Popular Science Monthly/Volume 44/April 1894/New Chapters in the Warfare of Science: From Creation to Evolution II
|NEW CHAPTERS IN THE WARFARE OF SCIENCE.|
XIX. FROM CREATION TO EVOLUTION.
EX-PRESIDENT OF CORNELL UNIVERSITY.
IN one of the windows of the cathedral at Ulm a mediæval glass-stainer has represented the Almighty as engaged in creating the animals, and there has just left the divine hands an elephant fully accoutered, with armor, harness, and housings—ready for war. Similar representations appear in illuminated manuscripts and even in early printed books, and, as the culmination of the whole, the Almighty is shown as extracting, with evident effort, the first woman from the side of the first man.
This view of the general process of creation had come from far; it appeared under varying forms in various ancient cosmogonies, and, passing into our own sacred books, became the starting point of a vast new .development of theology.
The fathers of the Church generally received each of the two accounts of creation in Genesis literally, and then, having done their best to reconcile them with each other and to mold them together, made them the final test of thought upon the universe and all things therein. At the beginning of the fourth century Lactantius struck the keynote of this mode of subordinating all other things in the study of creation to the literal text of Scripture, and he enforces his view of the creation of man by a bit of philology, saying the final being created "is called man because he is made from the ground—homo ex humo."
In the second half of the same century this view as to the literal acceptance of the sacred text was reasserted by St. Ambrose, who, in his work on the creation, declared that "Moses opened his mouth and poured forth what God had said to him." But a greater than either of them fastened this idea into the Christian theologies. St. Augustine, preparing his Commentary on the Book of Genesis, laid down in one famous sentence the law which has lasted in the Church until our own time: "Nothing is to be accepted save on the authority of Scripture, since greater is that authority than all the powers of the human mind." The vigor of the sentence in its original Latin carried it ringing down the centuries: "Major est Scripturse auctoritas quam omnis humani ingenii capacitas."
Through the mediæval period, in spite of a revolt led by no other than St. Augustine himself, and followed by a series of influential churchmen, contending, as we shall hereafter see, for a modification of the accepted view of creation, this phrase held the minds of men firmly. The great Dominican encyclopedist, Vincent of Beauvais, in his Mirror of Nature, while mixing ideas brought from Aristotle with a theory drawn from the Bible, stood firmly by the first of the accounts given in Genesis, and assigned the special virtue of the number six as a reason why all things were created in six days; and in the later middle ages that eminent authority. Cardinal d'Ailly, accepted in a general way everything regarding creation in the sacred books as written. Only a faint dissent is seen in Gregory Reisch, another authority of this later period, who, while giving in his book on the beginning of things a full-length woodcut showing the Almighty in the act of extracting Eve from Adam's side, with all the rest of new-formed Nature in the background, leans in his writings, like St. Augustine, toward a belief in the pre-existence of matter.
At the Reformation the vast authority of Luther was thrown in favor of the literal acceptance of Scripture as the source of natural science; the allegorical and mystical interpretations of earlier theologians he utterly rejected. "Why," he asks, "should Moses use allegory when he is not speaking of allegorical creatures or of an allegorical world, but of real creatures and of a visible world, which can be seen, felt, and grasped? Moses calls things by their right names, as we ought to do. . . . I hold that the animals took their being at once upon the word of God, as did also the fishes in the sea."
Not less explicit in his adherence to the literal account of creation given in Genesis was Calvin. He warns those who, by taking another view than his own, "basely insult the Creator, to expect a judge who will annihilate them." He insists that all species of animals were created in six days, each made up of an evening and a morning, and that no new species has ever appeared since. He dwells on the production of birds from the water as resting upon certain warrant of Scripture, but adds, "If the question is to be argued on physical grounds, we know that water is more akin to air than the earth is." As to difficulties in the scriptural account of creation, he tells us that God "wished by these to give proofs of his power which should fill us with astonishment."
The controlling minds in the Roman Catholic Church steadfastly held this view. In the seventeenth century Bossuet threw his vast authority in its favor, and in his Discourse on Universal History, which has remained the foundation not only of theological but of general historical teaching in France down to the present republic, we find him calling attention to what he regards as the culminating act of creation, and asserting that, literally, for the creation of man earth was used, and "the finger of God applied to corruptible matter."
Protestant Europe held this idea no less persistently. In the seventeenth century Dr. John Lightfoot, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, the great rabbinical scholar of his time, attempted to reconcile the two accounts in Genesis by saying that of the "clean sort of beasts there were seven of every kind created, three couples for breeding and the odd one for Adam's sacrifice on his fall, which God foresaw"; that of unclean beasts only one couple was created; and finally, that "heaven and earth, center and circumference, were created all together, in the same instant, and clouds full of water," and that "this work took place and man was created by the Trinity on October 23, 4004 b. c., at nine o'clock in the morning." Here was, indeed, a triumph of Lactantius's method, the result of a thousand years of biblical study and theological thought since Bede, in the eighth century, and Vincent de Beauvais, in the thirteenth, had declared that creation must have taken place in the spring. Yet, alas! within two centuries after Lightfoot's great theological demonstration as to the exact hour of creation, it was discovered that at that hour an exceedingly cultivated people, enjoying all the fruits of a highly developed civilization, had long been swarming in the great cities of Egypt, and that other nations hardly less advanced had at that time reached a high development in Asia.
