I had promised myself (and you!) that I wasn’t going to allow myself to be drawn into interminable debates about the Bible and geology. There are two reasons for this. The first is that these kinds of debates go round in circles. They are frequently accompanied by a great deal of nastiness. The second reason is that there is no debate. We know that the earth is unimaginably old and that evolution is true(1). It doesn’t matter that some claim the Bible insists otherwise(2).
My reason for turning to geology and the Bible now is that I have been reading the excellent Hugh Miller, the Cromarty Stonemason. For those that may not know, here is a brief biography of the man.
So often thinkers and activists of the past are co-opted for projects today which would make them turn in their graves.
Here Steve Hayes shows how the libertarian right of the USA are trying to co-opt C S Lewis for the weird right-wing semi-Trumpism.
In the USA many have tried to claim Lewis as a good conservative evangelical – when he was not – he was simply a sensible Anglican from a time when Anglicans were sensible!!
On a personal note I met Steve in Windhoek in 1969 while I was working for a mining company. At that time he was a radical Anglican priest who later got banned. He is now orthodox.
Study the post and consider how often we twist historical personages for our own ends
In comparison to contemporary ‘progressive’ Christians such as Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Ronald Sider, and Brian McLaren, who clamor for the foolish and disastrous notion of achieving ‘social justice’ through gigantic government powers, was Lewis just ignorant or naive about modern realities, or was he aiming at a deeper and more significant purpose? (See Robert Higgs’s book refuting the ‘progressive’ myth in American history, Crisis and Leviathan, and his book on the disastrous ‘progressive’ state since 1930, Depression, War, and Cold War; see also Arthur A. Ekirch, Jr.’s The Decline of American Liberalism and The Civilian and the Military, and Jonathan Bean’s Race and Liberty in America.) In this article, I only…
In February 2020 just before the pandemic hit General Synod voted to work for Net Zero in 2030, altering the original motion for 2045 by an amendment. There was controversy as it was rushed through. On such a serious matter a major change should not have been made without due consideration and not rushed through.
The original target of 2045 was going to be difficult but 2030 is frankly impossible, without bankrupting many parish churches. Quite simply the technology is not in place how ever many times you intone “renewables” or “clean energy”..
In January 2021 a large group of Christian environmental groups came together to produce a route map for a church “to respond to the climate emergency”. It is already gaining enthusiastic responses. As we will see it assumes that swapping to renewables and heat pumps will solve it. It also does not consider the doubts and questions some have, especially those with technical ability in these areas.
It appears that green Christians in the Church of England think it is a wonderful idea and we should all be working hard to make it happen.
Here is the route map in the Climate Emergency Toolkit.
In view of the general concern over the climate, this seems an excellent idea, especially to enable local churches to understand Climate Change and be guided how to respond
This looks very promising as it supported by almost all Christian environmental and overseas development groups. It sets out a plan or route map for churches to make their response to the climate emergency. Further, there is no doubt that Climate Change is very serious and must be tackled by all, whether by the government or community groups.
As I read the route map, or Climate Emergency Toolkit I became more and more concerned. It was clear the authors had little or no grasp of energy issues and what is involved in going Net Zero. They seem to have a blind and tantric faith in renewables and pit “clean” energy against “dirty” energy from fossil fuels. It seems the most important thing for churches to do is to divest. That is partly as it seems to be an echo chamber for Operation Noah, whose accuracy is not always spot-on. And then we are advised to support Extinction Rebellion and Christian Climate Action. I cannot help thinking that they uncritically accept anything these or Friends of the Earth or Greenpeace say.
There is no discussion of various understandings of the challenges of climate change as it opts for an extreme ER-type stance without presenting any case for it. The position of Nuclear Energy is simply ignored without even a mention. Fossil fuels are terrible but there is no realisation that on almost every scenario fossil fuels will continue to be used until mid-century.
Despite these strictures, the route map gives the impression of being considered and cautious, seeking to understand the problem of climate change. As they say it is better to not to jump in it but to ;
and then lastly work towards making an IMPACT, however local or limited
and so to the DECLARING. You are referred to a few sites to help, inform and guide you to set a target or a focus.
