Sunday, June 16, 2019
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Book I: Chapter II


by Thomas Burnet


Book I

Concerning the Deluge, and the Dissolution of the Earth.


A general account ofNoah's Flood; A computation what quantity of Water would be necessary for the making of it; that the common Opinion and Explication of that Flood is not intelligible.

’TIS now more than Five Thousand years since our World was made, and though it would be a great pleasure to the mind, to recollect and view at this distance those first Scenes of Nature: what the face of the Earth was when fresh and new, and how things differed from the state we now find them in, the speculation is so remote, that it seems to be hopeless, and beyond the reach of Humane Wit. We are almost the last Posterity of the first Men, and fain into the dying Age of the World; by what footsteps, or by what guide, can we trace back our way to those first Ages, and the first order of things? And yet, methinks, it is reasonable to believe, that Divine Providence, which sees at once throughout all the Ages of the World, should not be willing to keep Mankind finally and fatally ignorant of that part of Nature, and of the Universe, which is properly their Task and Province to manage and understand. We are the Inhabitants of the Earth, the Lords and Masters of it; and we are endowed with Reason and Understanding; doth it not then properly belong to us to examine and unfold the works of God in this part of the Universe, which is fain to our lot, which is our heritage and habitation? And it will be found, it may be, upon a stricter Enquiry, that in the present form and constitution of the Earth, there are certain marks and Indications of its first State; with which if we compare those things that are recorded in Sacred History, concerning the first Chaos, Paradise, and an universal Deluge, we may discover, by the help of those Lights, what the Earth was in its first Original, and what Changes have since succeeded in it.

And though we shall give a full account of the Origin of the Earth in this Treatise, yet that which we have proposed particularly for the Title and Subject of it, is to give an account of the primæval PARADISE, and of the universal DELUGE: Those being the two most important things that are explained by the Theory we propose. And I must beg leave in treating of these two, to change the order, and treat first of the Deluge, and then of Paradise: For though the State of Paradise doth precede that of the Flood in Sacred History, and in the nature of the thing, yet the explication of both will be more sensible, and more effectual, if we begin with the Deluge; there being more Observations and Effects, and those better known to us, that may be refered to this, than to the other; and the Deluge being once truly explained, we shall from thence know the form and Quality of the Ante-diluvian Earth. Let us then proceed to the explication of that great and fatal Inundation, whose History is well known; and according to Moses, the best of Historians, in a few words is this--

Sixteen Hundred and odd years after the Earth was made, and inhabited, it was overflowed, and destroyed in a Deluge of water. Not a Deluge that was National only, or over-run some particular Country or Region, as Judeaor Greece, or any other, but it overspread the face of the whole Earth, from Pole to Pole, and from East to West, and that in such excess, that the Floods over-reacht the Tops of the highest Mountains; the Rains descending after an unusual manner, and the fountains of the Great Deepbeing broke open; so as a general destruction and devastation was brought upon the Earth, and all things in it, Mankind and other living Creatures; excepting only Noahand his Family, who by a special Providence of God were preserved in a certain Ark, or Vessel made like a Ship, and such kinds of living Creatures as he took in to him. After these waters had raged for some time on the Earth, they began to lessen and shrink, and the great waves and fluctuations of this Deepor Abysse, being quieted by degrees, the waters retied into their Chanels and Caverns within the Earth; and the Mountains and Fields began to appear, and the whole habitable Earth in that form and shape wherein we now see it. Then the World began again, and from that little Remnant preserved in the Ark, the present race of Mankind, and of Animals, in the known parts of the Earth, were propagated. Thus perisht the old World, and the present arose from the ruines and remains of it.

This is a short story of the greatest thing that ever yet hapned in the world, the greatest revolution and the greatest change in Nature; and if we come to reflect seriously upon it, we shall find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to give an account of the waters that composed this Deluge, whence they came or whither they went. If it had been only the Inundation of a Country, or of a Province, or of the greatest part of a Continent, some proportionable causes perhaps might have been found out; but a Deluge overflowing the whole Earth, the whole Circuit and whole Extent of it, burying all in water, even the greatest Mountains, in any known parts of the Universe, to find water sufficient for this Effect, as it is generally explained and understood, I think is impossible. And what we may the better judge of the whole matter, let us first compute how much water would be requisite for such a Deluge, or to lay the Earth, considered in its present form, and the highest Mountains, under water. Then let's consider whether such a quantity of water can be had out of all the stores that we know in Nature: And from these two we will take our Ground and Rise, and begin to reflect, whether the World hath not been hitherto mistaken in the common opinion and explication of the general Deluge.

