Modernism Responds to Pius X

Earlier I quoted Pope Pius X against the Modernists:

4. But since the Modernists (as they are commonly and rightly called) employ a very clever artifice, namely, to present their doctrines without order and systematic arrangement into one whole, scattered and disjointed one from another, so as to appear to be in doubt and uncertainty, while they are in reality firm and steadfast, it will be of advantage, Venerable Brethren, to bring their teachings together here into one group, and to point out the connexion between them, and thus to pass to an examination of the sources of the errors, and to prescribe remedies for averting the evil.

Pius X proceeds to begin to lay out the doctrines of the modernists as “firm and steadfast,” and as a systematic whole:

5. To proceed in an orderly manner in this recondite subject, it must first of all be noted that every Modernist sustains and comprises within himself many personalities; he is a philosopher, a believer, a theologian, an historian, a critic, an apologist, a reformer. These roles must be clearly distinguished from one another by all who would accurately know their system and thoroughly comprehend the principles and the consequences of their doctrines.

Agnosticism its Philosophical Foundation

6. We begin, then, with the philosopher. Modernists place the foundation of religious philosophy in that doctrine which is usually called Agnosticism. According to this teaching human reason is confined entirely within the field of phenomena, that is to say, to things that are perceptible to the senses, and in the manner in which they are perceptible; it has no right and no power to transgress these limits. Hence it is incapable of lifting itself up to God, and of recognising His existence, even by means of visible things. From this it is inferred that God can never be the direct object of science, and that, as regards history, He must not be considered as an historical subject. Given these premises, all will readily perceive what becomes of Natural Theology, of the motives of credibility, of external revelation. The Modernists simply make away with them altogether; they include them in Intellectualism, which they call a ridiculous and long ago defunct system. Nor does the fact that the Church has formally condemned these portentous errors exercise the slightest restraint upon them. Yet the Vatican Council has defined, “If anyone says that the one true God, our Creator and Lord, cannot be known with certainty by the natural light of human reason by means of the things that are made, let him be anathema” (De Revel., can. I); and also: “If anyone says that it is not possible or not expedient that man be taught, through the medium of divine revelation, about God and the worship to be paid Him, let him be anathema” (Ibid., can. 2); and finally, “If anyone says that divine revelation cannot be made credible by external signs, and that therefore men should be drawn to the faith only by their personal internal experience or by private inspiration, let him be anathema” (De Fide, can. 3). But how the Modernists make the transition from Agnosticism, which is a state of pure nescience, to scientific and historic Atheism, which is a doctrine of positive denial; and consequently, by what legitimate process of reasoning, starting from ignorance as to whether God has in fact intervened in the history of the human race or not, they proceed, in their explanation of this history, to ignore God altogether, as if He really had not intervened, let him answer who can. Yet it is a fixed and established principle among them that both science and history must be atheistic: and within their boundaries there is room for nothing but phenomena; God and all that is divine are utterly excluded. We shall soon see clearly what, according to this most absurd teaching, must be held touching the most sacred Person of Christ, what concerning the mysteries of His life and death, and of His Resurrection and Ascension into heaven.

As I remarked in the earlier post, Pope Pius X’s condemnation is sweeping and general, and surely many of the people who possessed many of the attitudes that the Pope considered modernist did not in fact embrace a systematic view such as the above. In a Modernist response, anonymous just as those accused by the encyclical are anonymous, one or some of the modernists responded to the encyclical (taken from the opening of this book):

A document so weighty, both in substance and form, as the Encyclical which we have reproduced at the end of this book; an attempt so deliberate to present “Modernist”* views to the public under a false and unfavorable light; a condemnation so authoritative of us Modernists as dangerous foes of Christian piety and unconscious promoters of atheism, make it a duty, which we owe to our own conscience, to the collective conscience, of the faithful, and to an anxious and expectant public, to lay bare our whole mind without reserve or concealment. We cannot possibly remain silent under the violent accusation which the chief authority of the Church, albeit recognizing us as her faithful subjects and as resolved to cling to her till our last breath, heaps upon our head. Hence there is nothing arrogant in our reply, since it is an elementary principle of justice for those who are accused to defend themselves; nor can we believe that this right has been taken from us at a moment so critical for the fortunes of Catholic Christianity.

They remark in the note on the name “Modernist”:

Let us say, once and for all, that we use this term only that we may be understood by those who have learnt it from the Encyclical, and that we do not need a new name to describe an attitude which we consider to be simply that of Christians and Catholics who live in harmony with the spirit of their day.

The following chapter begins to comment on the “systematic arrangement” laid out by Pius X:

First of all we must lay bare an equivocation by which inexpert readers of the Encyclical might easily be misled. That document starts with the assumption that there lies at the root of Modernism a certain philosophical system from which we deduce our critical methods, whether biblical or historical; in other words, that our zeal to reconcile the doctrines of Catholic tradition with the conclusions of positive science springs really from some theoretical apriorism which we defend through our ignorance of scholasticism and the rebellious pride of our reason. Now the assertion is false, and since it is the basis on which the Encyclical arranges its various arguments we cannot in our reply follow the order of that fallacious arrangement; but we must first of all show the utter emptiness of this allegation, and then discuss the theories which the Encyclical imputes to us.

In truth, the historical development, the methods and programme of so-called Modernism are very different from what they are said to be by the compilers of Pascendi Gregis.

So far from our philosophy dictating our critical method, it is the critical method that has, of its own accord, forced us to a very tentative and uncertain formulation of various philosophical conclusions, or better still, to a clearer exposition of certain ways of thinking to which Catholic apologetic has never been wholly a stranger. This independence of our criticism in respect to our purely tentative philosophy is evident in many ways.

First of all, of their own nature, textual criticism, as well as the so-called Higher Criticism (that is, the internal analysis of biblical documents with a view to establishing their origin and value), prescind entirely from philosophical assumptions. A single luminous example will suffice–that furnished by the question of the Comma Johanneum–now settled for ever. In past days when theologians wanted to prove the doctrine of the Trinity they never omitted to quote from the Vulgate (1 John v. 7): “There are three that bear record in Heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost.” Now the italicized words are lacking in all the Greek MSS. of to-day, cursive or uncial, and in all the Greek epistolaries and lectionaries, and in all the ancient translations, except the Vulgate, in the works of the Greek Fathers and of other Greek writers prior to the the twelfth century, in those of all the ancient Syrian and Armenian writers, and in those of a great number of the Latin Fathers. This silence of East and West is all the more remarkable as the passage would have been of priceless value in the Arian controversy. That it was not then appealed to, proves that it did not exist at the beginning of the fourth century. Moreove, a collation of MSS. and their comparison with the works of the heretic Priscillian, discovered a few years ago, makes it clear that the verse in question comes from Spain, and was fabricated by that heretic (A.D. 384) in favour of his trinitarian views, of which Peregrinus made himself the propagandist. Now it is plain that in order to arrive at such a conclusion and to study such a literary problem critically, no sort of philosophical doctrine or presupposition is required. The same can be said of a whole host of biblical and historical problems whose impartial solutions, leading to results so different from those of traditional Catholic criticism, are the true cause of that revolution in religious apologetic which we find forced upon us by sheer necessity. Does one really need any special philosophical preparation to trace a diversity of sources in the Pentateuch, or to convince oneself, by the most superficial comparison of texts, that the Fourth Gospel is a substantially different kind of work from the synoptics, or that the Nicene Creed is essentially a development of the Apostles’ Creed?

The modernists have the better of the argument here. One might say that this kind of argument regarding the Comma involves philosophical presuppositions only by making arguments like, “This presupposes that our memory is valid,” “This presupposes that these manuscripts really come from those times,” “This presupposes that the others who have studied this question were being basically honest,” and so on. But these things are really just common sense, not some special philosophy. Nor are they even premises, in general, in the sense that my memory of drinking coffee this morning is not a premise in an argument that I drank coffee this morning; I simply assert that I did, and my memory is an efficient cause of my statement, not an argument for it.

The modernists bring up this example not as an irrelevant detail, but because it was precisely the kind of thing they were criticized for. Thus we have this from the Acta Sanctae Sedis in 1897 [this document, page 637]:

« Utrum tuto negari, aut saltem in dubium revocari possit
« esse authenticum textum S. Ioannis, in epistola prima, capo V,
« vers. 7, quod sic se habet: Quoniam tres sunt, qui testimonium
« dant in coelo: Pater, Verbum et Spiritus Sanctus: et hi tres
« unum sunt? »
Omnibus diligentissimo examine perpensis, praehabito que
DD. Consultorum voto, iidem Emi Cardinales respondendum
mandarunt: « Negative ».

The decree asserts that the authenticity of the text cannot be safely denied or even called into doubt. Now I have previously discussed such decrees. These should never be understood as attempting to settle the truth of the matter definitively. Rather they are making a rule: you are not allowed to deny this or even to call it into question.

Pope Pius X complains in Pascendi:

Finally, and this almost destroys all hope of cure, their very doctrines have given such a bent to their minds, that they disdain all authority and brook no restraint; and relying upon a false conscience, they attempt to ascribe to a love of truth that which is in reality the result of pride and obstinacy.

For Pope Pius X, calling into question the authenticity of the Comma would be “the result of pride and obstinacy,” because one questioning it would be in disobedience to the above decree. But given the kinds of arguments that are involved, it is easy enough to see why the people questioning it would ascribe this rather to a love of truth.

All of this might call to mind earlier debates. Here is Philip Gosse, quoted at length in the linked post:

I am not assuming here that the Inspired Word has been rightly read; I merely say that the plain straightforward meaning, the meaning that lies manifestly on the face of the passages in question, is in opposition with the conclusions which geologists have formed, as to the antiquity and the genesis of the globe on which we live.

Perhaps the simple, superficial sense of the Word is not the correct one; but it is at least that which its readers, learned and unlearned, had been generally content with before; and which would, I suppose, scarcely have been questioned, but for what appeared the exigencies of geological facts.

Now while there are, unhappily, not a few infidels, professed or concealed, who eagerly seize on any apparent discrepancy between the works and the Word of God, in order that they may invalidate the truth of the latter, there are, especially in this country, many names of the highest rank in physical (and, among other branches, in geological) science, to whom the veracity of God is as dear as life. They cannot bear to see it impugned; they know that it cannot be overthrown; they are assured that He who gave the Word, and He who made the worlds, is One Jehovah, who cannot be inconsistent with Himself. But they cannot shut their eyes to the startling fact, that the records which seem legibly written on His created works do flatly contradict the statements which seem to be plainly expressed in His word.

Here is a dilemma. A most painful one to the reverent mind! And many reverent minds have laboured hard and long to escape from it. It is unfair and dishonest to class our men of science with the infidel and atheist. They did not rejoice in the dilemma; they saw it at first dimly, and hoped to avoid it. At first they believed that the mighty processes which are recorded on the “everlasting mountains” might not only be harmonized with, but might afford beautiful and convincing demonstrations of Holy Scripture. They thought that the deluge of Noah would explain the stratification, and the antediluvian era account for the organic fossils.

A parallel passage could easily be written on the opposition between Pope Pius X and the modernists. While I don’t have a source at hand at the moment, it seems that Alfred Loisy did state after his excommunication that he had secretly been an atheist for many years. There is no way of knowing, however, whether this is true in a literal sense or was simply his own retrospective analysis of his past state of mind. In any case, it is quite sure that many of the modernists were not secret atheists, but simply men like the geologists in Gosse’s passage. Conflict came to light between the actual facts of geology and the current understanding based on the text of Genesis, and something had to be said about that conflict. In a similar way, in the modernist controversy, conflict came to light between the actual facts of history and the current understanding based on the Church’s traditions, and something had to be said about that conflict.

Gosse complains that the geologists are classed with “the infidel and the atheist,” in effect for their recognition of geological facts; Pius X accuses the modernists of secret agnosticism or atheism, in effect for their recognition of historical facts.

In both cases, the accusation is that an atheistic metaphysics, and likely an atheistic epistemology, comes first, and is responsible for the conclusions that are drawn. And in both cases the accusation is false. Epistemology cannot come first in principle, and it does not come first in practice in these cases. You might be able to argue that these people have ended up with a mistaken epistemology, and you might be able to argue that it does not follow from the facts from which they have drawn it. But they have drawn it from facts, mistakenly or not, and not the facts from the epistemology.

This is ultimately why, despite the lack of firm definition of the term “Modernism,” the controversy has remained until this day. This is why accusations of modernism continue to be thrown around, as a few years ago when Bishop Fellay accused Pope Francis of modernism:

What Gospel does he have? Which Bible does he have to say such things. It’s horrible. What has this to do with the Gospel? With the Catholic Faith? That’s pure Modernism, my dear brethren. We have in front of us a genuine Modernist…

If one wishes to criticize the views which are characterized as “modernist,” whether in the early 20th century or now in the 21st, one will make no progress without the acknowledgement that it was first the consideration of certain facts that led to those views, rightly or wrongly. Attributing them to some general system is simplistic and wrong.

Development of Doctrine

John Henry Newman begins the introduction to his book An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine:

CHRISTIANITY has been long enough in the world to justify us in dealing with it as a fact in the world’s history. Its genius and character, its doctrines, precepts, and objects cannot be treated as matters of private opinion or deduction, unless we may reasonably so regard the Spartan institutions or the religion of Mahomet. It may indeed legitimately be made the subject-matter of theories; what is its moral and political excellence, what its due location in the range of ideas or of facts which we possess, whether it be divine or human, whether original or eclectic, or both at once, how far favourable to civilization or to literature, whether a religion for all ages or for a particular state of society, these are questions upon the fact, or professed solutions of the fact, and belong to the province of opinion; but to a fact do they relate, on an admitted fact do they turn, which must be ascertained as other facts, and surely has on the whole been so ascertained, unless the testimony of so many centuries is to go for nothing. Christianity is no theory of the study or the cloister. It has long since passed beyond the letter of documents and the reasonings of individual minds, and has become public property. Its “sound has gone out into all lands,” and its “words unto the ends of the world.” It has from the first had an objective existence, and has thrown itself upon the great concourse of men. Its home is in the world; and to know what it is, we must seek it in the world, and hear the world’s witness of it.

2.

