Weird Worldview Warriors take on 350 years of geology.

In August 2018 I was asked to write of blog entitled

10 questions to ask a young earth creationist

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2018/11/19/10-questions-to-ask-a-young-earth-creationist-premier-christianity/

It was fairly basic focussing on creationist flaws and then to my amusement an Amercian Steven Risner devoted several blogs on it in worldviewwarriors.blogspot.com. I presume he meant keyboard warriors. I just luv werldvew warriers!! It’s so pretentious!  He came about with the usual young earth stufff,

Jacobus_ussher

but more recently focussed on who geologists have got their geology wrong for 350 years. I suppose most geologists are plain thick to do this. According to Risner there have a succession of thicko geologists teaching at all the universities of the world, from Oxford to the University of Lower Piddle in Dorset and are blissfully unaware that all their teaching is based on false assumptions. How thick can the Goulds, Lord Oxburghs, Arthur Holmes , Tuzo Wilsons and the rest be? They should have more perception.

So let’s consider Steven Risner’s gems of critical thinking.

http://worldviewwarriors.blogspot.com/2019/04/why-are-all-geologists-wrong.html

He posted this on 11th April and he may wonder why I spent so long in replying. My first delay was due to Holy Week and the business for a priest in that week and I’m sure he’d approve of that. (Maybe I am an imposter!) And then a bit of time off!!

Why do you claim that so many geologists in the last 350 years got their geology wrong?

As is my custom, I try to answer short and sweet if possible. This has more than one answer that’s fairly obvious, at least to me.The first one is that the last 350 years of geological study disagrees with the Bible’s clear teaching on earth’s history. It doesn’t get any more obvious. However, the second answer is a little more detailed.

Over the last 350 years, geologists frequently have started their observations of the evidence with the wrong assumptions. These assumptions force geologists to interpret the evidence a particular way. Those assumptions are that of deep time and that there was no global Flood as described by the Bible. If we reject the clear teachings of the Word of God, how can we even suggest we are following the God of the Bible? Sure, many of these old earth creationists and theistic evolutionists will say they accept Christ’s teachings and the apostles’ teachings, but why? If we reject some of it, what standard do we use to know if we should accept what the Bible says in one place and reject other parts? I’m seriously asking. If the answer is “science,” then we’re lost already.

The bottom line is this: if your worldview places the authority of science (or in this case what you mistakenly believe is science) over that of Scripture and you use that so-called science to determine how the Bible is to be interpreted, you’ve placed something before the authority God has over you. This is especially true if those portions of Scripture you’re choosing to reinterpret based on your view of nature are major foundational points of the Christian faith.

Now there is a lot here but our warrior makes three points

  1. He assumes the Bible has a clear view of earth history
  2. Geologists start with wrong assumptions that there is Deep time and no global Flood
  3. Geologists place the authority over that of scripture

If he is right then the whole of geology must be rejected as intellectual codswollop. If even one is partly true then all geology is nullified

Now to consider his main points in turn

  1. He assumes the Bible has a clear view of earth history

The first one is that the last 350 years of geological study disagrees with the Bible’s clear teaching on earth’s history.

This is a standard appeal from Young Earthers that the Bible is absolutely clear on the earth’s history. Yet apart from the claims that  Genesis 1 and a few psalms (poetry) speak of earth history, the Bible says nothing that could even considered as earth history, and even that is questionable, as all have either a poetic or stylistic form There is simply nothing of the earth’s history in the Bible, and those who claim there is do not read the Bible for what it is. It is like going to Genesis to find the Periodic Table. On early Genesis there is no consensus down the two millennia on what it means beyond God as creator, with some taking Genesis one as something other than a historical account. Augustine simply regarded the whole of Creation as instantaneous and not spread over six days. Further there was no consideration over the time of earth history until proto-geologists started to consider the order of strata. A little thinking would show that there couldn’t have been.

It was only in the 1680s that questions were raised about time. Before that there was much vagueness but a tendency to a shortish chronology. Even Calvin who assumes a young earth gives us no earth history. Seventy years later the Roman Catholic Fr Mersenne is his literally mammoth commentary gives no earth history either. It was memorable reading Mersenne in Latin as the volume was so large – about 24 in x 15 ins x 5ins.

