Category Archives: bible

The punch up of science and religion?

Science and Religion


Throughout my thirty years in the ordained ministry I have always been surprised at the number of people who are baffled by how I can be both scientist and clergyman. Many are convinced that the two must conflict and this is as common among Christians as non–Christians. Once a liberal bishop asked me how I could be an evangelical and a geologist! In England, as in America, there is a deep–seated perception that science and religion are in conflict and one must choose one or the other.

Thus we need to ask two separate, but related, questions. First we need to ask what the actuality is. Have Christianity and science always conflicted in the past and do they conflict today? And if so, then how? And secondly, we need to ask what the perception is of the relationship of science and Christianity.

Now let’s look at one example and ask questions both about actuality and perception. From there we can consider other examples as well and consider the relationship over the last half a millennium. This example is of Christopher Columbus in 1492 shortly before he sailed across the Atlantic. Every high school student knows that theologians advised Columbus that he could not sail around the world because it was flat and he would sail off the edge. The common account is that Columbus had great difficulty in persuading the Roman Catholic theologians in Spain that the earth was spherical. The theologians were adamant that the earth was flat. However in the end the heroic Columbus persuaded the King to let him try despite the theologians. Off Columbus sailed and he landed in the New World and returned to tell the tale. The atmosphere of the whole incident is evoked by Joseph Chiari’s play Christopher Columbus (1979);

Columbus; The earth is not flat, Father. It’s round!

The Prior; Don’t say that!

Columbus; It’s the truth; it’s not a mill pond strewn with islands. It’s a sphere.

The Prior; Don’t say that; it’s blasphemy.


This perception is very deep–seated among people of all ages and education, but the actuality was very, very different. Only about two theologians in the previous thousand years believed in a flat earth. So where did this story come from? The writer Washington Irving fabricated it when he wrote a biography on Columbus in 1828. In this he included a long account that the sphericity of the earth was condemned at the Council of Salamanca. What a creative author! The truth is that the Council of Salamanca never occurred, but it was reported in the two classic works on the conflict of science and religion by Draper and White and has been repeated ever since. It is a prototypical example of an urban myth and most people in Britain and America believe it to be true. The actuality is that no theologian challenged Columbus about a flat earth. But the perception of what is true about Columbus is utterly false, and perniciously encourages the idea that science and faith are at loggerheads.

The perception that science and faith are mutually exclusive has had and continues to have a disastrous effect on our churches today. Rather than being simply a double bind, it is a triple bind as this perception militates against Christianity in three different ways.

First, it makes Christians very suspicious of science because they believe science intends to disprove the Bible, which encourages many to believe that if one studies science in-depth it may destroy a person’s faith. As far as the myth of Columbus goes this unsettles Christians and makes them doubt whether or not Christianity can be true.

Secondly, it makes some Christians think that only a liberal Christianity can be intellectually coherent. Thus to have a faith which is acceptable scientifically one must reject miracles, creation, and anything concerned with the supernatural elements of faith, including the Virgin birth and the resurrection. This is the appeal of the way–out ideas of Bishop Spong and other liberal Christians, who claim to incorporate science into their faith.

Thirdly it makes non–believers think that Christianity is rooted in anti–science and is thus anti–intellectual and rooted in Medieval superstition. Thus no intelligent being could possibly be a believer. Richards Dawkins and others repeat this like a mantra.


Conflict Thesis of Science and Religion


Science versus religion – the antithesis conjures two hypostatized entities of the later nineteenth century; Huxley St George slaying Samuel smoothest of dragons; a mysterious undefined ghost called Science against a mysterious indefinable ghost called Religion; until by 1900 schoolboys decided not to have faith because Science, whatever that was, disproved Religion, whatever that was.


So wrote the great Church Historian Sir Owen Chadwick on the common understanding of the conflict of science and religion in a send up of the clash between Thomas Huxley, Darwin’s Bulldog, and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce over The Origin of Species in 1860. Most accounts tell us that Huxley trounced the good bishop and made him look stupid. It is quoted frequently to show how the church has always opposed science with bigoted obscurantism. Even the BBC produced a re–enactment for television and the book Evolution, the triumph of an idea, which accompanied the PBS series on Evolution, repeats a similar story. Like many good stories it has only one fault and that is that it is wrong! Those who have studied all the evidence have found this to be a fabrication and a legend. The story was not told until thirty years after the event and it transpires that Huxley’s memories played tricks on him as he compiled his memoirs in the 1890s. In fact Huxley could hardly be heard and his friend Hooker had to take the bishop to task. Even so Wilberforce made some telling criticisms of evolution and was supported by scientists including Sir Benjamin Brodie – the President of the Royal Society.

Huxley was not alone in peddling this conflict of science and religion. Two of the foremost were the Americans J. W. Draper and Andrew Dickson White of Cornell University. White wrote a book The Warfare of Science with Theology, which is in the form of a historical account of the way the church has always opposed science from the time of Christ to 1895. The historian of science Colin Russell described the book as a ‘polemic tract masquerading as history’. That is an English understatement! It is a book which raises the blood pressure of many historians as, if you check out the references as I have, you promptly find misquotation after misquotation. Yet for over a century White’s book has encouraged people to believe that there has always been a conflict and is still in print and available on line. His errors are copied in other books, at times in a plagiaristic manner. They are then copied by students who expect to get high grades!

They re-surface frequently in a wide variety of writings – “pop” history of science, popular science (often written by atheists with an axe to grind), college, and even evangelical, surveys on the history of ideas, and many works by theologians and church historians (both liberal and evangelical). Usually these focus on one or more of three main issues;

  1. The Churches’ opposition to Copernicus and Galileo
  2. The Churches’ opposition to Geology around 1800.
  3. The Churches’ opposition to Darwin in 1860.

In many books Calvin’s opposition to Copernicus is cited from his commentary on Genesis where he refers to Psalm 93:1 and then asks, “Who will dare to place the authority of Copernicus above that of the Holy Spirit?” (I even have it in French!) This quote is not to be found in Calvin’s commentary on Genesis, nor is it to be found in any of Calvin’s writings. Calvin did believe the earth to be at the center of the universe, but he died in 1564, 21 years after Copernicus. His commentaries on Genesis and the Psalms were published in 1554 and 1557 – within 15 years of the publication of  de Revolutionibus. In the 1550s only a handful of people would have accepted Copernican ideas as anything other than a mathematical description. Yet the charge sticks, and generations of students are still taught such legends and I still put a red line through when a student quotes it. The Galileo myth is even stronger and was briefly discussed earlier.

In a previous section I discussed the rise of geology and the fact that many early geologists were Christians. Yet the common view is that the church opposed geology at every turn. A minority of vocal Christians did oppose geology from 1800 to 1850 but did not represent the mainstream of the churches or evangelicalism. Some years ago Simon Winchester, a journalist with an Oxford degree in geology, wrote a life of William Smith entitled The Map that changed the World. It became a best–seller and had rave reviews, but on many pages it lambasted the church for opposing geology. Winchester wrote on page 29, ‘The hunch that God might not have done precisely as Bishop Ussher had suggested [creation in 4004BC],…, 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.’ Winchester seemed oblivious to the fact that Smith’s main advisors and supporters were three clergymen, one an Evangelical. He does not mention which law forbade people to re–consider the age of the earth (assuming there was one!). The brief treatments in this chapter should demonstrate the falsity of his statement, but I wonder how many readers, Christian or not, will swallow his fabrications. Winchester is not alone as many writers repeat similar inaccuracies.

My favorite story about the response to Darwin in 1860 is what the Bishop of Worcester’s wife is supposed to have said, “Oh, my dear, let’s hope that what Mr Darwin says is not true. But if it is true, let us hope that it will not become generally known.” The source of this story is unknown and is regarded by many historians as an Urban Myth. Yet it appears on BBC documentaries about Darwin.

The Oxford biologist, Richard Dawkins, also is in error when he wrote in The Oxford Companion to Animal Behaviour, ‘… in 1862 the eminent physicist Lord Kelvin greatly worried Darwin by ‘proving’ that the …earth could not possibly be more than 24 million years. Although this estimate was considerably better than the 4004BC date then favored by churchmen…’p155 Apart from inaccuracies about Kelvin, Dawkins did not state which churchmen, presumably because he could not name any!

Sometimes when browsing in bookshops, I check history, theological and scientific books and usually find a few more examples of these alleged conflicts between science and faith. Unfortunately it is the minority who do not repeat these myths. We may ask what the effect is on the readers. I am sure that it re–inforces the popular perception that Christianity is in opposition to science. There is also a negative reverse side to the conflict thesis which, I believe, affects numbers of Christians for the best of motives. The effect here is to convince some Christians that much of science is wrong and atheistic in intent. The result is that Christians may be susceptible to believing the truth of any attack or demolition of science, which appears to contradict the Bible.


Refs J.H.Brooke Science and Religion, some historical perspectives, 1991, Cambridge University Press

Brooke and Cantor Reconstructing Nature, 1999, T & T Clark

**Denis Alexander Rebuilding the matrix, 2001, Lion (most readable of these!)

Lindberg and Numbers God and Nature, 1985, Univ of California Press

Lindberg and Numbers, When Science and Christianity meet,  2003 Univ of Chicago Press

And also the grossly unreliable

  1. D. White , The Warfare of Science with Theology, 1895 and reprints.


Influence of Science on Belief


Many Christians would be horrified that science can affect our belief and understanding of the Bible. It does, but it may be for good or ill. For example, there are many instances where archaeology illuminates the Bible and suggests that one interpretation is better than another. One simple example is that nature of the manger that Jesus was born in.  It was not a rustic log cabin but rather an extension carved into the limestone hillside of Bethlehem, which was common in that town.

On matters astronomical we will reject the type of astronomy suggested in Genesis 1 and Isaiah 40:22. It clearly depicted a flat earth with a firmament above, which was the common cosmology before 500BC. I do not think many will insist on a three–decker universe today! After doubts about Copernicanism until about 1650 hardly any theologians since then have opted for geocentrism. They accepted heliocentricity for scientific reasons and reckoned it was not important theologically. However it must be said that some Lutheran theologians did reject heliocentricity until the 19th century in the American Mid-West.


