Category Archives: evolution

The War that never was. Evolution and Christian Theology

We are often told of the how the church opposed Galileo, Darwin, early geologists and almost every advance of science. There is a merest smidgeon of truth in it, but mostly they are stories invented to discredit Christianity. Much originated with Draper and White in the 19th century. Dawkins has fallen for it, among others. Over the lasty fifty years the idea of conflict between science and Christianity has been discredited.

World of Books - Science | A History of the Warfare of Science the Theology - War College Series By Andrew Dickson White

Recently there have been a spate of books on the conflict thesis of science and religion. Here is one coming to it from a catholic angle.

The War That Never Was: Evolution and Christian Theology Paperback – Illustrated, May 29, 2020

Kenneth W. Kemp is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is the co-translator of Archbishop Jozef Zycinski’s God and Evolution: Fundamental Questions of Christian Evolutionism.

The blurb

One of the prevailing myths of modern intellectual and cultural history is that there has been a long-running war between science and religion, particularly over evolution. This book argues that what is mistaken as a war between science and religion is actually a pair of wars between other belligerents—one between evolutionists and anti-evolutionists and another between atheists and Christians. In neither of those wars can one align science with one side and religion or theology with the other. This book includes a review of the encounter of Christian theology with the pre-Darwinian rise of historical geology, an account of the origins of the warfare myth, and a careful discussion of the salient historical events on which the myth-makers rely—the Huxley-Wilberforce exchange, the Scopes Trial and the larger anti-evolutionist campaign in which it was embedded, and the more recent curriculum wars precipitated by the proponents of Creation Science and of Intelligent-Design Theory.

My review

As I read this book, I kept thinking of the Second World War hoax made into the film The man who never was

The Man Who Never Was By Ewen Montagu

A convenient corpse with a briefcase attached was allowed to wash up in Spain so Germans would read the documents giving false information about allied plans. The argument of Kemp’s book is that there was no war between Christianity and Evolution. The conflict thesis of religion and science has taken a battering during the last fifty years but many still believe it. Much will be familiar to some, but Kemp has re-packaged it in a different way as he leads from the ‘War’ started by Draper and White, through the Scopes trial to the various Creationism and ID trials of the last 40 years.   His emphasis is transatlantic, but the issues are worldwide. With the author being a Catholic philosopher he gives a new perspective The author says the book is a partial account focussing on the paleaetiological sciences (2, 3) i.e geology, palaeontology and evolution.  . That would be fair enough but it omits so much of those sciences and does not put geology into a full perspective – which can be done briefly, though he claims to leave it for another book. It is an odd claim to say that Lyell was the founder of geology.

180px-charles_lyell anning

Llyell (left) and his geology teacher Buckland looking at glacial striae at Rhyd Ddu in North Wales, 1841

The heart of the book gives a historical account of particular conflicts of evolution and Christianity, mostly of the more extreme kind. There is little on more atheistic questions but almost only on Christian opposition to evolution of the more extreme kind.  More on genuine wrestling by Christian thinkers would have been helpful as for example Adam Sedgwick,


Princeton theologians and Bernard Ramm. The introduction is a philosophical reflection with a succinct discussion of theology and naturalism. He concludes with recommending a ‘modest methodological naturalism’ for our theology and science and criticises Johnson’s appeal to ‘immediate divine action’. A good and nuanced account of the conflict thesis as it began in the 19th century follows, concluding with ways of assessing the various arguments.

Despite many who claim there was conflict over Genesis and geology, the author is right to say there was none, beyond the peripheral early 19th century Scriptural geologists. A sharper trajectory on how geology developed from Steno in the 1660s, would have shown the gradual dawning of the realisation of Deep Time and its relation to Christianity over the next 150 years. The presentation, which tends to flip backwards and forwards, makes it difficult to follow, if one does not have familiarity with the subject matter.

Charles DarwinSH16DARWIN2
Darwin and how some see him (statue in Shrewsbury)

The chapter on the aftermath of 1859 devotes much space to the Huxley-Wilberforce episode but sheds little new light.


Wilberforce and Huxley, who got on quite well!!

It stresses its iconic position in the conflict thesis. Rather than consider the variety of Christian responses – Asa Gray is hardly mentioned, we are given four vignettes of evolutionists losing their university positions, hardly a large number

Chapter 5 is on the first Curriculum war of the Scopes era.


The author first gives an account of events, which almost seem farcical. This undoes some of the myths surrounding Scopes. More importantly the Scopes trial is not seen as purely an anti-evolution crusade but wider than that.


