Category Archives: genesis

On bishops, creation and the environment | Psephizo

I find I’m in almost 100% agreement with this blog!

I have questions about Rohr but his ideas go back to Sally McFague in 1993 and seem to permeate so much of Green Theology, which has become quite an industry. I’d also add that “green Christians” have become somewhat exclusivist and assume that all must follow their views and actions. eg support of divestment, Extinction rebellion etc. I think this is probably related to the odd theology.

I’ll reblog this to go against my quickie response of last week

Source: On bishops, creation and the environment | Psephizo

Is Creation God? Can God be incarnate in Creation?


Is Creation God?

One of the great moves by the churches in the 30 years has been a concern for the environment. That was after decades of not being bothered.

One diocese in the forefront is Oxford Diocese and they are releasing as series of four videos on Creation and our care on the environment in which the Bishop of Reading gives four short addresses on different aspects.

The first dealt with a general view of creation which needs to underpin all care of the environment. Much was standard Christian teaching but somehow she brought in the idea of God as incarnate in Creation;

“If God is incarnate in the whole of creation, can there be any separation between sacred and profane?”  

We ought to welcome her concern for creation and environment, but may question her support of Extinction Rebellion and Christian Climate Action, but this raises more than a few eyebrows.

However there are severe questions about what she said.

How can one say that God is incarnate in creation?

From 2.30 she deals with Incarnation and says the Incarnation becomes vaster with the Big Bang 14 billion years ago.

and 2.50 God poured his godself into Creation

From 3.40 uses Colossians 1 and John ! to support this

and then in 4.30f that Evolution is God incarnate

The word “Incarnate” means is enfleshed  and is used of God becoming human in Jesus, just think of the Prologue of John’s gospel read as the culmination of every Christmas Carol Service and usually the main reading at Christmas services;

And the Word became flesh and lived among us John 1 vs 14

i.e God – the Word – became “flesh” – a human.

Hence Christian theology has always spoken of the Incarnation to sum up this central belief which is expressed in the apsotles and Nicene Creeds and by theologians down the centuries – except those in the 1970s who went for “The Myth of God Incarnate”!

You could say that this video is not quite Nicene orthodoxy!

To say that God is incarnate in Creation is first a bad use of the word “incarnate” as that means “enfleshed”. I presume what she meant is that God is in the whole creation, but that would make God “enmattered”.

edit 13/10/20 I should have checked – it’s straight out of Richard Rohr Creation as the body of God. and in The Universal Christ.

To say that God is in the whole of creation is NOT the theistic understanding of God and Creation but Pantheism, where God is in all of creation. It is fair to say that the Biblical texts on creation and theologians during the last 2000 years have stressed that God is apart from his Creation.

Here we speak of god being immanent and transcendent. If He was just the latter he’d be a deistic god, who leaves the world alone – or as one atheistic wag once put it £God made the world and retired hurt.” But God is involved and present and that is immanence.

This is expressed neatly by some quasi-mathematical equations by William Tmple in Nature Man and God (p435)  

World – God = Zero

God – World = God

Ideas from Process Theology of Panentheism are attempts to express this in another way, but not all theists are convinced.

Ultimately Christianity and Judaism and Islam as THEISTIC faiths see God is separate from Creation and not “incarnate” in any sense. Islam also questions whether God can be incarnate in Jesus, but that is another question.

Christian teaching must have a very high view of creation and the Bishop is trying to express that, but falters on the use of “incarnate”, which van only mean Pantheism and not Theism. Too often creation and its value has been ignored and sidelined, so that creation is only the stage where we “work out our salvation” or lack of it. Who cares what happens to it as it will only be burnt up at the end of time!!

As Christians we need to show awe and wonder with Creation, not worship as God being incarnate in Creation would require. We should worship the creator not the creation.


It is also absolutely vital to care and nurture God’s creation, but to spell that out would need another score or so blogs!!

But here is a brief and simple (simplistic) summary

I also think the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins has something to teach us too.

And a chapter in a book published by the Geological society on creation in reference to geology

Genesis one for geologists

Finally Colossians chap1 vs13-22

13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. 21 And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him—

Oxford Diocese and the bishop have responded on the diocese website

A helpful clarification…


What’s happened?

A number of commentators on social media have said that the core message of this film by the Bishop of Reading is pantheistic or panentheistic. Pantheism is defined as a doctrine which identifies God with the universe, or regards the universe as a manifestation of God.

What does that mean, and why does it matter?

Incarnate means “taking flesh”, “becoming human”. Christians believe this happens in a unique and unrepeatable way in Christ, lifting up humanity to a unique place within the creation. Applying the same analogy to the whole of creation can be seen as blurring the distinction between Christ and Creation; that God is in everything to the same degree. In turn, people believe that if God is in everything to the same degree, then this erodes the supremacy and uniqueness of Christ.

