By ANDREW DICKSON WHITE,
LATE PRESIDENT OF CORNELL UNIVERSITY.
IV. — GEOLOGY.
AMONG the philosophers of Greece and Rome we find, even at an early period, germs of geological truth, and — what is of vast importance — an atmosphere in which such germs could grow. These germs were transmitted to Roman thought; an atmosphere of tolerance continued; there was nothing which forbade unfettered reasoning either upon the earth's strata or upon the remains of former life found in them, and under the empire a period of fruitful observation seemed sure to begin.
But, as Christianity took control of the world, there came a great change. The earliest attitude of the Church toward geology and its kindred sciences was indifferent, and even contemptuous. According to the prevailing belief, the earth was a "fallen world," and was soon to be destroyed. Why, then, should it be studied? Why, indeed, give a thought to it? The scorn which Lactantius had cast upon the study of astronomy was extended largely to other sciences. St. Jerome summed up the general feeling of the Church in his time by asserting that the broken and twisted crust of the ruined earth exhibits the wrath of God against human sin. St. Augustine showed this feeling at various times in a very marked degree.
But the germs of scientific knowledge and thought developed in
- For a compact and admirable statement as to the dawn of geological conceptions in Greece and Rome, see Mr. Lester Ward's masterly essay on paleobotany in the "Fifth Annual Report of the United States Geological Survey," for 1883-'84. For the reference to St. Jerome, see Shields's "Final Philosophy," p. 119; also Lyell's "Introduction to Geology," vol. i, chapter ii. As to the reasons why Greek philosophers did comparatively so little for geology, see D'Archiac, "Géologie," p. 18.