Andrea at the Dayton Courthouse and myself in the dock

There was a moral side and, in a sense, Bryan and others occupied the high moral ground despite their poor science. Part goes back to Kellogg’s visit to the German trenches in 1915, where German militarism was (wrongly?) traced back to Darwin. Bryan’s concern was more moral, which is why he could not accept evolution for humans. Kemp does not mention the anti-evolutionists opposition to eugenics in contrast to many biologists and modernist churchmen. Kemp regards the Scopes affair as not a battle between science and religion but rather between conservative Christians and also sees it as a three-way conflict between fundamentalism, modernism and scepticism (139). This spoils the cardboard cut-outs of Inherit the Wind, but brings out the complexities of Interwar American society. Anti-evolution was only part of it.

Chapter 6 deals with Creationism and ID in the last sixty years, termed the second curriculum war. Much is historical and familiar from Numbers The Creationists. Little is given on the renaissance of Creationism and more on legal aspects on the teaching of evolution as with the repeal of Scopes Laws and the Arkansas judgement of 1982.  The narrative moves on to Intelligent Design, which is wrongly seen as going back to Paley. The presentation is very last century with the focus on Johnson, Behe and Dembski. There’s a nod to the Dover trial of 2005, In a long section ofn the development of anti-evolutionist thought the difference between Creation ascience and ID is clarified but on ID focues on Johnson, Behe and Dembski in the 90s and omits later developments and thus gives little on how both Young Earth Creationism and Intelligent Design has evolved in the last fifteen years. Thus little is provided to understand anti-evolution in the twenties.

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Ken Ham, possibly the most significant Creationist of the 2020s, gets no mention

In conclusion Kemp emphasises that Scopes was over human evolution, whereas both creationism and ID challenge almost all of evolution and geology as well. He rightly says that the (187) NABT and new Atheists add to confusion by not distinguishing between methodological and metaphysical naturalism. He concludes this ‘war’ is doing damage to religion, as many readers must have discovered

The conclusion begins with a quote from Pope John Paul II on the Galileo myth, which is almost as pervasive. As with Galileo the Warfare Thesis fails on three grounds; it presupposes a clear demarcation between science and religion, assumes that scientists and Christians are neatly arrayed on opposite sides and. Finally, theologians were always opposed to new ideas.


With such distortion the Warfare Thesis is not a good lens to understand the relation of science and religion. ‘The war that never was’ re-surfaces the whole time – whether  in churches or without. It thus needs wise engagement rather than dismissal.

As an Anglican priest I am frequently asked by those within and without the church how can I be a geologist and a Christian? Such is the indelibility of this myth.

This is not the easiest book to read, as rather than just give a narrative the author goes beyond a simple science versus religion explanation, and attempts to tease out various factors. As a result, this will help to give a better understanding of The War that never was and why there has been conflict over some aspects of science and some aspects of religion.


Bishop Spong meets Charles Darwin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it is not!

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

Darwin’s Welsh visit of 1831 More here  


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

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

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

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

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

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


Bishop soapy Sam Wilberforce

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


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


Rev William Buckland giving a geological lecture at Oxford

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why creationism bears all the hallmarks of a conspiracy theory

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

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

Otherwise great and reasoned rather than polemical

Primate's Progress

A friend asked me why I bother about creationism. This article spells out my reasons. It has had some 150,000 reads since first published in The Conversation in February, and has been featured in Snopes and Yahoo! News, and attacked by Ken Ham and Bodie Hodge of Answers in Genesis, Jake Hebert Ph.D [sic] at the Institute for Creation Research, and others.
A replica of Noah’s Ark from the biblical tale at the Ark Encounter theme park in Kentucky.Lindasj22/Shutterstock

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will there be a rabbit in the Precambrian?

Naturalis Historia

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

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

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

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TH Huxley’s legacy, a campus building renaming controversy, and appeal for signatures

A silly exercise as probably all in the 19th century were in a sense racist by our present standards, and terribly so by the woke! I doubt if the Wilberforce family would pass today’s test either.

Primate's Progress

Western Washington University, a well-respected publicly funded university in Bellingham, WA, is conducting a review of the naming of its buildings, in the course of which demands were expressed for the renaming of the [TH] Huxley Building, which houses the College of the Environment, and as a result the University’s Legacy Review Task Force has invited comment. Background information including links to solicited academic comment is available at

My own initial reaction was outrage, but closer examination convinced me that serious engagement is a more appropriate response, given aspects of Huxley’s legacy of which I was not aware. There is no doubt, however, that the movement to rename is seriously misguided, and can be traced back to the long-standing creationist tradition of pretending that evolution science is responsible for racism. The attack on Huxley, as spelt out in a submission by one member of the Task Force (

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

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

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

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

Here’s what Ken didn’t like;

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

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

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


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

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

rootsof creationism1986

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


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

GNWD018C04_p83-112 .

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My book chapter on the Scopes years.



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

My chapter considering many aspects of YEC and ID.


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

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

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

Darwin’s doubts about design and his retriever, Asa Gray

161 years ago today Darwin published The Origin of Species. As all know it had a mixed reaction but many don’t know that Christians were more welcoming than physicists, but that is another story.


Also today we heard the sad news that some of Darwin’s notebooks from 1837-40 had gone missing from Cambridge library, presumably stolen. and so the iconic evolutionary tree of life sketch has been lost.

Charles Darwin, tree-of-Life sketch from notebook B, 1837. Reproduced... |  Download Scientific Diagram

Most consider Darwin’s work as on evolution, but it needs to be considered on design as well. To understand Darwin’s idea we must start with his rooms in Christ’s College, Cambridge, which he entered in 1828.


He had the same rooms as William Paley did many decades before. He was famous for his design argument put forward in his Natural Theology of 1804

William Paley - Wikipedia

He began with a rhetorical argument for design;

IN crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for any thing I knew to the contrary, it had lain there for ever: nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that, for any thing I knew, the watch might have always been there. Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for the stone? why is it not as admissible in the second case, as in the first? For this reason, and for no other, viz. that, when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive (what we could not discover in the stone) that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose, e. g. that they are so formed and adjusted as to produce motion, and that motion so regulated as to point out the hour of the day; that, if the different parts had been differently shaped from what they are, of a different size from what they are, or placed after any other manner, or in any other order, than that in which they are placed, either no motion at all would have been carried on in the machine, or none which would have answered the use that is now served by it. To reckon up a few of the plainest of these parts, and of their offices, all tending to one result:– We see a cylindrical box containing a coiled elastic spring, which, by its endeavour to relax itself, turns round the box. We next observe a flexible chain (artificially wrought for the sake of flexure), communicating the action of the spring from the box to the fusee. We then find a series of wheels, the teeth of which catch in, and apply to, each other, conducting the motion from the fusee to the balance, and from the balance to the pointer; and at the same time, by the size and shape of those wheels, so regulating that motion, as to terminate in causing an index, by an equable and measured progression, to pass over a given space in a given time. We take notice that the wheels are made of brass in order to keep them from rust; the springs of steel, no other metal being so elastic; that over the face of the watch there is placed a glass, a material employed in no other part of the work, but in the room of which, if there had been any other than a transparent substance, the hour could not be seen without opening the case. This mechanism being observed (it requires indeed an examination of the instrument, and perhaps some previous knowledge of the subject, to perceive and understand it; but being once, as we have said, observed and understood), the inference, we think, is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker: that there must have existed, at some time, and at some place or other, an artificer or artificers who formed it for the purpose which we find it actually to answer; who comprehended its construction, and designed its use.

And thus the design one was so powerful and popular in England for the next fifty years. The greatest exponent was William Buckland, and it comes out in his Bridgewater Treatise of 1836 and a lecture on megatherium in 1832.


Many think that the Intelligent Design of today is a continuation of Paley. It is not. It is an argument from ignorance. “Wow! We can’t explain it thus Goddidit and designed it.”

Here I contrast the design of Paley and Buckland with that of ID in the person of Michael Behe. Give me Buckland and Paley any day!

Well, back to Darwin. He rejected Paley standing him on his head BUT   always looked for functions in any organism in a way reminiscent of Paley and Buckland.

And so the Origin was published in 1859. Asa Gray, the great Harvard botanist and a Christian got it published in the USA

Asa Gray: American Botanist, Friend of Darwin: Dupree, A.  Hunter: 9780801837418: Books

and the correspondence between Gray and Darwin in 1860 is illuminating. It forms the heart of my paper in Science and Christian Belief in 1997;

Darwin’s Doubts About Design—the Darwin-Gray Correspondence of 1860

Michael B. Roberts; S & CB 9 (2); October 1997


Darwin is credited with overturning Paley’s ideas of design. However, Darwin’s prob!ems with design are more complex, and are often misunderstood by neither grasping Paley’s ideas of design, nor those of his successors, who were beginning to replace arguments leading from design to God by arguments to design from God. Darwin’s doubts about design arose from three main sources: first, he used the argument from design, in contrast to Gray’s argument to design; second, the issue of chance and determinism; and, third, his doubts that a ‘Beneficent God’ could design a world with so much pain. The correspondence between Darwin and Gray and Gray’s articles on Darwin show how Gray sought to be Darwin’s retriever. Hodge’s challenge in What is Darwinism? was centred on chance, and as natural selection depended on chance Darwinism had to be atheistic, even if Darwin himself was not. In conclusion Darwin’s doubts about design stemmed directly from his doubts about God, and especially suffering.

The letters are fascinating and raise issues of suffering as well.

For good measure I discussed the theologian Charles Hodge’s

Charles Hodge: Guardian of American Orthodoxy: Gutjahr, Paul  C.: 9780199895526: Books

What is Darwinism  of 1874 , which must be the best book against Darwin and evolution ever written. He showed the draft to Gray who disagreed but could find no “errors”. Hodge was pleased. Like Gray I disagree with Hodge but cannot fault his scholarly approach. I cannot say that about any Creationist of ID proponent today.

That’s enough, so try my paper.

Click to access serve_pdf_free.php

Link to paper

A history of Evangelicals and Science – part 2 of 12, What are evangelicals?

Evangelicals and Science

Chapter 1;  What are evangelicals?

This is the second installment of my book Evangelicals and Science (2008) and considers what an evangelical is, before considering the science.

First part;

Just what is an evangelical?

Truth and Freedom: A Classic Billy Graham Message

To some it is the conman revivalist preacher, holding out a begging bowl and jumping into bed with various women.

To others it is those who are very biblically-based in their faith and try to follow Jesus closely.

To many they a wonky American religious types, who sometimes pop over the pond.

Each of those contains a partial truth, but evangelicals are so much more.

They go back to the early 18th century and gave a new twist to Protestantism.

As it is not easy to sum them up in a few words, you can read my summary – which was written in 2007. It’s chapter 1 of my book Evangelicals and Science

What are Evangelicals?


Engaging Faith with Science amid a Pandemic | Psephizo

A useful blog on science and religion issues by a fellow Anglican Priest who was initially a chemistry teacher and thus a chemist!

His persepctive is much more on the physical sciences than mine which usually tends to matter geological and the implications there.

The second part is on Christian attitudes to Covid Augsutine

Source: Engaging Faith with Science amid a Pandemic | Psephizo

Is the Geological Column Evolutionary and Anti-Christian

Is the Geological Column anti-christian?

Red, Orange, Yellow, Blue, Green, Indigo, Violet

Many will know the colours of the rainbow/spectrum off by heart and won’t need an aid lie;

“Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain

There don’t seem to be many on the geological Column


(c) Ray Troll, @ratfishray

Camels Often Sit Down Carefully; Perhaps Their Joints Creak? Persistent Early Oiling Might Prevent Permanent Rheumatism.

One cannot even study Geology 001, yet alone 101, without needing to remember; “Cambrian, Ordovician………………..”

The Geological Column is as central to geology as the Periodic Table to chemistry, yet it is frequently dismissed by Young Earth Creationists and has been since McCready Price challenged it a century ago. Price wrote an apparently erudite book, replete with references The New Geology (1923). Here he claimed that the arguments geologists put forward for the order of strata is based on circular reasoning and that strata could occur in any order and thus you could find Cambrian lying on top of Jurassic. The leading geologist Schuchert called it a “geological nightmare”.

The accusation of a circular argument has stuck and was repeated by Morris in The Genesis Flood  and many subsequent creationists.

Image result for index fossils circular reasoning

Essentially it is that you date the fossils from evolution and use the fossils to prove evolution. Sometimes geologists almost speak like that!! And so the Geological Column is often called the “Uniformitarian Evolutionary Geological Column” to stress that the column is based on the Uniformitarian Geology of Lyell and the theory of evolution Thus in one go you can discredit Lyell and Darwin and all they stand for.

But is it actually true to say the Geological Column is Uniformitarian and Evolutionary and anti-Christian?

Uniformitarianism stems from James Hutton in the 1780s and most of all from Charles Lyell in 1831. Though evolution had been suggested, it was only widely accepted after Darwin published The Origin of species in 1859. You need to note the dates 1831 and 1859 as you read this.