So literal was this whole conception of the work of creation that in these days it can scarcely be imagined. The Almighty was represented in theological literature, in the illustrations of Bibles, and in works of art generally, as a sort of enlarged and venerable Nuremberg toymaker; a pictorial representation in accordance with the well-known sacred account, showing the Creator in the act of sewing skins of beasts into coats for Adam and Eve, presented no difficulties to the docile minds of the middle ages and Reformation period; hence it was that, when the discovery of fossils began to provoke thought, these were declared to be "models of his works approved or rejected by the great Artificer, outlines of future creations, sports of Nature," or "objects placed in the strata to bring to naught human curiosity"; and this kind of explanation lingered on until in our own time that excellent naturalist, Mr. Gosse, in his anxiety to save the literal account in Genesis, has urged that Jehovah tilted and twisted the strata, scattered the fossils through them, scratched the glacial furrows upon them, spread over them the marks of erosion by water, and set Niagara pouring all in an instant, thus mystifying the world "for some inscrutable purpose, but for his own glory."
The next important development of theological reasoning had regard to the divisions of the animal kingdom.
Naturally, one of the first divisions which struck the inquiring mind was that between useful and noxious creatures, and the question therefore occurred, How could a good God create tigers and serpents, thorns and thistles? The answer was found in theological considerations upon sin: To man's first disobedience all woes were due. Great men for eighteen hundred years developed the theory that before Adam's disobedience there was no death, and therefore neither ferocity nor venom.
Some typical utterances in the evolution of this doctrine are worthy of a passing glance. St. Augustine expressly confirmed and emphasized the view that the vegetable as well as the animal kingdom was cursed on account of man's sin. Two hundred years later this utterance had been echoed on from father to father of the Church until it was caught by Bede; he declared that before man's fall animals were harmless, but became poisonous or hurtful on account of sin, and he said, "Thus fierce and poisonous animals were created for terrifying man, because God foresaw that he would sin, in order that he might be made aware of the final punishment of hell."
In the twelfth century this view was incorporated by Peter Lombard into his great theological work of the Sentences, which became the text-book of theology through the middle ages. He affirmed that "no created things would have been hurtful to man had he not sinned; they became hurtful for the sake of terrifying and punishing vice or of proving and perfecting virtue; they were created harmless, and on account of sin became hurtful."
This theological theory regarding animals was brought out in the eighteenth century with great force by John Wesley. He declared that before Adam's sin "none of these attempted to devour or in any wise hurt one another"; "the spider was as harmless as the fly, and did not lie in wait for blood." Not only Wesley, but the eminent Dr. Adam Clarke and Dr. Richard Watson, whose ideas had the very greatest weight among the English Dissenters, and even among leading thinkers in the Established Church, held firmly to this theory. Not until, in our own time, geology revealed the remains of vast multitudes of carnivorous creatures, many of them with half-digested remains of other creatures in their stomachs, all extinct long ages before the appearance of man upon earth, was a victory won by science over theology in this field.
A curious development of this doctrine was seen in the belief drawn by sundry old commentators from the condemnation of the serpent in Genesis—a belief, indeed, perfectly natural, since it was evidently that of the original writers of the account preserved in the first of our sacred books. This belief was that, until the tempting serpent was cursed by the Almighty, all serpents stood erect, walked, and talked.
This belief was handed down the ages as part of "the sacred deposit of the faith" until Watson, the most prolific writer of the great evangelical reform in the eighteenth century and the standard theologian of the evangelical party, declared: "We have no reason at all to believe that the animal had a serpentine form in any mode or degree until its transformation; that he was then degraded to a reptile to go upon his belly imports, on the contrary, an entire loss and alteration of the original form." Here, again, was a ripe result of the theologic method diligently pursued by the strongest thinkers in the Church during nearly two thousand years; but this "sacred deposit" also faded away when the geologists found abundant remains of fossil serpents dating from periods long before the appearance of man.
Yet more troublesome questions arose among theologians regarding animals classed as "superfluous." St. Augustine was especially exercised thereby. He says: "I confess I am ignorant why mice and frogs were created, or flies and worms. . . . All creatures are either useful, hurtful, or superfluous to us. . . . As for the hurtful creatures, we are either punished, or disciplined, or terrified by them, so that we may not cherish and love this life." As to the "superfluous animals," he says, "Although they are not necessary for our service, yet the whole design of the universe is thereby completed and finished." Luther, who followed St. Augustine in so many other matters, declined to follow him fully in this. To him a fly was not merely superfluous, it was noxious—sent by the devil, and perhaps possessed by the devil, to trouble him when reading.
Another subject which gave rise to much searching of the Scriptures and long trains of theological reasoning, was the difference between the creation of man and that of other living beings.
Great stress was laid by theologians from St. Basil and St. Augustine to St. Thomas Aquinas and Bossuet, and from Luther to Wesley, on the radical distinction indicated in Genesis, God having created man "in his own image"; what this statement meant was seen in the light of the later biblical statement that "Adam begat Seth in his own likeness, after his image."
In view of this and well-known texts incorporated from older creation legends into the Hebrew sacred books it came to be widely held that, while man was directly molded and fashioned separately by the Creator's hand, the animals generally were evoked in numbers from the earth and sea by the Creator's voice.