It is very much a done deal as a certain stance of energy in relation to the climate is assumed and thus one is almost coralled into agreement. It is a Route Map with no alternatives. It is taken for granted that the only energy which should be used is wind or solar, with no reasons given why oil is bad. nuclear is ignored. No discussion of energy is encouraged and then one is given two suggestions to carry out. It seems you are expected to agree with the view presented, when I, as a long-standing Christian environmentalist, most definitely do not. There is no question whether Climate Change is a serious issue which needs addressing, but there is no single route Map to do this. The route map here is centred on Renewables and Divestment, as if all will be fine and dandy after that. (There is no consideration of the downside of renewables – their intermittency and the vast amount of metals required from Copper to rare earths, almost doubling the present consumption. As a former mining geologist I expect major shortages within a few years. What we will see is copper being stripped from almost anywhere, as has happened to South African railways.)
This is apparent in the page entitled DECLARE, where two targets or foci are given.
ENERGY SWITCHING and DIVESTMENT
There is no discussion on the reasons for the necessity of either. These seem to be the only options and no mention is made of other Christian, or environmental, viewpoints. Energy switching is simply to change one’s electricity or gas supplier to a provider of renewable energy rather than those which use fossil fuels to generate electricity.
There is no mention of nuclear energy, biogas or the fact that fossil fuels will be used for several decades to come, as even Greenpeace admit. One is presented with a simple binary option of renewable i.e clean, energy or fossil i.e. dirty energy. There is no mention of nuclear or the horrendous environmental price of renewable wood for power stations.
The emphasis is purely on renewables as THE answer for all energy problems. There is no mention that they only work when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing. I write this in the first week of February, when energy suppliers are struggling with a chance of black-outs. On a cold winters night you get your electricity because gas and coal are ramped up, producing up to 70% of the nation’s electricity, with nuclear (ugh) producing another 20%. This is a very incomplete argument and ignores the energy needed for heating — 70% of houses rely on gas, which is increasingly imported from abroad, with a loss of gas en route, or that used in transport or industry. There is an absurdity that much gas used in Britain is FRACKED gas imported from the USA, when fracking is outlawed in the UK at present. It is often not known that electricity only accounts for a third or so of energy usage.
By considering renewables to be “clean energy” unlike “dirty fossil fuels”, the serious environmental impact of renewables is ignored, as different sources of energies are simplitically classified as “goodies” and “baddies”. All are “baddies” on the effect on the environment. No mention is made of the materials used in construction and that metals and rare earths needed are in short supply. When one adds on Electric Vehicles this becomes almost impossible.
This article by leading geologists well-versed in minerals resources tells of the problems of obtaining sufficient metals to “go electric”.
Having worked in a copper mine and as an exploration geologist focussing on copper, just the figures to move to 100% EVs by 2050 leaves me aghast. Over the next 30 years the UK needs a further 2.4 million tons of Copper, i.e 80,000 tones per year. This increase the annual consumption of copper by 66% and most would have to come from new mines. This is just for the UK, but imagine what it would be for the whole world. The authors highlight the scale of the difficulty. Recycling is not an option due to the amounts required.
The alternative is deep-sea mining which to some is disastrous.
THIS SHOULD BE CONSIDERED IN THE ROAD MAP, and not just an appeal to go renewable and divest from fossil fuels. Like many green groups they do not face the reality of the problem.
The second focus is on divestment. Here one is referred only to the Bright Now Campaign, which goes far beyond what the Church of England is suggesting. Again there is no reference to other voices, but only to Operation Noah. Leaving aside the fact that objections can be made to their claims, including on technical details (both on bias and matters of fact), it does seem very one-sided.
What we see is a Route Map totally tied to a particular perspective. As well as being very one-sided it omits several other foci, which are both good and have a wider appeal
Transport. Consider leaving the car, and go by bike or foot. This is omitted in most ideas of Net Zero 2030, but would make an immediate difference on CO2, but also has health benefits. E.g. Today I needed to go to the supermarket, on a 1.5 mile return journey. My panniers and rucsac were full! Mine is usually the only bike at the supermarket. The value of walking and cycling is borne out by recent article on bikes by Prof Brand of Oxford https://theconversation.com/cycling-is-ten-times-more-important-than-electric-cars-for-reaching-net-zero-cities-157163 He makes it clear how effective bikes are at reducing carbon. In fact, for short journeys of less than three miles a bike is often quicker. It is also less stressful.