To discover how much water would be requisite to make this Deluge, we must first suppose enough to cover the plain surface of the Earth, the Fields and lower Grounds; then we must heap up so much more upon this as will reach above the tops of the highest Mountains; so as drawing a Circle over the tops of the highest Mountains quite round the Earth, suppose from Pole to Pole, and another to meet it about the middle of the Earth, all that space or capacity contained within these Circles is to be filled up with water. This I confess will make a prodigious mass of water, and it looks frightfully to the imagination; ’tis huge and great, but ’tis extravagantly so, as a great Monster: It doth not look like the work of God or Nature: However let's compute a little more particularly how much this will amount to, or how many Oceans of water would be necessary to compose this great Ocean rowling in the Air, without bounds or banks.

If all the Mountains were pared off the Earth, and so the surface of it lay even, or in an equal convexity every where with the surface of the Sea, from this surface of the Sea let us suppose that the height of the Mountains may be a mile and an half; or that we may not seem at all to favour our own opinion or calculation, let us take a mile only for the perpendicular height of the Mountains. Let us on the other side suppose the Sea to cover half the Earth, as ’tis generally believed to do; and the common depth of it, taking one place with another, to be about a quarter of a mile or 250 paces. I say, taking one place with another, for though the middle Chanel of the great Ocean be far deeper, we may observe, that there is commonly a descent or declivity from the shore to the middle part of the Chanel, so that one comes by degrees into the depth of it; and those shory parts are generally but some fathoms deep. Besides, in arms of the Sea, in Straits and among Islands, there is commonly no great depth, and some places are plain shallows. So as upon a moderate computation, one place compared with another, we may take a quarter of a mile, or about an hundred fathoms, for the common measure of the depth of the Sea, if it were cast into a Chanel of an equal depth every where. This being supposed, there would need four Oceans to lie upon this Ocean, to raise it up to the top of the Mountains, or so high as the waters of the Deluge rise; then four Oceans more to lie upon the Land, that the water there might swell to the same height; which together make eight Oceans for the proportion of the water required in the Deluge.

’Tis true, there would not be altogether so much water required for the Land as for the Sea, to raise them to an equal height; because Mountains and Hills would fill up part of that space upon the Land, and so make less water requisite. But to compensate this, and confirm our computation, we must consider in the first place, that we have taken a much less height of the Mountains than is requisite, if we respect the Mediterraneous Mountains, or those that are at a great distance from the Sea; For their height above the surface of the Sea, computing the declivity of the Land all along from the Mountains to the Sea-side (and that there is such a declivity is manifest from the course and descent of the Rivers) is far greater than the proportion we have taken: For the height of Mountains is usually taken from the foot of them, or from the next plain, which if it be far from the Sea, we may reasonably allow as much for the declension of the Land from that place to the Sea, as for the immediate height of the Mountain; So, for instance, the Mountains of the Moon in Africa, whence the Nileflows, and after a long course falls into the Mediterranean Sea by Egypt, are so much higher than the surface of that Sea, first, as the Ascent of the Land is from the Sea to the foot of the Mountains, and then as the height of the Mountains is from the bottom to the top: For both these are to be computed when you measure the height of a Mountain, or of a mountainous Land, in respect of the Sea: And the height of Mountains to the Sea being thus computed, there would be need of six or eight Oceans to raise the Sea alone as high as the highest In-land Mountains; And this is more than enough to compensate the less quantity of water that would be requisite upon the Land. Besides, we must consider the Regions of the Air upwards to be more capacious than a Region of the same thickness in or near the Earth, so as if an Ocean poured upon the surface of the dry Land, supposing it were all smooth, would rise to the height of half a quarter of a mile every where; the like quantity of water poured again at the height of the Mountains, would not have altogether the same effect, or would not there raise the mass half a quarter of a mile higher; for the surfaces of a Globe, the farther they are from their Center, are the greater; and so accordingly the Regions that belong to them. And, lastly, we must consider that there are some Countries or Valleys very low, and also many Caverns or Cavities within the Earth, all which in this case were to be first filled with water. These things being compared and estimated, we shall find that notwithstanding the room that Hills and Mountains take up on the dry Land, there would be at least eight Oceans required, or a quantity of water eight times as great as the Ocean, to bring an universal Deluge upon the Earth, as that Deluge is ordinarily understood and explained.

