Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

so that atoms began to work upon atoms. Thus concentrated substances were formed in numberless parts of the primitive vapour. And as concentration of matter always disengages heat, those substances were reduced to a state of fiery incandescence. One of these igneous conglomerations constitutes the primordial matter of our planetary system. By continued condensation, this substance gradually formed itself to a consistent mass, and found its centre. By attraction of other distant cumulations, or by some different cause, it was brought into a rotary motion, which increased in rapidity the more the volume of that substance was diminished by contraction. But not all parts of the original matter were capable of suffering such immense condensation, and therefore disengaged themselves entirely, in their uncondensed condition, as soon as they were set free by the separation of the planetary matter; and as that detachment took place not only in the equatorial regions, but in different other parts of the primitive mass, comets were formed, with orbits the most various and the most eccentric. The accelerated velocity of motion caused not only a spherical shape of the material, but effected the detachment of its extreme parts whenever their centrifugal force had become stronger than the central attraction.

A ring, encompassing the whole equator of the gaseous spheroid, was disjoined, because here the rotary motion rose to the greatest celerity. This ring continued its rotation by itself; but as soon as any point in its circumference obtained a preponderance, the ring broke, and contracted itself into a circular body, or planet, with a two-fold motion round its axis, and round the principal gaseous ball, which remained in the centre as the sun. This phenomenon repeated itself an indefinite number of times, and thus the various planets were formed, of which the remotest were the earliest. By the same process which caused the formation of the planets from the original igneous matter, the moons, or satellites, disengaged themselves from the planets. The ring, thus separated from the earth, contracted itself into one ball, which is our moon; that of Jupiter, Uranus, and Neptune broke into different parts, and hence their greater number of moons, of which, at present, four, six, and two, respectively, have been observed; whilst the ring of Saturn, though having formed from its mass eight satellites, has hitherto remained unbroken, and revolves in its entirety round that planet.

This is, in broad outlines, the hypothesis of Laplace concerning the formation of the solar systems. It owes its chief support to the admirable telescopic observations of Sir William Herschel, which have disclosed to us worlds of amazing wonders. This illustrious astronomer traced the progress of condensation in the assemblage of nebulæ, “much in the same manner as in a large forest we may trace the growth of trees among the examples of different ages which stand side by side,” or as we see the different stages in the lives of individuals; he has examined the distant nebulous matter, in some instances feebly condensed round one or more faint nuclei; in others, exhibiting brighter separated nuclei, and forming multiple nebulous stars, each surrounded by its own atmosphere; and in others still uniformly condensed, and producing nebulous (planetary) systems, finally to be transformed into stars by a still greater degree of condensation. Thus it is plausible, on the one hand, that the stars which now exist are the result of extreme condensation from an originally nebulous substance; and on the other hand, that real stars are continually in the progress of formation. We may add, with a particular degree of emphasis, that indeed Şir William Herschel, induced by the results of his comparison of the nebulæ of Orion, in 1780, 1783, and 1811, confidently proclaimed “that he had proved the existence of changes ”; and “had surprised nature in the midst of her secret operations.”

Nor do the conclusions and inferences, which this theory justifies, recommend it less convincingly to our attention. It accounts for a variety of extraordinary facts, which it would be difficult to cxplain, namely, why the sun occupies the centre of the system, as the source of light and heat; and why almost all the planets move in the same direction, from west to east, and nearly in the same plano; why they stand in such clear mutual relation and harmonious agreement, that their relative distances, with a curious regularity, proceed nearly in a succession of duplications; why Saturn, that most remarkable of all planets -- that “imperishable hieroglyphic” — has both moons and rings; why the satellites follow their planets in the same line'; and why the orbits of the planets show such small eccentricity; further, why an almost complete uniformity of clime reigned in the earlier epochs all over the globe, so that both the animal and vegetable life of the arctic regions bore a more tropical character; and why? the planets most distant from the sun have the least degree of density, which increases the nearer the planets lie to that centre, since the nearer planets which are of later formation, are parts of a mass more condensed by longer rotation and attraction.

