Feathers by Thor Hanson (2011)

Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle explores the details of feathers and why they are so amazing. The book is filled with interesting facts about all the different kinds of feathers (Example: most birds have between 1 and 25 thousand, but only a few dozen flight feathers), but it is mostly focused on exploring the incredibly lightweight, watertight, insulated, beautifully-colored, multi-functional natural wonder that even evolutionary scientists call a “miracle.”

Interesting Info on Feather Design

“Feathers are unbelievable,” Feduccia said, and his voice took on a tone of wonder I would hear again and again… “They have all of these incredible aerodynamic features – lightweight, with graded flexibility; they’re perfect airfoils; they can work together in slotted wings with high lift at low speeds.

Feathers cluster “in well-defined tracts,” which “offers two advantages: It distributes plumage across the entire body while allowing skin between the tracts to remain relatively bare” for “regulating body temperature.” They “may also play a role in how feathers move, helping to concentrate the relevant muscles in discrete lines… Each follicle is surrounded by strong muscles and nerves that give birds surprising agility with individual feathers. They can fluff them for warmth, lift them for preening or display, and even make fine adjustments during flight to maximize aerodynamic efficiency… Coordinating such movements is quite an engineering feat. It would be like a person straightening their part with a thought, twitching individual ear hairs, or accurately judging wind speed from the play of a breeze across their eyebrows.”

“Engineers call feathers the most insulating material ever discovered.” Tiny birds, while operating at a body temperature several degrees higher than ours, can maintain a “difference between the outdoor air temperature… as large as an astonishing 140 degrees Fahrenheit.” The complex layers of barbs and barbules can can efficiently trap a large amount of air molecules “as a barrier.” “With their intricate air-trapping microstructure, down feathers are the most naturally insulative material on earth, and birds have the ability to fluff them up manually, essentially adjusting their R-value at will.” The lightness of this material allows birds to fly. Birds and even other animals will scavenge stray feathers to insulate nests and burrows.

Different kinds of feathers are created by “varying the location and timing of keratin production at the follicle collar… To accomplish these feats, the follicle’s cells must act in perfect concert, a symphony of starts and stops that is controlled by a particular gene” (the Sonic Hedgehog hox gene). Human industry has yet to create a synthetic material that matches the insulation power with the same lightness and durability: “Feathers grow that way naturally, but manufacturing such finely branched filaments is extremely difficult.” (These downy feathers, however, are not waterproof, and require a covering of watertight contour feathers, and extra parental care for downy young until they grow that outer layer. This presents an evolutionary challenge, as described below.)

Feathers keep birds from freezing by being so insulative, but it’s just as amazing that they don’t make birds overheat. “When a bird takes flight, it suddenly finds itself producing seven, ten or even twenty times the body heat it had while perched.” Since they already operate “within a few degrees of the point at which proteins in living cells break down faster than the body can replace them,” temperature regulation is crucial, and involves adjusting feather positions and increasing blood flow to bare portions (apteria). Additionally, a bird’s “complex system of nine or more air sacs to supplement their lungs,” which “increases the efficiency” to allow flying, also “dramatically expands the surface area available for internal evaporation,” releasing extra heat through the mouth by panting.

On the “amazing” “flexibility” of feathers for real-time flight adjustments: A falcon “dove after a lure… accelerating up to 157 miles per hour before neatly catching it and pulling up,” experiencing a calculated gravitational force of “twenty-seven Gs“! (“Fighter pilots risk losing consciousness at anything over nine.”) Other examples of “airflow management” include reducing drag to increase flight efficiency. “Vultures, eagles, and other soaring birds use small adjustments of their spread wing-tip ‘fingers’ to manipulate air currents or change speed and orientation, and all birds utilize feather movements to instinctively alter the turbulence patterns around their wings. Slots can be opened or closed to direct air… covert feathers can be raised or lowered like tiny flags.” (No wonder aircraft engineers study birds to find ways to increase gas mileage!)

“Owl feathers feature barb extensions” that not only increase efficiency but also “muffl[e] the sound of their approach” – except for the Scops Fishing Owl, which hunts prey underwater and doesn’t need the stealth factor!

The watertightness of outer/contour feathers is not fully understood but seems to involve a high number of “touch points,” and “air pockets” between them, that repel water molecules. “Considering their light weight, flexibility, and thinness, feathers offer one of nature’s most versatile and efficient waterproofing membranes.” There are also beautiful adaptations: Diving cormorants have a slight structure modification that allows their “outer feathers” to get soaked, which adjusts their buoyancy as they dive for fish, “while still keeping their skin and down feathers sealed inside a watertight blanket.” At the other end of the spectrum in the dry desert, the sandgrouse has a different feather structure that absorbs so much water that birds have been observed “methodically soaking their chests” in pools to allow “thirsty chicks… to eagerly drink at Papa’s breast, sucking water straight from his feathers.”

While many birds “snap” their wings in “percussive notes” for mating rituals, the club-winged manakin takes it to another level with the “odd shape” of its feather wings: “This rapid vibration brought the wings together repeatedly, striking the enlarged clublike secondaries together in a way that forced the bent one to saw back and forth across a row of tiny ridges on the adjacent shaft… Each wing was indeed acting as a tiny violin, with the bent feather tip serving as the pick or bow, the ridges as strings, and the swollen, hollow feather shafts as the resonating chamber, amplifying and sustaining the tone.” (This was not understood until the relatively recent “breakthrough” of “high-speed video.”)

Birds regularly replace their feathers through molting, which is needed to maintain function after wear-and-tear and also to try to help manage the ubiquitous issue of bird lice. Sometimes molting changes colors that correlate with the mating season.

Interesting Theories on Feather Evolution

Hanson describes the old scales-to-feather hypothesis that never had any evidence and the new Stage I to V theory that seems to at least have some evidence for it from evolutionary development. Hanson describes Archaeopertyx as well as the recently uncovered feathered dinosaur fossils, but he notes the “temporal paradox,” highlighted by minority BAND scientists (Birds Are Not Dinosaurs), that the earlier stages are in all the later-dated fossils, while Archaeopteryx’s much older feathers are the asymmetrical flight feathers, thought to be the last stage to evolve. Hanson seems to suggest that the discovery of the even-earlier Anchiornis resolved this paradox, because the bird had some lower-stage feathers, but since it also had the flight feathers, we still seem to have a curious sudden appearance of those. (There is also evidence that Archaeopteryx molted, suggesting the function has been around about as long as feathers themselves.)

On the evolution of theropod dinosaurs into birds, Hanson describes some evidence for the current consensus but also notes the dissenting views of Alan Feduccia, a self-described “old-school Darwinian” who thinks birds came from a different ancestor. On the Stage theory of feather evolution, he “questions the usefulness of Prum’s downlike Stage II feathers,” which “lose most of its insulative value when wet… Young ostriches caught out in the rain often die of exposure, even in the African heat. In Prum’s model, however, contour feathers evolved after downy plumes.” Feduccia also thinks the “host of similar traits” between birds and theropods “came about” through “convergent evolution,” which points to the curious flexibility of one person’s homology to be another’s convergent evolution.

A simpler example of convergent evolution: Carrion birds lack feathers on their heads, which seems to keep them from getting blood and guts stuck to their heads as they plunge them into their carcass meals. “For carrion birds, the loss of feathers is such a good idea that it has evolved at least twice, in different places, in totally different groups of species… The New World and Old World vultures are not related; their likeness evolved from the practicalities of their grisly diet.”

(In an unrelated example, the book notes the “more than two dozen independent and unrelated times membranes [flaps of skin] evolved for vertebrate gliding and flight” in non-birds.)

The current consensus for the evolution of bird flight involves Wing Assisted Incline Running by climbing steep slopes or trees, a hypothesis that is a sort of hybrid between the ground-up and tree-down hypotheses, which both had inconvenient difficulties.

On the development of flight with cooling mechanisms: “Innovation in nature often occurs at stress points, places where competing adaptive pressures create an evolutionary dilemma… powered flight and specialized cooling mechanisms developed in tandem.” If “dinosaurs were warm-blooded creatures, then the basics of avian cooling must have already been in place in theropods… the result is a complex system of feather manipulation, controlled blood flow, and evaporative cooling that allows most birds to dispel far more heat than they produce, even while flying on a warm day.”

Challenges to Evolution and Creation

I think the “sudden appearance” / “temporal paradox” of feathers in the fossil record, and the questionable usefulness of the increasing stages point to difficulties for theories of unguided, gradual development. A few examples of convergent evolution add a curious inconvenience. And many of the amazing features seem incredibly complex.

At the same time, I think these features also present challenges to young-earth creationism and its “perfect paradise paradigm.” While complex mating rituals would certainly fit the original commands to “be fruitful and multiply,” the clear adaptations for predator/prey relationships are more curious.

Did owls have barb extensions before the Fall if they didn’t hunt small mammals? Did vultures have bald heads? Did diving birds have adaptations to survive dozens of G forces and adjust their feather buoyancy if they didn’t eat underwater fish? And if the pre-Fall climate was globally lush, as some have conjectured, did the desert sandgrouse have its uniquely absorbent structure?

I suppose the observation that many feathers involve multiple functions would support an idea that these features could have existed with different, but still beautifully designed, functions (although multi-functionality also makes it easier to imagine gradual evolution of complex features).

However, provided the theologies are equally valid, such designs seem to me more naturally indicative of an old-earth creation or theistic evolution type of view, with animals surviving in harsh environments and predator/prey relationships with beautifully designed features that allow a variety of creatures to survive in a “very good” but not yet “perfect” world.

Regardless of how they got here, feathers are marvelous, and thanks to Thor Hanson’s book, I can appreciate their wonder just a little bit more.

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Rare Earth by Peter Ward and Donald Brownlee (2000)

In Rare Earth, Ward and Brownlee make a detailed and fascinating case that life may be very common in the universe, but complex or animal or intelligent life may be very uncommon. Given naturalistic assumptions about life’s origin and evolutionary progression on Earth, they explore numerous difficulties for both attaining and maintaining life over millions or billions of years, and the likely uncommon attributes of our planet that have made this possible here.

Attaining Life:

“As early as 3.8 billion years ago… life seems to have appeared simultaneously with the cessation of the heavy bombardment.” (p.61) On progress of abiogenesis theories: “No one has yet discovered how to combine various chemicals in a test tube and arrive at a DNA molecule.” Furthermore, “with an oxygen-free atmosphere the amount of ultraviolet radiation reaching Earth’s surface would have been far higher… making delicate chemical reactions on the planet’s surface very difficult.” (p.62) The recent discoveries of “extremophiles” has suggested hydrothermal vents as a possible origin of life, and also enhanced the hopes of finding creatures in extreme conditions elsewhere in the universe. (Although hydrothermal vents are connected to plate tectonics and Earth’s global temperature system, which require a number of parameters to even exist, much less be maintained for billions of years – see below).

However, while single-celled creatures have long been common on Earth, more advanced creatures took longer to arise and may require specific characteristics for their arrival. Additionally, they have a narrower range of habitability; “Complex metazoans tolerate a far narrow range of environmental conditions than do microbes,” (ex. 0-50 degrees C compared to 100+ C) and are “far more susceptible to extinction caused by short-term environmental deterioration.”

External Threats to Maintaining Life

A planet’s star must have a fairly constant energy output, but even the best-case scenario involves a gradually increasing brightness that the planet must compensate. “On Earth, the maintenance of a relatively constant temperature has been attained through a gradual reduction in greenhouse gases as the amount of energy from the sun has increased, thus keeping temperatures in check.” (p.164)

Threats to maintaining life include asteroids, supernovae, and gamma ray bursts.

Some of these factors limit a habitable time window in the history of the universe; some dangers would have been more common in the past. Stars also would not have produced heavier elements in the first generations. On the other hand, radioactive elements, important for regulating temperature, “are produced by supernovae explosions, and their rate of formation is declining with time.” Newer stars “have less of these radioisotopes” than our sun. “It is entirely possible that any true Earth clones now forming around other stars would not have enough radioactive heat to drive plate tectonics.” (p.30)

The book discusses the importance of Jupiter. It’s large enough and close enough to limit the amount of deadly asteroids hitting Earth, but not so large or so close, or too elliptical in orbit, or having too many more similar large objects like itself and Saturn, to threaten the stable orbit of Earth itself.

Additionally, the relatively large, close moon plays an important role in stabilizing Earth’s axis tilt over long periods of time. The moon’s formation appears to have required a very precise collision with a large object at just the right time in Earth’s history for the collision to have distributed the right elements into the right places. If its formation had left it rotating in the opposite direction, its gravitational tidal effects (also important) would have slowly spun it into the Earth, instead of slowly spinning away, which also means there is a time limit to both its tidal and stabilizing properties.

Internal Requirements to Maintaining and Progressing Life

The inter-connected role of plate tectonics, water, and carbon dioxide seems crucial to maintaining complex life on planet Earth.

“For complex life to be attained (and then maintained), a planet’s water supply (1) must be large enough to sustain a sizable ocean… (2) must have migrated to the surface from the planet’s interior, (3) must not be lost to space, and (4) must exist largely in liquid form. Plate tectonics plays a role in all four of these criteria” (p.208)

There is some mystery to the source of Earth’s water, given planetary formation theories, but somehow “the volume of water was sufficiently large to buffer global temperatures, but small enough so that shallow seas could be formed by the uplifting of continents,” which are “necessary for limestone formation” and “continental weathering.” (p.264) “The violent events” of early Earth “may have determined the final abundance of water and carbon dioxide… If Earth had had just a little more water, continents would not extend above sea level. Had there been more CO2, Earth would probably have remained too hot to host life.” (p.51)

Some planets in our solar system have volcanoes but Earth is the only known with “linear mountain ranges,” caused by plate tectonics. This cycle involves subduction zones in the ocean. Due to comparative density, “continents cannot be destroyed (though they can be eroded)… Since the formation of our planet, the total area of oceanic plates has gradually diminished as the area of continental plates has grown” (p.201) Volume of continents is still increasing, but if it had been higher earlier in Earth’s history, its affects on atmospheric climate would have been more hostile to life.

“The average temperature of the Moon is -18 degree C.. because it has no appreciable atmosphere.” Without ours, Earth’s temperature “would be about the same as that of the Moon,” below the freezing point of water. (p.207) Plate tectonics maintain the “tiny fraction” of important greenhouse gases, acting as a “global thermostat” through CO2 cycles with volcanoes / weathering / limestone, that require shallow surface water and other factors to work. (p.208)

Some Curious Details Regarding Evolutionary History

Prokaryotes to eukaryotes: “It appears that attaining the eukaryotic grade was the single most important step in the evolutionary process that culminated in animals on planet Earth.” (p.88) “Eukaryotes… have repeatedly evolved multicellular forms.” (p.89) “Some species of bacteria… seem indistinguishable from fossil forms… 3 billion years old… The majority of eukaryotic species… seem to persists for… 5 million years or less.” (p.89)

“The jump from single-celled.. to organisms of multiple cells requires numerous evolutionary steps.” A “brave (or lucky) morphological change,” an organism “shed its external cell wall,” its protective “tough outer coating,” so “individual cells could begin exchanging material”. (this apparently initially harmful event happened multiple times?) (p.101)

The book discusses evidence of iron-banded formations and the “oxygen revolution”. This is one example of many in the book where there is evidence that changes happened over a long periods of time, but unknown or unconvincing explanations as to how or why these changes occurred naturally or by chance.

Cambrian Explosion: Genetics shows diversification “must” have taken place before the Cambrian explosion, but paleontologists are “stymied by an almost complete lack of fossils” (p.103) “It is clear that the evolution of animals occurred not as a gradual process but as a series of long periods of little change, punctuated by great advances.” Of the Cambrian Explosion: “In this single, approximately 40-million-year interval, all major animal phyla (all of the basic body plans found on our planet) appeared… Although the number of species… has been increasing through time, the number of higher taxa, such as phyla, has been decreasing.” (p.140-142)

Inertial interchange event: “Much of this continental drift happened during the Cambrian evolutionary explosion… no more than 10 to 15 million years. The continental shifts were quite dramatic.” (p.145) Seems to be connected to periods of Snowball Earth followed by lush green: “Both of the two great episodes of Snowball Earth nearly ended life on Earth, as we know it. But each, ultimately, may have been crucial in stimulating the great biological breakthroughs necessary for animal life: the evolution of the eukaryotic cell and the diversification of animal phyla.” (p.121) Not just oxygen but continent formations and phosphorous levels also correlate with rise of large/complex “animals.”

 

On the relation… by John Pye Smith (1840)

Credit: Wikipedia

A contemporary of Miller and Hitchcock, old-Earth creationist John Pye Smith published a series of lectures called On the relation between the Holy Scriptures and some parts of Geological Science. It was apparently influential enough to be addressed by young-Earth creationists Whitcomb and Morris a hundred years later. (I read the book, free in the public domain, via Google Books.)

Overall Themes

Biblical Inspiration. Smith opens each lecture with a Bible verse and peppers his discussion with Scriptural references, often relating to praising the “works of God” and opportunities for man to seek them out and gain understanding of them. He clearly interpreted geological time in this context, and insisted on the need for correct interpretation.