The hypothesis, indeed, has met with wide reception in these latter times, that Christianity does not fall within the province of history,—that it is to each man what each man thinks it to be, and nothing else; and thus in fact is a mere name for a cluster or family of rival religions all together, religions at variance one with another, and claiming the same appellation, not because there can be assigned any one and the same doctrine as the common foundation of all, but because certain points of agreement may be found here and there of some sort or other, by which each in its turn is connected with one or other of the rest. Or again, it has been maintained, or implied, that all existing denominations of Christianity are wrong, none representing it as taught by Christ and His Apostles; that the original religion has gradually decayed or become hopelessly corrupt; nay that it died out of the world at its birth, and was forthwith succeeded by a counterfeit or counterfeits which assumed its name, though they inherited at best but some fragments of its teaching; or rather that it cannot even be said either to have decayed or to have died, because historically it has no substance of its own, but from the first and onwards it has, on the stage of the world, been nothing more than a mere assemblage of doctrines and practices derived from without, from Oriental, Platonic, Polytheistic sources, from Buddhism, Essenism, Manicheeism; or that, allowing true Christianity still to exist, it has but a hidden and isolated life, in the hearts of the elect, or again as a literature or philosophy, not certified in any way, much less guaranteed, to come from above, but one out of the various separate informations about the Supreme Being and human duty, with which an unknown Providence has furnished us, whether in nature or in the world.

3.

All such views of Christianity imply that there is no sufficient body of historical proof to interfere with, or at least to prevail against, any number whatever of free and independent hypotheses concerning it. But this, surely, is not self-evident, and has itself to be proved. Till positive reasons grounded on facts are adduced to the contrary, the most natural hypotheses, the most agreeable to our mode of proceeding in parallel cases, and that which takes precedence of all others, is to consider that the society of Christians, which the Apostles left on earth, were of that religion to which the Apostles had converted them; that the external continuity of name, profession, and communion, argues a real continuity of doctrine; that, as Christianity began by manifesting itself as of a certain shape and bearing to all mankind, therefore it went on so to manifest itself; and that the more, considering that prophecy had already determined that it was to be a power visible in the world and sovereign over it, characters which are accurately fulfilled in that historical Christianity to which we commonly give the name. It is not a violent assumption, then, but rather mere abstinence from the wanton admission of a principle which would necessarily lead to the most vexatious and preposterous scepticism, to take it for granted, before proof to the contrary, that the Christianity of the second, fourth, seventh, twelfth, sixteenth, and intermediate centuries is in its substance the very religion which Christ and His Apostles taught in the first, whatever may be the modifications for good or for evil which lapse of years, or the vicissitudes of human affairs, have impressed upon it.

Of course I do not deny the abstract possibility of extreme changes. The substitution is certainly, in idea, supposable of a counterfeit Christianity,—superseding the original, by means of the adroit innovations of seasons, places, and persons, till, according to the familiar illustration, the “blade” and the “handle” are alternately renewed, and identity is lost without the loss of continuity. It is possible; but it must not be assumed. The onus probandi is with those who assert what it is unnatural to expect; to be just able to doubt is no warrant for disbelieving.

His basic claim in these paragraphs is that we should assume that Christianity has remained substantially unchanged over time, and that the changes that have taken place are relatively minor ones, unless it is first proven otherwise.

Next, he contrasts this idea with Protestant forms of Christianity:

4.

Accordingly, some writers have gone on to give reasons from history for their refusing to appeal to history. They aver that, when they come to look into the documents and literature of Christianity in times past, they find its doctrines so variously represented, and so inconsistently maintained by its professors, that, however natural it be à priori, it is useless, in fact, to seek in history the matter of that Revelation which has been vouchsafed to mankind; that they cannot be historical Christians if they would. They say, in the words of Chillingworth, “There are popes against popes, councils against councils, some fathers against others, the same fathers against themselves, a consent of fathers of one age against a consent of fathers of another age, the Church of one age against the Church of another age:”—Hence they are forced, whether they will or not, to fall back upon the Bible as the sole source of Revelation, and upon their own personal private judgment as the sole expounder of its doctrine. This is a fair argument, if it can be maintained, and it brings me at once to the subject of this Essay. Not that it enters into my purpose to convict of misstatement, as might be done, each separate clause of this sweeping accusation of a smart but superficial writer; but neither on the other hand do I mean to deny everything that he says to the disadvantage of historical Christianity. On the contrary, I shall admit that there are in fact certain apparent variations in its teaching, which have to be explained; thus I shall begin, but then I shall attempt to explain them to the exculpation of that teaching in point of unity, directness, and consistency.

5.

Meanwhile, before setting about this work, I will address one remark to Chillingworth and his friends:—Let them consider, that if they can criticize history, the facts of history certainly can retort upon them. It might, I grant, be clearer on this great subject than it is. This is no great concession. History is not a creed or a catechism, it gives lessons rather than rules; still no one can mistake its general teaching in this matter, whether he accept it or stumble at it. Bold outlines and broad masses of colour rise out of the records of the past. They may be dim, they may be incomplete; but they are definite. And this one thing at least is certain; whatever history teaches, whatever it omits, whatever it exaggerates or extenuates, whatever it says and unsays, at least the Christianity of history is not Protestantism. If ever there were a safe truth, it is this.

And Protestantism has ever felt it so. I do not mean that every writer on the Protestant side has felt it; for it was the fashion at first, at least as a rhetorical argument against Rome, to appeal to past ages, or to some of them; but Protestantism, as a whole, feels it, and has felt it. This is shown in the determination already referred to of dispensing with historical Christianity altogether, and of forming a Christianity from the Bible alone: men never would have put it aside, unless they had despaired of it. It is shown by the long neglect of ecclesiastical history in England, which prevails even in the English Church. Our popular religion scarcely recognizes the fact of the twelve long ages which lie between the Councils of Nicæa and Trent, except as affording one or two passages to illustrate its wild interpretations of certain prophesies of St. Paul and St. John. It is melancholy to say it, but the chief, perhaps the only English writer who has any claim to be considered an ecclesiastical historian, is the unbeliever Gibbon. To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.

6.

And this utter incongruity between Protestantism and historical Christianity is a plain fact, whether the latter be regarded in its earlier or in its later centuries. Protestants can as little bear its Ante-nicene as its Post-tridentine period. I have elsewhere observed on this circumstance: “So much must the Protestant grant that, if such a system of doctrine as he would now introduce ever existed in early times, it has been clean swept away as if by a deluge, suddenly, silently, and without memorial; by a deluge coming in a night, and utterly soaking, rotting, heaving up, and hurrying off every vestige of what it found in the Church, before cock-crowing: so that ‘when they rose in the morning’ her true seed ‘were all dead corpses’—Nay dead and buried—and without grave-stone. ‘The waters went over them; there was not one of them left; they sunk like lead in the mighty waters.’ Strange antitype, indeed, to the early fortunes of Israel!—then the enemy was drowned, and ‘Israel saw them dead upon the sea-shore.’ But now, it would seem, water proceeded as a flood ‘out of the serpent’s mouth, and covered all the witnesses, so that not even their dead bodies lay in the streets of the great city.’ Let him take which of his doctrines he will, his peculiar view of self-righteousness, of formality, of superstition; his notion of faith, or of spirituality in religious worship; his denial of the virtue of the sacraments, or of the ministerial commission, or of the visible Church; or his doctrine of the divine efficacy of the Scriptures as the one appointed instrument of religious teaching; and let him consider how far Antiquity, as it has come down to us, will countenance him in it. No; he must allow that the alleged deluge has done its work; yes, and has in turn disappeared itself; it has been swallowed up by the earth, mercilessly as itself was merciless.”

That Protestantism, then, is not the Christianity of history, it is easy to determine, but to retort is a poor reply in controversy to a question of fact, and whatever be the violence or the exaggeration of writers like Chillingworth, if they have raised a real difficulty, it may claim a real answer, and we must determine whether on the one hand Christianity is still to represent to us a definite teaching from above, or whether on the other its utterances have been from time to time so strangely at variance, that we are necessarily thrown back on our own judgment individually to determine, what the revelation of God is, or rather if in fact there is, or has been, any revelation at all.

Newman uses Chillingworth as an example of someone who disagrees with that Christianity has actually possessed historical continuity. There is no real continuity, says Chillingworth, because Christians throughout history have contradicted each other in every possible way. So we are left to our own devices, and to the Bible, if we want to know the teaching of Christ.

Newman responds that Protestantism is also not the “Christianity of history.” It is likely enough that Chillingworth would not find this a meaningful objection, since his whole point would be that history does not matter. However, Newman points out that such a situation would suggest that Christianity is not a revelation of God at all, but a matter of human opinion.

He goes on to acknowledge that Chillingworth has a certain point about the history of Christianity, and begins to discuss the explanation for this point offered by Anglicanism, which he considers as though a kind of mean between Catholicism and Protestantism.

7.

Here then I concede to the opponents of historical Christianity, that there are to be found, during the 1800 years through which it has lasted, certain apparent inconsistencies and alterations in its doctrine and its worship, such as irresistibly attract the attention of all who inquire into it. They are not sufficient to interfere with the general character and course of the religion, but they raise the question how they came about, and what they mean, and have in consequence supplied matter for several hypotheses.

Of these one is to the effect that Christianity has even changed from the first and ever accommodates itself to the circumstances of times and seasons; but it is difficult to understand how such a view is compatible with the special idea of revealed truth, and in fact its advocates more or less abandon, or tend to abandon the supernatural claims of Christianity; so it need not detain us here.

A second and more plausible hypothesis is that of the Anglican divines, who reconcile and bring into shape the exuberant phenomena under consideration, by cutting and casting away as corruptions all usages, ways, opinions, and tenets, which have not the sanction of primitive times. They maintain that history first presents to us a pure Christianity in East and West, and then a corrupt; and then of course their duty is to draw the line between what is corrupt and what is pure, and to determine the dates at which the various changes from good to bad were introduced. Such a principle of demarcation, available for the purpose, they consider they have found in the dictum of Vincent of Lerins, that revealed and Apostolic doctrine is “quod semper, quod ubique, quod ab omnibus,” a principle infallibly separating, on the whole field of history, authoritative doctrine from opinion, rejecting what is faulty, and combining and forming a theology. That “Christianity is what has been held always, everywhere, and by all,” certainly promises a solution of the perplexities, an interpretation of the meaning, of history. What can be more natural than that divines and bodies of men should speak, sometimes from themselves, sometimes from tradition? what more natural than that individually they should say many things on impulse, or under excitement, or as conjectures, or in ignorance? what more certain than that they must all have been instructed and catechized in the Creed of the Apostles? what more evident than that what was their own would in its degree be peculiar, and {11} differ from what was similarly private and personal in their brethren? what more conclusive than that the doctrine that was common to all at once was not really their own, but public property in which they had a joint interest, and was proved by the concurrence of so many witnesses to have come from an Apostolical source? Here, then, we have a short and easy method for bringing the various informations of ecclesiastical history under that antecedent probability in its favour, which nothing but its actual variations would lead us to neglect. Here we have a precise and satisfactory reason why we should make much of the earlier centuries, yet pay no regard to the later, why we should admit some doctrines and not others, why we refuse the Creed of Pius IV. and accept the Thirty-nine Articles.

8.

Such is the rule of historical interpretation which has been professed in the English school of divines; and it contains a majestic truth, and offers an intelligible principle, and wears a reasonable air. It is congenial, or, as it may be said, native to the Anglican mind, which takes up a middle position, neither discarding the Fathers nor acknowledging the Pope. It lays down a simple rule by which to measure the value of every historical fact, as it comes, and thereby it provides a bulwark against Rome, while it opens an assault upon Protestantism. Such is its promise; but its difficulty lies in applying it in particular cases. The rule is more serviceable in determining what is not, than what is Christianity; it is irresistible against Protestantism, and in one sense indeed it is irresistible against Rome also, but in the same sense it is irresistible against England. It strikes at Rome through England. It admits of being interpreted in one of two ways: if it be narrowed for the purpose of disproving the catholicity of the Creed of Pope Pius, it becomes also an objection to the Athanasian; and if it be relaxed to admit the doctrines retained by the English Church, it no longer excludes certain doctrines of Rome which that Church denies. It cannot at once condemn St. Thomas and St. Bernard, and defend St. Athanasius and St. Gregory Nazianzen.

This general defect in its serviceableness has been heretofore felt by those who appealed to it. It was said by one writer; “The Rule of Vincent is not of a mathematical or demonstrative character, but moral, and requires practical judgment and good sense to apply it. For instance, what is meant by being ‘taught always‘? does it mean in every century, or every year, or every month? Does ‘everywhere’ mean in every country, or in every diocese? and does ‘the Consent of Fathers‘ require us to produce the direct testimony of every one of them? How many Fathers, how many places, how many instances, constitute a fulfilment of the test proposed? It is, then, from the nature of the case, a condition which never can be satisfied as fully as it might have been. It admits of various and unequal application in various instances; and what degree of application is enough, must be decided by the same principles which guide us in the conduct of life, which determine us in politics, or trade, or war, which lead us to accept Revelation at all, (for which we have but probability to show at most,) nay, to believe in the existence of an intelligent Creator.”

Once you realize that Christianity has in fact changed throughout history, he says, you need to explain that fact. He dismisses the explanation that Christianity is simply a changeable thing, since he says that the adherents of this view either abandon the idea of divine revelation, or at least have a tendency to abandon it.

The Anglican view, he says, is that there is a common body of more or less unchanging doctrine which is the true revelation of Christ, and we should accept this common body of doctrine while rejecting whatever is added to it. He points out that there is a problem with this explanation: the body of doctrine accepted by Anglicans is not in fact historically more common than doctrines which imply the truth of Catholicism. He cites various examples such as the following:

17.

One additional specimen shall be given as a sample of many others:—I betake myself to one of our altars to receive the Blessed Eucharist; I have no doubt whatever on my mind about the Gift which that Sacrament contains; I confess to myself my belief, and I go through the steps on which it is assured to me. “The Presence of Christ is here, for It follows upon Consecration; and Consecration is the prerogative of Priests; and Priests are made by Ordination; and Ordination comes in direct line from the Apostles. Whatever be our other misfortunes, every link in our chain is safe; we have the Apostolic Succession, we have a right form of consecration: therefore we are blessed with the great Gift.” Here the question rises in me, “Who told you about that Gift?” I answer, “I have learned it from the Fathers: I believe the Real Presence because they bear witness to it. St. Ignatius calls it ‘the medicine of immortality:’ St. Irenæus says that ‘our flesh becomes incorrupt, and partakes of life, and has the hope of the resurrection,’ as ‘being nourished from the Lord’s Body and Blood;’ that the Eucharist ‘is made up of two things, an earthly and an heavenly:’ perhaps Origen, and perhaps Magnes, after him, say that It is not a type of our Lord’s Body, but His Body: and St. Cyprian uses language as fearful as can be spoken, of those who profane it. I cast my lot with them, I believe as they.” Thus I reply, and then the thought comes upon me a second time, “And do not the same ancient Fathers bear witness to another doctrine, which you disown? Are you not as a hypocrite, listening to them when you will, and deaf when you will not? How are you casting your lot with the Saints, when you go but half-way with them? For of whether of the two do they speak the more frequently, of the Real Presence in the Eucharist, or of the Pope’s supremacy? You accept the lesser evidence, you reject the greater.”