Carbon capture by planting. – yes tree planting! This can be in church and school grounds, also in gardens and possibly the local community. Clearly oaks are out for most places , but there is a plethora of small trees e.g. sorbus, prunus or malus which are great for wildlife, or even native or non-native shrubs. All my vicarage gardens since 1980 have several trees and many shrubs gobbling up a bit of CO2. Two rowans I planted in 2001 are now about 20ft high, but those in my present garden, planted since 2014, are still spindly.
Many aspects of personal lifestyles eg insulation, use of water, choice of food (not runner beans from Kenya!), what’s put in one’s garden e.g. Coffee grounds, tea leaves, when changed reduce one’s carbon footprint. Just consider how coffee grounds are cleaned up in the local waterworks, consuming energy in the process. But put on the garden they improve the soil. This needs to be emphasised in the teaching life of the church.
Yet there is no mention of these things in Pilgrimage to Net Zero 2030. This could be used to gently encourage both church employees and church members. But you need a vicar on a bike!!
The emphases of “divest” and “clean” energy recommended in the route map do not depart from the Great Green Narrative of “keep it the ground”, “renewables” “clean energy as opposed to dirty energy”(actually there is no clean energy) “divest” and support Extinction Rebellion. It totally ignores those environmentalists who take a different line after careful consideration and who may well support nuclear energy or a temporary support of fossil fuels. It is as though they are bad as the “Climate Denier”. In no other discussion in the churches would this happen. After all, the Church of England would not appoint a commission to discuss the place of the eucharist and only allow members of the Church Society to sit on it!! It is as though Sir David Mackay and others never did any high-powered work on energy. This is a serious omission and reflects badly on all the sponsoring groups.
The route map is so focussed on fossil fuels that almost ignore all the other vital issues;
Food; What and whence
Peat and plants and what one does with one’s garden. (This also touches on biodiversity)
The recent publications on the way that careful planting can improve climate issues is not mentioned, whether in gardens, road verges, parks, farms and countryside.
This section considers what can be done to make an Impact. Consider these two pages;
Rather than consider all possibilities this gives a carefully chosen selection of resources. It seems to assume all will agree with Operation Noah on divestment. Divestment seems to be the only/major emphasis of this road map.
This is little more than an appeal for activism, with several examples from the box headed Tools
Groups seem to be chosen to force churches into one view. However Repair Cafes is a Dutch group and list no cafes in Britain! Many places are not Transition Towns.
Of the others Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace are very well-known especially for their stunts and bias, and even misinformation, on green issues. Several times they have been forced to correct these, including by the Advertising Standards Agency as in January 2018. They always seem to be in the front of the queue for considered opinion, which is usually more opinion than considered. For decades they have opposed one of the cleanest energies – nuclear, not to mention GMOs and other things.
More recently both have emphasised a rejection of fossil fuels, but also reject GMOs and Nuclear Energy, and have either slowed down or thwarted the implementation of these. The former will reduce agricultural emission and the latter low carbon energy with less risk than other forms of energy. Though they are usually foremost of green groups, many environmentalists reject their wide-ranging opposition over many issues.
Ironically most of us are queueing up for the GMO- COVID-19 vaccines whether we support GMOs or not! In July 2020, the European Parliament actually had to suspend the EU’s anti-GMO rules in order to allow the unimpeded development of COVID vaccines. There is great irony here. The Oxford Astra-Zeneca vaccine overtly uses genetic modification, but no one has complained. That is a reminder of the wayward ideas of these two groups and others like Christian Aid and Green Christian who are hostile to GMO. It’s odd no one has opposed the vaccines on the grounds of them being Genetically Modified, (or PPE as it is made from oil.).
One may ask why these were picked out as groups to support.
Extinction Rebellion in its local groups is also singled out. This was formed in late 2018 and soon caused major disruptions with their protests, almost courting arrest.
They take the most extreme view of the dangers of climate change claiming billions will die. This has terrified some youngsters, who think they will die early, and is dismissed by climate change specialists as false and simply scaremongering. That is hardly truthful.
