The Earth and Man
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” (Gen. 1:1-2).
Any question as to when that beginning was is largely futile because unanswerable. In the first place we have no time unit by which to measure back through the ages to the time at which, so far as the earth is concerned, time began.
Years are as inadequate in any attempted survey of the stages of earth development as are miles to the astronomer who would span the distances of interstellar space. He speaks in terms of light-years, such unit being the distance traversed by a ray of light speeding on at the rate of approximately 186,000 miles per second throughout a year.
Secondly, we are without information as to what stage of earth development is indicated by “the beginning.” And what is a beginning in nature? At best it is but a new start in advance of what had passed up to that point of time; and every beginning is an ending of what went immediately before, even as every consummation is a commencement of something greater, higher, and therefore superior to the past.
The Earth Older Than Man
To the thoughtful mind there can be no confusion of the beginning spoken of in the opening verse of genesis with the advent of man upon the changing earth; for by the scriptural record itself we learn of stage after stage, age after age of earth processes by which eventually this planet became capable of supporting life—vegetable, animal and human in due course.
Whether or not scientists have been able to see, however dimly, the way by which the earth as an orb in space was formed, matters little except as a subject of academic interest. For many years it was very generally believed that the earth, once formless and void, passed through stages of cooling of superheated gas to liquid, thence to the solid state, as the Nebular Theory assumed; but this conception has given way to the later thought that the earth as a solid spheroid has resulted from the bringing together of particles once diffused in space—this being the basis of the Planetesimal Hypothesis.
But this we know, for both revealed and discovered truth, that is to say both scripture and science, so affirm—that plant life antedated animal existence and that animals preceded man as tenants of earth.
Life and Death Before Man's Advent
According to the conception of geologists the earth passed through ages of preparation, to us unmeasured and immeasurable, during which countless generations of plants and animals existed in great variety and profusion and gave in part the very substance of their bodies to help form certain strata which are still existent as such.
The oldest, that is to say the earliest, rocks thus far identified in land masses reveal the fossilized remains of once living organisms, plant and animal. The coal strata, upon which the world of industry so largely depends, are essentially but highly compressed and chemically changed vegetable substance. The whole series of chalk deposits and many of our deep-sea limestones contain the skeletal remains of animals. These lived and died, age after age, while the earth was yet unfit for human habitation.
From the Simple to the Complex
From the fossil remains of plants and animals found in the rocks the scientist points to a very definite order in the sequence of life embodiment, for the older rocks, the earlier formations, reveal to us organisms of simplest structure only, whether of plants or animals. These primitive species were aquatic; land forms were of later development. Some of these simpler forms of life have persisted until the present time, though with great variation as the result of changing environment.
Geologists say that these very simple forms of plant and animal bodies were succeeded by others more complicated; and in the indestructible record of the rocks they read the story of advancing life from the simple to the more complex, from the single-celled protozoan to the highest animals, from the marine algae to the advanced types of flowering plant—to the apple-tree, the rose, and the oak.
What a fascinating story is inscribed upon the stony pages of the earth's crust! The geologists, who through long and patient effort has learned at least a little of the language in which these truths are written, finds the pages illustrated with pictures, which for fidelity of detail excel the best efforts of our modern engravers, lithographers and half-tone artists. The pictures in the rocks are the originals, the rest at best but copies.
In due course came the crowning work of this creative sequence, the advent of man! Concerning this all-important event we are told that scientists and theologians are at hopeless and irreconcilable variance. I regard the assumption or claim, whichever it be, as an exaggeration. Discrepancies that trouble us now will diminish as our knowledge of pertinent facts is extended. The creator has made record in the rocks for man to decipher; but He has also spoken directly regarding the main stages of progress by which the earth has been brought to be what it is. The accounts can not be fundamentally opposed; one can not contradict the other; though man's interpretation of either may be seriously at fault.
Adam a Historic Personage
So far as the history of man on the earth is concerned the scriptures begin with the account of Adam. True, the geologist does not know Adam by name; but he knows and speaks of man as an early, continuing and present form of earth-life, above and beyond all other living things past or present.
We believe that Adam was a real personage, who stands at the head of his race chronologically. To my mind Adam is a historic personage, not a prehistoric being, unidentified and uncertain.
If the Usher chronology be correct, or even approximately so, then the beginning of Adamic history as recorded in scripture dates back about 4000 years before the birth of Christ. We as a Church believe that the current reckoning of time from the birth of Christ to the present is correct, namely 1931 years—not from last New Year's day, January 1, but from the month that came to be known among the Hebrews as Nisan or Ahib, corresponding with our late March and early April. So we believe that we are now living in the 1931st year since the birth of Christ, and therefore 5931 years since the beginning of the Adamic record.