A question now arose naturally as to the distinctions of species among animals. The vast majority of theologians agreed in representing all animals as created "in the beginning," and named by Adam, preserved in the ark, and continued ever afterward under exactly the same species. Some difficulties arose here and there as zoölogy progressed and revealed ever-increasing numbers of species; but through the middle ages, and indeed long after the Reformation, this difficulty was easily surmounted: by making the ark of Noah larger and larger, and especially by holding that there had been a human error in regard to the unit of measurement for the ark, all difficulty was at first avoided.
But naturally there was developed among both ecclesiastics and laymen a human desire to go beyond these special points in the history of animated beings a desire to know what the creation really is.
Current legends, stories, and travelers' observations, poor as they were, tended powerfully to stimulate curiosity in this field.
Three centuries before the Christian era Aristotle had made the first really great attempt to satisfy this curiosity; he had begun a development of studies in natural history which remains one of the greatest achievements in the story of our race.
But the feeling which we have already seen so strong in the early Church—that all study of Nature was futile in view of the approaching end of the world, indicated so clearly in the New Testament and voiced so powerfully by Lactantius and St. Augustine—held back this current of thought for many centuries. Still, the better tendency in humanity continued to assert itself. There was indeed an influence coming from the Hebrew Scriptures themselves which wrought powerfully to this end. In spite of all that Lactantius or St. Augustine might say as to the futility of any study of Nature, the grand utterances in the Psalms regarding the beauties and wonders of creation, in all the glow of the truest poetry, ennobled the study even among those whom logic drew away from it.
But, as a matter of course, in the early Church and throughout the middle ages all such 'studies were cast in a theologic mold. Without some purpose of biblical illustration or spiritual edification they were considered futile; too much prying into the secrets of Nature was very generally held to be dangerous both to body and soul; only for showing forth God's glory and his purposes in the creation were such studies praiseworthy. The great work of Aristotle was under eclipse. The early Christian thinkers gave little attention to it, and that little was devoted to transforming it into something absolutely opposed to his whole spirit and method. In place of it they developed the Physiologus and the Bestiaries, in which scriptural statements, legends, and fanciful inventions were mingled with pious intent and with childlike simplicity.
In place of research came authority—the authority of the Scriptures as interpreted by the Physiologus and the Bestiaries—and these remained the principal source of thought on animated Nature for over a thousand years.
Occasionally, indeed, fear was shown among the rulers in the Church even of such poor prying into the creation as this, and in the fifth century a synod under Pope Gelasius administered a rebuke to the Physiologus; but the interest in Nature was too strong; the great work on Creation by St. Basil had drawn from the Physiologus precious illustrations of Holy Writ, and the strongest of the early popes, Gregory the Great, virtually sanctioned it.
Thus was developed a sacred science of creation and of the divine purpose in Nature, which went on developing from the fourth century to the nineteenth—from St. Basil to St. Isidore of Seville, from Isidore to Vincent de Beauvais, and from Vincent to Archdeacon Paley and the Bridgewater Treatises.
Like all else in the middle ages this sacred science was developed purely by theological methods. Neglecting the wonders which the dissection of the commonest animals would have afforded them, these naturalists attempted to throw light into Nature by ingenious use of scriptural texts, by research among the lives of the saints, and by the plentiful application of metaphysics. Hence even such strong men as St. Isidore of Seville treasured up accounts of the unicorn and dragons mentioned in the Scriptures and of the phoenix and basilisk in profane writings. Hence such contributions to knowledge as that the basilisk kills serpents by his breath and men by his glance, that the lion when pursued effaces his tracks with the end of his tail, that the pelican nourishes her young with her own blood, that serpents lay aside their venom before drinking, that the salamander quenches fire, that the hyena can talk with shepherds, that certain birds are born of the fruit of a certain tree when it happens to fall into the water, with other masses of science equally valuable.
As to the method of bringing science to bear on Scripture, the Physiologus gives an example in illustrating the passage in the book of Job which speaks of the old lion perishing for lack of prey. Out of the attempt to explain an unusual Hebrew word in the text there came a curious development of error, until we find fully evolved an account of the ant-lion, which, it gives us to understand, was the lion mentioned by Job, and it says: "As to the ant-lion, his father hath the shape of a lion, his mother that of an ant; the father liveth upon flesh and the mother upon herbs; these bring forth the ant-lion, a compound of both and in part like to either; for his fore part is like that of a lion and his hind part like that of an ant. Being thus composed, he is neither able to eat flesh like his father nor herbs like his mother, and so he perisheth."
The same sort of science flourished in the Bestiaries, which were used everywhere and especially in the pulpits for the edification of the faithful. In all of these, as in that compiled early in the thirteenth century by an ecclesiastic, William of Normandy, we have this lesson, borrowed from the Physiologus: "The lioness giveth birth to cubs which remain three days without life. Then cometh the lion, breatheth upon them, and bringeth them to life. . . . Thus it is that Jesus Christ during three days was deprived of life, but God the Father raised him gloriously."
Pious use was constantly made of this science, especially by monkish preachers. The phoenix rising from his ashes proves the doctrine of the resurrection; the structure and mischief of monkeys prove the existence of demons; the fact that certain monkeys have no tails proves that Satan has been shorn of his glory; the weasel, which "constantly changes its place, is a type of the man estranged from the word of God, who findeth no rest."
