Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Reminiscences of an Active Life #11 -- December 9, 2008

Doctor Peter Henri Van Der Weyde was born in Nymegen, Holland in 1813. He went on to live a remarkable life of achievement in the sciences and the arts. He died in America in 1895.

While serving as editor of Manufacturer and Builder Magazine, he wrote many articles, including the ones which gave this blog its name. In 1893 and 1894, he published a 23-part (!) memoir in the same periodical. Here is the eleventh part. He continues to discuss his training in theology. Some of his statements on the Bible would be controversial in fundamentalist circles today.

The image comes from the first installment, in the February, 1893 issue.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

Part Seven

Part Eight

Part Nine

Part Ten

Reminiscences of an Active Life.


From Manufacturer and Builder, Volume 25, Issue 12, December 1893

(Continued from page 249.)

6th. Career as a Theological Student. -- Previous to the events relating to the conflict of orthodoxy vs. progress, described in the last number of the MANUFACTURER AND BUILDER, I had passed, at the age of nineteen, an examination in the presence of the elders and deacons of the Netherlands Reformed Church, to which my ancestors had belonged for more than three hundred years, and I was, as a result of this examination, in company with about one hundred other young men and women, confirmed as a member of that confession. This ceremony took place in the large cathedral of my native town, Nymegen, with the customary solemnity.

Persistent Bible-reading was, on that occasion,very urgently recommended to us, and I made up my mind to read every morning a few chapters, so as finally to succeed in reading the whole book, and I commenced the task with the best intentions. As I had come to the conviction that reason is the most precious gift of God to man, which distinguishes him from the brute, I considered it a sin not to use it, and believed it a duty to apply it to the fullest extent; therefore I never read mechanically while thinking of something else, like some who say their prayers by rote; but when I reached chapters about which I had been catechised and understood, I went on to the next; also, when I found chapters which were irrelevant, or which I could not understand, and especially when they were decidedly indecent, such asI found in Ezekiel, I took the liberty of passing them by. In this way I became in a very few years acquainted with the whole Bible, to the great delight of my orthodox, pious aunt, who preferred that I should often read in the old family Bible, in great folio, with brass clasps, and explanatory notes in smaller type on the margin. I found that she was right, as these notes were often of great benefit; however, they were also an impediment to the prosperous achievement of the great task.

All this reading was done in the language of Holland, but the polyglot Bible was not neglected, especially for practice in the Latin text, which induced me to try my hand at translating from the old Roman authors who had attracted me by reason of their piety in regard to their pagan gods,and made a strong impression upon me, because it required nothing else than to substitute the monotheism of the Jews for the polytheism of the Romans to make the expressions very acceptable to every thinking being. One of them was that found in Marci Antonini "De Rebus Divinis Liber XII., v. 28." It begins thus: "Interrogantibus ubi Deos Conspicatus, etc." I will give only the translation of the sentence in full:

"If you are asked where the gods are to be seen, and how you know that they exist, and why you do them reverence, you answer that the gods are visible; that the wonderful results of their power, which you experience every day, prove to you that they exist, and compel you to do them honor, bow down before them, and adore them."

I found other passages similar to this, and also details regarding the development of the state of things which we see around us, in "Lucretius Carus; De Rerum Natura" (On the Nature of Things). I commenced to translate his introduction, and found that his explanation of the manner how nature came into the condition in which we see it, was based on gravitation, by which he explained how this divine power caused the heaviest things to collect low down; and the lighter things, such as water, above the bottom of the sea, and the lighter the air and vapors above the water; and the lightest, the fiery stars and all heavenly bodies to ascend to the firmament.

It was at that time unknown that the earth was a globe floating in space; the planetary system of Copernicus had not yet been discovered, but the earth was supposed to be flat, and at the bottom of the universe.

Intelligent Bible-reading makes it evident that the writers of the Bible in this respect knew no more than their pagan brethren; while their childish account of the creation of the world compares by no means favorably with that of the pagan writer, who attributes it to the laws working by the divine force of gravitation which pervades all matter.

No divine inspiration is claimed for this pagan writer, as is the case with the Bible of the Jews, which, in fact, is only a reflex of the erroneous notions of the writers, whoever they were. (One thing is certain at present, namely, that Moses never wrote the books attributed to him). When I compared these passages from the Roman author with my daily Bible-reading, it was clear that those of the Roman philosopher were far in advance of the understanding of the writers of the various parts of the Bible, for which divine inspiration is claimed.

If this claim were correct, these writings should be in unison with the progress of man's increasing knowledge; they should foreshadow the great truths discovered by astronomy and geology; but in place of this they offer only the erroneous notions of early ages, invented during the infancy of human knowledge, and do not reveal the higher truths which the pagan writer Lucretius Carus so forcibly brings forward.

(To be continued).

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