We shall, however, not omit to state, that great astronomical observers incline to the opinion, that all apparent nebulæ might, by increased telescopic power, be resolveil into clusters of stars; and that there exists really no essential physical distinction between nebulæ and clusters of stars; that the universe, after the period of its formation, has long arrived at the state of equilibrium, stability, and the regular operation of all-preserving order. It is true that many nebulæ, which seemed irresolvable, have been resolved into stars. In the nebula of Androineda 1500 stars have been distinguished on the borders, although the nucleus itself has not been dissolved. By the great telescope of Rosse many nebulæ have been examined and resolved, though the celebrated nebula in the sword has resisted its power. But it ought not to be forgotten, that, generally, the same optical instrument which resolves old nebulæ into stars reveals new ones, defying its analysing force; and that, therefore, Humboldt, for instance, is of opinion that “the number of nebulæ cannot be exhausted by that diminution;" and Arago quotes the words of Sir William Herschel: “There are nebulosities which are not of a starry nature," and speaks of the celestial matter nearer the elementary state.” The matter of the comets is so thin, that even through their nucleus fixed stars are discernible, and their light is thereby not refracted. The comets are, then, the cosmic primitive matter. The different planets and comets exhibit almost all the various phases of condensation, through which the earth has probably passed, in order to arrive from its original condition of liquidity to its present solid state. The immortal astronomer of Slough, who pursued his grand researches with a vigour and devotion commensurate with their sublimity, published, indeed, in 1811, a catalogue of fifty-two diffuse nebulæ, which he believed not to be resolvable. Other astronomers cling to the same opinion with unshaken confidence.

Nor shall we deny, that even this hypothesis leaves difficulties which it is impossible satisfactorily to explain, namely, why the four planets nearer to the sun (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars) follow evidently different laws from the four planets more removed from that centre (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune); for in the former group the magnitude of the planets increases with their distance from the sun;3 whilst in the latter group, on the contrary, the size diminishes with the distance, for Jupiter is the greatest of the four, as he, indeed, surpasses all planets in magnitude; * further, the former four are deficient in moons or satellites (the Earth alone possesses a moon, the other three have no satellite), whilst the latter four are furnished with a greater

[ocr errors]

1 With the only exception of the moons of Uranus, which move from east to west.

? Again with the exception of Uranus.
3 With the exception, however, of

Mars, which is only greater than Mercury, but smaller than Venus and the Earth.

* Being 1414 times the volume of the carth, and having a surface of about 1200 millions geographical square miles.

number of moons and rings;s and lastly, the former are of five times greater density, and of two or three times slower axial revolution, than the latter. It is therefore scarcely possible to avoid the conclusion, that we have here two quite different families of planets, essentially distinct in their organisation and composition. This conclusion seems to gain additional consistency from the fact, that between these two groups is found another class of planets, the Asteroids, or Planetoids, fundamentally distinct from either. They are remarkable both by their extraordinary smallness, and their eccentric and marvellously complicated orbits. There are other facts besides, which are, at least, not necessarily accounted for hy the nebular hypothesis, namely, why all the moons, however different in themselves and in their distances from the sun, yet appear all of exactly the same size, if viewed from that centre.8

But all these questions do not affect the nebular theory as a whole; it is recognised by the greatest natural philosophers as affording an acceptable basis for further investigations, which, it is hoped, will gradually remove the difficulties to which we have alluded, and will prove the correctness of that hypothesis in its details and its inferences. Buffon proposed the theory, that a comet fell obliquely into the sun; that the torrent of fluid matter which it impelled before it, formed, by concentration, our planets; and that there were, therefore, in the beginning, burning substances in a complete state of fluidity, which cooled down during 75,000 years to their present state; and will, after the lapso of other 93,000 years, have fallen to the freezing-point, when all life will perish from the earth. But even this theory, although by far more questionable, on account of the doubtful agency of the comet, is, on the whole, in harmony with that of Laplace, as it likewise assumes a physical cause for the immediate formation of the planets. Now, if we compare the details of this hypothesis with the Biblical narrative, and consider that the process of condensation of nebulous matter is infinitely slow; that millenniums are required to compress the extremely diffused mass round one nucleus; that between this process and the formation of planets again lies an interval of endless ages; that the earth itself had to pass through many stages of vast duration till it reached its present condition; that the time required for the cooling down of our planet from its original ficry condition to its present temperature, or from 2,000 to 200° C., amounts, according to some chemists, to 353 millions of years; or that, certainly, since the time when a tropical clime reigned in our countries, a period of one million of years has elapsed: if we bear in mind that the microscopic observations show the same progress of conglomeration constantly and uninterruptedly continued in the infinitude of space; and if, in order to adduce at once the highest scientific authority, according to Ilumboldt, “ creating in its strict sense, as an act of a self-conscious will, and formation, as the beginning of existence after non-existence, are both beyond our conceptions and our experience”: if we reflect on all these circumstances, there seems indeed to be no alternative left, but honestly to acknowledge the immense difference existing between the Biblical conceptions and the established results of the natural sciences. But we need not apprehend thereby to lose or endanger what is eternal in the Scriptures. It is only necessary to

