Scientific Aspect (c)

The character of the Scripture chaos which precedes the six-days' work we have already seen. The terms "waste and desolate,'' which apply to the earth in this condition, speak of a lapse from the primitive state. The land is buried under the waters, and darkness rests upon it. We have reason to believe, as I have before said, that it had already acquired, in the main, its configuration. "The waters stood above the mountains," says the book of Psalms. The mountains, therefore, are recognized, and geology plainly indicates that they were outlined, as we say, from the beginning. The continents have been gradually formed, the mountains gradually upheaved, that is plain ; but there was no destruction of continents, so far as we can find, and formation of others in their place ; no subsiding of mountain-ranges, to be replaced by others. Thus in the period of desolation, already we find the earth materially finished in the form which it at present has.

Again, we are not to think of a total want of atmosphere ; for, as I have pointed out, all that the second day indicates is the creation of an "expanse,'' not an atmosphere. Nor is it necessary even to suppose that before this the sun had not acted as a luminary to the earth. There is no necessity to deny that it had so acted, but, so far us Scripture is concerned, we scarcely expect to find this confirmed. That the mass of the sun existed is not at all against the Scriptual statements here, but rather in agreement with them. Life, on the other hand, seems clearly stated to have been absolutely extinct that is, supposing it to have formerly existed, which we may reasonably believe that geology has proved.

If we take, then, the chronology of Scripture, allowing, as we may, for various estimates of that chronology, the Period of man's existence upon the earth will not at any rate exceed seven thousand years and this should give us dates whereby we might reach somewhat definitely the the of the six-days' work. The question here, then, occurs, Can we find any thing which answers to such a state of the earth as has just been described immediately preceding man's appearance upon it? To answer this, we must first of all dismiss from our minds indeed the thought of such periods of the as are being claimed by geologists. It is easy to show that the claim they make on this score has no real justification. The basis of such calculations assumes what can never be proved, and what is indeed against all probability, that the rate of change which is at present taking place upon the earth can be rightly taken as the rate of changes of its surface from the beginning. Into this I cannot, of course, enter now; but it is an admitted fact for most that all evidence of man's existence upon the earth dates from the Glacial period, and not before. It is the estimate of a recent writer that this period ended, "somewhat suddenly," some where about from five to seven thousand years ago. This, at any rate, is the estimate of scientific men, totally apart from any theories of Scripture-interpretation.

This glacial period, when we first look at it, gives us some apparent extraordinary coincidences with Scripture. It is a time during some part of which at least the whole of North America to the fortieth latitude, of Europe to the fiftieth, Siberia mainly if not entirely, are found to have been covered with water. Strata which had not been submerged from the earliest periods then were over­flowed. As the land emerged, it left the evidence of this in the sea-beaches of the terrace-period, found far up upon the mountains. This the of submergence was preceded by another - the true glacial one, as to the exact nature of which opinions are divided - some contending it to have been a the rather of elevation than of subsidence, while others take the opposite view. In any case, it was a time when the whole surface indicated was covered with ice. The evidences are found in boulders of foreign material left, as on Mt. Washington, at an elevation of six thousand feet; in Scotland, at Ben Uarn More, at an altitude of three thousand five hundred and eighty-nine feet, and elsewhere similarly through the northern part of North America and Europe. On Mt. Lebanon, boulder-drift has been observed, according to Dr. Hooker, six thousand feet above the level of the sea. In South America, similar evidences have been found from Tierra del Fuego to about forty-one degrees south latitude. According to Agassiz, glacial deposit from the Andes has been found throughout the valley of the Amazon; and he is stated to have been convinced "that as the theory of the ancient extension of glaciers in Europe is gradually coming to be accepted by geologists, so will the existence of like phenomena both in North and South America through the same period be recognized sooner or later as part of the great series of physical events, extending over the whole globe." "Indeed," he asserts, "when the iceberg period shall be fully understood, it will he seen that the absurdity lies in supposing that climatic conditions so different could be limited to a small portion of the earth's surface. If a geological winter existed at all, it must have been cosmic; and it is quite as rational to look for its traces in the southern hemisphere to the south of the line as to the north of it."