Appeal to Authority. While Smith’s lectures included many claims of evidence for his geological positions, he included far more “appeals to authority” of geologists. In a supplemental note he recognizes the weakness of this approach but defends it on the grounds of the difficulty of explaining the evidence to those without geological training, and argues for its validity “on account of the moral and intellectual character of the witnesses, their scientific qualifications, their opportunities for investigation upon the largest scale, their original prepossessions against this conclusion, and finally their number and diversity as to country, party, religious denomination, and other circumstances which are rational guarantees against prejudice.”

Conservation of Miracles. Smith believed in miracles and divine interventions, but he disliked Scriptural or geological interpretations that required inserting ad hoc miracles all over the place.

Human Dignity. Smith would often bestow flowery praise on the motives and intentions of people before ruthlessly criticizing their positions for their ignorance or logical inconsistencies. Yet in the midst of such takedowns, Smith took care to humanize and value the dignity of those he disagreed with, whether “scriptural geologist” (i.e. young-earth creationist of the time) or atheist. He repeatedly expressed hopes for the salvation of the latter, and his disappointments at attitudes and actions that seemed to push them away from the faith.

Contents

Lecture 1. Summary: Geology is complicated and requires a lot of knowledge of many fields to truly understand, but the facts have been carefully and solidly established that the Earth is much older than a few thousand years. This does not contradict a correct interpretation of Scripture, as there is perfect harmony between the word and works of God, but some perceive a conflict, having sincere intentions but poor knowledge of geology, and have tried to argue against the established geological facts but only revealed their own ignorance.

“a vague idea has obtained circulation, that certain geological doctrines are at variance with the Holy Scriptures… I profess my conviction that it is nothing but a semblance, and that, like many other difficulties on all important subjects which have tried the intellect of man, it vanishes before careful and sincere examination.”

“Geology… The facts on which it rests… have… been collected by the assiduous labour of many men of the finest talents ; and those facts have not only been brought together and freely exposed to examination, but they have been subjected to the most jealous scrutiny and the most rigorous tests that can be imagined”

Smith says old-Earth creationists like Hitchcock have been accused by young-Earth creationists like Penn of atheism, but claims they “have had no idea of doing without God, because they suppose the world to have had an earlier origin than” the censurer “admits : for, at whatever period it began to exist, it would alike require infinite power and wisdom to create and arrange it.” Such writers “are sincerely desirous of vindicating Revelation from the attacks of scientific sceptics,” but “Such persons will see that these authors do not understand the subject about which they write ; and they will see a spirit manifested which will not greatly exalt their ideas of the influence of Christianity.”

Lecture 2. Summary: Describes the patterns of geological strata and the fossils found within them, arguing for distinct creations over periods of time

The surface of the earth is not a boring flat plain, but:

“a number of extended masses of various thickness, and spread out one over the other… from the horizontal position which originally but at different times belonged to the larger number, they have been inclined in all degrees… All strata follow antecedent ones in an order which is certain and invariable for every region of the earth… Nowhere, however, is the entire series found. Some member or many are wanting in every assignable locality ; but they are never put in a violated order. … analogy of composition, order of succession, and (which is a most interesting and decisive evidence,) similarity of organic remains, produce a sufficient equivalence ; and when these three kinds of proof concur, we have a complete demonstration.”

The rocks which lie the lowest in the descending order… are in the state which has been produced by the prodigious heat… The rocks which lie above these… are all composed of… different mixtures of sand, clay, and lime… These have been washed away from the previously elevated rocks… The lower strata… are generally of the greatest extent… The higher and newer are severally of less magnitude in every dimension.

An aside, after discussing the merits of Hutton:

“That any physicists and philosophers are hostile and scornful with regard to Christianity, is deeply to be lamented…but to treat them with injustice is not the way which Jesus Christ would have adopted, and it can tend only to render their prejudices more inveterate.”

On the distribution of animal remains:

“all belong to Classes and Families similar to those which now exist ; but in Genera and Species there are remarkable differences. The earliest are … most widely differing from animals and plants of the existing creation… Each system of strata has species which belong to itself… This fact is among the greatest discoveries of modern times. For it we are indebted to… Dr. William Smith… Each species has a definite period of existence… One species dies off, and its place is taken by another of the same genus ; till at last, in many cases, the whole genus ceases…”

On different kinds of preservation:

“Strata containing shelly, crustaceous, or coralline remains, generally present appearances” of living and dying “on the muddy or sandy bottoms of the waters… spread in beautiful order over considerable areas” with “the preservation of their slender, delicate, and fragile parts.” “There are other cases, in which the organic remains, be they plants, shells, or bones, exhibit proofs of having been washed away from their native seats… and thus transported into new situations” where “the separated parts have become imbedded in the muddy bottom.”

On the implications of differences for common ancestry:

“in the case of countries widely separated, the plants and animals proper to each region so differ from those of every other, as to impress us with the conviction that they have not been derived from a common ancestry for each species, in any one locality upon the face of the earth. They are respectively adapted… These conditions cannot be transferred to other situations. The habitation proper to one description of vegetable or animal families would be intolerable, and speedily fatal, to others…. Hence it follows that there must have been separate original creations, perhaps at different and respectively distant epochs. Man, whom the Creator formed to ” have dominion over the works of his hands,”… was brought into being in one pair ; from which all the varieties of our kind have descended” – not from “separate primary ancestors.”

Lecture 3. Summary: Sets up the “particular details” of how his lectures appear to be “at variance”  with “certain sentiments or interpretations of “the Holy Scriptures,” and with his assurance that he will later provide explanations. Lists “opinions” regarding creation in six days, the sun on the fourth day, the initial placement of all land-animals in one region, and the lack of pain and death before the sin of the first human beings.

It is not the word of God, but the expositions and deductions of men, from which I am compelled to dissent.

Notes some “commentators” have supposed “as the mediate cause of the longevity of the antediluvian patriarchs, a peculiarly salubrious quality in the atmosphere, which they also suppose to have been destroyed by the deluge, or in consequence of it. But this is an imaginary hypothesis, involving heavier difficulties than what it professes to remove…” since “geological evidence” points to past periods as having been “the reverse of salubrious” to the men and animals “now exist.”

Against the gap theory:

“there is no break in the vast chain of organic development, till we reach the existing order of things… the systems of life have been varied from time to time, to suit the altered condition of the planet, but never extinguished.”

Against the “interpretation” that “the sun and all the other heavenly bodies were created on the fourth day after the creation of the earth.”:

“the spheroidal figure of the earth, its position in the planetary system, its rotation producing the nights and days… the existence of water, and that of an atmosphere, both definitely mentioned, and the creation of vegetables on the third day, — necessarily imply the presence and the operations of the sun : unless we resort to some gratuitous supposition of multiplied miracles, of the most astounding magnitude.”

Describes his belief in miracles, yet thinks that the “wise and gracious design” of the universe is “weakened… by those who plead for an exuberance of miracles… 

our ” God is the Rock,” eternal and unchangeable in his attributes ; ” his work is perfect.” He has constructed a system“ which does not “need the interposition of correcting and repairing,” except as regards “the condition of created beings, weak, changeable…”

Lecture 4. Summary: Discusses the apparent “discrepancy” of “the Deluge.” Notes the universality of ancient flood traditions but, like Miller, notes that this does not prove the “geographical universality of the deluge itself.” Criticizes the Deluge as an explanation for every geological feature, rather than a “diversity of effects” implying “a diversity of causes”. Also criticizes those who make the Flood too small, viewing the truth “between these extremes.” Describes Buckland’s view that the “present surface of the Earth” (but not the layers below it) display “the effect of the diluvial waters”.

In what situations soever the remains of animal and vegetable beings were found, it was at once assumed that they were antediluvian relics, brought thither by the flood. It seems never to have entered into men’s minds, to consider the condition of these organic remains, their place in natural history, their relations to each other and the presence or absence of marks of transport… The scooping out of valleys, whether with the most abrupt sides and tortuous courses, or in smooth and gentle undulations of outline, found forthwith a ready explanation ; without any exercise of mind upon the inquiry whether such a diversity of effects does not imply a proportionate diversity of causes in nature, intensity and duration.

The flood must have caused “considerable action,” but “that they should have produced the stratifications of the earth, is a notion which must appear impossible to anyone who has a tolerably correct idea of what those stratifications really are.”

Lecture 5. SummaryGeologists accepted that the Deluge did not produce the “secondary” geologic layers but for a time argued for a universal flood causing the “drift” on the surface. Smith argues that current knowledge shows the global diversity of this drift cannot be explained by a single deluge. He also argues for other problems with a global interpretation, while hinting at a forthcoming Scriptural argument that Noah’s deluge only required enough water to destroy the human race of the time.

“That a transient deluge, like that described in the scriptures, could have produced, and brought into its present situation, all the diluvium which is now spread over the surface of this continent, will not (it seems to me) be admitted for a moment by any impartial observer. It has obviously been the result of different agencies and of different epochs”

Quoting Sedgwick on the changing science:

“In retreating where we have advanced too far, there is neither compromise of dignity nor loss of strength… All the noble generalizations of Cuvier, and all the beautiful discoveries of Buckland, as far as they are the results of fair induction, will ever remain unshaken by the progress of discovery… It was indeed a most unwarranted conclusion, when we assumed the contemporaneity of all the superficial gravel on the earth…

Discusses collection of volcanic hills in Europe with complex intersections of lava flows and different materials of strata, with “light substances” of “volcanic products” resting on the hills that would have been “washed away” by a flood. So “Either, then, the eruptions which produced them, took place since the deluge,” with Smith arguing there was not enough time to produce the sequence of events described, “or that deluge did not reach to this part of the earth.”

One of Smith’s most provocative claims, regarding the arrival, preservation, and dispersal of all species from every continent and island, that it would require “miracles more stupendous than any that are recorded in Scripture, even what appear appalling in comparison. The great decisive miracle of Christianity, the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus, — sinks down before it.”

Lecture 6. Summary: Rejects idea of altering interpretation of Genesis to fit science, and rejects idea that the language is poetic or that the days can be expanded to fit long ages. But he argues that the first verse is an “independent proposition,” not necessarily connecting the six days to the beginning. He criticizes numerous young-Earth “scriptural geologists,” lavishing high praise upon their intentions and character before ruthlessly criticizing their positions, accusing them of logical inconsistencies and general ignorance of the science of geology.

Criticizes Henry Cole (“a zealous maintainer of the gospel according to his own conceptions of it,”) for adamant position about Genesis 1:1, for quoting Luther’s opinion as if divine despite Luther’s wrong scientific views of his time, and also for missing the humility of Luther, who said of creation, “with respect to the particular things, there is very much that is involved in difficulty and doubt.”

On the “hypothesis” that God created fossils in the rocks:

“We find the dead parts of animals… the teeth with their sockets… the provisions and modes of nutrition…” to say that “these objects were never the parts of any living creature… Shall we throw such an advantage as this into the hands of the atheist ?

On the style of the creation account in Genesis:

“notion, that we have here ” the language of figure and poetry,” is palpably erroneous. The whole is in the style of plain narrative, evidently intended to be understood as a simple, straight-forward, unadorned history…”

However, it uses “a mode of expression adapted, by the graciousness of Divine condescension, to the capacity and habits of thought which belong to men in an unpolished state of society.”

This is indeed the very principle which will… be adequate to carry us out of the difficulty, without sacrificing the reality of the things related, or invading the truth and majesty of Divine Inspiration.

Rejects idea that “the Six Days of Creation may be understood of periods of time.” Despite superficial resemblances to geological order, “the scheme fails when it is attempted to be carried into detail.” Besides, it “requires a stretch of hyperbole which would be monstrous.”

On those who regard “the interval from the Creation to the Deluge, as affording a sufficient lapse of time for the deposition of the chief part of the stratified formations,”

they in general have not spent those years of patient application which the case demands in order to have the prerequisites for forming a correct judgment, but they take up an alluring book… From this they select a few statements, which, by their want of previous knowledge, they are exposed to no small risk of failing to understand…. He finds incoherencies, and has no suspicion that they are produced only by the fragmentary character of his own attainments… forms a theory of his own which delightfully harmonizes with his views of the scriptural cosmogony : he favours the world with it : and, in the end, he is surprised and grieved, and perhaps irritated, that the geologists do not adopt his views.”

Other criticisms of scriptural geologists: Says one “commits the great fault of drawing universal inferences from particular facts and occasional circumstances, without any sufficiently comprehensive induction;” Another: “the keeping out of sight other facts which would be adverse to their hypotheses, probably from not being themselves acquainted with those facts”
Quoting an article: “The anti-geologists taunt the geologists with their diversities of opinion, but keep back that no two of themselves agree : whereas the geologists, amidst all their controversies, are unanimous, as to the main points.”

Quotes a writer saying when you argue with a scriptural geologist “upon the known and incontrovertible facts of Geology”

he cannot deny them ; but… you perceive that his mind has not really grappled with them… He replies ‘ How do we know that it was not a miracle or, ‘ How do we know that things were then as they are now or, ‘ I will believe God rather than man ;’ or, ‘ We know nothing at all about the matter ;’ or something equally vague, and to which of course no reply can be given. But the most common resource is, ‘ The Deluge did it all.’ This reply exhibits either complete ignorance of the facts, or a rejection of the inevitable conclusions which they suggest…”

Lecture 7. Summary: Sketching a Scriptural defense of his positions, Smith argues that the Infinite God condescended to be described in finite, anthropomorphic language that could be understood by man. He refers to older metaphorical interpretations to argue that “references to natural objects” should also be “comported with the knowledge of the age.” Defends a figurative use of “universal terms” to argue that both the six-day creation and the Flood described a limited region of the “earth.” Presents reasons for accepting animal death before the Fall and other related issues, all in the context of an insistence on a true and divinely-inspired Scripture.

Says the Scriptures, “when understood in the sense intended by the Author of inspiration ; possesses the purity of the best refined silver, the infallibility of unmixed truth.” We must seek “the genuine meaning of the divine oracles, without prepossession in favour of some interpretations, or prejudice against others. Our honest question must be, ” What saith the Lord?”

Notes principle of the Old Testament “representing God by the figurative attribution of the human form.” He sees this as “figurative language” that is “bringing down divine things to the grasp of man.” To try to take these literally is to create an unnecessary conflict with “the plain declarations of the sacred word, upon the spirituality, the omniscience, the unchangeableness of the One Living and True God”

Applying similar logic to “natural phenomena,” Smith notes that “the immobility of the earth was strenuously maintained” for a time as “the general belief of all denominations of Christians,” quoting a “John Henr. Heideggen” attacking the Copernican view: “some celebrated philosophers have endeavoured to reconcile it to the Bible, by considerations drawn from the ambiguity and various use of language… But our pious reverence for the Scripture, the word of truth, will not allow us to depart from the strict propriety of the words.

By contrast, Smith argues that the Scripture’s condescended style is “that which alone would have been intelligible in the early ages of the world ; but it is still the best adapted for universal use.”

Says Genesis 1:1 speaks of a creation “not from preexistent materials… But when that beginning was, when that act was put forth, it was not the design of revelation to inform us.”

Says the “heavens and earth” of Exodus 20:11 only refers to “All that the Israelites could understand” by it, and argues for a “local” interpretation of the creation story as only applying specifically to “the part of our world which God was adapting for the dwelling of man and the animals connected with him.”

Regarding animal death before the Fall, Smith argues that “Be fruitful, and multiply” implies the “departure of precedent individuals.” He argues that “the threatening of death…‘seems very clearly to imply, that the subjects of this law had a knowledge of what death was”. He argues that even if all animals were “herbivorous,” their feeding would “kill by myriads” the insects and minute creatures that live on plants. Also claims “the anatomical structure of the larger part of animal species presents demonstration that they were created to live upon animal food,” although “a few species indeed are omnivorous ; and this circumstance has misled some persons.” Suggests that “predictions of the peace and happiness of the Messiah’s reign… must be understood… as beautiful poetry.” Argues that passages about death in Romans and 1 Corinthians refer only to humans.

On the Deluge, he argues “that universal terms are often used to signify only a very large amount in number or quantity,” example of Joseph’s famine, also “All the cattle of Egypt died,” yet “in subsequent parts of the same chapter, the cattle of the king and people of Egypt are mentioned,” and many other similar examples, notes “Our Lord himself condescended to use the style of the Jews,” describing the queen of Sheba as coming “from the uttermost parts of the earth.” In conclusion: “I humbly think that those terms do not oblige us to understand a literal universality; so that we are exonerated from some otherwise insuperable difficulties in Natural History and Geology.*

Argues against “calculations” for a huge population of humans at the Deluge, due partially to “the effect of moral depravity in diminishing the fecundity of the human species.” Suggests that “an elevation of the bed of the Persian and Indian Seas” could cause a regional Flood. Quotes Bishop Stillingfleet, “who wrote without the least knowledge of geological arguments,” that “The Flood was universal as to mankind : but from thence follows no necessity at all of asserting the universality of it as to the globe of the earth.”

