What Will Planet Nine Do To Creationism?

Look out, folks. Scientists may be on the verge of discovering another planet in our solar system, a hypothetical “Planet Nine” that could end up replacing that slot left by Pluto in the planetary pantheon.

No, it’s not named Nibiru, and it’s not coming for Earth. That’s a silly tale started in the 1990’s by someone claiming to talk to aliens, and it gets recycled every couple years by conspiracy theorists who attach it to whatever is the latest real dwarf planet or comet or other far-away object that NASA has discovered.

But there really might be another planet orbiting our Sun at the far reaches of the Solar System, so far away that all our telescopes and probes have never seen it.

The Backstory

There’s a bunch of stuff orbiting the sun way beyond Neptune in a region called the Kuiper belt, but most of the objects are too small and far away for us to know much about them yet. We knew about one – Pluto – and we used to call it a planet, until we realized there were a bunch of other objects like it out there, so we demoted it to “dwarf planet.” Outer space is huge, and even our best telescopes can only zoom in on so much of it at a time to hunt down these dim KBO’s (Kuiper belt objects). Thanks to improving technology, including larger and larger ground-based telescopes and the orbiting Hubble Space Telescope, we’re starting to learn more and more about these other objects. (We’re up to five official dwarf planets – and counting – including one called Haumea that we just learned has its own ring!)

In 2014 some scientists noticed that several of these KBO’s all had a “coincidental” alignment in their orbits that looked just like you might have expected them to look, if, say, a planet the size of Neptune had flown past them. But, of course, they were all too far away for Neptune to have had this effect on them. So began the hunt for “Planet Nine.” Since then, we’ve been finding more and more signs of the gravitational effects of this mysterious hypothetical celestial body. They’ve slowly been narrowing the range of its potential location, and now they think they’ve got a specific orbit figured out to carry out a final search by telescope. It may take a few years, or only a few weeks, but sometime in the near future, this “Planet Nine” will either be found, or confirmed not to exist at all.

This could be a very exciting discovery in the history of space exploration, but there’s one interesting little detail. Neptune goes around the sun every 164 years. Pluto’s orbital period is 248 years. Even though we’ve known about Pluto for less than 100 years, we can calculate its orbital period from Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. But “Planet Nine” is so far away that it has a potential orbital period of…

10,000 to 20,000 years!

This could present an interesting little problem for young-earth creationists, especially those who believe the solar system is only 6,000 years old.

The Potential Conclusions

There are three potential kinds of conclusions, and we are hurtling rather quickly toward one of them.

  1. Scientists may confirm that Planet Nine may not exist. The odds of its existence seem to be increasing with further scientific discoveries, but it still hasn’t been discovered and there could always be alternate explanations for the evidence it has allegedly left behind. This result would present no problems for young-earth creationists.
  2. Scientists may confirm that Planet Nine exists, but its orbit could actually lead to problems with old-earth models. It’s possible that the planet could be discovered, but in such an orbit where calculations showed an apparent impossibility of going back millions of years, due to instabilities it would have caused in the solar system. This result would present no problems for young-earth creationists, and would even bolster their confidence.
  3. Scientists may confirm that Planet Nine exists, with an orbital period of over 10,000 years, and clear evidence in the orientations of other objects that it has completed its orbit at least once. While anything could happen, this currently seems like the most likely option, so it’s worth exploring the potential reactions and repercussions.

The Potential Reactions

If the third option happens, this could be one of the strongest challenges ever to young-earth creationism. Christians who believe in deep time say the universe has not just the “appearance of age” but the “appearance of story,” that is, of specific events occurring in sequence and setting the stage for other events according to God’s perfect plan. A long-orbiting planet that was discovered by the effects of traveling that long orbit would be a clear demonstration of both age and story.

Deep time Christians may believe there is already plenty of evidence for such history, which young-earth creationists have not found convincing, and thus they may be skeptical that a new discovery would be interpreted any differently. But our solar system and its planets are much more familiar to the average person than other more distant and exotic objects, and unlike supernovas or fast radio bursts or even gravitational waves, everyone will hear about this planet and understand its significance very intuitively. If scientific materials start including a ninth planet after Neptune with an explicit number in the orbital column of, say, “14,000 years,” that would lead to obvious questions from Christians who have been taught that such lengths of time are incompatible with a sacred Scripture.

So how might young-earth creationist organizations respond? I can think of a few potential reactions.

  1. Some might question the orbital period, since it would be a calculation that has not been empirically verified. However, this skepticism would come at a cost. Johannes Kepler was a devout Christian of the seventeenth century. His laws of planetary motion have long been seen by Christians as one of many evidences of an orderly universe established by an orderly God with intelligence and purpose. Even secular scientists marvel that the universe has this kind of reliability that lets us discover the way it works. It seems risky to try to save a favored Biblical interpretation by undermining the fundamental laws we believe God established.
  2. Some might question whether the planet has completed an orbit around the sun since creation. If the planet is found from predictions based on its nudging effects on other planets from multiple paths around its orbit, this may not be a very compelling explanation. However, that may depend on how obvious or complicated such effects are, and how much room there is to reasonably doubt that scientists really know what they are talking about regarding such effects. Some may suggest God simply set the objects in “balance” around the sun and it’s only an assumption that they have affected each other. (In my opinion, this may be a likely response by some official organizations like AIG or CMI.)
  3. Some might suggest that within the vastness of space and time, and the mystery of God, and the limited understanding of man, that there is some other way, inexplicable as it may seem, to reconcile these things that scientists focused on the conventional mindset just aren’t making the effort to consider. After all, we cannot be certain that time in the Kuiper belt passes the same way as it does on Earth, or that general relativity or black holes or some other as-yet-undiscovered celestial object or principle might play into this somehow, or that some critical mistake made by the scientists involved will later be discovered. (In my opinion, this may be a likely response by some unofficial groups or laypersons.)

There are many intelligent and creative young-earth creationists, and there may be other responses I cannot anticipate. Much will depend on the specifics of the discovery.

It is also important to recognize that there are many different flavors of young-earth creationism. While there is a general unity about the history of biology, there is a little more variation about geology. “Young Life Creationists” allow for an old earth, interpreting Genesis 1:1 to occur at an indeterminate period before the six days started in verse 3. There is even more flexibility when it comes to cosmology and the history of far-away objects that are not really mentioned in Scripture.

However, most tend to insist on the sun’s appearance on the fourth day of creation, and a long-orbiting Ninth Planet would suggest not just a universe but planets orbiting the sun for at least tens of thousands of years before the creation events described in Genesis. Some followers might be convinced by the above potential explanations, or others that may appear, but some may not be satisfied, and may experience a crisis of faith, or at least embark on some curious searching. It is important for Christians of all beliefs to be prepared for this.

Potential Repercussions

Christians who accept deep time – whether evolutionary creationists or old-earth creationists – may be tempted to mock young-earth creationists in these situations, but I believe such disrespect is unwarranted and unhelpful. Young-earth creationists get enough mockery from atheists. They are sincerely committed to what they see as the only viable option for devoted Christians believing in the divine authority of Scripture, and thus diatribes about scientific evidence will not be compelling without a matching offer of plausible Biblical interpretation. The metaphorical interpretations and theological challenges of evolutionary theology are not likely to seem any more appealing to these Christians, but this situation could provide an opening for many for old-earth creationism, which tends to reject biological evolution but has few qualms with the long ages of cosmology. (I’m working on related resources at my Creation Explore site here.)

Many young-earth creationists may not be aware that old-earth creationists fully affirm Scriptural inerrancy, or that such a position was extremely common in the United States about a hundred years ago, and that many prominent Christians today have thoughtfully considered such positions and found them convincing, including Dr. William Lane Craig, a philosopher famous for defending the historicity of Jesus’ Resurrection, and “Bible Answer Man” Hank Hanegraaf. Some may find this comforting. As such I would recommend even evolutionary creationists to suggest such a path for any brothers and sisters who might have such questions, especially if they still find evolution fundamentally untenable.

The simplest starting point is the difference between two small Hebrew words: bara and asah. Bara is a powerful active verb usually rendered “create” in English, suggesting, for instance, a deliberate creation out of nothing. Asah is somewhat more passive, often rendered “make” and subject to a variety of possible meanings, including the arrangement or organization of pre-existing materials. The first verse of Genesis barks forth with bara: “God created the heavens and the earth.” Some of the other parts of the story use the more passive asah, including the passage about God “making” the sun, moon, and stars, on the fourth day.

It is on this basis that many Christians have suggested that the light on the first day really came from the sun, created by God at the beginning (Even the ancient father Origen thought something like this made more sense, long before geologists started pushing back the timeline). In this view the fourth day still depicts God’s assignment of the celestial bodies as time-keepers for humanity, but it potentially represents their first appearance in the sky after the clearing of a dim watery haze, and with no less of a reality than the daily “appearance” that the sun “rises” and “sets.”

If this interpretation is viable, it neatly allows for years and years of orbiting planets, including our new potential Planet Nine. We don’t even have to get into animal death before the Fall – though deep time Christians have interpretations for that, too. But that may be a satisfying starting point.

Thus I would encourage young-earth creationists to keep an open mind about all of this. We don’t yet know what we’ll find out there. But we can all rejoice in the wonder of the universe God created and the way he set it up for us to explore it and discover it. In this way, each new discovery further reveals both the “infinite” majesty of God’s creation, as expressed in Genesis 1, and the “intimate” connection of God’s creation to humanity, as expressed in Genesis 2. Whatever we find, God is still Creator. And we are still his children.

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The New Geology by George McCready Price (1923)

George McCready Price was an early 20th century Seventh Day Adventist and committed young-earth creationist in an era where many (and allegedly most) American Christians were turning toward an old earth. He was one of the first to promote a detailed scientific account of “flood geology” and was a major influence on the YEC resurgence of the 1960’s and beyond. I found his 700-page tome The New Geology (1923) somewhere online and read it in entirety. (Sorry, I downloaded a PDF and have lost the original link.)

General Contents

The 42 chapters are divided into sections.

Physiographic Geology (2 chapters) gives a general account of the Earth’s present distribution of land and sea and the different kinds of living things found in different parts of the world.

Structural Geology (2 chapters) describes the different kinds of minerals that are the “constituents of rocks” and introduces basic geological concepts of “formations” and their various inclines and “unconformities”

Dynamical Geology (11 chapters) discusses “the present action of the forces engaged in rock making and rock modification,” including chemical forces, the atmosphere, the erosive and transporting power of running water, ice, ocean waves and currents, living creatures and their role in producing peat, coral, and limestone, volcanoes, and earthquakes.

These sections are primarily presenting information, not theoretical interpretations, but Price takes ample opportunity throughout to point out where he sees facts as causing problems for old-earth or evolutionary views. or as potentially explainable by way of a fast flooding catastrophe.

Stratigraphical Geology (21 chapters) takes a detailed tour through the standard geological classification system, from “Pre-Cambrian Rocks”, to the “Ordovician System” and the “Silurian System,” and on through to the “Quarternary System”. Price describes the different types of fossils found in the different systems, generally accepting the classification system for the sake of discussion but vociferously disputing any interpretations about long lengths of time or any confidence in their accurate classifications and absolute ordering.

(I noticed that Price liked to highlight old “living genera” that “can not be distinguished” from present creatures, while Hitchcock liked to highlight the changing genera that were different from each time period.)

Theoretical Geology (6 chapters) closes with an organized interpretation built from the opinions scattered throughout the information in the previous chapters, arguing that the presently accepted history of geology is not properly supported by facts, and that fossils do not occur in a chronological order but show signs of formation in a “world catastrophe.” He closes with a brief chapter criticizing the “unscientific methods” regarding evolutionary claims around “the origin and antiquity of man.”

Prominent Themes

  • Decries the “unscientific” methods and interpretations and “assumptions” of standard geology. Claims to simply be requesting a fair hearing of his challenge to standard “dogma”: “a great world catastrophe… should always be kept in mind also as the alternative… Following true principles of scientific investigation, we ought to be able to decide very positively whether or not any such event has ever happened to our world” ““Claiming that this hypothesis has already been considered a century ago and found wanting, is palpably untrue. This hypothesis has never in the history of science had a sober and careful consideration, with a sufficient amount of evidence available to furnish the grounds for a safe and final decision of the case”
  • Geological layers in the wrong order
    • Price’s “most important law” of “the order” of strata: “Any kind of fossiliferous beds.. may be found occurring conformably on any other fossiliferous beds, ‘older’ or ‘younger’… we have not… examples of every possible combination,” and though he concedes “we usually find the fossils” in “relative sequence”, he says we have enough examples “to justify this broad general statement.” “This law alone is quite sufficient to relegate the whole theory of organic evolution to the lumber room of science.”
    • He especially was impressed by Chief Mountain and Crowsnest Mountain in Glacier National Park, “a huge Paleozoic island floating on a Cretaceous sea,” an “obvious contradiction to the traditional order of the rocks”, rejecting “unfounded theories” of folding which he compares to geocentric “epicycles”.
    • Describes Werner’s “mineral-onion coat” theory that minerals “always occurred in a definite sequence,” until “contradictory” examples “accumulated in such enormous numbers” and “real intellectual courage” overturned it. He now sees the subsequent “biological-onion coat” theory that fossils occur in sequence in a similar position, and he believes the accumulating contradictory examples will bring it to a similar collapse.
  • In contrast to “uniformitarianism,” Price distinguishes between “modern” and “ancient” deposits, claiming, for example, that “modern-forming” beds are “more or less a heterogeneous mixture,” while ancient ones are not. He interprets effects “of far greater intensity which may have operated in the past,” and arguing “we do not find now in progress” some effects seen from the past (though at one place he concedes, “it may be difficult to draw the line between these two kinds of deposits”)
  • Links geology to evolution, “the dominant idea, of course, in the minds of those who arranged the geological series, was the evolution theory regarding the development of life,”
  • claims “readjustment” of fossil classifications to better fit the expected order, deriding it all as a “purely artificial arrangement”

Flood Geology

  • Perfect Pre-Flood Climate: “Hypothesis” of a former “equable climate all over the earth” without deserts or frozen regions in “a mantle of springlike loveliness,” discusses much evidence of warmer past in the arctic, etc,  Quote geologists on uniformity of tropical conditions, “‘a non-zonal arrangement’ of climate”, Posits “a peculiar salubrity of the atmosphere which would secure a regularity of moisture… promoting a most luxuriant vegetation,” but “each locality having its own special flora” and thus “its own particular fauna”
  • Sudden Fossilizations: fossils that seem to be “buried suddenly”, shells “buried while the animals were still alive”, “abundant remains” in “natural graveyards”, fossils with “marvelous preservation” suggesting some “tremendous catastrophe”, sees sudden freezing of mammoths as part of this “sudden” and “permanent” change and evidence that “this change occurred within the human epoch”
  • Ecological zoning: Suggests “biological zones and districts” whereby “diverse faunas and floras may have existed contemporaneously in separated localities”, buried in “successive beds” by “a change in the currents”, “a current from a different direction bringing in some contemporary forms of life from a few hundred years away, or at the most merely a few miles away… Were there not zoological provinces and districts… in the olden time”
  • Suggestions explanation of “alternating layers of coal, shale, and limestone” by an “abnormal tidal action”
  • “The Flood prevailed over the whole earth a little more than a year,” but “the full recovery from it occupied much more time… the completion of the mountain making, and the spreading out of the drift over Western Europe and Northeastern America, may have occurred years or even centuries after the other geological work was done, and after practically the present land and ocean boundaries had been established”
  • Suggests “an astronomical cause.. a jar or a shock from the outside,” suggests the earth’s axis may have been changed from “perpendicular” “to its present inclined position,” and “the oceans would sweep a mighty tidal wave,” though he hedges “I do not affirm that this was actually the method” but is “impressed” with its potential explanatory power
  • Post-flood Ice Age: suggests “almost continuous precipitation” from “ocean waters cooling” and contacting “icy cold air,” perhaps for “years or even centuries,” providing “an easy explanation… of extended glacial action”
  • Admits it will be easy “to find objections” or “impossibilities”. “As one stands on the brink of the Grand Canon” or “the base of a Niagara… there are very many phenomena which seem beyond the reach of any explanations we may offer.” But has hope that “we shall probably improve our understanding… with further discoveries,” and is confident that his explanation is “so far superior to any hitherto offered.” “Future discoveries may amend and clarify” details of “this hypothesis of the new catastrophism,” but “are not likely to require any material changes in its essential features.”

Concepts Emphasized in Modern YEC

  • Were You There: “We have no direct and first-hand scientific witnesses… it is all circumstantial evidence”
  • On Geological Layers: “The student should not be misled by the appearances given in such tables as these, of the strata piled one above another in a regular order of superposition…. the rocks do NOT thus occur in a single case anywhere on earth”
  • “Trunks of old trees” extending through strata; “It frequently happens that a fossil tree is found extending up through two or more of these successive beds of coal, together with the intervening beds of shale or sandstone.”
  • “Sudden appearance” of fossils: “Evolutionists are justly surprised at the sudden appearance, in the lowest Cambrian rocks, of so many different species of quite highly organized animals, with only the most scanty evidence of any other lower and more embryonic forms of life having preceded them”
  • Coal formations via “luxurious vegetation” that was “swept” like a “raft” on an “enormous scale… into lakes or valleys”
  • Possibility of Living Dinosaurs: On plesiososaurs, “From the frequent reports by competent observers… some of these creatures may have survived to our time.” Pterosaurs… would serve to justify the tradition of flying dragons”
  • Connecting Fall, Flood, and Restoration: “These unanswerable proofs… recording the death and burial of that beautiful world… come to us with the sweet assurance that some day the bright, happy conditions of Edenic life will be restored to our sin-blasted planet, and God’s redeemed people will shine forth in the restored image of divine beauty
  • Distinguishing between “facts and conclusions”, decrying “unwarranted assumptions” behind the “dogma” of uniformity, which should really be a “hypothesis,” and asking for an “open mind” for his ideas.
  • Affirming belief in compatibility: “I believe that the Bible and the book of nature have both the same Author””
  • Rejecting regional flood interpretations: words that “express the absolute universality of the Flood…are repeated over and over again”.
  • Impending Doom: “the doctrine of uniformity as taught by Lyell has also fallen into disrepute… Only a question of time until the world will see the complete collapse of that doctrine
  • Possibility of Post-Flood Hyperspeciation (Joel Duff has analyzed this concept here.)
    • Says we are also learning that distinctions of “species… were marked off on altogether too narrow lines… It is perfectly evident that both plants and animals have varied much more in a natural way than used to be thought possible; and hence two or more comparatively different forms may very well be supposed to be of a common descent… From this, it further appears that the problem of accounting for the modern diversity of animals (and plants) as survivors from a universal Deluge has been greatly simplified; for the more variation we admit as possible, the easier it is to account for the present fauna (and flora), since fewer original forms would be required to begin the present stock.”
    • “Doubtless our old ideas of the limits of a ‘species’ will now have to be enlarged so as to include perhaps all the forms now listed under a genus, perhaps all the members of a family.”
    • “Most of the ‘species’ under any given genus.. Are probably artificial distinctions… probably all descended from one stock. In some instances, perhaps even the different genera of a family may be thus of a common origin… this is by no means to concede the doctrine of evolution… a correct view of geology forever puts the evolution theory out of possible consideration… the origin of variations does not touch the problem of accounting for the originals out of which these are derived.”

Random Notable Quotes

  • Refers to the “unscientific” and “prodigal use of many causes when one would be sufficient” (this is in contrast to Pye-Smith’s “diversity of effects” needing a “diversity of causes”)
  • Sauropod design: Quotes Lull on sauropods: “The skeleton of one of these creatures is a marvel of mechanical design; the bones of the vertebral column are of the lightest possible construction consistent with strength, the bony material being laid down only where stresses arise… The assembled skeleton reminds one forcibly of a cantilever bridge borne on two massive piers…”
  • On convergent evolution: “Ichthyosaurs.. are especially plentiful… must have looked almost exactly like the modern dolphins and porpoises,” which “the evolutionists call.. a remarkable case of ‘parallel development’… there are almost innumerable cases of such ‘parallel development’ all through the plant and animal kingdoms
  • Here’s an idea that didn’t take: He gives evidence to disprove that “volcanic vents are connected with any very deep-seated part of the earth’s interior,” but rather promotes a theory that “lava beds have originated from burning coal beds”
  • While we need hypotheses to make progress in science, “hypotheses are always dangerous things… because of the ease with which it seems to help us explain other facts, the more surely do we become its slaves… if this hypothesis happens to be really wrong… often we will not listen to the testimony of others who claim to have tested it, if their results do not tally with what our pet hypothesis has taught us”

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.)

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.”

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.

The Religion of Geology by Edward Hitchcock (1851)

131px-Edward_HitchcockEdward Hitchcock was an old-earth creationist from the 1800’s. A pastor as well as a geological surveyor, Hitchcock’s equal passions for theology and geology were clearly on display in his work The Religion of Geology and its Connected Sciences (1851)a series of lectures arguing for the harmonization of “revelation” (the Bible) with recent discoveries in geology. Hitchcock had an eloquent style, clearly defining his propositions and assertions, differentiating between certainties and conjectures, and kindly acknowledging objections. He argued against both young-earth and atheistic worldviews of his day, claiming that geology reveals an old earth with miraculous creative acts that “corrects” previous interpretations of Scripture and enlarges our understanding of the “vast plans of Jehovah,” expounding on not only the creation of the world but also cosmology, eschatology, and the problem of evil.

The work is freely available in the public domain on Project Gutenberg and elsewhere (I found it on Apple’s iBooks)

Overall worldview:

Hitchcock believed the Earth’s rocks have changed form since God’s original creation, according to consistent laws and forces, by the same processes presently depositing sediment layers in lakes and seas. He believed these layers contain fossils arranged orderly like “the drawers of a well-regulated cabinet,” with four or five divisions that he interpreted as separate divine acts of creations over time, as geological processes slowly “improved” the Earth’s condition for the presence of more complex creatures, in “a vast series of operations, each successive link springing out of that before it, and becoming more and more beautiful.” He saw all this as evidence of God’s “infinite wisdom” and “infinite benevolence” (phrases which occur over fifty times in the lectures).

On the role of science in interpreting the Bible:

Hitchcock argued that we use many methods to help interpret the “natural” language of the Bible, including grammar and history, and that scientific discovery is simply another viable method. He gave examples from advances in chemistry, meteorology, and astronomy that affected interpretations and argued that geology is just as qualified.

He argued that since the “object” of Scripture is the “plan of salvation,” we “ought not to expect” terms used “in their strict scientific sense,” but in their “popular acceptation.” The “earth” doesn’t necessarily mean the spherical globe proved by science, but “that part of it which was inhabited,” being all the reader would have understood. “We ought only to expect that the facts of science, rightly understood, should not contradict the statements of revelation, rightly interpreted.”

Hitchcock used several examples, beginning with the setting sun as describing appearance rather than scientific accuracy. Like Miller, he quoted the older theologian Turretin as one who insisted on an unmoving central Earth, even though today the “language conveys quite a different meaning to our minds,” and no one suspects any contradiction.

Unlike previous scientific advancements, Hitchcock said some Christians had the idea that the relatively new science of geology was hostile to the Bible, and searched it not to understand but to find contradictions and attack it, resulting in “striking misapprehensions of facts and opinions, with positive and dogmatic assertions, with severe personal insinuations, great ignorance of correct reasoning in geology, and the substitution of wild and extravagant hypotheses for geological theories.” He feared they were weakening the faith, having “excited unreasonable prejudices and alarm among common Christians” against science, while awakening “disgust and even contempt among scientific men… who have inferred that a cause which resorts to such defenses must be very weak.”

While acknowledging that science has degrees of certainty, and that we should be hesitant to alter Biblical interpretation without strong reason, Hitchcock was confident that many claims of geology were solidly settled, and he discussed their connection to previous interpretations of Scripture in three main areas: the age of the earth before man, the existence of animal death before the Fall, and the extent of Noah’s flood.

On the Bible and the age of the Earth:

Hitchcock believed in a literal six-day creation that occurred six thousand years ago, but he argued that Genesis 1 allows for an undefined interval between the creation of the universe out of nothing in verse 1 and the six-day creative act that followed (This sounds similar to what in the early 1900’s was called the “gap” theory, though that word does not occur in the lectures). He was “willing to admit” that “the common interpretation, which makes matter only six thousand years old, is the most natural,” but argued “the strict rules of exegesis” allow for such a gap (his defense includes a treatment of the oft-neglected Exodus 20:11 counterargument, which he argues is a simple summary that does not limit the creation of the universe itself to the six-day creating period).

Rather than describing the first creation of life, Hitchcock believed the “six days’ work” was the most recent of several creative cycles, arguing that Gen 1:2 is better translated something like “Afterwards the earth was desolate,” or “empty and vacuous,” – i.e., finally ready for the creation of man and other creatures after the extinction of the previous cycle.

(He also claimed Psalm 104 as support for this cycle view: “thou takest away their breath, they die, and return to their dust, Thou sendest forth thy spirit, they are created: and thou renewest the face of the earth.”)

His interpretation of Genesis 1 includes discussions of “bara” (bawraw) and “asah” (awsaw) and the implications of differentiating between creating “out of nothing” and “renovation or remodeling” of previously created materials. He addressed what I believe now would be called “day-age” interpretations (see his contemporary Hugh Miller), but he thought it required too much cherry-picking to try to fit the geological record into metaphors for the six days or to have the earlier days of creation describing extinct species rather than living ones.

On science and the age of the Earth:

Hitchcock declared that “no chronological dates are registered on the rocks,” unaware that radioactivity would one day be argued to provide the very thing. Yet he believed there was enough evidence to place such unknown dates far beyond six thousand years (though he placed the six-day creation, including Man, at such time.)

Hitchcock seems to have detailed the evidence behind these beliefs in his textbook-style Elemental Geology,  but he included some details here. He said man’s remains are only found in the uppermost “alluvium” of a few hundred feet, where only slight changes have been observed in recorded history. The “six or eight miles” of rocks beneath, full of animal remains, suggest a gap closer to “ten million” than “ten” years (the closest he gets to suggesting an actual age). There was “incalculable time requisite to pile up such an immense thickness of materials, and then to harden most of them into stone.”

He declared broadly that “each successive investigation discovers new evidence of changes in composition, or organic contents, or of vertical movements effected by extremely slow agencies, so as to make the whole work immeasurably long,” far beyond lumping into “a few thousand years,” with even more time required for the “decomposition, consolidation, and metamorphosis” of the “far thicker” “non-fossiliferous rocks.” He referred to vast numbers of “vegetables” required to produce “beds of coal from one to fifty feet thick, and extending over thousands of square miles, and alternating several times with sandstone in the same basin. He referred to masses of limestone that are “nearly half composed of microscopic shells,” suggesting the need for large amounts of time for such quantities to live and die and consolidate.

Far from diminishing the power or authority of the Christian God, Hitchcock was adamant that these geological discoveries greatly increased our understanding and appreciation of the “vast plans of Jehovah,” comparing the increase of time to the increase of space. Astronomy had enlarged our knowledge of the numbers of “worlds” by millions, and thus enlarged our conception of the Author’s power, wisdom, and benevolence. He saw “as much grandeur” in the “vast duration” of time as the “vast expansion” of space – in fact, even more so, due to what he saw as evidence of God’s miraculous cyclic creative interventions:

“Mechanical philosophy introduces an unbending and unvarying law between the Creator and his works; but geology unveils his providential hand, cutting asunder that law at intervals, and planting the seeds of a new economy upon a renovated world. We thus seem to be brought into near communion with the infinite mind. We are prepared to listen to his voice when it speaks in revelation. We recognize his guiding and sustaining agency at every step of our pilgrimage. And we await in confident hope and joyful anticipation those sublime manifestations of his character and plans, and those higher enjoyments which will greet the pure soul in the round of eternal ages.”

On death before the Fall:

Unlike the book I read by Hugh Miller, which merely mentioned in passing his view that death before the Fall was an obvious reality, Hitchcock devoted an entire lecture (Lecture 3) to exploring this theology. Noting the common interpretation of animal death originating in the “apostasy” of our “first parents,” he argued that the 1 Corinthians passage (“Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead”) clearly does not include animals, and the Romans passage  (“By one man sin entered into the world, and the curse by sin”) doesn’t indicate whether animals are included or not.

If Romans allows for either possibility, and if geology is permitted to help us interpret it, Hitchcock argued that the answer is clear: while man is only found at the very top of fossil layers, animals are found in miles of rocks, many species of which could not live in current climates. Many were clearly carnivorous, as indicated by fossils of other animals inside their bodies, as part of God’s plan to keep animal populations balanced.