So none of these learned clerics give us earth history, and the the Theories of the Earth at the end of the 17th century give no coherent account because they are so variable.

Oh for a clear view of Biblical Earth History!!

2.Geologists start with wrong assumptions that there is Deep time and no global Flood

Over the last 350 years, geologists frequently have started their observations of the evidence with the wrong assumptions. These assumptions force geologists to interpret the evidence a particular way. Those assumptions are that of deep time and that there was no global Flood as described by the Bible.

 

Now that is a bold statement! As these putative assumptions have gone back 350 years we should be able to identify who put them forward. And so someone or a group of savants decided sometime after 1660 to argue  WITHOUT EVIDENCE, as it was an assumption, for Deep Time and the absence of a Global Flood. If it were so pervasive, then historians could identify the culprits. I claim to have read a vast number of writers from 1660 onwards on geology (and its relationship to Christianity), yet I have failed to find one possible suspect. Better historians of geology, like Rudwick and Ellenberger have been equally unsuccessful.  If Risner’s claim were true, then all of us would have found several examples where a writer made a garatuitous assumption of Deep Time. At best this is arguing from lack of evidence, or is it simply codswollop?

The period 1660 to 1710 is pivotal in the study of earth history from Nils Steno through John Ray to the Theories of the Earth and the known and unknown William Hobbs. Before 1660 virtually none had any inkling of Deep Time. Here James Ussher was reflecting the views of most with an age for the earth of about 6000 years. Yes, he argued for 4004BC and others went for some date within a thousand years of so of his date – including Sir Walter Raleigh, who wrote a history of the world while waiting execution. There was not much geological research in the 1610s!!

Having read many works from this period, I found no example of an assumption of Deep time , but rather the opposite. In fact, all savants in the late 17th century made the tentative assumption that the earth was young and Ussher’s figure of 4004BC was in the right order and that the global Flood had laid down the strata. They went into the field with that in mind and initially interpreted the strata according to their assumptions and gradually many found that the evidence went against their assumption of a young earth, so corrected them!

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The earliest example of question the young earth and global assumption I have found is the Oxford scholar Edward Lhwyd, who was a good friend of Rev John Ray.

300px-John_Ray_from_NPG

See this for detail where referring to Lhwyd’s letter to Ray

The Royal Society of London, founded in 1660, epitomised the flowering of science both in Britain and the continent. The work of Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton and others in physics and chemistry needs no introduction. Less well-known is the natural history of John Ray (1627-1705), Edward Lhwyd (1660-1709) and others. The period also saw the beginnings of a scientific study of the earth and their findings were published in turgid volumes known as “Theories of the Earth”. On a first reading these seem to be a literal reading of Genesis stories with a few semi-scientific glosses. A closer read shows them to be more profound as they meld together the Bible, the classics, almost mediaeval “book” learning with the citing of endless authorities and scientific insight in a Chaos-Restitution interpretation of Genesis One. Here they shared the outlook of most theologians (except Ussher!) and literary writers such as Thomas Traherne and Alexander Pope. Instead of taking the Creation story to teach creation in six short days, writers, following an interpretation going back to the early Church Fathers, claimed from Genesis (Chapter one verse one) that God first created Chaos (without form and void) and after an interval recreated it in six days. The duration of Chaos was undefined. With Ussher it was twelve hours, but for most it was a long and unspecified duration.  Some, notably Thomas Burnet (1635?-1715), Edmond Halley (1656-1742) and William Whiston (1667-1752), reckoned the days to be more than twenty-four hours. Halley attempted a calculation of the age of the earth from the sea’s salinity, but came to no firm conclusions other than it was tens of thousands of years old. Likewise theological writers of the day; Bishop Simon Patrick (1626-1707) reckoned that God first created Chaos and then later re-ordered it in Six Days. He said of the duration of Chaos, ‘It might be … a great while;…’ Few accepted Ussher’s date of 4004 BC for the initial Creation, though most accepted that humanity first appeared in about the year 4000 BC, hence the general acceptance of the rest of Ussher’s chronology. The extension of time by the “Theorists” and contemporary theologians was minute compared to the billions of years of geological time, but was, as Stephen Gould wrote of Whiston’s argument that the day of Genesis one was a year long was, “a big step in the right direction.” In Britain the way was open for a longer time-scale.