The question of the age of the earth is more problematic. Geologists have been categorical that the earth is millions of years old only from the late18th century. Before then there was no way of reckoning the age. So from the time of Christ until shortly before 1800 both “scientists” and theologians gave no clear answer as to the earth’s age. Thus a biblical commentator could do no more than guess and many left the question open. Thus for 1800 years commentators gave differing answers to this question. They also varied over their interpretation of the Bible. But by the early 19th century even the most conservative and evangelical commentators accepted the findings of the geologists and thus rejected a simple 6-day creation. To them geological findings eliminated one possible interpretation of Genesis.  They argued that this was no more significant than theologians who rejected geocentrism two centuries earlier. These include some of the most prominent evangelicals of the 19th Century – Chalmers, Candlish, Hodge father and son, B. B. Warfield, J. C. Ryle, Handley Moule, Gaussen among others. Several of these contributed to The Fundamentals of 1910 and are thus the earliest Fundamentalists.

Against this, some argued that science undermined the Christian Faith. From the time of Copernicus some Christians have thought that new science was a threat to faith. This is seen in some Lutheran reactions to Copernicus and the Inquisition’s opposition to Galileo. From the late 17th century until the middle of the 19th century a minority opposed early advances in geology on the grounds that it contradicted scripture, especially on the Creation and Flood. Thomas Burnet was criticized by some in 1690 because he suggested that the Days of Genesis might be longer than 24 hours, even though others put forward the same ideas. At the end of the 18th century some opposed geology in Britain and France. The major opposition to geology took place in Britain from 1817, when a small minority of Christian leaders argued that geology had to be wrong as it contradicted a literal Genesis and that the existence of animal death prior to the Fall negated the atonement. Most had no geological skills but a few had a smattering, and are variously termed Scriptural or Anti–geologists. They published a flurry of pamphlets and books, which were roundly opposed by leading evangelicals such as Sumner and Chalmers. However by 1855 hardly any Evangelicals still insisted on a literal Genesis. I give these two examples as they demonstrate a reaction against science by some Christians.

Since the 18th century various thinkers of an agnostic or atheistic persuasion have used science to undermine Christian belief, seeking to demonstrate that science has made faith untenable. Some argue that every scientific discovery since Copernicus has negated faith and here they adopt an extreme conflict of science and faith perspective. Such writers as Draper and White are typical, as are Jones and Dawkins today. Very often writers like these trot out the old stories of Columbus, Galileo, opposition to Geology and Darwin without much concern as to accuracy. As this is the dominant opinion of popular scientists today it molds the beliefs and perspectives of many and is often what is presented in the teaching of science at all levels from high–school to post–graduate.

Science has also affected the way that miracles are understood. Before the rise of science miracles were seen as acts of God and not given any explanation. David Hume changed that in the 18th century in his attack on miracles. The key was to define miracle as an event contrary to scientific law and his definition is now the accepted one. The Bible does not see miracles like this, as the Bible is prescientific, and considers them as particular acts of God. This is very clear in the treatment of “signs” in John’s Gospel. (In John’s Gospel miracles are always called “signs”.) This definition has taken root by Christian and non–Christian alike with unfortunate consequences. It has meant that the biblical miracles can be rejected as contrary to science and this has been the theme of much liberal theology since 1800. Some of the early examples are the re–writing of the New Testament to eliminate the miraculous by D. F. Strauss and F.C. Baur in the 1840s. From then on there has been a tendency to reject the Virgin Birth and Empty Tomb and bodily resurrection and if faith is retained the content is purely naturalistic and rejects the possibility of the miraculous. Thus today many Christians in mainstream denominations will reject core doctrines for being anti–scientific. Arthur Peacocke, a recipient of the Templeton Prize, argues very strongly that miracles have no place in the Christian faith as he believes God does not intervene in that way.  Questions about miracles are never far away when one considers the relationship of science and faith, but miracles have been given careful study by writers like C.S.Lewis, Colin Brown and Denis Alexander.


C.S.Lewis Miracles

Colin Brown Miracles and the Critical Mind

**Forster and Marston Reason, Science and Faith, 1999 Monarch, and on website


Genesis 1 to 11

When it comes to science, Genesis 1 to 11 is the locus of most controversy and confusion. There are basically four problem areas; a) the days of Genesis One, b) the Creation of Man and Woman En 1.26 – 2, c) the Fall of Man and the nexus of sin and death and d) the Flood.

As the focus of this volume is on the age of the earth, I shall only consider the first. I have already been sharply critical of those who falsely accuse Christians of hindering the rise of geology. In the two millennia of Christian history there has not been one fixed or even dominant interpretation of the Days of Genesis. The New Testament is silent on the matter and perhaps that should tell us not to make it a touchstone of orthodoxy. The Early Fathers of the first Five Christian Centuries were divided on the matter. Some took the days literally and reckoned the earth would last only 6,000 years as did Barnabas and Theophilus in the second century. Other writers including Augustine did not take the days literally. From this we may conclude that the duration of the Day is a secondary matter, unlike the Trinity and the Person of Christ which were the dominant theological questions of the early church. Further, at that time there was simply no geological evidence on the age of the earth, so people could only speculate from the Bible or various Greek and Roman myths.

The general opinion is that the Christian Church of whatever denomination believed Genesis literally until geological evidence forced them to reconsider the matter in the 19th century. Most writers claim that literalism and a young earth was the orthodox position until Chalmers succumbed to geology in 1802 and put forward his Gap Theory. Many secular and liberal Christian writers argue from this that the church was obscurantist and anti–science and thus Christianity had to bow the knee to science. Some liberal Christians like Bishop Spong use this as an argument as to why Christians must reject the authority of the Bible and discard most of the classical Christian doctrines. Some Christian writers argue differently and posit that to be orthodox in belief, as the church was before 1800, a Christian must believe in a literal Six-Day Creation. This almost pincer movement of atheists and liberal Christians on one side and young earthers on the other often makes it difficult for a Christian to claim that it is perfectly orthodox to believe in an old earth now and it was also orthodox to do so in 1800.

Though this is a very common perception, there was not a unanimous belief in a Six-day creation in the past. It is, of course, correct to say that most writers in the Reformation period and many until the early 19th century did believe that Creation took place in about 4000BC, but many did not. Sir Walter Raleigh (1552?-1618) in his History of the World (1614) written in the Tower of London considered the world to be created in about 4000 BC. Raleigh’s date was the same as that proposed by the Protestant reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546), the Roman Catholic Cardinal Bellarmine (1542-1621), and the devisor of the map projection, Mercator (1512-1594). A century earlier Columbus (1451-1506) was more generous with 5443 BC. These few dates show how widely accepted a date of 4000 to 5000 BC was for the origin of the earth. The majority of Protestant and Roman Catholic theologians concurred on about 4000BC and the Geneva Reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) typically reckoned “the present world is drawing to a close before it has completed its six thousandth year.”

As the Reformation progressed some developed a revamped Chiliasm, that is that the earth will last “six days” of one thousand years (a millennium) followed by the seventh chiliastic day  – the Millennium. In the early 1600s the Dutch Protestant theologian Josef Scaliger put creation at 25 October 3950 BC. (Autumn was a favored time for Creation, as the fruits would provide sustenance for the winter.) The best known Chiliaist was Archbishop James Ussher of Armagh (1581-1656). Ussher wrote Annales Veteris Testamenti in 1650, which was a solid piece of chronological scholarship in which he argued from historical grounds that Jesus was born in 4BC. But he is remembered for his date of creation – 4004 BC. Despite popular representations, he did not arrive at this figure from arithmetic applied to dates of patriarchs and other Old Testament figures. To Ussher there were six Chiliastic days of 1000 years apiece followed by the seventh day of the Millennium. There were four Chiliaistic days before Christ and thus Creation took place in 4004 BC, on the night before 23 October. Adam was created on 28 October. This date causes amusement to many, but the rest of Ussher’s chronology was very sound for the 17th century, as he was a careful scholar. ( figure n.) His chronological calculations for the rest of the Old Testament are close to today’s estimates. Had not Ussher’s chronology been inserted in many English Bibles from 1704, he would probably have been forgotten, except to historians who valued his careful work on most of the Old Testament. As a result Ussher’s date of 4004BC is even today regarded as official church doctrine until the geologists demonstrated the vast age of the earth.

And this is where the story stops for most, but it is where the story begins. We have already considered how geology and its arguments for a vast age developed from early beginnings in the late 17th Century. One of the features of the Renaissance as understood by the various churches was that all knowledge was part of a unified whole and thus ‘Biblical History’ was related to other spheres of knowledge both classical and modern. Thus Genesis was not considered in isolation but with reference to those classical writers like Heisiod who spoke about chaos. It was widely held that God first created chaos (identical with tohu vabohu – the ‘without form and void’ of Genesis 1:2) and sometime later re–ordered the chaotic creation in Six Days. This extended understanding of Genesis predates any scientific influence.  In the early 17th century the Arminian Hugo Grotius in The Truth of the Christian Faith in Six Books argued that ‘the most antient tradition among all Nations [Phonecian and Greek] is exactly agreeable to the Revelation of Moses’[1] and his work was later translated and widely available and used throughout Europe. Many later writers, like Nathaniel Grew, cited Grotius in support of a chaos of undefined duration. In 1624 Mersenne, priest–mathematician, wrote a massive commentary of early Genesis (size 18”x12”x5”!!) adding much mathematics to his exegesis which included many references to classical writers.[2] He also included a chaos of undefined duration.

Some decades later from the 1660s Steno, Ray, Woodward, Whiston and others began to study the earth and laid the foundations of geology. Several wrote Theories of the Earth, which built geology around Genesis 1 to 11. Most take these Theories as teaching a literal Six-Day Creation and Flood, but in fact they all speak of the initial creation of chaos, which lasted for some time. Burnett wrote of indefinite chaos, ‘so it is understood by the general consent of commentators’ and the commentator Bishop Patrick wrote of the duration of chaos that’ (I)t might be a great while’. A survey of these Theories and theological writings of this period show that most did not follow Ussher’s chronology and allowed more time for creation. I am tempted to call these writers MECs (middle–aged earth creationists). This view was the dominant one until after 1760, when an increasing number of writers, acknowledging geological arguments for a great age, interpreted Genesis accordingly. They did this in two ways. Some argued that the Days were indefinitely long – extending Whiston’s idea that the Days were each a year long. The Swiss geologist de Luc reckoned the days to be a few thousand years, but Buffon, who was no atheist or deist, argued for tens or hundreds of millennia. Others kept the Six Days of re–ordering and extended the duration of chaos to include all geological time. Thomas Chalmers classically expressed this in 1802 with his Gap Theory. All Chalmers did was to tweak the common interpretation of Genesis.

