Concerning the Causes of the Conflagration.
The difficulty of conceiving how this Earth can be set on fire. With a general answer to that difficulty. Two suppos’d causes of the Conflagration, by the Sun's drawing nearer to the Earth, or the Earth's throwing out the central fire, examin’d and rejected.
WE have now made our way clear to the principal point, The Causes of the Conflagration: How the Heavens and the Earth will be set on fire, what materials are prepar’d, or what train of causes, for that purpose. The Ancients, who have kept us company pretty well thus far, here quite' desert us. They deal more in Conclusions than Causes, as is usual in all Traditional Learning. And the Stoicks themselves, who inculcate so much the doctrine of the Conflagration, and make the strength of it such as to dissolve the Earth into a fiery Chaos, are yet very short and superficial in their explications, how this shall come to pass. The latent seeds of fire, they say, shall every where be let loose, and that Element will prevail over all the rest, and transform every thing into its own nature. But these are general things that give little satisfaction to inquisitive Persons. Neither do the modern Authors that treat of the same subject, relieve us in this particular: They are willing to suppose the Conflagration a supernatural effect, that so they may excuse themselves the trouble of enquiring after causes. ’Tis, no doubt, in
a sort, supernatural: and so the Deluge was: yet Moses sets down the causes of the Deluge, the rains from above, and the disruption of the Abyss. So there must be treasures of fire provided against that day, by whose eruption this second Deluge will be brought upon the Earth.
To state the case fairly, we must first represent the difficulty of setting the Earth on fire: Tie the knot, before we loose it; that so we may the better judge whether the causes that shall be brought into view, may be sufficient to overcome so great opposition. The difficulty, no doubt, will be chiefly from the great quantity of water that is about our Globe; whereby Nature seems to have made provision against any invasion by fire, and secur’d us from that enemy more than any other. We see half of the Surface of the Earth cover’d with the Seas: whose Chanel is of a vast depth and capacity. Besides innumerable Rivers, great and small, that water the face of the dry Land, and drench it with perpetual moisture. Then within the bowels of the Earth, there are Store-houses of subterraneous waters: which are as a reserve, in case the Ocean and the Rivers should be over-come. Neither is water our onely security, for the hard Rocks and stony Mountains, which no fire can bite upon, are set in long ranges upon the Continents and Islands: and must needs give a stop to the progress of that furious Enemy, in case he should attack us. Lastly, the Earth it self is not combustible in all its parts. ’Tis not every Soyl that is fit fewel for the fire. Clay, and Mire, and such like Soyles will rather choak and stifle it, than help it on its way. By these means one would think the Body of the Earth secur’d; And tho’ there may be partial fires, or inundations of fire, here and there, in particular regions, yet there cannot be an universal fire throughout the Earth. At least one would hope for a safe retreat towards the Poles, where there is nothing but Snow, and Ice, and bitter cold. These regions sure are in no danger to be burnt, whatsoever becomes of the other climates of the Earth.
This being the state and condition of the present Earth, one would not imagine by these preparations, ’twas ever intended that it should perish by an universal fire. But such is often the method of Providence, that the exteriour face of things looks one way, and the design lies another; till at length, touching a Spring, as it were, at a certain time, all those affairs change posture and aspect, and shew us which way Providence inclines. We must therefore suppose, before the Conflagration begins, there will be dispositions and preparatives suitable to so great a work: and all antiquity, sacred and prophane, does so far concur with us, as to admit and suppose that a great drought will precede, and an extraordinary heat and driness of the Air, to usher in this fiery doom. And these being things which often happen in a course of nature, we cannot disallow such easie preparations, when Providence intends so great a consequence. The Heavens will be shut up, and the Clouds yield no rain; and by this, with an immoderate heat in the Air, the Springs of water will become dry, the Earth chap’d and parch’d, and the Woods and Trees made ready fewel for the fire. We have instances in history that there have been droughts and heats of this nature, to that degree, that the Woods and Forests have taken fire, and the outward Turf and Surface of the Earth, without any other cause than the driness of the Season, and the vehemency
of the Sun. And which is more considerable, the Springs and Fountains being dry’d up, the greater Rivers have been sensibly lessen’d, and the lesser quite emptied and exhal’d. These things which happen frequently in particular Countreys and Climates, may at an appointed time, by the disposition of Providence, be more universal throughout the Earth; and have the same effects every where, that we see by experience they have had in certain places. And by this means we may conceive it as feisible to set the whole Earth on fire in some little space of time, as to burn up this or that Country after a great drought. But I mean this, with exception still to the main Body of the Sea; which will indeed receive a greater diminution from these causes than we easily imagine, but the final consumption of it will depend upon other reasons, whereof we must give an account in the following Chapters.