The Anglicans, or at least those with whom Newman once agreed, accepted the doctrine of the Real Presence, but of course rejected the idea of the authority of the Pope. This is not consistent, he says, because the Fathers who testify to the Real Presence also testify to the Pope’s authority, perhaps even more clearly.

After discussing briefly one other hypothesis which he dismisses as insufficient, he proposes his own:

21.

The following Essay is directed towards a solution of the difficulty which has been stated,—the difficulty, as far as it exists, which lies in the way of our using in controversy the testimony of our most natural informant concerning the doctrine and worship of Christianity, viz. the history of eighteen hundred years. The view on which it is written has at all times, perhaps, been implicitly adopted by theologians, and, I believe, has recently been illustrated by several distinguished writers of the continent, such as De Maistre and Möhler: viz. that the increase and expansion of the Christian Creed and Ritual, and the variations which have attended the process in the case of individual writers and Churches, are the necessary attendants on any philosophy or polity which takes possession of the intellect and heart, and has had any wide or extended dominion; that, from the nature of the human mind, time is necessary for the full comprehension and perfection of great ideas; and that the highest and most wonderful truths, though communicated to the world once for all by inspired teachers, could not be comprehended all at once by the recipients, but, as being received and transmitted by minds not inspired and through media which were human, have required only the longer time and deeper thought for their full elucidation. This may be called the Theory of Development of Doctrine; and, before proceeding to treat of it, one remark may be in place.

It is undoubtedly an hypothesis to account for a difficulty; but such too are the various explanations given by astronomers from Ptolemy to Newton of the apparent motions of the heavenly bodies, and it is as unphilosophical on that account to object to the one as to object to the other. Nor is it more reasonable to express surprise, that at this time of day a theory is necessary, granting for argument’s sake that the theory is novel, than to have directed a similar wonder in disparagement of the theory of gravitation, or the Plutonian theory in geology. Doubtless, the theory of the Secret and the theory of doctrinal Developments are expedients, and so is the dictum of Vincentius; so is the art of grammar or the use of the quadrant; it is an expedient to enable us to solve what has now become a necessary and an anxious problem. For three hundred years the documents and the facts of Christianity have been exposed to a jealous scrutiny; works have been judged spurious which once were received without a question; facts have been discarded or modified which were once first principles in argument; new facts and new principles have been brought to light; philosophical views and polemical discussions of various tendencies have been maintained with more or less success. Not only has the relative situation of controversies and theologies altered, but infidelity itself is in a different,—I am obliged to say in a more hopeful position,—as regards Christianity. The facts of Revealed Religion, though in their substance unaltered, present a less compact and orderly front to the attacks of its enemies now than formerly, and allow of the introduction of new inquiries and theories concerning its sources and its rise. The state of things is not as it was, when an appeal lay to the supposed works of the Areopagite, or to the primitive Decretals, or to St. Dionysius’s answers to Paul, or to the Cœna Domini of St. Cyprian. The assailants of dogmatic truth have got the start of its adherents of whatever Creed; philosophy is completing what criticism has begun; and apprehensions are not unreasonably excited lest we should have a new world to conquer before we have weapons for the warfare. Already infidelity has its views and conjectures, on which it arranges the facts of ecclesiastical history; and it is sure to consider the absence of any antagonist theory as an evidence of the reality of its own. That the hypothesis, here to be adopted, accounts not only for the Athanasian Creed, but for the Creed of Pope Pius, is no fault of those who adopt it. No one has power over the issues of his principles; we cannot manage our argument, and have as much of it as we please and no more. An argument is needed, unless Christianity is to abandon the province of argument; and those who find fault with the explanation here offered of its historical phenomena will find it their duty to provide one for themselves.

And as no special aim at Roman Catholic doctrine need be supposed to have given a direction to the inquiry, so neither can a reception of that doctrine be immediately based on its results. It would be the work of a life to apply the Theory of Developments so carefully to the writings of the Fathers, and to the history of controversies and councils, as thereby to vindicate the reasonableness of every decision of Rome; much less can such an undertaking be imagined by one who, in the middle of his days, is beginning life again. Thus much, however, might be gained even from an Essay like the present, an explanation of so many of the reputed corruptions, doctrinal and practical, of Rome, as might serve as a fair ground for trusting her in parallel cases where the investigation had not been pursued.

If you simply consider the abstract idea of “truth revealed by God,” Newman is saying, you would not necessarily expect that to change over time. Since Christianity does change over time, you need to explain that fact, and especially if you wish to believe that Christianity is composed of truths revealed by God. This has led to a situation where “infidelity itself is in a different,—I am obliged to say in a more hopeful position,—as regards Christianity,” and where “infidelity has its views and conjectures, on which it arranges the facts of ecclesiastical history; and it is sure to consider the absence of any antagonist theory as an evidence of the reality of its own.” In response, Newman has formulated his own theory, which he calls the “theory of the development of doctrine,” since he sees the other theories as inadequate. His theory ultimately implies that Catholic Christianity is the correct development of the Christianity handed down by the Apostles. In the above quotation Newman excuses himself for this, when he says,

That the hypothesis, here to be adopted, accounts not only for the Athanasian Creed, but for the Creed of Pope Pius, is no fault of those who adopt it. No one has power over the issues of his principles; we cannot manage our argument, and have as much of it as we please and no more. An argument is needed, unless Christianity is to abandon the province of argument; and those who find fault with the explanation here offered of its historical phenomena will find it their duty to provide one for themselves.

Above, Newman compared this discussion with development in other sciences such as the development of geology. This is probably a justified comparison. Just as Philip Gosse pointed out that Christian geologists wished to avoid the conclusion that the earth was ancient, but were forced by the facts to accept this, so Newman himself wished to explain the facts of Christian history in a form which would make Anglicanism acceptable, but ultimately he found this impossible.

Origin of Species

As we noted previously, Philip Gosse published his book attempting to reconcile geology and Scripture just a few years before Charles Darwin published his book On the Origin of Species.

In that previous post, I quoted Gosse’s summary of the state of geology. It would be useful to look again at several particular statements taken from that summary:

6. A series of organic beings appears, lives, generates, dies; lives, generates, dies; for thousands and thousands of successive generations. Tiny polypes gradually build up gigantic masses of coral,—mountains and reefs—microscopic foraminifera accumulate strata of calcareous sand; still more minute infusoria—forty millions to the inch—make slates, many yards thick, of their shells alone.

7. The species at length die out—a process which we have no data to measure, though we may reasonably conclude it very long. Sometimes the whole existing fauna seems to have come to a sudden violent end; at others, the species die out one by one. In the former case suddenly, in the latter progressively, new creatures supply the place of the old. Not only do species change; the very genera change, and change again. Forms of beings, strange beings, beings of uncouth shape, of mighty ferocity and power, of gigantic dimensions, come in, run their specific race, propagate their kinds generation after generation,—and at length die out and disappear; to be replaced by other species, each approaching nearer and nearer to familiar forms.

9. Millions of forest-trees sprang up, towered to heaven, and fell, to be crushed into the coal strata which make our winter fires. Hundreds of feet measure the thickness of what were once succulent plants, but pressed together like paper-pulp, and consolidated under a weight absolutely immensurable. Yet there remain the scales of their stems, the elegant reticulated patterns of their bark, the delicate tracery of their leaf-nerves, indelibly depicted by an unpatented process of “nature-printing.” And when we examine the record,—the forms of the leaves, the structure of the tissues, we get the same result as before, that the plants belonged to a flora which had no species in common with that which adorns the modern earth. Very gradually, and only after many successions, not of individual generations, but of the cycles of species, genera, and even families, did the vegetable creation conform itself to ours.

10. At length the species both of plants and animals grew,—not by alteration of their specific characters, but by replacement of species by species—more and more like what we have now on the earth, and finally merged into our present flora and fauna, about the time when we find the first geological traces of man.

Careful analysis of the rocks reveals an order of time, and that order of time reveals a history of life on earth. In that history, life was at first very different from its present form, and approached more and more closely to its present form over time, reaching that present form more or less with the existence of man. When we consider this together with the idea of what happens when imperfect copies are made repeatedly over time, we can see that this is very good evidence for the theory of evolution, considered as a theory of the common descent of living things. Gosse in fact vaguely suggests such a theory himself, when he suggests that the relationship of various species is much like the relationship of one individual to another.

Charles Darwin begins the introduction to his work:

When on board H.M.S. Beagle, as naturalist, I was much struck with certain facts in the distribution of the organic beings inhabiting South America, and in the geological relations of the present to the past inhabitants of that continent. These facts, as will be seen in the latter chapters of this volume, seemed to throw some light on the origin of species–that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by one of our greatest philosophers. On my return home, it occurred to me, in 1837, that something might perhaps be made out on this question by patiently accumulating and reflecting on all sorts of facts which could possibly have any bearing on it. After five years’ work I allowed myself to speculate on the subject, and drew up some short notes; these I enlarged in 1844 into a sketch of the conclusions, which then seemed to me probable: from that period to the present day I have steadily pursued the same object. I hope that I may be excused for entering on these personal details, as I give them to show that I have not been hasty in coming to a decision. My work is now (1859) nearly finished; but as it will take me many more years to complete it, and as my health is far from strong, I have been urged to publish this abstract. I have more especially been induced to do this, as Mr. Wallace, who is now studying the natural history of the Malay Archipelago, has arrived at almost exactly the same general conclusions that I have on the origin of species. In 1858 he sent me a memoir on this subject, with a request that I would forward it to Sir Charles Lyell, who sent it to the Linnean Society, and it is published in the third volume of the Journal of that Society. Sir C. Lyell and Dr. Hooker, who both knew of my work–the latter having read my sketch of 1844–honoured me by thinking it advisable to publish, with Mr. Wallace’s excellent memoir, some brief extracts from my manuscripts.

As indicated by Gosse’s summary, by this time geology had basically reached the state where the idea of evolution was a very natural understanding of the history of life on earth. Consequently Darwin was not inventing some strange and marvelous idea, but simply drawing out the implications of what was already present in the science of geology. As he indicates here, he was not alone in doing that, and he was not alone in doing it at the time.

Darwin discusses natural selection in chapter four of his book:

How will the struggle for existence, briefly discussed in the last chapter, act in regard to variation? Can the principle of selection, which we have seen is so potent in the hands of man, apply under nature? I think we shall see that it can act most efficiently. Let the endless number of slight variations and individual differences occurring in our domestic productions, and, in a lesser degree, in those under nature, be borne in mind; as well as the strength of the hereditary tendency. Under domestication, it may truly be said that the whole organisation becomes in some degree plastic. But the variability, which we almost universally meet with in our domestic productions is not directly produced, as Hooker and Asa Gray have well remarked, by man; he can neither originate varieties nor prevent their occurrence; he can only preserve and accumulate such as do occur. Unintentionally he exposes organic beings to new and changing conditions of life, and variability ensues; but similar changes of conditions might and do occur under nature. Let it also be borne in mind how infinitely complex and close-fitting are the mutual relations of all organic beings to each other and to their physical conditions of life; and consequently what infinitely varied diversities of structure might be of use to each being under changing conditions of life. Can it then be thought improbable, seeing that variations useful to man have undoubtedly occurred, that other variations useful in some way to each being in the great and complex battle of life, should occur in the course of many successive generations? If such do occur, can we doubt (remembering that many more individuals are born than can possibly survive) that individuals having any advantage, however slight, over others, would have the best chance of surviving and procreating their kind? On the other hand, we may feel sure that any variation in the least degree injurious would be rigidly destroyed. This preservation of favourable individual differences and variations, and the destruction of those which are injurious, I have called Natural Selection, or the Survival of the Fittest. Variations neither useful nor injurious would not be affected by natural selection, and would be left either a fluctuating element, as perhaps we see in certain polymorphic species, or would ultimately become fixed, owing to the nature of the organism and the nature of the conditions.

This is probably the most important aspect of Darwin’s contribution to biology and geology. The fact that one species is descended from another was already becoming clear enough. But Darwin offers an explanation for why certain changes take place rather than others. We pointed out earlier that Empedocles anticipated this idea, but he did not combine it with the idea of common descent. Darwin actually mentions the passage, but mistakes it for Aristotle’s own view.

Darwin also attempts to organize the geological and biological evidence in general, and to answer objections to his theory. I will not do that here, since many others have done it elsewhere, and including a great deal of more recent evidence that could not be included by Darwin, as for example here. However, I will discuss one particular objection to his theory, as well as his solution.

In the final chapter he discusses why we do not find many more intermediate forms than we do, both living and dead:

As according to the theory of natural selection an interminable number of intermediate forms must have existed, linking together all the species in each group by gradations as fine as our existing varieties, it may be asked, Why do we not see these linking forms all around us? Why are not all organic beings blended together in an inextricable chaos? With respect to existing forms, we should remember that we have no right to expect (excepting in rare cases) to discover DIRECTLY connecting links between them, but only between each and some extinct and supplanted form. Even on a wide area, which has during a long period remained continuous, and of which the climatic and other conditions of life change insensibly in proceeding from a district occupied by one species into another district occupied by a closely allied species, we have no just right to expect often to find intermediate varieties in the intermediate zones. For we have reason to believe that only a few species of a genus ever undergo change; the other species becoming utterly extinct and leaving no modified progeny. Of the species which do change, only a few within the same country change at the same time; and all modifications are slowly effected. I have also shown that the intermediate varieties which probably at first existed in the intermediate zones, would be liable to be supplanted by the allied forms on either hand; for the latter, from existing in greater numbers, would generally be modified and improved at a quicker rate than the intermediate varieties, which existed in lesser numbers; so that the intermediate varieties would, in the long run, be supplanted and exterminated.

On this doctrine of the extermination of an infinitude of connecting links, between the living and extinct inhabitants of the world, and at each successive period between the extinct and still older species, why is not every geological formation charged with such links? Why does not every collection of fossil remains afford plain evidence of the gradation and mutation of the forms of life? Although geological research has undoubtedly revealed the former existence of many links, bringing numerous forms of life much closer together, it does not yield the infinitely many fine gradations between past and present species required on the theory, and this is the most obvious of the many objections which may be urged against it. Why, again, do whole groups of allied species appear, though this appearance is often false, to have come in suddenly on the successive geological stages? Although we now know that organic beings appeared on this globe, at a period incalculably remote, long before the lowest bed of the Cambrian system was deposited, why do we not find beneath this system great piles of strata stored with the remains of the progenitors of the Cambrian fossils? For on the theory, such strata must somewhere have been deposited at these ancient and utterly unknown epochs of the world’s history.

