Category Archives: 4004BC

Bishop Spong meets Charles Darwin

On 12th September the controversial Bishop Spong died at the age of 89. I’d known of him for decades and in the 80s he helped at a wedding at a Welsh church where the vicar was a very conservative evangelical, which gave us a smile.

As someone who is fairly conservative and orthodox I have never been partial to Spong with his extreme liberal views almost throwing out every item of the Christian faith for a progressive faith. He is a person whom people either loved or loathed. Spong raises many issues and especially the absurdities of extreme fundamentalism, but throws the baby out with the bathwater. I will not give a general assessment of him but focus on one issue.

Bishop John Shelby Spong in an undated photo. He used a combination of celebrity and tireless writing and speaking to open up the Episcopal Church.

That issue is his understanding of Charles Darwin and the effect of his science on the Christian faith. Way back in the 1990s he explained some of the reasons why he rejected “orthodoxy” and much hinged on Darwin. He claimed that until 1859 all Christians believed in a literal Genesis and then with The Origin of Species Darwin torpedoed that making it totally untenable.

Probably most people would agree with Spong on that and it has been the received view among most who consider themselves educated. In his book and TV series of the 1980s The Sea of Faith Don Cupitt came out with same arguments. Many thought it wonderful, but his history had a bit to be desired! A similar view comes out in older church histories and among writers of popular science, including Richard Dawkins.

I never kept the article where I read Spong’s views on Darwin but at some lectures in 2018 he repeated the same line. These were lectures he gave at the Chautauqua Institution and reported in The Chautauquan Daily – their official newspaper.

“On Tuesday in the Hall of Philosophy, Spong explained how Darwinian and Christian values came to divide the Christian faith in his lecture titled, “The Assault of Charles Darwin and Why the Christian Church Retreated before Darwin.” Spong continued Week One’s interfaith theme, “Producing a Living Faith Today?”

Here is what the report said of his lecture, when he dealt with Darwin. It all sounds so familiar

http://chqdaily.com/2018/06/spong-dialogue-between-darwinism-christianity-critical/

One of the scientists who pushed the status quo was Charles Darwin, who Spong called the second “obsession of the church.”

Darwin began his work in 1831 when he got a job as a naturalist on a five-year survey voyage around the world on the HMS Beagle. It took him 25 years after the trip, but Darwin claimed his place in history when he released the Origin of Species.

The book sold out immediately and raised questions that had previously been debated, but were never analyzed from a perspective like Darwin’s. Christians did not welcome these findings with open arms, Spong said.

“The war was on,” Spong said. “Darwin was now an enemy to the Bible, as the Bible was interpreted literally, and he was an enemy to the church in the way (Darwinism was) interpreted theologically.”

In an attempt to set the record straight, a debate took place in 1860 between Thomas Huxley, a biologist and an avid defender of Darwin’s, and Samuel Wilberforce, the bishop of Oxford and an advocate of biblical literalism. Wilberforce resorted to ridicule and at one point asked Huxley which side of his family was descended from apes. Wilberforce won the debate, but Spong said it was not enough to earn him a lasting legacy.

“Sam Wilberforce was hailed as a hero, but what’s interesting is that heroes don’t last forever,” he said. “He was very popular in his lifetime, but his reputation has faded.”

After the debate, Darwin’s theories made their way into the bloodstream of western civilization. At first, evolution was taught in small, private settings, but as it began to gain momentum in 1910, the Christian Church decided to tackle the issue head on.

A group of Presbyterian divines proposed a series of pamphlets on the fundamentals of the Christian faith. Once the project received funding, more than 500,000 were sent out each week. As time went on, the pamphlets became more popular, and by the 1920s, every church in the world was divided over being classified as fundamental or modernist.

“You can’t force truth into popularity,” Spong said. “Darwin seemed to have the truth, and after a while, these fundamentals of the Christian faith did not seem fundamentalistic after all.”

The Presbyterian leaders published five fundamentals all Christians were required to believe in order to identify as Christian. Among them were the ideas that the Scriptures are the infallible word of God and human beings are created perfect but fell into sin. Spong said those fundamentals were too similar to the myths of the religion to survive.

“They were so absurd, no one in the academic world would give them credibility,” he said.

The problem facing modernists, on the other hand, was that they knew too much to be fundamentalists, but did not know how to be Christian, Spong said.

“That is reflected in the world today,” he said. “The major mainline Christian churches are all in a frantic of political decline. The fundamentalistic churches are strong, but they are also declining. The world is catching up, and fundamentalism is not a viable option any longer.”

The fall of these ideals caused a rise in Darwin’s ideals. At that time in history, there was no longer a medical school in the western world without a foundation built upon Darwinian principles, and hardly a science department in the United States that was not embracing evolution. That was until the public school system implemented “creation science,” Spong said, designed to be a fair alternative to Darwinism. Although creation science is not taught in public schools anymore, Spong reminded the audience it was not that long ago that former President George W. Bush endorsed it.

“Bush wanted people to be fair, to have a chance to voice an opinion,” Spong said. “He thought you could decide by majority vote what truth is. It doesn’t work that way.”

After Bush’s endorsement, the U.S. Supreme Court declared creation science unconstitutional.

