Creationists in the 19th Century

Are Young Earth Creationists an old or a new phenomenon? Often when those who believe in 10,000 year old earth are mentioned it is assumed that they are traditional Christians. In fact they are not as their Young Earth arguments on go back to ellen White in the late 19th century. Sure many before 1800 believed the earth was young, but that was not folly or the rejection of science, but simply geology had yet to make the case for an ancient earth. By 1800 almost all educated people in Europe and north America accepted an ancient earth. Before that young earth was never, never, never the standard view of the churches.

 

Caution Creationists3

After 1817 in England some Christians, many of the clergy and some skilled in science, fought against old earth geology, despite many geologists being Anglican clergy. The first to do so was the Rev Thomas Gisbourne, who was a mentor to Wilberforce and the last patient to be treated by Erasmus Darwin in 1802. I love odd historical facts. Soon others joined him and they made a bit of noise until the mid-1850s when they went extinct in Britain until 1968.

I have found a motley collection of fifty individuals, many of whom were clergy. One was Dean Cockburn of York who ranted and raved at those like Sedgwick and Buckland, who were very effective at putting him and other anti-geologists down.

 

300px-Adam_Sedgwickbuckland

 

Here’s Sedgwick in action

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2018/02/03/how-to-deal-with-victorian-creationists-and-win/

I have not found one bishop among them, but there is at least one Young Earth bishop in the 21st century. Another bishop sent me an irate e-mail at six o’clock in the morning objecting to me writing to the Times agreeing with Dawkins for saying bishops should criticise Creationism more strongly.!!

I looked at them for years but only published in my book Evangelicals and Science, but in the 90s Terry Mortenson did a Ph D on them at Coventry University, which has no history of science department. He often claims it was a Ph D on the history of geology, but really it is an account of those who rejected geology, thus not about geologists! His work came out The Great Turning Point,which is many chapters from his thesis.  He claimed that his subjects were mostly well-informed in geology, but that is simply not the case. To read one like Fairholme on geology made me titter, (I have a copy of his wonderful book) and I am quite sure it had a worse effect on those great Christian geologists Buckland and Sedgwick, who were less circumspect than I am! As for Lyell, he laughed at them and let the clerical geologists deal with them!!

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So a quick summary of the history of geology from 1660s. Before then most opted for a date like 4000BC as the date of creation like Ussher, but without strong conviction.

Jacobus_ussher

One of the first was Nils Steno and after that, just considering Brits, were a series of savants , including John Ray (who had doubts about a young earth),

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who initially thought the earth was young and all strata were laid down in the flood. But that was under question by 1700 and during the next hundred years scholars of all sorts from all over Europe continued their field work and by 1800 the argument was whether the earth was many millions of years old or just few hundred thousand. Unexpectedly to us today one of the last to accept an old age was the canal engineer William Smith in about 1800, AFTER he had devised his ways of using fossils for relative age dating. It seems he was persuaded to do so by a trio of local vicars.

200px-william_smith_geologist

During the flowering of anti-geologists, real geologists were working out the geological column. Rev Adam Sedgwick was one of the most prolific.

column+temp

The extract is very Anglo-centric, as that is where the players came from. For a fully European perspective you must read Martin Rudwick’s Bursting the Limits of Time.

 