By considering the way these interpretations developed we can see that Christians did not suddenly realize in about 1800 that geologists were arguing for millions of years and then as a desperate expedient made up the Gap Theory or the Day–Age Theory in a last–ditch attempt to save Christianity from geologists. This is how it is often presented in popular books and websites. In fact, Chalmers’ Gap Theory is a gradual development over two centuries from Grotius’s apologetics, as he himself claimed.

Though there are theological problems with the Gap Theory it was the dominant view held by conservative Christians until the last thirty years when many began to insist on a literal Genesis. However forms of the Day Age theory and the Gap Theory have been held by Christians since the time of the early church which saves them from the charge of being sops to geological ages. During the 19th Century most evangelical Christians held to one or the other and that includes the architects of Inerrancy – the Princeton theologians Charles and Archibald Hodge and the great B.B.Warfield. Space forbids listing any others. Many of the contributors to The Fundamentals and early 20th Century Fundamentalists agreed with Hodge and Warfield. It is often not known that very few 19th Century Evangelicals took Genesis literally and denied geological ages.

However in the 21st Century we cannot consider Genesis independently of our understanding of modern science. That is the case, whether we are Christian or not, or whether we accept the findings of science or not. The result is that the options presented are often reduced to either accepting Genesis in a literal sense, or else bending or breaking Genesis to conform to the dictates of science and rejecting the “traditional” literal interpretation. A consideration of the history of the interpretation of Genesis One will prevent such a stark choice and much heartbreak.

Today several liberal theologians claim that before Darwin all took the Bible literally and now cannot. Thus today that means one can accept neither Genesis nor the rest of the Bible, thus the OT becomes folk tales about Israel and the NT is demythologised. The existence of Jesus is accepted but his Divinity, the Virgin Birth and any objectivity of the Resurrection are firmly denied. This is also the common fare of the humanist, atheist and confused unbeliever. The net result is a considerable scepticism and resistance to the Bible and Christ’s claims.



Forster and Marston Reason, Science and Faith


The Problem of Perception


Last year a colleague of mine was unjustly critical of American churches at a meeting. I confess to interrupting him and saying that this was racist. It stopped him in his tracks! He suffered from a false perception of American churches and only focussed on the bad. I have spent too much time with American Christians to allow such false perceptions to go unchallenged. Unfortunately false perceptions of America and her churches are rife in Britain, as are false perceptions about the British in America. It is essential to have a good knowledge of the other nation so we can see both the good and the bad in them and discern where the two nations are simply different.

There is also a serious problem of perception on the relationship of science and religion. The alleged conflict is often a matter of perception, and at times this perception can be fuelled by ideological concerns, especially by some with an atheistic axe to grind. Believing the atheist to be correct in their historical facts some Christians react and thus develop a perception, which perceives that science is anti–Christian. The two mis–perceptions feed each other and cause havoc both in churches and in the classroom.

One of my purposes in this short account of the history of changing concepts of science is to challenge false perceptions both by agenda–driven atheists and Christians as they have both done so much damage to the Gospel over the last century. Despite the fact that today there is so much good history of science (and its relationship with Christianity), whether by believers or not, it is simply overlooked and ignored by many Christians. There are many fine Christian historians of science who can help our understanding; Mark Noll, David Livingstone, Edward Davies, David Knight, the late Reijer Hooykaas, Colin Russell, Paul Marston, Martin Rudwick, Ted Larsen, and also many historians, who make no Christian claims, whose work is sympathetic and helpful; Geoffrey Cantor, Michael Ruse, Ron Numbers, Peter Bowler, Hugh Torrens. Perpetuating false perceptions mars much popular writing on the subject from non–believers and believers alike. The one presents scientists as anti–Christian and the other Christians as obscurantist bigots.




Very briefly, we have selectively looked at the development of science in the last 3000 years. It shows how we have moved from a pre– and non–scientific culture to one dominated by science. Particular emphasis has been given to geology and astronomy because of the implications on the age of the earth and the universe.

The development of the sciences has been put into the cultural and religious context of the time, so that any possible conflict can be seen in context rather than according to atheistic spectacles, which makes us judge the Christian Church in a negative way.

It cannot be denied that science causes a major problem to many Christians and that non–Christians often believe that science contradicts Christianity. As a result unbelievers believe that science has disproved faith and good numbers of believers hold that to be a Christian one must reject large parts of science. However by looking at the issues historically, the problem of perception is raised and identified. Here the whole issue is confused and inflamed by the Conflict Thesis of Science and Religion, which was introduced by 19th century polemicists like Draper and White. This misperception has been widely accepted and is used by atheistic popularizers to denigrate Christianity. Though the conflict thesis has been refuted by many historians, both non–Christian and Christian, it still forms the perception of the majority of people.

It is this false perception that does so much damage to the Christian Faith throughout the world. One of the purposes of this chapter is to change that misperception and recognize that in the past many of the scientists who developed their particular fields were devout Christians.

I will conclude with the epitaph to Adam Sedgwick, the greatest evangelical geologist of all, in the church of his birth at Dent in the Yorkshire Dales;













[1] Grotius, The Truth of the Christian Faith in Six Books tr John Clarke, 1719, section XVI

[2] Mersenne

Not 4004 BC. The Doctrine of Creation considered geologically.

Some years ago I was asked to write an Anglican view of creation for the Geological Society of London’s Special Publication on  Geology and Religion. 


Here it  is. My brief was to deal with the relationship of geology  to Christianity. Hence I omitted the important issue of the environment which would have required as much wordage again. Hence I only deal with the Geology/Genesis aspects and consider the variety of responses from the Sea of Faith, throught the (sane) views of those like Peacocke, Polkinghorne and McGrath and finally Creationism  in its various forms.


Needless to say Triceratops-riding Christians were never far away.

Caution Creationists3


Here is my chapter

An Anglican priest’s perspective on the doctrine of creation in the church today


How geology has changed in 350 years, with a snook to Creationists

From very early times people had observed and made use of the geological environment. Minerals have been mined for millennia and one of the earliest accounts of mining is to be found in Job 28.

1 “Surely there is a mine for silver, and a place for gold to be refined.
2 Iron is taken out of the earth, and copper is smelted from ore.
3 Miners put an end to darkness, and search out to the farthest bound the ore in gloom and deep darkness.
4 They open shafts in a valley away from human habitation; they are forgotten by travelers, they sway suspended, remote from people.
5 As for the earth, out of it comes bread; but underneath it is turned up as by fire.
6 Its stones are the place of sapphires, and its dust contains gold.
7 “That path no bird of prey knows, and the falcon’s eye has not seen it.
8 The proud wild animals have not trodden it; the lion has not passed over it.
9 “They put their hand to the flinty rock, and overturn mountains by the roots.
10 They cut out channels in the rocks, and their eyes see every precious thing.
11 The sources of the rivers they probe; hidden things they bring to light.
12 “But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding?
13 Mortals do not know the way to it, and it is not found in the land of the living.

The sheer number of mines in the ancient world shows just how much practical knowledge of rocks and minerals there was. There is a mine for copper and base metals near Mt Sinai which dates back to 1400 BC, which may well have provided the metals, needed for the tabernacle. Old Testament Cosmology reflects its origin in 500-1000BC


Many Greeks and Romans observed natural phenomena and Pliny was the first vulcanologist to be killed by a volcano in 79 AD, when he was helping people to escape from the eruption of Vesuvius.

Today Creationists reject all geology and suggest bizarre alternatives but none as humorous as this one


Out on a cycle ride pedalling over hills made of 330 my old Carboniferous limestone and smeared with Glacial Till some 20,000 years ago I saw this sign outside an Anglican church. It is both true and dishonest. Theories do change as this essay describes, but the purpose of the poster was to sow seeds of doubts and open the way fro Creationism.


Try another thought experiment in the year 1650. You are interested in fossils, minerals and rocks and wonder how they all got there. You are very well–read and can read all the Latin works on minerals, but you want to get back to the beginning. So you read the Bible with creation in six days and an enormous deluge. As many had worked out the Biblical Chronologies, with Ussher’s Annales Veteris Testamenti published in 1656 as the most famous, it was thought that the age of the earth was to about six thousand years.


And then there was the Deluge. Most people in Europe were aware of the devastating effects of floods. They were intimately acquainted with flooding of the Severn and Trent in England, the Seine, Rhine and Danube on the continent, not to mention flash floods in hilly areas. Sudden floods could not only wash away river banks and property, they could also leave thick deposits of sand and silt. A primitive understanding of sandstones and silts would compare them to mud and sand and thus it was believed they were deposited by water.

What would you conclude? You would think that the earth was not very old, humans had been around about 6000 years and that the Flood had mashed up the earth’s surface and could well have laid down strata, just as you had seen by a river bank. You have ended up with a fairly typical Theory of the Earth of the late 17th Century, which were produced by the dozen.

As savants (I use the French word as many of these highly educated writers were not scholars in the usual sense of the word, as some were men of means, others university professors or in secular employment.) began to look at the earth and its rocks after 1660, the formed stones or fossils began to be studied in earnest. Any substance embedded in a rock was called a fossil, whether they are human artifacts, minerals or plant– or animal– like objects. These formed stones became a center of controversy in the late 17th Century. Some argued that they were impressions of dead animals or plants and others denied it. What is obvious to us was not at all obvious then, as no one would expect plants or even sea–shells to be turned into stone. It was contrary to commonsense and observation. By the end of the century most savants accepted the organic origin of formed stones, but that created another problem. How could one explain fossils found at high altitudes, say at 2,000 feet in the limestones of Northern England or many thousand feet high in the Alps? Something watery had to deposit them there and the obvious culprit was the Deluge.

