HAVING given an account of this whole Work in the first Chapter, and of the method of either Book, whereof this Volume consists, in their proper places, there remains not much to be said here to the Reader. This Theory of the Earth may be call’d Sacred, because it is not the common Physiology of the Earth, or of the Bodies that compose it, but respects only the great Turns of Fate, and the Revolutions of our Natural World; such as are taken notice of in the Sacred Writings, and are truly the Hinges upon which the Providence of this Earth moves; or whereby it opens and shuts the several successive Scenes whereof it is made up. This English Edition is the same in substance with the Latin, though, I confess, ’tis not so properly a Translation, as a new Composition upon the same ground, there being several additional Chapters in it, and several new-moulded.
As every Science requires a peculiar Genius, so likewise there is a Genius peculiarly improper for every one; and as to Philosophy, which is the Contemplation of the works of Nature, and the Providence that governs them, there is no temper or Genius, in my mind, so improper for it, as that which we call a mean and narrow Spirit; and which the Greeks call Littleness of Soul. This is a defect in the first make of some Men's minds, which can scarce ever be corrected afterwards, either by Learning or Age. And as Souls that are made little and incapacious cannot enlarge their thoughts to take in any great compass of Times or Things; so what is beyond their compass, or above their reach, they are apt to look upon as Fantastical, or at least would willingly have it pass for such in the World. Now as there is nothing so great, so large, so immense, as the works of Nature, and the methods of Providence, men of this complexion must needs be very unfit for the contemplation of them. Who would set a purblind man at the top of the Mast to discover Land? or upon an high Tower to draw a Landskip of the Country round about? for the same reason, short-sighted minds are unfit to make Philosophers, whose proper business it is to discover and describe in comprehensive Theories the Phænomena of the World, and the Causes of them.
This original disease of the Mind is seldom cur’d by Learning, which cures many others; ’Tis like a fault in the first Stamina of the Body, which cannot easily be rectified afterwards. ’Tis a great mistake to think that every sort of Learning makes a Man a competent Judge of Natural Speculations; We see unhappy examples to the contrary amongst the Christian Fathers, and particularly in St. Austin, who was unquestionably a Man of Parts and Learning, but interposing in a controversie where his Talent did not lie, show’d his zeal against the
[paragraph continues] Antipodes to very ill purpose, though he drew his Reasons partly from Scripture. And if within a few Years, or in the next Generation, it should prove as certain and demonstrable, that the Earth is mov’d, as it is now, that there are Antipodes; those that have been zealous against it, and ingag’d the Scripture in the Controversie, would have the same reason to repent of their forwardness, that St. Austin would have now, if he was alive. ’Tis a dangerous thing to ingage the authority of Scripture in disputes about the Natural World, in opposition to Reason; lest Time, which brings all things to light, should discover that to be evidently false which we had made Scripture to assert: And I remember St. Austin in his Exposition upon Genesis, hath laid down a rule to this very purpose, though he had the unhappiness, it seems, not to follow it always himself. The reason also, which he gives there for his rule, is very good and substantial: 1For, saith He, if the Unbelievers or Philosophers shall certainly know us to be mistaken, and to erre in those things that concern the Natural World, and see that we alledge our (Sacred) Books for such vain opinions, how shall they believe those same Books when they tell them of the RESURRECTION of the Dead, and the World to come, if they find them to be fallaciously writ in such things as lie within their certain knowledge?
We are not to suppose that any truth concerning the Natural World can be an Enemy to Religion; for Truth cannot be an Enemy to Truth, God is not divided against himself; and therefore we ought not upon that account to condemn or censure what we have not examin’d or cannot disprove; as those that are of this narrow Spirit we are speaking of, are very apt to do. Let every thing be tri’d and examin’d in the first place, whether it be True or False; and if it be found false, ’tis then to be consider’d, whether it be such a falsity as is prejudicial to Religion or no. But for every new Theory that is propos’d, to be alarum’d, as if all Religion was falling about our Ears, is to make the World suspect that we are very ill assur’d of the foundation it stands upon. Besides, do not all Men complain, even These as well as others, of the great ignorance of Mankind? how little we know, and how much is still unknown? and can we ever know more, unless something new be Discover’d? It cannot be old when it comes first to light, when first invented, and first propos’d. If a Prince should complain of the poorness of his Exchequer, and the scarcity of Money in his Kingdom, would he be angry with his Merchants, if they brought him home a Cargo of good Bullion, or a Mass of Gold out of a foreign Countrey? and give this reason only for it, He would have no new Silver; neither should any be Currant in his Dominions but what had his own Stamp and Image upon it: How should this Prince or his People grow rich? To complain of want, and yet refuse all offers of a supply, looks very sullen, or very fantastical.
