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years prior to the commencement of the world, according to the Mosaic account, naturally excites the curiosity of the speculative philosopher, and, at first, staggers the belief of the well disposed christian. It was under this impression, that the learned and indefatigable Sir William Jones, so honourably to himself, took extraordinary pains to examine those boasted records, and succeeded in reconciling the seeming contra. diction. And where is the sceptic, whose avowed object is to establish the truth, and to ascertain facts, whom the testimony of so amiable and unprejudiced a mind, of so respectable a character, will not convince? In Sir William Jones, we see a man of such varied learning, of sueh extensive information, of such unbounded benevolence, that we must allow him every way qualified for the important task, --a man, whose insatiable thirst for knowledge made him submit to the drudgery of acquiring a number of languages beyond all former example, whose chief care was to receive truths unsullied from their source, whose studies and labours had for their decided object, the general welfare and happiness of his fellow-creatures. But to dismiss panegyric, Sir William solemnly declared, that, though as far as these accounts were collateral with the Mosaic, he could trace many corresponding circumstances, yet the whole was veiled in fabled obscurity, and originated in the grossest absurdity. One remarkable instance in which the Chinese chronology contradicts the scriptures, should not be passed over unnoticed. The Chinese date the reign of Fobi, the founder of their empire, 3,000 years before the Christian æra ; consequently, before the flood. A probable reason may be assigned for the adoption of allegory into the histories of the eastern nations. Ishall have occasion to notice it in making mention of the Chaldean philosophy.
Sir William has candidly acknowledged that all his former doubts of the Mosaic account of the world were removed, and he gave his most decided assent to the authenticity of the scriptures. Notwithstanding the pretensions of the Bramins to a chronology little short of their neighbours, yet they allow a creation, and refer to the Deity as the grand first cause. The world, they say, was created and called into order and beauty from chaos, or a mass of water, by Brama, who was himself created at the time for the express purpose, and appointed to the important office by the Deity. If we take a survey of the history and the state of philosophy among the Chaldeans, Egyptians, and Phænicians, (making allowances for the imperfect manner in which their opinions have been handed down to us, we discover great pretensions to antiquity, and an evident contention for priority, as well as for superiority
in the knowledge of the sciences, particularly of astronomy. The Chaldean chronology, which exceeds all bounds, and surpasses belief, so far from being confirmed by the accounts found at Babylon, by Callisthenes, those astronomical observations fall very far short of the Mosaic chronology. I leave to the firm believers and strenuous supporters of the eternity of the earth, to take without examination or suspicion, any chronological data, which may favor their opinions, and credit assertions unsupported by facts. At this distance of time, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to ascertain whether mere conjecture or actual calculations, form the basis of this singular chronology; yet, one thing is generally allowed, that there is no corresponding succession of historical facts. 'In the latter case, it is easy to suppose, that, as by attentively observing the regular courses of the planets, we can by calculation foretel their situation at any future time; so, by reversing the case, we may with equal facility calculate their real or supposable situation at any period antecedent to the present, however remote. But I am rather inclined to think that the lengthened chronology of the Chaldean philosophers was entirely a fabrication, in order to impress the weak and credulous minds of the ignorant and awed multitude with a belief of the great antiquity of astronomy, and, by heightening their veneration for that sublime science, to gain an implicit confidence in their own characters, and secure credit and assent to judicial astrology. In confirmation of this opinion, the science of judicial astrology was held in high repute, the tenets of their philosophy were kept a profound secret, and their learning veiled under allegories and symbols. From the fragments of Berosus, preserved by Syncellus, we perceive, that the Chaldeans believed that the world was formed from chaos, called into order and rendered habitable by the operations of the Deity; that man likewise owed his creation and birth to the same Almighty, self-existent, and eternal cause. It is worthy of remark, that the Chaldeans, like the Bramins, supposed that the Deity employed an agent or another god in the work of creation, and this opinion was almost universally received among the eastern nations.
The hieroglyphics of the Egyptians seem to have had the same origin as the Chaldean allegories, and to have been used for the same arbitrary purpose, to confine science to a few, and overawe the multitude. Hence we may reasonably conclude, that we ought to receive with considerable suspicion, and to credit with caution, what is handed down to us as the chronology, the history, or the opinions of nations, whose mode of communicating knowledge was so little under stood by their neighbours, and whose pretensions to antiquity
led them into so many wild conjectures and palpable absurdities.---The Greeks, who by the ability and industry of a few individuals emerged out of a state of barbarism, and became the most learned, the most polished, the most brave of nations, form as it were a new era in the history of mankind and of philosophy. Of them, we can speak with some degree of certainty, since their writings have been handed down to us with tolerable accuracy. To them we are indebted for what we know of the Chaldeans, the Egyptians, and Phænicians. But they are greatly to be suspected of misrepresentations as well as of misconception. For no sooner was the cloud of ignorance dispelled, and they became enlightened by the transcendant talents of their philosophers, than they began to arrogate to themselves such superior wisdom, that they denominated all other nations " barbarians.
From a cultivation of astronomy and other branches of the sciences, they were led to the important subject,--the origin of the world! But when we consider, that in those comparatively dark
ages, the laws of nature were so little understood,—the God of nature so little known,-we need not be surprised that their geogeny, like their theogeny, was enveloped in impenetrable mystery and fabled obscurity. But they never dared to assert the eternity of the world; the eternity of matter they might believe-it is for the self-taught philosophers who arrogantly depend upon their own innate ideas, and proudly stand upon the vainly-fancied firm basis of their own integral merit, to dash to the ground, without discrimination, all the venerable monuments of antiquity, to assume new tenets, and attempt to teach mankind a new method of philosophising.