Hitchcock developed a theological theme of a cycle of death and resurrection: “Dead organic matter is essential to the support and nourishment of living beings.” He argued that without death there would be no nutrients to support new plant life, and animals would eventually exhaust all available food. “To exclude death… would require an entirely different system.” The carnivorous teeth, muscles for chasing prey, digestive systems for eating it, etc, would have required so much change that it must have “amounted to a new creation,” which in Hitchcock’s view surely would not have “passed unnoticed by the sacred writer.”

Hitchcock addressed the “common” view that Genesis 3 indicates “thorns and thistles” springing from the curse, arguing that this interpretation may have been influenced by Milton’s writings and that the passage could simply indicate the result of man leaving the perfect garden to tend the less fertile soil that was already there. Addressing the view that the curse on the serpent suggests effects on animals, Hitchcock argued this curse was a spiritual reference to the devil only, noting that serpents do not literally “eat dust,” and that while it was “cursed above all cattle,” modern snakes “appear as happy as other animals.”

Hitchcock argued that a “system of death” is a necessary counterpart to a “system of reproduction,” without which the fruitfully multiplying creation would soon have the world “overstocked.” While this may not seem benevolent, he argued that death is not as bad for animals as it is for intelligent, psychological men, and that total animal suffering would be worse without it (animal utilitarianism?). Without the aggravating effects of sin, he actually saw animal death as evidence of “infinite benevolence and wisdom.”

(Hitchcock devoted two additional lectures – 6 and 7 – to expanding this point. He acknowledged that a history full of “desolation and death” would seem “the very place where the objector would find arguments to prove the malevolence, certainly the vindictive justice, of the Deity.” He argued geology offers evidence of the infinite “divine benevolence” not only throughout sinless history but also in the present fallen world, harmonizing “infinite and perfect benevolence in God with the existence of evil on earth,” which he called “the grand problem of theology.”)

Hitchcock argued that man would not have understood the penalty of death if he had not seen it in animals. He also discussed a more speculative theory that historical animal death could have been caused by man’s apostasy even before the apostasy occurred as part of God’s foreknowledge and plan.

Hitchcock seemed open to the question of whether or not sinless man was immortal, suggesting that if not, the tree of life may have preserved against natural decay, and that without sin man may still have “translated” to a higher existence without “death,” like Enoch, Elijah, and the same change that “shall pass upon multitudes” when “we shall all be changed.” In this view, sin changed “not the going out of the world, but the manner of going.”

On Noah’s flood:

Hitchcock believed that ascribing all the fossil layers to a global flood was “absurd.” He argued that Genesis supports a limited regional flood, noting places in the Bible where the phrase “all the earth” only refers to known or inhabited land, not the entire globe, and noting logistical problems with holding all the animals on the Ark and dispersing them afterwards (Hugh Miller’s work went into more detail on this).

He said the Flood cannot explain the geological order of a “well-regulated cabinet,” nor the prevalence of extinct species: “with the exception of a few species near the top of the series, the fossil species are wholly unlike those now alive,” with “at least five distinct races of animals and plants,” many of a “tropical character” that could not have been “contemporaries” with living species.

Hitchcock noted that rivers mentioned in Genesis before the Flood suggest there was not a major reshaping of the land:

This theory requires us to admit, that in three hundred and eighty days the waters of the deluge deposited rocks at least six miles in thickness, over half or two thirds of our existing continents; and these rocks made up of hundreds of thick beds, exceedingly unlike one another in composition and organic contents.

He claimed to have no theological problems resorting to miracle to explain things if necessary, but if history showed not only difficulties, but irreconcilable contradictions, and if a limited flood was consistent with the text and removed the difficulties, then he saw history as revealing a limited flood to be the correct interpretation.

On evolution:

Hitchcock argued in Lecture 9 against the Lamarckian “theory of development” which claimed to show how “all the higher families” “may have been evolved.” He saw this “hypothesis of creation by law” as an attempt to explain “how animals and plants may be produced without any special exercise of creating power on the part of the Deity.” Spontaneous generation was said to support the natural emergence of life “without parentage,” but Hitchcock argued that improvements in science were ruling out more and more claims of such abiogenesis. He correctly predicted that “more scrutinizing observation” would reveal the last remaining footholds of tiny creatures to follow the same pattern of “descending from parents” observed in larger animals.

He argued against claims that the “mammalian embryo” evolves as it forms, literally beginning life as an insect, and becoming a fish, etc, believing (perhaps presciently, in a pre-DNA paradigm) “the human condition results from laws as fixed as those that regulate the movements of the heavenly bodies.”

He noted that hybrid species are generally infertile, and uncommon in the wild, declaring that there seem to be “strong barriers around species.” He claimed animals described in the “catacombs of Egypt” “three thousand years ago” “are precisely like the living species.”

He admitted that the “general” view of geology seems to support the theory of “development” but claims “the tables are turned when we descend to particulars.” He claimed the first members of each epoch are “higher,” not “lower,” and even show signs of “degradation,” not progression, as time unfolds.  He said strata are marked by “sudden changes” with “entirely different” species “of a higher grade than those that preceded them, but could not have sprung from them.” He explained his theory that as the earth slowly changed and improved, old groups “died out” as it become “unsuited” to them, and the Creator brought in new “more complicated and perfect” groups better adapted to the new conditions.

He said vertebrates “become more and more complex as we rise on the scale of the rocks,” but there “does not appear to have been much advance” of invertebrate classes, except in numbers and variety. Similarly, flowering plants have gradually advanced and now “predominate,” but flowerless plants “seem to have been as perfect at first as they now are.”

He said the “doctrine of development by law” cannot explain the “wonderful adaptation” of animals and plants to the conditions of the world without making the law as intelligent as the Deity himself. He concluded that the idea “corresponds only in a loose and general way to the facts, and cannot be reconciled to the details. If that hypothesis cannot get a better foothold somewhere else, it will soon find its way into the limbo of things abortive and forgotten.” (Fascinatingly, it was only ten years later that Darwin changed the course of history by presenting such a foothold.)