The Geological Column is a way of putting the strata in order of deposition and was worked out in the early 19th century. Before that most “geologists” were convinced the earth was “tres vieux” (de Saussure) and there was an order which they couldn’t work out.

The first to give a kind of order was the Rev John Michell of Cambridge which was written down by a Mr Smeaton on the back of a letter!

Mr Michell’s Account of the south of England Strata

This gave a tolerably complete  list of strata from the Chalk (Cretaceous) down to the Coal Measures (Carboniferous/Pennsylvanian) you would find travelling from London to Yorkshire. Michell probably produced his “column” while travelling by coach or horse back and doing a little fieldwork. Thirty years later William Smith produced a classic cross-section of the strata of England and Wales from Snowdon in Wales to London to accompany his map of england and Wales, but had worked much of it out before 1800, almost fleshing out the sketch of Michell.. This order was impressed on me at the age of 16 and 17 as on three occasions cycled from mid- or north Wales to our house south of London. My geology then was just about good enough to identify the basic geology. Not that I’d studied geology then, beyond high school geography, but my geography teacher was a geologists and mountaineer. I even got commended when I wrote an essay describing one of my trips with a bit of geology thrown in! I’d broken the journey into geological stages. The third time I did it, I cycled the 350 miles home from Capel Curig in Snowdonia. I started by climbing Snowdon by the Snowdon Horseshoe and then still had 340 miles to cycle. It took me six days but I had climbed Snowdon and Cadair Idris as well. I can assure you that the hill of yellow strata on the right of the diagram (the Jurassic scarp of the Cotswolds) – Birdlip Hill is a very steep climb on a heavily laden bike.


(Smith’s 1815 Cross-section annotated by  Callan Bentley)

The cross-section is slightly simplified, but it shows progressively younger rocks lying on top of the oldest around Snowdon, which are about550 my to those in the Vale of Thames (Tertiary) i.e. London at 50 my. It was another fifteen years before Sedgwick and Murchison began elucidating the Welsh rocks, first into the Cambrian and Silurian and later with Ordovician in between (the three names are based on ancient tribes in Wales.)

The usual (mythical?) history of geology puts the rise of geology down to two men, Hutton and Lyell. Lyell was a late comer in 1830 and Hutton,

james-hutton-caracitureAngular Unconformity at Siccar Point, Scotland. Siccar Point, Scotland (Photo: Wikipedia “Hutton’s Unconformity”)

though he grasped the concept of geological time due to the discovery of the unconformity at Siccar Point, he did not put the rocks of Scotland into a timeline. That was for reasons beyond his control in the actual geology as even the Southern Uplands were too complex as “starter” strata and as for the Highlands, which defied geologists for nearly a century. (Oldroyd) . To put it simply Hutton in Scotland and de Saussure around Chamonix had chosen the short straws as the strata were too folded and metamorphosed for straightforward elucidation in the early stages of geology. They could demonstrate that the strata were ancient but not put them in hisotorical order. What was needed was to be able to follow essentially almost flat lying strata over many miles. That is what Michell did in 1788 but never published.

That work was largely carried out in by English, and some French, geologists in the first half of the 19th century. Before that, following Werner, rocks were seen as Primary, Secondary or Tertiary. This could lead to confusion as Primary were meant to be “original” rocks and thus not sedimentary, and, of course, granites can be of any age.

Who invented the Geological column?

Below is a table of the Geological Column showing who had actually worked on it and named the systems

As we see from the diagram below, most of the names setting up the column were British (Lyell and Murchison were Scots, and Sedgwick, Phillips, Conybeare and Lapworth were English) And at the bottom is the great Christian geologist J.D. Dana of Yale.


As the whole development of the Geological Column was empirical, piecemeal and observational, the result is more coherent than its unfolding. It was not sorted out after a few weeks in the field, but after several years, an immense amount of fieldwork and argument, at times acrimonious, between the geologists. The work on the Devonian has been exhaustively expounded by Martin Rudwick and the Cambrian, Ordovician and Silurian by Jim Secord. For myself, apart from reading the literature, I went on a field trip looking at Murchison (and Lewis) on the Silurian in South Wales and traced out much of Sedgwick’s ramblings from his notebooks in North Wales. I particularly walked, yes walked, most of his routes from august to October 1831. That covered most of the country between Shrewsbury and Holyhead. That included several long mountain hikes in Snowdonia following his routes. The longest was 18 miles and involved 6000ft of climbing. My dog and I were knackered!! At the end of 1831 Sedgwick hadn’t got and had to return for several years before working out the Cambrian.