However it is supported by Rowan Williams and several bishops, which is surely a serious lapse of judgement.
Christian Climate Action is true to its name and sees itself as the “Christian” wing of Extinction Rebellion. They seem to revel in being arrested. They were the group who climbed on commuter trains at Canning Town mid 2019 preventing working class employees getting to work. It turned very ugly and one protestor was pulled off the roof of a carriage and roughed up by by commuters. It was lucky no one was badly beaten up. It was a protest too far.
Protest in London 1/5/21
This would convince me to avoid anything connected with this
What we are suggested/guided/told to do in this section on IMPACT is Activism as protest, whether as apparently virtuous actions, or martyrdom through arrests, rather than activism as changed lifestyle seeking to drastically reduce our impact on the environment, which inevitably impinges on our carbon footprint, and slowly persuading others.
I think the authors of this Road Map need to say whether they expect whole congregations to join in these protests, disrupt the lives of other people and face arrest and prosecution. Being sarcastic, do they envisage the Mothers Union processing with their banners at an Extinction Rebellion protest? 🙂
This road map seems to be a ploy to force churches to adopt an extreme stance. It may be significant that the actual authors are not named. I suggest that this a recipe for conflict within churches who start using this Toolkit.
As described before there seems to be no openness to other green viewpoints, which do not demand divestment nor so-called green energy nor projects which do not break the law. Local to me are the Wyre River Trust and Lancashire Wildlife Trust. The former do careful tree planting, creation of new Carbon-absorbing wetlands and river repair and the other have various projects including restoring Winmarleigh Moss, a damaged low-level peat bog. This has great implications in dealing with climate change, though peatbogs have little sex-appeal for most people. (Though this project is controversial with the farmers neighbouring the moss.)
This is a very misguided and biased approach and I can imagine many churchmembers refusing to take part, with resultant division in the local church.
I question its discernment, accuracy and wisdom and whether all what they suggest is actually moral. Though since the 1990s I’ve been convinced of the seriousness of Climate Change, (having been an environmentalist for many decades) I’d refuse to take part and would oppose it by word and action – and withdraw any financial contribution to a church taking part.
Effectively each of these groups are undoing whatever good work they have done. The Route Map is very limited in its grasp of the technical issues of providing and using energy, which does not come from fossil fuels. The authors fail to discuss the problems of their chosen route map and should have given a presentation of the difficulties of getting away from fossil fuels, rather than simplistically appealing to renewables as the answer. They have done the churches a great disservice by this neglect. luke 14vs 28
I ought to note that among the patrons of these groups at least one is an antivaxxer in relation to Covid-19, and dismisses its seriousness.
It is a concern that the Church of England’s lead bishop on the environment raises no critical questions about Net Zero 2030.
What are the main priorities of the Church of England’s Environment Programme?
We have an ambitious target of reaching net zero by 2030. That means that every church community needs to be thinking what it can do to contribute, whether by changing energy supplier to renewables, or using offset schemes, or generating solar, ground/air source, or wind energy on site, or considering these issues when the time comes to replace, for example, a boiler. I’m keen that we play out part in enhancing biodiversity on our land, especially churchyards which can be great places for the living diversity of life, as well as being places for the dead. Let them be Resurrection places of new life!
I am afraid I am unconvinced by the bishops’ arguments. I am not sure of his use of Resurrection, but that would take more space to discuss! There is no mention of an individual’s reduction of the earth’s resources, which can be effected by use of – bike/foot for travel, insulation, economy of food, water and other materials (and not only plastic).
What about me in 2021
I’ve got to find forever homes for 25 mountain ash trees grown from seed
I shall continue to pester local councils not to destroy flowers on road verges
I shall continue helping to spread sphagnum moss on upland peat bogs – already done 1 sq km
Grow more mountain ash from seed
Encourage others to be more green – even a teeny-weeny bit 🙂
Do some green volunteering
write more green blogs (which to some are not green).
Finally can you imagine Mothers Unions arranging coach trips to support Extinction Rebellion and Christian Climate Action in their protests?
