Изображения страниц
PDF
EPUB

fallacies he might have exposed. We have heard much about the difficulties of Revelation in regard to the progress of physical science, and particularly that of Geology. Professor Kirk has given us a very fair exposition of the difficulties of Geology itself, in its claim to be even an approximation to an exact science. When I have been pressed to reconcile Geology with Revelation, I have always said, Let us wait till Geology becomes established as a sound science ; then, and not till then, need the theologian care to seek to reconcile the Bible with Geology. While the Professor was reading his paper, I felt what a vast field of facts he had also left untouched, simply because he had so recently brought them before the world in his admirable little book, The Age of Man, geologically considered in its bearing on the Truths of the Bible. The theory of man's great antiquity as an inhabitant of the earth, so well received in high geological quarters, and already crumbling so rapidly before the accumulation of new facts, has been so completely refuted in that work, that the Professor seems altogether to have passed the subject by in his paper. In saying all this, I cast no reflection on the pursuit of the real science of Geology. What we do protest most earnestly against is the present habit of neglecting the sound method of Baconian induction,-not only in the science of Geology, but in so many other sciences, -and attempting, by vague hypotheses, hastily built on a few facts, to get a short cut to truth, instead of pursuing the toilsome wearying work of collating and arranging facts irrespective of theory. When men had few facts to reason upon, such a process was excusable--now it is utterly inexcusable. Great as may be the mass of facts known to modern geologists, it sinks into insignificance, compared with what must be accumulated before we can pretend to say we have gathered together the materials necessary to construct a true science of Geology. Not only, as Professor Kirk has pointed out, do we only know a mere superficial scraping as it were of the structure of the globe, but how little do we know even of that! How small a portion of the earth's surface has been geologically mapped,-and even of that how little has been accurately done,- is admitted by our best geologists, who consider the geological map of our own country as falling far behind the present requirements of the science. When we reflect upon the grand and bold theories founded on knowledge so very superficial in respect to that which is necessary to found the science, we cannot be surprised that they should so rapidly fall into oblivion. Not only are the data wanting to construct Geology as a science, but we have to contend also with the difficulties of the problems it presents for solution. Its requirements are almost superhuman. To measure the chronology of given strata demands the skill of a profound mineralogist, and how many of these can we find among the ranks of the geologists ? But to be a good mineralogist, implies also a considerable knowledge of chemistry and crystallography. You must have all this knowledge before you can interpret the nature of the material whose age you wish to determine. And even this will not carry you far. You must add to it a knowledge of the whole range of

* Jackson, Walford, and Hodder, 27, Paternoster Row, London,

natural history, of comparative anatomy, and comparative physiology, before you can interpret the palæontological facts of your strata. Then some other condition may call for all the powers of mathematics to solve some dynamical portion of your problem. And as if all this were not enough, Professor Kirk has shown us that we must ask the aid of the science of Electricity. There has been much boasting lately about the connection of the Old World with the New by the electric chain ; and it is a feat of which science may well be proud. But the earth-currents and magnetic storms which affect that cable, give us a glimpse of the important part which electricity may play in the changing structure of the globe. When we consider the vast requirements, the vast amount of knowledge a man must bring to bear, in order rightly to interpret geological facts when he has discovered them, we need not wonder that blunders should be committed. We do not complain of the blunders, but we do complain of the tone of infallibility some men assume, and the absence of that modest humility so requisite in the pursuit of truth. Compare Geology with Astronomy, and you will find that the solution of the problems which has raised the latter almost to the rank of an exact science, is a far easier task than those with which the geologist is called upon to grapple. Professor Kirk has asked us, “What do you know about gravitation ?” You cannot tell what it is. Newton did not profess to know. It was to him the name of an unknown force ; though in his modest queries he seems to consider it not an inherent property of matter, but something external to it. What is the problem of the astronomer? It deals with the motion of bodies under the influence of this unknown force. Even here the imperfection of our mathematical analysis shows itself. We can only deal with three bodies at a time. And even then, were the problem not simplified by assuming the absence of an appreciable resisting medium, and many other favourable conditions I cannot now enter into, we could neither establish the lunar nor planetary theory. If such difficulties beset the establishment of the comparatively easy science of Physical Astronomy, surely modesty must be most becoming in dealing with the far more abstruse problems of Geology,-a science in my estimation requiring not only a more gigantic intellect than that of Newton, but an age equal to the patriarchs of old, for the sound solution of some of its easiest problems. I need now only express our deepest obligations to Professor Kirk for the valuable instruction he has given us,

The Meeting then adjourned.

ORDINARY MEETING, JANUARY 21, 1867. TAE Rev. WALTER MITCHELL, VICE-PRESIDENT, IN THE CHAIR.

The minutes of the previous Meeting were read and confirmed.

The following paper was then read by Mr. Walter Brodie, in the absence of his father :

ON THE LESSONS TAUGHT

US BY GEOLOGY IN REGARD TO THE NATURE OF GOD AND THE POSITION OF MAN. By the Rev. JAMES BRODIE, M.A., Mem. Vict. Inst.