So by 1700 most savants in Europe reckoned the earth to be thousands of years old – probably somewhat older than Ussher’s date of 4004BC – and that most rocks were laid down by the Flood. To make it more plausible, Whiston and Halley suggested that a passing comet affecting the oceans caused the Flood, thus giving a naturalistic twist to this scriptural geology. Therefore until nearly 1800 most early geologists followed a Flood Geology model as this made greatest scientific sense to them.

The progress of geology appears to us to be painfully slow. Until 1760 the 18th Century was not a very fruitful period for geology but observers added to the knowledge of the earth. After mid–century many savants throughout Europe turned their eyes away from the stars above to the rocks below. Often the story is told that it was the heroic efforts of a few men like Hutton and Lyell who argued for an ancient earth in the face of virulent opposition from the church. That has the same truth content as the flat–earth story, even when put forward by learned scholars from Cambridge or Berkeley. It is perfectly true that some Christians opposed geology but most did not.

It is difficult to say exactly who first argued for an ancient earth in the 18th century as scientists were arguing for it in many European countries from 1760 to 1800. Like many scientific discoveries it was a culmination of previous work and no one scientist should take all the credit. It was a cross–fertilizing, trans–European venture with significant workers including Whitehurst, Hutton


and Smith from Britain, Buffon, Cuvier and Soulavie from France, de Saussure and de Luc from Switzerland and Werner and Blümenbach from Germany. There was considerable diversity between them, both in religious belief and scientific method. They differed on the age of the earth: de Luc and de Saussure favored an age of tens of thousands of years (MECs –Middle-aged Earth Creationists!) whereas Hutton, Buffon and Soulavie favored millions. However both of these views would be lethal to a young earth. Geologists were slowly piecing together very fragmentary evidence and there is no sense that any started from an assumption of an old earth in some kind of materialist opposition to the Christian Church. It would be truer to say that geologists started with young earth and flood geology assumptions and then changed them, as contrary evidence proved irresistible. A good example is Sir William Hamilton, plenipotentiary at Naples, who is best known to the British as the husband of Lord Nelson’s mistress, Emma. However before he married Emma in 1791 he carried out much research on Mt Vesuvius. He observed that in between many bands of lava was a band of burnt soil indicating sufficient time between volcanic eruptions elapsed to allow the formation of soil and vegetation. He concluded that the earth must be more than thousands of years old.

We move from Naples to Chamonix in the Alps. Henri de Saussure of Geneva was a great explorer of the Alps and the second to climb Mt Blanc. His Voyages dans les Alpes (1779-96) is a wonderful account of his explorations and geology. When he commenced his work he was convinced that the rocks in the heart of the Alps were those formed during the early stages of Creation. He began to question this as a result of his exploration of the Arve Valley from Geneva to Chamonix. This included ascending the precipitous Mt Buet (10,500ft) with a large barometer and Mt Blanc. Two places were of prime importance in convincing de Saussure of the earth’s vast age. First are the waterfalls at Nant d’Arpenaz, near Sallanches. Water plunges down a vertical cliff of over 1000 feet and the cliff is a synclinal fold of Mesozoic limestone rotated though 90 degrees. (Figure 3.) The second are vertical sediments (actually Ordovician) at Vallorcine 10 miles east of Chamonix. These were thought to be crystalline-like granite but de Saussure found rounded pebbles indicating water–erosion. Instead of crystalline “creation rocks” (i.e. those formed in the initial creation) followed by sediments, de Saussure now had older sediments underlying the newer sediments. He concluded that the earth had to be old but never speculated in print what the age could be and simply considered it to be “très vieille”.

Writers like de Saussure and Hamilton published their findings either in tomes or journals, which were widely read throughout Europe. During the last decades of the 18th Century the question was not whether the earth was considerably older than Ussher suggested, but whether its was millions of years old as Buffon, Fr Soulavie, Fr J. Needham (both Roman Catholic priests) and Hutton suggested or tens of thousands as de Luc and de Saussure posited. The choice was OEC or MEC!

So much for the age of the earth, but how were the rocks deposited? The proto–geologists of the 17th century were convinced of the major and, possibly, only cause – The Noachian Deluge. It is fashionable to make jest of this and to claim that this was the pernicious influence of the church. This is standard fare of the “pop” atheist but is rejected by any competent historian of geology. With Genesis as the only writing available, which spoke of the early story of the earth, it was almost inevitable that they should opt for the Flood. It made a tremendous amount of sense as no one had any inkling how old the earth was. The Flood could apparently explain how strata, which looked similar to river deposits, were formed and why fossils could be found on high ground. The realization of the true nature of fossils served to confirm this and thus until about 1830 the Flood was seen to be an important geological agent. Consequently, the many Theories of the Earth written in the 17th Century all emphasized that the strata with fossils were laid down by the Flood. As the 18th century wore on, several observers began to question it. In 1749 Buffon in his Histoire Naturelle questioned the flood arguments of Whiston, Woodward and Scheutzer and offended the theologians at the Parisian University of the Sorbonne. These theologians objected to Buffon minimizing the effect of the Flood rather than raising the age of the earth – a point which is often lost.

Towards the end of the 18th century some geologists, notably Hutton, ignored the Flood altogether. Others suggested the strata were deposited by  a succession of catastrophic floods, and that the Noachian Deluge was the last of many. After Lyell published his Principles of Geology in 1830, Whewell named Hutton, Fleming, Lyell and similar geologists Uniformitarians in distinction to the Catastrophists, who included George Cuvier, Jameson and many geologists on both sides of the Channel. Most notable in the 1820s were the English clergy –geologists Sedgwick, Henslow, Conybeare and Buckland who was reckoned to have believed in some fifty deluges! As a high proportion of strata (in today’s terms from the Cambrian to the Quaternary) was clearly deposited by water and contained marine fossils, multiple floods, or catastrophes, made sense. However by 1820 only the Quaternary deposits were regarded to be Noachian. As it turned out these were drift deposits formed during the Ice Age.

The differences of Uniformitarians and Catastrophists are often reduced to parody as if one group were reasonable scientists escaping the clutches of the churches and the other second–raters beholden to church dogma which insisted on the Flood. It is frequently claimed that Lyell enabled geologists to escape dogma and become free in their science, especially in regard to the age of the earth. This argument is wrong on several counts. First, all geologists sought to explain geological events by natural causes (even by comets causing floods) and by comparing present processes with what happened in the past, thus Catastrophists were uniformitarian in one sense. Secondly, both Uniformitarians and Catastrophists were equally convinced of the vast age of the earth. Thirdly, from 1780 to 1830 Catastrophists had made a larger contribution to geology than Uniformitarians, particularly on the Geological Column. And fourthly, many Uniformitarians, most notably the Reverend John Fleming were devout evangelicals.

So far, we have considered many aspects but not the historical order of strata, which geologists call the Geological Column. This is one of the most important interpretative constructs of all geology, but its origin even confuses many geologists. There are several principles behind its method. First there is the Principle of Superposition, which was grasped in the 1660s by Nils Steno, later a Roman Catholic Bishop. This simply states that in a pile what lies at the bottom was put there first and what lies on the top was put there last. Very obvious and very simple and inevitable because of Gravity. However the out–working of these principles is never easy because at times strata are folded or inverted. By 1790 i.e. before Cuvier and Smith


began to use fossils there was a rudimentary geological column with rocks in approximate order that gave us the Primary, Secondary and Tertiary strata in descending order of age. (diagram ex Laudun) The Primary rocks were mostly granites and gneisses and were thought to be the rocks of the original creation. (Remember that both Christians and Deists believed that God originally made the world.) These were overlaid by newer and newer rocks. It was relatively easy to work out a rough order where strata were more or less flat and folded rocks. Hutton was the first to work out The Principle of Cross–cutting Relationships and the occurrence of unconformities in the 1780s.

During the 18th Century many workers produced their tables of strata, but these remained rudimentary until the important breakthroughs of the 1790s. The German geologist Blümenbach worked out that animals and plants could go extinct – with great implications for the history of life. Also in that decade fossils were first used to work out the order of strata. The French say Cuvier and Brogniart were first with their work on the chalk (Cretaceous) around Paris, but the English claim priority with William Smith who mapped the limestones (Jurassic) around Bath. It is often portrayed that they used only fossils to work out the relative order of strata, but they could do this only because the strata were almost horizontal and the Principle of Superposition enabled them to work out the order of the strata in the first place. As they also noticed that certain fossils always appeared in the same order, they realized that the order of fossils was a historical sequence. If they then went somewhere else and found those fossils they could correlate them with those they had already found. By 1799 Smith had worked out the succession of strata from the Coal Measures (Pensylvanian) to the Chalk. This he improved in 1816, when his new Geological Column was essentially that of 1860 and today. (see Figures 4 and 5 ) In his work Smith was encouraged by three Anglican clergy – Warner, Richardson and Townsend. What is often not known is that in 1797 Smith believed all rocks were laid down at the same time, i.e. about 6000 years ago but by 1805 realised that the earth was ancient. With these breakthroughs using fossils the elucidation of the history of the earth and the Geological Column could begin in earnest. It is often claimed that the use of fossils in dating rocks and producing the Geological Column is a case of circular argument from evolution. As Cuvier and Brogniart were dogmatic anti–evolutionists and Smith knew nothing about it, that charge is falsified. Fossils are not absolutely necessary to elucidate the order of strata as I found when I mapped a large area of fossil–free Precambrian in South Africa, by working out which strata lay above another, and working out the displacement due to faults.

From then on geologists gradually began to work out the Geological Column and tried to work upwards and downwards from the Jurassic and Cretaceous. They used a mixture of the Principle of Superposition and the use of index fossils. By the 1820s they had worked out most of the strata from the Carboniferous (Mississipian and Pennsylvanian in the United States) to the top of the Cretaceous, but had problems with the Permo–Trias (New Red Sandstone) owing to the lack of fossils. What was above and below defied them. The newer strata – the Tertiary – did not contain easily identifiable stratigraphic units and the fossil contents of different layers seemed to merge into each other and contained some forms living today. In 1831 Adam Sedgwick


and Roderick Murchison began to work on what are now the Cambrian, Ordovician and Silurian rocks of Wales. Sedgwick worked on the Cambrian in Snowdonia where the strata contained few fossils and were heavily folded and thus relied more on the principle of superposition. Murchisons’s task was easier as he found more fossils and encountered less folding. He was also fortunate to have a Shropshire vicar the Reverend Thomas Lewis, a former pupil of Sedgwick, to direct him to sections passing down from the Old Red Sandstone (Devonian) to the older strata which he termed Silurian. Murchison, to his shame, never gave full recognition to Lewis. The work was slow and laborious and resulted in fractured relationships between Sedgwick and Murchison and was only completed after their deaths when Lapworth suggested the Ordovician to lie in between the Cambrian and Silurian. What is not widely known is just how many of the early 19th century geologists were devout Christians, including several evangelicals such as Sedgwick, Fleming, Lewis and Townsend.