To Hitchcock, the evidence against such ideas was so “overwhelming” that he speculated that its advocates simply “do not like the idea of a personal, present, overruling Deity.”

On intelligent design:

With remarkable similarity to modern discussions on “intelligent design,” Hitchcock came close to using the very phrase when he referred to “the evidences of high intelligence and unity of design” in Lecture 8 (which even opens with a brief discussion of “the human eye”!)

Hitchcock described creation as “a series of harmonies, wheel within wheel, in countless variety, yet all forming one vast and perfect machine.” He argued that this harmony pervades the entire history of the planet, and that the same laws of physics and chemistry applied throughout (he refers to “the distinct impressions of rain-drops” in red sandstone layers as evidence that “meteorology” has been consistent).

“The present and past conditions of this world are only parts of one and the same great system of infinite wisdom and benevolence.” From biology to chemistry, “one golden chain of harmony links all together, and identifies all as the work of the same infinite mind.” Quoting William Buckland’s Bridgewater Treatise, he said there is so much uniformity of construction and adaptation “that we can scarcely fail to acknowledge in all these facts a demonstration of the unity of the intelligence in which such transcendent harmony originated.”

He also spoke in Lecture 5 of the “argument from design.” “When geology shows us, not the commencement of matter, but of organism, and presents us with full systems of animals and plants springing out of inorganic elements, where is the law that exhibits even a tendency to such results? Nothing can explain them but the law of miracles; that is, creation by divine interposition.”

He argued that this natural evidence for miraculous intervention supported the Christian idea that God would also intervene in history by giving us his Word.

On atheism:

Hitchcock also had some interesting comments on atheism, which he saw the evolutionary hypothesis as tending towards (or, at best, towards a hands-off theism that was still “dangerous,” as it “may swing off into utter irreligion”). He argued against two common arguments that were used to support atheism, which today have been largely forgotten. Hitchcock was remarkably accurate in predicting the demise of both arguments. The first, as referenced above, was that spontaneous generation proved there was no need of a creator to specifically create life.

The second was the idea that the universe was eternal, having always existed and thus needing no creator to kick things off, contra Genesis 1:1. It is often now forgotten that this was a common belief before the Big Bang of the twentieth century. Hitchcock argued that, regardless of the eternity of matter itself, the Earth at least must have had a beginning, and that geology shows modifications of matter only explained by a Deity. He said natural laws may turn a ball of fire into sea and land, but only God could populate the chaos or void with life, initially as well as after each major extinction. “To prove that any organic system shows a tendency to ruin is to show that it had a beginning.” From this he conjectured that if earth and life had beginnings, surely all matter did also? Correctly anticipating the coming overturn of cosmology, he said, “Science has not yet placed within the reach of man the means of proving its non-eternity.”

Conclusion:

In hindsight, some of Hitchcock’s work seems more eccentric than brilliant. For instance, he speculated about a very materialistic “new heaven and new Earth” as a final cycle of destruction and re-creation, conjecturing about resurrected bodies made of “ether” that could survive while a new crust cools from the fiery destruction!

Overall, however, given the scientific context of the time, it is remarkable how well most of these lectures hold up over one hundred and fifty years late. Many of Hitchcock’s predictions came true, and many other concepts that have been refined still contain relevant principles. From philosophical bantering about the relation of scripture and science, to exegetical delving into the days of creation, to the “Cambrian explosion” as an example of miraculous creative intervention, many of the same sorts of ideas are still discussed today (often with folks completely unaware that someone two centuries prior thoughtfully engaged the points they bring up).

Hitchcock’s love for both the Bible and natural science shine throughout these engaging lectures. He marveled how the “disturbance and dislocation” of long, slow geological processes could create beautiful scenery, from Niagara to the Alps, that “so intensely gratified” the soul; he saw this as evidence of the “predominance of benevolence” of a Creator who “delights in the happiness of his creatures.” He developed a philosophy of miracles to explain the interaction of natural laws and supernatural intervention, including answers to prayer. He bemoaned that “a large proportion” of the church had “yielded” to skepticism and forsaken the “fasting and prayer” of their forefathers, and wished they would be “led back to the Bible doctrine.”

Regardless of the accuracy or inaccuracy of his geological views, it cannot be said that he held them in ignorance of the Bible’s teachings, or out of a desire to accommodate evolutionary or atheistic ideas, which he argued against as forcefully as any young-earth creationist of his time or ours. By contrast, he believed geology, “rightly understood,” strengthened the case for a personal loving God of “infinite wisdom and benevolence.” May his work be a comfort to anyone struggling with such issues today.

 

The White Planet and the Age of Ice Cores

the-white-planetThe White Planet: The Evolution and Future of our Frozen World is a book by three French researchers (Jean Jouzel, Claude Lorius, and Dominique Raynard) about the study of ice cores in Greenland and Antartica. The book’s primary focus is how records of the past relate to present and future climate change. While this was interesting, my primary interest in the book was to simply learn more specific details of the records of the past themselves and their implications for the age of the Earth and Biblical interpretation.

Personal Background:

I first remembering hearing about ice cores during the 2014 Bill Nye / Ken Ham debate, where Nye pointed to ice cores that he said were over 680,000 years old, showing annual layers of melting and refreezing; this was a strong claim against the young-earth model. (Not having a good grasp of the old-earth model at the time, I didn’t understand why layers wouldn’t go back hundreds of millions of years until I read Charles Lyell for myself.) Wikipedia told me it was only an unspecified number of “upper” layers that were clearly identifiable, with the rest calculated from models; this was a much weaker claim. Additionally, Michael J. Oard at Answers In Genesis argued that multiple layers can form in one year, casting doubt on the ability to reliably count layers back in time like tree rings.