MANY
ANY seem to entertain the opinion that there is a

natural antagonism between the study of science and a simple and earnest belief in the Record of Revelation. Not a few of those who take an active part in our philosophical societies, and who speak on the subjects brought before them as men who are entitled to assume the voice of authority, treat the Mosaic narrative as they would treat an idle tale, and speak as if they deemed it inconsistent with the character and position of savants to pay any regard to the statements of Scripture. Some timid theologians, on the other hand, draw back from the study of science, as if the necessary result of engaging in it would be the awakening in their minds of doubt and perplexity, and shrink from an investigation into the laws which regulate the material creation, as if that would prove a first step to open infidelity.

As it is one of the special objects of the Victoria INSTITUTE to show that these views are altogether erroneous, and that the Work and the Word of God are in perfect harmony with each other, it is hoped that a few remarks on the lessons which geology teaches, in regard to the nature of God and the position of man, may be regarded as suitable to the times in which we live, and appropriate to the objects of the Society before which they are brought.

Without stopping to inquire whether the facts on which geologists rest their hypotheses have been ascertained with

sufficient accuracy, or whether the arguments which they employ have been weighed with the requisite care, we shall assume that their conclusions are correct; and, after briefly stating them, we shall consider some of the inferences to which they lead.

CONCLUSIONS OF GEOLOGISTS.

During a lengthened course of ages the earth remained destitute alike of animal and of vegetable life ; at least, no trace of organized existence has hitherto been discovered. At an after-period, a period, however, very remote from the present, life began to manifest itself in some of its lowest forms. Since that time it has been exhibited in a great variety of species and genera. Abundant evidence is afforded that there have not only been innumerable generations of plants and animals that have lived for their appointed season and then passed away; but that species after species, and genera after genera, have lived and died, and been entombed, since life first dawned on the globe.

The history of the earth's varied conditions has been divided into more than thirty epochs, or formations, as they are usually termed, which are distinguished from one another by the peculiarity of their organic remains. The vegetation that covered the earth in the earlier eras, and the living creatures that then inhabited it, were very different from those that afterwards appeared; and these again were altogether unlike those that now exist. There seems also to have been a gradual change in the material or physical condition of our planet. Its outer crust, in the earlier ages, appears to have been subjected to subterranean action of a far more formidable kind than any that is experienced in the present day. A larger proportion of the carboniferous element was diffused through the atmosphere, and there is reason to conclude that the average temperature of the globe was much higher than that which now prevails.

Two things more especially press themselves on the notice of the inquirer, who takes a general view of the conclusions to which geologists have come, without allowing his thoughts to be distracted by a minute attention to details. These are, the vast duration of the epochs that are past, and the uniformity of system that has been exhibited in the course of creation and providence.

THE VAST DURATION OF FORMER EPOCHS.

The more carefully we consider the subject, the

impressed with the sense of the earth's immense antiquity. Upwards of thirty formations, or eras of creation, containing thick beds of fossil remains, have already been discovered, and without doubt many more remain to be explored. These must have taken very protracted periods for their accumulation; beds of sand and gravel may be deposited in a single season, but thick masses of organic remains must have required a lengthened time for the production, the growth, and the life of the vegetable or animal forms of which they were once a, part. The duration of the different geological formations is not to be reckoned by centuries, but by millenniums. When we are told, for instance, that in Nova Scotia there are found “ fifty or even a hundred ancient forests, buried one above the other, with the roots of trees remaining in their original position,” we conclude that as each of these forests must have required at least five hundred years for the formation of the soil in which it grew, for the growth and decay of the trees, in so far as we can judge, the epoch to which they belong must have extended from forty to fifty thousand years. Masses of shells and corals, “ hundreds of feet in thickness, demand an equally lengthened period for their deposition. Another formation, of less extent than these, conveys, perhaps, even more vividly than they do, the idea of great duration. Sir C. Lyell, in describing some lacustrine strata that are found in Auvergne, gives the following statement :-“The entire thickness of these marls is unknown; but it certainly exceeds, in some places, seven hundred feet. They are thinly foliated, a character which frequently arises from the innumerable thin plates, or scales, of that small animal called cypris, a genųs which comprises several species, of which some are recent, and may be seen swimming swiftly through the waters of our stagnant pools and ditches. The animal resides within two small valves, not unlike those of a bivalve shell, and moults its integuments annually, which the conchiferous molluscs do not. This circumstance may partly explain the countless myriads of the shells of the cypris which were shed in the ancient lakes of Auvergne, so as to give rise to divisions in the marl as thin as paper, and that, too, in masses several hundred feet thick." The little shells or scales, here referred to, are smaller in diameter than the head of the smallest pin; they are annually shed, and float lightly in the stream. Here, we are told, that layers of them divide the marl into beds as thin as paper. I'hese facts naturally lead to the conclusion that, year by year, as the moulting season came round, and these diminutive denizens of the stream and pool dropped their scales, their cast-off habiliments were car

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »