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.


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)


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

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

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

The 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.


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.”


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.


Testimony of the Rocks by Hugh Miller (1857)

Testimony of the Rocks is a collection of twelve lectures by Hugh Miller, one of the original old-earth creationists. Published in 1857, this work discusses details of the “Geologic” record and argues for its harmonization with the “Mosaic” record of the Bible. The lectures take us back to the original era of discussion about how to interpret the new findings of geology that contradicted previous understandings of Scripture. (I will do my best to limit this post to objectively summarizing Miller’s beliefs and arguments. I may do a follow-up post with my personal opinions and reflections on the work.)

Miller believed geology clearly proved the Earth was older than six thousand years and that the fossil record clearly predated the flood. He argued that Scripture allows for day-age or revelatory interpretations of creation and a local flood, and responded to some contemporary objections to such notions. He also argued against the proto-evolutionary “development hypothesis” with arguments that sound very proto-intelligent-design. He wrapped it all in a developed theology about continually “higher” elements of a progressive creation culminating in man and pointing yet further to the Divine Man and the end of the age.

On animal death before the Fall: Miller does not directly address theological objections to animals eating each other before the Fall, except to express his belief that the facts are so clear that such objections are irrelevant.

In Lecture 8 he says there once was an idea “that there was a time, ere man had sinned, when there was no death among the inferior creatures,” but it was “now no longer tenable.” In Lecture 2 he notes, “It has been weakly and impiously urged… that such an economy of warfare and suffering” would be “unworthy of an all-powerful and all-benevolent Providence.” His response is that the geologist’s job is simply “rightly to interpret the record of creation,” and the “established truths” of the geologic record made it clear that God did indeed create animals in this way. If the objectors want to question the justice of it they can settle that “grave charge” with “the great Creator himself.”

On the creation story: Apparently unaware of any need to harmonize animal death with the Scriptures, Miller spends considerably more time harmonizing the “Mosaic” creation story with the geologic record.

In an introductory letter, Miller notes that he once held “with Chalmers and with Buckland” to the “gap” theory before he was as familiar with the later geologic layers, and he now holds that “no blank chaotic gap” exists in the record. In a later lecture he says that such a scheme was “perfectly adequate in 1814,” but with the advancement of geology “was found in 1839 to be no longer so.”

Instead, Miller essentially argues for a metaphorical “day-age” view, trying to fit three general geological divisions (Palaeozoic, Secondary, and Tertiary) into the third, fifth, and sixth creation days with the respective rise and fall (i.e. morning and evening) of plants, reptiles, and mammals as the dominant groups within each.

Miller philosophizes about how the creation story was revealed, arguing that since most of it took place outside the existence of man, it could not have been written down as observed history, but like John’s prophetic visions of the future, Moses may have received visions of the past in “prophecy described backwards” by God who stands “beyond and above space and time.” Miller points out that Moses received the “appearance” of “the Tabernacle and its sacred furniture” (Numbers 5:4), and argues that in a similar manner he may have received “sight or vision” of the creation, perhaps even individual visions over the course of a week of discrete days from each period.

Miller developed an extensive theology regarding Man “created in God’s own image” as the “highest” created being in a long chain of progressively “higher” animals. Unlike some old-earth readings, his theology does not downplay the Fall. Miller speculates with moving prose about the “Tempter” silently watching God’s long creation until “man enters the scene,” molded in God’s image but with “a weakness in the flesh that betrays his earthly lineage,” which awakened “grim hope in the sullen lord of the first revolt” to disrupt God’s progressive plan and bring Man lower again, until “Messiah comes,” ordained “ere the foundations of the world” to redeem Man and bring him higher still:

What is to be the next advance? …the kingdom—not of glorified man made in the image of God, but of God himself in the form of man… Creation and the Creator meet at one point, and in one person. The long ascending line from dead matter to man has been a progress Godwards,—not an asymptotical progress, but destined from the beginning to furnish a point of union…

(I must note that this upward theology was marred by a literal white supremacy. Miller notes that “all human races are of one species and one family” and even quotes Paul saying “God hath made of one blood all nations,” but he compares features of different ethnicities to argue that Caucasians were the most progressed of humans, even declaring confidence that both the first and second Adam must have been “the perfect type of Caucasian man.”)

On the extent of the flood in Scripture: With great literary flair regarding the way devastating events imprint themselves on individual and collective memories, Miller details the multitude of similar flood traditions across cultures, from Chinese legends to ancient drawings from Mexico. Miller believes they point back to a single event that destroyed all humanity, but he does not believe that event was geographically worldwide, noting the fallacy of suggesting that “that where the tradition is to be found, the Flood must have been,” if there were no survivors outside the Ark, but rather descendants of Noah who filled the world and brought the memory with them.

Promoting a local flood theory, Miller argues for the principle of metonymy, whereby “a considerable part is spoken of as the whole,” to interpret the Flood passages that say things like “all flesh died that moved upon the earth.”

Of this class are the passages in which it is said, that on the day of Pentecost there were Jews assembled at Jerusalem “out of every nation under heaven;” “that the gospel was preached to every creature under heaven;” that the Queen of Sheba came to hear the wisdom of Solomon from the “uttermost parts of the earth;” that God put the dread and fear of the children of Israel upon the nations that were “under the whole heaven;” and that “all countries came into Egypt to Joseph to buy corn.”