“By virtue of its own strength and integrity, Darwin became stronger and stronger,” Spong said. “There is hardly an educated person in the western world who does not accept Darwin’s point of view as truth.”

Spong asked why Christians fought so hard when they knew they were wrong. The answer, once again, was Darwin.

“There was something about Darwin that challenged not just the Christian story, but the way in which we told that story,” he said. “Darwin said there was ‘no perfect creation,’ but the church said we were ‘created perfect and then all fell into sin.’ You can’t fall into sin if you are not perfect to start with.”

Spong acknowledged how difficult it can be to accept the similarities humans have with the apes, but in a time where millennials check “none” for their chosen denomination more than the rest of the other options combined, he believes the dialogue has to continue between Darwinism and Christianity in order for the faith to survive.

“I think we have a wonderful faith,” he said. “Not the only faith, but a wonderful faith. And we have to work hard to make it live in our generation, and I think we can.”

[Clearly this is an account of what Spong said and not his actual words. However from what I’d previously read what Spong himself wrote on Darwin, it seems to be an accurate and trustworthy account. Thus as I have no reason to doubt its authenticity I shall treat as Spong’s views of 2018, which are similar to those he held two decades earlier.]

On the surface this seems reasonable and historically accurate both with regards to Darwin’s life and work and the effect on the Christian church.

But it is not!

As he started in 1831 he could have mentioned that Darwin receieved the letter inviting him to join the Beagle after a few weeks geologising in Wales with the Reverend Professor Adam Sedgwick of Cambridge. BRESSAN_2013_Geologizing_-Darwin_Map1

Darwin’s Welsh visit of 1831 More here https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/07/03/just-before-the-beagle-darwin-in-wales-1831/  

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Rev Adam Sedgwick, father of the Cambrian system. Susan Darwin had a crush on him.

Sedgwick was one of the great Anglican clergy-geologists. He was one of the most significant geologists to elucidate the Lower Palaeozoic and Devonian from 1831-1845. But, horror of horrors, he was also an evangelical. Now what was an evangelical doing as a professor of geology and doing fundamental work. Like most evangelicals of his day i.e. before 1859, he had no problems with geological time and did not see it as destroying his faith. He was very scathing about those who rejected geology and tried to insist on a literal Genesis. Here deal with some of his spats, which are quite funny too.

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

It’s a pity Spong did not know about Sedgwick and his many Christian geologists! And so he dug a bigger hole;

“The war was on,” Spong said. “Darwin was now an enemy to the Bible, as the Bible was interpreted literally, and he was an enemy to the church in the way (Darwinism was) interpreted theologically.”

My question to Spong is simple. Who in the churches interpreted the Bible literally? For 40 years I have tried to find some examples and beyond slave-holders in the Southern States and other nuts, I am still wandering around in the wilderness looking for one.

Quite simply, virtually no Christians with a modicum of education in the 1860s took Genesis 1 literally and denied geological time. I think that is slam dunk against Spong. I’ll now go slam dunker and gently point out that Samuel Wilberforce was not a biblical literalist.

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Bishop soapy Sam Wilberforce

He was a competent amateur scientist and while at Oriel College , Oxford in the 1820s he went to William Buckland’s geology lectures for three years running. (The attendance records are in the Oxford museum. From my brief study of it, he was the only one who went every year.)

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Buckland checking out glacial Striae at Rhyd Ddu in Snowdonia 1842. Buckland introduced ideas of an Ice Age to Britain

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Rev William Buckland giving a geological lecture at Oxford

His review of the Origin in the Quarterly Review is competent scientifically and is similar to what most scientists would have written in 1860. Wilberforce was no literalist and no fool, but was a rather soapy bishop! Spong could have mentioned Christians who accepted Darwin from 1859 including the evangelical Rev H B Tristram, Charles Kinsgley and others. Read this for the British scene from 1859

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2015/02/23/evolution-and-religion-in-britain-from-1859-to-2013/

Spong next dealt with The Fundamentals of 1910 “At first, evolution was taught in small, private settings, but as it began to gain momentum in 1910, the Christian Church decided to tackle the issue head on. A group of Presbyterian divines proposed a series of pamphlets on the fundamentals of the Christian faith.” Really! Head on? Many may know the series of brown paperback booklets called The Fundamentals. So much for taking Darwin/Evolution head on. One or two articles did, but most which dealt with Darwin or Genesis at least accepted geological time and in the case of James Orr, evolution as well. Spong simply had not doen his homework and was woefully inaccurate. So much for saying, “They were so absurd, no one in the academic world would give them credibility,” In fact many had academic credibility from competent conservative scholars, but some were not. Spong cannot have studied the background or content of these leaflets. If anyone was absurd it was Spong!

He continued “Darwin said there was ‘no perfect creation,’ but the church said we were ‘created perfect and then all fell into sin.” When did the church say that? Some fundamentalists did, and still do, say that but they are not the church but just a small part!

He ought to have known that humans ARE apes, and thus have similarities with all the other apes. A lack of biological knowledge here.

So what should we say about Spong’s encounter with Darwin?