6 Of Jupiter have hitherto been observed four moons; of Saturn, besides his ring, eight moons; of Uranus, six, and perhaps eight, according to Lassell; of Neptune, two: twenty in all.

6 Flora, Victoria, Vesta, Iris, etc. They amount at present (April, 1857) to forty-three in number (the forty-third was discovered by Mr. Pogson, of (xford; it is of 91 magnituile, and is about

two degrees north, proceding the planet Iris); thirty-nine of them were discovered within the last ten years, and thirty-three since 1850; Hygiea is the Asteroid nearest to Jupiter.

7 The greatest of them is not more than 145 geogr. miles in diameter, that is is of the earth,

8 i.e., seventeen minutes in diameter. pursue their exposition with the samo vigour and energy, with the same unwearied attention and eager research, which characterise the natural philosophers of our time. The Bible has no more dangerous enemies than those who, either from indolence and apathy, or from fanaticism and bigoted zeal, are deaf to the teachings and warnings of the other sciences ; and those men, however well-meaning or warmhearted, must be made mainly answerable if the authority of the Scriptures should be disregarded by the most enlightened and most comprehensive minds. We shall, in the concluding part of this treatise, have occasion to dwell more fully on this momentous subject.

But lest there remain the least indistinctness or doubt, we shall here insert a concise outline of the Biblical views on the earth and the celestial bodies; after which we shall give a rapid sketch of the universe, such as it is taught by modern astronomy. Thus the reader will be enabled to make, in a safe and easy manner, the most instructive comparison between both systems. It is our utmost desire to do the fullest justice to both: and, as regards the Scriptural conceptions, we are so deeply impressed with their grandeur, their purity, and their sublime beauty, that they cannot lose their own peculiar val even by contrast with the grandest of all sciences.

IV.- THE BIBLICAL VIEWS ON THE EARTH AND THE UNIVERSE. The fullest picture of the Hebrew notions concerning the nature, construction, and shape of heaven and earth, is found in the first chapters of Genesis. But even this picture is drawn in rery faint outlines; we are compelled to complete it by the scanty notices scattered through the various other books of the Bible; an accidental and often obscure allusion must be accepted instead of more direct and more exact information; and the science of Hebrew cosmogony is thus left to the multiform conjectures of imaginative minds. The Hebrews were, indeed, deeply susceptible of the beauties of nature; but they seized it as a whole, without analyzing it in its parts; it was to them the grand work of the One God, and it reflected His majesty; it filled their minds with a reverential feeling, but tempted not their intellects to a scientific research; nature has neither power nor life of its own, but owes all to the Mind that created it; it is the herald of His omnipotence and wisdom, the visible garment of His grandeur, the perpetual proclaimer of His glory; but all its wonders have their end and aim only in man; for him they have been created, both to rouse him by their sublimity to an enraptured contemplation, and, by contrast with his own weakness and transitoriness, to call forth within him the salutary feeling of humility: thus, the poetical descriptions of nature have their distinct tendency and their clear boundaries; though soaring, they are free from wild ejaculation; though abounding in luxuriant imagination, they are controlled by lucid thought; though fervid and impassioned in feeling, they are under the dominion of a dignified, moderate, and measured diction: image, thought, and language, stand in most perfect harmony. But however excellent such productions are for deducing the religions and general literary character of a nation, they contribute little to ascertain its notions of the cosmos. It is, therefore, extremely difficult to arrive at a distinct view of this part of Biblical antiquities. Strict practical science was neither in the mental disposition of the ancient Hebrews, nor was it in the tendency and end of their sacred books; both their national character and their literature were developed in a very different direction. We shall, however, in the following brief remarks, try to concentrate those fragmentary notices.