But I will conclude on a very serious note. I have pointed out the biased and lopsided approach of this route map, which does not get beyond a simplistic call for renewables and then supports groups like Extinction Rebellion.
I would have thought these eleven groups would not have supported such a limited perspective.
Dr Ian Paul aka Psephizo has given a response which draws on opinions of BAME christians, some of which are very critical. These raise questions whether the recommended actions are wise or advisable. Ian in his conclusions also raises doubts about the recommended policy, which I share.
For myself I do reckon that some of the past of the church has been poor, especially the lack of welcome for Caribbean Christians 60 to 70 years ago. That was the time when landlords would put up notices saying “No coloured welcome”. Things have improved. I would also suggest that there is an unexpressed racism in our pews, which comes out at times. That is from my observations and hearing.
I reckon this report leans too far towards Critical Race Theory and agree with the strictures of Calvin Robinson (an ordinand) and Joseph Diwakar, who is on the Archbishops’ Council.
Five years ago I gave a paper at the first of the Christian Leadership in an Age of Science project conferences at St John’s College Durham. It was originally supposed to be on geology and Genesis etc, but then I was asked to do the controversial issue of fracking.
Rev William Buckland looking at Glacial striae in Snowdonia in October 1841. The Nantlle ridge in the background
During the conference I was interviewed by Prof David Wilkinson on me being a geologist and vicar. I deal with my coming to faith, whether I found any conflict of geology and Christianity, my resolution of the two, and the value of geology. We ended up n fracking, when I said all the things I shouldn’t – or should!
Very aptly I was interviewed in the Tristram Room in the college, named after the clerical naturalist Canon H B Tristram who was the first to use The Origin of species in a scientific paper – on the larks of the Holy Land.
I was interviewed looking at Tristram (and thinking he agreed with me!)
Here is the site of ECLAS with many interviews and other resources, mostly from those more high powered
A common assumption, and one I started with, is that before the rise of geology in the late 18th century all Christian churches reckoned that god created in about 4000BC and the days of Genesis were of 24 hours .
The more writers I read, the more I was aware of the diversity of opinion 0n the matter, and that Christian churches were most undecided on the subject
In the 16th century despite the drift to sola scriptura the influence of the renaissance added to that and depicting it simplistically
Bible alone – or so some claimed!
Bible plus classical literature (eg Ovid)
Bible plus classics plus astronomy.e.g. Calvin
Thus when it became apparent that Ussher was slightly out in his estimates, either the time of Chaos was extended to allow for geological time, or the 6 days of Genesis were extended, first to a year and then indefinitely, hence we have
Bible plus Classics plus astronomy plus geology e.g Hutton’s clergy friends!! and so many all round Europe
Though some, but fewer as time went on, and popular commentators did not always agree.
It was expressed wonderfully in Haydn’s oratorio The Creation
Here is a brief account of mine on developing understandings of Genesis One, from Chaos of Ovid to Geology.
Genesis Chapter 1 and geological time from Hugo Grotius and Marin Mersenne to William Conybeare and Thomas Chalmers (1620 – 1825)
The one certainty about Christmas Day is that Jesus was not born on that day. Others were, including some great scientists. The most well-known was Isaac Newton who got into calculus after an apple fell on his head. It was not a Pink Lady, nor was it a golden delicious.
Another was William Smith a great geologist who was born in 1769. He epitomises the symbiotic relationship of geology and industry, which the William Smith expert par excellence, Hugh Torrens, reckons is often overlooked by those who focus on the learned savants who never soiled their hands by working in industry, whether canals, coal mines or in drainage. Smith did all three and was guided by practical concerns rather than academic ones. As a result his interest in geology was practical and not theoretical.
Smith was born into humble origins and after a little schooling got employment with a surveyor, Edward Webb, in 1787. He progressed rapidly and a few years later moved to near Bath to assist in the construction of two canals running almost parallel to each other. It was there that he recognised strata AND their fossils appeared in the same order. Not for him were theories of the earth, the age of the earth and other geognostical speculations. All that mattered was to use his empirical information to further his work in enabling the transport of coal from the mines to Bath and beyond. His theoretical ideas were limited. For most of the 1790s he thought the earth was but a few thousand years old and that was the age of the strata! These strata were gently dipping to the east and he believed they were originally laid down at that angle a few thousand years ago. Despite the fact he independently worked out the principle of faunal succession of fossils along with the educated savants Cuvier and Brongniart over in Napoleonic France, he never saw his findings as giving the history of an ancient earth until the fin de siecle when the Rev Benjamin Richardson enlightened him and led him away from bishop Ussher.