Most obvious is that he has adopted a popular and extreme form of the Conflict Thesis of science and religion and out- whites White. To claim that the church was literalist in 1859 is simply completely and utterly false. Just to take the Anglican church, the vast majority of clergy had accepted geological time, and thus a non-literal Genesis way before 1859. In fact a higher proportion of Church of England clergy in 2021 are literalist than in 1860.

The best that can be said is that his confirmation bias to buttress his understanding of Christianity is to assume what he claims. This is simply not scholarly and is a very shoddy way of presenting an argument. Sadly others like Don Cupitt have done the same but he did (mis)quite contemporary authors! I agree with Spong on how awful Young Earth Creationism is in every way, but we need to ensure that what he say about others is accurate. He does not.

In 1998 Spong nailed his 12 Theses to the internet and Rowan Williams dismembered the lot with simplicity and clarity.

https://anglicanecumenicalsociety.wordpress.com/2010/06/10/bishop-spong-and-archbishop-williamss-response/

Williams exposes the shoddiness and wrongness of all his arguments both theological and ethical. I don’t need to repeat Rowan’s arguments.

On the positive side Spong is good at raising questions and especially those which come as a result of being swept up in fundamentalism. But he is not so good at understanding and tilts at the non-existent strawmen of ultra-fundamentalism and includes all the mainline orthodox in his tilting. His dealings with Darwin are just that. His ideas may resonate with those escaping from fundamentalism, but for the rest of us (who often have serious questions about our faith) he provides nothing of merit and an easy target for a hatchet job.

What Bishop Spong gives is not a new and progressive Christianity for a the 21st Century but an incoherent and muddled rejection of the faith. Sadly some would disagree with me and Rowan Williams!!

Why creationism bears all the hallmarks of a conspiracy theory

A fine article by Paul Braterman on Creationism as a conspiracy theory.

My only caveat is that I don’t consider Creationism to stem from biblical infallibility or inerrancy

Otherwise great and reasoned rather than polemical

Primate's Progress

A friend asked me why I bother about creationism. This article spells out my reasons. It has had some 150,000 reads since first published in The Conversation in February, and has been featured in Snopes and Yahoo! News, and attacked by Ken Ham and Bodie Hodge of Answers in Genesis, Jake Hebert Ph.D [sic] at the Institute for Creation Research, and others.

https://images.theconversation.com/files/381349/original/file-20210129-21-zsa3bk.jpg?ixlib=rb-1.1.0&rect=0%2C374%2C4031%2C2015&q=45&auto=format&w=1356&h=668&fit=crop
A replica of Noah’s Ark from the biblical tale at the Ark Encounter theme park in Kentucky.Lindasj22/Shutterstock

Many people around the world looked on aghast as they witnessed the harm done by conspiracy theories such as QAnon and the myth of the stolen US election that led to the attack on the US Capitol Building on January 6. Yet while these ideas will no doubt fade in time, there is arguably a much more enduring conspiracy theory that also pervades America in the form…

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Young-Earth Creationism in 2021: The Dawn of The New Creationists, Part 1

This is a good account of a less strident alternative to Ken Ham’s pugnacious Answers in Genesis and Sarfarti’s acidity in Creation Ministries.

He deals with the second generation of “Is Genesis History” and focuses on the people rather than the content.

Sadly knowing the work of the creation scientists involved, I fear that it will not be even passable science.

I have found Joel Duff’s writings on creationism to be very good, as he started by describing not criticising!!

Will there be a rabbit in the Precambrian?

Naturalis Historia

In 2017 the film documentary Is Genesis History? marked a significant moment in the history of creationism evangelism.  A professional-quality production defending the young-earth interpretation of Scripture and overview of the state-of-the-art in creation science—the attempt to conform the physical evidence of creation into the Young-Earth biblical framework.

Upon its release, I wrote several reviews of this important film including my reflections on its significance to the Young-Earth community including A Landmark Film for the Young-Earth Community: Reflections on “Is Genesis History? and Mountains, Meadows and Marmots: Creation or Judgement?. In the first of those reviews I wrote the following:

“I expect this film to become one of the most effective apologetics tools the young-earth movement has ever produced both because of who produced it—a group outside of the major creationist organizations—but also because of who is not in the film—AiG president Ken Ham. Ken Ham has become such…

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Hugh Miller and Me: Geology and Scripture Reconciled

Hugh Miller was a fascinating guy – geologist and evangelical.

Here Alex Staton, another 19th Century throwback of a geologist and clergyman (there are not many of us) writes about his life

This is good stuff and rock solid!!

Unconformable Views

I had promised myself (and you!) that I wasn’t going to allow myself to be drawn into interminable debates about the Bible and geology. There are two reasons for this. The first is that these kinds of debates go round in circles. They are frequently accompanied by a great deal of nastiness. The second reason is that there is no debate. We know that the earth is unimaginably old and that evolution is true(1). It doesn’t matter that some claim the Bible insists otherwise(2).

My reason for turning to geology and the Bible now is that I have been reading the excellent Hugh Miller, the Cromarty Stonemason. For those that may not know, here is a brief biography of the man.

Hugh Miller (1802-1856). Painting by William Bonnar (1800 – 1863). Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. Highland Council.