Is that what you meant to say?

Of course, this isn’t the intended message of the film, as Bishop Olivia responds:

In the first of the videos I made on how we might understand our care for the environment, I used the word ‘incarnation’ in a very broad sense which some have found unhelpful, so here is a clarification.

The event of the Incarnation of Christ, at a moment in time and in a place on Earth was unique, unrepeatable and salvic. Through this event, as Colossians 1 puts it, we see in Christ, not only the image of the invisible God, but the fulness of God, and the whole of the created world has access to ultimate reconciliation with God.

Reading John 1 and Colossians 1 gives us a profound sense that all things are formed through God and Christ the Logos. And since the beginning, God makes Godself known in creation for the purpose of reconciliation. More than this, as we read in Laudato Si’, God’s love is the fundamental moving force in all created things; his divine presence ensures the subsistence and growth of each being.

I can see that the words I used had a pantheistic ring to them, which I did not intend (God and creation are not the same thing). But I think that it is helpful, in considering our relationship to our world to think about the notion that the Divine pervades every part of the universe, while clearly being above, beyond and greater than the universe.

“The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork”
– Psalm 19

 Michael responds; the cause of the confusion is using the word “incarnate”. It would be better to say God is immanent and creation is his handiwork, not his incarnation.

I would suggest withdrawing the video and re-do it avoind “incarnate” to avoid confusion otherwise the charge of being pantheistic will stick.

To say evolution is god incarnate is an odd expression and has no biblical support. I say that as a geologist with a total acceptance of evolution

It’s good to encourage debate

It’s good that there has been some vigorous debate. Done well, it shows that we care. Let’s remember too that, as Christians, we also have an essential part to play in the shape of online society. How we model good disagreement and how we interact with one another is important. Let’s make social media kinder.

The Gap Theory set to classical music: Haydn’s Creation

The Gap Theory set to classical music: Haydn’s Creation

To many people geology and Genesis don’t mix but over the centuries many Christians have tried to “reconcile” the two. To some that is absurd as you cannot reconcile the 144 hours of 6 days with the 13.2 billion years of our universe.

From 1860 until 1980 the most popular way of conservative evangelicals reconciling the two was the Gap Theory. Here it is posited that between the verses of Genesis I vs1 and vs3 , there was a “gap” when all the millions of years of geology took place before god re-ordered it in 144 hours to get ready for humans. That was rejected by less conservative Christians 150 years ago and by Young Earth Creationists in recent decades (though their view is even more implausible).

The Gap Theory came to the fore with Pember’s Earth’s Earliest Ages of 1876. It wasn’t entirely novel as it was a development of Thomas Chalmers’ ideas of 1804.

In fact, in another form, as the Chaos- Restitution interpretation, it goes back centuries and even to Justin Martyr. It was an apologetic to relate to Classical thought and arguibng that the chaos or “formless void” of Gen 1.2, was the same as the “chaos” of so many Classicla writers from Heisiod onwards. Aristophanes put an erotic spin on it, but what do you expect from the author of Lysistrata?

In one form or another it was the most common interpretation from 1600, with a straight 144 hour creation lagging a bit behind, and a day-age view lagging in third place.

And so to Haydn’s Creation;

It begins with a superb orchestral piece “the Representation of Chaos” to set the scene. After that in a series of recitatives, solo arias and choruses it works through the Six Days of Creation.


PART ONE Overture – The Representation of Chaos

The First Day Recitative and chorus

RAPHAEL In the beginning God created the Heaven and the earth; and the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.

 CHORUS And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters; and God said: Let there be Light, and there was Light.


URIEL And God saw the Light, that it was good: and God divided the Light from the darkness.

This is simply the first two verses of Genesis 1. But then to bring out the common understanding of the creation and end of Chaos, Haydn slips in anther Aria and Chorus to being out the “recreation” of creation after the time of chaos has ended.

Most of the aria and chorus is rather sombre but turns to joy with “A new-created world springs up at God’s command.” And so the rather dark and dismal chaos has been transformed into the delight of “A new created world”.

URIEL Now vanish before the holy beams the gloomy, dismal shades of darkness; the first of days appears! Disorder yields and order fair prevails. Affrighted fly hell’s spirits, black in throngs; down they sink in the deepest abyss to endless night

 3 CHORUS Despairing, cursing rage attends their rapid fall. A new-created world springs up at God’s command.

After the transformation of chaos all is read for the Second Day

Some background

            Haydn’s Creation expresses the variety and ambiguity of the 18th century interpretation of the Creation Story in musical form. Haydn’s Creation apparently gives a simple musical rendering of Genesis Chapter One in a thoroughly literalistic manner. A closer examination belies this and indicates that the libretto follows the Gap Theory with its interval between the two clauses of verse two, allows a measure of “ruin-and-restitution” and has probable close links with contemporary sciences, especially the Nebular Hypothesis of Laplace.