Then I was given an old-earth creationist book by J. Gene White which numbered the visible layers at 60,000 from the 1992 Greenland Ice Core Project (GRIP) and 37,900 layers from the 1993 Greenland Ice Sheet Project Two (GISP2); this was an order of magnitude lower than Nye’s claim but an order of magnitude higher than the young-earth model. White also claimed that patterns of changes in elements found in these ice layers corroborated with other unrelated measurement methods, which would render infeasible a model requiring tens or hundreds of subannual layers per year. I don’t remember where I first heard of The White Planet, but it sounded like a good resource to learn more about both the counting and the composition of these ice cores.

Counting Layers:

The book did not get more specific than claims of “tens of thousands” of visually identifiable layers. It doesn’t talk about subannual layers, but it offers reasons they believe “annual dating has been possible” both in Antarctica and Greenland. “Many of the properties of the snow – concentrations of deuterium and oxygen 18,” etc, “differs depending on whether they accumulated in the summer or the winter. Furthermore, in the summer dust particles are more abundant in the snow because the winds are more favorable at the time to their being carried to the poles: the corresponding layers diffuse more light.”

Recent layers correlate with nuclear tests. Ice has “natural beta radioactivity.” “In the spring of 1955 a peak was observed that represented the fallout from the first thermonuclear tests in March 1954.” Radioactive levels increased “up to forty times greater than the natural” level corresponding to the fallout of large nuclear explosions in 1961 and 1962, decreased during “the suspension of nuclear testing in the atmosphere in 1963-1966,” and resumed again after “a partial resumption of atmospheric tests.”

There is also correlation with volcanic eruptions. “A few layers of ash corresponding to very intense volcanic eruptions” are said to be visible to the naked eye. “The chemical composition of the ice was modified at each sufficiently large volcanic eruption, with, for example, an increase in the content of sulfates. The eruptions in the Northern Hemisphere are clearly recorded in the ice of Greenland, those of the Southern Hemisphere in the Antarctic ice. Some eruptions occurring close to the equator or in the tropics can leave traces in both the north and the south when they are very violent.” In one case, the record actually changed historical consensus about a date. “The eruption of the volcano of Santorini, in Greece” was previously believed to have “occurred in the sixteenth century; the ice in Greenland, dated year by year, place that eruption a century earlier,” which has now been “confirmed by other methods.” The ice records the major volcanic eruptions of 1783-1784 (Laki) and 1815 (Tambora) as well as identifying a previously unknown eruption of twice the magnitude of those in 1259.

“Going back further, glaciologists have developed models that enable them to calculate the thickness of successive annual layer.” These models are clearly imperfect: “We estimated that the deepest ice was about 30,000 years old but later revised that dating and now more than 40,000 years of archives are available from the first drilling at Dôme C.”

At the same time, they fully recognize these imperfections: “These glaciological models have the disadvantage of being less precise as the age increases, and it is then indispensable to have points of reference deduced from comparison with ocean records, themselves dated by orbital adjustment.”

Chemical analysis of the ice reveal isotopes of oxygen and beryllium, among others, that vary in regular patterns that span tens of thousands of layers and continue past the point of visually identifiable layers. These patterns are said to directly correlate to temperature changes and to represent changes in the amount of sunlight (insolation) different parts of the Earth receive over time, which is itself affected by slight, mathematically predictable changes in the Earth’s orbit. (Ex. The eccentricity of its orbit follows variations with periodicities of 100 and 400 thousand years. The tilt of the axis – obliquity – varies on a cycle of 41 thousand years). These variations combine to affect temperature changes of several degrees which melt or freeze enough ice to create glaciation cycles every hundred thousand years or so. Early drillings only covered one of these glaciation cycles, but later deeper drillings in other places confirmed that cycle and revealed several more, which are now believed to go back 800,000 years, when various changes in the Earth’s overall condition allowed the present ice to begin accumulating.

They closely analyze these chemical patterns, both to verify chronologies across multiple sites and to identify when the patterns are too noisy to suggest any chronology.
They refer to “perturbations” of the ice when they get close to “bedrock” that make it unusable for dating. Also, at Vostok, “there was nothing very interesting up to 3,538 meters. Then, abruptly, over a few dozen centimeters, the properties changed dramatically,” revealing the ice at that point to not have accumulated from snowfall but actually to have frozen over a lake that still existed below.

As an extra complication, there are actually “two distinct chronologies” of ice and air, since air bubbles in upper layers can circulate until they become trapped under the weight of a hundred or so layers. “Since air trapping occurs gradually, these ages are averages.”

So on the one hand, there are clearly uncertainties and difficulties in reading the ice layers as a historical record. On the other hand, the scientists seem well aware of these uncertainties and only establish chronologies with as much confidence as they believe is warranted by the clarity of the data they have. They attempt to confirm ages based on patterns of dust and chemical isotopes and whatever external records are available.

As another example, scientists believe from “radiometric methods” that there was a major volcanic eruption at Toba around 75,000 years ago, “within a few thousand years” of uncertainty. They say this is “used to verify the chronology of deep ice cores.” More explicit details are not given, but it gives the impression that as they are guesstimating the age of deeper ice based on distance and chemical patterns, they find an ash layer somewhere around the 75,000 year mark that helps pinpoint that part of the record.

It is difficult to say, without access to the original research itself, how closely the given impressions match the analyses and how precise the claimed patterns actually are. The less precise the details, the easier it is for the young-Earth model to compete with it. The more precise the details, the more elaborate the young-Earth model has to become to explain why at least a thousand layers have a pretty constant one-to-one chronology but somewhere around a few thousand layers they happen to start representing a wild post-flood accumulation phase with multiple storms of alternating dust patterns and intermittent volcanoes and changing isotopes that just happen to look exactly like it would have if the Earth actually had been going around the Sun in its slightly varying divinely ordered path for the last hundred thousand years, one intelligently orchestrated season at a time.