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EVANGELICALS, GEOLOGY, AND GENESIS LEADING TO DARWIN
By the 1820s most evangelicals adopted the Chaos-Restitution Theory
of Chalmers and Sumner, seemingly removing any conflict between Genesis
and Geology. However, this statement needs qualification, as the only
people who can be studied are those who wrote either in books or magazines.
The pages of the Christian Observer the leading Anglican evangelical
journal give an insight into Anglican Evangelical attitudes to geology. The
editor, S. C. Wilks (1789–1872) tried to avoid controversy, but ensured
the anti-geologists were always answered, relying on W. D. Conybeare
for geological guidance. From 1827 the division between Bugg and Faber
dominated several volumes, and the correspondence became acrimonious
with articles such as “On the Infidel Tendency of Certain Scientific Speculations”
(vol. 34, 1834, pp. 199–207) and then “Replies to a Layman on
Geology” (pp. 306–316), written by Conybeare. For twenty years, Wilks,
the editor, attempted to guide his readers into accepting geology without
totally censoring the anti-geologists. A modern-day parallel can be seen in
Christianity Today.
Before the 1820s dissenting and Methodist evangelicals were more likely
to interpret the Bible literally. By the reign of Victoria their leading scholars
had accepted geological findings.Most notable was the Congregationalist
John Pye Smith, a Biblical scholar, who published The Relation between the
Holy Scriptures and Some Parts of Geological Science in 1839, originally given
as the Congregational Lecture in 1838. Smith adopted a novel exegesis of
Genesis 1, by arguing that God had recreated a small portion of the earth
in six days and put Adam and Eve there. The rest of the planet had been
there for millennia, thus accommodating geological ages. Pye Smith gave
an excellent resume of geology, and criticized the “anti-geologists.” In 1837
another Congregationalist George Redford (1785–1860) also wrote on the
relation of geology and Genesis in The Holy Scriptures Verified, grappling
with the issues in a muddled way, more or less accepting the Gap Theory
and for his geology looking to Fairholme as well as Buckland. Redford’s muddled
arguments indicate that he was not a dogmatic literalist, but just a minister confused on science.
Though there was a considerable diversity among evangelicals of all
denominations, the majority were supportive of geology. Only a vocal minority
considered geology to be infidel.Commentators frequently adopted
a non-literal approach to Genesis, most notably the Free Kirk Robert Candlish
(1806–1873).
THE HARMONY OF GENESIS AND GEOLOGY
During the early nineteenth century there were numerous harmonies of
Geology and Genesis. Though some were “anti-geologies,” the majority
accepted geology and propounded their harmonies with variable geological
competence. The most widely sold and competent was Buckland’s
Bridgewater Treatise. By the 1850s the vast majority of educated Christians
accepted geology, the enthusiasm for “anti-geology” had waned,
evincing the astronomer Rev. Robert Main’s (1808–1878) comment in the
conservative Replies to Essays and Reviews (Wilberforce, 1862) edited by
Samuel Wilberforce: “No educated Christian accepts 4004B.C. as the date
of creation.” That was true then, but not today!
The Chaos-Restitution theory was the mos widely held reconciliation of
Genesis and geology until mid-century, which Hugh Miller challenged in
Footprints of the Creator (Miller, 1847, p. 332), his anti-evolutionary critique
of the Vestiges and in The Testimony of the Rocks (Miller, 1858). Within a few
years Gilbert Rorison was arguing for a totally pictorial exegesis ofGenesis
in Wilberforce’s Answers to Essays and Reviews (Wilberforce, 1861, pp. 281–
286) and the Chaos-Restitution interpretation began to go out of fashion.
Archdeacon John Pratt of Calcutta was one of the last serious writers
to expound it. After that it was taken up by nascent fundamentalists in
the late 19th century, and enshrined in the Schofield Reference Bible, while
the Day-Age interpretation gained ground among the more “intellectual”
conservatives, notably by J. W. Dawson.
Most typical of the 1850s are the volumes by Pratt, Hitchcock, and Miller.
John Pratt (d1871) was Archdeacon of Calcutta, and in the midst of his missionary
work wrote on the isostasy of the Himalayas. An evangelical, he
published Scripture and Science not at variance in 1856 and revised it in
1871,when he still held the Gap Theory and rejected Rorison’s exegesis in
Replies to Essays and Reviews. From its title the American Edward Hitchcock’s
The Religion of Geology (1853) sounds unpromising. Hitchcock was
no mean geologist, and was aggressive in justifying geology to those like
the Hebraist Moses Stuart. Hitchcock saw the problem as being caused by
too literal a reading of Paradise Lost and that “the theologians having so
mixed up the ideas of Milton with those derived from inspiration,” thus
giving rise to Bishop John Colenso’s (1814–1882) complaint “The truth
is that we literally groan, even in the present day, under the burden of
Milton’s mythology” (Colenso 1863, vol. iv, p. 148). Though Colenso was
notorious for his views on biblical criticism in the 1860s, his approach to
Genesis One was similar to that of evangelicals and he quoted extensively
from them. Pride of place must go to Hugh Miller’s The Testimony of the Rocks,which
has already been mentioned.
These three represent the moderate, scholarly evangelical. Others were
less moderate, as is shown by George Eliot’s essay on the immoderate
evangelical—John Cumming (1807–1881). He wrote at least twice on science,
first a lecture given at Exeter Hall in 1851 and then his peculiar
Church before the Flood (Cumming, 1854). Eliot’s criticisms of Cumming are
fair (Eliot, 1973), but a dismissal of Cumming will miss an essential point.
Cumming was very conservative, yet, accommodates the whole of geology
into the first two verses of Genesis. Joseph Baylee (1808–1883), Principal of
the Anglican theological college, St. Aidan’s Birkenhead, was also an ultraconservative,
who wrote on geology and Genesis and allowed geology
to sit alongside his almost literal Genesis (Baylee, 1857). This acceptance
of geology is easily lost in a cursory reading as Baylee claims to be literalist
and it demonstrates the need to study Victorian (or any) writing on
their terms and not with spectacles provided by the twenty-first century.
Their exegesis may not be convincing, but it shows that ultraconservatives
accepted geology.