Conclusion on his efforts to reconcile Scripture and Natural History:

I have not attempted to do this by affirming that the Scriptures teach the sciences ; or that their language can be forced, by any grammatical or critical ingenuity, into a literal accordance with scientific truths : but by adducing abundant evidence to shew that the Author of revelation spoke to mankind in such language as they were accustomed to use, such as they could most readily understand, and such as must ever remain the most affecting and impressive to the human heart.”

Lecture 8. Summary: In closing remarks, Smith encourages his young listeners to study the sciences, and particularly Geology, as part of the Biblical call of “applying the heart to know, and to search, and to seek out wisdom and the reason of things.” He remarks on the need to defend “correct interpretation” of the Bible against atheistic “infidels,” and entreats such scientists and philosophers, who have discovered so much about the earth, to turn their attention to the Infinite God.

“Your penetration into the vastness of space and time, has made you familiar with the sublimest ideas in nature. Those ideas have brought you into a contact, incomparably closer than that of ordinary men, with the eternal and the infinite. Is it then possible, that you do not meditate on eternity and infinity, as subjects in which you have the highest interest?

Smith intreats that

“you would effectually resolve to yield to religion its rightful place in your minds and your hearts : that you would give the just proportion of your studies to the facts and evidences of Christianity, its doctrines and duties, its promises, its invitations, and its faithful warnings. ” Glory to God in the highest ; on earth, peace ; among men, good will ! “

Supplemental Notes. A series of additional remarks, including the theology of animal death before the Fall and geological evidence for long ages.

“A system of nature, according to which organized creatures should not die, would be totally incompatible with the plan which the Creator has been pleased to establish.”

Of carnivorous animals: “Their bones and muscles, their teeth, claws, stomachs, and intestines, demonstrate that they were created to be nourished solely by animal food.”

“what is the just interpretation of Rom. v. 12. ” By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin.” We reply that it refers to the access and dominion of death over man…” Without sin, “our first parents” would have been “translated” into “a higher condition” without “dying,” but they “forfeited” this “glorious prospect” and “sunk down into the condition of the inferior animals.”

He compares geological stratum to 30 or 40 volumes of books, many of which each have thin layers like pages, and discusses their general organization and characteristics, which “prove that the whole series of deposits has occupied untold ages.”

“Do not suppose that a satisfactory knowledge of Geology can be obtained in a short time, or by skimming over a book or two… Go into the field of actual search and observation”

Note C refers to a Baobab tree claimed to be older than the presumed date of Noah’s flood. Describes Mr. Rhind’s attempt to argue for “annular circles” that are “irregular” or “that some species may produce more than one woody circle in a year.” Smith exclaims, “I must respectfully suppose that Physiological Botany has not been one of the author’s studies.

Note D responds to “Dr. Young’s Scriptural Geology,” arguing that he cherry-picks examples of flooded fossils to generalize all fossils from the deluge while ignoring fossils with opposite characteristics. “If the worthy author could make so much of his seam of disparted oyster-shells, washed over a small piece of land, what ought he not to have concluded from the case of the opposite character, and covering an area a thousand times more extensive?”

From Note E:

“Can any man imagine that granite was created in its characteristic state, a composition of visibly and palpably distinct materials, scarcely mixed, only put loosely together ? It would be almost as reasonable to affirm that the stomachs of the first animals were created with bitten and masticated fragments of the appropriate food in them.—”…”But this unutterable period ! — Compared with the infinite existence, with the eternity of GOD, it sinks to a moment.”

And a final quote which serves as a fitting conclusion to this summary of Smith’s work:

“This sketch, hasty and imperfect as it is, demonstrates a series of changes in organic nature, adapted to the variations in temperature, atmospheric constitution, and mineral composition, which, upon independent grounds, we have reason to believe did take place. The perfections of the Creator are conspicuous in all this wondrous course of change. We see unity of purpose, harmony of means and adaptations, and infinite variety in modes of development. ” O Lord, how manifold are thy works ! In wisdom hast thou made them all. The earth is full of thy riches : so is this great and wide sea.” (Ps. civ. 24.)

Evolution 2.0 by Perry Marshall (2015)

evolution-2-0-perry-marshall Perry Marshall applies ideas from engineering and information theory to evolutionary biology with a twist that combines intelligent design and evolution. He touts under-appreciated advances in biology that reveal cells to be far cleverer than most people realize, arguing that the cell’s complexity was intelligently designed and that this complexity actually makes evolution possible!

Like Michael Behe, Marshall believes random mutations are utterly insufficient to explain the diversity of life, yet he still believes in the general principle of common ancestry and its compatibility with Christianity. However, unlike Behe, who vaguely resigns the history of life to “non-random” mutations, Marshall highlights the “natural genetic engineering” work of James Shapiro, Barbara McClintock, and others to define a paradigm shift he calls “Evolution 2.0.” Marshall describes a suite of tools that provide “adaptive” mutations where DNA changes, not by copying errors from one generation to the next, but through cells editing their own DNA according to pre-programmed rules to intelligently respond to new challenges in fascinating ways. Marshall argues that not only does Evolution 2.0 finally provide a plausible explanation for common ancestry, but it does so with a clear level of purpose that has far more positive religious implications than the typical – and in his opinion, totally unbelievable – Darwinian story of chance progress through unguided randomness.

The Five Blades

The five “blades” of a “Swiss army knife” are Marshall’s metaphor for the tools cells have to improve themselves with precision and purpose.

Transposition is when cells re-arrange parts of their DNA. Not only do these arrangements apparently follow specific rules of grammar and syntax (i.e. more akin to rearranging words or sentences in a paragraph than simply random letters), but they are triggered more often when they are needed:

“No sir,” replied Dr. Shapiro, “they’re not random at all. When bacteria are comfortable, some mutations cannot be found in over ten billion cells. But when they’re starving, the mutation frequency can go by a factor >100,000-fold and they develop new adaptations so they can survive.”

Horizontal gene transfer is when cells share DNA with each other, both within and across species, apparently according to specific syntax so cells know how to properly integrate the new code in a useful way. Marshall describes a bacterium learning to resist an antibiotic by finding another cell with code for “a pump that can purge the poison from its own system… The bacterium finds the portion of the DNA that codes fora pump, inserts the new code into its own DNA, and starts multiplying.” Apparently we are still advancing the extent of our knowledge on what kinds of creatures can transfer genes with each other. (Among other things, this severely complicates attempts to draw trees of life from DNA sequence similarities.)

Epigenetics involves the switching on and off of existing DNA, in response to changes in the environment, to essentially change which code functions actually run on an organism. In at least some cases these changes appear to be inheritable, in what Marshall calls “Lamarck’s Revenge.”

Symbiogenesis is the instant creation of new forms from the combination of different species. Mitochondria and chloroplasts in cells are classic examples, as is lichen, which I learned is really a combination of fungi and algae. Marshall also explains some fascinating empirical lab evidence for such “quantum leaps” from symbiogenesis:

Dr. Kwang Jeon… did an experiment where tens of thousands of bacteria took up residence inside Amoeba proteus organisms. A fierce parasitic attack ensued, killing almost all the amoeba. But in the space of a year, amoeba and bacteria entered into symbiosis. Both modified expression of their genes as necessary, to support the mutual dependence.

Joen learned how to reliably trigger symbiotic cell mergers between amoeba and bacteria. It took 20 generations, about 18 months, for the cells to become fully interdependent. After that, removal of either symbiotic partner proved fatal to both.

Marshall claims that “major classes of cells, plants, and animals are built from symbiotic mergers of multiple smaller organisms.” He notes the work of Dr. Lynn Margulis, who “argued that Symbiogensis is a primary driver of evolution.” Unlike Darwinian evolution, which “emphasizes competition as the primary force, Margulis focused on harmony and cooperation.”

Finally, whole genome duplication is when a rare non-sterile hybrid offspring of two species “inherits double chromosomes… The process of joining the two DNA strands together also, in rare matings, provokes rearrangements through Transposition. This sudden rearranging is called hybrid dysgenesis, and it can provoke sudden new and useful features its parents never had.” Marshall discusses clues that the genetic information for the first jawed vertebrate came from a doubled chromosome in a single generation,” though this event likely “only created the conditions for the jaw to form some time later.”

Insights and Implications

Marshall’s fast-paced style jumps around with personal details about his brother’s loss of faith and his own journey of discovering parts of the science, with a variety to connections to Christianity and the Bible, and other implications and opinions. It’s easy-to-read and very accessible, but perhaps at the cost of diving deeper into the details about the “five blades.” He repeats “DNA is a code” over and over throughout the book without clearly (or at least, as clearly as I would have liked) demonstrating how, for instance, the encoding pattern is a choice that could have been different. That being said, Marshall provides numerous resources (via a well-designed bibliographic code, of course) for diving deeper into almost everything he covers, and the smorgasbord of content contains plenty of interesting insights throughout.

1. Marshall devotes one appendix to defending his harmonization of science and Genesis, highlighting similarities between the order of the creation account and the current scientific consensus. Whether you’re familiar with these lines of argument or not, there is much food for thought and some original thinking as well.

2. Marshall describes his engineering-based skepticism of the power of natural selection this way:

If natural selection explains how everything came to be, then how come it doesn’t teach you how to build anything?

If natural selection acting on random mutation is so elegantly powerful, why don’t programmers or businesses or really anybody create anything that way? He describes a general principle that “noise” always destroys data and argues for applying it to the genome, noting that when evolutionary biologists attempt to simulate random evolution via computer models, their best results look a lot more like “2.0” goal-seeking evolution than “random” mutation.

3. Marshall brings insight from his engineering background to the dismissive claims of poor design:

Is the body well designed or poorly designed? Skeptics often criticize the human body, presuming it’s an accumulation of chance accidents. They say things like, “The human eye is a pathetic design. It’s got a big, blind spot and the ‘wires’ are installed backward.”

…When I was a manufacturing production manager, I had to produce an indicator lamp assembly for a piece of equipment. The design had a light bulb and two identical resistors, which I thought were stupid… I learned the hard way that when you criticize a design, you may have a very incomplete picture of the many constraints the designer has to work within. Designs always have delicate tradeoffs… Sometimes you have to compromise between 15 competing priorities….

I am not saying there are no suboptimal designs in biology… But human beings must be very careful to not proudly assert that we could “obviously do better.” We don’t know that. We do not understand what’s involved in designing an eye because we’ve never built one.

4. More on the implications of “cooperation” rather than “competition”:

Nature is so often depicted as cruel and merciless in its bitter and unrelenting struggle. But when you actually spend time in nature… you witness fabulous, intricate interdependence. Grass keeps soil from eroding. Bees and flowers engage in a dance with each other… Big fish get their mouths cleaned by “cleaner fish”… Cooperation and symbiosis are so ever-present we tend to look right past them and only notice the competition.

5. Thoughts on common ancestry for humans:

Christians believe God became man, physically born of a human mother… If a human can be the Son of God by possessing the Spirit of God, then why can’t a primate become a human being by receiving a human spirit?

6. Marshall argues that Evolution 2.0 can actually teach us more about God and nature by revealing his skills as a designer, and letting us discover things that have enormous practical applications for designing and building responsive systems, from biology to business.

I believe in Evolution 2.0 because the God I believe in is more magnificent than previously believed. He doesn’t have to beam zebras from the sky onto the savanna. He designed a process that formed them from the dust of the ground and tailored them to their environment… God wants us to study all of what He has made… God is the Original Scientist, the Original Engineer. This opens huge vistas in medicine, genetics, computer science, and technology. You can’t learn how zebras are built from a miracle – but you can learn from a natural process… What if we understood God to be an engineer so skilled that he endows cells with the ability to engineer themselves?

Behe Connection

On the one hand, Marshall’s book would appear to be a natural partnership with Behe: Behe argues that evolution is real, but random mutation is not a sufficient mechanism, and Marshall steps in to provide those mechanisms that Mivart was anticipating would be found way back in 1871. In fact, Marshall essentially makes this connection in a brief discussion of Behe’s first book Darwin’s Black Box. Yet on the other hand, there is a discrepancy, with Behe arguing in Edge of Evolution that Shapiro’s “natural genetic engineering” does not appear to have done anything for malaria in several decades despite intense selective pressure and more numbers of creatures than all the mammals that are thought to have ever existed!

I reached out to Marshall for his perspective on this. He replied that he planned to respond after additional research but offered an initial opinion that Behe was “singling out a very specific instance or example that may be overlooking a larger pattern or singling out particular facts that exclude others. And I think he’s drastically underestimating the capabilities of natural genetic engineering. He’s also being vague about how evolution actually does work.” (If Marshall has the opportunity to respond further I will update this post.)

Conclusion

Marshall rejects the dogma of both sides, yet not with a “boring” conventional “theistic evolution,” but with an exciting “2.0” intelligently-designed-evolution that will be fresh and even paradigm-shifting for many readers, though he insists much of this has been known for years within biology communities while being understandably under-appreciated and under-reported by the Darwinian and creationist dogmatists. Of course, Marshall ends up sounding rather dogmatic about his own newfound position (perhaps history will remember him as “Shapiro’s bulldog”), with critics claiming he invokes a host of processes without truly understanding how they work or what their limits may be. But regardless, Evolution 2.0 is an exciting introduction to a lot of interesting ideas with profound implications for creationists and evolutionists, Christians and atheists alike.

 

General View of the Geology of Scripture by George Fairholme (1833)

George Fairholme was a “scriptural geologist” of the 1800’s. Like Granville Penn, whom he frequently referred to, Fairholme opposed the old-earth interpretations of geology and Scripture, but he spent less time on the days of Genesis and more time on developing “flood geology” explanations for the evidence in the rocks.

Preface. Claims early geology opposed Scripture but was full of errors, as it improves it shows itself to support Scripture.

“Of late years, accordingly, fact after fact has been gradually accumulating” … “and every day produces some new evidence of the hasty and erroneous conclusions” … “those undeniable physical facts, seen in a new and more correct light, will lend their aid to the support instead of to the destruction of our confidence in Scripture ; and when the simplicity and consistency of the Geology of Scripture, will make us regard with astonishment and contempt, schemes that could so long have exerted so powerful an influence over our reason and understanding.”

Introductory Chapter. Criticizes “even some of the most learned divines” for “taking liberties with the original text,” saying they have “unintentionally aided the cause of scepticism and unbelief.” Says “rhe days of the Mosaical history… with their evenings and their mornings, were, therefore, forced into the indefinite periods necessary for the operation” by a “coalition” of “Geologists, without any knowledge of the original text, and learned men, without any knowlege of geology,”

Says “a very few thousands of years have elapsed since the creation of mankind,” and “we can infer” from Scripture that the end is soon, so it would be a “great” “disproportion” “if we admit” that “millions of years may have been necessary for the preparation and ripening of this earth from chaos, to fit it up as a stage on which so brief a drama was to be acted.”

Considering the “Great First Cause,” “even admitting a chaos, that chaos must have been created in all its component parts.”

Like Penn, he develops an “appearance of age” argument in rocks as analogous to man and trees: “We cannot for a moment suppose the first man to have been once an infant, or the first oak tree to have sprung from an acorn…” Also agreed with Penn that all “appearances” of the earth can be “accounted for” by “the three great events recorded in history” of the uplifted land on Day 3, the global “deluge,” and the “natural causes” between them, “together with the subsequent action of natural causes from that time to the present day, or for upwards of four thousand years..

On Scripture as a historical record: “The minerals of the earth have been likened to coins stamped with unknown or difficult characters… the antiquary would make little advance in his work, if he neglected to consult such histories as were within his reach,”

On writings of Moses: “if the Sacred Scriptures are ‘the unerring dictates of divine inspiration, which prophecy so fully determines, we must consider them as infallible in every point.”

Chapter 1. Says the surface of the earth only varies by a few miles of height between mountains and ocean depths, which is so small a portion of the whole globe’s diameter that it’s not justified to form theories of the formation of the whole thing based on “so slight a view of its mere surface”

Argues the days of Genesis are limited to “24 hours” but agrees with Penn that “the whole of our solar system, started into being at the same instant” on the first day, though the successive creative acts on the Earth “occupied a period of six days”.

Quotes Exodus on the work week to support the literal days: “In this commandment the days of creation, and working days of twenty-four hours, are so completely identified in the sense and construction, that nothing but that species of force, so often resorted to by philosophy, in support of a week, but favourite theory, can separate them.”

Chapter 2. Discusses day 2, interprets firmament as atmosphere, describes effects of atmosphere in enhancing sun’s light, views “waters which were above the firmament” as “clouds” : “The moisture exhaled from the newly created waters, by the newly created sun, was elevated from the surface of the globe, still hid under its watery covering, and was suspended in the higher regions of the firmament, to descend upon the future dry land in fruitful showers.”

Chapter 3. Quotes from and agrees with Penn on the formation of ocean “bed” and “transition” rocks in day 3, and the appearance (not creation) of sun and moon in day 4

Chapter 4. Says God must have created “pure soil” along with mature plants on top of the “primitive “rocks. Briefly discusses effects of rivers carrying soil to the sea, tides, and currents (reminiscent of Lyell). Concludes “the lower secondary formations” were gradually deposited during the “sixteen centuries” after creation, but “For the upper secondary formations and alluvial soils, we shall find a full and sufficient cause when we come to the consideration of the Mosaic deluge.”