By about 1850 the whole of the geological column was more or less worked out and it is almost identical to what we have today. (Figure 5.) The main differences are some name changes of stages and the recognition that parts of the Cambrian and Silurian are now Ordovician. The whole succession of life from the base of the Cambrian was also worked out. Up to then there had been little work on the Precambrian and much of that waited until the 20th Century. From reading this you may think that the Geological Column is of only local value as initially it was worked out in Britain and the European mainland. However, the same sequence was found throughout Europe and, given local variations, is the same throughout the world. I had its universal validity demonstrated to me while teaching geology for Wheaton College in the Black Hills. Almost all strata from the Precambrian to the Tertiary are present in a small area. Very quickly I could make sense of the geologic succession by comparison with British formations, as they were remarkably similar. Even the fossils were similar. I found the same comparison in the Grand Canyon the year before. By 1850 geology had come a long way in two hundred years, but no one had any idea of the real age of the earth. It would be correct to say that in the 17th Century geologists started with the assumption of a young rather than an old earth and during the 18th century were forced, by geological evidence to accept an old earth. Until 1910 there were many guestimates, both educated and uneducated, on the age of the earth. From the middle of the 18th century it was clear that the earth was more than a few thousands of years old, but how old was not known.


The authors of the various Theories of the Earth reckoned the earth to be thousands of years old – older than Ussher suggested but not much. Two who broke loose from the Theories of the Earth were de Maillet and Buffon. Benoit de Maillet (1656-1738) was a French diplomat who wrote Telliamed: or conversations between an Indian philosopher and a French missionary in 1748. It was an odd work both accepting mermaids and that the earth to be over two billion years old. The second was Buffon, born as Georges-Louis Leclerc (1707-88), the Keeper of the Jardin du Roi in Paris. He published many volumes of Histoire Naturelle. Buffon also carried out experiments on the cooling of red-hot globes of iron and then applied his findings to the cooling of a globe the size of the earth and estimated the age of the earth to be about 75,000 years.  In unpublished manuscripts Buffon reckoned the earth to be 3 million years old.

By 1800 many thought that the age of the earth was millions of years, yet no precise figure could be given. Twenty years later, the eccentric British clerical-geologist William Buckland (1784-1856) was reckoning “millions of millions” of years.


There was no concerted attack by the church as most educated Christians happily accepted geologists’ findings, which was not surprising as many were clergy. When Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859, the vast, but unspecified, age of the earth was as established as heliocentricity. The Reverend Samuel Haughton (1821-97), Geology Professor at Dublin and an ardent opponent of Natural Selection, suggested that 1,526 m.y.(million years) had passed since the beginning of the Cambrian, three times the present figure. That was too cavalier for William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin), who believed in the precision of physics. From 1855 Kelvin reckoned the age of the earth to be no more than 100 m.y. With the authority of physics against them, most geologists succumbed.

In the 1880s Kelvin reduced his estimates to about 24 m.y. and for a half-century from 1860, few geologists dared to suggest more than 100 m.y. for the age of the earth. In 1860, John Phillips (1800-74), nephew of William Smith and geology Professor at Oxford, suggested 96 m.y. He estimated that the rate of deposition today is one foot in 1,332 years. As the estimate of the thickness of fossiliferous strata was 72,000 ft, that made about 96 m.y. This date gave credence to Kelvin’s 1868 estimate of 100 m.y.  Though rates of deposition were very much guesses the thickness of strata in the various periods are good indication of the relative length of the periods. Despite this great disparity of estimates, the one agreement was that the age of the earth was to be measured in millions of years. This was shared by most Christians, including the evangelicals, whose ideas of time were included in the booklets published in 1910, entitled The Fundamentals.

While Kelvin was shrinking the age of the earth, the French physicist Henri Becquerel (1852-1908) discovered radioactivity in 1896. Radioactivity had two major implications for the age of the earth. The first was that radioactive decay created immense energy, thus negating Kelvin’s arguments for a cooling earth. The second was that radioactive elements could be used to measure time as they disintegrated at a fixed rate – known as their half-life.   In 1905 the English physicist John William Strutt, later Lord Rayleigh (1842-1919) showed that a mineral containing radium was 2 billion years old because of its helium content. In the same year Bertrand Boltwood suggested that Lead may be the end product of the decay of uranium and calculated the ages of 43 minerals from 400 to 2,200 my. The radiometric dating game had begun.


Arthur Holmes and the Age of the Earth

For the next fifty years the most innovative geologist on the dating-game (and on plate tectonics) was Arthur Holmes.


He wrote many articles on geological time and several editions of a short, but profound book The Age of the Earth in 1913, 1927 (this edition cost sixpence) and 1937. In 1913 he based his work on three Uranium-Lead results from the Paleozoic. Combining this with the thickness of sediments, he estimated the base of the Cambrian to be 600m.y., remarkably close to present figures of 550m.y. Whatever flaws there were in his early work, they show remarkable geological insight. As time wore on the number of age determinations multiplied and is now almost infinite. A study of Holmes’s work over half a century (as carried out by Cherry Lewis) shows how an initially tentative scientific theory can be gradually supported by strong experimental data.

Initially Holmes reckoned the age of the earth to be under 2 billion years, but from 1946 this was seen to be nearer 4.6 billion, with the Cambrian commencing in about 550-590 m.y., with the lower estimate being accepted today. Despite the many refinements and explosion of methods and age determinations, this figure has remained the same for half a century. There are three basic methods of determining the age of the earth. The first is to date the oldest rocks on earth, as this will give a minimum age of the earth. The ages of the Amitsoq gneisses of Greenland, first “dated” by the Oxford geologist Stephen Moorbath and others in the early 1970s, have not yet been bettered.  The five methods used give an average of 3.65 billion years, with a variation of less than 0.1 b.y. either way, which is about 2%. Nearby the Banded Ironstones give ages of 3.8 b.y. These are for whole rocks and in the last ten years minute fragments of detrital Zircons in early Precambrian sediments have given ages up to 4.4 b.y. indicating that the grains may have been formed at that time yet deposited by water about 3 b.y. ago. That indicates that the earth had cooled to form a crust with 200 M.y. or so from the formation of this planet. The second are the ages of meteorites, which give ages between 4.5 and 4.7 b.y.  The second are the ages of meteorites, which give ages between 4.5 and 4.7 b.y. The third is more theoretical and is to determine “model lead ages” from the decay of uranium into lead for the Earth, Moon and meteorites. It was developed independently by Holmes and Houtermans in 1946. (For a more technical discussion read Dalrymple, The Age of the Earth.)

The greatest advance in the late 20th Century was the discovery of plate tectonics and its precursor continental drift. Though this came to be geological orthodoxy in the 1970s, Wegener, Holmes


and du Toit were suggesting continental drift from the fit of continents in the 20s and 30s. Most significant was the matching–up of the geology of Africa and South America. To give an example, I worked in the Precambrian strata near the mouth of the Orange River in South Africa. When a geologist friend returned from Uruguay I was able to describe to him the Precambrian geology of Uruguay, without having been there or read a book on the subject. The discovery of subduction and ocean floor spreading turned old ideas of continental drift into a highly plausible theory. Plate tectonics has a superb explanatory power and explains so many geological riddles of the past. As a result it has come to be seen as the over–arching theory of geology and has unified the somewhat disparate geology of the last 200 years.



Rudwick The Meaning of Fossils, 1972 London

Young, Davis, & Stearley; The Bible, Rocks and Time  IVP 2008

The Biblical Flood, 1995, Eerdmans

Roberts, M Evangelicals and Science 2008 Greenwood

  1. J. Gould, Time’s Arrow, Time’s Cycle, 1988 Viking

** A. Cutler, The Seashell on the Mountaintop, 2003. (A readable and superb biography of Steno, a 17th century geologist and anatomist.)

  1. Winchester, The Map that changed the World, 2001, Penguin (Readable, but anti-Christian)


Historical Box

Geologist                           Dates                                 Contribution                             Religion

Steno                               1638-1686                             Principle of superposition       RC Bishop

Ray                                 1627-1705                            Hints of older earth                   Minister

Buffon                            1707-1788                          Great age                                     Nominal RC

J-L Soulavie                1752-1813                             Great age                                    RC Priest

de Luc                         1727-1817                            Much geology                               devout Prot

Werner                       1749-1817                           Much geology                              ?prot?

Hutton                         1726-1797                         Unconformities etc                     Deist

Smith                           1769-1839                         Use of fossils                               anglican?

Cuvier                         1769-1832                          Fossils, strat,                                nom prot

Sedgwick                    1785-1873                          Cambrian etc                              Evang clergy

Buckland                     1784-1856                          fossils, ice age                          Anglican clergy

Lyell                            1797-1875                         Uniformitarianism                        Unitarian

Murchison                   1791-1871                          Silurian                                        nom Anglican

Thomson (Ld Kelvin) 1824-1907                   Physicist, age of earth                     Presbyterain

Holmes                        1890-1964                   Radiometric dating                            none



The Transfiguration of Jesus and Brocken spectra

One of the most wonderful sights in the mountains is a Brocken spectre. It is a glorified shadow of a person caused by refraction of low-angle sunlight through wispy, foggy cloud. I’ve just killed the beauty and wonder of the Brocken Spectre . Here’s wiki on it It is named after the Brocken , a peak in the Harzgebirge in Germany.

They are most common in British hills in winter, when wispy clouds play with rays from the weak winter sun. I have only seen three. The first two were on January days on Foel Grach and Y Garn in Snowdonia some twenty years ago. I remember the spectre waving his ice axe at me.  That axe came from Chamonix.