Miller addresses some objections to the consistency of this interpretation by a contemporary named Kitto, arguing that such phrasing clearly did not apply “to the people of Japan” or “the Red Indians of the Rocky Mountains,” and thus he saw no reason to assume that the Flood narrative’s comprehensive language could not be metonymic as well. Miller notes older theologians (Matthew Poole, Bishop Stillingfleet) who argued for this possibility before geology made it attractive, questioning “the need of overwhelming those regions in which there were no human beings.”

On the extent of the flood in Nature: Miller takes it for granted that the flood was not responsible for the primary fossil layers. Unfortunately, the view was apparently not popular enough at this time for us to know what Miller would have said to defend his opposition to it. Instead, he addresses the more contemporary belief that a global flood was responsible for “superficial” features of “the drift, the boulder and brick clays, the stratified sands and gravels….” He cites the concentration of these effects in colder latitudes, and their absence from the equator, as well as existing shell species having a current habitat “about ten degrees further to the north” than their corresponding fossils, as all better explained by a recent ice age in the northern hemisphere. He also notes extinct volcanoes with “loose” ashes that “exhibit no marks” of the erosion he claims a global flood would have produced.

Miller devotes his entire eighth lecture to critiquing the practical logistics of a global flood, particularly as it relates to the Ark and the animals. He claims the increasing discoveries of animal species, especially extinct varieties, cast doubt on the Ark having enough room – “we now know that there are six species of rhinoceros.” He also highlights the great amount of unrecorded “special miracle” he says would have been required to preserve animals with specific diets and habitats and return them afterwards whence they came.

On the plain reading of Scripture: While discussing his local flood theory, Miller quotes a contemporary theologian who refused to give any ground to alleged objections to the global reading:

“Were the difficulty attending this subject tenfold greater, and seemingly beyond all satisfactory explanation,” says Dr. William Hamilton, “if I yet find it recorded in the Book… I could still believe it implicitly, satisfied that the difficulty of explanation springs solely from the imperfection of human knowledge…”

Here again, however, Dr. Hamilton seems to have mistaken the question actually at issue. The true question is, not whether or no Moses is to be believed in the matter, but whether or no we in reality understand Moses…

The controversy does not lie between Moses and the naturalists, but between the readings of theologians such as Matthew Poole and Stillingfleet on the one hand, and the readings of theologians such as Drs. Hamilton and Kitto on the other.

Miller argues that men fall into “extravagant error” when they “have sought to deduce from it what it was not intended to teach—the truths of physical science.” He argues that the contemporary objections to a local flood or an old Earth were mistaking the teaching of “authorship” of creation to a depiction of its “construction,” and he compares them to previous generations who believed the Bible taught the earth was flat “until corrected by the geographer,” or that the Earth was fixed and immovable “until corrected by the astronomer.”

Miller notes there is something different about “the Mosaic geology” that requires some reconciling. But he ultimately compares those who oppose harmonization with an old earth to an earlier theologian named Turrettine who refused to accept that the earth revolved around the sun:

First,” he remarks, “the sun is said in Scripture to move in the heavens, and to rise and set… ‘The sun knoweth his going down.’ ‘The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down.’ Secondly, The sun by a miracle stood still in the time of Joshua; and by a miracle it went back in the time of Hezekiah. Thirdly, The earth is said to be fixed immovably. ‘The earth is also established that it cannot be moved.’ ‘Thou hast established the earth, and it abideth.’ ‘They continue this day according to their ordinance.’ Fourthly, Neither could birds, which often fly off through an hour’s circuit, be able to return to their nests….” The theologian, after thus laying down the law, sets himself to meet objections. If it be urged that the Scriptures in natural things speak according to the common opinion, Turrettine answers, “First, The Spirit of God best understands natural things. Secondly, That in giving instruction in religion, he meant these things should be used, not abused. Thirdly, That he is not the author of any error. Fourthly, Neither is he to be corrected on the pretence of our blind reason.”

Miller notes that Turrettine, a contemporary of Isaac Newton, “could have found at the time very enlightened teachers” but instead “labored to pledge revelation” to a false astronomy. Likewise, he urges his geological opponents to learn about what he viewed as the obvious truth of the geological record, and to allow that the Bible could accommodate those truths, rather than damage Christianity by limiting it to a false interpretation of nature. Of his contemporary “anti-geologists,” he says:

they sometimes succeed in doing harm, all unwittingly, not to the science which they oppose, but to the religion which they profess to defend…

He believed it would not be long before “the vagaries of the anti-geologists will be as obsolete… as those of the astronomers who upheld the orthodoxy of Ptolemy against Galileo and Newton.”

On evolution: Miller’s lectures predated Darwin’s Origin of Species by a few years, but there were early evolutionary ideas going around. While Miller adamantly agreed with the geological narrative now espoused by evolutionists, he adamantly rejected what he referred to as the “development hypothesis” in its “Lamarckian” stages.