SeeNeil Jenkins on the Creation

            The Creation was one of Haydn’s last works and he began composing the music in 1796 after visiting London in 1791-2 and 1793-4, when he “experienced the overwhelming effect of Handel’s oratorios. Temperley argues that Haydn’s experience of Handel’s oratorios in London was the chief stimulus for both The Creation and “The Seasons”. The original text of The Creation was in English and it was given to Haydn by Salomon in 1795. Gottfried van Swieten, who translated the text into German wrote about its origins in 1798; “Neither is it by Dryden   but by an unnamed author who had compiled it largely from Milton’s Paradise Lost and had intended it for Handel….” The author is not known, but many have assumed that it was Thomas Linley (1733-95). However, what is known is that it dates from about 1750, and is thus evidence for contemporary understandings of Genesis One and is similar to Milton and other poets, who incorporate ideas of Chaos. as well as many exegetes, as described above.

            van Swieten’s libretto is a fairly literal translation of the English , and the Recicatives in German do not follow German Bibles, but rather a literal rendering of the A.V. into German. Temperley argues that the inept or bizarre choice of epithets: “holy beams”, “dreary, wasteful hail” and others are modelled on Milton by an imitator lacking the master’s touch. The structure of the oratorio is simple, following through the six days of Creation with Recitatives, Arias and Choruses, with that for the First Day preceeded by the superb orchestral introduction The Representation of Chaos. As with much contemporary exegesis, e.g. Bishop Samuel Horsely, it is easy to see it as straight literalism. Consideration of the Aria with Chorus, “Now vanish before the holy beams” indicates that the librettist follows a form of “ruin-and-restoration” with a Destruction of gloomy chaos by the Light (“Now vanish before the holy beams / The gloomy shades of ancient days” and “Affrighted fly hell’s spirits black in throng; / Down they sink in the deep abyss / To endless night. and “Despairing rage attends their rapid fall “) and the formation of “a new-created world” which “springs up at God’s command.” The libretto for the first Day points to the first Act of Creation being the Chaos “without form and void” and then after an unspecified time was recreated or reconstituted in Six Days. Thus from the chronological sense of the libretto the orchestral Representation of Chaos should between Raphael’s first recitative and the first chorus, though not on musical grounds! The words of the libretto for Day One preclude the possibility of taking the Chaos as the pre-existing material which God moulded into shape over six days

            As well as looking to contemporary biblical interpretations of all of the Eighteenth Century, Haydn also looks to modern science especially astronomy. As Tovey wrote, ” the chaos he intends to represent is no mere state of disorder and confusion. he has a remarkably consistent notion ofit, which harmonises well enough with the Biblical account of the Creation; not less well with the classical notions of Chaos, whether in Heisiod or Ovid; but most closely with the Nebular Hypothesis of Kant and Laplace.” Kant published his views in 1755 and Laplace in popular form in 1796. While in England Haydn visited the astronomer Herschel at Slough, but Tovey does not give the date. Tovey considers that the Representation of Chaos represents not disorder but a gradual evolution of Cosmos from Chaos. One could see this differentiation from the original “chaotic” nebula as Gardiner expressed it “Amidst this turbid modulation, the bassoon is the first that makes an effort to rise and extricate itself from the cumbrous mass (bar 6) Later “In mingled confusion the clarinet struggles with more success (bar 31?) and the etherial flute escapes into the air (bar 39). It is interesting that William Gardiner wrote this in 1811, which is the the time that the Gap Theory was gaining wide credence among British Christians,such as Chalmers, Sumner and the Reverend Geologists, as this gave them plenty of time for all their geology to be inserted into Genesis

Though Haydn began work on The Creation in 1796, ironically a year after Smith’s formulation of stratigraphic succession, the libretto comes from the beginning of the century. The libretto was in English and given to Haydn while he was visiting England in 1791. Returning to Vienna Van Sweiten translated it into German, which was the language of the first performance in 1798. The original English text had possibly been prepared for Handel in the 1740s and is based on Genesis One , some Psalms      and Paradise Lost. Though with typical Enlightenment optimism it stops short before the Fall, it provides another insight on how Genesis was understood in the 18th century. The Introduction and the early recitatives and choruses show that it is not a simple literal interpretation. We are presented with an initial Creation, then a long, dark and mysterious Representation of Chaos in a minor key, (which musically is in the right place, but should follow on from Raphael’s first Recitative.) and then “a new-created world”. What we have is a musical rendering of the Gap Theory, which both reflects widely-held understandings of Creation Story in the whole of the 18th Century and then because of its popularity made this understanding more widely known. After its first performance 1799 in German and then the English version at Covent Garden in 1800.  It became one the most popular choral works, almost overtaking The Messiah in popularity. Societies were formed up and down the country expressly for The Creation and its familiarity is referred to in The Mill on the Floss