Let’s look at the major workers and consider how godless or godly they were!

The 3-fold division – Palaeozoic, Mesozoic and Cainozoic.

As each of the Systems were being worked out, it became clear that they fell into three groups, and in 1841 the geologist John Phillips (1800-1874) named them Palaeozoic (Old Life Trilobites and fish) Mesozoic (Middle Life – dinosaurs) and Cainozoic (new life – rise of Mammals). Phillips was the orphaned nephew of the founding geologist William Smith, who trained him up as a geologist. He had no formal education and never went to university. He worked for the British Geological Survey and published many technical papers and semi-popular books on geology. In 1856 he succeeded Strickland as Professor of Geology in Oxford, after Strickland was killed by a train while looking at the geology in a railway cutting. I think he’s the only non-graduate professor at Oxford.

So how godless was Phillips? He wasn’t! He was a lay member of the Anglican Church in contrast to others mentioned here. In his many popular books on geology he discussed the relation of geology and genesis. In the 1820s he accepted a deluge but moved to a Day-Age understanding of Genesis, to the annoyance of young earthers of his day like Dean Cockburn of York. Cockburn attacked many geologists including Murchison, Buckland and Sedgwick, as described here;

In 1860 Essays and Reviews was published which took a very liberal view of the faith, including denying miracles. Bishop Samuel Wilberforce was furious  so he organised and edited Replies to Essays and Reviews and asked Phillips to write a chapter of genesis and geology. Wilberforce and Phillips held similar views on the subject. Phillips’ biographer, Jack Morrell, portrays Phillips as a liberal Anglican, but as his views on geology was that of most Anglicans – liberal or evangelical – I feel he overstated the case.

The Precambrian

After the 1840s when the order Cambrian to Pleistocene was elucidated , the non-fossiliferous strata older than the Cambrian were simply called Precambrian and then split into two by American Geologists. The newer was known as Proterzoic as life was suspected in it (and demonstrated in the last 70 years) and was named by Stuart Emmons of the USGS in 1888. I don’t know what his faith stance was.

The older Precambrian was termed Archaean by Prof James D Dana of Yale in 1872 (1813-95) .Dana wrote the standard textbook Manual of Mineralogy (1848) which went through 21 editions until 1999. Surely DeepTime for a book! Darwin sent him a copy of The Origin of species  in 1860 but he did not read it for several years due to a breakdown. When he did he was largely convinced by Darwin. In 1872 he advised the Princeton theologian, Charles Hodge, on creation for his Systematic Theology. So much so that several pages of Hodge’s Systematic Theology  were written by Dana. It would be fair to say Dana was a convinced evangelical on good terms with the Princeton theologians.

And now to work our way religiously up the column!

The  Palaeozoic

These represent strata from 250 my to 560my and simply means Old Life

Except for the Carboniferous, the main players were Rev Adam Sedgwick and (Sir) Roderick Murchison

The main deviser of the Carboniferous


was the Rev William Conybeare, an Anglican priest, who was educated at Oxford and was then ordained. He belonged to the liberal wing of evangelicals and served in the parish of Axminster in Devon and then Dean of Llandaff Cathedral. During the 1820s he advised the editor of The Christian Observor, an evangelical paper founded by Wilberforce, to combat the views of Anti-geologists like George Bugg. In 1822 with William Phillips he wrote Outlines of the Geology of England and Wales, an excellent (long) summary of geology at that time, where he put forward the Carboniferous (Mississippian and Pennsylvanian in the USA).

A major contribution  was his delineation of the Carboniferous (300-355my). These strata are particularly well- formed in northern England. At the base are massive limestones, best seen at Malham Cove. Above are a mixture of sandstones and shales, notably the Millstone or Pendle Grit. Above again are the Coal Measures, which both outcrop on either side of the Pennines and below surface resulting in deep mines.

So the Carboniferous was hardly atheistic but Christian!!

From 1831 Sedgwick and Murchison tried to sort out the geology of Wales, working in what we now call the Cambrian, Ordovician and Silurian strata.