The moral treatises of the time often took the form of works on natural history, in order the more fully to exploit these religious teachings of Nature. Thus from the Dominican Thomas of Cantimpré, who called his book De Apibus (On Bees), we learn that "the wasps persecute the bees and make war on them out of natural hatred"; and these, he tells us, typify the demons who dwell in the air and with lightning and tempest assail and vex mankind—whereupon he fills a long chapter with anecdotes of such demonic warfare on mortals. In like manner his fellow-Dominican, the inquisitor Nider, in his book the Ant Hill, teaches us that the ants in Ethiopia, which are said to have horns and to grow so large as to look like dogs, are emblems of atrocious heretics, likeand the Hussites, who bark and bite against the truth; while the ants of India, which dig up gold out of the sand with their feet and hoard it, though they make no use of it, symbolize the fruitless toil with which the heretics dig out the gold of Holy Scripture and hoard it in their books to no purpose.
This pious spirit not only pervaded science, it bloomed out in art, and it meets us especially in the cathedrals. In the gargoyles overhanging the walls, in the grotesques clambering about the towers or perched upon pinnacles, in the dragons prowling under archways or lurking in bosses of foliage, in the apocalyptic beasts carved upon the stalls of the choir, stained into the windows, wrought into the tapestries, illuminated in the letters and borders of psalters and missals, these marvels of creation suggested everywhere morals from the Physiologus, the Bestiaries, and the Exempla.
Here and there among men who were free from church control we have work of a better sort. In the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Abd Allatif made observations upon the natural history of Egypt which showed a truly scientific spirit, and the Emperor Frederick II attempted to promote a more fruitful study of Nature; but one of these men was abhorred as a Mussulman and the other as an infidel. Far more in accordance with the spirit of the time was the ecclesiastic Giraldus Cambrensis, whose book on the topography of Ireland bestows much attention upon the animals of the island, and rarely fails to make each contribute an appropriate moral. For example, he says that in Ireland "eagles live for so many ages that they seem to contend with eternity itself; so also, the saints, having put off the old man and put on the new, obtain the blessed fruit of everlasting life." Again, he tells us, "Eagles often fly so high that their wings are scorched by the sun; so those who in the Holy Scriptures strive to unravel the deep and hidden secrets of the heavenly mysteries, beyond what is allowed, fall below as if the wings of the presumptuous imaginations on which they are borne were scorched."
In one of the great men of the following century began to appear a slight gleam of healthful criticism: Albert the Great, in his work on the animals, dissents from the widespread belief that certain birds spring from trees and are nourished by the sap, and also from the theory that some are also generated in the sea from decaying wood.
But it required many generations for such skepticism to produce much effect, since we find among the illustrations in the edition of Mandeville published about the time of the Reformation not only careful accounts but a pictured representation of birds produced in the fruit of trees.
This general employment of natural science for biblical illustration and the edification of the faithful went on after the Reformation. Luther frequently made this use of it, and his example controlled his followers. In 1612 Wolfgang Franz, Professor of Theology at Luther's university, gave to the world his sacred history of animals, which went through many editions. It contained a very ingenious classification, describing "natural
dragons," which have three rows of teeth to each jaw, and he piously adds, "the principal dragon is the Devil."
Near the end of the same century, Father Kircher, the great Jesuit professor at Rome, holds back the skeptical current, insists upon the orthodox view, and represents among the animals entering the ark sirens and griffins.
Yet even among theologians we note here and there a skeptical spirit in natural science. Early in the same seventeenth century Eugène Roger published his Travels in Palestine. As regards the utterances of Scripture he was soundly orthodox; he prefaces his work with a map showing, among other important points referred to in biblical history, the place where Samson slew a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass, the cavern which Adam and Eve inhabited after their expulsion from paradise, the spot where Balaam's ass spoke, the place where Jacob wrestled with the angel, the steep place down which the swine possessed of devils plunged into the sea, the position of the salt statue which was once Lot's wife, the place at sea where Jonah was swallowed by the whale, and "the exact spot where St. Peter caught one hundred and fifty-three fishes."
As to natural history, he sees, describes, and discusses with great theological acuteness the basilisk. He tells us that the animal is about a foot and a half long, is shaped like a crocodile, and kills people with a single glance. The one which he saw was dead, fortunately for him, since in the time of Pope Leo IV—as he tells us—one appeared in Rome and killed many people by merely looking at them; but the Pope destroyed it with his prayers and the sign of the cross. He informs us that Providence has wisely and mercifully protected man by requiring the monster to cry aloud two or three times whenever it leaves its den, and that the divine wisdom in creation is also shown by the fact that the monster is obliged to look its victim in the eye and at a certain fixed distance before its glance can penetrate the victim's brain and so pass to his heart. He also gives a reason for supposing that the same divine mercy has provided that the crowing of a cock will kill the basilisk.
Yet even in this good and credulous missionary we see the influence of Bacon and the dawn of experimental science; for, having been told many stories regarding the salamanders, he secured one, placed it alive upon the burning coals, and reports to us that the legends concerning its power to live in the fire are untrue. He also tried experiments with the chameleon, and found that the stories told of it were to be received with much allowance: while, then, he locks up his judgment whenever he discusses the letter of Scripture, he uses his mind in other things much after the modern method.
In the second half of the same century Hottinger, in his Theological Examination of the History of Creation, breaks from the belief in the phœnix; but his skepticism is carefully kept within the limits imposed by Scripture. He avows his doubts, first, "because God created the animals in couples, while the phœnix is represented as a single, unmated creature"; secondly, "because Noah, when he entered the ark, brought the animals in by sevens, while there were never so many individuals of the phœnix species"; thirdly, because "no man is known who dares assert that he has ever seen this bird"; fourthly, because "those who assert there is a phœnix differ among themselves."