Chapter 5. Says the “researches of geologists” have broadly divided the Earth’s surface into three groups:

  • “primitive rocks” with “no organic remains”
  • “transition or secondary rocks” with “organic remains of sea shells,” “never found under primitive rocks”
  • “Alluvial deposits” … “contain abundance of shells, together with the bones of quadrupeds,” and of the human race ; ” And they are found above all the other rocks”

Says the “primitive effects” can only be traced to the Creator, “But as it is evident that this creation, as soon as completed, was submitted to certain laws,” it is “consistent” “to account for these secondary effects by secondary causes.” “These laws” “are fully sufficient to account” for what we find within 6,000 years.

Quotes “Mr. Lyell” and his “extraordinary conclusion” about the amount of material deposited by the Ganges as evidence against it having done so for “millions of years.”

Argues that in the initial “gradually forming deposits” “we should seldom expect to find more than the shelly remains of the crustaceous animals” due to the “instinctive self-preservation” of larger animals during the “deluge.”

Claims the “secondary formations in fresh water lakes” don’t have the “stratified regularity” caused by tides, so “regular strata… must have been formed at the period of the deluge.”

Chapter 6. Discusses “traditions” of the Deluge throughout various cultures, argues these are “additional evidences to confirm our confidence in the unerring truth of the inspired writings.”

Says Scripture’s “simplicity” has led to “erroneous” ideas of the account, including the “common notion” that “the sea rose upon the dry land to the height of the highest mountains,” and then “gradually retired… leaving the same dry land that had before been inhabited.”

Quotes Scriptures to emphasize idea “that the earth, or dry land, of the antediluvian world, had then been destroyed.” Says Granville Penn “proves” the passage “never had any other interpretation, or translation” than “the destruction of the earth, as well as of all flesh that moved upon it.” Also quotes Enoch, “though not worthy of a place among the canonical books of Scripture,” as showing the “prevailing opinion” about “the destruction of the earth that then was.”

Argues there could not be a mass of water hiding under the Earth brought up for the sole purpose of the deluge because the “general laws of the Creator” include “economy of means” which shows that “The means employed for any end are never greater than are absolutely necessary to attain that end.”

Says we must submit “to the great truth every where impressed upon us, that ” the ways of God are not as our ways, nor his thoughts as our thoughts.” All our reasoning must end in this point, that the deluge, like the creation, was a preternatural event…” and not look for it in the “mere laws of nature.”

Chapter 7. Suggests flood mechanics: “that either the bed of the former sea was gradually elevated, or ” broken up ;” or that the first land was gradually depressed beneath the level of the waters ; or, perhaps, by a combination of both.”  Argues against “erroneous idea” that “Ararat” implies it was known before the deluge.

Argues “from this long continuance of the waters upon the earth, that we can account, in a satisfactory manner, for many of the stratified appearances in the upper beds…. The soils of the old earth, loosened by the moisture, must now have become suspended in the turbid waters, and been deposited in the bed of the ocean as at other times, only in unusual quantity…. 

As waters receded, and “point after point upon the new and soft earth became liberated from their sway, the various floating bodies, whether animal or vegetable, would be scattered on the surface, or deeply embedded in the yielding mud or sand by the violence of the waves. Other mixed masses of organic remains, brought into one place in an indiscriminate heap, by the eddies of the waters, would now be covered up by these new secondary formations, of mud, or gravel, which formations would be of very considerable depth… It is also highly probable that many submarine volcanic districts would now become exposed, and also that even volcanic action was not wanting to complete the terrors of this curse of trembling.”

On a new creation after the Flood: “though no direct mention is made of a new creation of vegetable substances after the deluge, it must have been both as necessary, and as easy an operation, as in the beginning…” Also “there are many reasons for extending this conclusion also to the animal world… ” Like Penn, he quotes Psalm 104 (“..they were created, and He renewed the face of the earth”)

“We ought to consider…”every living thing of all flesh” in the same sense as we find it in various other parts of Scripture… not as literally meaning every created being over the whole globe, but merely a great number…”

On extinction: “We have some reason to doubt, from the fossil remains of animals now discovered, which have not yet been found alive upon the present earth, whether every living creature was included in this strong expression…  we feel assured that the whole existing race of man on the whole earth, has sprung from Noah and his family… we have no evidence to lead us to the same conclusion with respect to quadrupeds, or birds found in such isolated countries as New Holland…”

Chapter 8.

Discusses “fossil sea shells… found upon the Andes, at an elevation of 14,000 feet… Whole ridges… are found… so full of fossil shells, that no doubt can be entertained of their present site having once formed the bottom of the sea… ridge of the Jura mountains… length is nearly one hundred leagues.. almost entirely composed of compact limestone, in strata which alternate with beds of clay and shelly marl ; and the stratification is so much inclined, that it presents a most interesting example and proof of a raising or depressing power having been in force, subsequent to the nearly horizontal stratification which must at all times take place from a deposition in water.”

Claims “Innumerable masses of primitive rock are found scattered on the surface” “so far detached from their parent rock on the Alpine summits”… “have given rise to much difficulty, and various theories among geologists,” but is better explained by “the powers of the deluge.” Discusses “recent and remarkable instances” of the power of waves to move large rocks.

Says “laws of gravitation, and of fluids” explain how “raw materials” “brought into the ocean by the rivers,” are “sifted and arranged” and “separately deposited” .. “if we allow for the action of those laws in the depth of the ocean, only on a scale infinitely more enlarged,” “we shall find a much more easy and rational means of accounting for the geological phenomena on the surface of the globe,”

Say ”most common source of error” in explaining “formation of secondary rocks” is “measuring.. by the small and contracted scale of our own actions.” “Thus we almost instantly conclude, on observing a calcareous formation some hundreds of feet in depth, that it must have required some prodigiously long period of time to accumulate such a mass”

Quotes descriptions of caves, other lands, says we find “so many additional traces of a former ocean,” … Seems struck by the “perfect level” of vast “plains” as “marks of the former occupation of the sea are everywhere displayed”.

Summary of view: “the more we study geology and mineralogy… under the impression of the historical view, which informs us not only that the old earth was to disappear, but that it actually did become overwhelmed by a flood of waters, and that we are consequently now inhabiting a new earth, the very nature of which assures us… that it formerly was the bed of the ocean ; the more easily we shall be enabled to account… for the secondary formations and effects… the primitive rocks were created without any connexion or assistance from the sea, of which they bear no marks ; that the depression for the “gathering together of the waters” must naturally have given rise to the earliest second formations, in which no fossil remains are found ; that in the course of upwards of sixteen centuries, many strata of a sandy and calcareous nature must naturally have been formed, with which the entire bed of the antediluvian ocean must have been encased… an interchange was to take place between the level of the old sea and of the old land…”

Discussing coal formations, views as “occasioned by terrestrial vegetable substances, deposited by marine action,” notes “impressions of fish and shells in the strata of coal in Leicestershire.”

Notes “difficulty” of “solid dyke of a different mineral, which sometimes completely intersects the strata, and appears to have been injected, as it were, into a fissure”. Claims “It is not easy to account for the manner in which the strata of the chalk were sustained, and kept asunder, whilst the petrifaction of this juice was going on ; but this, like many other such difficulties in mineralogy, does not affect the general question ; nor ought the dykes of the coal fields to be advanced in opposition to the general principle of formation which we have now been considering.”

Postscript to Chapter 8

Discusses new paper on coal which he says shows how “geology” is “slowly but surely” “advancing” towards his point of view, showing the “contradiction and error” of “the hasty conclusions of the continental geology.”

Explains idea that coal “must have been deposited in fresh water” due to inferences from “deep-rooted error, that we are now inhabiting the same dry land which existed before the Moasic deluge”, but a new “coal seam” is “covered by a roof” “filled with a considerable diversity of marine shells.

“Mr. Phillips then reasons upon the “periodical return of the marine element into its ancient receptacle, after that had been, for some time, occupied by fresh water, and its few inhabitants,” but Fairholme says this must “shake to their foundations the theories of lacustrine deposits”, and “we must continue to look upon such vague and contradictory theories, as nothing better than empty dreams.”

Argues that general order of strata (e.g. primitive rocks with no fossils, more diverse fossils in later formations) matches Biblical expectations.

Chapter 9

“It has been too long and too generally the custom with geologists to reason upon the age of particular formations, from the nature of the fossils which they may be found to contain.” Aims to correct “erroneous conclusions”.

Quotes extensively from “Edinburgh Encyclopedia” : “no proof of such universal formations, as they have been called, exists,” argues against “presumed identity between certain strata mutually, and that of the fossils which they contain,” due to differences in living species between “polar” and “equatorial” regions, as well as less contrasted regions. In order “to prove the identity of an universal stratum, one species, or set of species, must have existed all over the ocean where its materials were deposited… To prove that particular fossils determine the character and place of any particular stratum, every species, or set of species, should have changed with the superposition of a fresh stratum.” Proceeds to list fossils “found in nearly all the strata.”

On coal formations: “Some writers have endeavoured, indeed, to account for the coal formations, by the idea of submarine forests of sea weed, which they have supposed to exist in the depths of the ocean… yet we have no reason… to suppose that any thing like trees exists there… The ground for supposing that all these numerous strata in the coal districts… to be included in diluvial effects… is that” natural laws had “sufficient time to class and arrange the enormous quantity of movable materials so abundantly provided by that destructive event… however difficult we may find it, to bring our minds to the conviction, that beds of many hundred feet might have been formed in the course of a few months,”

Concludes that “the bed of the antediluvian sea” contained “valleys” or “basins” to “receive the contents” of coal formations, “while that sea was depositing the whole movable matter of the former continents.” “In these deposits large trees are often found, detached from the great strata of coal, and extending from one stratum through a variety of others, which is sufficient proof of these strata, at least, having all been formed at one period.”

“the whole forest scenery of the globe, with the roots, branches, and foliage entire, must have been floated off upon the waters, matted together in groups, and forming immense islands, which must have been overwhelmed in confused masses, hy the force of the waves, embedded at various depths, and covered up by strata, of various earthy and sandy composition,”

Dismisses “wild and unreasonable theories” to explain “numerous remains of elephants in the frozen regions” – that “climates of our planet have been changed,” or that they “had a constitution fitted to a polar climate, because some elephants have been there found to have hair upon their bodies,” or “The complete state of preservation” as proof that they “lived where they died, and having been suddenly encased in ice,”

Claims evidence of ocean currents “in a northerly direction” as evidence of existing “mechanical force” to “transport floating bodies”

Discusses drowned bodies floating after they become “inflated” until their hides “burst,” claims “corroborative evidence” that “as the elephant, the hippopotamus and rhinoceros, are the animals, of all others, we should expect to float longest in an entire state, from the great strength and thickness of their skins, so they are the very animals now found in such vast numbers in the frozen regions”

Chapter 10

Argues mammoths could not have lived in the polar regions due to “no appearance of vegetation for their support”, either currently or fossilized – if they were frozen “suddenly” “by some unexplained convulsion” why do we not find “quantities of vegetable productions amongst which they must have lived, and which would equally have been preserved in the most perfect manner?” Also claims “many of the most shaggy animals are natives of the tropics.” Notes that an “entire rhinocerous” was found preserved in SIberia not “covered with a coat of hair.”

Discusses mixed fossil remains of “Monte Bolca,” claims “in almost all instances of fossil remains of quadrupeds, the two [“terrestrial” and “marine”] are more or less blended together, and in a manner to lead to the instant conviction, that sea and land productions had, by some means or other, become indiscriminately confused”
Suggests sea level “gradually” sunk, “as it fell, every movable substance, either animal, vegetable or mineral, into the lower levels, where they were submitted to the lateral action of the tides, and, consequently, arranged in stratified order,” filling “the basins of Paris, of London,” etc, with “their load of fossil treasures”

Chapter 11

Responds to “Reliquiae Diluvianae”, “with the most sincere respect for the well-known talents of Professor Buckland,”. Quote’s Buckland on the Kirkdale cave with hippo, rhino, elephant, and hyena remains and his assertion “that the animals lived and died in the regions where their remains are now found, and were not drifted thither by the diluvial waters from other latitudes.””

Criticizes lack of food – “He admits the evident and close connexion between the fossil remains of quadrupeds, found in all countries ; but though he sees the utter hopelessness of ever being able to provide the necessary food for elephants in the polar regions, he yet casts aside this insuperable difficulty” of his position.

Considers it “remarkable” that Buckland dismisses “the principle of transportation” for the Kirkdale cave when he applies it “as the only possible means of accounting for the fossil bones found in the high elevations of Asia and America.” (Also quotes a “Mr. Temple” on origin of “monstrous animals” found in the “valley of Tarija” – “certainly I do not think it possible that any elephant could have there passed.””)

Quotes Cuvier on mammoth remains, bones similar to “Asiatic” elephant, but distinctions include “spiral” tusks. “They are scarcely ever alone… together with the bones of other quadrupeds of known kinds, as rhinoceros, ox, antelope, horse, and frequently with the remains of marine animals, such as shells, &c, Some of which are even fixed upon them.” .. “An irruption of the sea… could not have spread them to such a distance, nor dispersed them so equally.”

Criticizes “contradictory” “reasoning” : “He first considers, that the bones of the animals must have been scattered over the country, like those of our domestic cattle,… decomposed” … “and then proceeds to show, that they are not decomposed, but preserved entire by a sudden convulsion,”. .. “we seldom find… the bones of cattle covered with oysters, or other sea animals.” … “we must consider what effect would have been produced by this sudden formation of an icy bed, on the woods and jungles through which this shaggy monster must naturally have been wandering,

Concludes based on lack of food, method of transport, “by the same line of reasoning, concerning all other tropical productions in unnatural climates,” that “the globe has undergone no material change in its position, nor in its temperature, since the creation.”

Supplementary Part to Chapter 11

In travels “I have found, in every direction, the most complete corroborative proofs of the solid foundation on which the Scripture system is constructed,” shares examples of “entire fossil trees” and “foot-marks of animals”

“the stems of the larger plants have, hitherto, in general, been observed to lie in the same direction as the strata themselves” but “of very considerable size, have been found… perpendicular… and intersecting many of these,… One of the first that attracted particular notice in the North, was found in Craigleith free-stone quarry, in 1826… In 1830, a second and more remarkable fossil tree was exposed to view in this quarry…  Its total length was upwards of 60 feet ; and at an angle of about 40 degrees it intersected 10 or 12 different strata of the sand-stone.’ … There were no branches, nor marks of them on its bark; nor were there any roots,”

Lists several other “instances,” shows that “instead of thousands or millions of years, for such deposits of sand-stone rock, but a very short time indeed” … “ the formation of coal, under every circumstance, must be attributed to the progressive sinking and covering up of the diluvial vegetable ruin at the period of the flood… Our notions of lacustrine quiet deposits, in an immense period of years, must be for ever laid aside with regard to the coal fields. The presence of sea shells, in even a few of the coal strata, is’ sufficient for the total destruction of this long received theory.”

Discusses “peat moss” that “Mr. Lyell” admits to be of recent formation, emphatically states “There can, perhaps, be no stronger ground taken up for the support of the Geology of Scripture, or for the destruction of the theory of indefinite periods, than the argument arising from the nature and extent of peat moss”

Regarding “difficulty” of “fossil foot-marks”, notes that “in the present course” footsteps “could not long resist even the gentlest action of the waves.” But after the flood, “every successive tide must, consequently, have deposited some additional beds upon the growing earth,” as with the trees, “in this same manner alone can we also account for the preservation of those animal foot-marks now discovered between the strata.

“But it will naturally be asked, where was the animal to come from, at a time when the whole living kingdom was in the act of being destroyed … all had not yet perished … at least a few individuals, of the animal world, were lingering out a miserable existence,” also “less difficulty” if the animal were a turtle, “of amphibious nature,” “as has been generally conjectured”

Sees “grooves” “generally lying in a S. W. direction,” as evidence of the actions of “currents” .. “the rounded forms of our hills, and the easy rotundity of our secondary elopes, must all have been occasioned by the action of the retiring waters upon the soft and recent deposits. We now plainly perceive why our mountain lowland valleys are much longer and more extensive than the action of their running streams could possibly have occasioned, even in millions of years.

“Let it not be urged for the future, as has hitherto so often been done in our philosophical schools, that Scripture was graciously bestowed upon us only for moral, and not for scientific purposes.”

Chapter 12

Addresses the “warm coat of hair and wool” found on the northern “elephants” – claims a “variety of the species” near the Himalayas has “a thick and shaggy coat of hair” – just “because a few fossil specimens may have been found with hair,” doesn’t mean all of them did, suggests “the number of bodies with hair, bore no greater proportion to those without, than we now find to exist in the living species.”

“We have not yet discovered, it is true, an existing variety of the elephant, exactly similar to that which has received the title of mastodon among geologists,” but we may become acquainted “acquainted, at some future time, with a living mastodon,” noting parts of the earth that had not been fully explored and the regularity of newly discovered animals.

