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MR COMBE'S OPPOSITION TO THE DOCTRINE OF DIVINES, RESPECTING THE ORIGINAL PERFECTION, AND SUBSEQUENT DEGENERACY OF THE HUMAN RACE.
I Now turn to the other supposition, which Mr Combe speaks of as an hypothesis hardly worth notice in this enlightened age, namely, "that the world was perfect at first, but fell into derangement, continues in disorder, and does not contain within itself the elements of its own rectification."
Mr Combe states this view as an hypothesis; it is stated in the book of Genesis as a fact.
This book is not a mere historical record, giving an account of events on the credit of human testimony, but is offered to us as written under the immediate inspiration of God, and the proofs of its being so are numerous and conclusive.
As nothing can proceed from the Divine Being but what is true, we can have no hesitation in admitting, that if any doctrine or opinion which may be supposed to be contained in the Sacred Writings, or which may have been deduced from any statement therein contained, is found to be contrary to undoubted facts, or can be proved on plain and undeniable deductions of reason to be false, we must adopt the conclusion, that the doctrine or opinion in question is not really contained in the Scriptures, and that our impression that it did contain such a statement
has arisen from mistake. It is undoubted that all truths must be in harmony with each other, and that philosophical truth can never be at variance with religious truth. But then the question occurs which was asked by Pilate, "What is truth ?" and as the reasonings of philosophers are not in all cases infallible, it is incumbent upon them, no less than upon divines, in cases where there is an apparent discrepancy, to be most careful in revising their arguments, and the facts upon which these are founded, and to adopt nothing until it is proved beyond the possibility of mistake.
In reference to the present subject, there can be no doubt that this ancient document does expressly state, in terms which seem to admit of no dubiety, that the world we now occupy, and all that it contains, and particularly man, its last and most exalted inhabitant, were created at first in a state of high perfection. The creation of man is introduced with peculiar emphasis and solemnity. "And God said, Let us make man after our own image, and in our own likeness; and let him have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.”
The two synonymous expressions, "after our own image," and "in our own likeness," seem to be used on purpose to prevent the possibility of mistake in a point of such importance. This is frequently the case throughout the sacred writings, where the meaning to be expressed is not trusted to a single word or phrase, which might possibly be corrupted or misunderstood; but another is frequently added, to confirm and illustrate it. Both the terms are again repeated, and the form of expression varied, as if to enforce, with peculiar solemnity, the important truth intended to be conveyed.
"So God created man in his own image; in the
image of God created he him; male and female created he them."
And again, in the fifth chapter. "In the day that God created man, in the likeness of God made he him; male and female created he them; and he blessed them," &c.
It had been specially declared, in regard to every previous act of creation, and with regard to every creature that was made, animate and inanimate, that "God saw that it was good;" but after the creation of man, the last and highest production of his power, as if he had now put the crowning work on his vast undertaking, in a manner that imparted a superior lustre to the whole, it is emphatically said, " And God saw every thing that he had made, and behold it was VERY GOOD."
Such are the simple, but solemn and most expressive terms in which the creation of man is related in Genesis, and it would seem impossible for language to convey more clearly and unequivocally information of the fact, that man was originally created with all his powers and capacities, in a state of the very highest perfection.
But this, we have seen, does not satisfy Mr Combe. He has a particular dislike to the doctrine of the Fall, and the consequent corruption and depravity of human nature; and to get rid of this, to him, obnoxious doctrine, he directs all his ingenuity. With this view, he has adopted a theory, according to which man (contrary to the analogy of every other being in the world) not only now is, but has been from the beginning, in a state of slow and gradual improvement, "being constituted on the principle of a progressive system, as the acorn in reference to the oak." By this theory, man must have at first started from zero, with all his faculties and powers in the very lowest state of development.
This is a necessary consequence from his theory; but
although he rather avoids making the revolting statement in express terms, yet he knows it is a consequence from which he cannot escape, and he almost intimates as much in one or two passages. He says, "When man appeared, he received from his Creator an organized structure and animal instincts, &c. But to the animal nature of man have been added, by a bountiful Creator, moral sentiments and reflecting faculties," &c. After adverting to the higher nature of these, he adds, " But this peculiarity attends them, that while his animal faculties act powerfully of themselves, his rational faculties require to be cultivated, exercised, and instructed, before they will yield their full harvest of enjoyment."* According to this, then, when man was first created, he could only manifest the instincts of the animal part of his nature, as these alone were formed to act spontaneously; his higher powers could not then be manifested, as they could not act until they were cultivated, exercised, and instructed.
He then goes on to state, that "man thus apparently took his station among, yet at the head of the beings that inhabited the earth at his creation." Is this meant to intimate, that, at his first introduction into the world, man was only a superior kind of an oran-outang, or like the Yahoo described by Gulliver, in the voyage to Houyhnhnms, having, to be sure, the seeds and rudiments of certain moral and intellectual qualities, which time was to evolve and bring to maturity; but being, in the mean time, little superior to the other animals among whom he is said to have taken his place? -Quer. Does Mr Combe adopt the opinion of Lord
* This assumption is entirely gratuitous, and unsupported by facts. Where the rational faculties are naturally and originally strong, they act no less spontaneously and powerfully of themselves than those which Mr Combe calls the animal faculties, and require as little assistance from education. There is no distinction, in this respect, between the two sets of faculties.
Monboddo, that men were originally furnished with tails?
According to Mr Combe's view, even the lowest savage existing on the shores of New Holland, must be a highly improved being, greatly superior in his moral and intellectual capacities to the original inhabitants of the globe. The principle of progression, if it be good for any thing, must be good to this extent. If we adopt it at all, it is impossible to escape from the conclusion, that man must have started with his faculties at the lowest possible point. We must carry our calculations backwards, not merely for a few hundred years, but to the beginning of time; and if we do so, there is no possibility of stopping short of this point. Nature is constant, and if the inhabitant of ancient or modern Europe, of Greece, Italy, or Britain, has been constituted as part of a progressive system, so must also the native of New Holland, of Nootka Sound, the Carrib, or the Hottentot.
In this way, to be sure, Mr Combe gets rid of the doctrine of the Fall: for if man commenced his career from the lowest level, he could not by possibility fall lower. We have, therefore, only to consider whether the theory is true: we have to choose between the direct positive statement of Moses, and this hypothesis, for it is no more, of Mr Combe.
Now, setting aside for the present altogether the divine authority of Scripture, and putting both views on the equal footing of a statement that is to be supported by proof, which of the views, I would ask, is most in accordance with the evidence before us,—the simple statement of the Bible, that man was at first created with all his powers and faculties, social, moral, and intellectual, in their highest and most perfect state, (for what less can we understand by the expression, that