Hugh Miller was born in Cromarty in October…

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Geology and the Christian Faith – interview with David Wilkinson

Five years ago I gave a paper at the first of the Christian Leadership in an Age of Science project conferences at St John’s College Durham. It was originally supposed to be on geology and Genesis etc, but then I was asked to do the controversial issue of fracking.

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Rev William Buckland looking at Glacial striae in Snowdonia in October 1841. The Nantlle ridge in the background

During the conference I was interviewed by Prof David Wilkinson on me being a geologist and vicar. I deal  with my coming to faith, whether I found any conflict of geology and Christianity, my resolution of the two, and the value of geology. We ended up n fracking, when I said all the things I shouldn’t  – or should!

Very aptly I was interviewed in the Tristram Room in the college, named after the clerical naturalist Canon H B Tristram who was the first to use The Origin of species in a scientific paper – on the larks of the Holy Land.

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I was interviewed looking at Tristram (and thinking he agreed with me!)

Here is the site of ECLAS with many interviews and other resources, mostly from those more high powered

https://www.eclasproject.org/resources/

And here is my interview

https://vimeo.com/172916945

If you want more , here is a chapter I wrote for the Geological scoiety Special Publication 310 Geology and Religion

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2019/01/19/christian-belief-in-creation-in-relation-to-geology/

Genesis one for geologists

and from the same volume a study on the geologist, Adam Sedgwick battling with creationists

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

sedgwick

Genesis Chapter 1 and geological time from Grotius to Thomas Chalmers (1620 – 1825)

A common assumption, and one I started with, is that before the rise of geology in the late 18th century all Christian churches reckoned that god created in about 4000BC and the days of Genesis were of 24 hours .

The more writers I read, the more I was aware of the diversity of opinion 0n the matter, and that Christian churches were most undecided on the subject

In the 16th century despite the drift to sola scriptura the influence of the renaissance added to that and depicting it simplistically

Bible alone – or so some claimed!

went to

Bible plus classical literature (eg Ovid)

Jacobus_ussher
paradiselost

and also

Bible plus classics plus astronomy.e.g. Calvin

calvin

Thus when it became apparent that Ussher was slightly out in his estimates, either the time of Chaos was extended to allow for geological time, or the 6 days of Genesis were extended, first to a year and then indefinitely, hence we have

Bible plus Classics plus astronomy plus geology e.g Hutton’s clergy friends!! and so many all round Europe

james-hutton-caraciture

Though some, but fewer as time went on, and popular commentators did not always agree.

It was expressed wonderfully in Haydn’s oratorio The Creation

Here is a brief account of mine on developing understandings of Genesis One, from Chaos of Ovid to Geology.

Genesis Chapter 1 and geological time from Hugo Grotius and Marin
Mersenne to William Conybeare and Thomas Chalmers (1620 – 1825)

Please open to read the whole chapter………….

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Evangelicals and Science; The Rise of Creationism 1961 -2007, Chapter 7

By 1961 the issue of anti-evolution had apparently receded and left in the wilds of Dayton, Tennessee

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but then came back with a vengeance with the publication of The Genesis Flood by Henry Morris and John Whitcomb.

And so we have all animals on the ark, including (baby) dinosaurs.

ararat_or_bust

Slowly and surely like a heavily laden WWII bomber it took off and created havoc among evangelicals, first in the USA and then around the world.

Ken Ham is now the leader with his Creation Museum which has cameos of humans living with dinosaurs!!

51gBlHMEfwL__SS500_edendinos

The core work is The Genesis Flood published in 1961, written by Morris, a hydraulic engineer and Whitcomb an Old Testament bible college teacher.

Image result for henry morrisImage result for j c whitcomb

Evangelicals were slow to review it but here is the best of the critical reviews

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/01/03/the-genesis-flood-a-revue-in-1969of-the-creationist-pot-boiler/

I attempt to give a history, an exposition and criticism of the content of YEC and then a bit on Intelligent Design. Here is a blog on the Church of England and Creationism.

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2014/02/27/the-church-of-england-and-creationism/

However it is not the only evangelical understanding of science as chapter 8 will show. But now open this link for a brief account of Creationism from 1961

Chapter 7; The Rise of Creationism

GNWD018C07_p165-200

Atheists make a pig’s ear of the history of Geology – just like Creationists!!

The one certainty about Christmas Day is that Jesus was not born on that day. Others were, including some great scientists. The most well-known was Isaac Newton who got into calculus after an apple fell on his head. It was not a Pink Lady, nor was it a golden delicious.

Another was William Smith a great geologist who was born in 1769. He epitomises the symbiotic relationship of geology and industry, which the William Smith expert par excellence, Hugh Torrens, reckons is often overlooked by those who focus on the learned savants who never soiled their hands by working in industry, whether canals, coal mines or in drainage. Smith did all three and was guided by practical concerns rather than academic ones. As a result his interest in geology was practical and not theoretical.