I can answer these questions and objections only on the supposition that the geological record is far more imperfect than most geologists believe. The number of specimens in all our museums is absolutely as nothing compared with the countless generations of countless species which have certainly existed. The parent form of any two or more species would not be in all its characters directly intermediate between its modified offspring, any more than the rock-pigeon is directly intermediate in crop and tail between its descendants, the pouter and fantail pigeons. We should not be able to recognise a species as the parent of another and modified species, if we were to examine the two ever so closely, unless we possessed most of the intermediate links; and owing to the imperfection of the geological record, we have no just right to expect to find so many links. If two or three, or even more linking forms were discovered, they would simply be ranked by many naturalists as so many new species, more especially if found in different geological substages, let their differences be ever so slight. Numerous existing doubtful forms could be named which are probably varieties; but who will pretend that in future ages so many fossil links will be discovered, that naturalists will be able to decide whether or not these doubtful forms ought to be called varieties? Only a small portion of the world has been geologically explored. Only organic beings of certain classes can be preserved in a fossil condition, at least in any great number. Many species when once formed never undergo any further change but become extinct without leaving modified descendants; and the periods during which species have undergone modification, though long as measured by years, have probably been short in comparison with the periods during which they retained the same form. It is the dominant and widely ranging species which vary most frequently and vary most, and varieties are often at first local–both causes rendering the discovery of intermediate links in any one formation less likely. Local varieties will not spread into other and distant regions until they are considerably modified and improved; and when they have spread, and are discovered in a geological formation, they appear as if suddenly created there, and will be simply classed as new species.Most formations have been intermittent in their accumulation; and their duration has probably been shorter than the average duration of specific forms. Successive formations are in most cases separated from each other by blank intervals of time of great length, for fossiliferous formations thick enough to resist future degradation can, as a general rule, be accumulated only where much sediment is deposited on the subsiding bed of the sea. During the alternate periods of elevation and of stationary level the record will generally be blank. During these latter periods there will probably be more variability in the forms of life; during periods of subsidence, more extinction.

With respect to the absence of strata rich in fossils beneath the Cambrian formation, I can recur only to the hypothesis given in the tenth chapter; namely, that though our continents and oceans have endured for an enormous period in nearly their present relative positions, we have no reason to assume that this has always been the case; consequently formations much older than any now known may lie buried beneath the great oceans. With respect to the lapse of time not having been sufficient since our planet was consolidated for the assumed amount of organic change, and this objection, as urged by Sir William Thompson, is probably one of the gravest as yet advanced, I can only say, firstly, that we do not know at what rate species change, as measured by years, and secondly, that many philosophers are not as yet willing to admit that we know enough of the constitution of the universe and of the interior of our globe to speculate with safety on its past duration.

That the geological record is imperfect all will admit; but that it is imperfect to the degree required by our theory, few will be inclined to admit. If we look to long enough intervals of time, geology plainly declares that species have all changed; and they have changed in the manner required by the theory, for they have changed slowly and in a graduated manner. We clearly see this in the fossil remains from consecutive formations invariably being much more closely related to each other than are the fossils from widely separated formations.

Darwin makes a number of good points here, as for example that intermediate forms, when they are found, are likely simply to be interpreted as new species. However, it seems likely that his explanation is insufficient. The geological record is surely very imperfect, but it is not clear at all that the record as he presents it match what we would naturally expect from an imperfect record with random sampling.

But let us consider another case, one where it is an undoubted fact that our record was produced by a process of historical descent with modification. There can be no reasonable doubt that the Romance languages have descended from Latin, and by a process of gradual diversification much like the process of evolution. This was surely a nearly continuous process, with children always speaking a language nearly identical to the language of the parent. So there were a nearly indefinite number of forms of languages descended from Latin, with an indefinite number of linking forms. “Why do we not see these linking forms all around us? Why are not all [Latin languages] blended together in an inextricable chaos?”

They are not blended in this way, even if there is a fairly large number of dialects, just as there is a large number of animal species of similar forms.

“On this doctrine of the extermination of an infinitude of connecting links, between the living and extinct [Latin languages] of the world, and at each successive period between the extinct and still older [forms], why is not every [historical period] charged with such links? Why does not every collection of [medieval and ancient writings] afford plain evidence of the gradation and mutation of the forms of [the Latin language]?”

We can find older forms of the Latin languages preserved in writing. But we do not find anything like a continuous series of such forms, despite the fact that it is perfectly clear that such a continuous series must have existed.

The answer is likely the same both in the case of these languages, and in the case of the evolution of living beings, and likely has to do with the mathematics governing these kinds of changes. It is related to the imperfection of the records, but not completely explained by this. If you had perfect records, you would indeed be able to find a continuous series of linguistic forms, and you would indeed be able to find a continuous series of living beings. But basically in both cases you have periods of relative stability followed by periods of relatively rapid change, rather than one extremely long period of slow change, and consequently random sampling discovers relatively few of the total number of forms.

Painful Dilemma

Philip Gosse, speaking of the apparent discrepancy between Scripture and geology, in a text quoted in the previous post, calls this a painful dilemma:

Here is a dilemma. A most painful one to the reverent mind! And many reverent minds have laboured hard and long to escape from it. It is unfair and dishonest to class our men of science with the infidel and atheist. They did not rejoice in the dilemma; they saw it at first dimly, and hoped to avoid it.

Earlier we looked at Darwin Catholic’s response to the position of Fr. Brian Harrison. However, in a part of his post that we did not cite at the time, he makes what he considers to be his most important point, at least in a certain way:

My third point of disagreement with Fr. Harrison is in some ways the most urgent, and the reason that I have written such a long commentary on his piece. In his “moonie” parable, Fr. Harrison suggests that there are two honest approaches to dealing with the discoveries of science in relation to Genesis: either insist that science is a fraud and that it is wrong to assert that the world is ancient or that humanity (in the biological sense) evolved from lower life forms, or reject the bible as false and Christianity as a fraud. The “bombshelter” route that his intellectuals and theologians in the parable dream up (with the “invisible water”) he sees as inherently dishonest and dangerous.

This is all very well for Fr. Harrison, who apparently is satisfied in his own mind that the findings of modern astronomy, geology and paleontology are indeed a fraud. However, he binds up a heavy and dangerous burden for others to carry. Either they must assert that much of modern science is a fraud (Fr. Harrison even holds out hope that the bible is right that the earth is stationary at the center of the universe while the sun and all the stars orbit it once each day, though he does not fully commit himself to that view) or one must abandon Christianity as false.

This is the biggest reason I find myself drawn back into the evolution debate again and again. It’s not so much that I have a fanatical devotion to evolution or to the aspects of modern astronomy and geology that suggest and ancient universe (though I do consider these explanations provided by science to be the best theories to explain the evidence we have at this time) but rather that many who have an antipathy towards these areas of science (as Fr. Harrison clearly does) feel it necessary to build up the threat to Christianity and make the argument: Either evolution is false or Christianity is false. Now you believe that Christianity is true, so surely you must reject evolution, right?

Given that the Church has said repeatedly that there is no inherent contradiction between the findings of modern science and our beliefs, it seems wrong to me (indeed, wicked) to risk destroying the faith of others by insisting that one must reject either evolution or the Church. I do not say that given the choice Fr. Harrison proposes I would reject Christianity — because I do not accept that this is a legitimate set of alternatives to propose. But I do consider the choice set up to be dangerous and unhelpful.

Darwin Catholic speaks of the same dilemma discussed by Philip Gosse. Gosse attempts to resolve it with his distinction between “prochronic” and “diachronic” events, but as we have seen, his attempt fails. Fr. Harrison attempts to resolve it by saying that science is simply wrong, but this is quite unreasonable. Darwin Catholic’s own response is to say that Scripture does not mean what it was thought to mean, and this is a reasonable position, for reasons given when we considered that response.

Gosse, speaking of the interpretation of the text, makes this statement, already quoted in the previous post:

I am not assuming here that the Inspired Word has been rightly read; I merely say that the plain straightforward meaning, the meaning that lies manifestly on the face of the passages in question, is in opposition with the conclusions which geologists have formed, as to the antiquity and the genesis of the globe on which we live.

Perhaps the simple, superficial sense of the Word is not the correct one; but it is at least that which its readers, learned and unlearned, had been generally content with before; and which would, I suppose, scarcely have been questioned, but for what appeared the exigencies of geological facts.

This is also one of Fr. Harrison’s main concerns, and the reason that he says that if Genesis is not given a literal and historical interpretation, we are giving it an “invisible genre.”

It is true that most Christians believed that Genesis was such a literal account. Philip Gosse and Fr. Harrison are right about this. Despite this, however, there was already evidence that Genesis was not such an account, evidence noted in my post on the genre of Genesis 2-3. In a similar way, there was evidence for the theory of evolution long before it was proposed.

People often make mistakes, and people often fail to notice evidence for things which they do not currently believe. There is nothing particularly strange about this. But there is a particular reason why Fr. Harrison is concerned about this, a reason why he is determined to say, “Those Christians were right all along.” The reason is that if your theory predicts something, and the prediction fails to come to pass, this is evidence against your theory. And in precisely this way, Christians “predicted” that the earth would turn out to be young, and their prediction did not come to pass, since the earth turned out to be ancient. This is evidence against Christianity.

Christians surely did make such a prediction, as is evident for example in this text from Lactantius:

Plato and many others of the philosophers, since they were ignorant of the origin of all things, and of that primal period at which the world was made, said that many thousands of ages had passed since this beautiful arrangement of the world was completed; and in this they perhaps followed the Chaldeans, who, as Cicero has related in his first book respecting divination, foolishly say that they possess comprised in their memorials four hundred and seventy thousand years; in which matter, because they thought that they could not be convicted, they believed that they were at liberty to speak falsely. But we, whom the Holy Scriptures instruct to the knowledge of the truth, know the beginning and the end of the world, respecting which we will now speak in the end of our work, since we have explained respecting the beginning in the second book. Therefore let the philosophers, who enumerate thousands of ages from the beginning of the world, know that the six thousandth year is not yet completed, and that when this number is completed the consummation must take place, and the condition of human affairs be remodelled for the better, the proof of which must first be related, that the matter itself may be plain. God completed the world and this admirable work of nature in the space of six days, as is contained in the secrets of Holy Scripture, and consecrated the seventh day, on which He had rested from His works. But this is the Sabbath-day, which in the language of the Hebrews received its name from the number, whence the seventh is the legitimate and complete number. For there are seven days, by the revolutions of which in order the circles of years are made up; and there are seven stars which do not set, and seven luminaries which are called planets, whose differing and unequal movements are believed to cause the varieties of circumstances and times.

Fr. Harrison does not wish to accept the fact that there is evidence against Christianity, and he supposes that he can avoid this consequence by saying that the prediction did come to pass, because the earth is in fact young (according to him). In reality, of course, even if he were right, this would not exclude the existence of evidence against Christianity. The fact that scientists came to the conclusion that the earth was ancient would remain evidence for that, even if ultimately the scientists turned out to be wrong. But Fr. Harrison would feel much better about that situation.

In reality, the earth is ancient, and this is indeed evidence that Christianity is false. But it is also evidence that for the claim that Christianity is true, but Genesis is not a historical account. And the latter claim, namely that Genesis is not a historical account, is also supported by independent evidence, as we have already seen.

Omphalos

In 1857, two years before the publication Darwin’s work On the Origin of Species, Philip Gosse published his book Omphalos: An Attempt to Untie the Geological Knotin which he attempts to reconcile the findings of geology with Scripture. He begins his preface:

“You have not allowed for the wind, Hubert,” said Locksley, in “Ivanhoe;” “or that had been a better shot.”

I remember, when I was in Newfoundland, some five-and-twenty years ago, the disastrous wreck of the brig Elizabeth, which belonged to the firm in which I was a clerk. The master had made a good observation the day before, which had determined his latitude some miles north of Cape St. Francis. A thick fog coming on, he sailed boldly by compass, knowing that, according to his latitude, he could well weather that promontory. But lo! about midnight the ship plunged right against the cliffs of Ferryland, thirty miles to the south, crushing in her bows to the windlass; and presently went down, the crew barely saving their lives. The captain had not allowed for the polar current, which was setting, like a sluice, to the southward, between the Grand Bank and the land.

When it was satisfactorily ascertained that the heavenly body, now known as Uranus, was a planet, its normal path was soon laid down according to the recognised law of gravitation. But it would not take this path. There were deviations and anomalies in its observed course, which could in nowise be referred to the operation of any known principle. Astronomers were sorely puzzled to explain the irregularities, and to reconcile facts with laws. Various hypotheses were proposed: some denied the facts; that is, the observed places of the planet, boldly assuming that the observers had been in error: others suggested that perhaps the physical laws, which had been supposed to govern the whole celestial machinery, did not reach so far as Uranus’s orbit. The secret is now known: they had not allowed for the disturbances produced by Neptune.

In each of these cases the conclusions were legitimately deduced from the recognised premises. Hubert’s skilled eye had calculated the distance; his experience had taught him the requisite angle at which to shoot, the exact amount of force necessary, and every other element proper to insure the desired result, except one. There was an element which he had overlooked; and it spoiled his calculations. He had forgotten the wind.

The master of the ill-fated brig had calculated his latitude correctly; he knew the rate of his vessel’s speed; the compass had showed him the parallel on which to steer. These premises ought to have secured a safe conclusion; and so they would, but for an unrecognised power that vitiated all; he was not aware of the silent and secret current, that was every hour setting him to the south of his supposed latitude.

The path of Uranus had been calculated by the astronomers with scrupulous care, and every known element of disturbance had been considered; not by one, but by many. But for the fact that the planet had been previously seen in positions quite inconsistent with such a path, it would have been set down as beyond controversy correct. Stubborn fact, however, would not give way; and hence the dilemma, till Le Verrier suggested the unseen antagonist.

I venture to suggest in the following pages an element, hitherto overlooked, which disturbs the conclusions of geologists respecting the antiquity of the earth. Their calculations are sound on the recognised premises; but they have not allowed for the Law of Prochronism in Creation.

In the first chapter he explains his purpose:

I am not assuming here that the Inspired Word has been rightly read; I merely say that the plain straightforward meaning, the meaning that lies manifestly on the face of the passages in question, is in opposition with the conclusions which geologists have formed, as to the antiquity and the genesis of the globe on which we live.

Perhaps the simple, superficial sense of the Word is not the correct one; but it is at least that which its readers, learned and unlearned, had been generally content with before; and which would, I suppose, scarcely have been questioned, but for what appeared the exigencies of geological facts.