“There are no intermediate species—no connecting links,” Miller claims. “All geologic history is full of the beginnings and the ends of species… but it exhibits no genealogies of development.” And while he believed fossil layers had clear chronological ordering, he didn’t think this order supported gradual development, referring to “the oldest portion of the oldest terrestrial flora yet known” containing a well-developed “stately” tree.

On intelligent design: Miller’s sixth lecture compares “Divine” work to human work in a manner reminiscent of modern intelligent design arguments. He sees similarities between Man’s work and various animal features, and claims numerous examples of old architecture imitating fossil patterns that were unknown at the time.

On the geological evidence: I was hoping this book would offer insight into the construction of the geological narrative in the 1800’s, but Miller spends many more words describing what geologists believed about the record than how it was developed and why they were so confident about their interpretation of it. Perhaps I have to go back further to Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology for that.

In one description that indirectly suggests deeper time for fossilization than a single flood, Miller notes that “smaller animals” are often found with “only half the skeleton” – the under side – suggesting that mud hardened the lower bones into place while “the uncovered upper sides” disappeared from prolonged exposure.

Lecture 11 offers some speculation about how mud rolling in from a shallow sea could deposit layers over time. It also mentions some changes and uncertainties in classifications of some deposits, and briefly mentions one instance of “a reverse folding of the strata” – something that, as I understand it, would be the foundation of George McCready Price’s young-earth arguments seventy years later.

Read it for yourself at Project Gutenberg. I found the work for free through Apple’s iBooks app.

The Creationists by Ronald L. Numbers

The Creationists by Ronald L. Numbers

The Creationists is a four-hundred page history of creationism, roughly from Darwin to today. My father gave it to me for Christmas a few years ago, not having read it himself. An old bookmark suggests I made it through a hundred or so pages, but not having any particular focus at the time I remember none of it. (This underscores the importance of taking notes and summarizing what you read, if like me, you like to read to learn while also tending to forget most of what you read).

The book sat on my backup bookshelf, apparently “for such a time as this.” Given my recent interest (detailed in these two posts) in identifying what different groups of Christians in different times believed about geology and why, I opened the forgotten book and was pleasantly surprised to discover that it covered this very topic, starting around the very point that the Davis Young history left off. The latent availability of the book for precisely this purpose, despite the lack of such purpose in the mundane sequence of events that originally brought the book to my hands, had not a little feel of divine orchestration.

The Narrative

The Creationists covers the lives and published work and mutual interactions of a myriad of characters from the late 1800’s through the turn of the 21st century. Without a focus, such a list might be boring, but it was terribly interesting through the lens of the book’s primary claim: Once geologists had established the antiquity of the earth, most Christians accepted it, and for nearly a century young-earth Christians all but disappeared. From the late 1800’s through the 1950’s, there was much resistance to evolution, but it all came from old-earth Christians arguing the gap theory or day-age interpretations of Genesis.

(The gap theory, or “ruin and restoration,” attributed the fossil record to an original creation that was created and destroyed in the ‘gap’ between the first and second verses. Day-age interpretations considered the days of Genesis 1 to be metaphors for long periods of time.)

George McCready Price is a central character. In Ron’s history, virtually no one attributed the fossil record to the flood anymore except the fringey seventh day Adventists until Price published an influential book in the 1920’s (The New Geology) that won over a few devoted followers, including Morris and Whitcomb – the guys that wrote The Genesis Flood in the 60’s and kicked off the big young-earth movement a whole lot of us grew up in.

The details run different from my assumed priors that more conservative Christians had “always” held on to more literal interpretations and more liberal Christians had “always” held on to more metaphorical ones. Ron presents many examples of “conservative” the-Bible-is-literal-and-absolutely-the-inspired-word-of-God Christians in the first half of the twentieth century who apparently had no exegetical objections to God’s creation involving life and death over millions of years, and Ron presents a compelling case that this was a strong majority view for many decades. This leads to a number of interesting implications and questions.

Is It True?

Before looking at those, we might ask – is the narrative really true? It should be noted that Ron confesses an agnosticism that is sympathetic to his former faith. This gives him some objectivity of outsider status, yet it suggests that if he did have incentive to lower the status of any Christian views of geology it might be ones farthest from what he now believes. And I am usually wary of the historical spitting contest that often attempts to imply doctrinal authority by claiming that the other side is the more recent one. Still, Ron presents strong evidence for his claim – for instance, not only musing about the unpopularity of “flood geologists” in the early 1900’s but often quoting such geologists’ own musings about their unpopularity.

At any rate, the narrative shouldn’t be too hard to corroborate. I own a few theological works from the time period in question. I checked Clarence Larkin’s detailed theology from the 1910’s. It is indeed gap theory through and through, complete with several clever supporting verses from throughout the Bible (did you know Jeremiah 4 was considered to support the gap theory?). I also checked Dietrech Bonhoeffer’s Creation and Fall from the 1930’s. The detailed exposition of Genesis 1 is complex and abstract, but when he gets to the “first day,” he hints at quite an openness to the claims of geology:

“What the Bible means when it speaks of the creation of the day is that what is formless becomes form in the morning and sinks back into formlessness in the evening… and there are times (reaching far beyond the physical day) of wakening and of slumbering in nature, in history, and in the nations… Whether the creation occurred in rhythms of millions of years or in single days, this does no damage to biblical thinking…

If there were fans of the 24-hour Hebrew yom day before 1960, Bonhoeffer certainly doesn’t seem to have been one.

