of gravitation he "took from God that direct action on his works so constantly ascribed to him in Scripture and transferred it to material mechanism" and that he "substituted gravitation for Providence" But, more than this, these men gave a new basis for the theory of evolution as distinguished from the theory of creation.
Especially worthy of note is it that the great work of Descartes, erroneous as many of its deductions were, and, in view of the lack of physical knowledge in his time, must be, had done much to weaken the old conception. His theory of a universe brought out of all-pervading matter, wrought into orderly arrangement by movements in accordance with physical laws—though it was but a provisional hypothesis—had done much to draw men's minds from the old theological view of creation; it was an example of intellectual honesty arriving at errors, but thereby aiding the advent of truths. Crippled though Descartes was by his almost morbid fear of the Church, this part of his work was no small factor in bringing in that attitude of mind which led to a reception of the thoughts of more unfettered thinkers.
Thirty years later came, in England, an effort of a different sort, but with a similar result. In 1678 Ralph Cudworth published his Intellectual System of the Universe. To this day he remains, in breadth of scholarship, in strength of thought, in tolerance, and in honesty, one of the greatest glories of the English Church, and his work was worthy of him. He purposed to build a fortress which should protect Christianity against all dangerous theories of the universe, ancient or modern. The foundations of the structure were laid with old thoughts thrown often into new and striking forms; but, as the superstructure arose more and more into view, while genius marked every part of it, features appeared which gave the rigidly orthodox serious misgivings. From the old theories of direct personal action on the universe by the Almighty he broke utterly. He dwelt on the action of law, rejected the continuous exercise of miraculous intervention, pointed out the fact that in the natural world there are "errors" and "bungles" and argued vigorously in favor of the origin and maintenance of the universe as a slow and gradual development of Nature in obedience to an inward principle. The Balaks of seventeenth-century orthodoxy might well condemn this honest Balaam.
Toward the end of the next century a still more profound genius, Immanuel Kant, took up the theory, and in the light of Newton's great utterances gave it a consistency which it had never before had; and about the same time Laplace gave it yet greater strength by mathematical reasonings of wonderful power and extent, thus implanting firmly in modern thought the idea that our own solar system and others, suns, planets, satellites, and their various movements, distances, and magnitudes, necessarily result from the obedience of nebulous masses to natural laws.
Throughout the theological world there was an outcry at once against "atheism," and war raged fiercely. Herschel and others pointed out many nebulous patches yet in the gaseous form. They showed by physical and mathematical demonstrations that the hypothesis accounted for the great body of facts, and, despite clamor, they were gaining ground, when the improved telescopes resolved some of the patches of nebulous matter into multitudes of stars. The opponents of the nebular hypothesis were overjoyed; they now sang pseans to astronomy, because, as they said, it had proved the truth of Scripture. They had jumped to the conclusion that all nebulae must be alike; that if some are made up of systems of stars, all must be so made up; that none can be masses of attenuated gaseous matter, because some are not.
Science halted for a time. The accepted doctrine became this: That the only reason why all the nebulæ are not resolved into distinct stars is that our telescopes are not sufficiently powerful. But in time came the discovery of the spectroscope and spectrum analysis, and this was supplemented by Fraunhofer's discovery that the spectrum of an ignited gaseous body is non-continuous, with interrupting lines; and this, in 1846, by Draper's discovery that the spectrum of an ignited solid is continuous, with no interrupting lines. And now the spectroscope was turned upon the nebulae, and about one third of them were found to be gaseous. Here, then, was excellent ground for the inference that in these nebulous masses at different stages of condensation—some apparently mere patches of mist, some with luminous centers—we have the process of development actually going on, and observations like those of Lord Rosse and Arrest gave yet further confirmation to the scientific view. Then came the great contribution of the nineteenth century to physics, aiding to explain a most important part of the vast process by the mechanical theory of heat.