This record of Adam and his posterity is the only scriptural account we have of the appearance of man upon the earth. But we have also a vast and ever-increasing volume of knowledge concerning man, his early habits and customs, his industries and works of art, his tools and implements, about which such scriptures as we have thus far received are entirely silent. Let us not try to wrest the scriptures in an attempt to explain away what we can not explain. The opening chapters of Genesis, and scriptures related thereto, were never intended as a text-book of geology, archaeology, earth-science or man-science. Holy Scripture will endure, while the conceptions of men change with new discoveries. We do not show reverence for the scriptures when we misapply them through faulty interpretation.
Primary and Secondary Causes
There has been much discussion over the alleged conflict between the teachings of science and the doctrines of the revealed word concerning the origin of man. Let it be remembered that the term origin is almost invariably used in a relative sense. The mind of man is unable to grasp the fundamental thought of an absolute or primary origin. Every occurrence man has witnessed is the result of some previously acting cause or purpose; and that cause in turn was the effect or result of causes yet more remote. Perhaps we have never been able to trace an effect to its primary or original cause. Man may say that he understands the origin of an oak in the acorn form from which it sprang; but is not the acorn the fruit of a yet earlier oak, and so in reality rather a continuation than a beginning? Yet there is something fascinating in the thought of a beginning; the persistence of a process once started is far less mysterious than its inception.
It is not enough to refer effects to the First Great Cause; it is unsatisfying and not always reverent to answer questions as to how things came to be what they are by the easy statement that God made them so. With such an answer the scientific man has little patience. The fact that all created things are the works of God and that all processes of nature are due to Him as the administrator of law and order is to the scientific mind an axiom requiring neither argument nor demonstration. The botanist knows that God makes the plant grow; but he, weak mortal, is devoting time and energy of body, mind and spirit, to a study of the way in which God works such a marvelous miracle. The geologist knows that God created the earth; but the best effort of his life is put forth in the hope of finding out in some degree, however small, the method by which the Creator wrought this wondrous world. The astronomer gazing into the starry depths sees in their orderly procession the Lord Eternal walking in His majesty and might; and in humility the student of the heavenly bodies spends days and nights striving to learn a little of the way in which God worked out the marvel of the universe.
In proportion as any one of these may learn of the ways of God he becomes wise. To be able to think as God thinks, to comprehend in any degree His purposes and methods, is to become in that measure like unto Him, and to that extent to be prepared for eventual companionship in His presence. The scientist is busily engaged in the study of secondary causes—the ways and means by which God works and through which He accomplishes His miracle, ever beginning, never ending—and in his search for the truth the student of science scarcely dares lift his eyes to look toward the First Great Cause, the Eternal Power that stands and operates behind and above all the secondary causes, or what we call the processes of Nature.
The Origin of Man
The question involved in the origin of man, therefore, is not raised as a challenge to the belief and declaration that he came to earth through Divine direction, but it is in the nature of an inquiry as to the conditions under which he came. There are many who claim that man's advent upon the earth was effected through processes of evolution from lower forms, processes that had been operative for ages, processes by which man is made kin to the brute and a development from the lowest type of organism. Others affirm that he differs from all mortal creatures of lower rank, not only in degree but in kind; in short, that he is not one with the animal creation and that therefore his coming was in no sense a natural and necessary result of earlier animal life. Discussion on this question has developed intense animus, and too often the quest for truth has been lost sight of in the strife for triumph.
In speaking of the origin of man we generally have reference to the creation of man's body; and, of all the mistakes that man has made concerning himself, one of the greatest and the gravest is that of mistaking the body for the man. The body is no more truly the whole man than is the coat the body. The man, as an individual intelligence, existed before his earthly body was framed and shall exist after that body has suffered dissolution. Let it not be assumed that belief in the existence of man's spirit is a conception founded upon scriptural authority only; on the contrary, let it be known that it is in accordance with the best and most advanced scientific thought and philosophic belief of the day to hold that man consists of spirit and body; and Divine revelation makes plain that these together constitute the soul.
We have difficulty in comprehending processes for which we find no analogy in things familiar. Even were it possible for us to know in detail the way in which the body of man was formed and then endowed with the power of procreation, insuring the perpetuity of the race, it would throw but little light upon the subject of the ultimate origin of man. We know but little of things beyond the sphere upon which we live except as information has been revealed by a power superior to that of earth, and by an intelligence above that of man. Notwithstanding the assumption that man is the culmination of an evolutionary development from a lower order of beings, we know that the body of man today is in the very form and fashion of his spirit, except indeed for disfigurements and deformities. The perfect body is the counterpart of the perfect spirit and the two are the constituent entities of the soul.