SCRIPTURAL AND ANTI-GEOLOGISTS?
It may seem that geology presented little challenge to evangelical faith
in the nineteenth century. That was not so for someC hristians,who argued
that geology undermined the truth of Genesis and are frequently termed
Scriptural Geologists, which can cause confusion as geologists like Sedgwick
and Buckland held both geology and a conservative interpretation of
Genesis. So they could rightly be termed Scriptural Geologists. Millhauser
(1954) to a limited extent and Mortenson (1996, 2004) define Scriptural Geologists
as those who claimed that all geology was within the confines of
Six Days and a Flood. To Mortenson “scriptural”means a literal hermeneutic.
Therefore, all who reject literalism have compromised their biblical faith,
be they Sedgwick or not. Throughout his work, Mortenson made strident
criticisms of conventional geology and claimed that several “Scriptural
Geologists” were competent geologists. However his failings are twofold.
First he misunderstands conventional nineteenth-century geologists and
wrongly claims that their geology is based on assumptions of the vast age of
the earth, and secondly he fails to discern that his “competent” scriptural
geologists misunderstood geology. Hence, his work has value in giving
biographical details, but not in the assessment of the scriptural geologists.
Against Mortenson, John Lynch takes a wider view of “scriptural geology”
in his introduction to Creationism and Scriptural Geology, 1817–1857
(Lynch, 2003), a seven volume series reprinting some of eight “scriptural”
geologists. Five were hostile to geology and three supportive. Thomas
Chalmers, John Pye Smith, and Hugh Miller did not regard geology as
infidel. The hostile five were John Mellor Brown an Anglican clergyman,
Granville Penn (1761–1844), grandson of the founder of Pennsylvania and
an Anglican layman, George Young (1777–1848), a Presbyterian minister
and two laymen George Fairholme (1789–1846) and John Murray (1786?–
1851), a chemist. Only two had good field skills in geology, Miller who
needs no introduction and George Young, who did some competent work
around Whitby in the 1820s. By choosing both “pro-” and “anti–geologists”
Lynch undermined the polarized historiography,which usually surrounds
“Genesis and Geology” discussions. All eight writers can be rightly described
as Creationists and Scriptural Geologists, as they understood geology
from the perspective of Creation and Scripture. Chalmers, Pye Smith, and
Miller were respected evangelicals whose works indicate the change in biblical
interpretation over that half century from Chalmer’s semi–literalist
Gap Theory to Miller’s poetic vision. However, in a recent lecture to the
Evangelical Theological Society Mortenson (2001) stresses the theological
compromises of Chalmers, Pye Smith, and Miller, who had “succumbed”
to the Enlightenment.
There is less correlation of evangelical fervor and opposition to geology
from 1817 to 1857 than today. I am aware that most historians, whether
Millhauser or Mortenson refer to flood geologists as Scriptural Geologists
but I prefer the term anti-geologist used by Miller in The Testimony of the
Rocks in his chapter The Geology of the Anti-Geologists (Miller, 1857). Miller
as an evangelical was not going to let others claim the term scriptural. Anti-geologist is theologically neutral and focuses on attitudes to geology, not scripture.