“When we consider, on the other hand, the unfathomable depths of the ocean, an element to which many of these animals must have belonged, which we now generally look upon as extinct, it must be admitted to be extremely probable, that many of our conclusions on that head have been inconsiderate and hasty.” – discusses reports of “sea serpents” – also regarding “interior of Africa… we must suspend our judgment on the subject of the extinct species of the crocodile”

believed “every new discovery will tend to show the literal truth of the Inspired Record, and the provident care of the Creator, for the preservation of all created species.

Notes changing science: “It was, formerly, one of the well known facts of geology, that there had once existed a species of carnivorous elephants” – notes a fraudulent specimen at the “British Museum” that turned the tusks “downward” to make it “interesting,”  bemoans that “In a late number of a cheap and popular publication… the mastodon, or the mammoth, is accordingly given with the tusks placed in this unnatural and inconvenient position.”

On spiral tusks, gives reasons to doubt that “that all fossil elephants had spiral tusks, or that ail recent ones have those of a simple bend upwards.”

We ought to learn caution on subjects which involve such important conclusions, from the numerous instances we, from time to time, experience, of being forced to give up what had long been looked upon as well established facts… The numerous revolutions of the continental geology must, therefore, now be reduced to the one great revolution, recorded in the Inspired Writings, and of which we have now been tracing so many unquestionable proofs.”

Chapter 13

Addresses “the rarity of human fossil remains,” a “difficulty” which has “thrown a shade of doubt and uncertainty over the historical account of the deluge,” but “appears to be totally unwarranted by facts.”

Replies we should not expect them in “abundance” because there was “numerically, no proportion between the race of man and that of other animals…. man was created, one male and one female, from whom the whole human race was to spring; while all the other species of animated beings were produced “abundantly,” and the earth at once replenished with them” – also notes the present multiples of animal numbers compared to humans

Appeals to incompleteness of fossil record: “it is only within a few years, and in a very confined portion of the whole earth, that fossil remains, in diluvial formations, have excited the attention which they now do…. we may hope, that the instances of diluvial human fossil remains will soon be greatly accumulated,”

“it has even been, by some, considered nearly certain, that human beings had not been created at the period when the other animals, whose remains we find in a fossil state, were the inhabitants of the earth…” Discusses bones found in “limestone caverns” which he sees as “witnesses of diluvial destruction.” Quotes Buckland’s descriptions. Discusses descriptions of human fossil remains, which others see as later creation from previously existing animals, but he sees as all existing at the same time and buried by flood.

Quotes “Mr. Firmas” describing a cave in France with lots of bones, asking “where that water could have come from” to form the stalactites, discussing the difficulty of explaining how the bones arrived, Fairholme concludes “they are evidently attributable to the same diluvial cause, by means of which the innumerable lime-stone caves of all secondary countries have been so abundantly furnished.” Quoting another: “it is quite evident, that in the cavities near Kostritz, human bones are found intermingled, without order, with the bones of animals of the ancient world.”

How did these caves form anyway? “It has, hitherto, been too much the custom for science to endeavour, by some means or other, to account for every individual phenomenon presented to the view on the surface of the earth. By such injudicious attempts, many able men have led themselves into contradictions, beyond which they could not advance, and from which it was difficult to retrograde ; and it is to be feared, that many of the errors of our geological theories have arisen from this mistaken course.”

Offers “a passing opinion” on the “origin and cause of these remarkable caves and fissures” as en effect of the flood, “the former dry lands sunk, or that the bed of the former sea was elevated,” where “the lands that were then, for the first time, left above the level of the sea, must have been in a soft and saturated state.” Admits the “insuperable difficulty, in accounting for the regular cavities in which flint nodules have subsequently been formed,” also “much more shall we despair of plausibly accounting for the more extensive and even stupendous grottoes peculiar to other marine deposits, as palpably having formed a part of the bed of the antediluvian ocean.” Yet “the obscurity of the cause does not, in any degree, affect the truth of the facts presented to our contemplation,” has “no hesitation” that the human and animal bones in the caves are together “indisputable remains of the ancient world.”

Chapter 14

Discusses “the situation of Paradise,” and the difficulty of explaining the “Euphrates” and other rivers if “present dry lands of the earth formed the bed of the antediluvian sea,” and “the former lands were utterly destroyed at the period of the deluge,” – Discusses Penn’s “marginal gloss” theory – notes the “evidence” is not as “distinct” as other Scriptural examples, but “when we add.. the remarkable geological proofs of the correctness of this view of the subject, the mind becomes fully confirmed in this opinion ; and this, the only part of the Inspired Writings which stood in contradiction to the geology exhibited in the rest, becomes at once both consistent and clear.”

Chapter 15

On early man – rejects idea that early man was “primitive”, “such as we now find amongst the savages of Africa or America”, but “one of intelligence and understanding,” – “savage” man in a
course” of  “descending from the creation, and from the deluge, instead of ascending from our own times,”

Argues for “the high probability of the original language of the Sacred Scriptures [that is, “Hebrew”] being the pure and original tongue first communicated to man by his Maker” – claims “the language of the Hebrews as the most probable source from whence all other tongues have been derived”

On race, notes that “the complexions of men are influenced by the temperature of the climates they have long inhabited,” claims that Jews around the world have assumed “the varied tint of the individual people amongst whom they dwell,” and thus “in the many various shades which mankind… no sound argument raised against a common origin from a parent stock.”

Discusses Native American and African spiritual beliefs and traditions and their similarities to the Jews, these and other things as evidence of “the gradual descent of all the present human race, from the one family preserved at the deluge.” … similarities in common words among languages, the “employment of a decimal gradation” (base-10 counting)

Conclusions

Essentially argues that even if natural laws could create order out of chaos, you still need a God to create the initial components, and since God obviously didn’t do it that way, he therefore created it perfect/instant/mature.

“For when we consider the evident design, which is so remarkably displayed in the structure of these bodies, we must feel satisfied, that though the laws of nature may, and do, now regulate them, they never could have, at first, produced them…”

Defends a “perfect creation,” claims “the supposed longer periods of philosophy, were only called for in the erroneous idea of gradual perfection, from an imperfect creation,” … “when we add to the usual qualifications of a correct historian, the incomprehensible guidance of divine inspiration, so clearly evinced by numerous prophecies distinctly fulfilled, we feel that the conclusions to which our inquiries have conducted us, by the simple evidence of reason and of facts, are only such as might have been anticipated, when we consider the unerring source from which this divine guidance or inspiration flowed ; and that both the events, and the inspired record of them, which has been so wonderfully preserved for our information, are supernatural and divine.”

The Edge of Evolution by Michael Behe (2007)

edge-of-evolution-michael-behe Michael Behe’s Edge of Evolution is a decade-later (2007) follow-up to his 1996 book Darwin’s Black Box, which described the “irreducible complexity” of certain biological structures and argued that Darwinian evolution could not produce them. In this book, Behe looks at the limits of what natural selection and random mutation can do, trying to define what he calls “the edge” of evolution.

Behe makes a careful distinction between the theory of common ancestry, which he believes and shares some evidence for, and the mechanism of random mutations acted on by natural selection (or, “Darwinian evolution”), which he argues is nowhere near powerful enough to account for the diversity of the creatures that share a common ancestry. He critiques scientists who present evidence of common ancestry as evidence of the power of random mutation.

Arms Race or Trench Warfare?

Behe looks at the best-touted examples of what Darwinian evolution can accomplish through the natural selection of random mutations, focusing on human resistance to malaria and malarial resistance to antibiotics. He argues that these “beneficial” single- or double-point mutations are really destructive: malaria hijacks machinery in human red blood cells to do its dirty work, and human mutations essentially break that machinery, sacrificing it as a loss for a net gain of stopping the malaria. Similarly, antibiotics hijack machinery in malaria cells to do their work, and malarial resistance essentially breaks that machinery in a similar sacrifice.

Far from an “arms race” of creatures developing new and complex machinery, Behe says these examples are actually the destructive consequences of a “trench warfare” where each side sustains damage to their own structures to prevent the attacker from taking advantage of them – like “burning a bridge” to block an invading army.

The “beneficial” mutations in malaria have not created new protein bindings, developed any new structures, or come up with any way to counter sickle-cell resistance, cooler temperatures, or other limitations. This explains why malaria has overcome many antibiotics within a few years but has not bested sickle-cell in centuries. “Darwinian evolution can deal quickly and easily with some problems, but slowly if at all with others.”

Since malaria multiplies to a trillion cells in a human host, and the number of malarial cells that exist each year (10^20) is more than the number of mammals that have ever existed, Behe argues we can compare the limited performance of malaria in the last few decades to the total performance of mammals over a hundred million years.

He argues it is not reasonable to expect Darwinian evolution to come up with any benefit that requires more than two point mutations. Quoting Coyne and Orr, he says we have to consider not just what is theoretically possible but probable enough to be “biologically reasonable.”

Behe discusses the evolution of an anti-freeze protein in the notothenoid fish over a few million years, arguing that a possible step-by-step pathway to its development is simple and fundamentally different from developing more complex structures. It “underscores the limits of random mutation, rather than its potential.”

Rugged Fitness Landscape

Unlike an imaginary smooth hill that can be climbed, mutation by single mutation, he describes a “rugged fitness landscape” of mutation effects, with a chaotic mess of valleys and local maximums. He argues that evolution by random mutation is most likely to get stuck on local hills. “Random mutation and natural solution can’t solve the rugged landscape dilemma – they actually cause the dilemma.”

“The eminent geneticist Francois Jacob famously wrote that Darwinian evolution is a ‘tinkerer,’ not an engineer.”

Behe highlights recent biological discoveries to look not just at the final complex structures of living beings but at their marvelous ability to self-assemble their complex pieces. Proteins must have matching shapes and charges to bind together from a huge array of possible shape space, quoting biophysicist Sarah Woodson, “it is as though cars could be manufactured by merely tumbling their parts onto the factory floor.”

He discusses intraflagellar transport (IFT) and its role in cilia construction, how materials are gathered at the base of a cilium before construction, how a rotating filament cap guides flagellum pieces down a rod. Repressors and hox genes and pyramids of cascading circuit switches. Markers that identify different segments of a body for the other pieces to fill in the details.

Behe says the “likelihood of getting two new binding sites” requires “more cells than likely have existed on earth.” He looks at HIV, a virus with nine genes that has a much faster mutation rate than human or malaria cells. “Every possible single-point mutation occurs 10^4 [one thousand] times per day in an HIV-infected individual.” Every double-point mutation would occur in each person once each day. And yet HIV has produced no new protein bindings for the development of new machinery.

To the objection that we cannot extrapolate to billions of years from the performance of malaria or HIV in a short amount of time:

“Time is actually not the chief factor in evolution – population numbers are… Since for many kinds of organisms the mutation rate is pretty similar, the waiting time for the appearance of helpful mutations depends mostly on numbers of organisms… The numbers of malaria cells and HIV in just the past fifty years have probably greatly surpassed the number of mammals that have lived on the earth in the past several hundred million years… The fact that no new cellular protein-protein interactions were fashioned, that mutations were incoherent, that changes in only a few genes were able to help, and that those changes were only relatively (not absolutely) beneficial – all that gives us strong reason to expect the same for larger organisms over longer time.”

Thus Behe’s conclusion: “Most mutations that built the great structures of life must have been nonrandom.”

Natural genetic engineering

Behe briefly discusses other scientific theories of how “unintelligent forces may mimic intent,” such as James Shapiro’s “natural genetic engineering,” which focuses on how the cell contains “sophisticated tools” to manipulate its own genes, so “evolution doesn’t have to proceed in a Darwinian manner by tiny random changes.”

Behe says “in many ways Shapiro has a higher, more respectful view of the genome than Darwinists do… it’s like a computer that contains not only specific programs, but an entire operating system.” But since it doesn’t explain where those tools came from, “if anything, he is pointing the way to a possible mechanism for the unveiling of a designed process of common descent.”

On the other hand, “the fact that natural genetic engineering processes are indeed quite active… yet malaria and HIV have made no good use of them in 10^20 tries, strongly suggests they have very limited utility.”

Implications

Behe spends a few chapters of the latter half of the book exploring some of the implications of his ideas and their connections to areas from science to theology. Among other things, he makes some good philosophical rebuttals to multi-verse explanations for the fine-tuned universe.

On matters of public health: “Darwin counsels despair. A consistent Darwinist must think that random mutation will get around any antibiotic eventually – after all, look at all that magnificent molecular machinery it built.. But intelligent design says there’s always real hope. If we can find the right monkeywrench, just one degree more difficult to oppose than chloroquine, it could be a showstopper.”

Seven Days That Divide The World by John Lennox (2011)

john-lennox-seven-days-that-divide-the-worldOxford mathematics professor John Lennox offers his thoughts on the relationship between Genesis and science in the short but insightful book, Seven Days That Divide The World. Lennox notes various historical approaches to Scriptural interpretation, comparing the current “young-earth/old-earth” divide to the “fixed-earth/moving-earth” controversy of centuries past. Lennox argues that Scripture allows for an old-earth interpretation involving sophisticated, meaningful metaphors, but he also argues the Scripture indicates the special distinct creation of man, not seeming to allow for the common ancestry of humans and animals. He also offers thoughts on the Bible’s and science’s “convergence” on the non-eternity of the universe, and the significance of “non-material” information in universal constants and the human genome as pointing to a “non-material” Creator.

Some of the quotes below are introductory references to ideas that are presented with more fully-developed claims in the full text of the book.

On Interpreting the Bible, and specifically the first chapters of Genesis

“What we think the natural meaning is may not have been the natural meaning for those to whom the text was originally addressed.” “”We cannot simply read it as if it were a contemporary Western document written to address contemporary Western concerns.”

“There are two extremes to be avoided. The first is the danger of tying interpretation of Scripture too closely to the science of the day… The opposite danger is to ignore science.”

“For many years, if not centuries, there would have been two major polarised positions: the fixed-earthers and the moving-earthers… These positions were held.. by those who were convinced that the Bible was the inspired Word of God and who regarded it as the full and final authority.” They agreed “on the core elements of the gospel… They disagreed, however, on what Scripture taught about the motion of the earth.”

“We cannot keep science and Scripture completely separate… the Bible talks about some of the things that science talks about… However, saying Scripture has scientific implications does not mean that the Bible is a scientific treatise from which we can deduce Newton’s laws… We are encouraged… to find out many things for ourselves.” Psalm 111:2, “The works of the Lord are great, sought out of all them that have pleasure therein.” “God loves an enquiring mind…”

“If the Biblical explanation” of the beginning of the universe “were at the level, say, of twenty-second-century science, it would likely be unintelligible to everyone, including scientists today… One of the most remarkable things about Genesis is that it is accessible to, and has a message for, everyone, whether or not they are scientifically literate.

“Just because a sentence contains a metaphor, it doesn’t mean that it is not referring to something real.”

“We know now that the earth does not rest on literal foundations or pillars... the words “foundations” and “pillars” are used in a metaphorical sense. However.. the metaphors stand for realities. God the Creator has built certain very real stabilities into the planetary system that will guarantee its existence so long as is necessary to fulfill his purposes. Science has been able to show us that the earth is stable in its orbit over long periods of time, thanks in part to the obedience of gravity to an inverse square law, to the presence of the moon, which stabilizes the tilt of earth’s axis, and to the existence of the giant planet Jupiter, which helps keep the other planets in the same orbital plane. Earth’s stability, therefore, is very real… Even though our interpretation relies on scientific knowledge, it does not compromise the authority of Scripture… Scripture has the primary authority. Experience and science have helped decide between the possible interpretations that Scripture allows.”

“What we learn from this is that it is just not adequate to choose an interpretation simply on the basis of asking how many people held this interpretation, and for how long”

“We should be humble enough to distinguish between what the Bible says and our interpretations of it. The Biblical text might just be more sophisticated than we first imagined.”

On historical interpretations of the creation account

“The understanding of the days of Genesis as twenty-four-hour days seems to have been the dominant view for many centuries,” but certainly not the only one:

“Philo (10BC-AD 50) … thought creation was the act of a moment, and the Genesis record had more to do with principles of order and arrangement”

“Justin Martyr.. and Irenaeus… suggested the days might have been long epochs on the basis of Psalm 90:4 (“For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past”) and 2 Peter 3:8 (“With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day”). Iranaeus applied this reading of Genesis to the warning God gave regarding the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (“In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die”) Since Adam lived on to 930 years, “He (Adam) did not overstep the thousand years, but died within their limit.”

Augustine: “As for these days, it is difficult, perhaps impossible to think, let alone explain in words, what they mean… But at least know that it is different from the ordinary day with which we are familiar.” Augustine held that God had created everything in a moment, and that the days represented a logical sequence to explain it to us.

“Origen… pointed out that in the Genesis account the sun was not made until the fourth day… “Now what man of intelligence will believe that the first, the second, and the third day, and the evening and morning existed without the sun, moon, and stars?”