Now while there are, unhappily, not a few infidels, professed or concealed, who eagerly seize on any apparent discrepancy between the works and the Word of God, in order that they may invalidate the truth of the latter, there are, especially in this country, many names of the highest rank in physical (and, among other branches, in geological) science, to whom the veracity of God is as dear as life. They cannot bear to see it impugned; they know that it cannot be overthrown; they are assured that He who gave the Word, and He who made the worlds, is One Jehovah, who cannot be inconsistent with Himself. But they cannot shut their eyes to the startling fact, that the records which seem legibly written on His created works do flatly contradict the statements which seem to be plainly expressed in His word.

Here is a dilemma. A most painful one to the reverent mind! And many reverent minds have laboured hard and long to escape from it. It is unfair and dishonest to class our men of science with the infidel and atheist. They did not rejoice in the dilemma; they saw it at first dimly, and hoped to avoid it. At first they believed that the mighty processes which are recorded on the “everlasting mountains” might not only be harmonized with, but might afford beautiful and convincing demonstrations of Holy Scripture. They thought that the deluge of Noah would explain the stratification, and the antediluvian era account for the organic fossils.

As geologists came to the conclusion that the earth must have existed for long ages, some people began associating geology with atheism, since these conclusions seemed to contradict Scripture. As Gosse says here, “it is unfair and dishonest” to make this association, since these men came to their conclusions not out of a desire to prove that Scripture was false, but because this was what was indicated by the evidence in the rocks they studied. Far from trying to prove that Scripture is false, as Gosse points out, for a long time they hoped they could reconcile the evidence of the rocks with a literal reading of Scripture. Gosse continues:

As the “stone book” was further read, this mode of explanation appeared to many untenable; and they retracted their adherence to it. To a mind rightly constituted, Truth is above every thing: there is no such thing as a pious fraud; the very idea is an impious lie: God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all; and that religion which can be maintained only by dissembling or denying truth, cannot proceed from “Him that is Holy, Him that is True,” but from him who “is a liar, and the father of it.”

Many upright and ardent cultivators of the young science felt that truth would be compromised by a persistence in those explanations which had hitherto passed current. The discrepancy between the readings in Science and the hitherto unchallenged readings in Scripture, became manifest. Partisans began to array themselves on either side; some, jealous for the honour of God, knew little of science, and rushed into the field ill-prepared for the conflict; some, jealous for science, but little conversant with Scripture, and caring less for it, were willing to throw overboard its authority altogether: others, who knew that the writings were from the same Hand, knew therefore that there must be some way of reconciling them, and set themselves to find it out.

Have they succeeded? If I thought so, I would not publish this book.

He has a long discussion of various ideas which had been proposed in order to reconcile geology and Scripture, after which he concludes the chapter:

I am not blaming, far less despising, the efforts that have been made for harmonizing the teachings of Scripture and science. I heartily sympathise with them. What else could good men do? They could not shut their eyes to the facts which Geology reveals: to have said they were not facts would have been simply absurd. Granting that the whole truth was before them—the whole evidence—they could not arrive at other conclusions than those just recorded; and, therefore, I do not blame their discrepancy inter se. The true key has not as yet been applied to the wards. Until it be, you may force the lock, but you cannot open it. Whether the key offered in the following pages will open the lock, remains to be seen.

The second and third chapters of the book discuss the geological evidence. At the end of the third chapter he presents this summary:

Thus we have brought down the record to an era embraced by human history, and even to individual experience; and we confidently ask, Is it possible, is it imaginable, that the whole of the phenomena which occur below the diluvial deposits can have been produced within six days, or seventeen centuries? Let us recapitulate the principal facts.

1. The crust of the earth is composed of many layers, placed one on another in regular order. All of these are solid, and most are of great density and hardness. Most of them are of vast thickness, the aggregate not being less than from seven to ten miles.

2. The earlier of these were made and consolidated before the newer were formed; for in several cases, it is demonstrable that the latter were made out of the débris of the former. Thus the compact and hard granite was disintegrated grain by grain; the component granules were rolled awhile in the sea till their angles were rubbed down; they were slowly deposited, and then consolidated in layers.

3. A similar process goes on again and again to form other strata, all occupying long time, and all presupposing the earlier ones.

4. After some strata have been formed and solidified, convulsions force them upward, contort them, break them, split them asunder. Melted matter is driven through the outlets, fills the veins, spreads over the surface, settles into the hollows, cools and solidifies.

5. After the outflowing and consolidation of these volcanic streams, the action of running water cuts them down, cleaving beds of immense depth through their substance. Mr. Poulett Scrope, speaking of the solidified streams of basalt, in the volcanic district of Southern France, observes:—

“These ancient currents have since been corroded by rivers, which have worn through a mass of 150 feet in height, and formed a channel even in the granite rocks beneath, since the lava first flowed into the valley. In another spot, a bed of basalt, 160 feet high, has been cut through by a mountain stream. The vast excavations effected by the erosive power of currents along the valleys which feed the Ardèche, since their invasion by lava-currents, prove that even the most recent of these volcanic eruptions belong to an era incalculably remote.”

6. A series of organic beings appears, lives, generates, dies; lives, generates, dies; for thousands and thousands of successive generations. Tiny polypes gradually build up gigantic masses of coral,—mountains and reefs—microscopic foraminifera accumulate strata of calcareous sand; still more minute infusoria—forty millions to the inch—make slates, many yards thick, of their shells alone.

7. The species at length die out—a process which we have no data to measure, though we may reasonably conclude it very long. Sometimes the whole existing fauna seems to have come to a sudden violent end; at others, the species die out one by one. In the former case suddenly, in the latter progressively, new creatures supply the place of the old. Not only do species change; the very genera change, and change again. Forms of beings, strange beings, beings of uncouth shape, of mighty ferocity and power, of gigantic dimensions, come in, run their specific race, propagate their kinds generation after generation,—and at length die out and disappear; to be replaced by other species, each approaching nearer and nearer to familiar forms.

8. Though these early creatures were unparalleled by anything existing now, yet they were animals of like structure and economy essentially. We can determine their analogies and affinities; appoint them their proper places in the orderly plan of nature, and show how beautifully they fill hiatuses therein. They had shells, crusts, plates, bones, horns, teeth, exactly corresponding in structure and function to those of recent animals. In some cases we find the young with its milk-teeth by the side of its dam with well-worn grinders. The fossil excrement is seen not only dropped, but even in the alimentary canal. Bones bear the marks of gnawing teeth that dragged them and cracked them, and fed upon them. The foot-prints of birds and frogs, of crabs and worms, are imprinted in the soil, like the faithful impression of a seal.

9. Millions of forest-trees sprang up, towered to heaven, and fell, to be crushed into the coal strata which make our winter fires. Hundreds of feet measure the thickness of what were once succulent plants, but pressed together like paper-pulp, and consolidated under a weight absolutely immensurable. Yet there remain the scales of their stems, the elegant reticulated patterns of their bark, the delicate tracery of their leaf-nerves, indelibly depicted by an unpatented process of “nature-printing.” And when we examine the record,—the forms of the leaves, the structure of the tissues, we get the same result as before, that the plants belonged to a flora which had no species in common with that which adorns the modern earth. Very gradually, and only after many successions, not of individual generations, but of the cycles of species, genera, and even families, did the vegetable creation conform itself to ours.

10. At length the species both of plants and animals grew,—not by alteration of their specific characters, but by replacement of species by species—more and more like what we have now on the earth, and finally merged into our present flora and fauna, about the time when we find the first geological traces of man.

11. During the course of these successive cycles of organic life, the map of the world has changed many times. Up to a late period the ocean washed over Mont Blanc and Mount Ararat; the continent of Europe was a wide sea; then it was a Polynesia, then an Archipelago of great islands, then a Continent much larger than it is now, with England united to it, and the solid land stretching far away into the Atlantic;—then it sank again, and was again raised, not all at once, but by several stages, each of which has left its coast line, and its shingle beach. All these changes must have been the work of vast periods of time.

“Excepting possibly, but not certainly, the higher parts of some mountains, which at widely different epochs have been upheaved, and made to elevate and pierce the stratified masses which once lay over them, there is scarcely a spot on the earth’s surface which has not been many times in succession the bottom of the sea, and a portion of dry land. In the majority of cases, it is shown, by physical evidences of the most decisive kind, that each of those successive conditions was of extremely long duration; a duration which it would be presumptuous to put into any estimate of years or centuries; for any alteration, of which vestiges occur in the zoological state and the mineral constitution of the earth’s present surface, furnishes no analogy (with regard to the nature and continuance of causes), that approaches in greatness of character to those changes whose evidences are discernible in almost any two continuous strata. It is an inevitable inference, unless we are disposed to abandon the principles of fair reasoning, that each one of such changes in organic life did not take place till after the next preceding condition of the earth had continued through a duration, compared with which six thousand years appear an inconsiderable fraction of time.”

12. The climate of our atmosphere has undergone corresponding mutations. At one time the Palms, the Treeferns, the Cycads of the tropical jungles found their congenial home here: the Elephant, the Rhinoceros, and the Tiger roamed over England; nay, dwelt in countless hosts on the northern shores of Siberia: then the climate gradually cooled to a temperate condition: then it became cold, and glaciers and icebergs were its characteristic features: finally it became temperate again.

13. The icebergs and the glaciers were the ships and railways of past epochs; they were freighted with their heavy but worthless cargoes of rock-boulders and gravel, and set out on their long voyages and travels, over sea and land, sometimes writing their log-books in ineffaceable scratches on the rocky tables over which they passed, and at length discharging their freights in harbours and bays, on inland plains, on mountain sides and summits, where they remain unclaimed, free for any trader in such commodities, without the ceremony of producing the original bill of lading.

Let the remainder be told in the words of one of our most eloquent and able geologists, Professor Sedgwick.

“The fossils demonstrate the time to have been long, though we cannot say how long. Thus we have generation after generation of shell-fish, that have lived and died on the spots where we find them; very often demonstrating the lapse of many years for a few perpendicular inches of deposit. In some beds we have large, cold-blooded reptiles, creatures of long life. In others, we have traces of ancient forests, and enormous fossil trees, with concentric rings of structure, marking the years of growth. Phenomena of this kind are repeated again and again; so that we have three or four distinct systems of deposit, each formed at a distinct period of time, and each, characterised by its peculiar fossils. Coeval with the Tertiary masses, we have enormous lacustrine deposits; sometimes made up of very fine thin laminæ, marking slow tranquil deposits. Among these laminæ, we can find sometimes the leaf-sheddings and the insects of successive seasons. Among them also we find almost mountain-masses of the Indusiœ tubulatœ [the cases of Phryganeœ], and other sheddings of insects, year after year. Again, streams of ancient lava alternate with some of these lacustrine tertiary deposits.

“In central France, a great stream of lava caps the lacustrine limestone. At a subsequent period the waters have excavated deep valleys, cutting down into the lacustrine rock-marble many hundred feet; and, at a newer epoch, anterior to the authentic history of Europe, new craters have opened, and fresh streams of lava have run down the existing valleys. Even in the Tertiary period we have thus a series of demonstrative proofs of a long succession of physical events, each of which required a long lapse of ages for its elaboration.

“Again, as we pass downwards from the bottom Tertiary beds to the Chalk, we instantly find new types of organic life. The old species, which exist in millions of individuals in the upper beds, disappear, and new species are found in the chalk immediately below. This fact indicates a long lapse of time. Had the chalk and upper beds been formed simultaneously at the same period [as the supporters of the diluvial theory represent], their organic remains must have been more or less mixed; but they are not. Again, at the base of the Tertiary deposits resting on the Chalk, we often find great masses of conglomerate or shingle, made up of chalk-flints rolled by water. These separate the Chalk from the overlying beds, and many of the rolled flints contain certain petrified chalk-fossils. Now, every such fossil proves the following points:—

“1. There was a time when the organic body was alive at the bottom of the sea.

“2. It was afterwards imbedded in the cretaceous deposit.

“3. It became petrified; a very slow process.

“4. The Chalk was, by some change of marine currents, washed away, or degraded, [i. e. worn away under the atmosphere by the weather and casualties, a process slow almost beyond description,] and the solid flints and fossils [thus detached from their imbeddings], were rolled into shingles.

“5. Afterwards, these shingles were covered up, and buried under Tertiary deposits.

“In this way of interpretation, a section of a few perpendicular feet indicates a long lapse of time, and the co-ordinate fact of the entire change of organic types, between the beds above and those below, falls in with the preceding inference, and shows the lapse of time to have been very long.”

After some preparation in the following chapters, in chapter 6 Gosse begins to present his new key:

The course of nature is a circle. I do not mean the plan of nature; I am not speaking of a circular arrangement of species, genera, families, and classes, as maintained by MacLeay, Swainson, and others. Their theories may be true, or they may be false; I decide nothing concerning them; I am not alluding to any plan of nature, but to its course, cursus,—the way in which it runs on. This is a circle.

Here is in my garden a scarlet runner. It is a slender twining stem some three feet long, beset with leaves, with a growing bud at one end, and with the other inserted in the earth. What was it a month ago? A tiny shoot protruding from between two thick fleshy leaves scarcely raised above the ground. A month before that? The thick fleshy leaves were two oval cotyledons, closely appressed face to face, with the minute plumule between them, the whole enclosed in an unbroken, tightly-fitting, spotted, leathery coat. It was a bean, a seed.

Was this the commencement of its existence? O no! Six months earlier still it was snugly lying, with several others like itself, in a green fleshy pod, to the interior of which it was organically attached. A month before that, this same pod with its contents was the centre of a scarlet butterfly-like flower, the bottom of its pistil, within which, if you had split it open, you would have discerned the tiny beans, whose history we are tracing backwards, each imbedded in the soft green tissue, but no bigger than the eye of a cambric needle.

But where was this flower? It was one of many that glowed on my garden wall all through last summer; each cluster springing as a bud from a slender twining stem, which was the exact counterpart of that with which we commenced this little life-history.

And this earlier stem,—what of it? It too had been a shoot, a pair of cotyledons with a plumule, a seed, an integral part of a carpel, which was a part of an earlier flower, that expanded from an earlier bud, that grew out of an earlier stem, that had been a still earlier seed, that had been—and backward, ad infinitum, for aught that I can perceive.

The course, then, of a scarlet runner is a circle, without beginning or end:—that is, I mean, without a natural, a normal beginning or end. For at what point of its history can you put your finger, and say, “Here is the commencement of this organism, before which there is a blank; here it began to exist?” There is no such point; no stage which does not look back to a previous stage, on which this stage is inevitably and absolutely dependent.

Although he proceeds to give various other examples, Gosse’s new solution should already be obvious:

Creation, however, solves the dilemma. I have, in my postulates, begged the fact of creation, and I shall not, therefore, attempt to prove it. Creation, the sovereign fiat of Almighty Power, gives us the commencing point, which we in vain seek in nature. But what is creation? It is the sudden bursting into a circle. Since there is no one stage in the course of existence, which, more than any other affords a natural commencing point, whatever stage is selected by the arbitrary will of God, must be an unnatural, or rather a preter-natural, commencing point.