The flowering of “anti-geologists” came as a deluge in the mid-20s and
annoyed Uniformitarian and Catastrophist alike. Their cry was that geologists
were mistaken and ungodly. Some had good scientific credentials
outside geology, like Brande of the Royal Institution, John Murray and
Andrew Ure (1778–1857) of Glasgow, others were evangelicals for example
Bugg, Nolan, Cole, Best, Mellor Brown, and Young and some were traditionalist
clergy for example Vernon Harcourt (brother of the cofounder
of the British Association), Dean Cockburn of York, and Edward Nares.
Despite their variety the anti-geologists had a common theme; the earth
was a few thousand years old being created in six 24-hour days and the
strata were laid down in the Noachian Deluge. Many emphasized that
there was no death or suffering before the Fall (Genesis 3) and thus no animals
had lived for more than a few hours before Adam. This was to retain
the centrality of the Atonement, as death is the curse of sin. (Most orthodox
Christians, e.g., Sumner, Chalmers, and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce
did not reckon that animal death before the Fall affected the Atonement.)
The importance of the “anti-geologists” can be overstated as they attracted
much attention, particularly in retrospect. The “anti-geologists”
were attacked most vigorously by other Christians, as was Ure’s A New
System of Geology (1829), which was scathingly reviewed anonymously in
the British Critic of 1828. Lyell identified the reviewer,

“A bishop, Buckland ascertained (we suppose Sumner), gave Ure a dressing in the British Critic and Theological Review! They see at last the mischief and scandal brought on them by Mosaic systems”

(Lyell.). By the way, Sumner was an evangelical and later Archbishop of Canterbury.
There appear to have been no anti-geologists in America until the Lord
brothers writing in the 1850s in reaction to Hitchcock’s The Religion of
Geology. Eleazer Lord responded with The Epoch of Creation: The Scripture
Doctrine Contrasted with the Geology Theory (1851) and his brother David
Geognosy, or the Facts and Principles of Geology against Theories (1855). Both
criticized geologists and their Christian apologists like Pye Smith, Hitchcock,
and Miller and argued for a belief in a six-day creation. By the time
of the Civil War American Scriptural Geology had almost gone, soon to be
resurrected by Ellen White (Stilling, 1999).
THE EVANGELICAL ANTI-GEOLOGISTS 1817–1845
Many anti-geologists were evangelical clergy and laity. The first work,
which challenged geology was Thomas Gisbourne’s The Testimony of Natural
Theology to Christianity in 1818. Gisbourne was a friend of William
Wilberforce and the last patient to be treated by Erasmus Darwin in 1802.
The book was eirenic, but objected to geology, because the existence of
death in the animal world implicit in the existence of prehistoric life before
Adam contradicts the view in the opening lines of Paradise Lost
Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
The storm broke in the 1820s in the Christian Observer, creating internecine
warfare among evangelicals, and was paralleled by the publication
of aggressive critiques of geology. It began with reviews of G. S.
Faber’s A Treatise of the Three Dispensations in 1823, which was classic theology
on the “dispensations” of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus Christ, but
the third chapter Respecting the length of the Six Demi-Urgic Days caused the
problem. Here Faber summarized geological findings under the guidance
of Buckland. Bugg took great objection. Several years later Bugg wrote to
the Christian Observer criticizing the editor S. C. Wilks for taking the “side
of modern geologists” and listed the five difficulties of the bible versus
geology, which were
(1) Geology claims that death was there before Adam sinned,
(2) Geology denies the Six Days of Creation
(3) “Scriptural Creation” is handed over to Geology.
(4) Prevents missionary work among the Hindoos.
(5) Removes the basis of the Sabbath {Bugg, 1828, p. 329)

[this is exactly what Young Earth Creationists argue today.]

