The Sacred Theory of the Earth
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Pages (PDF): 552
Publication Date: 1691
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Thomas Burnet was an English theologian and writer on cosmogony. The first part of this book was published in 1681 in Latin, and in 1684 in English translation; the second part appeared in 1689 (1690 in English). It is a speculative cosmogony, in which Burnet suggests a hollow earth with most of the water inside until Noah's Flood, at which time mountains and oceans appeared. He calculated the amount of water on Earth's surface, stating there was not enough to account for the Flood.
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SINCE I was first inclin’d to the Contemplation of Nature, and took pleasure to trace out the Causes of Effects, and the dependance of one thing upon another in the visible Creation, I had always, methought, a particular curiosity to look back into the first Sources and ORIGINAL of Things; and to view in my mind, so far as I was able, the Beginning and Progress of a RISING WORLD.
And after some Essays of this Nature, and, as I thought, not unsuccessful, I carried on my enquiries further, to try whether this Rising World, when form’d and finisht, would continue always the same; in the same form, structure, and consistency; or what changes it would successively undergo, by the continued action of the same Causes that first produc’d it; And, lastly, what would be its final Period and Consummation. This whole Series and compass of things taken together, I call’d a COURSE OF NATURE, or a SYSTEM OF NATURAL PROVIDENCE; and thought there was nothing belonging to the External World more fit or more worthy our study and meditation, nor any thing that would conduce more to discover the ways of Divine Providence, and to show us the grounds of all true knowledge concerning Nature. And therefore to clear up the several parts of this Theory, I was willing to lay aside a great many other Speculations, and all those dry subtleties with which the Schools, and the Books of Philosophers, are usually fill’d.
But when we speak of a Rising World, and the Contemplation of it, we do not mean this of the Great Universe; for who can describe the Original of that? But we speak of the Sublunary World, This Earth and its dependencies, which rose out of a Chaos about six thousand years ago; And seeing it hath fain to our lot to act upon this Stage, to have our present home and residence here, it seems most reasonable, and the place design’d by Providence, where we should. first imploy our thoughts to understand the works of God and Nature. We have accordingly therefore design’d in this Work to give an account of the Original of the Earth, and of all the great and general changes that it hath already undergone, or is hence forwards to undergo, till the Consummation of all things. For if from those Principles we have here taken, and that Theory we have begun in these two first Books, we can deduce with success and clearness the Origin of the Earth, and those States of it that are already past; Following the same Thred, and by the conduct of the same Theory, we will pursue its Fate and History through future Ages, and mark all the great Changes and Conversions that attend it while Day and Night shall last; that is, so long as it continues an Earth.
By the States of the Earth that are already past, we understand chiefly Paradise and the Deluge; Names well known, and as little known in their Nature. By the Future States we understand the Conflagration, and what new Order of Nature may follow upon that, till the whole Circle of Time and Providence be compleated. As to the first and past States of the Earth, we shall have little help from the Ancients, or from any of the Philosophers, for the discovery or description of them; We must often tread unbeaten paths, and make a way where we do not find one; but it shall be always with a Light in our hand, that we may see our steps, and that those that follow us may not follow us blindly. There is no Sect of Philosophers that I know of that ever gave an account of the Universal Deluge, or discover’d, from the contemplation of the Earth, that there had been such a thing already in Nature. ’Tis true, they often talk of an alternation of Deluges and Conflagrations in this Earth, but they speak of them as things to come; at least they give no proof or argument of any that hath already destroyed the World. As to Paradise, it seems to be represented to us by the Golden Age; whereof the Ancients tell many stories, sometimes very luxuriant, and sometimes very defective: For they did not so well understand the difference betwixt the New-made Earth and the Present, as to see what were the just grounds of the Golden Age, or of Paradise: Tho’ they had many broken Notions concerning those things. As to the Conflagration in particular, This hath always been reckon’d One amongst the Opinions or Dogmata of the Stoicks, That the World was to be destroy’d by Fire, and their Books are full of this Notion; but yet they do not tell us the Causes of the Conflagration, nor what preparations there are in Nature, or will be, towards that great Change. And we may generally observe this of the Ancients, that their Learning or Philosophy consisted more in Conclusions, than in Demonstrations; They had many truths among them, whereof they did not know themselves the premisses or the proofs: Which is an argument to me, that the knowledge they had, was not a thing of their own invention, or which they came to by fair reasoning and observations upon Nature, but was delivered to them from others by Tradition and Ancient fame, sometimes more publick, sometimes more secret: These Conclusions they kept in mind, and communicated to those of their School, or Sect, or Posterity, without knowing, for the most part, the just grounds and reasons of them.
’Tis the Sacred writings of Scripture that are the best monuments of Antiquity, and to those we are chiefly beholden for the History of the first Ages, whether Natural History or Civil. ’Tis true, the Poets, who were the most ancient Writers amongst the Greeks, and serv’d them both for Historians, Divines, and Philosophers, have deliver’d some things concerning the first Ages of the World, that have a fair resemblance of truth, and some affinity with those accounts that are given of the same things by sacred Authors, and these may be of use in due time and place; but yet, lest any thing fabulous should be mixt with them, as commonly there is, we will never depend wholly upon their credit, nor assert any thing upon the authority of the Ancients which is not first prov’d by natural Reason, or warranted by Scripture.
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