Fossils and Geology

Not until the late 17th Century were “formed stones” or fossils recognised as imprints of dead creatures rather than formed as “sports of nature” in place. Only then could “fossils” be used to demonstrate former life and it took a century before the succession of fossils was used to put strata into historical order. Possibly the first person who used the succession of fossils to demonstrate evolution was Charles Darwin in a notebook in 1838, shortly before he “discovered” Natural Selection. In the 1690s there were insufficient grounds to suggest “Deep Time” or the continual reworking of the earth’s crust as understandings of erosion were rudimentary. Ray, Whiston and others cannot be expected to have done otherwise.

Most of the writers had some “scientific” understanding and often spent as much time refuting each other as suggesting new ideas. Some were mostly speculative, as was Thomas Burnet’s The Theory of the Earth. Despite his devotion to the Deluge, he sought to explain phenomena naturalistically and somewhat extended the duration of Genesis One. John Ray’s Miscellaneous Discourses concerning the dissolution of the worldshows the beginning of careful observation on earth processes and questions over geological time. After reading the first edition of Ray’s Miscellaneous Discourses, Lhwyd wrote to Ray on 30 February 1691, ‘Upon the reading on your discourse of the rains continually washing away and carrying down earth from the mountains, it puts me in mind…which I observed’, and then described what he had observed in Snowdonia. He described innumerable boulders which had “fallen” into the Llanberis valleys. (Most of these are glacial erratics.) As ‘but two or three that have fallen in the memory of any man…, in the ordinary course of nature we shall be compelled to allow the rest many thousands of years more than the age of the world.’ Ray commented on Lhwyd’s findings and seemed deliberately to avoid facing the logic of Lhwyd’s comments. He nailed his colours firmly to the fence, and did not explicitly reject an Ussher chronology. However from his discussion of Chaos and other comments, it is fair to conclude that he accepted that the earth was considerably more than five-and-a-half thousand years old, but left the reader to decide.

DSCF9511 (1)

An erratic block in Nant Peris, Snowdonia, near where Lhwyd had his ideas. They are scattered both along the floor and sides of the valley. Occasionally a higher one may roll dwon, but I can think of no example recently.

And so some thought time might be less shallow. They had no assumption of deep or shallow time, but carried out geological investigations, starting with a tentative young earth.

Towards the end of the seventeenth century a large number of theories of the Earth were  published, mostly in Britain by writers such as Burnet, Whiston, Woodward, Ray and Hobbes (Roberts 2002, pp. 144–150). These were an attempt to rationalize the early history of the earth into six days to uphold the text of Genesis. The authors allowed an indefinite time for chaos and combined Genesis, classical writings, scientific observation and speculation into a fascinating melange of ideas. Burnet wrote of the indefinite
chaos, ‘so it is understood by the general consent of commentators’ (Burnet 1681, chap IV, p. 30) and the commentator Bishop Patrick wrote of the duration of chaos that ‘(I)t might be a great while’ (Patrick 1854, Vol. 1, pp. 1–3). Exactly how long chaos lasted was never made explicit. Most accepted that the ‘days’ of Genesis 1 were of  twenty-four hours duration, but Burnett and Whiston argued that each day of creation could have been a year in duration and the obscure William Hobbs suggested an even longer time basing his ideas on 2 Peter 3:8; ‘one day is as a thousand years’ and ‘I say, why may not one such day, be equall to many years’ (Hobbs 1979, p. 110). Writing about Whiston (Whiston 1696), who extended each day to a year, Stephen Gould said that this ‘was a big step in the right direction’ (Gould 1991, p. 372).

These remarks lifted from two of my published chapters show there was no dogmatic assumption of either Deep Time or a young earth in the late 17th century, but rather savants trying to make sense of the rocks they saw and beginning to stumble towards Deep Time as a result of their research. They started with an initial assumption of a young earth, as that was the culture they lived in. Slowly they changed their minds . They were gradually wading out to deeper water from the shallows.

What we have is that early geologists/savants took their working assumptions form the prevalent culture, hence they initially started with a young earth and found that what they observed in rocks did not fit. Lhwyd is an example – even though the many boulders in Nant Peris had not rolled down the hillsides but were transported by glaciers. He gives an excellent example on how geologists were thinking things through

Because of this I never mock Ussher or anyone else from that period who tended to accept a young earth. They were excellent scholars for their day and slowly worked out details of geological time.