Throughout the strata thus formed the traces of existent life are very scanty; so much so as to elicit expressions of astonishment from one like Lyell; but we shall have to look at this directly. The statement just given, upon the warrant of mcii who may be considered of the most unexceptionable authority, show at least a state remarkably approaching the waste and desolate condition of the earth announced in the second verse of the first of Genesis; and such a condition can scarcely be found in connection with another period of the earth's history, as known geologically, so long as life has lasted upon it. Exception will no doubt be taken to the view that the glacial phenomena indicate either an entire submersion of the earth or an entire extinction of life. These are the points we have to look at more narrowly. But it certainly should be enough to promise serious inquiry when we find such correspondence of fact with a statement of so ancient a document as confessedly we have in the book of Genesis. Let us now address ourselves, then, to the examination of such points as these.

Geology itself had first taught us the occurrence of breaks in the life-history of the globe from the beginning. "The older geologists held," says Prof. Nicholson, "what probably every one would be tempted to believe at first, that the close of each formation was characterized by a general destruction of the forms of life in that period; and that the commencement of each new formation was accompanied by the creation of a number of new animals and plants destined to figure as the characteristic fossils of the same." His answer to this is not one which, according to his own account, science necessitates so much as a certain hypothesis which is widely influencing men's minds. He says, "This theory, however, not only invokes forces and processes, which we can in no way account for, but overlooks the fact that most of the great formations are separated by lapses of the unrepresented perhaps by any deposit of rock, or represented only in some particular area, and yet perhaps as great or greater than the whole the occupied in the production of the formation itself. Nowadays, most geologists hold that there was no such sudden destruction of life at the close of each geological epoch, and no such creation of fresh forms at the commencement of the next period." That, it must be confessed, is what most geologists hold. The question of why they hold it is another matter. The facts remain the same as they ever were. No longer ago than the date of Agassiz's well-known "Essay on Classification" it could be stated by him that "the number of species still considered as identical in the several successive periods is growing smaller and smaller in proportion as they are more closely compared. I have already shown, long ago, how widely many of the tertiary species, generally considered as identical with the living ones, differ from them and also how different the species of the same family may be in the successive subdivisions of the same great geological formation. Hall has come to the same results in his investigations of the fossils of the state of New York. Every monograph reduces their number in each formation. Thus Barrande, who has devoted so many years to the most minute investigations of the trilobites of Bohemia, has come to the conclusion that their species do not extend from one formation to the other. D'Orbigny and Pictet have come to the same conclusion for the fossil remains of all classes. It may well be said, as fossil remains are studied more carefully in the physiological point of view, the supposed identity of species in different geological formations gradually vanishes more and more. So the limitation of species in the already ascertained in a general way by the earlier investigators of their remains in successive geological formations is circumscribed step by step within narrower, more definite, and also more equable periods The facts do not exhibit the gradual disappearance of a limited number of species and an equally gradual introduction of an equally limited number of new ones; but on the contrary, the simultaneous creation amid the simultaneous destruction of entire fauna, and a coincidence between these changes in the organic world and the great physical changes our earth has undergone."

Such a statement in the present day will perhaps provoke an almost scornful reioinder; but there can be no question of the competency of the men who made such statements, and the facts remain practically little altered by any new discoveries since their time. The alteration is entirely one of men's minds, with regard to the facts. Just about the the that the essay on classification was published, or but shortly after, Mr. Darwin's views of the origin of species were given to the world. Hypothetical as they were and are, their wide-spread acceptance is now a matter of history. Evolution will not admit of these breaks in geological series.. The facts must stilt themselves to these altered views. The gaps remain, but they must be gaps in our knowledge, not in fact. Here, as so often, our ignorance is successfully pleaded as the basis of knowledge; and an unbroken life-series from the beginning is what has come to be everywhere affirmed.