By What Standard?
Much depends upon the standard by which we judge as to whether any particular organism shall be pronounced of high or lower rank. By the standard of powers of flight, in which the bird excels, man is a very inferior being; if judged by fleetness of foot he is far below the deer; by gage of strength he is inferior to the horse and the elephant; and yet man holds dominion over these and all other living things of earth. In certain important points of body-structure man stands low in the scale if he be graded strictly in accordance with the accepted standard of mammalian anatomy.
In the course of creative events the earth came to a condition fitted for the abiding place of the sons and daughters of God; and then Adam came forth upon the earth. But the beginning of man's mortal existence upon the earth was not the beginning of man; he had lived before, even as he shall life after the earth has passed away and its place taken by a new earth and a new heaven.
Man and the Ape
It has been stated by certain extremists that evolution affirms that man is in the line of posterity from the ape. But scientists today discredit this view. The most that even radical evolutionists assert is that the similarity of structure between man and certain apes indicates the possibility of a common ancestor of the two but between man and the ape there are more essential differences than resemblances.
True, man does not excel in strength of limb, agility, or speed, but in the God-given powers of mind and in the possession of superior ambition and effort. Hear the words of one who until his death was regarded as among the foremost of American geologists, James D. Dana:
“Man's origin has thus far no sufficient explanation from science. His close relations in structure to the man-apes are unquestionable. They have the same number of bones with two exceptions, and the bones are the same in kind and structure. The muscles are mostly the same. Both carry their young in their arms. The affiliations strongly suggest community of descent. But the divergencies ... especially the cases of degeneracy in man's structure, exhibited in his palmigrade feet and the primitive character of his teeth, allying him in these respects to the Lower Eocene forms, are admitted proof that he has not descended from any type of ape. In addition, man's erect posture makes the gap a very broad one. The brute, the ape included, has powerful muscles in the back of the neck to carry the head in its horizontal position, while man has no such muscles, as anyone of the species can prove by crawling for a while on ‘all fours.’ Beyond this, the great size of the brain, his eminent intellectual and moral qualities, his voice and speech, give him sole title to the position at the head of the kingdoms of life. In this high position, he is able to use Nature as his work-mate, his companion, and his educator, and to find perpetual delight in her harmonies and her revelations. ...
“Whatever the results of further search, we may feel assured, in accord with Wallace, who shares with Darwin in the authorship of the theory of Natural ‘Selection, that the intervention of a Power above nature as at the basis of man's development. Believing that Nature exists through the will and ever-acting power of the Divine Being, and that all its great truths, its beauties, its harmonies, are manifestations of His wisdom and power, or, in the words nearly of Wallace, that the whole universe is not merely dependent on, but actually is, the will of one Supreme Intelligence. Nature, with man as its culminant species, is no longer a mystery.” James D. Dana, Manual of Geology, 4th edition, page 1036.
These lines were written before the death of the writer—and constitute his last testament and testimony as to the origin of the species to which he himself belonged.
Man's Place in Nature
In the work already cited, the same author wrote:
“Man stands in the successional line of the quadrumana, at the head of the animal kingdom. But he is not a primate among primates. The quadrumana are, as Cuvier called them, quadrumana from the first to the last. They are brute mammals, as is manifested in their carnivore-like canines and their powerful jaws; in their powerful muscular development; in their walking on all fours, and the adaption thereto exhibited in the vertebrae, producing the convexity of the back; and also in other parts of the skeleton. Man, on the contrary, is not quadrumanous. ...
“Man was the first being, in the geological succession, capable of an intelligent survey of Nature and a comprehension of her laws; the first capable of augmenting his strength by bending nature to his service, rendering thereby a weak body stronger than all possible animal force; the first capable of deriving happiness from truth and goodness; of apprehending eternal right; of reaching toward a knowledge of self and God; the first, therefore, capable of conscious obedience or disobedience of a moral law, and the first subject to debasement of his moral nature through his appetites.
“There is in man, therefore, a spiritual element in which the brute has no share. His power of indefinite progress, his thoughts and desires that look onward even beyond time, his recognition of spiritual existence and of a Divinity above, all evince a nature that partakes of the infinite and divine. Man is linked to the past through the system of life, of which he is the last, the completing, creation. But, unlike other species of that closing system of the past, he, through his spiritual nature, is more intimately connected with the opening future.” —Dana, pages 1017-18.