As we move into the 18th century more and more “geologists” became convinced of a deeper time, though there was still considerable variance of conclusions. Thus Hutton, of unconformity fame

Angular Unconformity at Siccar Point, Scotland. Siccar Point, Scotland (Photo: Wikipedia “Hutton’s Unconformity”)

accepted a vast amount of time of many millions, whereas J. A. de Luc seemed to accept only hundreds of thousands. A minority like Kirwan still held to thousands. Among the geologically literate few held to a young earth by 1800 and those who did were changing their minds. One was William Smith who worked out how to relatively date rocks by fossils in the 1790s, he produced a succession of strata in historical order and the fist geological map ever of a country (England and Wales) in 1815, which was remarkably accurate by todays’ standards..

200px-william_smith_geologist

 

Yet in the 1790s he was young earth not for dogmatic reasons. In ten years he realised the earth was old – probably due to his mentors the Revs Samuel Richardson and Joshua Townsend, who as Christian clergy accepted an old earth! Then James Parkinson d1824 – the first to diagnose Parkinson’s disease – wrote the first volume of Organic remains of a former world in 1804. There he described the earth as some 6000 years old. But four years later in volume ii , he explicitly avowed an ancient earth.

Did they change their assumptions or were they following the evidence? I’d say they modified their working assumptions as they went along, and had the nouse to do so.

Smith and Parkinson show the gradual shift over geological time, and  with only one or two exceptions all competent in geology accepted Deep Time well before 1820. It is instructive to see how Christian writers changed their views over time. Thus Dean Close of Carlisle was young earth in the 1820s and fully accepted Deep Time by 1850. Thre are many other examples.

This shows a slow gathering awareness of Deep Time from 1680. By 1800 Shallow Time was a thing of the past.

As usual Answers in Genesis in the incarnation of Mortenson argue that the church compromised.

https://answersingenesis.org/creationism/old-earth/deep-time-and-churchs-compromise-historical-background/

As for a Global Flood, most savants in the 17th century simply assumed a Global Flood, as did most theologians. However William Poole in his Commentary argued for a local flood and our unknown William Hobbs refused to grant geological efficacy to the Deluge. This continued right into the 19th century.

Willaim Smith accepted a global flood which laid down the most recent strata as did many others until the 1830s. Most interesting is William Buckland who wrote Reliquiae Diluvianae in 1823. There he limited flood deposits to the uppermost strata, which today are seen as pleistocene. The volume was dedicated to his mentor Bishop Shute Barrington of Durham, who was then a crusty and conservative reactionary octagenarian bishop! (I think he holds the record for the time he was a bishop.) On theology he looked to evangelical scholars like John Bird Sumner. Buckland held on to diluvialism right up to the 1840s and at Oxford are some of his almost illegible musings of the flood in relation to glaciation written in the 1840s.

To sum up, Risner fails to identify who made these assumptions of Deep Time, which would guide all geological thinking. He produces no evidence for his claims.

WHO MADE UP THE ASSUMPTION OF DEEP TIME?

I could say more but you could read Davis Young’s The Biblical Flood. or the Bible, Rocks and Time

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3. Geologists place the authority over that of scripture

The bottom line is this: if your worldview places the authority of science (or in this case what you mistakenly believe is science) over that of Scripture and you use that so-called science to determine how the Bible is to be interpreted, you’ve placed something before the authority God has over you. This is especially true if those portions of Scripture you’re choosing to reinterpret based on your view of nature are major foundational points of the Christian faith

This needs to be reworded;

The bottom line is this; if your worldview places the authority of science…………. under your inconsistent interpretation of Scripture……

This many Creationists cannot see. They force their literal view of scripture onto Scripture. This was challenged 500 years ago by Calvin and his view of accommodation.