Again the nebular hypothesis came forth stronger than ever, and about 1850 the beautiful experiment of Plateau on the rotation of a fluid globe came in to illustrate if not to confirm it; even so determined a defender of orthodoxy as Mr. Gladstone at last acknowledged the nebular hypothesis as probably true.
Here, too, was exhibited that form of surrendering theological views to science under the claim that science concurs with theology, which we have seen in so many other fields; and as typical an example may be given, which, however restricted in its scope, throws light on the process by which such surrenders are obtained. A few years since one of the most noted professors of chemistry in the city of New York, under the auspices of one of its largest churches,-gave a lecture which, as was claimed in the public prints and in placards posted in the streets, was to show that science supports the theory of creation given in the sacred books ascribed to Moses. A large audience assembled, and a brilliant series of elementary experiments with oxygen, hydrogen, and carbonic acid was concluded by the Plateau demonstration. It was beautifully made. As the colored globule of oil, representing the earth, was revolved in a transparent medium of equal density, as it became first flattened at the poles, as rings then broke forth from it, and revolved about it, and, finally, as some of these rings broke into satellites, which for a moment continued to circle about the central mass, the audience, as well they might, rose and burst into rapturous applause.
Thereupon a well-to-do citizen arose and moved the thanks of the audience to the eminent professor for "this perfect demonstration of the exact and literal conformity of the statements given in Holy Scripture with the latest results of science." The motion was carried unanimously and with applause, and the audience dispersed, feeling that a great service had been rendered to orthodoxy. "Sancta simplicitas!"
What this incident exhibited on a small scale has been seen elsewhere with more distinguished actors and on a broader stage. Scores of theologians, chief among whom of late, in zeal if not in knowledge, has been Mr. Gladstone, have endeavored to "reconcile" the two accounts in Genesis with each other and with the truths regarding the origin of the universe gained by astronomy, geology, geography, physics, and chemistry. The result has been recently stated by an eminent theologian, the Hulsean Professor of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. He declares, "No attempt at reconciling Genesis with the exacting requirements of modern sciences has ever been known to succeed without entailing a degree of special pleading or forced interpretation to which, in such a question, we should be wise to have no recourse."
The revelations of another group of sciences, though sometimes bitterly opposed and sometimes "reconciled" by theologians, have finally set the whole question at rest. First, there have come the biblical critics—earnest Christian scholars, working for the sake of truth—and these have revealed beyond the shadow of a reasonable doubt the existence of at least two distinct accounts of creation in our book of Genesis, which can sometimes be made to agree, but which are generally absolutely at variance with each other. These scholars have further shown the two accounts to be not the cunningly devised fables of priestcraft, but evidently fragments of earlier legends, myths, and theologies, accepted in good faith and brought together for the noblest of purposes by those who put in order the first of our sacred books.
Next have come the archæologists and philologists, the devoted students of ancient monuments and records; of these are such as Oppert, George Smith, the Rev. Prof. Sayce of Oxford, Jensen, Schrader, and a noble phalanx of similarly devoted scholars, who have deciphered a multitude of ancient texts, especially the inscriptions found in the great library of Assurbanipal at Nineveh, and have discovered therein an account of the origin of the world identical in its most important features with the later accounts in our own book of Genesis.
These men have had the courage to point out these facts and to connect them with the truth that these Chaldean and Babylonian myths, legends, and theories were far earlier than those of the Hebrews, which so strikingly resemble them, and which we have in our sacred books; and they have also shown us how natural it was that the Jewish accounts of the creation should have been obtained at that remote period when the earliest Hebrews were among the Chaldeans, and how the great Hebrew poetic accounts of creation were drawn either from the sacred traditions of these earlier nations or from antecedent sources common to various ancient nations.
In a summary which in its profound thought and fearless integrity does honor not only to himself but to the great position which he holds, the Rev. Dr. Driver, Royal Professor of Hebrew and Canon of Christ Church at Oxford, has recently stated the case fully and fairly. Having pointed out the fact that the Hebrews were one people out of many who thought upon the origin of the universe, he says that they "framed theories to account for the-beginnings of the earth and man"; that "they either did this for themselves or borrowed those of their neighbors"; that "of the theories current in Assyria and Phœnicia fragments have been preserved, and these exhibit points of resemblance with the biblical narrative sufficient to warrant the inference that both are derived from the same cycle of tradition."