There should still be millions of wise elders who grew up before the 60’s with enough memory to confirm what their family or denomination taught about Genesis; my initial attempts to contact those nearest me have not yet yielded results, but I have not yet begun to try very hard.

Historical Spitting Contest

Let’s suppose the narrative is true. What does it mean? Usually when theologians engage in historical spitting contests, it is to suggest by the “oldness” of their view that it has more authority than the more recent and probably meritless competing view. In fact, this is a common young-earth claim: Christians always interpreted the Bible as describing a recent creation for 1700 years, so who are you to come along now and say it can be reinterpreted?

The old-earth narrative applies the same principle, but in a more nuanced way – it simply argues that its position is the oldest since the birth of geology. As Young quotes from the nineteenth century Hugh Miller:

“Plain men who set themselves to deduce from Scripture the figure of the planet” had little doubt that the earth was flat “until corrected by the geographer”; “plain men who set themselves to acquire from Scripture some notion of the planetary motions” thought that the sun moved around an earth at rest “until corrected by the astronomer”; “plain men who have sought to determine from Scripture the age of the earth” were confident that the earth was about six thousand years old “until corrected by the geologist.”

Christians have always accepted that Scripture did not actually require a flat earth, after science had clearly proven otherwise, and anyone that tried to demand such a view, while technically resurrecting an older view, would in this context be changing something that had now become quite established. Similarly, Ron’s narrative argues that Christians accepted that Scripture did not require a young earth, after science clearly proved otherwise, and that this view became quite established for quite awhile until Price, Whitcomb, and Morris managed to resurrect it. The implication – that the “younger” view is without merit – is inescapable.

But there is difficulty in such parallels. When it comes to rightly dividing the Word between what men of the time truly believed about the world and what God is truly declaring about it, all facts are not created equal.

In the realm of science, the age of the earth is not quite as empirically clear as the shape of the earth. And in the realm of scripture, the age is closer tied to theological doctrines, and not quite as easily explained away as metaphorical figures of speech. I think most young-earth creationists would claim that earlier Christians were simply mistaken to so easily accommodate the early findings of science, and that creation science is now developed enough to offer a viable alternative to the mainstream view, which, instead of growing stronger, has simply built further upon the same untenable assumptions. Those who accept the mainstream view might explain the ironic resurgence of such “primitive” views by saying that while the evidence against it is now stronger than ever, it’s advanced enough for people to cherry-pick at holes without proper training to really understand all the nuances.

Historical Context

Ron’s narrative is full of historical context about the environments that encouraged such shifts in beliefs. Old-earth geology came well before evolution was a threat to Christianity, and while there was no other viable option it seemed to be incorporated into it easily enough. Ron says that even Darwin still argued for an initial divine creation of a few kingdoms that each diversified through evolution into the modern species. There were adamant atheists like Thomas Huxley that argued for removing God from the picture entirely, but their initial influence was small.

By the twentieth century, though, Christians were feeling more of a threat from evolution, but most continued to argue against it from that same old-earth creationist vantage point that predated evolution. Teaching in public schools was a major factor. As Ron describes it, evolution technically won the Scopes Trial of the 20’s but textbook authors apparently still downplayed it for a little while in response to the uproar. By mid-century, though, that hesitation was wearing off. Ron also describes a remarkable tendency in leading antievolutionist leaders and groups to shift over time from young-earth, to progressive creationism, to sometimes theistic evolutionism, to sometimes wholesale naturalism (the ASA being a key example).

All of this together might explain why elements like an old creation that used to feel like safe Christian ground now felt like part of an unstable middle ground that was increasingly shifting toward the increasing threat of evolution – all of this paving the way for a mighty retreat back to views that had previously been discarded.

Reading List

Now that I’ve stumbled through a comprehensive history of Christian views of theology and geology, I’ve developed quite a reading list of what seemed to be the most influential works. I’ve read what others have said about them, and I’d like to go to the original sources and read them for myself. (Most of the older works are in the public domain, making it very easy to get started.) My plan is to go through my list and review what each had to say about both the geological evidence for old life and the theological implications of it all.

Did the early old-earth popularizers defend the theology of animal death before the fall? Or did it not even occur to them that young-earth defenders a century later would consider it a critical theological obstacle? Did Morris and Whitcomb really pretty much repackage Price’s arguments, and if so what were their responses, if any, to the earlier criticisms of those arguments? What specific evidences for an old earth did the early popularizers reference, and how did they compare to the evidences referenced by the later young-earth defenders? What did the different writers of different eras seem to consider important, and what did they seem to overlook?

