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The Sacred Theory of the Earth

Dr. Thomas Burnet

Containing an account of the original of the Earth, and of all the GENERAL CHANGES which it hath already undergone, or is to undergo; till the CONSUMMATION of all things.


  1. Concerning the DELUGE,
  2. Concerning PARADISE
  3. The Burning of the WORLD.
  4. The New Heavens and New Earth.

WITH A REVIEW of the THEORY, and of its Proofs; especially to reference to Scripture. As also

The AUTHOR'S Defense of the WORK, from the Exceptions of Mr. Warren, and the examination of Mr. Kell,

AND An ODE to the author by Mr. Addison.


Printed for H. LINTOT, at the Cross-Keys against St. Dunstan-Church in Fleet Street.

TO THE KING'S MOST Excellent Majesty,


New-found Lands and countries accrue to the Prince whose Subject makes the first Discovery; and having retriev'd a World that had been lost for some thousands of years, out of the Memory of Man, and the records of time, I thought it my Duty to lay it at your Majesty's feet. 'Twill not enlarge your Dominions, 'tis past and gone; nor dark I say it will enlarge your thoughts; but I hope it may gratify your Princely curiosity to read the Description of it; and see the Fate that attended it

We have still the broken materials of that first World; and walk upon its Ruins; while it stood, there was the seat of Paradise, and the scenes of the Golden age; when it fell, it made the Deluge; and this unshapen Earth we now inhabit, is the form it was found in when the waters had retir'd, and the dry land appear'd. These things, Sir, I propose and presume to prove in the following treatise, which I willingly submit to your Majesty's judgement and Censure; being very well satisfied, that if I had sought a Patron in all the List of Kings, your Contemporaries, or in the Roll of your Nobles of either order, I could not have found a more competent Judge in a speculation of this nature. Your Majesty's Sagacity, and happy Genius for natural history, for observations and Remarks upon the Earth, the Heavens, and the sea, is a better Preparation for Inquiries of this kind, than all the dead learning of the Schools.

Sir, This theory, in the full extent of it, is to reach to the last period of the Earth, and the end of all things; but this first Volume takes in only so much as is already past, from the origin of the Earth, to this present time and state of nature. Io describe in like manner the changes and revolutions of nature that are to come, and see thorough all succeeding ages, will require a steady and attentive Eye, and a Retreat from the noise of the World; especially so to connect the parts, and present them all under one view, that we may see, as in a mirror, the several faces of nature, from first to last, throughout all the circle of Successions,

Your Majesty having been pleas'd to give Encouragement to this translation, I humbly present it to your gracious Acceptance. and 'tis our interest, as well as Duty, in Disquisitons of this nature, to address our selves to your Majesty, as the Defender of our philosophic liberties, against those that would usurp upon the fundamental privilege and birthright of mankind, The Free use of Reason. Your Majesty hath always appear'd the Royal Patron of learning and the Sciences; and 'tis suitable to the Greatness of a Princely Spirit to favour and promote whatsoever tends to the Enlargement of human knowledge, and the of human nature. Io be Good and Gracious, and a Lover of knowledge, are, methinks, two of the most amiable things in this World; and that your Majesty may always bear that character in present and future ages; and after a long and prosperous Reign enjoy a bless'ed Immortality, is .the constant Prayer of

Your Majesty's

Most Humble and most

Obedient Subject,


Preface to the reader.

Having given an account of whole work in the first Chapter, and of the method of either book, whereof this Volume consists, in their proper places, there remains not much to be said here to the reader. This theory of the Earth may be called Sacred because it is not the common Physiology of the earth, or of the bodies that compose it, but respects only the great Turns of Fate, end the revolutions of our natural World; such as are taken notice of in the Sacred writings, and are truly the Hinges upon which the Providence of this earth moves; or whereby it opens and' shuts the several successive scenes whereof it is made up. This English Edition is the same in substance as the Latin version though I confess it 'is not so properly a translation, as a new composition upon the same ground, there being several additional chapters in it and several new-moulded.

As every science requires a peculiar Genius, so likewise there is a Genius peculiarly improper for every one: and as to Philosophy, which is the contemplation of the works of nature, al the Providence that governs them, there is no temper or genius, in my mind, so improper for it, as that which we call a mean and narrow Spirit and which the Greeks call Littleness of Soul. This is a defect in the first make of some men's minds, which can scarce ever be corrected Afterwards, either by learning or age. and as Souls that are made little and, incapacious cannot enlarge their thoughts to make in any great compass of times or things; so what is beyond their compass, or above their reach they are apt to look upon as fantastical, or at lean would willingly have it pass for such in the World. Now as there is nothing so great, so large, so immense, as the works of nature, and the methods of Providence," men of. this complexion must needs be very unfit for the contemplation of them. Who would set a purblind man at the top of the mast to discover land? Or upon an high Tower to draw a landskip of the country round about? For, the same reason, shortsighted minds are unfit to make philosophers, whose proper business is to discover and describe in comprehensive Theories, the phenomena of the World, and causes of them.