The word “day” makes no obvious sense in the absence of the sun and the earth’s rotation relative to it… Some have postulated the existence of a nonsolar light source that functioned for the first three days. However… we know nothing about such a light source, either from Scripture or from science. The logical alternative is that the sun existed at the beginning of the Genesis week… One suggestion is that on day 4 the sun, moon, and stars appeared as distinguishable lights in the sky when the cloud cover that had concealed them dissipated… “The verb ‘made’ in Genesis 1:16 does not specifically mean ‘create’… can also refer to ‘working on something that is already there’ or even ‘appointed'”… The verse is speaking about God appointing the role of the sun and moon in the cosmos.”

“In any case, the fact that some early church fathers had difficulties with interpreting the text should give us some comfort, make us more humble, and, in addition, show us that the difficulties are not all generated by modern science but arise from a serious attempt to understand the text itself.”

On the “days”

“The question of the age of the earth (and of the universe) is a separate question from the interpretation of the days… Logically possible to believe that the days of Genesis are twenty-four hour days (of one earth week) and to believe that the universe is very ancient… This has nothing to do with science. Rather, it has to do with what the text actually says.”

“Even though the Hebrew language does have a definite article (ha), it is not used in the original to qualify days one to five… it is used for days six and seven. A better translation, therefore, would be “day one, day two… day five, the sixth day, the seventh day” or “a first day, a second day … the sixth day, the seventh day.” Thus a “possibility” of “a sequence of six creation days… that might well have been separated by long periods of time.”

Does the work week pattern of Exodus 20 insist the creation week was identically structured? “There were not only similarities between God’s creation week and our work week, but also obvious differences. God’s week happened once; ours is repeated. God’s creative activity is different from ours; God does not need rest as we do… God’s week is a pattern for ours, but it is not identical.”

Human Beings: A Special Creation?

“Genesis does not deny what chemistry tells us – that all life has a material substrate of common elements… “let the earth sprout vegetation” … “let the earth bring forth living creatures” … “The Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” .. Therefore Genesis affirms that (human) life has a chemical base, but Genesis denies the reductionist addendum of the materialist – that life is nothing but chemistry… Genesis seems to be going out of its way to imply a direct special creation act…

“Let the earth bring forth living creatures… Let us make man… This surely deliberate repetition is a clear indicator that, according to Genesis, you cross neither the gulf between nonlife and life nor the gulf between animals and human beings by unguided natural processes.”

Regarding the attempt to find a helper among the animals: “It is interesting that the first lesson Adam was taught… is that he was fundamentally different from all other creatures.”

Unlike, for instance, “The Lord appeared to Abram” … “Genesis 1 and 2 are not talking about God revealing himself to humans that already existed, but rather explaining how those human beings came to exist in the first place.” … “There was no man to work the ground” alongside suggestions that “there were millions of Neolithic farmers in existence at the time.”

Death Before the Fall

“Paul… says that death passed upon all human beings as a result of Adam’s sin; he does not say that death passed upon all living things… We do not accuse the lion of sinning when it kills an antelope.”

Discussing the special features of carnivorous creatures: “The view that animal death did not exist before humans sinned makes the existence of predators problematic.”

“In light of the New Testament’s explicit statement “God alone has immortality” (1 Tim. 6:16) does it follow that Adam never had intrinsic immortality, but was dependent from the beginning on regular access to an external source of food (the Tree of Life) for continued existence?”

“What was the difference, exactly, between the inside and the outside of that garden?”

“Evil in the universe appears to antedate the sin of Adam and Eve… C. S. Lewis: “Man was not the first creature to rebel against the Creator… If there is such a power, as I myself believe, it may well have corrupted the animal creation before man appeared.”

“It is simply false to suggest, as some do, that the only alternative to young-earth creationism is to accept the Darwinian model.”

The Message of Genesis 1

“The Genesis account… is diametrically opposed to all idolatrous interpretations of the universe, whether of the ancient, pagan kind or the modern secular variety.”

“The Biblical teaching, that the earth was specifically designed as a home for human beings, fits well with what contemporary science tells us about the fine-tuning of the universe.”

“So, both Genesis and science say that the universe is geared to supporting human life. But Genesis says more. It says that you, as a human being, bear the image of God… The galaxies are unimaginably large compared with you. However, you know that they exist, but they don’t know that you exist.”

Information/Words

“The idea that the universe did not come to be without the input of information and energy from an intelligent source seems to me to have been amply confirmed by scientific discovery…. The language of mathematics has proved to be a powerful tool in describing how things work. Its codification of the laws of nature into short and elegant “words” consisting of symbols surely reflect the greater Word that is ultimately responsible for the physical structures of the universe.”

“Above and beyond that… we humans possess a “word” of mind-boggling length, the human genome.

“In recent years information has come to be regarded as one of the fundamental concepts of science. One of the most intriguing things about it is that it is not physical. The information you are reading at the moment is carried on the physical medium of paper and ink. But the information itself is not material… The nonmateriality of information points to a nonmaterial source – a mind, the mind of God.”

On Literary Parallels To The Creation Account

“The impression given is of a text that is written in “exalted, semipoetical language”

“Similarities… have led some scholars to surmise that the Genesis account is derived from the Babylonian Enuma Elish… However, many scholars point out that the similarities mask much more significant differences… The God of Genesis is utterly distinct. He was not created by the universe, as were the pagan gods. It is the other way round… Furthermore, according to Genesis, human beings are created in the image of God as the pinnacle of His creation… According to the Enuma Elish, on the other hand, human beings are created as an afterthought to lighten the work of the gods… Also, by contrast with the Mesopotamian myths, Genesis has no multiplicity of warring gods and goddesses; the heavens and earth are not made out of a god… there are no deifications of stars, planets, sun, and moon – the usual names of the last two are not even used in Genesis 1.”

“It is frequently asserted that the text of Genesis is theological and literary, as distinct from historical or scientific… It is, however, perfectly possible for a text simultaneously to inform us about objective facts and to have a theological purpose.”

On Scientific Parallels To The Creation Account

Quoting “English philosopher and historian Edwyn Bevan” discussion of the Genesis days’ parallels to the scientific story of an ocean covered in thick clouds followed by emerging land followed by plant life followed by animals followed by humans: “The stages by which the earth comes to be what it is cannot be precisely fitted into the account which modern science would give of the process, but in principle they seem to anticipate the modern scientific account by a remarkable flash of inspiration…”

Andrew Parker, Research Director at the Natural History Museum in London, “The opening page of Genesis is scientifically accurate but was written long before the science was known.”

On the universe having a beginning: “What is striking is that the Bible claimed it for thousands of years, whereas scientists only recently began even to entertain the possibility that there might have been a beginning.”

From physicist Sir John Houghton: “For human beings to exist, it can be argued that the whole universe is needed. It needs to be old enough (and therefore large enough) for one generation of stars to have evolved and died, to produce the heavy elements, and then for there to be enough time for a second-generation star like our sun to form with its system of planets…”

On Theistic Evolution / God of the Gaps / Miracles

“On the seventh day God rested. The work of creation was done. That would seem to imply that what went on during the creation sequence is no longer happening.”

Michael Behe argues that “natural selection and random mutation do something,” but their limit “can be transcended only if mutations are introduced that are nonrandom.” Simon Conway Morris “suggests that the uncanny ability of evolution to find its way through the space of all possible paths… is congruent with creation.”

On the risk of theists like himself resorting to “God of the gaps” arguments: “I see evidence of God everywhere… God is the God of the whole show…” But if the universe and earth came about as a result of the natural unfolding of fine-tuned conditions and natural laws, “Theistic evolution now asks why we should introduce a special supernatural act of creation at the point of the origin of life…. Of course, the issue is not whether or not God could have done it in a particular way… The question is, did God do it all in that way?”

“Most physicists seem to be able to live with the view that the origin of space-time is a singularity… It is part of the historic Christian faith that there have been other singularities in more recent history – preeminently the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ… That being the case, I find it strange that some Christians seem to find a priori difficulty in the claim that there have been some additional singularities in the past, like the origin of life and the origin of human beings.”

Distinguishes between “miracles” that “stand out against the known regularities of the universe,” and a “supernatural” action to “set up the universe with its regularities.” “For in both Old and New Testaments, the Bible clearly distinguishes between God’s initial acts of creation on the one hand and his subsequent upholding of the universe on the other… Genesis 1 records a sequence of creation acts followed by God’s resting. “

God’s Goodness Over Millions of Years? An Introduction To Old-Earth Theology

Thanks to churches, schools, books, and other materials, I grew up with a lot of exposure to young-earth theology. It’s a fully-developed Biblical paradigm that goes far beyond a “literal” reading of the “days” of Genesis. The cohesive worldview, constructed from verses all over the Bible, involves an original perfect creation that was radically ruined by Adam’s sin and will one day be radically restored again.

I knew people argued for taking the “days” of Genesis metaphorically. I tried to be open-minded to the possibilities – maybe there are some poetic elements in the opening chapter – but I was never persuaded by arguments about Genesis that ignored the rest of the Bible! I couldn’t wrap my head around “millions of years” without forsaking everything I thought the rest of the Bible taught about sin and death.

Until recently, I didn’t really know anything about “old-earth creationism.” I guess I thought it meant maybe you thought the oldest rocks on the Earth or the core or whatever could be really old, but if you believed the Bible you still pretty much had to go with animals in a perfect six-day creation and a global flood to form all the fossils and so on. After all, the only alternative was to start metaphorizing the whole thing and lose a literal Adam and Eve and the whole theology behind sin and the cross and the second coming and everything else…. right?

Actually…. No.

Old-Earth creationists (OEC) treat the Bible just as seriously and inerrant as Young-Earth creationists (YEC). They believe a lot of the same things about Adam and Jesus and everyone in between. But they don’t believe the Bible supports the same paradigm about the world before Adam. If we come to all those supporting verses with YEC-colored glasses, than they all look like they do. But if we try a different pair, well, maybe the text doesn’t literally say some of the things we think it does.

This post is not intended to be a comprehensive look at old-earth theology, which has a lot of complexities and variations (just as young-earth theology does). Nor is it intended to argue that old-earth theology is a better interpretation of the Bible than young-earth theology. It is simply intended to introduce the theology to those who may not be familiar with it. Even if you don’t agree with the old-Earth paradigm, I think more people should be aware of it.

So what is it?

Adam, Christ, and the Animals

“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned” (Romans 5:12)

“For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15:22)

Paul’s letters paint clear parallels between Adam and Christ. OEC’s tend to agree YEC’s on these parallels. But what kind of death was entering the world? It didn’t necessarily affect everything we call “alive” today; even YEC’s don’t usually define this “death” so strictly as covering every cell at the molecular level, allowing plants to “die” as food sources before the Fall. Some even define Biblical “life” via passages referring to the “breath of life” or “life is in the blood” and allow for insects or other invertebrates to have perished pre-Fall as well.

So the OEC question is somewhat narrow: did Adam’s sin bring death on the set of animals that couldn’t have already been dying? “Death came to all people, because all sinned.” Romans says humans all die because we all sin, but it doesn’t follow that animals die for their sins. OEC’s also say it seems strange to include animals in 1 Cor 15’s “as in Adam all die” since we don’t believe they are included in the resurrection of Christ’s “all will be made alive.”

Whereas YEC’s use these passages to argue that Adam’s sin introduced death to all of creation, OEC’s argue that these passages only literally refer to humans.

But even if Paul’s theology doesn’t forbid the possibility of animal death before humanity’s sin, doesn’t God do so in Genesis?

Perfect vs. Very Good

“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31)

Old-earth and young-earth models agree that after God finished his creation with the creation of man, everything he had made was very good. But what does that mean?

YEC’s say before sin entered the world, it was perfect, free from all death and decay. How could millions of years of animals tearing each other to pieces be “very good”? This is a powerful argument, but OEC’s say this is simply an emotional one, and it does not use Scripture to define what “very good” could or could not be.

OEC’s argue that God said his creation was very good, but not perfect. There are distinct Hebrew words used for both throughout the Bible, so perfect could have been used if that was intended. OEC’s argue that an intricate, well-balanced ecosystem of predator-prey relationships can, in fact, be “good.”

They point to Psalm 104, which in many ways parallels the creation account, and says this when it gets to the animals:

The young lions roar for their prey, seeking their food from God…

These all look to you, to give them their food in due season.
When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.

Creationists of all stripes acknowledge this when we marvel at the complexity of God’s creation in today’s world, like the bombardier beetle’s two-chambered explosion factory, or how lizards use their blue tails to escape birds. While we use these elaborate defenses as arguments against undirected evolution, we often don’t think about the fact that they are only so amazing because they are used to defend against other animals that want to eat them! Nor are any of these defenses perfect enough to allow all members of any given species to always escape. Of course, that would not be very good for their predators, who have their own specialized complex features for capturing prey.

I was just reading in The Tyrannosaur Chronicles how “herbivores have laterally positioned eyes that give them something close to wrap-around vision and enable them to look out for threats, but predators have forwards-facing eyes for measuring the distances to their potential meals and calculating strikes.” Isn’t that amazing? Nature has literally thousands of connections like that! In any given predator-prey relationship, neither species has perfect offense or defense, just good enough to allow both species to continue to be fruitful and multiply in a beautiful balance.

And on that note…

The Past And The Future

A major element in the balance of today’s world is the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. Old trees die and new trees arise from their decaying matter. Dead animals release nutrients back into the soil for the use of the living. Did God really intend all the animals to be fruitful and multiply but never die? Some OEC’s argue that given the rate some animals reproduce, this would have quickly overrun the Earth. Maybe God in his infinite wisdom could have initially created a totally different system that would have worked without any predators or death. After all, that’s what the future is going to look like, right? Well, let’s explore that birth-death connection a bit.

Our current world is full of births and deaths. Revelation presents a picture of a future with no more death. But Jesus also said there would be no marriage in heaven. Does this mean no births, either? Is there any indication of fruitful multiplying on that yonder shore? Or was that something from this world – including before the Fall – that is not going to be part of the new world? What if Isaiah’s prophetic imagery of the lion lying down with the lamb doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the original creation?

OEC’s argue the Bible doesn’t say we’re going back to a garden. We’re going to a giant city, to a new heaven and a new earth. The restoration of an original perfect world that was lost has a nice feel to it, and the end of sin and death will certainly usher in a form of restoration… but what if God never intended the future to look quite like the past?

The Old Earth View of Creation

“when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the ground.” (Psalm 104:29-30)

OEC’s believe God created the universe, and planet Earth, over time, based on a variety of scientific evidences they find convincing. They tend to be skeptical the evidence shows he used evolution, suggesting he may have introduced new life over time, pointing to geological features like the Cambrian Explosion.

Through it all they see an amazingly intricate and perfect plan to prepare the universe for the eventual creation of man in his own image. Edward Hitchcock pointed in the 1800’s to a greatly increasing understanding and appreciation of “the vast plans of Jehovah.”

Would that all be a big waste? A woefully inefficient process? William Lane Craig argues that waste and efficiency only matter to creatures with limits, and God in his infinity can do whatever he wants for his own glory.

When God was ready to create man, he created a garden, which OEC’s see as a special place of protection, separate from the rest of the world which he called them to “fill” and “subdue” (some argue there would have been no need to subdue the rest of the world if it was “perfect”).

The Old Earth View of the Fall

But when Adam and Eve sinned, they had to leave that garden. God told them the ground outside the garden would produce thorns and thistles “for you,” but that doesn’t mean the outside world didn’t already have them. The Bible doesn’t say God created anything new. It doesn’t say the garments God made for Adam and Eve came from the first animal to die. (It actually doesn’t say an animal died at all, though it’s a reasonable inference from the theology of blood sacrifice.)

Maybe the state of the outside world had something to do with the fact that evil already existed – Satan had already fallen and even made it into the garden somehow. Maybe Adam’s sin did cause the world’s entropic state but it somehow ricocheted backward through history just as Christ’s death covered the future sins of people not yet born. Maybe God had simply designated the universe to be “subject to decay” (Romans 8) from its physical laws from the very beginning as part of his almighty perfect plan. Whatever the source, OEC’s argue the Bible does not say the Curse introduced a new world of animal suffering and death. It simply says that Adam and Eve, instead of subduing that world as they were originally called to do, were now forced to toil and struggle within it, and yet even so, it still also contained goodness, sustained by God, who was still working his ultimate plan to reconcile all things to himself.

Final Remarks

I have not covered every Scripture passage YEC’s use to defend their position or OEC’s interpretations of them. I have not covered the all-important discussion of the Genesis “days” themselves. I have not delved into the variety of approaches within OEC theology and their differing views on “concordism,” or OEC views on Noah’s flood, or J. Gene White’s unique translation and his exemplar hypothesis. However, I have endeavored to show that the OEC approach to the Bible, whether it is right or wrong, is at least as serious as the YEC approach, in some cases taking some verses more literally, or at least not assuming they say things they literally do not say. If you found any of this interesting, feel free to further explore the articles, books, or podcasts below.