As I review, I may state opinions about the strength or weakness of various positions, but I will refrain from arguing for or against any particular view, and try to allow any interested reader to form their own judgments. If the journey so far has been any indication, it will be an interesting ride. Feel free to subscribe below if you want to keep up with my infrequent updates…

Coming up next: Hugh Miller’s “Testimony of the Rocks”

The Age of Dinosaur Bones, Part 2: Investigations of Flood Geology


It is the glory of God to conceal things, and the glory of kings is to search them out. – Proverbs 25

In my previous post, I explained how I read a new book about dinosaurs that made me think about possibilities regarding the age of the earth in new ways, especially regarding the origins of fossils and the distributions in which we find them. I went researching what young-earth creationists had to say about explaining this distribution via Noah’s flood.

I found a long and fascinating history of flood geology compiled by Davis Young, an old-earth Christian. In his narrative, Christians in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries began exploring scientific evidence to support Noah’s flood. But by the nineteenth century, naturalists began to uncover evidence they believed could not be explained by “soft sediments deposited together at the same time” in a single deluge:

The discontinuities between groupings of strata implied periodic interruption by uplifts and deposition by causes other than the flood…

Hutton pointed out the phenomenon of the angular unconformity, a situation in which relatively horizontal rocks overlie the evidently eroded edges of steeply tilted layers… The older strata had been consolidated, tilted on edge, uplifted toward the surface, eroded to form a land surface, then submerged beneath the sea and buried under newly deposited marine sediments…

They began to adopt an old-earth view that most of the rock layers and their fossils were laid down over a long time, with Noah’s flood contributing the final surface-level features. Further discoveries suggested some of the surface features were better explained by slowly receding glaciers. William Buckland, a prominent diluvialist (global flood proponent) who was skeptical of glacial theories, went on a “field trip” “hoping to discount [Louis] Agassiz’s ideas,” only to be convinced by the evidence he saw and become one of several diluvialists to renounce his earlier views.

Young describes Christians of the 1800’s wrestling with doubts that the increasing numbers of known extinct species could really have fit on the Ark1. Some felt that the successful post-Flood migrations of thousands of animals with very specific diets and habitats would have required an unrecorded miracle rivaling the resurrection of Jesus2. A global flood that deposited most of the earth’s sediment and fossils was replaced with a smaller, local one.

Young claims that such an interpretation had been discussed by orthodox scholars like Bishop Stillingfleet and Matthew Poole back in the 1600’s, long before geology made it convenient, on the basis that if all humanity was still living in Mesopotamia they could have been destroyed without flooding the entire geographical globe. (I was surprised to hear a couple years ago that even modern creationist Hank “Bible Answer Man” Hanegraaf considers a local flood plausible; see also an extended case made by Godandscience.org.).

One thing I found fascinating about this narrative was that it all happened before 1860, i.e. before Darwin. Young claims these early “orthodox Christians” were excited about natural discoveries, not to find reasons to disprove the Bible, but to help them better interpret it:

Because the Christian naturalists of the era were unafraid of God-given evidence, they recognized that extrabiblical information provided a splendid opportunity for closer investigation of the biblical text in order to clear up earlier mistakes in interpretation.

If anything, Young seems to think some of them were biased in favor of traditional interpretations until their observations convinced them otherwise. I thought of young-earth creationists, who tend to lump evolution and an old earth together, with Noah’s global flood as the fossil-producing linchpin. In our enthusiasm to rescue God from modern science, are we throwing the work of early Christian geologists out with the evolutionary bathwater, turning the theological clock back, not to 1860, but to a century before? I knew what Ken Ham and his camp had to say about Darwin. Did they have anything to say about Lyell and Buckland?

Yes, quite a bit, actually. I found two articles at Answers In Genesis by Terry Mortenson, one which seems to be a much shorter version of the other. I find it amusing how diametrically opposed many aspects of the narratives are between the old-earth and young-earth writers. While Young highlights quotes from certain geologists to show how Christian they were, Mortenson highlights quotes from other geologists he calls “deists” and “vague theists” to show that they “were NOT unbiased, objective pursuers of truth.” (It reminds me of the old quote-mining debate about whether the Founding Fathers were committed Bible-believing Christians or merely nominal theists who thought religion was useful for generating moral citizens.) It may be true that these geologists weren’t unbiased, although I think young-earthers should be careful of the No True Scotsman fallacy; if you pre-determine that “true” Christians must believe in a young earth, then anyone who concludes otherwise is not a true Christian by definition.

More interesting is the narrative about how the old-earth beliefs came about. Moretenson describes Lyell’s “radical uniformitarianism in which he insisted that only present-day processes of geological change at present-day rates of intensity and magnitude should be used to interpret the rock record of past geological activity.” It’s interesting how central uniformitarianism is to Mortenson’s narrative and how completely absent it is from Young’s. Young creates the impression that Lyell’s beliefs were simply based on the evidence he uncovered. Mortenson creates the impression that Lyell’s beliefs started with an assumption that “past” sediments were laid down at slow “present” rates. He claims Hutton “ruled out supernatural creation and the unique global Flood, as described in Genesis, before he ever looked at the rocks,” and implies that Lyell and others did the same; his shorter article asserts their bias without acknowledging they had any evidence at all, which I consider almost inexcusable. (Here I am reminded of the critics who accuse intelligent designists of starting with creationist assumptions, but when I actually read their work, it feels to me like they are reasoning objectively from evidence. Perhaps I need to read Lyell’s Principles of Geology for myself.)

