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Ami while they earnestly condemn those who in former ages could justify the "pious frauds" introduced in support of the received faith, are yet themselves influenced by the very same spirit Only in a different form, in dreading the dissemination of knowledge if even imagined to be at variance with established religious tenets.
The one party seeking to support religion by the propagation of falsehood, the other by the suppression of truth, both agree in treating truth as if it were falsehood, and thus give its enemies the fairest ground to think it so.
Geological Interpretations of Scripture.
From what we have already seen of the invaluable evidence supplied by geology to the great truths of natural theology, and thence to the foundations of all religion, we shall be prepared to allow its high importance. We must, further, have perceived, in going through even the mere outline of that evidence, the positive inferences which it involves, and on which it is indeed founded, as to the gradual introduction of the present order of things, and the existing species of organized beings, out of previous forms of existence. And it is manifest that this is, apparently at least, in direct opposition to the literal and obvious sense of the representations given of the process of creation, at once, out of darkness and confusion, at a recent epoch, given in several passages of the Hebrew Scriptures. And there are not wanting those who hold forth the discrepancy as a triumph to scepticism, and as giving the death-blow to the veracity of the Bible, and to the authority of the Christian religion*. On the other hand, we have considered the too general condition of even the professedly Christian world, as to its degree of religious information.
Such being the state of the case, and, from a variety of motives, so prevalent the apprehension that an examination of the structure of the earth would undermine Christianity, it is not surprising that, in the infant state of geological science, its advocates should have been extremely cautious in their mode of broaching the unwelcome truths: and should have propounded a variety of solutions of the difficulty more or less plausible. Whatever may have been the prudence of such a course, when the science had to struggle with the difficulties attending its earlier advance, whatever fears it might then have to entertain from the hostility, whether of orthodoxy or fanaticism; it has now arrived at such strength and maturity as to render all such expedients (under any circumstances but doubtful) wholly unnecessary.
It is, therefore, a matter of sincere .regret to every lover of truth, still to see some excellent writers keeping up this temporizing system, when on every ground it would be so much more worthy a course boldly to front the difficulty, and avow the contradiction in plain terms; but instead of this, we observe them exerting their utmost ingenuity to elude the contradictions, either by disguising the facts, or glossing over the words with the most flimsy interpretations.
* See Popular Geology subversive of Divine Revelation, &c, by the Rev. H. Cole. London, 1834.
It would, indeed, appear extraordinary, that the notion of looking for modern science in the ancient Scriptures should be found satisfactory to any person of ordinary sense, were it not that we discover many causes which tend, in this case, to blind the clearest perceptions. The subject, when simply and calmly considered, is plain, and hardly open to misapprehension; but men cannot be brought to consider it simply and calmly. Yet what mode of proceeding can be more irrational? passages are quoted from writings produced ages before any of the facts of geology were understood; and now that they are known, the critic sets about to make those passages speak the language of modern science!
These writings constitute the delivery of a religious system to the Israelites; and now men try to make them supply astronomical and geological instruction to Christians!
In all this the object is so palpably mistaken, that were the suggestions of the critic ever so happy, and the expositions themselves ever so luminous and natural, we could not attach any serious weight to them. But when we come to observe, in the majority of such cases, how entirely gratuitous are the theories, and how miserably strained the verbal interpretations, which are necessary in order to effect the accordance, the whole attempt must appear yet more manifestly futile. For let us only dwell for a moment on the nature of these interpretations.
When a commentator of the present day sets about to put a particular interpretation on a passage in an ancient author, he may, upon an examination of the critical sense of the words, and the construction of the sentence, make out a meaning which to him is plausible, and in itself consistent. But there is another question entirely distinct from this, too often quite overlooked, but essentially impotant- to a true interpretation: viz., whether it is probable, from concurrent circumstances, that this was the sense, in point of fact, actually intended by t/ie author. It is one thing to make out such a sense as, to our apprehension, the words may bear, quite another to infer that this was the sense really in the mind of the writer.
Now, in the geological interpretation of Scripture, this consideration seems strangely overlooked. Allowing for a moment that the verbal construction, or the proposed sense, is one which the passage may be made to bear, where is the probability that it was the intended signification?
Supposing it granted that by some critical process these descriptions may be brought to take a verbal sense, accordant with the facts elicited by geology, still the question is, Can we soberly bring ourselves to conceive that this was the sense actually designed and contemplated as that in which the words were to be understood? and if it was Not, ivhat is the coincidence worth f
If but a moment's consideration be bestowed on the circumstances of the case, can it be seriously imagined that the delivery of the Judaical law was really intended to embrace the doctrines of geology, and this too under the guise of expressions which, in their obvious sense, are directly contradictory to those doctrines? Is it on any ground conceivable that such a purpose could have been in view in the delivery of any divine revelation? and much less in that vouchsafed to the Israelites. And if it were, could any method be devised more adverse to its accomplishment? For we are thus driven to suppose a design of revealing certain truths by effectually * concealing them: since we know that, in point of fact, the hidden sense was not disclosed: and from the time of Moses downwards, no one has ever imagined the secret meaning of the description till the present day, and when disclosed it affords no instruction, since it cannot be so much as understood till the facts have been learnt from geological study, and when they have been, it is superfluous.