As to the Mountains and Rocks, their lofty heads will sink when the Earthquakes begin to roar, at the beginning of the Conflagration: as we shall see hereafter. And as to the Earth it self, ’tis true there are several sorts of earth that are not proper fewel for fire; but those Soils that are not so immediately, as clayey Soils, and such like, may by the strength of fire be converted into brick, or stone, or earthen metal, and so melted down and vitrified. For, in conclusion, there is no terrestrial Body that does not finally yield to the force of fire, and may either be converted into flame, incorporated fire, or into a liquor more ardent than either of them. Lastly, as to the polar regions, which you think will be a safe retreat and inaccessible to the fire; ’Tis true, unless Providence hath laid subterraneous treasures of fire there unknown to us, those parts of the Earth will be the last consum’d. But it is to be observ’d, that the cold of those regions proceeds from the length of their Winter, and their distance from the Sun when he is beyond the Æquator; and both these causes will be remov’d at the Conflagration. For we suppose the Earth will then return to its primitive situation, which we have explain’dchap. 3. in the 2d. Book of this Theory; and will have the Sun always in its Equator; whereby the several Climates of the Earth will have a perpetual Equinox, and those under the Poles a perpetual day. And therefore all the excess of cold, and all the consequences of it, will soon be abated. However, the Earth will not be burnt in one day, and those parts of the Earth being uninhabited, there is no inconvenience that they should be more slowly consum’d than the rest.
This is a general answer to the difficulty propos’d about the possibility of the Conflagration; and being general onely, the parts of it must be more fully explain’d and confirm’d in the sequel of this discourse. We should now proceed directly to the causes of the Conflagration, and show in what manner they do this great execution upon nature. But to be just and impartial in this enquiry, we ought first to separate the spurious and pretended causes from those that are real and genuine; to make no false musters, nor any show of being stronger than we are; and if we can do our work with less force, it will be more to our credit; as a Victory is more honourable that is gain’d with fewer men.
There are two grand capital causes which some Authors make use of, as the chief Agents in this work, the Sun, and the Central Fire. These two great Incendiaries, they say, will be let loose upon us at the Conflagration. The one
drawing nearer to the Earth, and the other breaking out of its bowels into these upper regions. These are potent causes indeed, more than enough to destroy this Earth, if it was a thousand times bigger than it is. But for that very reason, I suspect they are not the true causes; for God and Nature do not use to employ unnecessary means to bring about their designs. Disproportion and over-sufficiency is one sort of false measures, and ’tis a sign we do not thoroughly understand our work, when we put more strength to it than the thing requires. Men are forward to call in extraordinary powers to rid their hands of a troublesome argument, and so make a short dispatch to save themselves the pains of further enquiries: but such methods, as they commonly have no proof, so they give little satisfaction to an inquisitive mind, This supposition of burning the Earth, by the Sun drawing nearer and nearer to it, seems to be made in imitation of the story of Phaeton, who driving the Chariot of the Sun with an unsteddy hand, came so near the Earth, that he set it on fire. But however we will not reject any pretensions without a fair trial; Let us examine therefore what grounds they can have for either of these suppositions, of the Approximation of the Sun to the Earth, or the Eruption of the Central Fire.
