Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 10.djvu/62

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been validated.

of similar rudiments. A person who is not a Hebrew scholar can only stand by and admire the marvelous flexibility of a language which admits of such diverse interpretations.

Assuredly, in the face of such contradictory authority upon matters upon which he is competent to form no judgment, he will abstain from giving any opinion, as I do. In the third place, I have carefully abstained from speaking of this as a Mosaic doctrine, because Ave are now assured upon the authority of the highest critics, and even of dignitaries in the Church, that there is no evidence whatever that Moses ever wrote this chapter, or knew anything about it. You will understand that I give no opinion—it would be an impertinence upon my part to volunteer an opinion upon such a subject. But, that being the state of opinion among the scholars and the clergy, it is well for us the laity, who stand outside, to avoid entangling ourselves in such a vexed question. So, as happily Milton leaves us no conceivable ambiguity as to what he means, I will continue to speak of the opinion in question as the Miltonian hypothesis.

Now we have to test that hypothesis. For my part, I have no prejudice one way or the other. If there is evidence in favor of this view, I have no sort of theoretical difficulties in the way of accepting it, but there must be evidence. We scientific men get an awkward habit—no, I won't call it that, for it is a valuable habit—of reasoning, so that we believe nothing unless there is evidence for it; and we have a way of looking upon belief which is not based upon evidence, not only as illogical, but as immoral. We will, if you please, test this view in the light of facts, for by what I have said you will understand that I don't propose to discuss the question of what testimonial evidence is to be adduced in favor of this view. If those whose business it is to judge are not at one as to the authenticity of the document, or as to the facts to which it bears witness, the discussion of testimonial evidence is superfluous. But one regards this less because the circumstantial evidence, if carefully considered, leads to the conclusion that the hypothesis is altogether inadequate, and cannot be sustained. And the considerations upon which I base that conclusion are of the simplest possible character. Whatever the flexibility of interpretation of the statement on which Milton's hypothesis is based, it is quite impossible to deny that it contains assertions of a very definite character relating to the succession of living forms. It is stated that plants, for example, made their appearance upon the third day, and not before. And you will understand that what was meant by plants are plants which now live—the trees and shrubs which we now have. One of two things—either the existing plants have been the result of a separate origination of which we have no record or ground for supposition, or else they have arisen by process of evolution from the original stock. And, in the second place, it is clear that there was no animal life before the fourth day, and that on