In view of these attacks on the salamander and the phœnix, we are not surprised to find before the end of the century an attack on the basilisk; the eminent Prof. Kirchmaier, at the University of Wittemberg, treats both phœnix and basilisk alike as old wives' fables. As to the phœnix, he denies its existence, not only because Noah took no such bird into the ark, but also because "birds come from eggs, not from ashes." But the unicorn he can not resign, nor will he even concede that the unicorn is a rhinoceros; he appeals to Job and to Marco Polo to prove that this animal, as usually conceived, really exists, and says, "Who would not fear to deny the existence of the unicorn, since Holy Scripture names him with distinct praises?" As to the other great animals mentioned in Scripture, he is so rationalistic as to admit that behemoth was an elephant and leviathan a whale.
But these germs of a fruitful skepticism grew, and we soon find Dannhauer going a step further and declaring his disbelief even in the unicorn, insisting that it was a rhinoceros, only that and nothing more. Still, the main current continued strongly theological. In 1712 Samuel Bochart published his great work upon the animals of Holy Scripture. As showing its spirit we may take the titles of the chapters on the horse:
Chapter VI. Of the Hebrew name of the horse.
Chapter VII. Of the colors of the six horses in Zechariah.
Chapter VIII. Of the horses in Job.
Chapter IX. Of Solomon's horses and of the texts wherein the writers praise the excellence of horses.
Chapter X. Of the consecrated horses of the sun.
Among the other titles of chapters are such as: Of Balaam's Ass; Of the Thousand Philistines slain by Samson with the Jawbone of an Ass; Of the Golden Calves of Aaron and Jeroboam; Of the Bleating, Milk, Wool, External and Internal Parts of Sheep mentioned in Scripture; Of Notable Things told regarding Lions in Scripture; Of Noah's Dove and of the Dove which appeared at Christ's Baptism. Mixed up in the book with the principal mass drawn from Scripture were many facts and reasonings taken from investigations by naturalists; but all were carefully permeated by the theological spirit.
The inquiry into Nature having thus been pursued nearly two thousand years theologically, we find by the middle of the sixteenth century some promising beginnings of a different method—the method of inquiry into Nature scientifically—the method which seeks not plausibilities but facts. At that time Edward Wotton led the way in England and Conrad Gesner on the continent, by observations widely extended, carefully noted, and thoughtfully classified.
This better method of interrogating Nature soon led to the formation of societies for the same purpose. In 1560 was founded an Academy for the study of Nature at Naples, but theologians, becoming alarmed, suppressed it, and for nearly one hundred years there was no new combined effort of that sort until in 1645 began the meetings in London of what was afterward the Royal Society. Then came the Academy of Sciences in France, and the Academia del Cimento in Italy; others followed in all parts of the world, and a great new movement was begun.
Theologians soon saw a danger in this movement. In Italy, Prince Leopold dei Medici, a protector of the Florentine Academy, was bribed with a cardinal's hat to neglect it, and from the days of Urban VIII to Pius IX a similar spirit was there shown. In France there were frequent ecclesiastical interferences, of which Buffon's humiliation for stating a simple scientific truth was a noted example. In England Protestantism was at first hardly more favorable toward the Royal Society, and the great Dr. South denounced it in his sermons as irreligious.
Fortunately, one thing prevented an open breach between theology and science; while new investigators had mainly given up the mediæval method so dear to the Church, they had very generally retained the conception of direct creation and of design throughout creation—a design having as its main purpose the profit, enjoyment, instruction, and amusement of man.
On this the naturally opposing tendencies of theology and science were compromised. Science, while somewhat freed from its old limitations, became the handmaid of theology in illustrating the doctrine of creative design, and always with apparent deference to the Chaldean and other ancient myths and legends embodied in the Hebrew sacred books.
About the middle of the seventeenth century came a great conquest of the scientific over the theologic method. At that time Francesco Redi published the results of his inquiries into the doctrine of spontaneous generation. For over two hundred years the accepted doctrine had been that water, filth, and carrion had received power from the Creator to generate worms, insects, and a multitude of the smaller animals. This doctrine had been especially welcomed by St. Augustine and many of the fathers, since it relieved the Almighty of making, Adam of naming, and Noah of living in the ark with these innumerable despised species. But to this fallacy Redi put an end. By researches which could not be gainsaid, he showed that every one of these animals came from an egg; each, therefore, must be the lineal descendant of an animal created, named, and preserved from "the beginning."
Similar work went on in England, but with a more distinctly religious tendency. In the same seventeenth century a very famous and popular English book was that by the naturalist John Ray, a fellow of the Royal Society, who produced a number of works on plants, fishes, and birds; but the most widely read among all his books was entitled The Wisdom of God manifested in the Works of Creation. Between the years 1691 and 1827 it passed through nearly twenty editions.
Ray argues the goodness and wisdom of God from the adaptation of the animals not only to man's uses but to their own lives and surroundings.
