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MODERN PHILOSOPHERS ON THE PROBABLE AGE OF THE WORLD.*

We propose to discuss the books and amassed for forming an opinion on the papers whose titles are prefixed to this subject. Before the end of the last cenarticle, in so far as they throw fresh light tury geology hardly existed as a science ; on the probable length of time during an inquiry as to the age of the world which the solar system may be supposed would have been unhesitatingly answered to have existed. It is but in recent by the assertion, that the earth was cretimes that any materials have been ated in six days, 4004 years before the

birth of Christ. Though further re1. Lectures on some Recent Advances in Physi- search has shown that the sacred text cal Science. By Professor P. G. Tait, Pro- bears no such interpretation, those copies fessor of Natural Philosophy in the Univer- of the Authorised Version of the Bible, sity of Edinburgh. 1876.

which are enriched with notes and mar2. On Geological Dynamics. By Sir William

Thomson, LL.D., F.R.S. Transactions ginal references, still keep up the formal

of the Geological Society of Glasgow,' 1869. assertion. 3. On Geological Time. By Sir William Thom- A story is told in Brydone's 'Tour in

son, LL.D. Geological Society of Glas- Sicily' which will serve to recall the gow, 1868. 4. Sur le Ralentissement du mouvement de Rota

state of public opinion on the subject of tion de la Terre. Par M. Delaunay. Paris, chronology at the end of the last century. 1866.

The Canonico Recupero, a Sicilian 5. Climate and Time. By James Croll. H.M. priest, was Brydone's guide when he Geological Survey of Scotland. London, explored Mount Etna. Recupero (who

1875. 6. Principles of Geology. By Sir Charles Lyell. afterwards wrote a history of his native 14th Edition. London, 1875.

mountain) told the traveller that he had NEW SERIES.—VOL. XXIV., No. 4

25

been vastly embarrassed by the discovery scope to their imagination. In proporthat many strata of lava, each covered tion as the six thousand years formerly deeply with earth, overlaid each other assigned as the age of created matter on the mountain-side. Moses,' said he, was too small, the reaction of opinion ' hangs like a dead weight upon me, for claimed for it an antiquity which workI have not the conscience to make the ers in other branches of physics feel it mountain so young as that prophet impossible to concede; and at the presmakes the world.' "The Bishop,' adds ent moment there is among scientific Brydone, “who is strenuously orthodox men a revolt against the extreme views -for it is an excellent see-has warned of the geologists. The latter affirmed him to be on his guard, and not to pre- with truth, that creation in six solar tend to be a better historian than Moses.' days was demonstrably untrue, not be

The worthy Bishop of Catania was cause God could not create the world at not alone in his views. Nearer home it a stroke, but because the world bears was the generally received opinion that ample evidence that He did not so exerto doubt the literal accuracy of the cise His power. It was inconsistent chronology supposed to be involved in alike with reasoning from probability or the Mosaic account was a grave impiety. the investigation of facts. In all the The poet Cowper, mildest of men, be- operations of Nature as they unfolded came fiercely satirical under the provo- themselves before our eyes God worked cation of geology. Though few people by law-by the process of slow developread The Task' nowadays, the lines ment-by means beautifully simple, and will no doubt be remembered,

involving no violence and no haste, yet . Some drill and bore

irresistible. There was abundant eviThe solid earth, and from the strata there

dence that these causes had been at Extract a register by which we learn

work for thousands-perhaps millionsThat He who made it, and revealed its date of years before the date of the supposed To Moses, was mistaken in its age.'

miracle. Beginning from the present Fortunately, it is no longer considered age, the time was calculated that each impious to try and 'extract a register' development would require, till the unitfrom the earih. Those who were in- ed ages of all amounted to the enormous clined to be afraid that the Mosaic sum of three hundred millions of years. record would be discredited have long Modern English geology holds that since laid aside their fears. It has been all geological changes have been effected found that, far from being upset by by agents now in operation, and that scientific inquiry, the Bible account of those agents have been working silently the Creation accords in a very remarkable at the same rate in all past time; that manner with modern discoveries; and the great changes of the earth's crust long before Max Müller put the feeling were produced, not by great convulsions into words, it was felt that only by and cataclysms of Nature, but by the treating our own sacred books with ordinary agencies of rain, snow, frost, neither more nor less mercy than the ice, and chemical action. It teaches sacred books of other nations, they that the rocky face of our globe has could retain their position and influence.' been carved into hill and dale, and ulti

When once the plunge was made, it mately worn down to the sea-level, not was soon found, as might have been ex- only once or twice, but many times over pected, that the fault was not in the during past ages : that the principal oracle, but in the interpretation; and it strata of the rocks-hundreds, and even is very remarkable in how many and thousands, of feet thick-have been unexpected directions the testimony of formed on ocean-floor-beds by the slow Moses has been strengthened by the decay of marine creatures and matter criticism, not always friendly, which it held in solution by the waves : that has received. Of course, when the every part of the earth has been many anciently-accepted date of the Creation times submerged, and has again been was proved to be incorreci, and chronol- lifted into the air. This slow rising ogy was, as it were, thrown open to the and sinking of the ground is an axipublic, there was nothing to prevent om of the geological creed. We are philosophers from allowing the freest told that it is now going on, and that

