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.


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.


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