The life-history of every organism commenced at some point or other of its circular course. It was created, called into being, in some definite stage. Possibly, various creatures differed in this respect; perhaps some began existence in one stage of development, some in another; but every separate organism had a distinct point at which it began to live. Before that point there was nothing; this particular organism had till then no existence; its history presents an absolute blank; it was not.

But the whole organisation of the creature thus newly called into existence, looks back to the course of an endless circle in the past. Its whole structure displays a series of developments, which as distinctly witness to former conditions as do those which are presented in the cow, the butterfly, and the fern, of the present day. But what former conditions? The conditions thus witnessed unto, as being necessarily implied in the present organisation, were non-existent; the history was a perfect blank till the moment of creation. The past conditions or stages of existence in question, can indeed be as triumphantly inferred by legitimate deduction from the present, as can those of our cow or butterfly; they rest on the very same evidences; they are identically the same in every respect, except in this one, that they were unreal. They exist only in their results; they are effects which never had causes.

Perhaps it may help to clear my argument if I divide the past developments of organic life, which are necessarily, or at least legitimately, inferrible from present phenomena, into two categories, separated by the violent act of creation. Those unreal developments whose apparent results are seen in the organism at the moment of its creation, I will call prochronic, because time was not an element in them; while those which have subsisted since creation, and which have had actual existence, I will distinguish as diachronic, as occurring during time.

Now, again I repeat, there is no imaginable difference to sense between the prochronic and the diachronic development. Every argument by which the physiologist can prove to demonstration that yonder cow was once a fœtus in the uterus of its dam, will apply with exactly the same power to show that the newly created cow was an embryo, some years before its creation.

His new key, of course, is that the world is created with the appearance, but not the reality, of age. Excited by his idea, Gosse spends many chapters playing with it, illustrating it by example after example. During this process he answers certain potential objections, as in this case in chapter 9:

In both these examples, the polished surfaces of the teeth, worn away by mutual action, afford striking evidence of the lapse of time. Some one may possibly object, however, to this: “What right have you to assume that these teeth were worn away at the moment of its creation, admitting the animal to have been created adult? May they not have been entire?” I reply, Impossible: the Hippopotamus’s teeth would have been perfectly useless to him, except in the ground-down condition: nay, the unworn canines would have effectually prevented his jaws from closing, necessitating the keeping of the mouth wide open until the attrition was performed; long before which, of course, he would have starved. In a natural condition the mutual wearing begins as soon as the surface of the teeth come into contact with each other; that is, as soon as they have acquired a development which constitutes them fit for use. The degree of attrition is merely a question of time. There is no period that can be named, supposing the existence of the perfected teeth at all, in which the evidence of this action would not be visible. How distinct an evidence of past action, and yet, in the case of the created individual, how illusory!

None of this, of course, would be any explanation for the existence of fossils, given that there were never any living things of which they were fossils. In the concluding chapter he suggests his explanation:

In order to perfect the analogy between an organism and the world, so as to show that the law which prevails in the one obtains also in the other, it would be necessary to prove that the development of the physical history of the world is circular, like that already shown to characterise the course of organic nature. And this I cannot prove. But neither, as I think, can the contrary be proved.

The life of the individual consists of a series of processes which are cyclical. In the tree this is shown by the successive growths and deaths of series of leaves: in the animal by the development and exuviation of nails, hair, epidermis, &c.

The life of the species consists of a series of processes which are cyclical. This has been sufficiently illustrated in the preceding pages, in the successive developments and deaths of generations of individuals.

We have reason to believe that species die out, and are replaced by other species, like the individuals which belong to the species, and the organs which belong to the individual. But is the life of the species a circle returning into itself? In other words, if we could take a sufficiently large view of the whole plan of nature, should we discern that the existence of one species necessarily involved the pre-existence of another species, and must inevitably be followed by yet another species? Should we be able to trace the same sort of relation between the tiger of Bengal and the fossil tiger of the Yorkshire caves, between Elephas Indicus and Elephas primigenius, as subsists between the leaves of 1857 and the leaves of 1856; or between the oak now flourishing in Sherwood Forest and that of Robin Hood’s day, from whose acorn it sprang?

I dare not say, we should; though I think it highly probable. But I think you will not dare to say, we should not.

According to this hypothesis, the fossils were created in order to represent a theoretical history of life which in fact did not take place. Gosse responds to the charge of deception on the part of God:

It may be objected, that, to assume the world to have been created with fossil skeletons in its crust,—skeletons of animals that never really existed,—is to charge the Creator with forming objects whose sole purpose was to deceive us. The reply is obvious. Were the concentric timber-rings of a created tree formed merely to deceive? Were the growth lines of a created shell intended to deceive? Was the navel of the created Man intended to deceive him into the persuasion that he had had a parent?

In the end he suggests that his account should be applied to the entire history of the world:

If, then, the existence of retrospective marks, visible and tangible proofs of processes which were prochronic, was so necessary to organic essences, that they could not have been created without them,—is it absurd to suggest the possibility (I do no more) that the world itself was created under the influence of the same law, with visible tangible proofs of developments and processes, which yet were only prochronic?

Admit for a moment, as a hypothesis, that the Creator had before his mind a projection of the whole life-history of the globe, commencing with any point which the geologist may imagine to have been a fit commencing point, and ending with some unimaginable acme in the indefinitely distant future. He determines to call this idea into actual existence, not at the supposed commencing point, but at some stage or other of its course. It is clear, then, that at the selected stage it appears, exactly as it would have appeared at that moment of its history, if all the preceding eras of its history had been real. Just as the new-created Man was, at the first moment of his existence, a man of twenty, or five-and-twenty, or thirty years old; physically, palpably, visibly, so old, though not really, not diachronically. He appeared precisely what he would have appeared had he lived so many years.

Let us suppose that this present year 1857 had been the particular epoch in the projected life-history of the world, which the Creator selected as the era of its actual beginning. At his fiat it appears; but in what condition? Its actual condition at this moment:—whatever is now existent would appear, precisely as it does appear. There would be cities filled with swarms of men; there would be houses half-built; castles fallen into ruins; pictures on artists’ easels just sketched in; wardrobes filled with half-worn garments; ships sailing over the sea; marks of birds’ footsteps on the mud; skeletons whitening the desert sands; human bodies in every stage of decay in the burial-grounds. These and millions of other traces of the past would be found, because they are found in the world now; they belong to the present age of the world; and if it had pleased God to call into existence this globe at this epoch of its life-history, the whole of which lay like a map before his infinite mind, it would certainly have presented all these phenomena; not to puzzle the philosopher, but because they are inseparable from the condition of the world at the selected moment of irruption into its history; because they constitute its condition; they make it what it is.

Gosse’s hypothesis is ingenius, in some ways, and yet when considered with respect to his original intentions, it fails completely.

Let us suppose that the world was created in 1857 (or in 4004 BC, or at any other date), according to this hypothesis, with an apparent age and an apparent history. Are statements about the past, made by people who do not know of this recent creation, true or false? Is it true to say that Columbus discovered America in 1492, or that there was a volcanic eruption in France sometime around 5760 BC? Or is it false, if this date was before the creation of the world?

If these statements remain true, then he has not given us any reason to think that the geologists were wrong about anything in particular. For their statements about the geological history of the world will be just as true as they would be without his hypothesis. And it will no longer even be clear what it means to say that the world was created at a certain time, since things happened, and therefore also existed, before that time in any case. In order for his hypothesis to have any clear meaning, then, it has to be false to make statements about the “prochronic” history of the world, unless those statements are qualified in exactly that way, namely as appearances and not as facts.

Given that he says that statements about times before creation are false, his hypothesis is meaningful, although not especially verifiable. But he has formulated the hypothesis for a particular purpose, namely in order to reconcile Scripture and geology. The problem with this is that Scripture does not assign any particular date to the creation of the world. It surely does not say that the world was created in 4000 BC, or in 10,000 BC, or in 100,000 BC. Rather, the implication that the earth is relatively young is derived from a literal and historical interpretation of the book of Genesis as a whole, as well as the following books of the Bible. Gosse’s hypothesis only makes sense, then, if it is intended to preserve such a historical reading of Genesis.

The problem should be obvious. The apparent conflict between geology and Genesis is not a conflict about dating. The conflict consists in the fact that the particular history laid out by the book of Genesis does not appear to be consistent with the particular history laid out by geology. And Gosse’s hypothesis does not change this fact. Thus, for example, not only are rock strata inconsistent with being caused by a global flood, but the data of geology are inconsistent with a global flood happening at all, at any time during human history. This means that even if Gosse’s hypothesis is true, there was a global flood neither during the prochronic history nor during the diachronic history. And this means that the conflict with the literal reading of Genesis remains unchanged.

Flood Geology

Much as John Woodmorappe interprets the tree ring evidence, young earth creationists attempt to understand geology in a similar way. Thus for example Andrew Snelling discusses the fossil record:

For many people, the fossil record is still believed to be “exhibit A” for evolution. Why? Because most geologists insist the sedimentary rock layers were deposited gradually over vast eons of time during which animals lived, died, and then were occasionally buried and fossilized. So when these fossilized animals (and plants) are found in the earth’s rock sequences in a particular order of first appearance, such as animals without backbones (invertebrates) in lower layers followed progressively upward by fish, then amphibians, reptiles, birds, and finally mammals (e.g., in the Colorado Plateau region of the United States), it is concluded, and thus almost universally taught, that this must have been the order in which these animals evolved during those vast eons of time.

However, in reality, it can only be dogmatically asserted that the fossil record is the record of the order in which animals and plants were buried and fossilized. Furthermore, the vast eons of time are unproven and unproveable, being based on assumptions about how quickly sedimentary rock layers were deposited in the unobserved past. Instead, there is overwhelming evidence that most of the sedimentary rock layers were deposited rapidly. Indeed, the impeccable state of preservation of most fossils requires the animals and plants to have been very rapidly buried, virtually alive, by vast amounts of sediments before decay could destroy delicate details of their appearance and anatomy. Thus, if most sedimentary rock layers were deposited rapidly over a radically short period of time, say in a catastrophic global flood, then the animals and plants buried and fossilized in those rock layers may well have all lived at about the same time and then have been rapidly buried progressively and sequentially.

Insofar as one understands geological strata in the manner of James Hutton, the evidence cited is good evidence for evolution. Snelling, however, says that this is a misinterpretation of geology. According to him, “the vast eons of time are unproven and proveable, being based on assumptions about how quickly sedimentary rock layers were deposited in the unobserved past.” The idea is that since no one can go back and look at the past, it is unobserved and unobservable. Consequently nothing can be proven about it. This is a mistake, for the same reasons that Hume is mistaken in supposing that we cannot have probable knowledge about the future.

In any case, Snelling contradicts himself in the next sentence, saying, “Instead, there is overwhelming evidence that most of the sedimentary rock layers were deposited rapidly.” If claims about the past are unproven and unproveable and must be based on assumptions, this will apply equally to the claim that the sedimentary rock layers were deposited rapidly. If overwhelming evidence for this is possible, then it is also possible to have overwhelming evidence that they were deposited slowly.

Apart from the fact that it is not true that most fossils are in an “impeccable state of preservation,” and not true that they typically preserve “delicate details of their appearance and anatomy,” Snelling’s implication that evidence regarding the rate of deposition is possible after all, is fatal to his account, because the overwhelming evidence is precisely on the opposite side. His account may sound plausible on its face, but this plausibility depends on speaking in generalities and refusing to apply the account to the actual details found in the rocks.

For example, Gregg Davidson, responding to this kind of thinking, says:

There are many places around the earth with layers of salt, some thousands of feet in thickness. Just off the southern coast of the United States in the Gulf of Mexico, thick salt deposits sit beneath thousands of feet of sediment. These deposits lie within the layers that are said to have been deposited by the Flood.

We understand how salt beds form. At locations such as the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah, or at the Dead Sea at the border of Israel and Jordan, salt is actively forming. Salt beds form when water is evaporated. During evaporation, the concentration of dissolved ions increases until the water cannot hold the salt in solution anymore and mineral salt begins to form. If a presently unknown or poorly understood process could produce salt without evaporation, as argued by young-earth advocates, it would quickly dissolve as soon as it came into contact with flood water, just as the salt from your saltshaker rapidly dissolves when added to water or moist food.

One might argue that the waters from the Flood could have evaporated to leave behind the salt deposits we see today, but there is a serious problem. The thousands of feet of sediment on top of the salt is also said to be from the Flood, meaning the flood waters cannot have evaporated to produce the salt and still be present and violent enough to transport thousands of feet of sediment to the same location. In other words, a single flood cannot be called upon to explain both the salt and the overlying sediment. For those who wish to argue that natural processes could have been vastly different during the Flood, there are at least two replies. First, under such a scenario, there is no point in Flood Geology studies any more than in normal studies, for nothing could be gained by the study of unknowable processes. A more important question, however, would be to ask why God would alter natural processes just to make Flood sediments look like they are not flood sediments. What would the purpose be? (We will revisit this thought later.)

Note that the formation of salt beds requires repeated evaporation, and consequently it will take an extremely long time to form a layer thousands of feet thick.

Davidson goes on to discuss numerous other details that cannot be explained by a process of rapid deposition:

The Grand Canyon is made up of a sequence of layers that defies any reasonable attempt to explain by a single flood. The alternating layers of limestone, sandstone and shale each form in unique environments. If these deposits were formed at different times under various sea-level stages, it is quite simple to explain the different grain sizes and rock types as a function of depth and distance from the shore line. If explained with a single catastrophic flood that abided by God’s natural laws of physics and chemistry, logic must be stretched beyond the breaking point.

As a very simple observation, consider instructions given in virtually every gardening book. A good soil will have a mix of sand, silt and clay. To determine the quality of your soil, you take a handful or two, put it in a clear container, add water and shake it up. When you stop shaking, the coarse grained material will settle out first resulting in a sequence of layers: sand on the bottom, then silt, then clay. You can readily see how much of each you have by the thickness of each layer.

This is informative of what we see in flood deposits. As moving flood waters slow down, finer and finer grained sediment settles out resulting in a “fining upward” sequence. If most of the Grand Canyon layers were laid down by the Flood, then we should see the same thing – a “fining upward” sequence. Instead, we see a series of alternating layers of fine and coarse grained material, with smaller-scale alternating layers within the larger ones. Increasing the violence of a flood does nothing to negate the standard order of deposition. Repeated surging of flood waters across the surface likewise offers little explanatory power; in this case we might expect successive layers, each with their own “fining upward” sequence, but such is not what is observed. Further, the Grand Canyon includes multiple layers of limestone, which are never found in flood deposits of any magnitude. Even in floods as massive as one thought to have catastrophically deluged the once dry Mediterranean Sea basin with thousands of feet of water – limestone beds are conspicuously absent.

