Vol. X. No. 2
Iyar 5612 May 1852
Lecture by the Rev. Abraham De
On Wednesday evening, March 3d, the Rev. Mr. De Sola lectured before the Montreal Natural History Society, “On the Cosmogony of the World.” In his introductory remarks he said, his audience must be aware that it was impossible to do justice to the subject in a single lecture, and that it was worthy of a more extended notice, was evident from the fact, comparatively unimportant, that the opinions held concerning it had had the effect of founding the religious systems of the most eminent nations of antiquity. It was a subject to be regarded in many points of view. He intended speaking of it in the one to which <<90>> he thought his opportunities would enable him to do most justice; but he hoped the member of the Society would farther discuss so important a theme, and plainly intimated his hope that the learned gentleman who had preceded him on “The Deluge of Mosaic History” (T. S. Hunt, Esq., Chemist to the Canada Geological Survey, as well known in the United States as in Canada), would continue his application to such high subjects, and would speak to them on another occasion, with more direct reference to the scientific bearings of the subject; and should Mr. Hunt do so, a digest of his lectures would be highly interesting to Jewish readers, since his inquiries would be carried on in a reverent spirit as well as with deep learning.
Mr. De S. divided his lecture into two parts, detailing first the various opinions held by different nations concerning the Creation of the world, and then taking a view of the Mosaic account of it as interpreted both by Jewish and Christian commentators. He premised with reference to many of the opinions he should detail to them, that though these might appear absurd, yet were we to bear in mind the ancients mostly concealed their true doctrines from the people, especially those of a similar class to that upon which he had to speak, using enigmas and allegories to veil them,—and that remembered, many would appear less frivolous and absurd, than when understood in their literal sense. He then proceeded to consider the Egyptian theory of the cosmogony, as given by Diodorus Siculus, which, after detailing, he stigmatized as one purely atheistic. With reference to the Chaldean or Babylonian theory, he showed in narrating it, how superior it was to the Egyptian; since the Babylonian referred the perfecting and due disposition of the earth and heavenly bodies to Belus, though, by their myth, it would appear they held the preexistence of matter. In proof of their serving one sovereign deity, he quoted an oracle of Apollo, cited by Eusebius, where the Chaldeans and Hebrews are alone said to be possessed of true wisdom, since they wisely worshipped God, the self-begotten King. The ancient Pagan poets, with their cosmogony;—which he showed to be identical with their theory, or generation of the gods;—the ancient Pagan philosophers, espe<<91>>cially of the Ionic sects, who preceded Anaxagoras, and whom he showed to be mere materialists, or hylopathian atheists, next had their share of attention, and the absurd crudities of Anaximander and his school, were spoken of.
Mr. De Sola proceeded to examine at great length, and in a manner which appeared highly to interest his audience, the atomic theory of the creation. In his sketch of the history of this philosophical system, the origin of which he referred to Democritus, he characterized as a most humiliating proof of human mental weakness in its conception, and most degrading and absurd in its profession. He next proceeded to speak of another class of philosophical theorists, viz., those who admitted the non-eternity of the world and its creation by God; among which he placed the opinions of the ancient Druids—the Magi among the Persians—the Indian philosophers, or Brahmins—the Chinese and the Japanese.
He next proceeded to notice, at great length, the theory advanced by the celebrated Descartes; after detailing which, he gave those arguments which had been brought against it, and which, in his estimation, showed the Cartesian hypothesis to be both untenable and unphilosophical. The system, crude and fallacious as able men had shown it to be, did not deserve all the stigma cast upon it by mistaken zealots; since, it gave us sublime ideas of God, who is, according to it, the Creator of all.
He next addressed himself to the second part of his lecture, and spoke of the Mosaic account and its interpretations. The question as to whether Moses refers to the creation of the universe, or to the solar system, was next debated, and the opinions of some of the most eminent Christian and Jewish commentators given. These opinions he plentifully adduced, as he proceeded to explain successively and at length, the various details given in the first chapter of Genesis, but of which it is impossible fairly to furnish an abstract from the insufficient notes before us. One thing, however, is to be observed with reference to the lecture, it certainly must have been gratifying to every Israelite present, to observe with what interest and approval, a large and respectable Christian audience listened to the exposition of the Divine Word, even by Hebrew commentators from a Hebrew minister. The <<92>> general tendency of Mr. De S.’s remarks went to show how men had groped and floundered about in the darkness of heathenism, when unenlightened by the bright rays of divine revelation. The absurd opinions, he remarked in conclusion, the ancient Pagan teachers, some of them intellectual giants, had held respecting the cosmogony, would afford but a faint notion of the awful ideas and doctrines even now held by heathens, respecting the being and attributes of the Supreme. He earnestly reminded his auditors that millions upon millions of their fellow-creatures, possessing a soul that might raise itself to the true God, descended from a common Father, immolated victims to stocks and stones,—called aloud to all who held the Creator in reverence, alike to Christian and Jew, to go forth and declare God the Almighty, Infinite, and all-benevolent Creator and Parent, not in words only, but in deeds; and he earnestly insisted that minor differences of opinion, either between Christian and Christian, or Christian and Jew, should not be insisted upon, “Until God’s beautiful earth be no longer polluted with idolatrous worship; until God’s sky be no longer darkened with the abominable incense ascending from idolatrous altars.” Mr. De Sola was greeted with loud and repeated applauses from his audience, which was a very crowded one.