Mortenson’s longer article, while it also decries the “philosophical assumptions” behind “uniformitarian methodological naturalism,” does mention evidence as well, and this is where things get really interesting.

There were several reasons most geologists at this time believed the Earth was much older than 6,000 years and the Noachian Flood was not the cause of the Secondary and Tertiary formations… Some strata had clearly formed from the violent destruction of older strata… different strata contained different fossils… evidence that faults and dislocations occurred after the induration of many strata implied a lapse of time between their formation and that of overlying strata. Finally, man was apparently only found fossilized in the most recent strata…

I was glad to see Mortenson discussing the evidence here, but I found his response fairly disappointing. He primarily casts uncertainty on fossil layer identification by setting up the claim that geologists rely heavily on shells as index fossils, and then casting all manner of doubt that such shells are reliable index fossils.

Since shells made up the vast majority of fossils, they had a great, if not singular, importance for old-earth geologists… William Smith, the “Father of English Stratigraphy,” based his depiction of the geological column primarily on shells, which constituted the great majority of the fossils he listed in works on the geological record.. But he admitted that he did not know much about shell creatures…

Mortenson spends paragraph after paragraph arguing that shell indexing has lots of problems yet is still very important today. Overall he makes a good case, especially regarding the way living fossils and other discoveries cast doubt on our ability to reliably limit fossils to narrow time periods. If index fossils – not radiometric dating – are used to identify a significant proportion of dinosaur-bearing layers, and if there are reasonable doubts about index fossil knowledge, that could provide comfortable room for doubting that dinosaurs are truly found as consistently in the layers we say they are (though that would still have to be weighed against the probabilities of never finding other “wrong” animals with them3).

However, I found Mortenson’s response to the lack of man in older layers to be pretty weak. He essentially simply claims, “Absence of fossil remains does not demand its nonexistence.” It is true we cannot 100% prove a creature did not live in a time period just because we have found no fossils in the associated layer; the coelacanth is a great example of that. But that doesn’t tell us where the evidence suggests we lie on the spectrum between 0% and 99%. As I mentioned earlier, if a high enough volume of fossils in enough geographical locations are found only in certain layers, does that imply that the probability they existed during a different time period is similar to getting an airplane from a tornado in a junkyard?

Answers In Genesis writers understand this principle very well when they claim evolution predicts a fossil record “bursting” with transitional forms. Evolutionists claim we do have lots of transitionals, and everyone debates about what counts and whether it’s enough. If evolutionists instead simply said, “Absence of fossil remains does not demand its nonexistence,” creationists would rightfully be little amused. In either case, the point is not whether or not we can completely rule out a claim, but whether we can be strongly skeptical of something based on the probability that huge numbers of fossils would distribute themselves the way we find them if that claim was correct.

Most telling, Mortenson’s article contained no response I could see to many of the old-Earth arguments he listed himself, particularly the ideas that “Some strata had clearly formed from the violent destruction of older strata” and that various features “implied a lapse of time between their formation and that of overlying strata.” Given the great space Mortenson devoted to addressing shells, the lack of his response to these points is curious.

So what do we have? One side claims the interpretation of nature is very clear and encourages the other to be more open in their interpretation of Scripture. The other claims the interpretation of Scripture is very clear and encourages the first to be more open in their interpretation of nature. These days I’m pretty comfortable holding both pretty open (though I confess finding it difficult to let go of my attachment to interpreting Job’s behemoth and leviathan as contemporary dinosaurs.)

It’s interesting to explore how Christians have reacted to these geological findings over the last century and a half. In the 1800’s, there were “scriptural geologists” who defended the traditional interpretation. Young claims they went back to global-flood arguments that had been abandoned a century earlier without explaining the evidence that had caused others to abandon them. Mortenson’s defense of them suggests Young may not be giving them a fair shake, but he seems to be playing right into Young’s hand himself – in the one article implying there was no evidence for old-earth and in the other explicitly listing evidence for old-earth and declining to address it.

On the other hand, Mortenson claims the old-earthers never explained how to harmonize the Bible with their theories. Young claims that while the geologists themselves may not have, there were a number of Christian scholars who did, including John Pye Smith, Edward Hitchock, and Hugh Miller. He goes into some detail, though not enough to say whether or not Mortenson would find them satisfactory (he doesn’t discuss any of the classic corroborative verses outside Genesis, for example). But they seem to have been satisfactory enough for the people of the day; Ronald Numbers claims in The Creationists that even most Christians who called themselves creationists, antievolutionists, and fundamentalists accepted fossil layers from an old earth well into the 1900’s. In this version of history, belief in six-day creation by this time was mostly limited to the Seventh Day Adventists (which other denominations tend to treat as quasi-fringe). The only real promoter of the time was adventist George McCready Price, who claimed to have witnessed the literal creation in a vision, until the 1960’s when Whitcomb and Morris expanded on his arguments in their famous The Genesis Flood and kickstarted the modern young-earth creationist movement.

