Gospels would be as severely tested; and that the evidence in favor of the veracity of many of the statements found in the Scriptures would have to be strong indeed, if they were to be opposed to the conclusions of physical science. In point of fact, so far as I can discover, no one competent to judge of the evidential strength of these conclusions ventures now to say that the biblical accounts of the creation and of the deluge are true in the natural sense of the words of the narratives. The most the modern reconciler ventures upon is to affirm that some quite different sense may be put upon the words; and that this non-natural sense may, with a little trouble, be manipulated into some sort of non-contradiction of scientific truth.
My purpose, in the essay (XVI) which treats of the narrative of the Deluge, was to prove, by physical criticism, that no such event as that described ever took place; to exhibit the untrustworthy character of the narrative demonstrated by literary criticism; and, finally, to account for its origin, by producing a form of those ancient legends of pagan Chaldea, from which the biblical compilation is manifestly derived. I have yet to learn that the main propositions of this essay can be seriously challenged.
In the essays (II, III) on the narrative of the Creation, I have endeavored to controvert the assertion that modern science supports, either the interpretation put upon it by Mr. Gladstone, or any interpretation which is compatible with the general sense of the narrative, quite apart from particular details. The first chapter of Genesis teaches the supernatural creation of the present forms of life; modern science teaches that they have come about by evolution. The first chapter of Genesis teaches the successive origin—firstly, of all the plants; secondly, of all the aquatic and aërial animals; thirdly, of all the terrestrial animals which now exist—during distinct intervals of time; modern science teaches that, throughout all the duration of an immensely long past, so far as we have any adequate knowledge of it (that is, as far back as the Silurian epoch), plants, aquatic, aërial, and terrestrial animals have coexisted; that the earliest known are unlike those which at present exist; and that the modern species have come into existence as the last terms of a series, the members of which have appeared one after another. Thus, far from confirming the account in Genesis, the results of modern science, so far as they go, are in principle, as in detail, hopelessly discordant with it.
Yet, if the pretensions to infallibility thus set up, not by the ancient Hebrew writings themselves, but by the ecclesiastical champions and friends from whom they may well pray to be
- [The Roman numerals in this article refer to the author's Essays upon some Controverted Questions.—Editor.] vol. xli. 44