My next was just after Christmas 2016. It was a perfect late December day  and so I drove to the Temperance Inn  beyond Sedbergh and set off to climb the Howgill Fells. I walked up a glacial valley to the foot of Cautley Spout and had a stiff climb to the top, watching out for ice.


At the top of the falls I left the path , jumped a stream and headed up this hill. The views were great.


As I got near the top I was met with a little snow and wispy cloud. It was time for a photostop. I look back northwards over my route, where I contemplated that I could be spending the rest of my life descending a steep slope.  I turned round savouring the view to the north east and Great Baugh Fell, and…………


Wow and wow!! It was a Brocken spectre whichj gave me a much justified halo.


I clicked away…


and the spectre faded and went, almost as quickly as it had come.


and so to the top, which was almost an anticlimax.


and so to the descent finding that old knees and ice don’t mix.


It was a fantastic day.

As I reflected on the Brocken Spectre I thought about my tentative relocation of the Mount of Transfiguration. Decades ago I took a propaganda tour from Lake Gallilee to the Golan Heights and then back via the slopes of Mt Hermon and Caesarea Phillipi. South of Caesarea Phillipi we drove past the Mount of Transfiguration, which would be considered a molehill in East Anglia. A year or two back I wondered if the “high mountain” Jesus took Peter and James and James up was not the mole hill of Mt Tabor but could rather Mt Hermon. After all that IS a high mountain and was snow-covered when I was there in April. And so I thought of what the gospel writers (Matthew 17 vs1-9) wrote;

1 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves.
2 And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white.
3 Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him.
4 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
5 While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”
6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.
7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.”
8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
9 As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
Yes, it was a high mountain and what happened. Like so many passages in the Bible which speak of a divine encounter it is difficult to work out what happened. The two opposite errors are either to be overly -literalist or spiritualise it. I have long found the whole section of the confession of St Peter at Caesarea Phillip and the Transfiguration as one of the most important passages on Jesus Christ. It brings out the nature of Jesus as Messiah, the waywardness of followers summed up in the rebuke to Peter , “Get behind me, Satan” (Something we all need to hear), the cost of discipleship and carrying our cross and then the Transfiguration , which seems to be a foretaste of the Resurrection.
The first part is very much every day and down to earth, but the Transfiguration is something more. I find the meaning very profound and moving and it strengthens my faith, but the Thomas in me asks what happened. I cannot answer that question, beyond saying something very profound and moving happened. (I will never make a good fundamentalist!)
I wonder, and I say this tentatively, was the Transfiguration in part the disciples and Jesus seeing Brocken spectra on Mt Hermon.
Now to some I will be seen as fanciful and to others as explaining away a central part of the Gospel – the Transfiguration.
Whatever happened, and something did, I wonder if a Brocken Spectre helps us to understand, tacitly if not intellectually, the wonder of the Transfiguration.
At best, in this life we only have passing glimpses of the Resurrection, which are as transient as a Brocken Spectre, but still wonderful.
I may not see another Brocken Spectre but I will see……………………………
Painting by Carl Bloch

Creationist nonsense on geology; the odd case of Prof McIntosh D.Sc.


Image result for andy mcintosh

One of the best selling British creationist books is Genesis for Today by Andy McIntosh, which is now in its 5th edition.

Most of the book is a popular exposition of Genesis 1 to 11 – and some of it I agree with, but not his insistence that it is literal history.

In Genesis for Today McIntosh gives three scientific appendices, which are much the same in the 1st and 5th editions.  I could either go through and nit-pick his geological errors or consider them under main headings. I have chosen the latter.

Image result

Most would think that a professor in a scientific discipline at a leading university (with a first-rate geology department) would be able to make a reasonable showing on geology.Many amateurs and non-geologists I’ve met in geological societies have a clear grasp.

From the whole of his book, other writings and having sat through a meeting he lead for the Blackburn Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship, where reckoned all my geological criticisms were wrong. As I challenged him one nice Christian lady asked me if I were a Christian 😦

The major part of his book is biblical and scientific aspects put in the appendices. Here he simply re-iterates standard young earth arguments


McIntosh claims that “Uniformitarian geologists” assume that all strata were deposited slowly, and makes this claim on p185-6, p186, line 17-8; p195 lines16-20 (citing Andrews); p198 line 16 ff (largely citing Austin), p199-201 on fossilized tree trunks.

This is simply a false claim as geologists make no such assumption and for centuries have been aware of varying rates of deposition.

This is especially so in my neighbourhood as the Bowland Shales were laid down incredibly slowly and the overlying Pendle Grits are turbidites and deposited very rapidly

Littlemearleygeo2 - Copy

Type section of Bowland Shales on Pendle Hill, and rough x-section by Bleasdale


Top of Bowland Shales nr Bleasdale with Pendle Grit above. The thick grits were deposited in days and the thin shales in many thousands of years. Some may see injectites! The 18inch band of grit was probably laid down in one turbidite event – meaning days. The shales would be 10s of thousands. (The injectites were probably pushed up soon after deposition.

On p186 the allegation of “this assumption of gradual deposition” is false, negating what he says about the working out of geological history aka the geological column. A familiarity of the history of geology (see MJS Rudwick, Bursting the Limits of Time, 2005aka BLT) and any other work on the history of geology will refute this claim. In fact the contrary is true as most early geologists before 1830 were Catastrophists and had no clear idea of geological time and varied from young, middle or old earth in perspective! In the 1790s Smith was young earth but accepted an old earth from the evidence he found soon after 1800. Most allowed a variable rapid rate of deposition but even Lyell, that champion of slow deposition, allowed some rapid deposition.

P193 gives Andrews misrepresentation of geologists “supposed evolutionary slow rate of formation of rock strata”. When someone, even with a D.Sc makes such elementary errors they can be safely ignored.My comments above on turbidite grits and shales in Bowland contradicts him, as does almost all study of sedimentary rocks, especially following Keunen’s work on turbidity currents in the early 50s.

P197-199 deals with mudflows. McIntosh gives the impression that catastrophic events and deposition have long been denied by geologists. That is simply not the case, even by Lyell, though it must be said that from 1840 to 1970 many geologists had an aversion to catastrophe. However geologists have long known that erosion can occur very rapidly despite what Austin is quoted as saying on p 198.

The section of Fossilized Tree Trunks p199-201 is similarly flawed. Taking the example of “polystrate fossils” or tree trunks, no geologist has ever said that these were exposed for millions of years. Further they were in swamps not at “the bottom of the ocean” The quote from Morris is risible. The main paragraph on p200 contains much error. No geologist says trunks were exposed for “at least a million years”. Further if mudflows carried the tree trunks to their positions (and cleverly deposited them mostly vertically!) how can one explain that fossil trees are in sandstones and are now of sandstone and not in mudstone, shale or siltstone? The quotes referring to millions of years from J D Morris are simply misrepresentation as no geologist says that.


This cartoon is from  Ackermann It’s a young world after all (p85)  and is a dishonest parody of fossil tree trunks



I could say more on Mt St Helens


One needs to explain how all the mud from the postulated mudflows has disappeared without trace!

In reference to Austin and Nevins’ comments on the coal measures (which are the same person as Austin used the name Nevins when working for his Ph D at Penn State) the standard interpretations of coal deposition do not eliminate an element of catastrophism. Fred Broadhurst of Manchester argued with evidence that the deposition of coal seams individually took tens of thousands of years whereas the much thicker intervening sandstones were deposited rapidly. No geologist would say otherwise that sands are deposited speedily and muds and silts slowly. There have been many careful sedimentological studies on this type of question. Finally geology has advanced a little since the days of Lyell, excellent geologist though he was!




On p 187 McIntosh writes, “The cyclical nature of the reasoning now becomes apparent….” And then cites J D Morris, who basically reiterates the accusations made by his father in his many books. (The Genesis Flood p130-6, Scientific Creationism p 94ff,) and repeated by many other writers.

This is false for several reasons. First, much of the geological column was worked out without the use of fossils as it was by workers before 1810 or so and by Sedgwick on the Cambrian in the 1830s. Secondly the Geological Column was worked out in considerable detail well before 1859 by geologists who rejected evolution. (To take the Palaeozoic –Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous and Permian, the main workers were Sedgwick, Murchison and Conybeare who rejected evolution, and worked out the historical order from a combination of superposition (i.e. the order of strata) and the use of fossils interpreted in an anti-evolutionary way). Sedgwick and Conybeare were evangelical Anglican clergy as well; Sedgwick both taught Darwin geology and opposed The Origin.

The use of fossils in stratigraphy is derivative from the Principle of Superposition, which is an extension of the law of gravity; i.e. the stuff at the bottom of a pile got their first (unless someone/something squeezed it in later) and was first put forward by Steno in the 1660s. During the 18th this was applied by various “geologists” e.g. Strachey, and Michell, who produced a geological column from the coal beds to the chalk, now known as Carboniferous to Cretaceous. Work exploded in the late 18th century over all of Europe and Hutton was only one of many. The use of fossils to “date” was developed by Smith and Cuvier in particular (both anti-evolution) because they were empirically found to come in the same order wherever you went. This was in Europe first and then further afield. This is well explained in Rudwick’s Bursting the Limits of Time.


Hutton and Smith


Lyell and Henslow’s 1822 map of Anglesey


Memorial to Sedgwick in Dent

            The pen-ultimate sentence at the end of the section on p187 is meaningless. The last sentence is simply wrong,

“Even indirect dating of sedimentary rock is impossible when it contains no fossils.”

as all Pre-Cambrian strata have been put in historical order WITHOUT the use of any fossils. I did this personally in South Africa where I mapped a large area of late Precambrian strata in the NW Cape, without any fossils to help except a lone stromatolite. I worked out my own geological column, as I was only the third geologist to map this area in 1970 for a mining company when Alfred Kroner was also doing it for Univ of Cape Town. (The previous geologists were Rogers in the 1910s and de Villiers and Sohnge in the 40s, who basically agreed with my re-writing of the local column and is what is now accepted for the whole area.)

So much for it being impossible! Also Sedgwick mapped much of North Wales without fossils and all historical geology is in principle possible without fossils, but they do make life easier.