I might mention also upon this occasion another Genius and disposition in Men, which often makes them improper for Philosophical Contemplations; not so
much, it may be, from the narrowness of their Spirit and Understanding, as because they will not take time to extend them. I mean Men of Wit and Parts, but of short Thoughts, and little Meditation, and that are apt to distrust every thing for a Fancy or Fiction that is not the dictate of Sense, or made out immediately to their Senses. Men of this Humour and Character call such Theories as these, Philosophick Romances, and think themselves witty in the expression; They allow them to be pretty amusements of the Mind, but without Truth or reality. I am afraid if an Angel should write the Theory of the Earth, they would pass the same judgment upon it; Where there is variety of Parts in a due Contexture, with something of surprising aptness in the harmony and correspondency of them, this they call a Romance; but such Romances must all Theories of Nature, and of Providence be, and must have every part of that Character with advantage, if they be well represented. There is in them, as I may so say, a Plot or Mystery pursued through the whole Work, and certain Grand Issues or Events upon which the rest depend, or to which they are subordinate; but these things we do not make or contrive our selves, but find and discover them, being made already by the Great Author and Governour of the Universe: And when they are clearly discover’d, well digested, and well reason’d in every part, there is, me-thinks, more of beauty in such a Theory, at least a more masculine beauty, than in any Poem or Romance; And that solid truth that is at the bottom, gives a satisfaction to the Mind, that it can never have from any Fiction, how artificial soever it be.
To enter no farther upon this matter, ’tis enough to observe, that when we make Judgments and Censures upon general presumptions and prejudices, they are made rather from the temper and model of our own Spirits, than from Reason; And therefore, if we would neither impose upon ourselves, nor others, we must lay aside that lazy and fallacious method of Censuring by the Lump, and must bring things close to the test of True or False, to explicit proof and evidence; And whosoever makes such Objections against an Hypothesis, hath a right to be heard, let his Temper and Genius be what it will. Neither do we intend that any thing we have said here, should be understood in another sence.
To conclude, This Theory being writ with a sincere intention to justifie the Doctrines of the Universal Deluge, and of a Paradisiacal state, and protect them from the Cavils of those that are no well-wishers to Sacred History, upon that account it may reasonably expect fair usage and acceptance with all that are well-dispos’d; And it will also be, I think, a great satisfaction to them to see those pieces of most ancient History, which have been chiefly preserv’d in Scripture, confirm’d anew, and by another Light, that of Nature and Philosophy; and also freed from those misconceptions or misrepresentations which made them sit uneasie upon the Spirits even of the best Men, that took time to think. Lastly, In things purely Speculative, as these are, and no ingredients of our Faith, it is free to differ from one another in our Opinions and Sentiments; and so I remember St. Austin hath observ’d upon this very subject of Paradise; Wherefore as we desire to give no offence our selves, so neither shall we take any at the difference of Judgment in others; provided this liberty be mutual, and that we all agree to study Peace, Truth, and a good Life.
15:1 Gen. ad lit. lib. I, c. 19. Plerumque accidit ut aliquid de Terrâ, de Cælo, de cæteris hujus mundi elementis, &c. Cùm enim quenquam Christianorum in eâ re quam optimé nôrunt, errare deprehenderint, & vanam sententiam suam ex nostris libris asserere, quo pacto illis libris credituri sunt de Resurrectione Mortuorum, & spe vita æternæ regnóque cælorum, quando de his rebus quas jam experiri vel indubitatis numeris percipere potuerunt, fallaciter putaverint esse conscriptos?