I could give examples of responses to these kinds of considerations, but it would be a pointless exercise, essentially a repeating of the previous post. The reason that James Hutton and geologists like him came to the conclusion of “indefinite” time periods was that this is simply what is indicated by the rocks, and the misinterpretations of flood geology and the like are simply postulates made for the sake of a personal decision for personal motives, like that of Kurt Wise, with very little relationship with actual evidence.

Deep Time

Earlier I quoted this passage from Aristotle:

The same parts of the earth are not always moist or dry, but they change according as rivers come into existence and dry up. And so the relation of land to sea changes too and a place does not always remain land or sea throughout all time, but where there was dry land there comes to be sea, and where there is now sea, there one day comes to be dry land. But we must suppose these changes to follow some order and cycle. The principle and cause of these changes is that the interior of the earth grows and decays, like the bodies of plants and animals. Only in the case of these latter the process does not go on by parts, but each of them necessarily grows or decays as a whole, whereas it does go on by parts in the case of the earth. Here the causes are cold and heat, which increase and diminish on account of the sun and its course. It is owing to them that the parts of the earth come to have a different character, that some parts remain moist for a certain time, and then dry up and grow old, while other parts in their turn are filled with life and moisture. Now when places become drier the springs necessarily give out, and when this happens the rivers first decrease in size and then finally become dry; and when rivers change and disappear in one part and come into existence correspondingly in another, the sea must needs be affected.

While Aristotle clearly has some empirical evidence for his claims, a large part of his motivation for saying these things is his opinion that the earth is eternal, which is primarily a philosophical position. From the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, however, geologists began to adopt similar opinions, this time because they found it necessary in order to explain the details of what they found in the rocks of the earth.

James Hutton begins his Theory of the Earth with a general account of the earth as a place intended to support plant and animal life:

When we trace the parts of which this terrestrial system is composed, and when we view the general connection of those several parts, the whole presents a machine of a peculiar construction by which it is adapted to a certain end. We perceive a fabric, erected in wisdom, to obtain a purpose worthy of the power that is apparent in the production of it.

We know little of the earth’s internal parts, or of the materials which compose it at any considerable depth below the surface. But upon the surface of this globe, the more inert matter is replenished with plants, and with animal and intellectual beings.

Where so many living creatures are to ply their respective powers, in pursuing the end for which they were intended, we are not to look for nature in a quiescent state; matter itself must be in motion, and the scenes of life a continued or repeated series of agitations and events.

This globe of the earth is a habitable world; and on its fitness for this purpose, our sense of wisdom in its formation must depend. To judge of this point, we must keep in view, not only the end, but the means also by which that end is obtained. These are, the form of the whole, the materials of which it is composed, and the several powers which concur, counteract, or balance one another, in procuring the general result.

The form and constitution of the mass are not more evidently calculated for the purpose of this earth as a habitable world, than are the various substances of which that complicated body is composed. Soft and hard parts variously combine to form a medium consistence, adapted to the use of plants and animals; wet and dry are properly mixed for nutrition, or the support of those growing bodies; and hot and cold produce a temperature or climate no less required than a soil: Insomuch, that there is not any particular, respecting either the qualities of the materials, or the construction of the machine, more obvious to our perception, than are the presence and efficacy of design and intelligence in the power that conducts the work.

Let us begin with some general sketch of the particulars now mentioned.

1st, There is a central body in the globe. This body supports those parts which come to be more immediately exposed to our view, or which may be examined by our sense and observation. This first part is commonly supposed to be solid and inert; but such a conclusion is only mere conjecture; and we shall afterwards find occasion, perhaps, to form another judgment in relation to this subject, after we have examined strictly, upon scientific principles, what appears upon the surface, and have formed conclusions concerning that which must have been transacted in some more central part.

2dly, We find a fluid body of water. This, by gravitation, is reduced to a spherical form, and by the centrifugal force of the earth’s rotation, is become oblate. The purpose of this fluid body is essential in the constitution of the world; for, besides affording the means of life and motion to a multifarious race of animals, it is the source of growth and circulation to the organized bodies of this earth, in being the receptacle of the rivers, and the fountain of our vapours.

3dly, We have an irregular body of land raised above the level of the ocean. This, no doubt, is the smallest portion of the globe; but it is the part to us by far most interesting. It is upon the surface of this part that plants are made to grow; consequently, it is by virtue of this land that animal life, as well as vegetation, is sustained in this world.

Lastly, We have a surrounding body of atmosphere, which completes the globe. This vital fluid is no less necessary, in the constitution of the world, than are the other parts; for there is hardly an operation upon the surface of the earth, that is not conducted or promoted by its means. It is a necessary condition for the sustenance of fire; it is the breath of life to animals; it is at least an instrument in vegetation; and, while it contributes to give fertility and health to things that grow, it is employed in preventing noxious effects from such as go into corruption. In short, it is the proper means of circulation for the matter of this world, by raising up the water of the ocean, and pouring it forth upon the surface of the earth.

The account here is much like that of Genesis 1, distinguishing the various parts of the “heavens and the earth,” and explaining their form in relation to plants, animals, and human beings.

After going on to discuss some of the efficient causes involved in the changes of the earth, he raises a problem:

But to proceed in pursuing a little farther our general or preparatory ideas. A solid body of land could not have answered the purpose of a habitable world; for, a soil is necessary to the growth of plants; and a soil is nothing but the materials collected from the destruction of the solid land. Therefore, the surface of this land, inhabited by man, and covered with plants and animals, is made by nature to decay, in dissolving from that hard and, compact state in which it is found below the soil; and this soil is necessarily washed away, by the continual circulation of the water, running from the summits of the mountains towards the general receptacle of that fluid. The heights of our land are thus levelled with the shores; our fertile plains are formed from the ruins of the mountains; and those travelling materials are still pursued by the moving water, and propelled along the inclined surface of the earth. These moveable materials, delivered into the sea, cannot, for a long continuance, rest upon the shore; for, by the agitation of the winds, the tides and currents, every moveable thing is carried farther and farther along the shelving bottom of the sea, towards the unfathomable regions of the ocean.

If the vegetable soil is thus constantly removed from the surface of the land, and if its place is thus to be supplied from the dissolution of the solid earth, as here represented, we may perceive an end to this beautiful machine; an end, arising from no error in its constitution as a world, but from that destructibility of its land which is so necessary in the system of the globe, in the economy of life and vegetation.

The immense time necessarily required for this total destruction of the land, must not be opposed to that view of future events, which is indicated by the surest facts, and most approved principles. Time, which measures every thing in our idea, and is often deficient to our schemes, is to nature endless and as nothing; it cannot limit that by which alone it had existence; and, as the natural course of time, which to us seems infinite, cannot be bounded by any operation that may have an end, the progress of things upon this globe, that is, the course of nature, cannot be limited by time, which must proceed in a continual succession. We are, therefore, to consider as inevitable the deduction of our land, so far as effected by those operations which are necessary in the purpose of the globe, considered as a habitable world; and, so far as we have not examined any other part of the economy of nature, in which other operations and a different intention might appear.

We have now considered the globe of this earth as a machine, constructed upon chemical as well as mechanical principles, by which its different parts are all adapted, in form, in quality, and in quantity, to a certain end; an end attained with certainty or success; and an end from which we may perceive wisdom, in contemplating the means employed.

But is this world to be considered thus merely as a machine, to last no longer than its parts retain their present position, their proper forms and qualities? Or may it not be also considered as an organized body? such as has a constitution in which the necessary decay of the machine is naturally repaired, in the exertion of those productive powers by which it had been formed.

This is the view in which we are now to examine the globe; to see if there be, in the constitution of this world, a reproductive operation, by which a ruined constitution may be again repaired, and a duration or stability thus procured to the machine, considered as a world sustaining plants and animals.

If no such reproductive power, or reforming operation, after due inquiry, is to be found in the constitution of this world, we should have reason to conclude, that the system of this earth has either been intentionally made imperfect, or has not been the work of infinite power and wisdom.

His point is that water, time and weather tend to destroy the land and in particular the soil, which is necessary for plants and animals. So unless there is some means to bring about new land and new soil, the whole system will necessarily come to an end. According to him, if this is the case, it means that “we should have reason to conclude, that the system of this earth has either been intentionally made imperfect, or has not been the work of infinite power and wisdom.” I would simply respond that infinite power and wisdom could easily have reasons for the system of the earth to be imperfect in this particular way. However, he is not trying to establish by this argument that there is in fact such a system to renew the land and soil. Rather, he is trying to make it less surprising when we verify from experience that there is such a system, and this verification does not depend on this argument.

A careful investigation of the presently existing land and soil, he says, indicates the passage of vast periods of time:

Now, if we are to take the written history of man for the rule by which we should judge of the time when the species first began, that period would be but little removed from the present state of things. The Mosaic history places this beginning of man at no great distance; and there has not been found, in natural history, any document by which a high antiquity might be attributed to the human race. But this is not the case with regard to the inferior species of animals, particularly those which inhabit the ocean and its shores. We find, in natural history, monuments which prove that those animals had long existed; and we thus procure a measure for the computation of a period of time extremely remote, though far from being precisely ascertained.

In examining things present, we have data from which to reason with regard to what has been; and, from what has actually been, we have data for concluding with regard to that which is to happen hereafter. Therefore, upon the supposition that the operations of nature are equable and steady, we find, in natural appearances, means for concluding a certain portion of time to have necessarily elapsed, in the production of those events of which we see the effects.

It is thus that, in finding the relics of sea-animals of every kind in the solid body of our earth, a natural history of those animals is formed, which includes a certain portion of time; and, for the ascertaining this portion of time, we must again have recourse to the regular operations of this world. We shall thus arrive at facts which indicate a period to which no other species of chronology is able to remount.

In what follows, therefore, we are to examine the construction of the present earth, in order to understand the natural operations of time past; to acquire principles, by which we may conclude with regard to the future course of things, or judge of those operations, by which a world, so wisely ordered, goes into decay; and to learn, by what means such a decayed world may be renovated, or the waste of habitable land upon the globe repaired.

He proceeds to argue that the land which currently exists, at least most of it, was formed in water:

The solid parts of the globe are, in general, composed of sand, of gravel, of argillaceous and calcareous strata, or of the various compositions of these with some other substances, which it is not necessary now to mention. Sand is separated and sized by streams and currents; gravel is formed by the mutual attrition of stones agitated in water; and marly, or argillaceous strata, have been collected, by subsiding in water with which those earthy substances had been floated. Thus, so far as the earth is formed of these materials, that solid body would appear to have been the production of water, winds, and tides.

But that which renders the original of our land clear and evident, is the immense quantities of calcareous bodies which had belonged to animals, and the intimate connection of these masses of animal production with the other strata of the land. For it is to be proved, that all these calcareous bodies, from the collection of which the strata were formed, have belonged to the sea, and were produced in it.

We find the marks of marine animals in the most solid parts of the earth; consequently, those solid parts have been formed after the ocean was inhabited by those animals which are proper to that fluid medium. If, therefore, we knew the natural history of those solid parts, and could trace the operations of the globe, by which they had been formed, we would have some means for computing the time through which those species of animals have continued to live. But how shall we describe a process which nobody has seen performed, and of which no written history gives any account? This is only to be investigated, first, in examining the nature of those solid bodies, the history of which we want to know; and, 2dly, In examining the natural operations of the globe, in order to see if there now actually exist such operations, as, from the nature of the solid bodies, appear to have been necessary to their formation.

But, before entering more particularly into those points of discussion, by which the question is to be resolved, let us take a general view of the subject, in order to see what it is which science and observation must decide.

In all the regions of the globe, immense masses are found, which, though at present in the most solid state, appear to have been formed by the collection of the calcareous exuviae of marine animals. The question at present is not, in what manner those collections of calcareous relics have become a perfect solid body, and have been changed from an animal to a mineral substance; for this is a subject that will be afterwards considered; we are now only inquiring, if such is truly the origin of those mineral masses.

That all the masses of marble or limestone are composed of the calcareous matter of marine bodies, may be concluded from the following facts:

1st, There are few beds of marble or limestone, in which may not be found some of those objects which indicate the marine origin of the mass. If, for example, in a mass of marble, taken from a quarry upon the top of the Alps or Andes, there shall be found one cockle-shell, or piece of coral, it must be concluded, that this bed of stone had been originally formed at the bottom of the sea, as much as another bed which is evidently composed almost altogether of cockle-shells and coral. If one bed of limestone is thus found to have been of a marine origin, every concomitant bed of the same kind must be also concluded to have been formed in the same Manner.

We thus shall find the greatest part of the calcareous masses upon this globe to have originated from marine calcareous bodies; for whether we examine marbles, limestones, or such solid masses as are perfectly changed from the state of earth, and are become compact and hard, or whether we examine the soft, earthy, chalky or marly strata, of which so much of this earth is composed, we still find evident proofs, that those beds had their origin from materials deposited at the bottom of the sea; and that they have the calcareous substance which they contain, from the same source as the marbles or the limestones.

2dly, In those calcareous strata, which are evidently of marine origin, there are many parts that are of a sparry structure, that is to say, the original texture of those beds, in such places, has been dissolved, and a new structure has been assumed, which is peculiar to a certain state of the calcareous earth. This change is produced by crystallisation, in consequence of a previous state of fluidity, which has so disposed the concreting parts, as to allow them to assume a regular shape and structure proper to that substance. A body, whose external form has been modified by this process, is called a crystal; one whose internal arrangement of parts is determined by it, is said to be of a sparry structure; and this is known from its fracture.

3dly, There are, in all the regions of the earth, huge masses of calcareous matter, in that crystalline form of sparry state, in which perhaps no vestige can be found of any organised body, nor any indication that such calcareous matter had belonged to animals; but as, in other masses, this sparry structure, or crystalline state, is evidently assumed by the marine calcareous substances, in operations which are natural to the globe, and which are necessary to the consolidation of the strata, it does not appear, that the sparry masses, in which no figured body is formed, have been originally different from other masses, which, being only crystallised in part, and in part still retaining their original form, leave ample evidence of their marine origin.

We are led, in this manner, to conclude, that all the strata of the earth, not only those consisting of such calcareous masses, but others superincumbent upon these, have had their origin at the bottom of the sea, by the collection of sand and gravel, of shells, of coralline and crustaceous bodies, and of earths and clays, variously mixed, or separated and accumulated. Here is a general conclusion, well authenticated in the appearances of nature, and highly important in the natural history of the earth.