Smith was born into humble origins and after a little schooling got employment with a surveyor, Edward Webb, in 1787. He progressed rapidly and a few years later moved to near Bath to assist in the construction of two canals running almost parallel to each other.  It was there that he recognised strata  AND their fossils appeared in the same order. Not for him were theories of the earth, the age of the earth and other geognostical speculations. All that mattered was to use his empirical information to further his work in enabling the transport of coal from the mines to Bath and beyond. His theoretical ideas were limited. For most of the 1790s he thought the earth was but a few thousand years old and that was the age of the strata! These strata were gently dipping to the east and he believed they were originally laid down at that angle a few thousand years ago. Despite the fact he independently worked out the principle of faunal succession of fossils along with the educated savants Cuvier and Brongniart over in Napoleonic France, he never saw his findings as giving the history of an ancient earth until the fin de siecle when the Rev Benjamin Richardson enlightened him and led him away from bishop Ussher.

After something went wrong Smith left the company in 1799 and spent many years getting work as a drainage engineer and in the course of his travels found enough evidence to publish his famous map in 1815, which is incredibly accurate.

William Smith's A Delineation of the Strata of England and Wales with part of Scotland (1815)

That nearly broke him and broke he became later and spent time in a debtor’s prison. On his release he moved to Yorkshire and with his nephew John Phillips forged a new life and set Phillips up as a top-notch geologist. A few decades later Phillips became geology professor at Oxford despite having no degree. Not that you’d realise that from Phillips’ geological work.

In 1831 Smith was given belated recognition by the Geological society of London and he died in 1859.

There is, sadly, no decent biography of Smith, but Hugh Torrens has published extensively and republished Phillips’ hagiographic inverse nepotistical biography in 1844 in 2003, with two chapters of his own. It is probably the best source on Smith and his work.

The biography by Simon Winchester The map that changed the world (2001) is frankly woeful, as summed up in a review I wrote in 2001

Simon. B. A. Winchester. The Map that changed the world (The tale of William Smith and the birth of a science
London: Viking, 2001. 338pp. hb. £12.99. ISBN 0–670–88407–3
Over the last few years there have been several popular works on the history of science and Simon Winchester has produced a very readable life of William Smith, the “Father of English Geology”. The author is both a geologist and a journalist and brings both skills to his book. (His geological background is almost identical to mine as he was two years my senior at university and began work in a Ugandan mine.)
            William Smith is one of the many neglected scientists, whose significance is not widely known. His story is accurately and well told and makes a gripping read, how a canal engineer laid down the basis of geological correlation thus enabling the strata to be put into historical order. Smith was a canal engineer and developed his understanding of fossils in the strata in the coal seams and canals near Bath, before travelling the length of England. The book details his travails in publishing his map in 1815, his spell in a debtors’ prison and how his work was plagiarised by George Greenough. At the end of the 1820s Smith was befriended by clerical geologists such as Sedgwick and Buckland, who enabled him to be given the recognition he deserved. To know more simply read the book.
            However Winchester’s book suffers from two weaknesses. First, he makes too much of a hero of Smith and ignores his contemporaries thus giving the impression that Smith is the father of geology and not only the “Father of English Geology”. The crucial decades for the growth of geology was from 1780 to 1800, as advances were made simultaneously throughout Europe. Winchester gives a little recognition to Hutton and the much-maligned Werner (whose work is now being recognised and who also attempted a map of his homeland), but does not refer to de Saussure of Geneva and the Frenchmen, Soulavie, Cuvier and Brogniart. Consequently the subtitle The tale of William Smith and the birth of a science gives insufficient recognition to the other numerous midwives of geology.
            Secondly, Winchester has a totally inaccurate understanding of the British churches in relation to the rise of geology and simply repeats, with exaggerations, the old myths that there was a mighty war of Genesis and geology in the early 19th Century. He refers to the “church” negatively some thirty times and it gets tedious. His prejudice surfaces most blatantly on p29, ‘The hunch that God might not have done precisely as Bishop Ussher had suggested,…, was beginning to be tested by real thinkers, by rationalists, by radically inclined scientists who were bold enough to challenge both the dogma and the law, the clerics and the courts.’’ Or to put not to fine a point on it, only those who were not Christians in any way. Here Winchester is writing of the 1790s a mere one hundred years after the Revd John Ray and Edward Lhwyd were questioning the age of the earth. In fact throughout the previous century most thinkers Christian or deist thought the earth was older than Ussher’s estimate. What is the dogma and the law which forbade suggestions of an old earth? Granted some clerics did hold to Ussher’s age but the vast majority did not. Lastly, who was under any threat from the law for holding to millions of years? How does Winchester explain that it was clerics Richardson and Townsend who spread Smith’s ideas and Playfair Hutton’s? In his discussion of the clerical trio Buckland, Sedgwick and Conybeare he manages not to mention that they were ordained and any reader of the book could be forgiven if he did not realise that Sedgwick was a devout evangelical cleric! Winchester simply cannot accept that a clergyman could actually accept geological ages without challenging his faith, as is evidenced by his comments on Lewis, who helped Murchison unravel the Silurian in 1831. He wrote,’Many of the … fossilists were …called divines – a curious happenstance, considering the assault that any intelligent understanding of fossils would later have on divinity’s most firmly held notions, like the Creation and the Flood. The Reverend Thomas Lewis of Ross–on–Wye is characteristic of the type:’ (p115) This can only be described as complete and utter nonsense, if not bigotry. The author has absolutely no knowledge of the doctrine of Creation or the Flood and is ignorant of how the clerical geologists actually thought. His section dealing with Ussher (p16–21) is both flippant and inaccurate and even gets the first day of creation on Monday 23 October (day one) and the creation of animals on the Thursday 26 October(day six)! Actually Ussher wrote, ‘Sexto die, Octobris vigesimo octavo’ and it was Friday the day before the Sabbath! This kind of lampoon is fine for Peter Simple in the Daily Telegraph but not for a serious Guardian journalist. Winchester has simply not grown out of the outworn conflict thesis of science and religion, which by now should have been rejected by any who dabbles in the history of science and Christianity. However it is a persistent myth which is propagated through a popular misunderstanding. This myth encourages both unbelief and creationism.

