Some Remarks on Religion "I asked him concerning his Country, his Name, his Family, his Religion, and the Motives of his Travelling ; he accordingly spoke to me nearly in the following Manner : Sir, I have always declined speaking to you of my Religion, because it can be of no use to you, and because all Men being naturally prepossessed in favour of that in which they are born, it offends them to contradict the Articles of it. For this Reason, and by the Advice of my desceas’d Father, I have all my Life avoided entering into this Matter, that I might not give rise to Disputes in which every Man thinks it a Point of Honour and Conscience to support his own Opinion, and which never terminate but in mutual Animosities. For this Reason, Sir, I hope you will pardon me for not satisfying your Curiosity in this Particular.
Furthermore… I would not have even spoke my Sentiments to you, on the Composition of the Globe, the Study of which is the Cause of my Travels, if I had not discerned in you, a Soul capable of triumphing over the Prejudices of Birth and Education, and above being provoked at the Things I intend to communicate to you ; perhaps they will at first appear to you opposite to what is contained in your sacred Books, yet I hope in the End to convince you that they are not really so. Philosophers (permit me to class myself among that Number, however unworthy of the Name) rarely find these happy Dispositions; they have not even met with them in the Ages and in the Countries of Liberty, where it has been often dangerous for some of them who have dared to speak against the Opinions of the Vulgar.
Finally, Besides, continued our Indian, you have traveled a great deal, you have travelled thro’ many Maritime Countries, you seem to think that the Secrets of Nature are not unworthy of your Curiosity. You have learned to doubt, and every man who can do so, has a great Advantage over him who believes implicitly, and without taking the Trouble to examine. You therefore possess, Sir, the principal Dispositions necessary for relishing the Observations I am about to make. This gives me Reason to hope that you will yield to the Evidence of the Proofs I shall bring, for the Support of my System." (pp. 1-2)
De Maillet A well-traveled man for his time, de Maillet spent years in Egypt, Livorno (western Italy), the Levant (Syria and Lebanon) and along the Barbary coast (the southwestern shores of the Mediterranean). He was also a skilled linguist, so he was able to read widely on geography, geology and cosmology. Consider the potential impact of such travels on his religious views!
History of Teliamed’s story Circulated in manuscript for decades, the book was not actually published until 1748, 10 years after de Maillet died. So the remarks about religious intolerance above are pretty serious ones. Printers of dangerous books worried that they might be charged with blasphemy. De Maillet dedicated the book "To the illustrious Cyrano de Bergerac, Author of the imaginary Travels thro’ the Sun and Moon". Cyrano was the author of some early science fiction; this dedication might have allowed the defense that de Maillet’s book was also intended as fiction. Further, the French traveler always speaks about nature through his Indian philosopher. So the narrator merely reports the speculations of another person, occasionally interjecting that certain things he could not believe because they went against his religion. Importantly, de Maillet, speaking through his Indian philosopher, explained why these ideas should be judged on grounds other than religious authority. Published by a friend, the Abbot J.B. le Mascrier; but Mascrier hid his involvement until 1755. le Mascrier altered the text, reducing the times de Maillet calculated and otherwise making it more acceptable to believers.
Outline of the story De Maillet’s account of the earth was strongly influenced by Descartes’ theory of suns and planets as ‘vortices.’ Planets, on this account, are extinguished suns circling an active sun (they may later come back to life). Dust and water accumulates on the planets, but some, depending on where they are in the vortex, may begin to lose their water.
More Outline The earth, de Maillet suggests, was once entirely covered by water, which it is now slowly losing. (This deals nicely with the puzzle of the seashell on the mountaintop.) Over long periods of time (attested by the striking differences between different sedimentary formations piled one on top of the next), the water has withdrawn.
Still More Outline Mountains are built by sea currents, which push sediment into piles and carve valleys through it. Life arises spontaneously as the right conditions develop in the diminishing waters. All life began in the sea, and later transformed to invade the increasing land surface. (The transformation of a butterfly into a caterpillar is no more astounding…)
Evidence Long term measures of sea-level decline: The sea-side fortress at Carthage, and similar evidence from Alexandria and Acre: 3-3.6 inches per century. (Note that this assumes we’re witnessing sea level decline, and not increase in the height of the land; it also projects changes in level noticed in one region across all other regions.)
More Evidence Raised Beaches (common in northern Europe). Stair-step like cut benches/ marine terraces rising up from the sea (ditto). Shell fish and other marine fossils high above the sea. Superposed layers of sedimentary rock, clearly formed under water.
Problems for Neptunism (looking forward) Igneous rocks mistakenly taken to be sedimentary (the results of precipitation). An immobile account of the crust of the earth; it just sits there, eroding a little… Folded strata interpreted as the result of deposition on an uneven surface. Volcanic activity seen as relatively unimportant. Surface erosion above sea level seen as insignificant.
Geological Time De Maillet was almost startlingly uncompromising on this– even invoking an Aristotelian eternal world as a possibility. Parallel between the spatial scale of the universe (now revealed by Copernican ideas) and the temporal scale of its history. Rejects a world-wide flood as an explanation of sedimentary rock formations. (Soft sediment can’t turn into rock so quickly; much higher mountains exist elsewhere; how could different races of man arise so quickly afterwards?)
Time Ancient ‘seaports’ (and ‘petrified masts’) far inland indicate a long history of decline in sea level. Considering the rate of decline and the total amount of decline (from above the highest mountains to today’s sea level), de Maillet puts the time required at 2x10 9 years.
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