After something went wrong Smith left the company in 1799 and spent many years getting work as a drainage engineer and in the course of his travels found enough evidence to publish his famous map in 1815, which is incredibly accurate.
That nearly broke him and broke he became later and spent time in a debtor’s prison. On his release he moved to Yorkshire and with his nephew John Phillips forged a new life and set Phillips up as a top-notch geologist. A few decades later Phillips became geology professor at Oxford despite having no degree. Not that you’d realise that from Phillips’ geological work.
In 1831 Smith was given belated recognition by the Geological society of London and he died in 1859.
There is, sadly, no decent biography of Smith, but Hugh Torrens has published extensively and republished Phillips’ hagiographic inverse nepotistical biography in 1844 in 2003, with two chapters of his own. It is probably the best source on Smith and his work.
The biography by Simon Winchester The map that changed the world (2001) is frankly woeful, as summed up in a review I wrote in 2001
Simon. B. A. Winchester. The Map that changed the world (Thetale of William Smith and the birth of a science
London: Viking, 2001. 338pp. hb. £12.99. ISBN 0–670–88407–3
Over the last few years there have been several popular works on the history of science and Simon Winchester has produced a very readable life of William Smith, the “Father of English Geology”. The author is both a geologist and a journalist and brings both skills to his book. (His geological background is almost identical to mine as he was two years my senior at university and began work in a Ugandan mine.)
William Smith is one of the many neglected scientists, whose significance is not widely known. His story is accurately and well told and makes a gripping read, how a canal engineer laid down the basis of geological correlation thus enabling the strata to be put into historical order. Smith was a canal engineer and developed his understanding of fossils in the strata in the coal seams and canals near Bath, before travelling the length of England. The book details his travails in publishing his map in 1815, his spell in a debtors’ prison and how his work was plagiarised by George Greenough. At the end of the 1820s Smith was befriended by clerical geologists such as Sedgwick and Buckland, who enabled him to be given the recognition he deserved. To know more simply read the book.
However Winchester’s book suffers from two weaknesses. First, he makes too much of a hero of Smith and ignores his contemporaries thus giving the impression that Smith is the father of geology and not only the “Father of English Geology”. The crucial decades for the growth of geology was from 1780 to 1800, as advances were made simultaneously throughout Europe. Winchester gives a little recognition to Hutton and the much-maligned Werner (whose work is now being recognised and who also attempted a map of his homeland), but does not refer to de Saussure of Geneva and the Frenchmen, Soulavie, Cuvier and Brogniart. Consequently the subtitle The tale of William Smith and the birth of a science gives insufficient recognition to the other numerous midwives of geology.