1. THE HEAVEN.

The heaven is regarded as a canopy or a curtain, spread over the earth in such infinite distance, that men appear from thence " like grasshoppers"; it is a tent for the habitation of God. It is immcasurable. It is strong and massive, liko " a molten mirror”;' but not brazen, like the Homeric heaven; it resembles the mirror chiefly with regard to its bright splendour;' for it is like pellucid sapphire, or like crystal.6 This vault has a gate, through which the angels descend to the earth, or through which the prophets beheld their heavenly visions. It has, further, windows or doors, through which the rain and dew, snow and hail, treasured up in the clouds above," and held together in those spheres by the will of God, pour down upon the earth at His command; by which the tempests also, there confined in apartments,' are let loose; and through which the lightning flashes, cither as a symbol of Divine omnipotence, or as a messenger of Divine wrath." In the heaven or firmament, the sun, the moon, and the stars are fixed, to send their light to the earth and its inhabitants, and to regulate the seasons; hence the heaven is described as exercising power or government over the earth,'s since the phenomena of the air also are controlled by its influence.16 Beyond this illumined canopy reigns darkness, which the Divine wisdom has, with a nice distinction, separated from the regions of light." But above it is a sphere of liquid stores; here dwells God,18 for here lle has framed His chambers; here is His sanctuary, His palace, the place of His glory;19 from hence He traverses the world on the wings of the wind and in the chariot of the clouds;-o for the heaven is His throne, and the carth is His footstool.21 That whole vault is supported by mighty pillars or foundations,22 resting on the earth; and thus heaven and earth are marked as one majestic edifice, forming the universe. — We need scarcely to observe, that many of these notions, especially those concerning the abode of the Deity, are rather poetical metaphors than the real conceptions of the Hebrews; and although some of them might be the remnants of mythic times, others are certainly figurative expressions. It was a belief common and popular among almost all ancient nations, that at the summit of the shadow of the earth, or on the top of the highest mountain of the earth, which reaches with its crest into heaven, and from whence the whole earth can be surveyed at one glance, the gods have their palace or hall of assembly; thus, 23 the Babylonians imagined, in the uppermost north, the “Mountain of Meeting"; it was called Albordsh, was considered as the chief residence of Ormuzd, and the source of his radiant light; and was most likely believed to be identical with the high mountains of the Caucasus. Thus, the Greeks had their Olympus (and Atlas); the Hindoos their Meru, also called Sabha, or mountain of congregation; the Chinese their Kulkun (or Kuen-lun), which is “the king of mountains, the highest part of all the earth, the mountain which touches the pole and supports the heavens”; the Arabians their Caf, and the Parsees their Tireh. That similar notions were entertained by the Israelites is improbable, as they rest essentially on polytheistic ideas; and a “ Mountain of Meeting" is absurd for One all-pervading, omnipresent God, whose “ glory the heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain"; but to identify Mount Meru with Mount Moriah is one of those vain conjectures which sacrifice a whole religious system to an accidental resemblance of

names.

Ps.civ. 2; Isai. xl. 22. ? Jer.xxxi.37. 3 Job xxxvii.18. 4 Dan. xii. 3.

6 Exod. xxiv, 10. 6 Revel. iv. 6; comp. Ezek. i. 22. 7 Gen. xxviii. 17. & Ezek. i. 1.

9 Gen. vii. 11; 2 Kings vii. 2, 19; Isai. xxiv. 18.

10 Ps.lxxviii. 23.

11 Gen, i. 7; Job xxvi. 8; Ps. cxlviii. 4; Prov. viii. 28.

12 Job xxxvii. 9.

13 Job xxxvii; xxxviii. 22 et seq.; Ezek. xiii. 13; Sir. xliii. 14 et seq.

14 Gen. i. 14–19.
15 Job xxxviii.33.

16 Ver. 36.
17 Job xxvi, 10.
18 Psal. xxix. 10; Job xxvi. 9.
19 Ps. xi. 4; Ezek. iii. 12.
20 Ps. civ. 3; Ezek. i. 26.
21 Isai. lxvi. 1.
22 Job xxvi, 11; 2 Sam. xxii. 8.
23 According to Isai. xiv. 13.

« ElőzőTovább »