The general amount of our reasoning is this, that nine-tenths, perhaps, or ninety-nine hundredths of this earth, so far as we see, have been formed by natural operations of the globe, in collecting loose materials, and depositing them at the bottom of the sea; consolidating those collections in various degrees, and either elevating those consolidated masses above the level on which they were formed, or lowering the level of that sea.

There is a part of the solid earth which we may at present neglect, not as being persuaded that this part may not also be found to come under the general rule of formation with the rest, but as considering this part to be of no consequence in forming a general rule, which shall comprehend almost the whole, without doing it absolutely. This excluded part consists of certain mountains and masses of granite. These are thought to be still older in their formation, and are said never to be found superincumbent on strata which must be acknowledged as the productions of the sea.

It should already be evident that insofar as his conclusion is valid, it is already clear that there would have to be a mechanism of what he calls the “reproduction” of the system of the world. If our present land was formed under water, it follows that there must be a means by which land can be taken from the water and raised above it.

There follow lengthy discussions, which I will omit, of the issues of exactly how geological strata are formed in the first place, and how they can be raised above the water.

Next he attempts to determine the constitution of the world at the time when the present land was forming under water:

We have been endeavouring to prove, that all the continents and islands of this globe had been raised above the surface of the ocean; we have also aimed at pointing out the cause of this translation of matter, as well as of the general solidity of that which is raised to our view; but however this theory shall be received, no person of observation can entertain a doubt, that all, or almost all we see of this earth, had been originally formed at the bottom of the sea. We have now another object in our view; this is to investigate the operations of the globe, at the time that the foundation of this land was laying in the waters of the ocean, and to trace the existence and the nature of things, before the present land appeared above the surface of the waters. We should thus acquire some knowledge of the system according to which this world is ruled, both in its preservation and production; and we might be thus enabled to judge, how far the mineral system of the world shall appear to be contrived with all the wisdom, which is so manifest in what are termed the animal and vegetable kingdoms.

It is not too difficult for him to show that things must have been very similar at the time:

We have already observed, that all the strata of the earth are composed either from the calcareous relicts of sea animals, or from the collection of such materials as we find upon our shores. At a gross computation, there may perhaps be a fourth part of our solid land, which is composed from the matter that had belonged to those animals. Now, what a multitude of living creatures, what a quantity of animal economy must have been required for producing a body of calcareous matter which is interspersed throughout all the land of the globe, and which certainly forms a very considerable part of that mass! Therefore, in knowing how those animals had lived, or with what they had been fed, we shall have learned a most interesting part of the natural history of this earth; a part which it is necessary to have ascertained, in order to see the former operations of the globe, while preparing the materials of the present land. But, before entering upon this subject, let us examine the other materials of which our land is formed.

Gravel forms a part of those materials which compose our solid land; but gravel is no other than a collection of the fragments of solid stones worn round, or having their angular form destroyed by agitation in water, and the attrition upon each other, or upon similar hard bodies. Consequently, in finding masses of gravel in the composition of our land, we must conclude, that there had existed a former land, on which there had been transacted certain operations of wind and water, similar to those which are natural to the globe at present, and by which new gravel is continually prepared, as well as old gravel consumed or diminished by attrition upon our shores.

Sand is the material which enters, perhaps in greatest quantity, the composition of our land. But sand, in general, is no other than small fragments of hard and solid bodies, worn or rounded more or less by attrition; consequently, the same natural history of the earth, which is investigated from the masses of gravel, is also applicable to those masses of sand which we find forming so large a portion of our present land throughout all the earth.

….

Therefore, from the consideration of those materials which compose the present land, we have reason to conclude, that, during the time this land was forming, by the collection of its materials at the bottom of the sea, there had been a former land containing materials similar to those which we find at present in examining the earth. We may also conclude, that there had been operations similar to those which we now find natural to the globe, and necessarily exerted in the actual formation of gravel, sand, and clay. But what we have now chiefly in view to illustrate is this, that there had then been in the ocean a system of animated beings, which propagated their species, and which have thus continued their several races to this day.

In order to be convinced of that truth, we have but to examine the strata of our earth, in which we find the remains of animals. In this examination, we not only discover every genus of animal which at present exists in the sea, but probably every species, and perhaps some species with which at present we are not acquainted. There are, indeed, varieties in those species, compared with the present animals which we examine, but no greater varieties than may perhaps be found among the same species in the different quarters of the globe. Therefore, the system of animal life, which had been maintained in the ancient sea, had not been different from that which now subsists, and of which it belongs to naturalists to know the history.

It is the nature of animal life to be ultimately supported from matter of vegetable production. Inflammable matter may be considered as the pabulum of life. This is prepared in the bodies of living plants, particularly in their leaves exposed to the sun and light. This inflammable matter, on the contrary, is consumed in animal bodies, where it produces heat or light, or both. Therefore, however animal matter, or the pabulum of life, may circulate through a series of digesting powers, it is constantly impaired or diminishing in the course of this economy, and, without the productive power of plants, it would finally be extinguished.

The animals of the former world must have been sustained during indefinite successions of ages. The mean quantity of animal matter, therefore, must have been preserved by vegetable production, and the natural waste of inflammable substance repaired with continual addition; that is to say, the quantity of inflammable matter necessary to the animal consumption, must have been provided by means of vegetation. Hence we must conclude, that there had been a world of plants, as well as an ocean replenished with living animals.

We are now, in reasoning from principles, come to a point decisive of the question, and which will either confirm the theory, if it be just, or confute our reasoning, if we have erred. Let us, therefore, open the book of Nature, and read in her records, if there had been a world bearing plants, at the time when this present world was forming at the bottom of the sea.

Here the cabinets of the curious are to be examined; but here some caution is required, in order to distinguish things perfectly different, which sometimes are confounded.

Fossil wood, to naturalists in general, is wood dug up from under ground, without inquiring whether this had been the production of the present earth, or that which had preceded it in the circulation of land and water. The question is important, and the solution of it is, in general, easy. The vegetable productions of the present earth, however deep they may be found buried beneath its surface, and however ancient they may appear, compared with the records of our known times, are new, compared with the solid land on which they grew; and they are only covered with the produce of a vegetable soil, or the alluvion of the present land on which we dwell, and on which they had grown. But the fossil bodies which form the present subject of inquiry, belonged to former land, and are found only in the sea-born strata of our present earth. It is to these alone that we appeal, in order to prove the certainty of former events.

Mineralised wood, therefore, is the object now inquired after; that wood which had been lodged in the bottom of the sea, and there composed part of a stratum, which hitherto we have considered as only formed of the materials proper to the ocean. Now, what a profusion of this species of fossil wood is to be found in the cabinets of collectors, and even in the hands of lapidaries, and such artificers of polished stones! In some places, it would seem to be as common as the agate.

I shall only mention a specimen in my own collection. It is wood petrified with calcareous earth, and mineralised with pyrites. This specimen of wood contains in itself, even without the stratum of stone in which it is embedded, the most perfect record of its genealogy. It had been eaten or perforated by those sea worms which destroy the bottoms of our ships. There is the clearest evidence of this truth. Therefore, this wood had grown upon land which stood above the level of sea, while the present land was only forming at the bottom of the ocean.

Wood is the most substantial part of plants, as shells are the more permanent part of marine animals. It is not, however, the woody part alone of the ancient vegetable world that is transmitted to us in the record of our mineral pages. We have the type of many species of foliage, and even of the most delicate flower; for, in this way, naturalists have determined, according to the Linnaean system, the species, or at least the genus, of the plant. Thus, the existence of a vegetable system at the period now in contemplation, so far from being doubtful, is a matter of physical demonstration.

After establishing to his satisfaction that the previous system of the world was very similar to the present one, he begins to attempt to measure the periods of time involved:

We are investigating the age of the present earth, from the beginning of that body which was in the bottom of the sea, to the perfection of its nature, which we consider as in the moment of our existence; and we have necessarily another aera, which is collateral, or correspondent, in the progress of those natural events. This is the time required, in the natural operations of this globe, for the destruction of a former earth; an earth equally perfect with the present and an earth equally productive of growing plants and living animals. Now, it must appear, that, if we had a measure for the one of those corresponding operations, we would have an equal knowledge of the other.

The formation of a future earth being in the bottom of the ocean, at depths unfathomable to man, and in regions far beyond the reach of his observation, here is a part of the process which cannot be taken as a principle in forming an estimate of the whole. But, in the destruction of the present earth, we have a process that is performed within the limits of our observation; therefore, in knowing the measure of this operation, we shall find the means of calculating what had passed on a former occasion, as well as what will happen in the composition of a future earth. Let us, therefore, now attempt to make this estimate of time and labour.

The highest mountain may be levelled with the plain from whence it springs, without the loss of real territory in the land; but when the ocean makes encroachment on the basis of our earth, the mountain, unsupported, tumbles with its weight; and with the accession of hard bodies, moveable with the agitation of the waves, gives to the sea the power of undermining farther and farther into the solid basis of our land. This is the operation which is to be measured; this is the mean proportional by which we are to estimate the age of worlds that have terminated, and the duration of those that are but beginning.

But how shall we measure the decrease of our land? Every revolution of the globe wears away some part of some rock upon some coast; but the quantity of that decrease, in that measured time, is not a measurable thing. Instead of a revolution of the globe, let us take an age. The age of man does no more in this estimate than a single year. He sees, that the natural course of things is to wear away the coast, with the attrition of the sand and stones upon the shore; but he cannot find a measure for this quantity which shall correspond to time, in order to form an estimate of the rate of this decrease.

But man is not confined to what he sees; he has the experience of former men. Let us then go to the Romans and the Greeks in search of a measure of our coasts, which we may compare with the present state of things. Here, again, we are disappointed; their descriptions of the shores of Greece and of Italy, and their works upon the coast, either give no measure of a decrease, or are not accurate enough for such a purpose.

It is in vain to attempt to measure a quantity which escapes our notice, and which history cannot ascertain; and we might just as well attempt to measure the distance of the stars without a parallax, as to calculate the destruction of the solid land without a measure corresponding to the whole.

The description which Polybius has given of the Pontus Euxinus, with the two opposite Bosphori, the Meotis, the Propontis, and the Port of Byzantium, are as applicable to the present state of things as they were at the writing of that history. The filling up of the bed of the Meotis, an event which, to Polybius, appeared not far off, must also be considered as removed to a very distant period, though the causes still continue to operate as before.

But there is a thing in which history and the present state of things do not agree. It is upon the coast of Spain, where Polybius says there was an island in the mouth of the harbour of New Carthage. At present, in place of the island, there is only a rock under the surface of the water. It must be evident, however, that the loss of this small island affords no proper ground of calculation for the measure or rate of wasting which could correspond to the coast in general; as neither the quantity of what is now lost had been measured, nor its quality ascertained.

Let us examine places much more exposed to the fury of the waves and currents than the coast of Carthagena, the narrow fretum, for example, between Italy and Sicily. It does not appear, that this passage is sensibly wider than when the Romans first had known it. The Isthmus of Corinth is also apparently the same at present as it had been two or three thousand years ago. Scilla and Charibdis remain now, as they had been in ancient times, rocks hazardous for coasting vessels which had to pass that strait.

It is not meant by this to say, these rocks have not been wasted by the sea, and worn by the attrition of moving bodies, during that space of time; were this true, and that those rocks, the bulwarks of the land upon those coasts, had not been at all impaired from that period, they might remain for ever, and thus the system of interchanging the place of sea and land upon this globe might be frustrated. It is only meant to affirm, that the quantity which those rocks, or that coast, have diminished from the period of our history, has either been too small a thing for human observation, or, which is more probable, that no accurate measurement of the subject, by which this quantity of decrease might have been ascertained, had been taken and recorded. It must be also evident, that a very small operation of an earthquake would be sufficient to render every means of information, in this manner of mensuration, unsatisfactory or precarious.

Many other such proofs will certainly occur, where the different parts of those coasts are examined by people of observation and intelligence. But it is enough for our present purpose, that this decrease of the coasts in general has not been observed; and that it is as generally thought, that the land is gaining upon the sea, as that the sea is gaining upon the land.

To sum up the argument, we are certain, that all the coasts of the present continents are wasted by the sea, and constantly wearing away upon the whole; but this operation is so extremely slow, that we cannot find a measure of the quantity in order to form an estimate: Therefore, the present continents of the earth, which we consider as in a state of perfection, would, in the natural operations of the globe, require a time indefinite for their destruction.

But, in order to produce the present continents, the destruction of a former vegetable world was necessary; consequently, the production of our present continents must have required a time which is indefinite. In like manner, if the former continents were of the same nature as the present, it must have required another space of time, which also is indefinite, before they had come to their perfection as a vegetable world.

We have been representing the system of this earth as proceeding with a certain regularity, which is not perhaps in nature, but which is necessary for our clear conception of the system of nature. The system of nature is certainly in rule, although we may not know every circumstance of its regulation. We are under a necessity, therefore, of making regular suppositions, in order to come at certain conclusions which may be compared with the present state of things.

He concludes the chapter with with a projection for the future:

Let us suppose that the continent, which is to succeed our land, is at present beginning to appear above the water in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, it must be evident, that the materials of this great body, which is formed and ready to be brought forth, must have been collected from the destruction of an earth, which does not now appear. Consequently, in this true statement of the case, there is necessarily required the destruction of an animal and vegetable earth prior to the former land; and the materials of that earth which is first in our account, must have been collected at the bottom of the ocean, and begun to be concocted for the production of the present earth, when the land immediately preceding the present had arrived at its full extent.

This, however, alters nothing with regard to the nature of those operations of the globe. The system is still the same. It only protracts the indefinite space of time in its existence, while it gives us a view of another distinct period of the living world; that is to say, the world which we inhabit is composed of the materials, not of the earth which was the immediate predecessor of the present, but of the earth which, in ascending from the present, we consider as the third, and which had preceded the land that was above the surface of the sea, while our present land was yet beneath the water of the ocean. Here are three distinct successive periods of existence, and each of these is, in our measurement of time, a thing of indefinite duration.

We have now got to the end of our reasoning; we have no data further to conclude immediately from that which actually is: But we have got enough; we have the satisfaction to find, that in nature there is wisdom, system, and consistency. For having, in the natural history of this earth, seen a succession of worlds, we may from this conclude that there is a system in nature; in like manner as, from seeing revolutions of the planets, it is concluded, that there is a system by which they are intended to continue those revolutions. But if the succession of worlds is established in the system of nature, it is in vain to look for any thing higher in the origin of the earth. The result, therefore, of this physical inquiry is, that we find no vestige of a beginning,—no prospect of an end.

To the extent that one accepts the validity of Hutton’s arguments, one will accept that the earth has existed for unimaginably vast periods of past time. One might object to the conclusion that the earth will continue to exist for such periods, but in fact his argument is reasonable if it is understood as a probable argument.