This book is a veritable curate’s egg, on Smith as a geologist it is OK, but as soon as he puts matters into religious context rotten as only a rotten egg can be! This could have been an excellent book.

Many of the … fossilists were …called divines – a curious happenstance, considering the assault that any intelligent understanding of fossils would later have on divinity’s most firmly held notions, like the Creation and the Flood. The Reverend Thomas Lewis of Ross–on–Wye is characteristic of the type:’ (p115)

Sheer coprolite of the first order. Nearly all of these clergy thought the earth was ancient, including Tom Lewis who basically handed Murchison the Silurian System on a plate or rather a rock exposure

Poor Winchester had a bee in his bonnet about how the church persecuted these terrible geologists. It makes a good read but is simply untrue. The trouble is that people read AND BELIEVE Winchester’s book, as did the blogger from the FFRF (Freedom From Religion Foundation ) for Smith’s birthday this year.

https://ffrf.org/news/day/dayitems/item/14358-william-smith?fbclid=IwAR0ml8UlQuVDlmpbqKShWbQWawukS5xg98S8YAfWzcMKF13wP4n0TxF2oYI

William Smith

William Smith

On this date in 1769, William Smith, known as the “Father of English Geology,” was born in Oxfordshire. Smith, who trained as an apprentice surveyor, single-handedly produced the world’s first geological map in 1815 of England, Wales and part of Scotland, spending 15 years on the project.

Smith, “whose agnosticism was well known,” according to biographer Simon Winchester (The Map That Changed the WorldWilliam Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology, 2001), produced a “map that heralded the beginnings of a whole new science … a map that laid the foundations of a field of study that culminated in the work of Charles Darwin. It is a map whose making signified the start of an era, not yet over, that has been marked ever since by the excitement and astonishment of scientific discoveries that allowed man at last to stagger out from the fogs of religious dogma, and to come to understand something certain about his own origins and those of the planet.”

Winchester also noted: “For the first time the earth had a provable history, a written record that paid no heed or obeisance to religious teaching and dogma, that declared its independence from the kind of faith that is no more than the blind acceptance of absurdity.”

Smith went bankrupt in 1819, spending several weeks in a debtor’s prison, then worked as an itinerant surveyor for many years. Not until 1831 did the Geological Society of London conferred on him the first Wollaston Medal in recognition of his achievement. His fossil collection is housed in the Natural History Museum, formerly part of the British Museum, in London. He died in 1839 at age 70.

“In 1793 William Smith, a canal digger, made a startling discovery that was to turn the fledgling science of the history of the Earth — and a central plank of established Christian religion — on its head.”

—Publisher’s blurb, “The Map that Changed the World” (Harper, 2001)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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Though we have never met, Winchester and I have a very similar pedigree. He was two years ahead of me studying geology and thus learnt at the feet of the same teachers – who were a fantastic group. After Oxford he took a job as a geologist at Kilembe mines in Uganda, but only stayed a few months. Two years later I also took a job there on graduation and lasted a bit longer as I was transferred to South Africa. In both places I acquired similar nicknames, which I am not allowed to even mention today, though I am as proud of them as my african tribal name. I am not sure that my behaviour would have got a gold star from exponents of Critical Race Theory, but I am sure Martin Luther King and Alan Paton would have approved.

Let’s consider the howlers in this blog

“In 1793 William Smith, a canal digger, made a startling discovery that was to turn the fledgling science of the history of the Earth — and a central plank of established Christian religion — on its head.”

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I must ask “what Central plank”?  Clearly it means that in 1800 the churches, and especially the Church of England, reckoned the earth was less that 6000 years old and made Ussher’s 4004BC an item of faith. That is simply untrue as first 4004BC was never an item of faith and secondly by 1780 most educated clergy and bishops followed the geological savants and accepted a vast age of the earth. Some were actually practising geologists eg Michell of Cambridge and the trio of clergy from Bath, Warner, Richardson and Townsend, who worked with Smith from 1798 or so.

