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his communications to the existing prejudices and belief, even when erroneous, of the parties addressed?
Without pretending here to discuss the general question, I would merely ask, what is the least objectionable course to pursue ?
In every rock we trace infallible monuments of the progress of creation; we truly read the records in “tables of stone inscribed with finger of God,” When we compare those with documents of a different kind, we are compelled to acknowledge the visible inscriptions and the written representation to be at direct variance, so long as the historical character of that representation be insisted on. The only alternative is to admit that it was not intended for an HISTORICAL narrative ; and if the representation cannot have been designed for literal history, it only remains to regard it as having been intended for the better enforcement of its objects in the language of figure and poetry:--and to allow that the manner in which the Deity was pleased to reveal himself to the Jews as accomplishing the work of creation was (like so many other points of their dispensation,) veiled in the guise of apologue and parable; and that only a more striking representation of the greatness and majesty of the Divine power and creative wisdom was intended by embodying the expression of them in the language of dramatic action.
Importance of the Question. But without insisting on these or the like suggestions as entirely satisfactory, I will only further observe in general, that with reference to prevailing opinions, the subject is manifestly of a nature which cannot be safely neglected or passed by; but which all friends to truth are most imperatively called upon to examine fully and candidly in the present times, when it is continually being brought more widely into public notice.
Its importance is, indeed, now beginning to be generally acknowledged. It is in vain that one party may endeavour to gloss over the difficulties, or to dismiss them with some vague general remark; and another go into the minuteness of critical details for finding some hardly-strained verbal construction into which the phraseology of the sacred narrative may be tortured to effect a reconciliation; or a third, seek to mislead the public by false and absurd misrepresentations of the geological evidence. These attempts may, perhaps, for the moment, obtain the assent of the unreflecting reader, and for a time lead blindfold the opinions of the many by the authority of some eminent name, or supply a convenient form of words under the shelter of which the believer may exempt himself from the necessity of inquiry, and repose from the labour of thought, and in which the sceptic may find himself provided with a convenient disguise of approved and orthodox exposition, the flimsiness of which will only disclose itself in proportion to the penetration of those around him.
But the success of such expedients cannot be lasting ; and the question must soon come to be discussed in its naked simplicity. If such attempts at explanation as those alluded to have successively amused, for a time, the public mind, yet that one has, in turn, yielded to another, shows that the progressive disclosures of geological discovery have tended more and more to extend the dominion of sound inductive principles. Nevertheless, some of those expositions which have recently obtained most popularity, have not been without their use in exploding the more gross errors of those which preceded them, and in some measure preparing the way for the truth. Thus men's minds were formerly startled at the bare notion of long-continued periods and successive dynasties of organized life before the creation of man. The theory of the “ days” interpreted as periods of " indefinite” length, had, at least, the recommendation that it got over one main part of the novelty and difficulty, and some notion of the immense duration of the globe became, in a certain degree, familiarized to men's minds as associated with the scripture use of the terms « day” and “year.”
They were consequently now less incapable of listening to the disclosures of geological research, and less shocked at the boldness with which induc
tion cleared its own way, to the utter disregard of extraneous authority, and followed up its own conclusions, without respect to received opinions, precisely as the clear evidence of facts illumined the path to truth.
It may also be remarked with satisfaction that in some of the latest and now most widely-circulated of these expositions, there has appeared a far more distinct reference to the genuine authority of inductive principles, an acknowledgment of its rightful claims within its own province. We may also perceive a disposition to less minute attempts at precise interpretation, and an adoption of more vague and indefinite language in statements bearing at all upon the discrepancies. It would appear that the geologist endeavoured to commit himself no further than was absolutely necessary, while he silently passed by those topics on which a definite statement would be unavoidably offensive, and when he clearly saw that all attempts at explaining it away would be impracticable.
And though views not unlike those before referred to and commented upon have been at least in some degree adopted by several eminent geologists, yet all the more judicious have carefully avoided direct and pointed affirmation of what they well know to be so much at variance with geological evidence as the occurrence of an universal chaos, followed by à simultaneous creation, at any recent period. And if the ambiguous language they are sometimes led
to use may be open to misinterpretation by superficial or ill-informed readers, yet those eminent geologists seem to me to have acted most wisely who have left the difficulties to the good sense of their readers, aware that the candid and discerning will not misinterpret them, while there is but too numerous a class who will never be satisfied by any elucidation they can offer*.
Relation of the Question to Christianity.
But chiefly I would observe, while there is doubtless much to be considered in the intrinsic nature of the contradiction, yet that which invests them with all their strength as objections is the very common adoption of certain peculiar opinions and views of religion, which nevertheless appear to me far from essential to Christianity.
I would maintain that the question, when regarded in its real character, would assume a far simpler aspect than it too commonly does, and would occasion no serious embarrassment in the minds of any thinking disciples of the gospel, whose views are not mixed up with the very common prepossessions as to the meaning and application of the Old Testament. Hence it is that men are startled at the announcement of the discrepancies we have been considering; and from the prevalence of those opinions alone it is that the question assumes so pecu
* See Note R.