From the top of Y Garn 3105ft. Sedgwick went up this during a 12 hours day looking at Cambrian slates and diverse igneous rocks

The order of fossils in historical sequence has been worked out by sheer observation e.g. trilobites only in the Palaeozoic and then particular trilobites in certain strata. This information, since 1859 has been used as evidence for evolution (or more strictly in Darwin’s notebooks from 1838). Some geologists do put this in terms of circular reasoning e.g. R H Rastall, but have failed to understand the way that the Geological Column and the fossil succession was elucidated. There is no circular argument as its basis. However if you found a fossil dinosaur you can be fairly sure that you are in Jurassic or Cretaceous sediments.


Now here is the Geological Column which was largely set-up by clerical geologists who rejected evilution 🙂


But of course a rabbit in the Precambrian would prove all geologists to be wrong!!!

1527111_10202788325659784_1680438_n - Copyrabbit


A good summary of radiometric age dating by a Christian is to be found at So I will not deal with general issues. McIntosh raises the usual objections, which have been dealt with by Wiens and Talkorigins. However I will note some other errors.

P186 line 11. “Radioisotope techniques … can only be used on igneous rock… . He is false when he says that methods can only be used on igneous rock. They are widely used on metamorphic rock of all kinds and accessional on sedimentary rocks. He clearly has not grasped how radiometric methods are used to give dates. E.g. lavas and other igneous rocks give dates, so if a lava is dated at say 320my then the strata adjacent are about the same age etc. He gets more confused on p190 l3 on K/Ar dating and only mentions volcanic rock, overlooking plutonic and metamorphic rocks and the occasional sediments.

On p 195 he discusses an 1801 eruption in Hawaii, and fails to record what the papers cited which gave such a wide range of dates were about. One was to test how accurate the method was and the other giving results of billions was not on lava, but on ultramafic inclusions within the lava, whereas the host lava gave young ages with acceptable limits of error. As I wrote in Evangelicals and Science;

Perhaps the most serious and persistent charge against YEC publications
is that many quotations are taken out of context. (See the review
of TGF by van de Fliert cited earlier.) It is often accompanied by accusations
of lying. Thus on the talkorigins Web site, http://www.talkorigins.
org, documents many examples, which in turn are denied. A commonly
cited example is lavas from Hawaii, which were “dated” in the
60s. “In 1968 scientists applied radiometric dating to some rocks which
known to be less than 170 years old. [1801 eruption on Hualalai.] The
radioactive ages determined for those 170 year-old rocks ranged from
160 million to 3 billion years” (Ackermann, 1991, p. 81). Ackermann
then commented, “Obviously, something is wrong with this method.”
However if one reads the paper cited (Funkhouser and Naughton, 1968,
pp. 4601–4607) a very different picture emerges. The material dated
were ultramafic inclusions in the lava of mantle material and thus not
lava. The geochronologist Brent Dalrymple (a witness at Arkansas in
1981) made this clear in 1982, but the Hualalai example is still cited
today; During
these twenty-five years Dalrymple’s criticisms were simply ignored. This
is one of many examples.

McIntosh is simply one of many who repeats such old oft-refuted claims!

I will respond by saying of McIntosh’s unintentional misrepresentation, “This hardly inspires confidence.” Sadly the quote from Andrews on page 195 does not inspire confidence either, and he also misrepresents radiometric age-dating both in print and in public lectures. Having read the original papers from the 60s on these determinations I am appalled by the way that for 30years they have been misquoted, even though Brent Dalrymple exposed all this misquotation in 1982. It beggars belief.

As for the Cardenas Basalt of the Grand Canyon, I refer readers to the talkorigins site as this explains better than I can.

Many years ago McIntosh went to Utah to look at Coconino sandstone and petroglyphs. Here is his Answers in Genesis article which describes the dinosaurs in petroglyphs.


McIntosh has clearly misunderstood the principles of geology and his arguments are usually fallacious. This may be due to the fact that he relies on unreliable sources like Henry and John Morris, Edgar Andrews and other YEC writers. It is tragic that he has not applied his scientific skills to geology and thus opens himself up to charges of incompetence and misrepresentation. What would he say if I claimed that a mixture of 2 parts of hydrogen to one of oxygen was non-inflammable?

No automatic alt text available.


Two excellent books by Christian geologists for further reading

2876Featured Image -- 5288



The folly of Christian Climate Action


One of the most extreme Christian Greenie groups is Christian Climate Action.

Thy organise protests like whitewashing slogans on the DECC building , getting arrested and thinking they are martyrs.

Here is a “service” against fossil fuels based on the Anglican wedding service

I had thought of giving a serious response but Proverbs 26 vs4 persuaded me not to

Their antics leave me speechless

You can see more on their Facebook page 

Call Off This Engagement!

bridal rings
Church divestment vigil and sketch.
You are cordially invited to the wedding of the Bride of Christ (the Church) to Mr Fossil
Monday 8th May 12 noon
Dean’s Yard, Great Smith St, Westminster, London SW1P 3NZ
The Church of England claims to be a responsible investors, and has a strong moral voice. It claims to understand the threat and urgency of climate change, yet instead of divesting from the biggest fossil fuel companies, they continue to engage.
What is it the Church sees in fossil fuels? Is it love?
We do hope you can join us to celebrate this match made in heaven. Or is it hell?
I must warn you, there is a possibility that the wedding might not go through. There may be an objection. It could be that Marion Haste decides to call off her engagement with Mr Fossil….
Put the date in your diary, dig out your best wedding hat and join us to find out!
Photo thanks to Antonio Delgado on Flickr
Here is the script ;

The Script: The Conclusion of the Engagement of Fossil Fuels and the Bride of Christ


Groom        Bride         Maid of Honour         Mother of the Bride
Minister    Best man   Father of the Bride    Jesus           Guests

Guests and Players assemble beforehand. Players should speak to guests in the manner
of a wedding so as to allow everyone to know who the players are. The Bride of Christ says nothing and is always accompanied by the attendants who do the talking for her.

Come the hour the players separate facing the guests who are encouraged to stand in rows by the Best Man. Wagner ‘here comes the bride’ music is played.

Maid of Honour (to Bride):
This is so exciting. After all those years calling yourself the Bride of Christ I’m so glad you stopped waiting for that hippy to show up and settled for somebody more reliable.

Father of the Bride (to Bride):
Yes my dear, you’ve done very well. We’ve all done very well out of this engagement.

Mother of the Bride (to Bride):
It’s about time. You can’t spend your whole life trimming a wick.

Best man (to Bride):
Yes, you should consider yourself lucky. you’re not getting any younger are you?

Maid of Honour (to Guests):
Awwwww, look she’s crying.

Groom (to Guests):
Never mind her, everybody cries at a wedding. Now let’s hurry this up! I have another wedding in half an hour.

Minister (to All):
I also have another wedding in half an hour. Can we get this over and done with?

Ceremony starts

Minister: May the dividends of our Lord Fossil Fuel,
the love of Money,
and the fellowship of the Market
be with you.

All: And with your pension fund.

Minister: Money is god, and they who own money
are gods and money owns them.

All: God of Money and might:
Power comes from you,
and you alone are the source of status and security.
Without you we cannot serve you;
without oil, gas and coal, our lives are worth nothing.
Send the love of power,
and pour into our hearts
that most excellent gift of money,
that we may worship you now
with hungry hearts
and serve you always with bloody hands,
through fossil fuels.

— A Hymn —

Matchmaker, Matchmaker,
Make me a match,
Find me a find,
make me some cash
Matchmaker, Matchmaker
Look through your books,
And make me some ready cash.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker,
Through death’s dark vale
All doom and gloom,
my faith grows frail.
Some oil stained cash would fill me with glee
and financial security.

For Mamon:
Pounds, Euros or dollars!
For Power:
We’ll install a King!
For those, well,
I wouldn’t bother
If Climate Change destroyed everything.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker,
Roofs low on thatch
don’t pay for themselves.
with this useless batch.
I once had high hopes
I’m still alone
So I’ll make some cash,
Of my own.

Minister: In the presence of the church commissioners, the fossil fuel industry and
the Church of England
we have come together
to witness the marriage of the Bride of Christ and the fossil fuel industry,
to pray for the security that money brings
to share in its power
and to ignore the suffering of the poor.

Creation is the dowry of the Church, given to its new Lord
through its destruction husband and wife may know the power of Money.
It is given so that as the oceans turn to acid, and the soil to dust
united together the Church and the Fossil fuel industry may be united
to watch in comfort the establishment of hell on earth.

The gift of marriage brings husband and wife together
in a frenzied orgy of destruction,
joyfully committed to the end of life on earth.
And the degradation of all common life.
Sacrificing our children
to a future of unspeakable horror.
For the love of money and power.

Sacrificing the innocent,
Our Lord Money, once stirred the heart of the faithful
prompting Judas to deliver Jesus Christ as a gift to the powerful.
Now sacrificing the innocent is the sign of our faithfulness.
It enriches our portfolios and strengthens our positions.
No one should enter into it lightly or selflessly
but reverently and responsibly in the sight of our almighty god.

The Bride of Christ and The Fossil Fuel industry are to enter this way of life.
They will each give their consent to the other and make solemn vows,
and in token of this they will [each] give and receive their bank details.
We pray with them that the Market will guide and strengthen them,
that they may fulfil our god’s purposes: the end of all earthly life together.

The Declarations

Minister: First, I am required to ask anyone present who knows a reason why these
persons may not lawfully marry, to declare it now.

Enter Jesus Christ

Jesus: I object! Break this engagement!

Minister: What? Oh no not you again! I thought we’d seen the last of you. You’re not
welcome here.

The Bride makes her way to join Jesus but is restrained by her attendants.

Father of the Bride:
Look it’s too late. She’s marrying into money and that’s that.

Mother of the Bride:
She’s not going with you. She’s staying with us.

Jesus (to Bride):
I thought we had discussed this. I was going to my Father’s house to prepare a place for us and you were going to leave your Father and Mother and follow me.

Maid of Honour:
It’s not that easy Jesus.

Nobody said this was going to be easy.

Best Man:
Don’t even try it. I’ll kill you first.

Jesus: No you won’t. That’s finished, once and for all.

Best Man (to Groom):
What shall we do?

Groom: I have so many like her at home, but I can’t be seen to be rejected. Lets just get her married off and she can fight it out with all the others.

Groom gives Minister a stack of cash

Minister: Right this marriage is happening!

Jesus: What?