Secondly, Winchester has a totally inaccurate understanding of the British churches in relation to the rise of geology and simply repeats, with exaggerations, the old myths that there was a mighty war of Genesis and geology in the early 19th Century. He refers to the “church” negatively some thirty times and it gets tedious. His prejudice surfaces most blatantly on p29, ‘The hunch that God might not have done precisely as Bishop Ussher had suggested,…, was beginning to be tested by real thinkers, by rationalists, by radically inclined scientists who were bold enough to challenge both the dogma and the law, the clerics and the courts.’’ Or to put not to fine a point on it, only those who were not Christians in any way. Here Winchester is writing of the 1790s a mere one hundred years after the Revd John Ray and Edward Lhwyd were questioning the age of the earth. In fact throughout the previous century most thinkers Christian or deist thought the earth was older than Ussher’s estimate. What is the dogma and the law which forbade suggestions of an old earth? Granted some clerics did hold to Ussher’s age but the vast majority did not. Lastly, who was under any threat from the law for holding to millions of years? How does Winchester explain that it was clerics Richardson and Townsend who spread Smith’s ideas and Playfair Hutton’s? In his discussion of the clerical trio Buckland, Sedgwick and Conybeare he manages not to mention that they were ordained and any reader of the book could be forgiven if he did not realise that Sedgwick was a devout evangelical cleric! Winchester simply cannot accept that a clergyman could actually accept geological ages without challenging his faith, as is evidenced by his comments on Lewis, who helped Murchison unravel the Silurian in 1831. He wrote,’Many of the … fossilists were …called divines – a curious happenstance, considering the assault that any intelligent understanding of fossils would later have on divinity’s most firmly held notions, like the Creation and the Flood. The Reverend Thomas Lewis of Ross–on–Wye is characteristic of the type:’ (p115) This can only be described as complete and utter nonsense, if not bigotry. The author has absolutely no knowledge of the doctrine of Creation or the Flood and is ignorant of how the clerical geologists actually thought. His section dealing with Ussher (p16–21) is both flippant and inaccurate and even gets the first day of creation on Monday 23 October (day one) and the creation of animals on the Thursday 26 October(day six)! Actually Ussher wrote, ‘Sexto die, Octobris vigesimo octavo’ and it was Friday the day before the Sabbath! This kind of lampoon is fine for Peter Simple in the Daily Telegraph but not for a serious Guardian journalist. Winchester has simply not grown out of the outworn conflict thesis of science and religion, which by now should have been rejected by any who dabbles in the history of science and Christianity. However it is a persistent myth which is propagated through a popular misunderstanding. This myth encourages both unbelief and creationism.
This book is a veritable curate’s egg, on Smith as a geologist it is OK, but as soon as he puts matters into religious context rotten as only a rotten egg can be! This could have been an excellent book.
Many of the … fossilists were …called divines – a curious happenstance, considering the assault that any intelligent understanding of fossils would later have on divinity’s most firmly held notions, like the Creation and the Flood. The Reverend Thomas Lewis of Ross–on–Wye is characteristic of the type:’ (p115)
Sheer coprolite of the first order. Nearly all of these clergy thought the earth was ancient, including Tom Lewis who basically handed Murchison the Silurian System on a plate or rather a rock exposure
Poor Winchester had a bee in his bonnet about how the church persecuted these terrible geologists. It makes a good read but is simply untrue. The trouble is that people read AND BELIEVE Winchester’s book, as did the blogger from the FFRF (Freedom From Religion Foundation ) for Smith’s birthday this year.
On this date in 1769, William Smith, known as the “Father of English Geology,” was born in Oxfordshire. Smith, who trained as an apprentice surveyor, single-handedly produced the world’s first geological map in 1815 of England, Wales and part of Scotland, spending 15 years on the project.
Smith, “whose agnosticism was well known,” according to biographer Simon Winchester (The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology, 2001), produced a “map that heralded the beginnings of a whole new science … a map that laid the foundations of a field of study that culminated in the work of Charles Darwin. It is a map whose making signified the start of an era, not yet over, that has been marked ever since by the excitement and astonishment of scientific discoveries that allowed man at last to stagger out from the fogs of religious dogma, and to come to understand something certain about his own origins and those of the planet.”
Winchester also noted: “For the first time the earth had a provable history, a written record that paid no heed or obeisance to religious teaching and dogma, that declared its independence from the kind of faith that is no more than the blind acceptance of absurdity.”
Smith went bankrupt in 1819, spending several weeks in a debtor’s prison, then worked as an itinerant surveyor for many years. Not until 1831 did the Geological Society of London conferred on him the first Wollaston Medal in recognition of his achievement. His fossil collection is housed in the Natural History Museum, formerly part of the British Museum, in London. He died in 1839 at age 70.
“In 1793 William Smith, a canal digger, made a startling discovery that was to turn the fledgling science of the history of the Earth — and a central plank of established Christian religion — on its head.”
—Publisher’s blurb, “The Map that Changed the World” (Harper, 2001)
Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor
Though we have never met, Winchester and I have a very similar pedigree. He was two years ahead of me studying geology and thus learnt at the feet of the same teachers – who were a fantastic group. After Oxford he took a job as a geologist at Kilembe mines in Uganda, but only stayed a few months. Two years later I also took a job there on graduation and lasted a bit longer as I was transferred to South Africa. In both places I acquired similar nicknames, which I am not allowed to even mention today, though I am as proud of them as my african tribal name. I am not sure that my behaviour would have got a gold star from exponents of Critical Race Theory, but I am sure Martin Luther King and Alan Paton would have approved.