With regard to the glacial period, especial exception will be taken to any view which represents it as a period of universal extinction of life. It may he confessed also that on many accounts, which may easily be specified, it is hardly possible to arrive at present at all the facts of the case. The "drift,'' so - called, in North America is especially marked by the absence of life; fragments of semi-fossilized wood being all that is found in it. In Europe, however, things are differently stated ; although here also Sir Chas. Lyell remarks, as already said, upon the scantiness of life which, he notices, the extreme cold of that period is not sufficient to account for. It is well known, however, that the very names given to the various tertiary formations ate based upon time supposed identity of living moluscui with those existing as far back as the Eoceno itself. In the Locene, about three and a half per cent, of species were believed to be identical with recent finds in the middle tertiary or Miocene, ten to forty per cent. ; and in the later Phocene, fitty to ninety per cent. Dana, however, states that in the Eocene the species are all extinct, and that these formulae are not capable of general application. It was in face of Lyell's statement that Agassiz made his own contrary one, which has been given from his essay ; and with regard to the standard of calculation adopted by Lycll, it would seem as if it were not very happily chosen. Prof. Carpenter says, "The softness of the entire body of the mollusk prevents us from recognizing the form and structure of the animal after death in any other way than by the shell; but upon this, it must be remembered, entire reliance cannot be placed, since it is liable to great variation in accordance with the circumstances of the individual, whilst it is by no means certain that there are constant differences in its form in distinct species.'' D'Orbigny's manual, to which Agessiz refers, is in complete opposition to Lyal in this matter, who, as the head of the uniformitarian school, had already his own hypothesis to influence him in his view of the facts.

With regard to the fish of the tertiary epoch, we have again the statement of Prof. Agassiz as to their difference from those now living, he says, "They are so nearly related to existing forms that it is often difficult, considering the enormous number (about eght thousand living species) and the imperfect state of preservation of the fossils, to determine exactly their specific relations. In general, I may say that I have not found a single species which was perfectly identical with any marine-existing fish, except the little species, inullotus villosus, which is found in nodules of clay of unknown geological age in Greenland." This statement of Agassiz is quoted without objection by Prof. Owen and Dr. Page.

With regard to higher forms there is again diversity of judgment. Prof. Owen tells us that certain quadrupeds buried in the tertiary rocks, such as moles and shrews, hares, rabbits, voles, and other rodents, are not distinguishable from the species that still exist ; but he expresses himself with great hesitation and caution upon the subject of the identity of the tertiary with existing spepies. He does so in consequence of the meagreness of the data on which such judgments are formed.'' Many quadrupeds, however, are asserted to be preglacial and to have survived this period,- the elephant, for instance, among others; but the question here has difficulties peculiarly its own, which we must shortly consider. Thus far, that is, as far as regards the preglacial and present species, we have very competent authority for their almost entire difference.

As to the glacial and related strata, there are several points to be considered which will naturally influence our acceptance of many statements that are current. First, it is to be remarked that such a period as we are now considering is one which would involve, by its very character, a mixing of material such as would be very hard to disentangle. In considering the question of the identity of species between any two formations, we have to take into account what seems very much forgotten, that the latter of these is formed, generally speaking, by the disintegration of the former. It is natural, therefore, that the species of a prior formation wonid be, to some extent, mingled with those of the one following it. Thus, in carboniferous rocks have been found pebbles containing Linguine of the Potsdam sandstone from the lower Sunnan ; and Lyell observes that "many of the fossils found in the red crag have been washed out of the older tertiary strata, especially out of London clay ;" and again, in the same page of the well-known "Elements," he remarks, as to certain fragments of the bones of Cetacea,"that they may be derived from the destruction of beds of another formation.'' Where we have to do with results of ice-action, as admittedly we have in the present case, we have above all to take this into consideration. Ice is a great mixer. Page remarks this with regard to icebergs, which are the very things, as perhaps most geologists believe, which produced the mass of phenomena of the boulder-drift. "Many of the bergs which drift out to sea, having been the extremities of glaciers while in attachment to the coast, are loaded with large angular fragments of rock and other debris; and many of the floes, having been ground on shore-ice, lift with them immense masses of water-worn shingle and gravel. Thus, as both melt away, the bottom of the ocean must he strewed with very heterogeneous and curiously assorted material. Nay, icebergs have been encountered in the North Sea covered or interstratified with ancient soil, among which were the bones of mammoths and other extinct animals, still further confusing the nature of their deposits by mingling the remains of an existing fauna (reindeer, musk-ox, arctic-bear, etc.) with one of a much higher antiquity."

The matter is still more complicated by the assertion, made by not a few of the present day, and coming perhaps to be the most generally received opinion, that there were at least two glacial periods succeeding one another. Thus the products of a more recent one would have to be very carefully distinguished from those of an earlier; and I believe that there are evidences that some, at least, of the remains which are generally counted preglacial are rather to be considered interglacial remains, that is, that have accumulated between these two similar periods. These so-called preglacial strata are, moreover, found but scantily. The Cromer beds are considered the principal; and Lyell remarks that the plants of its buried forests "agree singularly" with those of the lignite of Dueraten, which is considered to be interglacial.