The period of the Reformation resulted in a more rigorous biblical interpretation with an emphasis on the literal, or plain, rather than allegorical, meaning of scripture. This  inclined most theologians and savants to understand the ‘day’ of Genesis Chapter 1 as of twenty-four hours and thus the earth to have been created in about 4000 BC, be they Luther, Calvin, Mercator, Raleigh or Columbus. Despite the emphasis of both Roman Catholic and Protestant exegetes on the ‘literal’ meaning of Scripture, this ‘literalism’ never went to the extreme of insisting on a flat earth, which is demanded by a literal reading of Genesis 1:6–8, and Exodus 20:4. In fact, very few Christian theologians had ever considered the earth to be flat, a myth demolished by Russell (Russell 1991).  Literalism was tempered by ‘accommodation’. This refusal to adopt a slavish literalism can be seen clearly in Calvin’s understanding of the accommodation of Scripture. In 1554, eleven years after Copernicus published De revolutionibus, Calvin published his commentary on Genesis in Latin. Calvin

calvin

made no reference here, nor probably anywhere else, to the Copernican theory, but he stressed that Genesis was not written to teach astronomy. As he dealt with the Mosaic description of the firmament of Genesis 1 he wrote, ‘He, who  would learn astronomy and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere’ (Calvin 1847, p. 79). He considered the firmament of Genesis 1:6–8, not to be the solid crystalline dome, which is implied by Egyptian astronomy, but a representation of rain clouds, because ‘nothing is here treated of but the visible form of the world’ (Calvin 1847, pp. 69–88). Calvin was wrong at this point as most ancients considered the firmament to be a solid dome. But he considered that Moses accommodated himself to the limitations of human thought and as Calvin commented on Genesis 1:15, ‘For as it became a theologian, he had respect to us rather than the stars’. Calvin approached his task with Ptolemean assumptions of a spherical rather than a flat earth. He also did not question a 6000- year-old earth nor a universal flood. Calvin’s  accommodating interpretation eased the path for many Calvinists to accept  Copernicanism, with  the result that some Roman Catholics referred to the ‘Calvino–Copernican’ theory. In the following centuries Calvin’s doctrine of  accommodation allowed devout Protestants to accept the findings of science, whether astronomy or geology, without the rejection of the authority or the teaching of scripture (Hooykaas 1972, pp. 114–130).

Calvin’s idea of ACCOMMODATION shows there is no theological objection to an ancient earth as the Bible is not written to give that information, but rather is ACCOMMODATED to the thought forms of the time it was written.

The most apt quote is that of Calvin

He, who  would learn astronomy and other recondite arts, let him go elsewhere’

We go elsewhere on most things. Trivially I do not go to the bible to find out how to fix my bicycle, nor when I should plant certain seeds or prune plants. Calvin was clear, the bible is not a source for astronomy – and we can add, any other science.

Behind Calvin’s comment is that we need to know where biblical authority lies and what for. There are so many things which the bible does not mention and thus we do not go to it to see whether we should use oak or balsawood for the framework of a house. !! Nor will it tell us whether coal or gas is a better fuel. It goes on.

To most Christians the Bible is the ultimate authority, but for moral and theological principles and not details on science, mechanics or gardening. However on ethical issues we are not given blanket rules but ideas to give as Middle Axioms as William Temple called them. This is clear in his Christianity and Social Order. Thus a National Health Service as in Britain is not prescribed by biblical authority, but the principles of love of neighbour and even some OT teaching we can see it as an outworking of biblical teaching and authority. Hey I’m going to be called an extreme socialist for this!!

By claiming this Risner actually destroys the authority of scripture as it then is seen to be risibile.

I look to the authority of the Bible on what is revealed about Jesus Christ and why I should love my neighbour, not tell lies or steal etc, but not whether Lyell, Buckland or Steno gives me the better basis for geology, or which month I should plant my runner bean seeds.

For all normal Christians the Bible is the authority for doctrine and ethics, but not whether fish preceeded dinosaurs on this planet.

Risner has a perfect way of undermining the authority of the Bible

Augsutine

4 thoughts on “Weird Worldview Warriors take on 350 years of geology.

  1. Paul Braterman

    I admire your patience. I tried reading Risner, but gave up when he said “Why do some cultures that seemingly have no connection to the book of Genesis trace their lineages all the way back to the sons of Noah or even to Adam?” and “Why are there fossil beds all over the world with mixtures of organisms from geologically different ages—vastly different in many cases—and why are these bone beds never talked about by deep time proponents or evolutionists?”

    One might as well ask, “Why is the Moon made of green cheese?”

    Like

    Reply

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