300px-Adam_SedgwickDSCF2393story of the geological challenges and relationship breakdowns are related in Jim Secord Controversy in Victorian Geology. (1986). Their work started amicably in 1831 with Sedgwick (and Darwin for a few weeks) going to North Wales and Murchison to the south. Their aim was to find a place where the Old Red Sandstone (Devonian) could be followed conformably down into the older rocks Sedgwick drew the short straw as the geology was against him as there was no ORS from Llangollen to Snowdonia.  Murchison soon struck gold as Rev Thomas Lewis, curate of Aymestry in Shropshire, and former student of Sedgwick, had already worked out the succession down from (what would be) Devonian to (what would be) Silurian. This effectively handed everything on a plate to Murchison, while Sedgwick was floundering in North Wales “climbing every mountain”. One may say Sedgwick worked up from the “Cambrian” and Murchison worked down from the Devonian to the “Silurian”. Let’s say there was conflict, geological and personal, when their geology met up. On top of that Murchison did not give enough recognition to Lewis.

There was no resolution in their lifetimes and in 1879 Charles Lapwoth, termed many of the middle strata of the then Silurian and Cambrian, Ordovician. This resolved nearly half a century of controversy. In fact the three systems are subtly different. The Cambrian contains more sandstones, the Ordovician lavas and the Silurian slates. (A gross over-simplication, but whenever I am in Wales or Northwest England, climbing or geologising, the differences are manifest.)

Towards the end of the 1830s a number of geologists carried of fieldwork in Devon and Cornwall trying to make sense of the confusing strata commonly called Culm. The comlex story has been unravelled by Martin Rudwick (a Christian) in The Great Devonian Controversy. The main players were Murchison and Sedgwick, with a fair number of clergy as part players eg Buckland, Conybeare and Williams and, more topically, the former slave-owner de la Beche.

And then to finish it off in 1841 Murchison went off on a campaign in Russia getting as far as the Urals in the Great Perm east of Moscow. As a result he termed the strata above the Carboniferous as Permian (250-295my)

Thus 300 my of strata were classified in 20 years. A fantastic achievement – by British geologists.

But what of their religious beliefs?

Charles Lapworth. I know little about him, but he did go to a church teachers training college. From the silence we can say he was no active atheist, but little more.

Sir Roderick Murchison. He seems to have made no public comment about his faith. However he opposed Darwin’s theory of evolution and supported a successive or progressive creation of species. He never fully subscribed to Lyell’s Uniformitarianism. I suggest he was like John Phillips.

Adam Sedgwick, William Conybeare, Thomas Lewis. All three were Anglican priests and devout. They were evangelically inclined, Sedgwick more so. Sedgwick was the only one to see Darwin’s Origin of Species published– which he opposed strongly, even though Darwin was his pupil. Conybeare opposed Lyell’s Uniformitarianism and argued vociferously against him! Sedgwick was more sympathetic. If they were alive today they’d be seen as conservative Christians in the Church of England and very conservative in the American Episcopal Church and untouched by “liberalism”

Mesozoic (strata from 65 to 250 my)

I am afraid I know nothing about the religious views of the three mentioned

That is not to say there was no British involvement. In 1780 the Rev John Michell had worked out an outline of Mesozoic strata and then from 1790 William Smith worked out the strata in detail giving them delightful local names, some of which are still used for stages today. Michell was for many years vicar of a parish and quite diligent. There is no evidence that he was evangelical, but no reasonable question would doubt he was a Christian.

William Smith was a canal engineer working near Bath (near Bristol) in the 1790s


involved in the digging of two parallel canals. He observed the same succession of strata and the same succession of fossils, some of which he used as markers elsewhere. As he travelled the country he could observe the geology either where he was working on looking out from a coach. From this he produced the first geological map of England and Wales in 1815, giving the strata in order (see the cross-section above) but not our familiar names. The map is remarkably accurate even by today’s standards. Smith did much to clarify and understand what came to be called Jurassic strata.

What about Smith’s faith? The evidence is extremely poor. The little I can say is that before 1800 he thought the earth was only 6,000 years old. He then changed his mind because of his advisers! These were three local vicars the Revs Richard Warner, Benjamin Richardson and Joseph Townsend. Townsend was fiery evangelical preacher, who in 1813 wrote The Character of Moses established for Veracity as a Historian. Though it contained some material of Genesis and adopted the old Chaos-Restitution interpretation, recently popularised by Thomas Chalmers, allowing for considerable geological time. It was also a good summary of the state of geology in 1810, though it looked more to the Christian Swiss geologist Jean Andre de Luc, rather than William Hutton.