It would be nice to find more details about what percentage of Christians in each denomination truly believed in an old earth in the early 1900’s, the specifics of what they believed about it, and how they read the Scripture verses that modern YEC’s use to argue against those views. But it’s tantalizing to consider in light of Mortenson’s emphasis on the “dangers” of “compromise” with what he sees as the clear interpretation of Scripture. His shorter article includes the Answers In Genesis graphic that suggests that abandoning young-earth creationism leads to “pornography,” “abortion,” and “family break-up,” among other things. It would be ironic if these social ills were not as bad several decades ago when more Americans were “compromising” their beliefs about creation than today.

To be fair to Mortenson and the young-earth camp, these were just two articles (though a good hour’s worth of reading), and it would be unfair to assume they represent the strongest responses of Answers In Genesis, or of flood geologists more generally. Perhaps I will add The Genesis Flood to my reading list, right after Principles of Geology. I would love to have a greater understanding of how dinosaur fossils are dated, and how strong the layer consistency really is, as well as understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the best flood geology interpretations. I am particularly interested in further details about what convinced those early geologists that various layers could not have been deposited anywhere near the same time, and what flood-geology has to say about that. Hopefully I can come across information that is easy to understand before things get so complex that my eyes glaze over and I run back to my other hobbies and commitments. But perhaps I can maintain my interest farther than I would otherwise by focusing on dinosaurs, which are intrinsically so awesome and interesting…

1I’ve always heard confident assertions that calculations show the Ark had plenty of room for animals, especially if the big ones were young and you properly adjust for the speciation that could have occurred after the Flood. But as I read the Dinosaurs book, with the continual discoveries of new species, it struck me that I’ve never seen the actual numbers behind those calculations. Surely there must be some limit to how many now-extinct species we can keep adding to it?

2I used to never have a problem appealing to a “God of the gaps” for details like this; if we already accept some miracle for the global Flood, why not more? But it does strike me as valid to ask, if we have to appeal to giant miracles for almost every single unmentioned aspect of the story, why did Noah need to naturally store and feed the animals in the first place? And if we say it was just because God wanted to teach Noah, or us, something, that feels to me like we’re inching remarkably close to the metaphorical justifications of our more liberal brethren.

3I suppose another tactic would be to dispute that we’ve never found mixed-up fossils. An initial search suggests that Creation Ministries International regards claims of intermingled man-dinosaur footprints as false.

The Age of Dinosaur Bones

dinosaurs-the-grand-tour I just finished Dinosaurs: The Grand Tour, by Keiron Pim and Jack Horner, which methodically describes all dinosaur species discovered through about 2012, along with some other interesting creatures and general dino trivia. It was fun to update my dino awareness with a lot of recent discoveries, from new species coming out of China to remains that include skin impressions and stomach contents. It was also interesting to read from a position that is more open about origins, to truly grapple with the implications of the idea that all of these creatures have only been found in specific geological layers.

When learning about dinosaurs – or anything else that relates to prehistory – it is challenging to separate fact from interpretation. The book indicated plenty of places where assumptive interpretations seem to run run far ahead of the evidence. Ozraptor is “known only from an 8cm-long fragment of shinbone.” Other species get speculative drawings, sizes, diets, and more extrapolated from “a few disconnected bones,” “a partial skull,” or “a whole forelimb.” Argentinosaurus is considered the “biggest land animal known for sure to have existed,” despite being “known from only 3 per cent of a skeleton.” My favorite was the description of Equijubus, whose “spiked thumb served for defense or for feeding,” despite the fact that the “only known fossil is a skull and vertebrate.” (I used to think when we overconfidently speculated about the purposes of body parts, it was at least limited to ones we’d actually found!)

In the past, I would have said, “The people making such unwarranted assumptions about what these animals looked like are the same people telling me these animals lived millions of years ago,” finding it easy to dismiss details that contradicted what I considered the one clear interpretation of Scripture. But I now consider such a dismissal unfair – a lazy projection of the weakness of some conclusions to the weakness of others without really considering them. Even if we throw out the most questionable elements of dinosaur knowledge, we are left with the most solid and well-substantiated elements, and that evidence deserves a fair consideration.

There are plenty of fragmented, isolated remains, to be sure. But there are also plenty of “complete fossils.” Some species have been found in large numbers – forty-seven Triceratops skulls were unearthed in the USA’s Hell Creek Formation in the first decade of the 21st century alone. We have “perfectly preserved skeletons retaining skin impressions” of scales. We‘ve matched bone marks to teeth based on their “size, spacing, and serration.” We’ve got a Baryonyx with “remnants of a young Iguanadon in its gut.” We’ve got a Scipionyx specimen with “such detailed features as muscle fibers, the windpipe, the liver and some remains of the intestines.” (woah!) We’ve got eggs, footprints, and poop. We’ve got scientists 3d-scanning skulls to assess inner ear balance and other scientists microscoping fossilized pigment vessels to assess skin colors. (woah!!) We’ve got more and more species revealing impressions of feathers, bristles, quill knobs, wings…. There’s a lot we don’t know, but there’s an increasingly large amount that we do.

