Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 32.djvu/458

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442
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

land was especially fruitful in champions of orthodoxy. First among these may be named Thomas Burnet. In the last quarter of the seventeenth century, just at the time when Newton's great discovery was given to the world, Burnet issued his "Sacred Theory of the Earth." His position was commanding; he was a royal chaplain and a cabinet officer of high standing. Planting himself upon the famous text in the second epistle of Peter,[1] he declares that the flood had destroyed the old and created a new world. The Newtonian theory he refuses to accept. In his theory of the deluge he lays less stress upon the "opening of the windows of heaven" than upon the "breaking up of the fountains of the great deep." On this latter point he comes forth with great strength. His theory is that the earth is hollow, and filled with fluid like an egg. Mixing together the texts in Genesis and in the second epistle of Peter, the theological doctrine of the "Fall," an astronomical theory regarding the ecliptic, and sundry notions caught from Descartes, he insisted that, before sin brought on the deluge, the earth was of perfect mathematical form, smooth and beautiful, "like an egg with neither seas nor islands nor valleys nor rocks, "with not a wrinkle, scar, or fracture," and that all creation was equally perfect.

In the second book of his great work Burnet went still further. As in his first book he had mixed his texts of Genesis and St. Peter with Descartes, he now mixes the account of the Garden of Eden in Genesis with heathen legends of the golden age, and concludes that before the flood there was, over the whole earth, perpetual spring, disturbed by no rain more severe than the falling of the dew.

In addition to his other grounds for denying the earlier existence of the sea, he assigns the reason that, if there had been a sea before the Deluge, sinners would have learned to build ships, and so, when the Deluge set in, could have saved themselves.

The work was written with much power, and attracted universal attention. It was translated into various languages, and called forth a multitude of supporters and opponents in all parts of Europe. Strong men rose against it—especially in England—and among them a few dignitaries of the Church; but the Church generally hailed the work with joy. Addison praised it in a Latin ode, and for nearly a century it exercised a strong influence upon European feeling. It aided to plant more deeply than ever the theological opinion that the existing earth is now but a ruin; whereas, before sin brought on the Flood, it was beautiful in its "egg-shaped form," and free from every imperfection.

A few years later came another writer of the highest standingWilliam Whiston, professor at Cambridge, who in 1696 published his "New Theory of the Earth." Unlike Burnet, he endeavored to avail himself of the Newtonian idea, and brought in, to aid the geological

  1. See II Peter, iii, 6.