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The Continental Monthly, Vol. 5, No. 4, April, 1864   By:

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THE CONTINENTAL MONTHLY:

DEVOTED TO

LITERATURE AND NATIONAL POLICY.

VOL. V. APRIL, 1864. No. IV.

SIR CHARLES LYELL ON THE ANTIQUITY OF MAN.[1]

When Thomas Chalmers, sixty years ago, lecturing at St. Andrews, ventured to announce his conviction that 'the writings of Moses do not fix the antiquity of the globe,' he startled and alarmed, to no small degree, the orthodoxy of the day. It was a statement far in advance of the religious thinking of the time. That massive breadth and comprehensiveness of intellect which soon placed him, facile princeps , at the head of the clergy of Scotland, joined with a candor, and ingenuous honesty, which made him admired and beloved by all, could not fail to perceive, and would not hesitate to acknowledge, the force of the evidence then for some time slowly but steadily and surely accumulating from the investigations and discoveries of geological science, which has forced back the origin of the earth to a vast and undated antiquity. But nothing could have been farther from the imagination of the great majority of evangelical, unscientific clergymen of his day. They held that the writings of Moses fixed the antiquity of the globe as surely as they fixed anything else. And it required no little boldness in the lecturer to announce a doctrine which was likely to raise about his ears the hue and cry of heresy. But fortunately for the rising Boanerges of the Scottish pulpit, whatever questions might arise in philology and criticism as to the meaning of the writings of Moses, the evidence adduced in behalf of the fact of the earth's antiquity was of such a nature that it could not be resisted, and he not only escaped a prosecution for heresy, but lived to see the doctrine he had broached almost universally accepted by the religious world.

If now some divine of acknowledged power and position in any branch of the Christian Church were to put forth the statement that 'the writings of Moses do not fix the antiquity of man,' he would startle the ear of orthodoxy quite as much, but no more than did Chalmers in the early years of the present century. And if he would fare more hardly than the Scottish divine, and fall under the ban of church censure, which is not unlikely, it would be because the evidence for the fact is still inchoate and resistible by the force of established opinion. But it is quite within the range of possible things that before the close of the present century two things may happen: first, that the evidence for a high antiquity of the human race may accumulate to such an extent as to carry with it involuntarily the consent of mankind; and second, that the sacred writings may be found to adjust themselves as easily to this new finding in the sphere of induction, as they have already done, in the general mind of the Church, to the doctrine of the great age of the earth. The two statements are indeed very much akin in several respects. They both traverse the accepted meaning of the sacred writings at the time of their announcement. Both are considered, when first promulged, as irreconcilable with the plain teaching and consequent inspiration of the Scriptures. Both rest solely, as to their evidence, in the sphere of inductive science, and are determinable wholly by the finding of facts accumulated and compared by the processes of inductive reasoning. And both, if thus established, are destined to be accepted by the general mind of the age, without actual harm to the real interests of civilization and religion. No fact , which is a fact and not an illusion, can do harm to any of the vital interests of mankind. No truth can stand in hopeless antagonism to any other truth. To suppose otherwise would be to resolve the moral government of God into a hopeless enigma, or enthrone a perpetual and hostile dualism, resigning the universe to the rival and contending sway of Ormuzd and Ahriman.

Before proceeding to the merits of Sir Charles Lyell's discussion, we wish to glance at some preliminary matters touching the great debate now pending between science and theology... Continue reading book >>


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