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there are large areas of subsidence and not been rotating so long as has been of elevation on the surface of the globe. supposed ; thirdly, because the sun is But when we consider the slow rate at parting with caloric at such a rate as to which that oscillation is now proceeding, make it rertain that he could not have and argue back from the known to the continued to radiate heat at the same unknown, we are landed in conclusions rate for more than a few millions of as to the length of time required for years; and lastly, because the changes geological changes which the opponents in the earth's crust, stupendous and of the theory declare to be absolutely varied as they are, could have been, and inadmissible.

probably were, accomplished in the Sir William Thomson, Professor Tait, course of much shorter periods than and Mr. Croll argue the question as one popular geology has hitherto considered of geological dynamics. They find possible. reason, in recent discoveries of science, It will, of course, be understood that to assert that the sun and the earth, any inquiry as to the date of creation from their physical condition, cannot must necessarily have relation only to possibly have existed for the enormous the solar system—the sun, that is, and length of time supposed. Playfair, the the planets which accompany the earth founder of what is called the Uniformi- in its orbit round the central luminary. tarian school of geology, declares on the The investigation is of necessity thus other hand, that in the existing order of narrowed, because we have not, and things there is no evidence either of a cannot expect to have, any definite beginning or of an end. 'In the plane- information as to the age of the rest of tary motions,' he says, “where geometry the visible universe. The stars are forhas carried the eye so far both into the ever beyond our ken. If the spectrofuture and the past, we discover no scope can bring intelligence of their mark either of the commencement or component elements, it is as much as we the termination of the present order. can hope to attain. For their immeasThe author of Nature has not given laws urable distance effectually removes to the Universe, which, like the institu- them from investigation. No action of tions of men, carry in themselves the gravity emanating from those distant elements of their own destruction. This luminaries affects the internal economy was a bold assertion : it was adopted of the solar system. In the vast eternity with very little limitation by Sir Charles of space the sun and his attendant satelLyell, and the later geologists--his dis- lites are altogether alone. ciples and contemporaries. Indeed, if It is difficult to gaze upon the thouthey admitted any limitations at all, they sands of stars that brighten the night placed the origin of the world so many with their radiance and yet realise our hundreds of millions of years ago that entire isolation. The solar system, with the figures convey no practical idea to the radius of its orbit stretching from the mind, and amount in effect almost to the sun to farthest Neptune, is but a what a distinguished geologist' calls point in a vast solitude. No star is eternity à parte ante.'

nearer to us than 200 millions of millions The principal grounds upon which of miles. scientific opinion has recently declared This inconceivable remoteness shows itself in favor of limited periods for the that the sun and his satellites lie apart duration of the solar system are based, in space. They form one whole, interfirst

, on the belief that the earth is cool- dependent on each other, but completeing-if not rapidly-at such a rate as to ly removed, as regards their internal make it impossible that it should have economy, from the influence of any existed for very many millions of years; attraction outside. Secondly, because there is reason to be- There are reasons for concluding that lieve that the errth is not now rotating the system, thus organised and isolated, on her axis with the same rapidity as in was brought into existence by one conformer

ages, and that, as her shape tinuous act of creative energy, and that, would have been different if, at the time however long the period over which the she was in a molten state, she had been process may have been spread, the rotating more rapidly than now, she has whole solar system forms part of one

mass.

reason

creation ; and though it has been some- matter attracts every other particle with times thought that the earth was made a force directly proportionate to its by itself, and that the sun was intro

This force varies as the inverse duced from outside space, or created square of the distance : that is, if the where he is at a different time, the evi- attractive force of a given mass at one dence is strong against such a supposi- mile were called 1, at two miles it would tion.

be 2 X 2 = 4, or of one, and so on. In the first place, the orbits of all the This law of the inverse square, as it is planets are nearly in one plane, and called, is but the mathematical expresdescribe very nearly concentric circles. sion of a property which has been imIf, when they received the original im- posed upon matter by the Creator. It pulse which sent them revolving round is no inherent quality, so far as we the sun, any of them had been started know. It is quite conceivable that the with a little more original velocity, such central law might have been different planets would revolve in orbits more from what it is. There is no elongated. If, therefore, they had been why the mathematical fact should be the result of several distinct acts of what it is except the will of the Being creation, instead of being parts of one who imposed the law. Any other proand the same act of creation, their orbits portion could equally well be expressed would probably have been so many mathematically, and its results calcuovals, narrow and wide in all degrees, Jated. As an instance of what would and intersecting and interfering with occur if any other proportion than the each other in all directions. Yet if this inverse square were substituted as the want of harmony had existed, even to a attractive force of gravity, suppose, at small degree, it would have been suffi- distances 1, 2, 3, the attractive force had cient to destroy the existing species of varied as 1, 2, 3, instead of the squares living creatures, and cause to disappear of those numbers. Under such a law all security for the stability of the solar any number of planets might revolve system. If the earth's orbit were much in the most regular and orderly manmore eccentric than it is, all living crea- But under this law the weight tures would die, for the extremes of of bodies at the earth's surface would heat and cold at different periods of the cease to exist; nothing would fail year would be fatal to life. If the orbit or weigh downwards. The greater acof Jupiter were as eccentric as that of tion of the distant sun and planets Mercury, the attraction of the larger would exactly neutralise the attractive planet would cause the smaller to change force of the earth. A ball thrown from their approximately circular orbits into the hand, however gently, would imvery long ellipses, such would be the mediately become a satellite of the earth, disturbance that they would fall into and would for the future accompany its the sun

or fly-off into remote space. course, revolving about it in the space of The moon would approach nearer and one year. All terrestrial things would nearer to the earth with every revolu- float about with no principle of cohertion; the year would change its charac- ence or stability—they would obey the ter; violent heat would succeed to general law of the system, but would violent cold ; the planets would come acknowledge no particular relation to nearer and nearer; we should see them the earth. It is obvious that such a portentous in size and aspect, glaring change would be subversive of the entire and disappearing at uncertain intervals; structure and economy of the world. tides like deluges would sweep over From these and similar considerations, whole continents; and finally the fall of it follows that although other laws are the moon or one of the planets to the conceivable under which a solar system earth would result in the absolute anni- might exist, the solar system, such as we hilation of both of them.

know it, could only exist under the Another reason for supposing that the actual laws which have been imposed solar system is the result of one separate upon its motions. And this seems enact of creation is, that all parts of it are tirely to exclude the idea that the varisubject to one uniform law—that of gray- gus bodies of the system could have itation. By that law every particle of been created at different times or brought

ner.

together from different parts of infinite earth in the beginning, He at once set space. We may then safely conclude about the work of arranging them for that the solar system is absolutely isolat- the use of man; that He distributed ed in space, and is collectively the result this work over six ordinary days, and at of one act of creation. To the solar the close of the sixth day introduced system, therefore, our inquiry is exclu- our first parent on the scene. sively confined.

Nowadays, all divines, English and Although the received chronology of foreign, agree that the word employed the world has for ages rested upon the by Moses, and translated in our Bible by supposed authority of the Bible, the 'the beginning,' expresses duration or sacred text really says nothing at all time previous to creation. Reshith, the upon the subject. But, though the as- Hebrew word for beginning, is in the sertions which were so long made upon original used without the definite article. its supposed authority are not really The article was expressly omitted in contained in the Pentateuch, it is curi- order to exclude the application of the ous to observe how exactly the words of word to the order of creation, and to Moses appear to fit the most recent dis- make it signify previous duration or precoveries of science. No one has sup- vious eternity: The words of Moses posed that we were intended to learn then, ' In former duration God created science from the Bible; it is, therefore, the heavens and the earth,' may mean an unexpected advantage to find that its millions of years just as easily as one. short but pregnant sentences directly A few verses later, describing the secona support the interpretation put by modern day of creation, Moses declares that research upon the hieroglyphics of na- God made the firmament and called it ture. Moses teaches, just as modern heaven. It is plain from this that the science teaches, that the starry heavens heavens of the first day's creation are existed far back in past duration, before different from the heavens of the second the creation of the earth. He describes day; the difference of time proves a in majestic words the 'emptiness' of difference of subject. The heavens of chaos, and the condition of affairs from the first verse were made in former which light arose. He describes the duration, before the moving of the Spirit, formation of the sun, and its gradual before the creation of light; the heavens condensation into a lightholder' to of the second day were made after the give light upon the earth, in terms that earth and after light. almost seem to anticipate Herschel and Another statement made by Moses is Laplace. Far from assigning any date to an extraordinary anticipation of the most the Creation, he is content to refer it to recent cosmological doctrines. "The 'former duration. No date is either earth was desolation and emptiness and mentioned or implied.

darkness upon the face of the raging The so-called chronology was derived deep, and the Spirit of God brooding from two lists, one extending from Adam upon the face of the waters.' It is to Noah, the other from Noah to Abra- now hardly doubtful that the earth ham. These lists purport to give the was a molten sphere, over which hung, direct line of descent from father to son, in a dense vapor, all the water which and the age of each individual member now lies upon its surface. As the crust of the genealogy at the time when the cooled, the aqueous vapor that surnext in succession was born. As Adam rounded it became condensed into water was supposed to have been created six and rested on the surface of the land. days after the commencement of the The conflicts between the waters and the Creation, it was simple work to add up fiery heat, as the crust of the earth was the sum and fix the age of the world. broken, fell in, or was upheaved, are well As long as the progress of physical described by the words of Moses, the science showed no necessity for suppos- earth was desolation and emptiness. It ing a lengthened period to elapse be- is curious that the great facts of the tween the creation of the world and the submersion of the earth and its condition creation of man, it was taken for granted of emptiness should have been thus almost without discussion, that when exactly described by Moses. God had created the heavens and the We are then told that God said, ' Let

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