Resources For Further Investigation

Old-Earth Creationism: a Heretical Belief?” at Reasons.org (article)

Peril in Paradise by Mark Whorton (book)

Seven Days That Divide The World by John Lennox (book)

Dr. William Lane Craig’s Defenders podcast series on “Doctrine of Creation” and “Creation and Evolution” (podcast)

The Religion of Geology by Edward Hitchcock (1851) (summary of book with link to text)

The Mineral and Mosaical Geologies by Grannville Penn (1822)

Grannville Penn was one of the leading 19th century scriptural geologists. His 1822 book A Comparative Estimate of the Mineral and Mosaical Geologies (available free on Google Books) defended a young Earth and literal 6-day creation against the unfolding claims of geology, arguing that everything could be explained by the revolutions and intervening years of God’s initial creation and Noah’s global flood. (Note: I read the first edition before learning there was a second.) Penn was well-versed in his opponent’s arguments and remarkably confident in his own views of a literal interpretation of Scripture, which include some surprising deviations from modern young-earth orthodoxy.

Part I

Ch. 1. Penn opens with a confident declaration that the “the Mineral and Mosaical Geologies” are “directly contradictory to each other; so contradictory, indeed, that whichever of them be true, the other must of necessity be absolutely and fundamentally false.” He condemns the “schemes of accommodation, to effect a reconciliation between them” as “undue compromise and concession” doomed to “ultimate failure.” He declares his intention to apply the principles of Bacon and Netwon to both geologies.

Ch. 2. Quotes Cuvier to define mineral geology as consisting of “the knowledge of the mineral masses”, “every thing which relates to the mode of their first formation”, and “the changes which they have undergone”. Penn see the first as descriptive science but second two as “pretensions.”

Ch 3-5. Discusses theories of the Earth’s origin. Criticizes geologists for claiming to follow Newton’s scientific principles in their hypotheses about the planet’s “original fluidity” when Newton rejected the idea “that it might rise out of a CHAOS by the mere laws of Nature.”

Ch 6-10. Develops an Appearance of Age argument for the Earth’s “original” granite rocks. Adam “was created, by the will and immediate power of God, in the same form, and with the same structure; which, after him, was to be produced only by the operation of those laws.”

How old did Adam appear? “Whatever be the standard of age in correspondence to which we may suppose that first man to have been created, it must correspond to some period of the human life subsequent to the birth. It is of little consequence to the argument, what that age may be ; but it is most consistent with the notion of an Intelligent Agent, and therefore most philosophical, to suppose, that He created that first man with the perfection of mind and body, which most conduced to the end for which He formed him.”

If one of Adam’s bones were examined with other bones by an “anatomist”, “if he were unapprised of its true origin, his mind would see nothing in its sensible phenomena but the laws of ossification,” just as mineral geologists see the effects of “degrees” over time in the rocks.

Again, “let us consider the first created tree…. Its wood, therefore, was not formed by degrees, but suddenly.” “The science of physics” has an  “absolute incompetence to determine anything at all, by phenomena alone, concerning the mode of the first formations of the first individuals composing either the animal or vegetable kingdoms of matter.”

Now “let us consider the first created rock,” which has a “notable difference”: “the animal and vegetable structures were formed to continue only for short durations of time… whereas, the first formed mineral masses of this earth… still subsist… When we discover no evidence whatever of re-composition of divided parts, but a simple homogeneous mineral substance, incapable of production by any known secondary cause, then we see a true first formation. Such are the granite masses which we survey, which were coeval with created man.”

Penn rejects a common objection to the Appearance of Age argument: “has God introduced appearances into His works, to mislead and to deceive His moral and intellectual creatures? …God forbid!… Those phenomena cannot mislead, deceive, or seduce any one, who faithfully and diligently exercises his moral and intellectual faculties by the rule which God has supplied for their governance…”

Penn says deep time “would tend to lessen our sense, either of the divine wisdom or power… The vast length of time, which this sinistrous choice is necessarily obliged to call in for its own defence, could only be requisite to the Creator for overcoming difficulties obstructing the perfecting process.”

Penn distinguishes between created rocks and altered rocks: “the whole order of first mineral formations, or simple primitive rocks and earths, together with all their strata and all their varieties, are withdrawn from the speculations of the mineral geology, respecting the mode of their production ; so that it may only exercise those speculations, philosophically, upon that remaining order of minerals, which, by bearing incontestable evidence of alteration, either by decomposition, recomposition, or mechanical action, prove themselves to be distinct in circumstance from the former.”

Part 2

Part 2 features Penn’s interpretation of the “sacred record” of the Genesis creation story.

Ch 1. Says “it is wisely observed by Mr. Kirwan” that attempts to deduce a complete knowledge of “past geological facts” exclusively by their “subsisting consequences” would be as “absurd” as deducing the history of “Ancient Rome solely from the medals or other monuments of antiquity it still exhibits.” “Now, the voucher that could establish the fact, respecting the true mode of first formations, must have been a witness of that mode; but the only witness of the mode of first formations, or creations, was the Creator Himself,” who “imparted” this history through the “ministry of Moses.”

Claims “the mode by which they were actually first formed, must have been in direct contradiction to the apparent indications of those phenomena.” “That the things which are seen, were not ‘made of things which do appear,’ is therefore not only the first principle of faith, but the first principle of philosophy.”

Ch 2. “In order to obtain a true and precise apprehension” of “this Sacred Record,” we must exercise “the most scrupulous caution and circumspection” with the “resources of sound learning and sound criticism.”  “Methods of exposition have been devised, diversified, and applied, so various, and in a great proportion so absurd, that whoever considers them all, and compares them all together, will be in greater perplexity than he was before.”

Penn takes some “principles” from other writers, despite their being “drawn” by “mineral geology” “into some concessions militating, in certain particulars, against the plain import of the record.”

“The rules which constitute the canons of this interpretation…. 1. That the style of the first chapter, as of the whole book of Genesis, is strictly historical; and that it betrays no vestige whatever of allegorical or figurative description. 2. That, since this history was adapted to the comprehension of the commonest capacity, Moses speaks, according to optical, not physical, truth:… That is, he describes the effects of creation, optically, or as they would have appeared to the eye; and without any assignment of physical causes… by which means, the mind is enabled to receive a clear and distinct impression of those appearances, and thus to reduce them to their proper causes, and to draw from them such conclusions as they are qualified to yield….”

“A great part of interpreters have wandered so far into error, as to imagine they have detected the systems of modern physics in the recital of Moses ; and have perverted and tortured his language, into an adaptation to their own preconceived opinions.”

Ch 3. Day One

Penn’s unique translation of Gen 1:2-3:

….but the earth was invisible, and unfurnished; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. Therefore the Spirit of God went forth upon the face of the waters, and God said, let there be light!

Says “true interpretation” depends on a “very important grammatical and critical question” of “the Hebrew conjunction vau,” which he argues should be rendered but instead of and, “which carries a contrary implication, and excites an expectation of that which immediately follows; namely, the formation of light, by means of which the invisibility of the earth was to be remedied” …

“tohu vabohu… which our version, conforming to the later translators, has rendered, ” without form, and void;” is rendered by the oldest Jewish interpreters,… unapparent or invisible, and unfurnished or unprovided.”

Argues that the spirit was not the Holy Spirit but being the word for wind or air, and being connected to the following phrase, means “the spirit, or breath of God, went forth upon the face of the waters, and God said…” “This interpretation is undeniably more natural, more intelligible, more congenial to the Scriptural style, and more consonant to the recorded impressions of the early Scriptural writers ; than either the action of a violent wind, before physical agents existed, or the incubation of the divine person of the Holy Spirit, which conveys no real sense to the mind.”

Thus “the body of this globe” was “producted ‘at the beginning’ (as Newton speaks) and ‘in one moment of time’ (as Bacon speaks) … created entire and complete…. enveloped by a separate marine fluid … flowing over every part of its compacted surface, which formed for a very short time, the bed or bottom of an universal sea… That solid body was concealed by the cloak of waters… so that the spheroid, speaking relatively and optically, was invisible… The historian relates that God first produced the effect of light…”

“As he describes optically.. .his description is confined to effects, but it is for the common knowledge and experience of his readers, to refer those effects to their plain and obvious causes. And so his ancient Hebrew readers referred them; who needed not that he should tell them, that the light of which he spoke, proceeded from the same physical cause from which they derived their daily light; and they accordingly understood, as of course, that it proceeded from the solar fountain of light, though not expressly named.”

In the first creation of ” the heaven and the earth,” therefore, not the planetary orbs only, but the solar orb itself, was created in darkness;… When then the Almighty Word, in commanding light, commanded the first illumination of the solar atmosphere, its new light was immediately caught, and reflected throughout space, by all the members of the planetary system.”

Says the sun’s heat “necessarily exhaled an universal vapour, enveloping the whole globe” in “dense fogs” revealing only “effects, of light and of the alternation of darkness and light,” “in this first day of creation, both the solar fountain of light was opened in the heavens, and this earth received its first impulse of rotation, on its axis and in its orbit.” …

since we perceive by.. the clauses in this article… that all these great transactions were included within that first day, or first entire revolution of the new globe, we perceive also, that time, which only exists by reference to that revolution, began with the creation of the globe, and the commencement of its revolution, in darkness ; and, that the creation of light succeeded at that ‘proportion of distance in time, which was thenceforth to constitute the perpetual diurnal divisions of the two.

(So according to Penn, God created the Earth and the Sun simultaneously in darkness, and started light 12 hours later within the first day! And that’s why Hebrew days measure evening before morning!)

As to objections: “An unlearned question has been raised… with respect to the sense in which we are to understand the word day,” it has been suggested to their minds, not by any real obscurity in the record, but merely by the opposition of the terms of the record to certain preconceived notions and speculations into which they have drawn their own judgments… Their theories, oblige them to seek for much larger measures of time than the historian supplies

He criticizes a writer for suggesting that “and” in v.1-3 could be replaced with “afterwards” to denote more time. “By this method of interpretation, the true and intimate connexion and articulation of the clauses, which has been shown, is violently destroyed”

He also objects to a long “chaos” where “things were so digested and made ready” before the six days: “Was it, that the First Cause could not act, until secondary causes had made the subject matter ready” for Him?”

Ch 4. Day Two

Penn interprets “firmament” as a “firm and permanent support” to sustain “a part of the waters” as a “canopy above the globe.” (He does not provide any details about his thoughts on those “waters,” nor does he attempt to connect the “waters” or “canopy” to the Flood in any way.)

the effect of light was alone apparent ; for, congregated clouds had succeeded to terrestrial mist, and continued to render the cause of that effect non-apparent, and therefore, optically non-existent: as we ourselves experience, during the prevalence of similar weather.

Ch 5. Day Three

Penn interprets the separation of land as “a violent and turbulent” operation where the ocean “drained off” “into a new and deeper bed,” carrying materials and soils down with it, so that “the shell of the earth received its various successive primitive strata, apparently, but not really, indicative of such succession… the sea bed thus constructed, and consisting of the fractured, and apparently ruined surface, of a portion of the globe.”

He says this is the event “the great poet of the Hebrews” is describing in Psalm 104: “the waters stood above the mountains. At Thy rebuke they fled; at the voice of Thy thunders they hasted away; they went over the mountains, they went down by the valleys, unto the place which thou didst found for them…”

It please God to… invest it, at once, with an universal covering of vegetation.” Seeing “maturity of vegetation” in the passage’s reference to “the TREE,” Penn says “the appearance alone would be no indication of the reality of the process.”

In the meantime, the clouded atmosphere still continuing, light continued to exist only as an effect unconnected with its cause. Its course, however, still proceeding, the evening and the morning completed the Third Day.

Ch 6. Day Four

Interpreting the account as referring to the lights created on Day One, Penn translates the verse as “Let the lights in the firmament of Heaven, for dividing the day from the ” night, be for signs….”

if any one, who is conversant with the genius of the Hebrew, and free from any previous bias of his judgment, will read the words of this article in their natural connexion, he will immediately perceive, that they import the direction, or determination of the heavenly bodies, to certain uses which they were to supply to the earth. The words are not to be separated from the rest, or to be rendered, fiant luminaria, — let there be lights ; i. e. let lights be made ; but rather, let lights be, that is, serve, in the expanse of Heaven…

Upon this day, therefore, the clouds, which had hitherto loaded the atmosphere, and which had excluded the heavenly luminaries, were, for the first time, to be dispelled ; and those splendid bodies were to acquire their first optical existence, with relation to this earth… The historian speaks according to optical, not physical truth ; nor is ” it surprising, since the common mass of mankind look no higher; and the history is ” adapted to their apprehension.”

Penn saw this as so specific that he says “we may, logically and philosophically, further infer” the sun and moon were initially created in “inferior conjunction” so that “the new moon, being thus in the third day of its revolution…, that is, of its first quarter, it would necessarily appear at the setting of the sun, and would thus be ready… to begin, lead on, and so, rule the night.”

He shows little respect for views that the sun was actually created on Day 4:

The light, which caused the first three days, and the light, which caused the last three days… being thus easily and naturally referrible to one and the same cause, it is unphilosophical, unreasonable, and un learned, to assign them to distinct and different causes. It is unphilosophical, because it is contrary to those rules of universal science… Not to admit more causes of natural things than are sufficient to explain their phenomena… It is unreasonable, because we know of no other light in the creation, besides that of the sun, to which we can ascribe the light of day ; and because we are not any where informed, that God has caused to cease any mode of light which He had previously ordained. And it is, moreover, unlearned, because it betrays an ignorance of that which moderate learning would have imparted ; that the supposition, of two different causes of light, was a late unskilful hypothesis, unknown to the fellow-countrymen of the historian, who understood him to record, only one cause…

it is more ‘probable that the light of the first day was derived from the same identical cause as the light of the fourth day, than that it was a latent chemical principle, (as he would suggest,) unknown to all mankind until the reformed chemistry of the eighteenth Christian century found it in a laboratory at Paris…

Penn actually saw the view of the sun’s creation on Day 4 as lending support to heretical views. He criticizes De Luc for arguing that the sun’s creation on day 4 proves that the days are “periods of undetermined length,” which he vociferously rejected:

“By such a mode of interpretation, any thing may be converted into every thing; and it would therefore be far more reasonable to deny the record, than thus to compel it to falsify itself….

To conciliate unbelievers… by a surrender of any particle of truth, to modify or change it… is a breach of trust of the same kind, as to bid our master s debtor take his bill, and write down fifty measures of wheat, when an hundred measures’is the just amount of the score. We are not in trusted with any latitude, or discretion, for thus negotiating the good will of infidelity, in the article of revealed truth. We must take care, to present it pure and genuine ; and unbelievers must then take it as it is, or they must leave it ; but, those who attempt a compromise, by any unauthorized concession, are not the champions, but the betrayers of that truth…

Ch 7. Day Five

Penn refers to Appearance of Age yet again on the fifth day, discussing the creation of “every kind of marine and winged animal,” “though the bones of the first whales unquestionably bore the appearance of an ossifying process, as the textures of the first rock and of the first tree severally bore the appearances of a crystallizing and of a lignifying process; yet, that appearance was no indication to reason, that they were produced by such a process”

Ch 8. Day Six

Penn argues against the claim that it is astonishing to believe that “man, occupying so small a place both in space and time” is “the sole end of the creation and of the universe.” He argues it is “nonsense” to say that giants are more significant than smaller men, and thus size does not correlate with significance. He argues for a different measuring stick “infinitely surpassing in importance… Such a scale is that, by which the intelligent, moral, and immortal nature of man is to be measured, and which the sacred historian calls, a formation after the image and likeness of God – a scale, so little taken into the contemplation of the science of mere physics.”

Ch 9. Day Seven

Penn suggests the seven-day week pattern is evidence of divine origin, since it does not coincide with the sun/moon ratios of other time measurements which are more easily attributable to natural explanations.

Part 3

The final section discusses The Flood and addresses many objections to the event as an explanation of geological evidence.

Chapter 2 argues that Noah’s flood was “universal.” Penn says God used it to “destroy” the whole earth, referencing Gen 6 and 9, and Peter’s analogy of the coming destruction by fire. He argues that it fulfilled the Gen 3 curse on the earth, and that God created a “second earth” by “similar causes” of the “first earth,” where the former continents and ocean beds essentially switched places (“a violent disruption and subsidence of the solid surface of one portion of the subaqueous globe, produced at first a bed, or basin, to receive the diffusive waters….”)

Chapter 4 talks about volcanoes. Penn claims “the general result of the researches of the mineral geology, seems to coincide exactly with the declarations of the record, respecting the primeval history of this earth; and establishes, conformably to that record, two great revolutions of its substance, subsequent to its first perfect formation : the first, anterior to the production of animal or vegetable matter ; the second, posterior to the production of both.”

In Chapter 5 Penn claims all of mineral geology can be explained by first creation on Day 1, the separation of land on Day 3, the 1656 year period between creation and the flood, and the flood itself. He claims geologists admit evidence of that order of things but instead of accepting two violent revolutions they invent many more.

Chapter 6 discusses fossils of “torrid zone” creatures in the “most northerly latitudes.” Penn argues they were “transported” there by the flood and argues against assumptions that they “died where they are found” and thus “lived where they are found.” He claims animals are “jumbled together” “indiscriminately.”