Smith has a copy of George Faber’s A Dissertation on the Prophecies relative to the Great Period of 1,200 Years, the Papal and Mahomedan Apostasies, the Reign of Antichrist, and the Restoration of the Jews,’ 2 vols. 1807 in his small library. Faber, an evangelical was fascinated and supportive of geology and friendly with Rev William Buckland of Oxford. In his  A Treatise on the Genius and Object of the Patriarchal, the Levitical, and the Christian Dispensations,’ 2 vols. 1823, he devoted one chapter to Genesis and geology and had learnt his geology from Buckland.

Cainozoic – strata from 65 my to now

The crucial person here is Charles Lyell who put forward a threefold division – Eocene, Miocene and Pliocene in 1833, working out the boundaries from the fossil content.


Lyell extended Hutton’s Uniformitarianism – though he did allow some catastrophe.

Relgiously he was Unitarian and thus no atheist. Like Sedgwwick , Buckland and others he objected to trying to argue that all strata were laid down in the Deluge and sometimes made scathing comments on that. They are often quoted in a way to make Lyell seem atheistic.

Further in his Principles of Geology he rejected any kind of evolution and did not accept evolution until the 1860s, several years after The Origin.

The names Eocene, Miocene and Pliocene were coined by Rev William Whewell of Cambridge, a man in the religious mould of Sedgwick and Conybeare.

To include the Ice Ages Lyell proposed the Pleistocene in 1839, after Agassiz (a Unitarian) and Charpentier discovered an ice age some years before. The idea was brought to Britain the year before by the Rev William Buckland of Oxford. In 1840 Lyell, Buckland and Agassiz travelled from the south of England to Scotland to find evidence of glaciation. That they did, but the first evidence were the drumlins near Lancaster a few miles from my home.  In 1841 Buckland worked out that Snowdonia had been glaciated, a fact which Darwin confirmed in 1842.

Religiously Buckland was devout and very similar to Whewell, Conybeare and Sedgwick, except that he was a total eccentric. He became Dean of Westminster in 1846 at the height of cholera outbreaks. As an elite scientist (as were the other three) he became a scientific adviser. Part of this was descending into the sewers of London. In a sermon at Westminster Abbey he later expounded the Christian duty of providing decent sewerage and for illustration graphically described what he saw and smelt in the sewers. Queen Victoria was in the congregation.

Is the Geological Column ungodly?

As a scientific concept it makes no judgement on what is godly and what is not.

However it is a historical fact that a high proportion of those developing the Geological Column were Christian  – and not those only in name. Having read many of the writings of Sedgwick, Buckland, Whewell, Conybeare and Townsend, I found they were not time-serving clerics and their aim may be summed up in the memorial to Sedgwick at Dent Church in the Yorkshire Dales.


Further there is no evidence that there was any atheistic and antichristian purpose behind the development of geology. Even Hutton, who is often accused of this, was not anti-Christian but deist and had good relations with many Christian clergy like Playfair and Robertson, a Moderator of the Kirk.

On this score the Geological Column is no more godly or ungodly than the Periodic Table, Newton’s Laws of motion  or the structure of DNA. It is simply good science, which in the execution included the work of many Christians.

As for the Geological Column being evolutionary, that can be swiftly dealt with. Darwin only began to develop his evolutionary ideas in 1838, by which time the Geological Column was well and truly sorted. I’m quite sure Darwin who was born in 1809 did not influence the Rev John Michell in 1788, or Smith in the 1790s, or Conybeare in 1822.

To say the Geological Column is based on evolution is just plain silly, as much was worked out before Darwin was out of diapers..

As for it being Uniformitarian the case is nearly as feeble, as none of the British geologists, bar Lyell of course, were Uniformitarian. They were either Catastrophists or partial converts to Uniformitarianism as was Sedgwick. However though until the 1840s they reckoned the Deluge could have deposited the top 30 ft of strata, all rejected any idea that all the strata were laid down while Noah was on a cruise.

Perhaps the watercolour of de la Beche (and a recent re-enactment) sums up their views.



The sooner the popular idea that the Geological Column is based on a circular argument from evolution  and a result of godless Uniformitarianism is ditched the better.

It would help if devout Christians could also accept that many early geologists and workers of the geological column were devout Christians – even if some weren’t.

2 Corinthians 11 vs1


J. Secord Controversy in Victorian Geology 1986

M Rudwick The Great Devonian contoversy 1985

M Rudwick Bursting the Limits of Time 2005

M. Roberts Evangelicals and Science 2008