After giving some extracts from the Chaldean creation tablets he says: "In the light of these facts it is difficult to resist the conclusion that the biblical narrative is drawn from the same source as these other records. The biblical historians, it is plain, derived their materials from the best human sources available. . . . The materials which with other nations were combined into the crudest physical theories or associated with a grotesque polytheism were vivified and transformed by the inspired genius of the Hebrew historians, and adapted to become the vehicle of profound religious truth."
Not less honorable to the sister university and to himself is the statement recently made by the Rev. Prof. Ryle, Hulsean Professor of Divinity at Cambridge. He says that to suppose that a Christian "must either renounce his confidence in the achievements of scientific research or abandon his faith in Scripture is a monstrous perversion of Christian freedom." He declares: "The old position is no longer tenable; a new position has to be taken up at once, prayerfully chosen, and hopefully held." He then goes on to compare the Hebrew story of creation with the earlier stories developed among kindred peoples, and especially with the Assyro-Babylonian cosmogony, and shows that they are from the same source. He points out that any attempt to explain particular features of the story into harmony with the modern scientific ideas necessitates "a non-natural" interpretation; but he says that if we adopt a natural interpretation "we shall consider that the Hebrew description of the visible universe is unscientific as judged by modern standards, and that it shares the limitations of the imperfect knowledge of the age at which it was committed to writing." Regarding the account in Genesis of man's physical origin, he says that it "is expressed in the simple terms of prehistoric legend, of unscientific pictorial description."
In these statements and in a multitude of others made by eminent Christian investigators in other countries is indicated what the victory is which has now been fully won over the older theology.
Thus, from the Assyrian researches as well as from other sources, it has come to appear and to be acknowledged by the most eminent scholars at the leading seats of Christian learning that the accounts of creation with which for nearly two thousand years all scientific discoveries have had to be "reconciled" the accounts which blocked the way of Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and Laplace—were simply transcribed or evolved from a mass of myths and legends largely derived by the Hebrews from their ancient relations with Chaldea, rewrought in a monotheistic sense, imperfectly reconciled, and then thrown into a poetic form in the sacred books which we have inherited.
On one hand, then, we have the various groups of men devoted to the physical sciences all converging toward the proofs that the universe, as we at present know it, is the result of an evolutionary process—that is, of the gradual working of physical laws upon an early condition of matter; on the other hand, we have other great groups of men devoted to historical, philological, and archaeological science whose researches all converge toward the conclusion that our sacred texts were the result of an evolution from an early chaos of rude opinion.
The great body of theologians who have so long resisted the conclusions of the men of science have claimed to be fighting especially for "the truth of Scripture," and their final answer to the simple conclusions of science regarding the evolution of the material universe has been the cry, "The Bible is true." And they are right—though in a sense nobler than they have dreamed. Science, while conquering them, has found in our Scriptures a far nobler truth than that literal historical exactness for which theologians have so long and so vainly contended. More and more as we consider the results of the long struggle in this field we are brought to the conclusion that the inestimable value of the great sacred books of the world is found in their revelation of the steady striving of our race, in obedience to divine law, after higher conceptions, beliefs, and aspirations, both in morals and religion. Unfolding this long-continued effort, each of the great sacred books of the world is precious, and all in the highest sense are true. Not one of them, indeed, conforms to the measure of what mankind has now reached in historical and scientific truth; to make a claim to such conformity is folly, for it simply exposes those who make it and the books for which it is made to loss of their just influence.