In the first years of the eighteenth century Dr. Nehemiah Grew, of the Royal Society, published his Cosmologia Sacra to refute anti-scriptural opinions by producing evidences of creative design. Discoursing on "the ends of Providence," he says, "A crane, which is scurvy meat, lays but two eggs in the year, but a pheasant and partridge, both excellent meat, lay and hatch fifteen or twenty." He points to the fact that "those of value which lay few at a time sit the oftener, as the woodcock and the dove." He breaks decidedly from the doctrine that noxious things in Nature are caused by sin, and shows that they, too, are useful; that, "if nettles sting, it is to secure an excellent medicine for children and cattle"; that, "if the bramble hurts man, it makes all the better hedge"; and that, "if it chances to prick the owner, it tears the thief." "Weasels, kites, and other hurtful animals induce us to watchfulness; thistles and moles, to good husbandry; lice oblige us to cleanliness in our bodies, spiders in our houses, and the moth in our clothes." This very optimistic view, triumphing over the theological theory of noxious animals and plants as effects of sin, which prevailed with so much force from St. Augustine to Wesley, was developed into nobler form during the century by various thinkers, and especially by Archdeacon Paley, whose Natural Theology exercised a powerful influence down to recent times. The same tendency appeared in other countries. Various philosophers did indeed show weak points in the argument, and Goethe made sport of it in a noted verse, praising the forethought of the Creator in foreordaining the cork tree to furnish stoppers for wine-bottles.
Shortly before the middle of the nineteenth century the main movement culminated in the Bridgewater Treatises, Pursuant to the will of the eighth Earl of Bridgewater, the President of the Royal Society selected eight persons, each to receive a thousand pounds sterling for writing and publishing a treatise on the "power, wisdom, and goodness of God, as manifested in the creation." Of these, the leading essays in regard to animated Nature were those of Thomas Chalmers, on The Adaptation of External Nature to the Moral and Intellectual Condition of Man; of Sir Charles Bell, on The Hand, as evincing Design; of Roget, Animal and Vegetable Physiology with reference to Natural Theology; and of Kirby, on The Habits and Instincts of Animals with reference to Natural Theology.
Besides these there were treatises by Whewell, Buckland, Kidd, and Prout. The work was nobly done. It was a marked advance on all that had appeared before in matter, method, and spirit. Looking back upon it now we can see that it was provisional, but that it was none the less fruitful in truth. Here we may well remember Darwin's remark on the stimulating effect of mistaken theories, as compared with the sterilizing effect of mistaken observations: mistaken observations lead men astray, mistaken theories suggest true theories.
An effort made in so noble a spirit certainly does not deserve the ridicule that, in our own day, has sometimes been lavished upon it. Curiously, indeed, one of the most contemptuous of these criticisms has been recently made by one of the most strenuous defenders of orthodoxy. No less eminent a standard-bearer of the faith than the Rev. Prof. Zoeckler says of this great movement to demonstrate creative purpose and design, and of the men who took part in it, "The earth appeared in their representation of it like a great clothing shop and soup kitchen, and God as a glorified rationalistic professor." Such a statement as this is far from just to the conceptions of such men as Butler, Paley, and Chalmers, no matter how fully the thinking world has now outlived them.
But, noble as the work of, these men was, the foundation of fact on which they reared it became evidently more and more insecure.
As far back as the seventeenth century far-sighted theologians had begun to discern difficulties more serious than any that had before confronted them. More and more it was seen that the number of different species was far greater than the world had hitherto imagined. Greater and greater had become the old difficulty in conceiving that, of these innumerable species, each had been specially created by the Almighty hand, that each had been brought before Adam by the Almighty to be named, and that each, in couples or in sevens, had been gathered by Noah into the ark. But the difficulties thus suggested were as nothing compared to those raised by the distribution of animals.
Even in the first days of the Church this had aroused serious thought, and above all in the great mind of St. Augustine. In his City of God he had stated the difficulty as follows: "But there is a question about all these kinds of beasts, which are neither tamed by man, nor spring from the earth like frogs, such as wolves and others of that sort, . . . as to how they could find their way to the islands after that flood which destroyed every living thing not preserved in the ark. . . . Some, indeed, might be thought to reach islands by swimming, in case these were very near; but some islands are so remote from continental lands that it does not seem possible that any creature could reach them by swimming. It is not an incredible thing, either, that some animals may have been captured by men and taken with them to those lands which they intended to inhabit, in order that they might have the pleasure of hunting, and it can not be denied that the transfer may have been accomplished through the agency of angels, commanded or allowed to perform this labor by God."
But this question had now assumed a magnitude of which St. Augustine never dreamed. Most powerful of all agencies to increase this difficulty were the voyages of Columbus, Vasco da Gama, Magellan, Amerigo Vespucci, and other great navigators of the period of discovery. Still more serious became the difficulty as the continent islands of the southern seas were explored. Every navigator brought home tidings of new species of animals and of races of men living in parts of the world where
the theologians, relying on the explicit statement of St. Paul that the gospel had gone into all lands, had for ages declared there could be none; until finally it overtaxed even the theological imagination to conceive of angels, in obedience to the divine command, distributing over the earth the various animals, dropping the megatherium in South America, the archeopteryx in Europe, the ornithorhynchus in Australia, and the opossum in North America.