Smith, “whose agnosticism was well known,” 

It is very difficult to work out Smith’s religious beliefs, due to so little written evidence and there is no evidence for this statement. Neither Torrens nor I have got very far on it. One thing is absolutely clear from Torrens’ work is that when Smith worked out his principles in about 1793-6 he thought that the earth was but a few thousand years old and it took a trio of vicars to dissuade him!!! In 1814 Smith arranged for his nephew, Phillips to stay with Rev Benjamin Richardson and be educated, Phillips was always a good churchman.

map that heralded the beginnings of a whole new science … a map that laid the foundations of a field of study

This is twaddle. The new science went back to Steno in the 1660s

For the first time the earth had a provable history

This was a mayor issue in the 1790s when geological savants knew the earth was ancient but couldn’t give a history. Smith in 1793 thought the earth was young and that the strata he saw were laid down in a particular order at the time of creation. As torrens said it was a “Timeless Order” and only later courtesy of the 3 revs, but a  history into and thus producing something akin to Cuvier and Brongniart on the Paris Basin

the excitement and astonishment of scientific discoveries that allowed man at last to stagger out from the fogs of religious dogma

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Facepalm! It was well-known long before the earth was ancient and a young earth was not part of religious dogma. Silly man.

“For the first time the earth had a provable history, a written record that paid no heed or obeisance to religious teaching and dogma, that declared its independence from the kind of faith that is no more than the blind acceptance of absurdity.”

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Another faceplam. SBAW simply ignores the whole development of geology from the time of Steno, both in Britain and the Continent. My favourite howler from Winchester, not cited here,  is on p29;

The hunch that God might not have done precisely as Bishop Ussher had suggested,…, was beginning to be tested by real thinkers, by rationalists, by radically inclined scientists who were bold enough to challenge both the dogma and the law, the clerics and the courts.’’

There are so many historical errors here. Savants started to question 4004BC or rather an earth a few thousand years old with Ray

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and Lhwyd in the 1680s – both were “real thinkers” and Ray was a clergyman, unlike some products of the Oxford Geology Dept. It’s remarkable how many of the “radically inclined scientists” were Christians and even clergy. A young earth was not the dogma of the church, as few of the churches ever defined it and definitely not the Church of England (or Scotland) and there was no court case against geologists suggesting deep time.

‘The hunch that God might not have done precisely as Bishop Ussher had suggested,…, was beginning to be tested by real thinkers, by rationalists, by radically inclined scientists who were bold enough to challenge both the dogma and the law, the clerics Jacobus_ussherand the courts.’’

Poor SBAW, very few after 1656 actually agreed with Ussher and by 1780 most educated people , including most clergy, thought the earth was a wee bit older. Americans, please note, I am english!! There were simply no court cases, or even threats of one.

I am afraid this quote has had me chuckling for two decades on the cluelessness of some educated at top universities, but sadly many think that Winchester is right on what he writes about.

Usually I pull up Creationists for their inaccurate history but now do the same to a respected journalist, OBE and American citizen.

Fourth Law

That this blog is found on the atheistic Freedom from Religion Foundation website shows that secularists can make as big a pig’s ear of the history of science and science’s relation with Christianity as any Creationist. I’d have thought that Jerry Coyne, Dawkins, Steve Pinker and Dennett would not approve of such a shoddy article.

Useful References;

My book Evangelicals and Science;   chapter 5 deals with period and these geological Christians!  https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/12/07/evangelicals-and-science-part-5-of-12/

Hugh Torrens; Timeless Order; William Smith and the search for raw materials. In Lewis and Knell, The Age of the earth from 4004BC to AD2002. Geol Soc of london special Publication no 190.

Memoirs of William Smith, John Phillips,  ed Hugh Torrens 2003

Martin Rudwick Earth’s Deep History Chicago Univ Press 2014

And

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Sorry Ken, Young Earth pseudoscience was invented by Seventh Day Adventists.

Ken Ham gets Vischious on Phil Vischer’s dismissal of YEC as Seventh Day Adventist

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Ken Ham has recently got all upset by Phil Vischer’s comments on twitter stating that YEC comes from the Seventh Day Adventist ideas of George McCready Price in his book The New Geology of the 1920s.

https://answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2020/12/19/phil-vischer-veggietales-creator-responds/?fbclid=IwAR0FvNdicbQd-8BROtEcaXMgmjmTdsi7d6cIHYHK42Er3y-VvxCUkzQLp4w

Young Earth Creationism is a new-fangled pseudoscience movement with no roots in the past beyond the prophecies of Ellen White in the 19th century.

Here’s what Ken didn’t like;

I also wanted to make a correction to a false statement he made implying where my beliefs about Genesis originated. Vischer stated:

It’s the idea of evolution and millions of years being added into the Bible that’s new!

This is simply not true. The scriptural geologists, as they’re called, were defending the historicity of Genesis and a global flood a century before A New Geology was published—and they were using many of the same scriptural arguments we use today because  God’s Word hasn’t changed!

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Poor Ken , so wrong on so many counts. Let’s consider them in depth. (If you are lazy just read my brief script, but if you are not indolent you can read all the links to get a full story.)

The classic long account of the origins of Creationist is in Ron Numbers The Creationists, -an excellent book – but here is a short account I wrote in 1985 and won’t change much of what I wrote!