That to which the great sacred books of the world conform, and our own most of all, is the evolution of the highest conceptions, beliefs, and aspirations of our race from its childhood through the great turning points in its history. Herein lies the truth of all bibles, and especially of our own. Of vast value they indeed often are as a record of historical outward fact; recent researches in the East are constantly increasing this value; but it is not for this that we prize them most—they are eminently precious, not as a record of outward fact, but as a mirror of the evolving heart, mind, and soul of man. They are true because they have been developed in accordance with the laws governing the evolution of truth, in human history, and because in poem, chronicle, code, legend, myth, apologue, or parable they reflect this development of what is best in the onward march of humanity. To say that they are not true is as if one should say that a flower or a tree or a planet is not true; to scoff at them is to scoff at the law of the universe. In welding together into noble form, whether in the book of Genesis, or in the Psalms, or in the book of Job, or elsewhere, the great conceptions of men acting under earlier inspiration, whether in Egypt, or Chaldea, or India, or Persia, the compilers of our sacred books have given to humanity a possession ever becoming more and more precious; and modern science in substituting a new heaven and a new earth for the old—the reign of law for the reign of caprice, and the idea of evolution for that of creation—has added and is steadily adding a new revelation divinely inspired.
In the light of these two evolutions, then—one of the visible universe, the other of a sacred creation-legend—science and theology have at last been reconciled. A great step in this reconciliation was recently seen at the main center of theological thought among English-speaking people, when, in the collection of essays entitled Lux Mundi, emanating from the college established in these latter days as the fortress of orthodoxy at Oxford, the legendary character of the creation accounts in our sacred books was acknowledged, and when an archbishop suggested that the "Holy Spirit may at times have made use of myth and legend."
- A somewhat similar series of sculptures representing the Almighty creating the heavens and the earth is also to be seen at the cathedral of Upsala and elsewhere. For an exact statement of the resemblances which have settled the question among the most eminent scholars in favor of the derivation of the Hebrew cosmogony from that of Assyria, see Jensen, Die Kosmologie der Babylonier, Strassburg, 1890, pp. 304, 306; also, Franz Lukas, Die Grundbegriffe in den Kosmographien dcr alten Völker, Leipsic, 1893, pp. 3546; also George Smith's Chaldean Genesis, especially the German translation with additions by Delitzsch, Leipsic, 1876, and Schrader, Die Keilinschriften und das Alte Testament, Giessen, 1883, pp. 1-54, etc. See also Kenan, Histoire du peuple d'Israel, vol. i, chap, i, L'antique influence babylonienne.
- For Cædmon, see Bouterwek's edition, Gütersloh, 1854, vol. i; for Milton, see Paradise Lost, book vii, pp. 225-230.
- For Tertullian, see Tertullian against Hermogenes, chaps, xx and xxii; for St. Augustine regarding "creation from nothing," see the De Geuesi contra Manichæos, lib. i, cap. vi; for St. Ambrose, see the Hexameron, lib. i, cap. iv; for the decree of the Fourth Lateran Council, and the view received in the Church to-day, see the article Creation in Addis and Arnold's Catholic Dictionary.
- For Origen, see his Contra Celsum, cap. xxxvi, xxxvii; also his De Principibus, cap. v; for St. Augustine, see his De Genesi contra Manichæos and De Genesi ad Litteram, passim; for Athanasius, see his Discourses against the Arians, ii, 48, 49.
- For Philo Judæus, see his The Creation of the World, chap, iii; for St. Augustine on the powers of numbers in creation, see his De Genesi ad Litteram, iv, eh. ii; for Peter Lombard, see the Sententiæ, lib. ii, dist. xv, 5; and for Hugo of St. Victor, see De Sacramentis, lib. i, pars i; also, Annotat. Elucidat. in Pentateuchum, cap. v, vi, vii; for St. Hilary, see De Trinitate, lib. xii; for St. Thomas Aquinas, see his Summa Theologica, quest. Ixxxiv, art. i and ii; the passage in the Nuremberg Chronicle, 1493, is in fol. iii; for Bossuet, see his Discours sur l'Histoire Universelle; for the sacredness of the number seven among the Babylonians, see especially Schrader, Die Keilinschriften und das Alte Testament, pp. 21, 22; also George Smith et al.; for general ideas on the occult powers of various numbers, especially the number seven, and the influence of these ideas on theology and science, see my chapter on astronomy.