A few years after Faber’s work, Bugg published his magnum opus Scriptural
Geology in two volumes, which was an answer to Buckland. Bugg
claimed that “whatever is contrary to that Bible must be false.” He started
from the premise that the Mosaic narrative gives the general order of the
strata with one physical revolution on the third day and that “Christian
Geologists are bound in honor and conscience to agree.” What follows is a
variety of theological argument, a rejection of contemporary geology, and
a reinstatement of the Deluge as the source of all strata. Bugg’s motivation
was theological as he was unable to accept animal death before the Fall.
Frederick Nolan (1784–1864) was a notable Oxford divine of his day,
whose career parallels that of Faber. Both were leading evangelical theologians
publishing prodigiously on the similar subjects of evangelical
beliefs, polemics against the Oxford Movement and millenarianism. The
pair made forays into geological science, Nolan rejecting it and Faber welcoming
geological findings. In 1832 Nolan was elected to the Royal Society
and in 1833 he gave the Bampton Lectures entitled The Analogy of Revelation
and Science established (Nolan, 1834). Nolan argued that the findings of
geologists were mistaken and the earth really was a few thousand years
old. Buckland’s anger was undisguised as his wife Mary wrote to William
Whewell on May 12, 1833,
we have had the Bampton Lecturer holding forth in St Mary’s against all modern
science, . . . Denouncing all who assert that the world was not made in 6 days as
obstinate unbelievers, etc.” (Morrell and Thackray, 1984)
Though Nolan’s  Bamptons were soon eclipsed by Keble’s Assize Sermon
on July 11, 1833, which marked the start of the Oxford Movement, Nolan’s
lectures highlighted a rumbling problem within the churches. At that time
geology was the science of the day with its strange extinct beasts, its
vast time scale, with the present day “towering o’er the wrecks of time.”
Geology had captured the imagination of the British public.
There were other evangelicals who took up cudgels against geology
during those two decades. To obtain an exhaustive list would involve
the detailed scanning of journals and libraries. In his research Mortenson
identified about thirty and I have found another dozen or so. In mere
numbers this is a fraction of Christians who wrote positively of geology.
They had passed the peak of their activity in about 1840 and thereafter
dwindled, though still making some impact in the 1850s. There are a
variety of reasons for their decline. A major factor was simply increasing
age; younger evangelicals were more open to geology, following on first
from Chalmers and Faber, then Pye Smith and Miller, and then those like
Birks and Pratt. Faber and Birks were strong millenarians, which indicate
the lack of correlation of anti-geology with millenarian views, as is the case
in the twenty-first century and the Seventh Day Adventists.
SCIENTIFIC ANTI-GEOLOGY
This may seem to be an oxymoron, but numbers of anti-geologists argued
that their geology was more scientific than conventional geology.
A frequent contributor to the Christian Observer during the 1820s and
1830s was George Fairholme (1789–1846), who signed himself as “A Layman
on Scriptural Geology.” Fairholme was Scottish born and had no
university education. According to Mortenson his denomination is unknown,
nor are his evangelical convictions. As well as contributing to
the Christian Observer and the Philosophical Magazine, Fairholme wrote on
the General View of the Geology of Scripture (1833) and the Mosaic Deluge
(1837). The preface of the latter discusses the theological results and skepticism caused
by geology and especially the rejection of a universal deluge,
“there cannot be conceived a principle more pregnant with mischief to the
simple reception of scripture.” All emphasis is put on the universality
of the Deluge—”if false. . . . then has our Blessed Saviour himself aided
in promoting the belief of that falsehood, by. . . . alluding both to the fact
and the universality of its destructive consequences to mankind” (p. 61).
Fairholme made much of stems of tall plants,which intersect several strata
(Polystrate fossils).
In the General View of the Geology of Scripture (1833) Fairholme gave the air
of geological competence, enhanced by citing geological works. His geology
does not bear comparison with geological writers of his day, whether