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The so-called Scriptural Geologists were a group from 1817 to 1855 in England who opposed geology as they didn’t accept a long timescale. They started from a literal interpretation of the Bible insisting Genesis spoke of 6 24 days, all strata laid down in the flood , no death before Adam and Eve scrumped some apples etc.

ararat_or_bust

Their geological incompetence was considerable, and apart from one, George Young, none wielded a geological hammer . Mortenson describes them in his Ph D thesis and book  – on AIG website as   “British Scriptural Geologists in the First Half of the Nineteenth Century”  It’s hilarious to find Mortenson saying most were competent geologists. They weren’t, whether by today’s standards or those of 1830. . Just read what I say about Fairholme on p115-6 from my book

GNWD018C04_p83-112 .

Anyway thanks to efforts of Sedgwick and Buckland these Scriptural Geologsits had gone extinct from 1855 and after that any British Christian with a little education accepted geology. not so in the USA as many slave supporting theologians were biblical literalists!! These two were Anglican clergy who were two of the leading early 19th century geologists.

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Read Adam Sedgwick’s battles with younger earthers from 1830 to 1844. It was a fun paper to write.

sedgwick

In fact, before the rise of uniformitarian (slow and gradual) geology, the overwhelming view of fossils was that they were the result of the global flood!

Again simply untrue.  Uniformitarianism took effect after 1831 with Lyell and with Hutton earlier. However many geologists before 1831 were not uniformitarian and from 1780 or so.  Virtually no geologists from 1770 or so accepted fossils were the result of the Flood. In England think of Smith (after 1798),

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Rev  Michell, rev Richardson, Rev Townsend, Revs Conybeare, Rev Sedgwick , Rev Buckland, Rev Henslow (all Anglican clergy), de la Beche, Phillips,  Greenough , Murchison, Otley, Brogniart, Cuvier  just for starters. I could give some more if I bothered. For more read Martin Rudwick (a Christian) Earth’s Deep History.

Vischer has simply not done his homework—a simple search on our site reveals articles such as “Where Did the Idea of Millions of Years Come From?

Loads of mistakes here . Too many to list or discuss.

it’s the idea of evolution and millions of years being added into the Bible that’s new!

No, deep time was first suggested by Llwyd and Ray in the 1680s and many after that. Few scientists disagreed with deep time  after 1780.

And as for me personally, my father and I were dealing with the creation/evolution issue and what God’s Word in Genesis teaches when I was in grade six (at age 11) at school. The pastor of the church we went to started teaching evolution from the pulpit. My father was very upset and challenged this pastor using God’s Word in Genesis. Then at age 13, when in grade 8 at high school, we were using the latest science textbooks that presented naturalistic evolution as fact. My father and I discussed Genesis and that evolution did not mesh with God’s Word. It was because of an understanding that Genesis is God’s Word and is written as literal history that formed what I believe about creation—God created in six literal days about 6,000 years ago. Believing in a young earth is a consequence of what we believe Genesis taught. It had nothing to do with some Seventh Day Adventist, as Vischer claims. And I should know—I was there when my father and I discussed these issues. I held these creationist beliefs long before I ever read The Genesis Flood by Whitcomb and Morris. In 1974, before I had even heard about The Genesis Flood book, I read a small booklet from England that dealt with the issue of death. How could the fossil record have been laid down before man sinned when it’s a record of death, disease, bloodshed, and suffering? I saw this as a powerful theological argument against millions of years before I ever read The Genesis Flood.

Yes, I met a 400lb American baptist missionary in Uganda, and a pentecostal diamond driller in South Africa who were creationists and I bet they  hadn’t read The Genesis Flood.

I am afraid poor old Ham has got it wrong again and Vischer is essentially correct.

No, Young Earthers cannot claim that their brand of science-denying biblical literalism has roots in the early 19th century and before

With George McCready Price it comes from the “prophesying” of Seventh Day Adventism. It began to rear its head during the Scopes Trial and was a rumbling sore during the interwar years.

My book chapter on the Scopes years.

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and then the plagiarism of Price by Morris in his woeful geology in The Genesis Flood of 1961 and subsequent developments of increasingly bad science and intolerance.

My chapter considering many aspects of YEC and ID.

GNWD018C07_p165-200

and finally, consider how bad Morris’s geology was – and that of Answers in Genesis is no better. Here is an excellent review of The Genesis Flood by the Dutch geologist van der Fliert in 1969. If YECs were truly honest, they would have ditched the book.

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/01/03/the-genesis-flood-a-revue-in-1969of-the-creationist-pot-boiler/

If you want more read Young  and Stearley The Bible, Rocks and Time.

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To conclude; Vischer is right in his comments about Ham. Perhaps it’s time to see YEC as pseudoscience pretending to be the Gospel

Evangelicals and Science – part 5 of 12

Evangelicals and science in the Age of Revolution 1789-1850

This was a hectic sixty years, Napoleonic Wars, great advances in technology and science all over Europe. Selection is impossible, but here I have chosen “evangelical” issues partly based on a backward glance.

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That means a considerable focus on geology, as many British geologists were evangelicals, as were those who opposed geology.

This period saw the formation of the geological column; Cambrian, Silurian, Devonian etc, and a universal conviction of Deep Time

column+temp

Artwork by Ray Troll

Now read Chapter 4 of my book

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