- For Luther, see his Commentary on Genesis, 1545, introduction, and his comments on chap, i, verse 12; the quotations from Luther's commentary are taken mainly from the translation by Henry Cole, D. D., Edinburgh, 1858; for Melanchthon, see Loci Theologici, in Melanchthon's opera, ed. Bretschneider, vol. xxi, pp. 269, 270; also pp. 637, 638; for the citations from Calvin, see his Commentary on Genesis (Opera omnia, Amsterdam, le'Zl, tom. i, cap. ii, vol. i, p. 8); also in the Institutes, Allen's translation, London, 1838, vol. i, chap. XV, pp. 126, 127; for Peter Martyr, see his Commentary on Genesis, cited by Zöckler, vol. i, p. 690; for the articles in the Westminster Confession of Faith, see chap, iv; for Buffon's recantation, see Lyell, Principles of Geology, chap, iii, p. 57.
- For scriptural indications of the independent existence of light and darkness, compare with the first verses of the first chapter of Genesis such passages as Job xxxviii, 19, 24; for the general prevalence of this early view, see Lukas, Kosmogonie, pp. 31, 33, 41, 74, and passim; for the view of St. Ambrose regarding the creation of light and of the sun, see his Hexameron, lib. 4, cap. iii; for an excellent general statement, see Huxley, Mr. Gladstone and Genesis, in the Nineteenth Century, 1886, reprinted in his Essays on Controverted Questions, London, 1892, note, pp. 126 et seq.; for the acceptance in the miracle plays of the scriptural idea of light and darkness as independent creations, see Wright, Essays on Archæological Subjects, vol. ii, p. 178.
- For an interesting reference to the outcry against Newton, see McCosh, The Religious Aspect of Evolution, New York, 1890, pp. 103, 104; for germs of an evolutionary view among the Babylonians, see George Smith, Chaldean Account of Genesis, New York, 18*70, pp. 74, 75; for a germ of the same thought in Lucretius, see his De Naturâ Rerum, lib. v, 187-194, 447-454; for Bruno's conjecture (in 1591), see Jevons, Principles of Science, London, 1874, vol. ii, p. 299; for Kant's statement, see his Naturgeschichte des Himmels; for his part in the nebular hypothesis, see Lange, Geschichte des Materialismus, vol. i, p. 266; for value of Plateau's beautiful experiment, very cautiously estimated, see Jevons, vol. ii, p. 30; also Elisée Reclus, The Earth, translated by Woodward, vol. i, pp. 14-18, for an estimate still more careful; for a general account of discoveries of the nature of nebulæ by spectroscope, see Draper, Conflict between Religion and Science; for a careful discussion regarding the spectra of solid, liquid, and gaseous bodies, see Schellen, Spectrum Analysis, pp. 100 et seq.; for a very thorough discussion of the bearings of discoveries made by spectrum analysis upon the nebular hypothesis, ibid., pp. 532-537; for a presentation of the difficulties yet unsolved, see an article by Plummer in the London Popular Science Review for January, 1875; for an excellent short summary of recent observations and thought on this subject, see T. Sterry Hunt, Address at the Priestley Centennial, pp. 7, 8; for an interesting modification of this hypothesis, see Proctor's writings.
- For the first citations above made, see The Cosmogony of Genesis, by the Rev. S. R. Driver, D. D., Canon of Christ Church and Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford, in The Expositor for January, 1886; for the second series of citations, see The Early Narrations of Genesis, by Herbert Edward Ryle, Hulsean Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, London, 1892. For evidence that even the stiffest of Scotch Presbyterians have now come to discard the old literal biblical narrative of creation and to regard the declaration of the Westminster Confession thereon as a "disproved theory of creation," see Principal John Tulloch, in Contemporary Review, March, 1877, on Religious Thought in Scotland especially page 550.