It was under the impression made by the beginnings of this new array of facts established by the earlier voyages of discovery that in 1667 Abraham Milius published at Geneva his book on The Origin of Animals and the Migrations of Peoples. An acute author says that this book shows, as no other does, the shock and strain to which the discovery of America subjected the received theological scheme of things. The book was issued with the full and special approbation of the Bishop of Salzburg, and it indicates the possibility that a solution of the whole trouble might be found in the text, "Let the earth bring forth the living creature after his kind." Milius goes on to show that the ancient philosophers agree with Moses, and that "the earth and the waters, and especially the heat of the sun and of the genial sky, together with that slimy and putrid quality which seems to be inherent in the soil, may furnish the origin for fishes, terrestrial animals, and birds." On the other hand, he is very severe against those who imagine that man can have had the same origin with animals. But the subject with which Milius especially grapples is the distribution of animals. He is greatly exercised by the many species found in America and in remote islands of the ocean—species entirely unknown in the other continents—and of course he is especially troubled by the fact that these species existing in those exceedingly remote parts of the earth do not exist in the neighborhood of Mount Ararat. He confesses that to explain the distribution of animals is the most difficult part of the problem. If it be urged that birds could reach America by flying and fishes by swimming, he asks, "What of the beasts which neither fly nor swim?" Yet even as to the birds he asks, "Is there not an infinite variety of winged creatures who fly so slowly and heavily, and have such a horror of the water, that they would not even dare trust themselves to fly over a wide river?" As to fishes, he says, "They are very averse to wandering from their native waters," and he shows that there are now reported many species of American and East Indian fishes entirely unknown on the other continents, whose presence, therefore, can not be explained by any theory of natural dispersion.
Of those who suggest that land animals may have been dispersed over the earth by the direct agency of man for his use or pleasure he asks: "Who would like to get different sorts of lions, bears, tigers, and other ferocious and noxious creatures on board ship who would trust himself with them? and who would wish to plant colonies of such creatures in new, desirable lands?"
His conclusion is that plants and animals take their origin in the lands wherein they are found—an opinion which he brings Moses to support with passages from the two narrations in Genesis which imply generative force in earth and water.
But in the eighteenth century matters had become even worse for the theological view. To meet the difficulty the eminent Benedictine, Dom Calmet, in his commentary expressed the belief that all the species of a genus had originally formed one species, and he dwelt on this view as one which enabled him to explain the possibility of gathering all animals into the ark. This idea, dangerous as it was to the fabric of orthodoxy and involving a profound separation from the general doctrine of the Church, seems to have been abroad among thinking men, for we find in the latter half of the same century even Linnæus incline to consider it. It was, indeed, time that some new theological theory be evolved; the great Linnæus himself, in spite of his famous declaration in favor of the fixity of species, had dealt a death blow to the old theory. In his Systema Naturæ, published in the middle of the eighteenth century, he had enumerated four thousand species of animals, and the difficulties involved in the naming of each of them by Adam and in bringing them together in the ark appeared to all thinking men more and more insurmountable.
What was more embarrassing, the number of distinct species went on increasing rapidly, indeed enormously, until—as an eminent zoölogical authority of our own time has declared, "For every one of the species enumerated by Linnæus, more than fifty kinds are known to the naturalist of to-day, and the number of species still unknown doubtless far exceeds the list of those recorded."
Already there were premonitions of the strain made upon Scripture by requiring a hundred and sixty distinct miraculous interventions of the Creator to produce the hundred and sixty species of land shells found in the little island of Madeira alone, and fourteen hundred distinct interventions to produce the actual number of distinct species of a single well-known shell.
Ever more and more difficult, too, became this question of the geographical distribution of animals. As new explorations were made in various parts of the world, this danger to the theological view went on increasing. The sloths in South America suggested painful questions: how could animals so sluggish have got away from the neighborhood of Mount Ararat so completely and have traveled so far?
The explorations in Australia and neighboring islands made matters still worse, for there was found in those regions a whole realm of animals differing widely from those of other parts of the earth.
The problem before the strict theologians became, for example, how to explain the fact that the kangaroo can have been in the ark and be now only found in Australia; his saltatory powers are indeed great, but how could he by any series of leaps have sprung across the intervening mountains, plains, and oceans to that remote continent; and, if the theory were adopted that at some period a causeway extended across the vast chasm separating Australia from the nearest mainland, why did not lions, tigers, camels, and camelopards force or find their way across it?
The theological theory, therefore, had by the end of the last century gone to pieces. The wiser theologians waited; the unwise indulged in exhortations to "root out the wicked heart of unbelief," in denunciation of "science falsely so called," and in frantic declarations that "the Bible is true"—by which they meant that the limited understanding of it which they had happened to inherit is true.
By the middle of the nineteenth century the whole theological theory of creation—though still preached everywhere as a matter of form—was clearly seen by all thinking men to be hopelessly lost; such strong men as Cardinal Wiseman in the Roman Church, Dean Buckland in the Anglican, and Hugh Miller in the Scottish Church, made heroic efforts to save something from it, but all to no purpose. That sturdy Teutonic and Anglo-Saxon honesty, which is the best legacy of the middle ages to Christendom, asserted itself in the old strongholds of theological thought—the universities. Neither the powerful logic of Bishop Butler nor the nimble reasoning of Archdeacon Paley availed. Just as the line of astronomical thinkers from Copernicus to Newton had destroyed the old astronomy, in which the earth was the center, and the Almighty sitting above the firmament the agent in moving the heavenly bodies about it with his own hands, so now a race of biological thinkers had destroyed the old idea of a Creator minutely contriving and fashioning all animals to suit the needs and purposes of man. They had developed a system of a very different sort, and of this we shall speak in the next chapter.