As to the Sun, I desire first to be satisfied in present matter of Fact: whether by any instrument or observation it hath or can be discover’d, that the Sun is nearer to the Earth now, than he was in former ages? or if by any reasoning or comparing calculations such a conclusion can be made? If not, this is but an imaginary cause, and as easily deny’d as propos’d. Astronomers do very little agree in their opinions about the distance of the Sun, Ptolomy, Albategnius, Copernicus, Tycho, Kepler, and others more modern, differ all in their calculations; but not in such a manner or proportion, as should make us believe that the Sun comes nearer to the Earth, but rather goes further from it. For the more modern of them make the distance greater than the more ancient do. Kepler says, the distance of the Sun from the Earth lies betwixt 700 and 2000 semi-diameters of the Earth: but Ricciolus makes it betwixt 700 and 7000. And Gottefrid Wendeline hath taken 14656 semidiameters, for a middle proportion of the Sun's distance; to which Kepler himself came very near in his later years. So that you see how groundless our fears are from the approaches of an enemy, that rather flies from us, if he change posture at all. And we have more reason to believe the report of the modern Astronomers than of the ancient, in this matter; both because the nature of the Heavens and of the celestial Bodies is now better known, and also because they have found out better instruments and better methods to make their observations.
If the Sun and Earth were come nearer to one another, either the circle of the Suns diurnal arch would be less, and so the day shorter: or the Orbit of the Earths annual course would be less, and so the Year shorter: Neither of which we have any experience of. And those that suppose us in the centre of the World, need not be afraid till they see Mercury and Venus in a combustion, for they lie betwixt us and danger; and the Sun cannot come so readily at us with his fiery darts, as at them, who stand in his way. Lastly, this languishing death by the gradual approaches of the Sun, and that irreparable ruine of the Earth which at
last must follow from it, do neither of them agree with that Idea of the Conflagration, which the Scripture hath given us; for it is to come suddenly and unexpectedly, and take us off like a violent Feaver, not as a lingring Consumption. And the Earth is also so to be destroyed by Fire, as not to take away all hopes of a Resurrection or Renovation. For we are assur’d by Scripture that there will be new Heavens and a new Earth after these are burnt up. But if the Sun should come so near us as to make the heavens pass away with a noise, and melt the Elements with fervent heat, and destroy the form and all the works of the Earth, what hopes or possibility would there be of a Renovation while the Sun continued in this posture? He would more and more consume and prey upon the Carcass of the Earth, and convert it at length either into an heap of ashes, or a lump of vitrified metal.
So much for the Sun. As to the Central Fire, I am very well satisfied it is no imaginary thing. All Antiquity hath preserv’d some sacred Monument of it. The Vestal fire of the Romans, which was so religiously attended: The Prytoneia of the Greeks were to the same purpose, and dedicated to Vesta: and the Pyretheia of the Persians, where fire was kept continually by the Magi. These all, in my opinion, had the same origine and the same signification. And tho’ I do not know any particular observation, that does directly prove or demonstrate that there is such a mass of fire in the middle of the Earth; yet the best accounts we have of the generation of a Planet, do suppose it; and ’tis agreeable to the whole Oeconomy of Nature; as a fire in the heart, which gives life to her motions and productions. But however the question is not at present, about the existence of this fire, but the eruption of it, and the effect of that Eruption: which cannot be, in my judgment, such a Conflagration as is describ’d in Scripture.
