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.
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 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.
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.”
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!