(Hugh Miller addresses this argument in Lecture Eight, ex. On the Great Irish Elk “it is not credible that all the solid shed antlers of such species of deer could be carried by the same cause to the same distance; or that any of them could be rolled for a short distance, with other heavy debris of a mighty torrent, without fracture and signs of friction”)

Chapter 7 answers the objection that “no human bones are ever found” with animals that are said to have lived in older eras. Penn claims humans with more intelligence would not have been swept away at the beginning but would have avoided the waters until the last bit of land when they were “suddenly and simultaneously immersed in the centre of the new sea, as the last term of their destruction ; where their exuvia must remain forever, uninvestigable by man.”

Chapter 8 answers the objection of extinct animals: “the Mosaical geology… guides us to a solution of this mysterious problem… He who planned and regulated the creation of the earth, unquestionably planned and regulated also its renovation; and the extinction of certain animal species… Moral argument, can alone reach this question ; mere physical reasoning can no more attain to it…”

Penn also answers the objection of “the circumstance of their not being found in the same places, or — the same strata, with those animals whose species have been preserved.” He rejects the conclusion of “different revolutions.” Instead, “suppose that the paleotheria and elephants did not inhabit the same regions of the submerged continents… and suppose that their races perished in different subsidences of land, and at different periods of the inundation… they would not have been deposited in the same places.”

Chapter 9 addresses the objection that strata have alternating layers of land and marine animals that suggest multiple revolutions/times. Penn claims layers are “disorder and confusion” not “regularity and order”.

Of fresh-water shells, “it is impossible to fix a limit to the transport of such light and buoyant articles, in so turbulent and active a state of the ocean.”

Penn is also skeptical that “the distinction between fresh-water shells and sea shells is so certainly and securely ascertained, as to allow of a conclusive argument founded upon that distinction?””

Chapter 10 addresses the objection that “formation of valleys” requires lots of time. Penn argues that flowing water cannot create river-beds but only flow in trenches that are already there! “If the first head of those waters found no bed ready to receive and confine them, and to guide their course, they would diffuse themselves laterally, and equally, in all directions, over the horizontal surface…” He objects that “the origin of valleys and of the beds of rivers must be ascribed to one and the same cause; namely, the action of water over time.”

Penn marvels at God’s “stupendous operation” of “apparent destruction… the apparent ruin was conducted on a plan which should produce the best means of supplying the wants and accommodating the subsistence of that race … it contemplates that first revolution with amazement, when it reflects upon the providential skill which it discerns in the final results.”

Chapter 11 contains speculation of coal being of “vegetable” origin from “marine vegetation.”

Chapter 12 argues, quite seriously, that the total domestication of the Arabian camel is proof of the Flood.

Chapter 13 argues that since “the universal lodgment of the sea upon its surface, for nearly ten months, must, by those laws, have extinguished every principle of germinating life,” God must have created new vegetation after the flood for the olive branch by “divine fiat,” just as he did in the original creation and also for Jonah.

Penn also argues that God must have created new animals after the Flood in analog to the original creation. He argues, like some of his old-earth contemporaries, that the text allows for interpreting “every” living creature as being limited to “many,” but he argues that the text does not allow for similar limits to the other aspects of the Flood story. Due to the surprising deviation of this view from other young-earth views, it is worth quoting from this section at length:

there is nothing in this acceptation of the history which is not perfectly consistent with the text ; considering, that universal terms are often to be taken in Scripture with limitation, and, that the text contains nothing to define and fix the signification in the instance which we are considering : for, the words “all flesh” are here only equivalent to the words “clean, and unclean,” in the succeeding chapter. And if such is its sense, that only a numerous selected portion of the animal species were preserved in the ark ; then it would seem, that the divine purpose in that partial preservation was, first, the preservation of the progenitors of a new human race ; secondly, the preservation of a number of animal species sufficiently great to provide an impressive memorial…”

“from whence then proceeded all those other species of animals now existing upon the earth, of which none were contained in the ark? … the Creator replenished His new earth with new species, by His own divine act, after He had brought it to light … Why should it be thought a thing incredible… that God, who created once, should create more than once ? … Let the river bring forth frogs abundantly … In the case of the human race, it was essential to the moral purpose of God, that the whole race should descend from one and the same first parent … But, since that purpose did not extend to the brute species, we have no reason whatever for supposing, that it was indispensably necessary that every post diluvian brute race should descend from an ante diluvian parent; …

I conclude, therefore, 1. from the record of the deluge, that the whole animal creation, excepting only that selected portion of animal — . individuals which was preserved in the ark, perished in that catastrophe. I conclude, 2. from the innumerable fragments of extinct species which remain, that individuals of all the antediluvian animal species were not preserved in the ark. And, if there is reason to infer, either from the genius of the historian’s language, or from the dimensions of the ark which he has so carefully and minutely imparted to us, that he does not affirm, that individuals of all the post diluvian species were contained within that fabric, I then conclude, 3. and finally; that he has left us to infer from his relation of the creation, that the same Almighty Being whose operations he has therein recorded, exercised His creative power in animal, no less than in vegetable formations, in the renovation of His globe ; that ” He took away their breath, ” and they died, and returned to their dust ; that ” He sent forth His Spirit, and they were created, ” and He renewed the face of the earth

(The final sentences quote from Psalm 104, which fascinatingly enough, is the same passage Edward Hitchcock used to support his old-earth theory of progressive cycles of extinction and recreation!)

Chapter 14 argues that the Gen 2 reference to 4 rivers was a “marginal gloss” added later and thus their reference to rivers that existed after the Flood “can have no weight to affect the strong evidence which has been deduced from that history, and from the sense of the ancient Jewish and Christian churches, of the DESTRUCTION of the PRIMITIVE EARTH by the waters of the deluge.”

In conclusion,

We shall thus contemplate, compare, and reduce into their true order of time, the effects of the- two revolutions, and of the intermediate period between the two. To one or other of these, sub sequently to first formation or creation, we shall refer every revolutionary phenomenon common to the earth… Where we are absolutely unable to trace particular relations between effects and their immediate causes, we shall consider ourselves to have reached the boundary of our knowledge; but we shall never consent, much less shall we attempt, to explore beyond that boundary under the illusory and desperate guidance of anti-Mosaical theory and hypothesis.”

“The Mosaical geology… capacitates us to adapt our forward view to that revolution which still impends… which is, assuredly, an object not less worthy of philosophical contemplation… since the former, we never can witness, but the latter, we most certainly shall witness.

Penn says “theological learning” “has propounded only one universal revolution of the globe, inadequate to all the effects which are so manifestly experienced,” but since “the record” “really” points to “two revolutions”, “mineral geology” should “return from the theoretical excursions into which the insufficiency of that one revolution had driven it;” and conclude that the Mosaical account is true after all.

It only now remains for us, to determine our selection between the two ; and to decide, whether we will choose the mineral geology, with its nature and time, its chaos and chemistry; or, whether we will unite with Bacon and Newton in adhering firmly to the Mosaical Geology, founded, altogether and exclusively, upon the creative wisdom, the creative power, “and the creative fiat, of Almighty God!

Elementary Geology (1840)

elementary-geology-cover A geological textbook of sorts by old-Earth creationists Edward Hitchcock, his son Charles Henry Hitchcock, and John Pye Smith. (Available on Google Books)

The Rocks

The first section describes the physical and chemical properties and distribution and other details of the various rock layers covering the surface of our planet, or at least as it was understood in the nineteenth century. While many of these details, such as the finer points of distinction between the “mica schist” and the different types of “feldspar,” were, for myself, as an uneducated layman in the twenty-first century, boring and hard to follow, there were a lot of interesting claims, with accompanying diagrams, from the perspective of flood geology.

Much of flood geology fixates on the fossils, but this section focuses on the various properties of the “stratified” rocks themselves without much concerning itself with the fossils. If the claims and diagrams in the book are accurate, the organization of the rocks alone present strong challenges to the flood geology model.

Some of the more striking figures from the book are excerpted below:

Stratified layers are presented as having multiple parallel lines of deposits within them, often at distinct angles from layers above and below. With the descriptions of Charles Lyell in mind, a single set of parallel lines seems to imply the passing of years of annual deposit patterns with enough time for each layer to settle and have a distinct layer deposited on top of it without mixing them together into a wider line. But the existence of sequences of parallel lines with distinct angles implies orders of magnitude of time altogether greater, with time needed for one series of layers to deposit into a sea, then be lifted above water and hardened, then shifted in angle, then brought below water again to have new layers deposited at a different angle – and then repeated multiple times!

Sometimes rocks have fissures that have been filled and hardened with a different material than the rest of the rock. This again implies the requirement of enough time for one series of deposits to be raised above water, hardened, and then filled with another substance again. The second-last diagram claims to illustrate fissures crossing over other fissures, implying yet even greater time required to harden each fissure enough that the successive fissure remained distinct rather than merging as it cut across.

Similarly, the last diagram depicts a complicated distinct set of terraces said to be the result of of deposits from the interactions of cliffs and rivers at distinct heights, again with a great passing of time required for any given distinct set of deposits to harden enough for the next set to remain distinct from it.

Note that the time implications described by these layers are completely independent of the future radioactive techniques that would attempt to quantity that time. These implications do not even consider the evidence of the said ordering of such layers across the globe. Simply looking at the positions of rock layers in individual locations is enough to present a strong challenge to the idea that all of this could have been deposited in a single year by a global flood. Looking at these diagrams, it is easy to see why old earth creationists like Hugh Miller and Edward Hitchcock expressed such confidence in their writings that the Earth was far older than six thousand years, even if they had no idea of the actual number and even if many of the details of that history were still poorly understood.

The Fossils

The next section of the book discusses the fossils contained within these rocks, which in addition to being more interesting to a layman such as myself, presents further challenges to a flood model.

Often the most delicate of the harder parts of the animal or plant are preserved; and they are found grouped together in the strata very much as living species now are on the earth… As they died, they sunk to the bottom of the waters and became enveloped in mud… In the existing waters we find… oysters prefer a muddy bank, cockles a sandy shore, and lobsters prefer rocks… So it is among the fossil remains, an additional evidence of the manner in which they have been brought into a petrified state

The text claims that fragile parts are preserved and that remains are found grouped within the types of minerals where we would have expected them to have lived – both of which would suggest a slow, calm burial rather than a rapid, chaotic one.

On the ordering of fossil remains:

Organic remains are not thrown together confusedly in the rocks, but each of the great rock formations has its peculiar fossils, which are not found in the formations above or below. Usually the species are limited to a particular formation, although the genera have a wide range.

The text claims that a brachiopod has been found to have “54 species in the Lower Silurian, 18 in the Upper Silurian, 56 in the Devonian, 59 in Carboniferous Limestone, 7 in the Permian, 8 in the Trias, where it died out…”

Concerning trilobites:

Forty-three genera, of which twenty-four are found in the Lower Silurian, half of which pass into the Upper Silurian, and eleven in the last formation that pass into the Devonian, while only one passes into the Carboniferous, above which none are found. But in only a few cases is the same species found in any two of these formations.

The text claims not merely that different geological epochs have different classes of animals (i.e. the “appearance” of mammals as well as the “disappearance” of “ammonites”), but that even specific groups or kinds of animals have ordering in the different varieties of the animal as they are traced through the layers!

It is said that the “fossil far exceed the living species in number,” or that the majority of fossil remains belong to extinct creatures. This claim alone – having no dependence on ordering – seems a strong challenge to flood geology; “We should expect this if there have been several distinct creations.” Additionally, it is said that both the proportion of remains of living creatures and similarity of the extinct to living creatures increase as one proceeds through the column.

Although, like the modern dinosaur book, this old text opens the door to questioning the reliability of layer ordering altogether:

a few years ago, quite a number of plants were referred to the Devonian Period… But these probably occur in rocks which are now placed higher in the series…

It is difficult for an outsider to ascertain how much reclassification plays a part in circularly preserving the ordering that is said to exist – though it is also difficult to imagine just how much of a role such assumptions would need to play to completely discount all of the claimed ordering.

Addressing Objections

Near the end, the text describes general conclusions about the fossil record and addresses some objections to them. One section is worth printing in full, showing how little has changed in arguments on these matters in nearly two hundred years:

Inference 4. The whole period since life began on the globe has been immensely long.

Proof 1. There must have been time enough for water to make depositions more than ten miles in thickness, by materials worn from previous rocks, and more or less comminuted. 2. Time enough, also, to allow of hundreds of changes in the materials deposited : such changes as now require a long period for the production of one of them. 3. Time enough to allow of the growth and dissolution of animals and plants, often of microscopic littleness, sufficient to constitute almost entire mountains by their remains. 4. Time enough to produce, by an extremely slow change of climate, the destruction of several nearly entire groups of organic beings. For although sudden catastrophes may have sometimes been the the immediate cause of their extinction, there is reason to believe that those catastrophes did not usually happen, till such a change had taken place in the physical condition of the globe, as to render it no longer a comfortable habitation for beings of their organization. 5. Time enough for erosions to have taken place in the rocks, in an extremely slow manner, by aqueous and atmospheric agencies, on so vast a scale that the deep cut through which Niagara River runs, between Niagara Falls and Lake Ontario, is but a moderate example of them. We must judge of the time requisite for these deposits by similar operations now in progress ; and these are in general extremely slow. The lakes of Scotland, for instance, do not shoal at the rate of more than six inches in a century.

Obj. 1. The rapid manner in which some deposits are formed at the present day ; e. g., in the lake of Geneva, where, within the last 800 years, the Rhone has formed a delta two miles long and 600 feet in thickness.

Ans. Such examples are merely exceptions to the general law, that rivers, lakes, and the ocean are filling up with extreme slowness. Hence such cases show only that in ancient times rocks might have been deposited over limited areas in a rapid manner ; but they do not show that such was generally the case.

Obj. 2. Large trunks of trees, from twenty to sixty feet long, have some times been found in the rocks, penetrating the strata perpendicularly or obliquely; and standing apparently where they originally grew. Now we know that wood can not resist decomposition for a great length of time, and therefore the strata around these trunks must have accumulated very rapidly ; and hence the strata generally may have been rapidly formed.

Ans. Admitting that the strata enclosing these trunks were rapidly deposited, it might have been only such a case as is described in the first objection. But sometimes these trunks may have been drifted into a lake or pond, where a deep deposit of mud had been slowly accumulating, which remained so soft, that the heaviest part of the trunks, that is, their lower extremity, sunk to the bottom by their gravity, and thus brought the trunks into an erect position. Or suppose a forest sunk by some convulsion, how rapidly might deposits be accumulated around them, were the river a turbulent one, proceeding from a mountainous region.

Obj. 3. All the causes producing rocks may have operated in ancient times with vastly more intensity than at present.

Ans. This, if admitted, might explain the mere accumulation of materials to form rocks. But it would not account for the vast number of changes which took place in their mineral and organic characters ; which could have taken place, without a miracle, only during vast periods of time.

Obj. 4. The fossiliferous rocks might have been created, just as we find them, by the fiat of the Almighty, in a moment of time.

Ans. The possibility of such an event is admitted ; but the probability is denied. If we admit that organic remains from the unchanged elephants and rhinoceroses, of Siberia, to the perfectly petrified trilobites and terebratulae of the Palaeozoic strata, were never living animals, we give up the whole groundwork of analogical reasoning ; and the whole of physical science falls to the ground. But it is useless formally to answer an objection which would never be advanced by any man, who had ever examined even a cabinet collection of organic remains.

Theology

The text is decidedly old-earth creationist, believing that the Earth was very old but expressly created by God through some sort of progressive means. Most of the book simply concerns itself with describing geology, but the concluding inferences and remarks on “CONNECTION BETWEEN GEOLOGY AND NATURAL AND REVEALED RELIGION”  read like a cliff-notes version of Edward Hitchcock’s Religion of Geology:

The changes which the earth has experienced, and the different species of organic beings that have appeared, were not the result of any power inherent in the laws of nature, but of special Divine creating power…

The text concerns itself little with evolutionary ideas, although in a discussion about human fossil remains, the authors express their confidence that geology, while certainly proving the antiquity of the earth, had not disproved “the common opinion that Adam was the earliest created human being,” listing several reasons in defense.

They later argue that “so immeasurably is man raised by his moral and intellectual faculties above the animals next below him in rank, that the idea of his gradual evolution from them is absurd. Man’s moral powers, for instance, which are his noblest distinction, do not exist at all in the lower animals. Nothing but miraculous creation can explain the existence of man.”

A section on the “bearings of geology upon revealed religion” expresses their belief in “the divine inspiration and authority of every part of the Bible” as well as “the great principles of geology,” and that they “think the two records not only reconcilable, but that they cast mutual light upon each other, and that geology lends important aid to some of the most important truths of revelation.” This is proceeded by a list of all the claimed points of “harmony of the two records.”

In conclusion,

Hence it is high time for believers in revelation to cease fearing injury to its claims or doctrines from geology, and to be thankful to Providence for providing in this science so powerful an auxiliary of religion, both natural and revealed.