There are so many varieties of so many creatures that are unlike anything we know today. Theropods, with their big scary heads and little arms. Sauropods, with their long necks and giant legs and tails. Ceratopsians, with their horns and neck frills. Ankylosaurs, with their full-body armor. And the bird-like dinos, oh the vast quantity of bird-things! I grew up being taught that evolutionists considered Archaeopteryx an intermediate link between reptiles and birds, but that it didn’t count because it was basically just a bird that happened to have some fully-formed definitely-not transitional reptile parts along for the ride. Well, apparently that whole part of the bird-reptile debate is literally outdated by a hundred years. We don’t just have Archaeopteryx now, we have Xiaotingia, and Epidexipteryx, and Caudipteryx, and Shuvuuia, and Unenlagia – a stunning array of bizarre creatures with various assortments of tails and tail feathers and beaks and teeth!

Page after page of extinct species, each with a sidebar graphic unambiguously limiting the evidence of their existence to a specific subsection of the Triassic, Jurassic, or Cretaceous geological layer. If fossil order is truly that consistent, it has strong implications. Not necessarily for evolution specifically – this very pro-evolutionary book has a line that sounds like the repeated refrains in intelligent designist Stephen Meyer’s Darwin’s Doubt: “The patchy evidence we have from ancient rocks shows no confirmed dinosaurs, and then suddenly several kinds in each of these categories.” (I also found interesting the variety in the numbers of sauropod neck vertebrae, given that the common ancestry of mammals is said to be supported by them all having the same number.) But such layer placement – if accurate – at least presents a strong challenge to young-earth creationism and its fossilization by global flood.

I had never been much impressed by Bill Nye’s cordial suggestion that upending evolutionary theory was as simple as finding a fossil in the “wrong” layer. Might we simply extend the lifespan of that creature to include that layer? How can you get more “wrong” than finding a living coelacanth 65 million years after its last appearance in the fossil record? Apparently we do find fossils in “wrong” layers but call them “zombie taxons” that washed out of one layer and got redeposited in another, of which a dinosaur tooth appears to be the canonical example! And yet, while such cynicism may work in the abstract, or for an isolated species, it feels like a weaker protest when you consider the sheer volume and consistency of all these dinosaur species within these three major layers (occasional washed up teeth notwithstanding). The probability that such a proportion of such a number of artifacts would be found in these layers all over the world by chance surely must approach the theist’s favorite Boeing-747-from-a-tornado-in-a-junkyard.

Of course, that’s presuming the layer identification of all these fossils is reliably accurate. The date ranges on these layers, as I understand it, are derived from half-life ratios of radioactive decay. Geologists put the dino-zones from 200-something to 65 million years old. We’ve only measured these atomic decays for roughly a century, and even if we’ve found no method of variance, I can be easily skeptical of extrapolating that evidence a million-fold. But suppose the ages are wrong. Forget the interpretation of the particle ratios and just consider the ratios themselves. If all these dinosaur bones are only found in rocks with a relatively narrow range of particle ratios, is there another explanation that makes as much sense as them all living in their own time period?

But I don’t know what percent of fossils are dated that way; I suspect it may be far south of 100%. This book gives paltry few clues at the processes behind the layer classifications it describes. In fact, one of the only references supports my skepticism. Of the genus Jobaria, it says:

The sediment its bones lay in were initially ascribed to the Early Cretaceous but a study in 2009 suggested them to be far older…

Now Jobaria is considered to be Middle to Late Jurassic. Either that specimen was not initially measured by elemental ratios, or was measured by ratios that apparently have enough margin of error to be useless at pinpointing layers. Surely there are others like it. Yet surely all others are not like this.

Still, let’s consider the worst-case scenario. Suppose no fossils are dated this way, but a principle was established on a few weak examples, and now there’s a circular pattern such that many sections of earth aren’t categorized until we find a dinosaur fossil and then decide that it must be a Jurassic or a Cretaceous layer because we already assume that’s when they lived. Even if the layer consistency of dinosaurs is totally a forced tautology, is it true that after a dino-containing layer is named, we frequently find more dinosaurs in the same slab of sediment, but never, say, elephants? Is it true that we find other dinosaurs in their guts, but never humans? That we find teeth marks that match other dinosaurs, but never lions? That we’ve found a Velociraptor locked in battle with a Protoceratops, but never a monkey? What are the odds of all of those things happening by chance?

My thoughts turned to “flood geology,” which assigns the origin of virtually all fossils to Noah’s global flood. In the past I had repeatedly come across arrogant mainstream assertions that the geological evidence clearly disproves such an interpretation, but never with any explanation of why, and I’d read enough hypothetical examples of fossils formed by creatures swept away by “flash floods” to feel comfortable supposing a “global flood” to be similarly plausible. But having considered the weight of the evidence for fossil order in more detail, I wondered, how well-developed was flood geology, anyway? Were there more rigorous details than Ken Ham’s infamous “billions of dead things buried in rock layers laid down by water all over the earth”? Was it all as hand-wavingly speculative as my own lazy musings that, hey, a lot of water could probably do a lot of things, or were there scientific efforts to explain how a short deluge could have produced the specific features we observe today?

I went searching, and I quickly found a lot of really interesting things. But since this post is already long enough, I’ll save that for next week…