The proportion of water for the Deluge being thus stated, the next thing to be done, is to enquire where this water is to be found; if any part of the Sublunary World will afford us so much: Eight Oceans floating in the Air, make a great bulk of water, I do not know what possible Sources to draw it from. There are the Clouds above, and the Deeps below, and in the bowels of the Earth; and these are all the stores we have for water; and Mosesdirects us to no other for the causes of the Deluge. The Fountains(he saith) of the great Abysse were broken up, or burst asunder, and the Rain descended for forty days, the Cataractsor Floodgatesof Heaven being opened. And in these two, no doubt, are contained the causes of the great Deluge, as according to Moses, so also according to reason and necessity; for our World affords no other treasures of water. Let us therefore consider how much this Rain of forty days might amount to, and how much might flow out of the Abysse, that so we may judge whether these two in conjunction would make up the Eight Oceans which we want.

As for the Rains, they would not afford us one Ocean, nor half an Ocean, nor the tenth part of an Ocean, if we may trust to the Observations made by others concerning the quantity of water that falls in Rain. Mersennusgives us this account of it. "It appears by our Observations, that a Cubical Vessel of Brass, whereof we made use, is filled an inch and an half in half an hours time; but because that sucks up nothing of the moisture as the Earth doth, let us take an inch for half an hours Rain; whence it follows, that in the space of 40 days and nights Rain, the waters in the Deluge would rise 160 feet, if the Rains were constant and equal to ours, and that it rained at once throughout the face of the whole Earth." But the Rain of the Deluge, saith he, should have been 90 times greater than this, to cover, for instance, the Mountains of Armenia, or to reach 15 Cubits above them. So that according to his computation, the 40 days Rain would supply little more than the hundredth part of the water requisite to make the Deluge. ’Tis true, he takes the heighth of the Mountains higher than we do; but, however, if you temper the Calculation on all sides as much as you please, the water that came by this Rain would be a very inconsiderable part of what was necessary for a Deluge. If it rained 40 days and 40 nights throughout the face of the whole Earth, in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere all at once, it might be sufficient to lay all the lower grounds under water, but it would signifie very little as to the overflowing of the Mountains.

Whence another Author upon the same occasion hath this passage. "If the Deluge had been made by Rains only, there would not have needed 40 days, but 40 years Rain to have brought it to pass." And if we should suppose the whole middle Region condensed into water, it would not at all have been sufficient for this effect, according to that proportion some make betwixt Air and Water; for they say, Air turned into Water takes up a hundred times less room than it did before. The truth is, we may reasonably suppose, that all the vapours of the middle Region were turned into water in this 40 days and 40 nights Rain, if we admit, that this Rain was throughout the whole Earth at once, in either Hemisphere, in every Zone, in every Climate, in every Country, in every Province, in every Field; and yet we see what a small proportion all this would amount to.

Having done then with these Superiour Regions, we are next to examine the Inferiour, and the treasures of water that may be had there. Mosestells us, that the Fountains of the great Abysse were broke open, or clove asunder, as the word there used doth imply; and no doubt in this lay the great mystery of the Deluge, as will appear when it comes to be rightly understood and explained; but we are here to consider what is generally understood by the great Abysse, in the common explication of the Deluge; and ’tis commonly interpreted either to be the Sea, or Subterraneous waters hid in the bowels of the Earth: These, they say, broke forth and raised the waters, caused by the Rain, to such an height, that together they overflowed the highest Mountains. But whether or how this could be, deserves to be a little examined.

