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Representation of the Creation in Genesis.
WITH a total disregard to all such considerations as those last adduced, we find a certain school of interpreters of Scripture continually labouring to make out some sense of the terms in which the creation is described in the first chapter of Genesis, to make it square with truths which could not have been in contemplation in the delivery of the narrative; and exhausting every resource of critical skill to force the language of the representation into accordance with facts now attested by the organic remains of former orders of existence, which could not have been intended to be represented.
Formerly the geological interpreters were engaged in taxing to the utmost the powers of philology, to convert the six days into periods of millions of years; notwithstanding that they are described precisely as alternations of day and night; and that this is absolutely implied is the very purpose of the whole description, since the six days must manifestly be taken in the same sense as the seventh. On the other hand they had to exert not less ingenuity to make the order of geological epochs accord with these periods. This scheme, however, was at length found to answer the views of neither party. The theological critic could not admit such strained and dangerous interpretation, and the advance of geological research soon showed every one that there were, in fact, no such marked epochs in the successive
formations, or in the introduction of the races of organized beings.
At the present day another view has received the sanction of some eminent names, and has obtained considerable currency. It has been conceived that the narrative in Genesis is intended to describe separately, in few words, (in the first verse,) the original creation of all things; after this the indefinitely long history during which all the changes indicated by geology took place, is passed over in silence; a new period then commences, which may be understood according to the literal order of the narrative, provided some latitude be allowed in the interpretation of the terms. A state, if not of darkness and chaos, yet at least temporary disorder and obscurity, was produced; and the work of the existing creation, or at least reproduction and arrangement, then commenced, and was continued as described in the following part of the chapter, and perfected in six natural days*.
Now, without entering upon the grounds of such an interpretation, I will merely observe (looking only to the verbal construction,) how very wide a latitude in the meaning of words must be allowed before we can affix such a sense as this to a representation so precise and circumstantial; and every reader of the slightest taste and discernment will surely at once exclaim against it as totally at variance
*See Note P.
with the obvious tenour of the whole style of description, and destructive to the matchless sublimity of the terms in which it is conveyed. Those to whom such a version can appear satisfactory, who can believe that this is what Moses really intended to say, must entertain notions of the use and application of language of a kind which I cannot appreciate. It seems to me only necessary to turn for a moment from the paraphrase to the plain text, from the critical refinements to the simple language of this magnificent composition; from the philosophical theory to the obvious tenour and train of this most sublime imagery, to be fully satisfied as to the meaning intended to be conveyed: a meaning totally distinct from anything philosophical, or bearing the most remote reference to any anticipations of geological discoveries.
Another view of the matter has been proposed by an eminent philosopher, which amounts to an admission that it is impossible at the present day to fix any certain meaning on compositions of such antiquity, and so entirely destitute of all elucidation from contemporary writings, as the Mosaic records*. Such an idea, of course, has called forth no small censure. But surely even this is scarcely more destructive to all definite interpretation than versions like those we have just mentioned;-such an idea, honestly avowed, is surely preferable to the indirect
See Babbage's Ninth Bridgewater Treatise, chap. 4 and 5.
introduction of principles which, fairly carried out, may enable us to fix upon any given passage, any required sense.
I am assuming that the inquirer and interpreter are both sincere seekers of truth. If indeed the object be, instead of discovering truth, to say something plausible to satisfy prejudice, and avoid giving offence to popular belief, there is no limit to the inventions which men will not readily swallow down, if only made palatable to their prepossessions.
Admission of Contradictions.
LET the appeal be made to any reader of ordinary sense, not prepossessed in favour of a theory, and it seems to me impossible that he can understand the description, (whether in the shorter form of the Decalogue, or the more expanded of Genesis,) considered simply as to its terms, otherwise than as presenting a magnificent picture of Almighty power, and embodying the representation of one, original, entire, simple, universal act of Divine interposition, at once, and for the first time, framing and calling into being and operation, out of previous universal darkness and confusion, the heavenly bodies, as well as the earth, and all the races of organized beings upon it, in the actual progressive stages assigned to the six days specially described as literally such. Even if we allow the separation of the first verse as a distinct account of an earlier creation, (which, to my appre
hension, seems a very forced dissociation of the members of a sentence,) still, in the second verse, the entire tenour of this unrivalled imagery seems incapable of conveying any other impression than that of the total absence of all organized existence, and the prevalence of universal confusion and total darkness, until the work of the first day commenced*.
Now when we refer to geology, (as indeed has already been rendered sufficiently manifest,) the sure monuments which we derive from the study of organic remains, disclose to us evidences of a series of gradual changes and repeated creative processes, going on without any one sudden universal intervention or creation of the existing world out of the ruins of a former. Geology shows that in none of its epochs, least of all in the later, has any universal elemental change occurred, or any trace been left of even a temporary chaos, followed by a simultaneous universal restitution of things.
Comparing then these indisputable conclusions with the representations in the Hebrew Scriptures, to whatever extent critical skill may stretch the meaning, there is an insuperable discrepancy in the most material points of the description. We, in truth, gain nothing whatever by critical refinements so long as the passage be admitted to describe a sudden universal interposition of Divine power for
*See Note Q.