This original disease of the mind is seldom cured by learning, which cures many others; 'Tis like a fault in the first Stamina of the body, which cannot be rectified afterwards. 'Tis a great mistake to think that every sort of learning that makes a man a competent judge of natural speculations: We see unhappy examples to the contrary amongst the Christian Fathers, and particularly in St. Austin, who was unquestionably a man of parts and learning, but interposing in a controversy where his talent did not lie, shew'd his zeal against the Antipodes to very ill purpose, though he drew his reasons partly from Scripture. and if within a few years or in the next generation, it should prove as certain and demonstrable, that the Earth is mov'd, as it is now, that there are Antipodes; those that have been zealous against it, and engag'd the Scripture in the controversy, would have the same reason to repent of their forwardness, that St. Austin would have now,, if he was alive. 'Tis a dangerous thing to engage the authority of Scripture in disputes about the natural World, in opposition to reason; lest time, which brings all things to light, should discover that to be evidently false which we had made Scripture to assert: and I remember St. Austin in his exposition upon Genesis, hath laid down a rule to this very purpose, though he had the unhappiness, it seems, hot to follow it always himself. The reason also, which he gives there for this rule, is very good. and substantial: *For, saith he if the Unbelievers or Philosophers- shall certainly know us to be mistaken, and to err in those things that, concern the natural world, and see that we alledge our (Sacred) books for such vain opinions, how shall they believe those same books when they. tell them of the RESURECTION of the Dead, and the World to come, if they find them to be fallaciously writ in such things as lie within their certain knowledge?

We are not to suppose that any truth concerning the, natural World can be an Enemy to Religion; for truth cannot be an Enemy to truth, God is not divided against himself ; and therefore we ought not upon that account to condemn or censure what we have not examin'd or cannot disprove; as those that are of this narrow Spirit we are speaking of, are very apt to do. Let every thing be try'd and examin'd in the first place, whether it be, true or false; and if it be found false 'tis then to be consider'd, whether it be such a falsity* as is prejudicial to Religion or no. But for every new theory that is propos'd, to be alarm'd as if all Religion was falling about our Ears, is to .make the .World suspect that we are very ill assur'd of the foundation it stands upon. Besides, do not all men complain, even these as well as others, of the great ignorance of mankind? How little we know, and how mch is still unknown? and can we ever know more, unless something new be discover'd? It cannot be old when it comes first to. light, when first invented, and first propos'd. If a Prince should complain of the poorness f his Exchequer, and the scarcity of Money in his Kingdom, would he be angry with his Merchants, if they brought him home a Cargo of good Bullion, or a mass of,Go1d out of a foreign country? and give this reason only for it, He would have no new Silver; neither should any be current in his Dominions but what had his own Stamp and Image upon it: How should this Prince or his people grow rich? To complain of want, and yet refuse all Offers of a supply, looks very, sullen, or very fantastical.

I might mention also upon this occasion another Genius and disposition in men, which often makes them improper for philosophical contemplations; not so much, it may be, from the narrowness of their Spirit and understanding, as because they will not make tine to extend then. I mean men of wit and parts but of short thoughts and little meditation, and that are apt to distrust everything for a fancy or fiction that is not the dictate of sense or made out immediately to their senses: men of this humour and character call such Theories as these philosophic Romances, and think themselves witty in the expression; they allow them to be pretty amusements of the mind, but without truth or reality. I am afraid if an Angel should write the theory of the Earth).they would pass the same judgment upon it; where there is variety of parts in a due contexture, with something of surprising aptness in the harmony and corespondency of them; this they call a Romance; but such romances must all Theories of nature and of Providence be, and must have every part of that character with advantage, if they be well represented. There is in them, as I may so say, a Plot or Mystery pursued thro' the whole work, and certain grand issues or events upon which the rest depend, or to which they are subordinate; but these things we do not make or contrive our selves, but find and discover them being made already by the great author and Governor of the Universe: and when they are clearly discovered, well digested, and well reasoned in every part, there is, methinks, more of beauty in such a theory, at least a more masculine beauty, than in any poem or romance and that solid truth that is at the bottom, gives, a satisfaction to the mind that it can never have from any Fiction, how artificial soever it be:

To enter no further upon this matter, 'tis enough to observe, that when we make judgments and censures upon general presumptions and prejudices, they are made rather from the temper and model of our own spirits, than from reason; and therefore, if we would neither impose upon ourselves, nor others, we must lay aside that lazy and fallacious method of censuring by the lump, and must bring things close to the test of true or false, to explicit proof and evidence; and whosoever makes such objections against an hypothesis, hath a right to be heard, let his temper and Genius be what it will. Neither do we intend that any thing we have said here should be understood in another sense.

To conclude, This theory being writ with a sincere intention to justify the doctrines of the Universal Deluge, and of a Paradisiacal state, and protect them from the cavils of those that are no well-wishers to Sacred history, upon that account it may reasonably expect fair usage; and acceptance with all that are well-dispos'd; and it will also be, I think, a great satisfaction to them to see those pieces of most ancient history, which have been chiefly preserv'd in Scripture, confirm'd anew, and by another light, that of nature and Philosophy; and also freed from those misconceptions or misrepresentations, which made them fit uneasy upon the spirits even of the best men that took time to think. Lastly, In things purely speculative, as these are, and no a ingredients of our Faith it is free to differ from one another in our opinions and sentiments; and, so I remember St Austin hath observ'd upon this very subject of. Paradise; wherefore as we desire to give no offence our selves, so neither sha11 we, make any at the difference of judgment in others; provided this liberty be mutual, and that we all agree to study peace, truth and a good life.

(1)*[1] ((1)Genesis. ad lit. lib. I. c. 19.) Plerumque accidit must aliquid de Terr, de Clo, de cateris hujus mundi elementis, . Cm enim quenquam Christianorum in e re quam optim nrunt, errare deprehenderint, vanam sententiam suam ex nostris libris asserere, quo pacto illis libris credituri sunt de Resurrectione Mortuorum, spe vita tern regnque clorum, quando de his rebus quas jam experiri vel indubitatis numeris percipere potuerunt, fallaciter putaverint esse conscriptos?