Let’s consider the howlers in this blog
“In 1793 William Smith, a canal digger, made a startling discovery that was to turn the fledgling science of the history of the Earth — and a central plank of established Christian religion — on its head.”
I must ask “what Central plank”? Clearly it means that in 1800 the churches, and especially the Church of England, reckoned the earth was less that 6000 years old and made Ussher’s 4004BC an item of faith. That is simply untrue as first 4004BC was never an item of faith and secondly by 1780 most educated clergy and bishops followed the geological savants and accepted a vast age of the earth. Some were actually practising geologists eg Michell of Cambridge and the trio of clergy from Bath, Warner, Richardson and Townsend, who worked with Smith from 1798 or so.
Smith, “whose agnosticism was well known,”
It is very difficult to work out Smith’s religious beliefs, due to so little written evidence and there is no evidence for this statement. Neither Torrens nor I have got very far on it. One thing is absolutely clear from Torrens’ work is that when Smith worked out his principles in about 1793-6 he thought that the earth was but a few thousand years old and it took a trio of vicars to dissuade him!!! In 1814 Smith arranged for his nephew, Phillips to stay with Rev Benjamin Richardson and be educated, Phillips was always a good churchman.
map that heralded the beginnings of a whole new science … a map that laid the foundations of a field of study
This is twaddle. The new science went back to Steno in the 1660s
For the first time the earth had a provable history
This was a mayor issue in the 1790s when geological savants knew the earth was ancient but couldn’t give a history. Smith in 1793 thought the earth was young and that the strata he saw were laid down in a particular order at the time of creation. As torrens said it was a “Timeless Order” and only later courtesy of the 3 revs, but a history into and thus producing something akin to Cuvier and Brongniart on the Paris Basin
the excitement and astonishment of scientific discoveries that allowed man at last to stagger out from the fogs of religious dogma
Facepalm! It was well-known long before the earth was ancient and a young earth was not part of religious dogma. Silly man.
“For the first time the earth had a provable history, a written record that paid no heed or obeisance to religious teaching and dogma, that declared its independence from the kind of faith that is no more than the blind acceptance of absurdity.”
Another faceplam. SBAW simply ignores the whole development of geology from the time of Steno, both in Britain and the Continent. My favourite howler from Winchester, not cited here, is on p29;
The hunch that God might not have done precisely as Bishop Ussher had suggested,…, was beginning to be tested by real thinkers, by rationalists, by radically inclined scientists who were bold enough to challenge both the dogma and the law, the clerics and the courts.’’
There are so many historical errors here. Savants started to question 4004BC or rather an earth a few thousand years old with Ray
and Lhwyd in the 1680s – both were “real thinkers” and Ray was a clergyman, unlike some products of the Oxford Geology Dept. It’s remarkable how many of the “radically inclined scientists” were Christians and even clergy. A young earth was not the dogma of the church, as few of the churches ever defined it and definitely not the Church of England (or Scotland) and there was no court case against geologists suggesting deep time.
‘The hunch that God might not have done precisely as Bishop Ussher had suggested,…, was beginning to be tested by real thinkers, by rationalists, by radically inclined scientists who were bold enough to challenge both the dogma and the law, the clerics and the courts.’’
Poor SBAW, very few after 1656 actually agreed with Ussher and by 1780 most educated people , including most clergy, thought the earth was a wee bit older. Americans, please note, I am english!! There were simply no court cases, or even threats of one.
I am afraid this quote has had me chuckling for two decades on the cluelessness of some educated at top universities, but sadly many think that Winchester is right on what he writes about.
Usually I pull up Creationists for their inaccurate history but now do the same to a respected journalist, OBE and American citizen.
That this blog is found on the atheistic Freedom from Religion Foundation website shows that secularists can make as big a pig’s ear of the history of science and science’s relation with Christianity as any Creationist. I’d have thought that Jerry Coyne, Dawkins, Steve Pinker and Dennett would not approve of such a shoddy article.