- For the citation from Lactantius, see Divin. Instit., lib. ii, cap. xi, in Migne, tome vi, pp. 311, 312; for St. Augustine's great phrase, see the De Genes, ad litt., ii, 5; for St. Ambrose, see lib. i, cap. ii; for Vincent de Beauvais, see the Speculum Naturale, lib. i, cap. ii, and lib. ii, cap. xv and xxx; also Bourgeat, Etudes sur Vincent de Beauvais, Paris, 1856, especially chaps, vii, xii, and xvi; for Cardinal d'Ailly, see the Imago Mundi, and for Reisch, see the various editions of the Margarita Philosophica; for Luther's statements, see Luther's Schriften, ed. Walch, Halle, 1740, Commentary on Genesis, vol. i; for Calvin's view of the creation of the animals, including the immutability of species, see the Comm. in Gen., tome i of his Opera omnia, Amst., 1671, cap. i, v. xx, p. 5, also cap. ii, V. ii, p. 8, and elsewhere; for Bossuet, see his Discours sur I'Histoire universelle, Œuvres de Bossuet, tome v, Paris, 1846; for Lightfoot, see his works, edited by Pitman, London, 1822; for Bede, see the Hexæmeron, lib. i, in Migne, tome xci, p. 21.
- For St. Augustine, see De Genesi and De Trinitate, passim; for Bede, see Hexæmeron, lib. i, in Migne, tome xci, pp. 21, 36-38, 42; and De Sex Dierum Creatione, in Migne, tome, xciii, p. 215; for Peter Lombard on "noxious animals," see his Sententiæ, lib ii, dist. XV, 3, Migne, tome cxcii, p. 682; for Wesley, Clarlie, and Watson, see quotations from them and notes thereto in my chapter on Geology; for St. Augustine on "superfluous animals," see the De Genesi, lib. i, cap. xvi, 26; on Luther's view of flies, see the Table Talk and his famous utterance, "Odio muscas quia sunt imagines diaboli et hæreticorum."
- For the Physiologus, Bestiaries, etc., see Berger de Xivrey, Traditions Tératologiques; also Hippeau's edition of the Bestiary of Guillaume de Normandie, Caen, 1852, and such mediæval books of Exempla as the Lumen Naturæ; also Hoefer, Histoire de la Zoologie; also Rambaud, Histoire de la Civilisation Française, Paris, 1885, vol. i, pp. 368, 369; also Cardinal Pitra, preface to the Spicilegium Solismense, Paris, 1855, passim; also Carus, Geschichte der Zoologie; and for an admirable summary, the article Physiologus in the Encyc. Brit. In the illuminated manuscripts in the Library of Cornell University are some very striking examples of grotesques. For admirably illustrated articles on the Bestiaries, see Cahier and Martin, Melanges d'Archeologie, Paris, 1851, 1852, and 1856, vol. ii of the first series, pp. 85-232, and second series, volume on Curiosites Mystérieuses, pp. 106-164; also J. R. Allen, Early Christian Symbolism in Great Britain and Ireland (London, 1887), lecture vi; for an exhaustive discussion of the subject, see, Das Thierbuch des wormannischen Dichters Guillaume le Clerc, herausgegeben von Reinisch, Leipsic, 1890; and, for an Italian example, Goldstaub und Wendriner, Ein Tosco-Venezianischer Bestiarius, Halle, 1892, where is given, on pp. 369-371, a very pious but very comical tradition regarding the beaver, hardly more than mentionable to ears polite.
- For Giraldus Cambrensis, see the edition in the Bohn Library, London, 1863, p. 30; for Abd Allatif and Frederick II, see Hoefer, as above; for Albertus Magnus, see the De Animalibus, lib. xxiii; for the illustrations in Mandeville, see the Strasburg edition, 1484.
- For Franz and Kircher, see Perrier, La Philosophie Zoologique avant Darwin, Paris, 1884, p. 29; for Roger, see his La Terre Saincte, Paris, 1664, pp. 89-92, 139, 218, etc.; for Hottinger, see his Historiæ Creationis Examen theologico-philologicum, Heidelberg, 1659, lib. vi, Quæst. Ixxxiii; for Kirchmaier, see his Disputationes Zoologicæ (published collectively after his death), Jena, 1736; for Dannhauer, see his Disputationes Theologicæ, Leipsic, 1707, p 14; for Bochart, see his Hierozoikon, sive De Animalibus Sacræ Scripturæ, Leyden, 1712.
- For Ray, see the work cited, London, 1827, p. 153. For Grew, see Cosmologia Sacra, or a Discourse on the Universe, as it is the Creature and Kingdom of God; chiefly written to demonstrate the Truth and Excellency of the Bible, by Dr. Nehemiah Grew, Fellow of the College of Physicians and of the Royal Society, London, 1701. For Paley and the Bridgewater Treatises, see the usual editions;' also Lange, History of Rationalism. Goethe's couplet ran as follows:
"Welche Verchrung verdient der Weltenerschöpfer, der Gnädig,
Als er den Korkbaura erschuf, gleich auch die Stopfel erfand."
For the quotation from Zoeckler, see his work already cited, vol. ii, pp. 74, 440.
- For Abraham Milius, see his De Ongine Animalium et Migratione Populorum, Geneva, 1667; also Kosmos, 1877, H. 1, S. 36; for Linnæus's declaration regarding species, see the Phil. Bot., 99, 157; for Calmet and Linnæus, see Zoeckler, vol. ii, p. 237. As to the enormously increasing numbers of species in zoölogy and botany, see President. D. S. Jordan, Science Sketches, pp. 176, 177; also, for pithy statement, Laing's Problems of the Future, chap. vi.