The first idea of the origin of the world, which seems to have prevailed among the earliest philosophers of Greece, was the Atomic-uncertain as to the author, but the idea was supposed to have been derived from the Phænicians, After Democritus, it was adopted by Epicurus with a slight alteration. According to this curious system, a number of atoms, or first principles, floating in infinite space, came by some unaccountable accident (as unaccountable as the existence of the atoms themselves and the motion attributed to thenı,) into contact, and, by being entangled, a vortex took place. The particles conglomerating, a chaos or confused mass was formed, whence sprung, by unaccountable causes, or rather fatal necessity, the present beautiful order of things.
There seem to have been two powers, qualities, or principles, necessary in the formation of the globe, even according to this system, though not expressly mentioned,-adhesion and gravity. We cannot infer that they had any notion of attraction. Epicurus, unwilling to allow the original formation of the earth to blind chance, attributed to the particles the power of deviating from a right line.
Pythagoras, Plato, and Aristotle, asserted the eternity of two distinct principles, God and matter. The terms of Pythagoras, by which he expressed his self-existent principles, Monad, Unity, and Dyad, Duality, have been little understood and variously interpreted ; and himself accused of atheism. Parphyry interprets Monad, the cause of sympathy, harmony, and agreement in things; and, on the contrary, Dyad, the cause of disagreement or inequality. According to this interpretation, these principles convey the idea of the more modern terms, homogeneous and heterogeneous, as applied to the primary and constituent particles of matter.
I forbear to pursue this wild extensive theory into all the forms, qualities, unintelligible and imaginary beings, of the Aristotelean philosophy. To exculpate Aristotle from the charge of atheism, I think we may fairly allow that his term Quois, nature, or effective principle, implied a self-existent cause or the Deity,—but then he thought the world an emanation necessarily proceeding from the Deity; an effect necessarily produced by the very nature of his existence. Plato did not attempt to divest the Deity of his attributes, but supposed the world to have resulted from his free will and deliberate choice. The system of Descartes, is no more than a slight improvement upon the Epicurean. And the attractions and repulsions of Sir Isaac Newton, will afford as little assistance to trace the origin of the world, as the occult qualities of Aristotle, or the imaginary beings of his followers: whether we consider attraction and repulsion as the innate properties of matter, as an effect arising from, or any way assisted by, revolutionary motion ; or as, immediately at the Creation, impressed upon matter by the Deity.
Were we to admit the hypothesis of Buffon, that the earth, in its chaotic state, was separated from the sun by the stroke of a comet, we should still find insuperable difficulties to account for its present station and revolutions, or believe that such a variety of animate and inanimate productions could have proceeded from a mass of burning lava.
The attempt to calculate the age of the world from the increased saltness of the sea, must be equally fallacious; because we must first grant an assumed proposition, which is hardly probable, that the waters of the sea, or to use the scriptural language “the great deep,” were not, at their separation from weightier and harder matter, impregnated with any saline particles. If we have recourse to the internal structure of the earth, as far as the persevering industry of man has ventured to penetrate, so far from finding the various strata disposed according to specific gravity, we discover more the appearance of chance than the effect of order. How far centrifugal force or volcanic eruptions may have been instrumental in producing the various phenomena in the mineral world, I must leave to men of greater ability, and of more speculative minds, to investigate. It is evident that in the mineral, as well as the vegetable and the animal world, nature, to a certain extent, has a reproductive power; yet it would be hardly admissible to ascribe to matter any inherent, independent power, by which it reorganises and preserves itself against any convulsions or changes which it may undergo. Various have been the conjectures about the formation of minerals and other fossils; and, notwithstanding the great improvements in chemistry, whereby substances are analysed into their component parts, the manner of their formation is still a desideratum : and I believe it would puzzle all the united efforts of philosophy and chemistry to combine those particles, and restore them to their original substance. An author somewhere observes, that “ Nature is slow and secret in her operations; it is difficult to detect her in the fact.”---Dr. Hutton has attempted to prove that, all minerals are the effect of fusion produced by internal heat. So prejudiced was he in favor of this hypothesis, that he supposed internal heat, whence proceeded volcanic eruptions, to have been the principal agent in the formation of the earth out of chaos, as well as the grand reorganizing power after the Deluge. Some modern travellers assert
, that they have discovered many appearances of volcanic eruptions in the northern parts of Europe. The whinstone of this country, the trap of Germany, and many others, are declared to be real laya.
Sir William Hamilton, in making his observations upon the different strata of lava, which had been emitted from Mount Vesuvius, fancied that he could, in some degree, determine the age of the earth. For observing between each stratum of lava, a considerable stratum of vegetable earth, and supposing that such a quantity of vegetable earth could not in such a situation be formed in less than 1000 years, he thence concludes that the earth must be much older than is represented in the Mosaic account. There is an observation of Recupero, which by no means supports this hypothesis. He mentions a stratum of lava at Mount Ætva, which had remained for several centuries without acquiring any vegetable earth, or even exhibiting any tendency towards it. He likewise remarks that a report prevailed, that the eruption had taken place at least 1000 years before his time.