And in the first place; the Sea is not higher than the Land, as some have formerly imagined; fansying the Sea stood, as it were, upon a heap, higher than the shore; and at the Deluge a relaxation being made, it overflowed the Land. But this conceit is so gross, and so much against reason and experience, that none I think of late have ventured to make use of it. And yet on the other hand, if the Sea lie in an equal convexity with the Land, or lower generally than the shore, and much more than the mid-land, as it is certainly known to do, what could the Sea contribute to the Deluge? It would keep its Chanel, as it doth now, and take up the same place. And so also the Subterraneous waters would lie quiet in their Cells; whatsoever Fountains or passages you suppose, these would not issue out upon the Earth, for water doth not ascend, unless by force. But let's imagine then that force used and applied, and the waters both of the Sea and Caverns under ground drawn out upon the surface of the Earth, we shall not be any whit the nearer for this; for if you take these waters out of their places, those places must be filled again with other waters in the Deluge; so as this turns to no account upon the whole. If you have two Vessels to fill, and you empty one to fill the other, you gain nothing by that, there still remains one Vessel empty; you cannot have these waters both in the Sea and on the Land, both above ground and under; nor can you suppose the Chanel of the Sea would stand gaping without water, when all the Earth was overflowed, and the tops of the Mountains covered. And so for Subterraneous Cavities, if you suppose the water pumpt out, they would suck it in again when the Earth came to be laid under water; so that upon the whole, if you thus understand the Abysseor great Deep, and the breaking open its Fountainsin this manner, it doth us no service as to the Deluge, and where we expected the greatest supply, there we find none at all.

What shall we do then? whither shall we go to find more than seven Oceans of water that we still want? We have been above and below; we have drained the whole middle Region, and we have examined the Deeps of the Earth; they must want for themselves, they say, if they give us any; And, besides, if the Earth should disgorge all the water that it hath in its bowels, it would not amount to above half an Ocean, which would not at all answer our occasions. Must we not then conclude, that the common explication of the Deluge makes it impossible? there being no such quantity of water in Nature as they make requisite for an universal Deluge. Yet to give them all fair play, having examined the waters above the Earth, or in the Air, the waters upon the Earth, and the waters under the Earth; let us also consider if there be not waters above the Heavens, and if those might not be drawn down for the Deluge. Mosesspeaks of waters above the firmament, which though it be generally understood of the middle Region of the Air, especially as it was constituted before the Deluge, yet some have thought those to be waters placed above the highest Heavens, or Super-celestial waters: and have been willing to make use of them for a supply, when they could not find materials enough under the Heavens to make up the great mass of the Deluge. But the Heavens above, where these waters lay, are either solid, or fluid; if solid, as Glass or Crystal, how could the waters get through ’em to descend upon the Earth? If fluid, as the Air or Æther, how could the waters rest upon them? For Water is heavier than Air or Æther; So that I am afraid those pure Regions will Evidence no fit place for that Element, upon any account. But supposing these waters there, how imaginary soever, and that they were brought down to drown the World in that vast quantity that would be necessary, what became of them when the Deluge ceased? Seven or eight Oceans of water, with the Earth wrapt up in the middle of them, how did it ever get quit of them? how could they be disposed of when the Earth was to be dried, and the World renewed? It would be a hard task to lift them up again among the Spheres, and we have no room for them here below. The truth is, I mention this opinion of the Heavenly waters, because I would omit none that had ever been made use of to make good the common explication of the Deluge; but otherwise, I think, since the System of the World hath been better known, and the Nature of the Heavens, there are none that would seriously assert these Super-celestial waters, or, at least, make use of them so extravagantly, as to bring them down hither for causes of the Deluge.

We have now employed our last and utmost endeavours to find out waters for the vulgar Deluge, or for the Deluge as commonly understood; and you see with how little success; we have left no corner unsought, where there was any appearance or report of water to be found, and yet we have not been able to collect the eighth part of what was necessary upon a moderate account. May we not then with assurance conclude, that the World hath taken wrong measures hitherto in their notion and explication of the general Deluge? They make it impossible and unintelligible upon a double account, both in requiring more water than can be found, and more than can be disposed of, if it was found: or could any way be withdrawn from the Earth when the Deluge should cease. For if the Earth was encompassed with eight Oceans of water heapt one upon another, how these should retire into any Chanels, or be drained off, or the Earth any way disengaged from them, is not intelligible; and that in so short a time as some months: For the violence of the Deluge lasted but four or five months, and in as many months after the Earth was dry and habitable. So as upon the whole enquiry, we can neither find source nor issue, beginning nor ending, for such an excessive mass of waters as the Vulgar Deluge required; neither where to have them, nor if we had them, how to get quit of them. And I think men cannot do a greater injury or injustice to Sacred History, than to give such representations of things recorded there, as to make them unintelligible and incredible; As on the other hand, we cannot deserve better of Religion and Providence, than by giving such fair accounts of all things proposed by them, or belonging to them, as may silence the Cavils of Atheists, satisfie the inquisitive, and recommend them to the belief and acceptance of all reasonable persons.


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