Minister (to Groom):
Do you?

Groom: I do!

Minister (to Groom):
Does she?

Groom: She does!

Bride: I do not!
I’m sorry Jesus, I don’t know what I was thinking. Can you ever forgive me?

Jesus: That’s a daft question isn’t it?
We’re going. Now go pick up your cross and follow me.

Mendelssohn wedding march music is played.
Jesus and the Bride exit, Players lament, guests cheer.

The End!


Swapping Gloss for Whitewash

Vigil held by CCA and friends outside the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy in November 2016 to mark one year since the Paris Climate Accord.

In 2015, on the first day of the Paris Climate Summit, members of Christian Climate Action daubed the Department of Energy and Climate Change with whitewash, painting on it the new title ‘Department for Extreme Climate Change’. We were charged with criminal damage, convicted and fined. Thank you to our supporters for your support throughout this, on the day of trial and for help with the fines. One year later in 2016 we whitewashed the Department for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (since DECC is dissolved) and delivered 20kg of melting ice to their lobby while a vigil took place (holding a banner saying ‘Happy Birthday Paris, Our condolences to the Arctic’). We were not arrested, however the ice was not returned to us. What follows is a reflection on the motivation for these acts from one member of Christian Climate Action.

There is a joke that goes: ‘What can think the unthinkable?’ The answer is: ‘An itheberg!’.


I like this joke as it deftly reminds us that the sinking of the Titanic was unthinkable. The predicament we find ourselves in has been likened to the sinking of the Titanic as we can’t seem to believe our great technical masterpiece of a civilization is vulnerable to the restraints of reality and thus we are unable to come to terms with the prognosis for our great global project.

When I worked in a hospital as a Radiotherapy Physicist, sometimes I would hear of the difficult role of doctors when speaking to cancer patients of their condition. Therapy can often effectively contribute to a positive outcome in cancer treatment but sometimes it cannot.

Sometimes a doctor will be tempted to mislead a patient as to the effectiveness of a treatment or the likely prognosis of their condition. Doctors need to contend with their own need to feel powerful but also patients or their families want their doctors to lie to them due to being unable or unwilling to accept their loss and powerlessness. Denial is common when hearing bad news. Grieving is associated with shock/denial, anger, bargaining, guilt/depression and acceptance (also sometimes called hope). We can often see these stages played out in our loved ones dealing with loss, even if we cannot see it in ourselves.

Nobody envies a doctor’s role in these difficult conversations. However,doctors are compensated, trained, resourced and esteemed due to this role we require of them. A doctor who tells you what you want to hear is negligent. A doctor who misleads you for personal gain or to advance the agenda of their sponsors would likely be struck off and possibly arrested.

This all comes to mind when it comes to painting whitewash on government departments with responsibilities for climate change.

We are in a desperate situation. The extent to which we have destabilized the climate will have catastrophic consequences. This is a result of our approach to life, not just how we choose to fuel our lives, but how we see the world and choose to interact with it. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance are all stages we need to contend with while grieving this. This is inevitable and unavoidable and should be treated compassionately. However some are willing to exploit others in their grieving or encourage grievers to remain in the stage they are in. Denial serves the status quo, anger the activism industry, bargaining the ethical consumption industry and depression the self care industry. Acceptance seems to be good business for nobody but may allow us to be of some use.


Since it is not climate change we are grieving but imminent, catastrophic, multivariate systemic collapse, we are grieving more than one thing at once and we grieve different stages concurrently (e.g. we might be in denial over the failure of the market, anger over the failure of democracy, as we bargain using low energy light-bulbs to offset our guilt over what we have done to our children but boasting about our acceptance of the reality of climate change). These stages of grief interfere with each other and it is all very complicated. None of us have made it to the other side but it is essential that we find some way of speaking honestly of our situation if we are ever going to make progress. We do not seem to be willing to speak honestly about what is going on. Even those of us who have a prophetic obligation find it difficult to discuss these things.

It should not surprise us then that we do not have a government who is willing to speak honestly about our condition or our likely prognosis. What is true of our government is also true of our church leadership (how many marriage courses warn couples that there may be no food for their impending children). It is also true of the many movements who would assure us we have decades to convince and soften the hearts of our ignorant, careless leaders with our marches, petitions and internet memes while promising we can relive the gay days of the British Empire. It is not clear how far any of us would get in any area of life if we were not willing to lie about this, affirming the ignorance and prejudice of our supporters. We are a people who are desperate to be lied to. We cannot accept how far we have gone astray from the way of life. We cannot accept that we are powerless to turn our systems, our institutions or even our own lives around.

Nevertheless, we often tell ourselves that we can turn around centuries of habitual violence and decades of climatic abuse in a time frame of years. Some would even tell us that the future technological utopia, made of materials and with labour from people kept out of sight out of mind, will somehow mark a break from our pattern so far. We are happy to be told that we can maintain lifestyles entirely dependent upon global injustice, decimation and blood-letting and do so with clean hands, even clean green hands. We speak of justice when we mean ‘just us’ and expect heaven on earth to result. We can barely speak of climate change – but climate change is just the strange fruit of a tree we will not even look at. To be radical is to look to the roots. We often call ourselves radical Christians but we are far from it.

We are a society in trouble. It is unfair to blame any one person or section of society for this. It is also counterproductive. Nevertheless we live in some sort of democracy. We have a government which represents us. Like the doctors described above, we appoint Government ministers and civil servants to act with integrity, making difficult decisions and giving us bad news.

Instead we have deception hidden behind respectable facades. In 2015 this government took us to the Paris Climate Summit claiming global leadership while actively promoting climate wrecking policies. This year the Department for Energy and Climate Change no longer exists. Now responsibilities for climate change belong to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. This alone should intimate the priority climate change has for this government.

Melting ice overlooked by staff at DBEIS.  As seen from exterior.

At a symbolic level, our nation’s disregard for the climate crisis was well served by the offices of DECC with their respectable, sturdy facade hiding corruption and deception. Now the Portland stone of DECC has been replaced by BEIS’s glass frontage. This new facade is as transparent as the change of name but the deception continues within. Somehow we are told that this government is taking climate change seriously.

In this light the words of Ezekiel chapter 13 and Matthew 23 seem very appropriate. The painting of whitewash a symbolic correction to the these duplicitous facades.

Some green Christians took issue with our criminal damage. It was certainly criminal as we were arrested and then almost arrested the second time.

I take issue with the notion we damaged DECC or BEIS. A building, certainly a government building, serves at least two purposes. One is practical – it shelters its staff from the weather and allows them sockets to plug their photocopiers and computers into. The second is one of propaganda, projecting a narrative of legitimate power and respectability. We did no damage to the buildings of DECC or BEIS in the first sense as I reminded the magistrate at our trial – removing our work was entirely optional as it did not hinder the work of the department at all. In the second sense, damaging their ability to appear respectable and legitimate was entirely our intention and our prophetic obligation.

Climate Change_02
5 members of CCA painting the portland stone exterior of DECC in Nov 2015 on the first day of the Paris Climate Summit.
3 members of CCA painting the glass exterior of DBEIS while donating ice the the lobby.

Challenging the narratives of the powerful is the task of every Christian. As is advancing the narrative of the vulnerable God we serve. This empire we have built for ourselves as an act of worship will fall. It will be for the best that it falls but it will not fall gracefully. Like all of us, coming to terms with death will not come easily for it. We who have come to rely on the idols of our age will suffer most when they fail us – an

allotment does not hasten the end of the supermarkets but will soften the blow when they disappear. We are called to flee from this evil age. We are reminded also that we are under grace and not judgement.

As dis-empowering as grace is, it also will sustain us as we look honestly into our position.

Not all are called to be an apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor or teacher. Clearly following the arrestable Christ does not mean arrest for everybody, just as following the executed Christ has only meant execution for some.

So, while we invite you to join us in our various acts of holy obedience/civil disobedience, we urge you to remember that we are one Church, have one God and have one mission: to offer hospitality to the Kingdom of Heaven, so as to witness to the transformation of this earth into the new earth – into the likeness of Christ – by the power of God, whose power appears weak rather than the horrific power of men.

– The End –


Easter Crackers


No automatic alt text available.
Yes, I kid not. You can now buy Easter Crackers! Now that is crackers! Snowflakes can also buy Hot Non-cross Buns, with no cross, so as not to offend other faiths!
But to return to Easter Crackers, there is nothing more crackers than claiming someone rose from his grave nearly 2000years ago. It was crackers in Jerusalem then and is crackers now. We know that when a person has been crucified, impaled by a spear they are not going to rise from the dead. Everyone knew that in Jerusalem in 30AD whether the Romans, Jewish authorities or the disciples. Quite simply ;

Dead man don’t rise

The Gospels emphasise that neither the women nor the disciples expected Jesus to rise and they all needed a lot of convincing. John’s Gospel (chap 20) makes this very clear. First the women didn’t realise, nor did Peter and John whom they told of the missing body. Mary Magdalene then thought the risen Jesus was the gardener, and then doubting Thomas rejected any idea of resurrection. They were all slow to cotton on.

However once they were convinced the early disciples spread the news and the infant church started and slowly spread. The message of the Christians was not some shadowy existence beyond death, whether being in “a better place” or “pie in the sky when you die.” It was more than that. Combined with the death of Christ the resurrection showed a complete change, or even volte face, on how we see both life and death.

Apart from Jews with their strict moral code, few in the Roman Empire bothered about morals except the Stoics, whose moral standards have much in common with Christians and Jews. However they had no appeal for most. Christianity had the long term edge as it was universal in scope (unlike the Jewish faith from whence we were hew) and had both a common touch and addressed the spiritual yearnings of people.

By focussing on the death and resurrection of Jesus, Christianity went beyond simply morals as it transforms the life of both the individual and society. We look first to forgiveness and a new start through Jesus’ death on the cross and then in His rising again we have a transformed life starting from now and continuing into the beyond, which affects both us as individuals and the whole of society.

That is why Good Friday and Easter are so important to Christians – much more important than Christmas. We focus on the Son of God who entered into all the mess of human life to forgive us by his death – something we only understand in part, then on the one who rose again, conquered death and gave us that ultimate hope both for now and all time.

Maybe this is Easter Crackers but it is true and it works.
But it doesn’t seem to for all !!