This Central Fire must be enclos’d in a shell of great strength and firmness; for being of it self the lightest and most active of all Bodies, it would not be detained in that lowest prison without a strong guard upon it. ’Tis true, we can make no certain judgment of what thickness this shell is, but if we suppose this fire to have a twentieth part of the semidiameter of the Earth, on either side the centre, for its sphere, which seems to be a fair allowance; there would still remain nineteen parts, for our safeguard and security. And these nineteen parts of the semidiameter of the Earth will make 3268 miles, for a partition-wall betwixt us and this Central Fire. Who wou’d by afraid of an Enemy lock’d up in so strong a prison? But you’l say, it may be, tho’ the Central Fire, at the beginning of the World, might have no more room or space than what is mentioned: yet being of that activity that it is, and corrosive nature, it may, in the space of some thousands of years, have eaten deep into the sides of its prison; and so come nearer to the surface of the Earth, by some hundreds or thousands of miles than it was at first. This would be a material exception if it could be made out. But what Phænomenon is there in Nature that proves this? How does it appear by any observation that the Central Fire gains ground upon us? Or is increased in quantity, or come nearer to the surface of the Earth? I know nothing that can be offered in proof of this: and if there be no appearance of a change, nor any sensible effect of it, ’tis an argument there is none, or none considerable. If the
quantity of that fire was considerably increas’d, it must needs, besides other effects, have made the Body of the Earth considerably lighter. The Earth having, by this conversion of its own substance into fire, lost so much of its heaviest matter, and got so much of the lightest and most active Element in stead of it: and in both these respects its gravity would be manifestly lessen’d. Which if it really was, in any considerable degree, it would discover it self by some change, either as to the motion of the Earth, or as to its place or station in the Heavens. But there being no external change observable, in this or any other respect, ’tis reasonable to presume that there is no considerable inward change, or no great consumption of its inward parts and substance: and consequently no great increase of the Central Fire.
But if we should admit both an encrease and eruption of this fire, it would not have that effect which is pretended. It might cause some confusion and disorder in those parts of the Earth where it broke out, but it would not make an universal Conflagration, such as is represented to us in Scripture. Let us suppose the Earth to be open or burst in any place, under the Pole, for instance, or under the 'Equator: and let it gape as low as the Central Fire. At this chasm or rupture we suppose the fire wou’d gush out; and what then would be the consequence of this when it came to the surface of the Earth? It would either be dissipated and lost in the air, or fly still higher towards the Heavens in a mass of flame. But what execution in the mean time would it do upon the Body of the Earth? ’Tis but like a flash of lightning, or a flame issuing out of a pit, that dies presently. Besides, this Central Fire is of that subtilty and tenuity that it is not able to inflame gross Bodies: no more than those Meteors we call Lambent Fires, inflame the bodies to which they stick. Lastly, in explaining the manner of the Conflagration, we must have regard principally to Scripture; for the explications given there are more to the purpose, than all that the Philosophers have said upon that subject. Now, as we noted before, ’tis manifest in Scripture that after the Conflagration there will be a Restauration, New Heavens and a New Earth. ’Tis the express doctrine of St. Peter,2 Pet. 3. 12, 13. besides other Prophets: We must therefore suppose the Earth reduc’d to such a Chaos by this last fire, as will lay the foundation of a new World. Which can never be, if the inward frame of it be broke, the Central Fire exhausted, and the exterior region suck’d into those central vacuities. This must needs make it lose its former poise and libration, and it will thereupon be thrown into some other part of the Universe, as the useless shell of a broken Granado, or as a dead carkass and unprofitable matter.
These reasons may be sufficient why we should not depend upon those pretended causes of the Conflagration, The Suns advance towards the Earth, or such a rupture of the Earth as will let out the Central Fire. These Causes, I hope, will appear superfluous, when we shall have given an account of the Conflagration without them. But young Philosophers, like young Soldiers, think they are never sufficiently armed; and often take more weapons, than they can make use of, when they come to fight. Not that we altogether reject the influence of the Sun, or of the Central Fire; especially the latter. For in that great estuation
of Nature, the Body of the Earth will be much open’d and relaxated; and when the pores are enlarg’d, the steams of that fire will sweat out more plentifully into all its parts; but still without any rupture in the vessels or in the skin. And whereas these Authors suppose the very Veins burst, and the vital blood to gush out, as at open flood-gates, we onely allow a more copious perspiration, and think that sufficient for all purposes in this case.