Buckland, Sedgwick, or amateurs like Pye Smith. Though he claimed to
carry out geological fieldwork, there is no evidence that he did more than
ramble though the countryside. His lack of geological competence is best
seen in his discussion of the relationship of coal to chalk. (In the Geologic
Column coal is found in the Upper Carboniferous or Pennsylvanian strata
and chalk in the Upper Cretaceous.) Fairholme wrote
the chalk formation is placed far above that of coal, apparently from no better
reason, than that chalk usually presents an elevation on the upper surface, while
coal must be looked for at various depths below the level of the ground. (Fairholme,
1833, p. 243).
He had previously discussed this (op cit pp. 207–210) and concluded,
having misunderstood an article in the Edinburgh Encyclopaedia, that
Nothing can be clearer than this account; and it appears certain, that, as in the case
of the Paris Basin, this lime-stone formed the bed of the antediluvian sea, on which
the diluvial deposits of coal, clay, ironstone, and free-stone, were alternately laid
at the same period. (Fairholme, 1833, p. 209)
It is clear that Fairholme regards Carboniferous Limestone and the Cretaceous
chalk as the same formation, and wrote on coal fields that
they lie among sandstones, . . . , but have, in no instance, been found below chalk,
which is one of the best defined secondary formations immediately preceding the
Deluge, . . .
Thus the Cretaceous strata are pre-Flood and the Coal Measures were
deposited during the Flood!
To a geologist today and in 1833 that is risible! When Fairholme penned
this, it had been known for decades that Chalk always, always overlie
the Coal Measures with a vast thickness of strata in between. In 1799,
William Smith drew up a list of strata from the coal measures to the chalk,
which was extended in the table accompanying his geological map of 1815
(Phillips, 1844/2003). Cuvier and Brogniart, who had worked extensively
in the Paris Basin, gave the same succession. Thus by the standards of his
day, Fairholme was talking nonsense as he was when he wrote
“But during the awful event [the Deluge] we are now considering, all animated
nature ceased to exist, and consequently, the floating bodies of the dead bodies
must have been bouyed up until the bladders burst, by the force of the increasing
air contained within them.” (Fairholme, 1833, p. 257)
It is impossible to agree with Mortenson’s assessment, “By early nineteenth
century standards, George Fairholme was quite competent to critically
analyze old-earth geological theories”(Mortenson, 2004, p. 130).
Though Fairholme took it upon himself to criticize geology, he did so from
sheer ignorance, as is evidenced by his claim that Chalk always underlies
Coal. Fairholme, like all anti-geologists, attempted from his armchair to
find fault with geology, which he regarded as infidel, but his “scientific”
objections were a total misunderstanding of geology. No wonder they
were rounded on by Sedgwick, who in A Discourse on the Studies of the
University (1834/1969) wrote that the anti-geologists
have committed the folly and the sin of dogmatizing on matters they have not
personally examined. (p. 106)
and regarded some as

“beyond all hope of rational argument.”

Then, as now, the advantage of writing   ridiculous works is that the refuting of them
is beyond the wit of rational people.

[Nothing like ending with a scathing remark from a Dalesman!]

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This is how I feel after reading anti-geologists or creationists

 

BmZJVIpCEAEmHN_

This is another good read

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2 thoughts on “Creationists in the 19th Century

  1. Paul Braterman

    Thanks. The relative dates of major strata (and these days the K/Pg boundary) remains one of those questions that exposes the absurdity of what we now call Flood Geology.

    “After 1917 in England some Christians, many of the clergy and some skilled in science, fought against old earth geology”; 1817, surely! By the way, does that date have any particular significance? it was just after the end of the Napoleonic wars, which helped focus European attention on Egyptian antiquity. I have often wondered how large an effect that too could have had on perceptions of timescale.

    Like

    Reply

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