            It was fitting that Salomon should have presented the first London performance, but John Ashley pre-empted him with a performance at Covent Garden on 28th March 1800. The Creation entered the standard repertory of provincial choir festivals within two decades (Norwich 1813, Edinburgh 1815 and York 1823). Throughout the century it was also performed annually at Exeter Hall, London, the bastion of interdenominational evangelicalism. There is an irony that it was at Exeter Hall in 1856  that Hugh Miller so forcibly presented the geological arguments against the Gap Theory. Some years later, on 7th January 1866, with greater irony, Thomas Huxley was introduced to an audience at St Martin’s Hall, Covent Garden by “a booming church organ pumping out Haydn’s ‘Creation’ to heighten the sense of awe”. (p345   )


The production of the Creation is important to highlight the relation of Genesis and the general thought and science of two centuries ago. The received version is that until these atheistic geologists came along with their hammers in 1790, the churches all believed in a 6 24 hour day creation. Young Earth Creationists are adamant about this and the more liberal Christians tended to argue for this until this century.

Before 1790 most “educated” Christians were either iffy about or rejected a 6 day creation. The discovery of Deep Time did not shatter the churches beliefs, but rather Deep Time slotted quite easily into the supposed chaos of Gen 1 vs 2, and just considering British Christians this so-called Gap Theory became widely accepted, though some preferred the Day Age view.

It comes out clearly in the evangelical Rev Joseph Townsend’s The Character of Moses Established for Veracity as an Historian, Recording Events from the Creation to the Deluge, (1813). Townsend was one of the three vicars who worked with William smith, the “father of English Geology”. It was then expounded by Rev William Buckland in huis iaugural lecture as Reader in Geology and Mineralogy at Oxford in 1819  – Vindiciae Geologicae and then in his Bridgewater Treatise of 1837.

These are but two examples, but a minority e.g. G.S.Faber and the American Silliman presented the case for the Day Age view. Some still held to a 6 24 hour day, either because geology was no concern to them or they considered geology atheistic.

By the late 1840s the chaos view was going out as it did not “fit” with geology and the more liberal went with the Germans and broke the nexus with historical events. This summary of Genesis interpretation from 1800 to 1850 is hopeless brief and wil, be expanded in a later blog.To conclude we can listen to Haydn’s Creation and see that geology was not a problem for early 19th century Christians  – at least the sensible ones and there is no need to hold that Deep geological Time can only lead to atheism as I was told by a historian of geology 20 years ago when we were looking at the thermal metamorphism of slates caused by an intrusive sill at the fantastic Tan Y Pystyll waterfall near Shrewsbury.

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

Many years ago at an Evangelical Alliance conference in Wales a travelling secretary, with a physics degree, from UCCF (Universities and colleges Christian Fellowship) told me I was too dogmatic in insisting that the earth was billions of years old.

Really, here’s a hundred reasons why the earth is ancient

sketch of Rev William Buckland, later Dean of Westminster and lover of London sewers, doing geological fieldwork in Snowdonia. Quiztime; who painted it ( clue; camel’s hump) : why was it? Name the mountain ; when?


via 100 Reasons the Earth is Old

Genesis One for Geologists


About a decade ago I was asked to write a British Protestant perspective on Genesis and creation for a Special Publication of the Geological Society of London for their volume

Geology and Religion SP 310, 2009.

An Anglican priest’s perspective on the doctrine of creation
in the church today
Genesis one for geologists

My aim was to give the range of perspectives today, focussing on Anglicans, but also typical of all churches. I had a limited number of words so I had to restrict my material. As it was connected with a conference of INHIGEO (International History of Geology) I focussed on the interest and scope of that conference and the other book chapters.  These were very wide ranging but mainly referring to the Christian Faith. Due to space I omitted many essential things, like the environment, details on composition of Genesis, theodicy etc. thus it was on Genesis and time.

It was not like writing theology whether academically or for the church and I needed to find a focus. In part I imagine I was writing for two other contribuorts; one an atheist (now departed) who told me that geology destroyed faith, and the other an agnostic friend who once started an e-mail with “Dear Bloody Clergyman,……….”!!

I hoped, and hope, this essay clarifies things for beleiver and unbleiever and why we not have to beleive six impossible things about geology and Genesis before breakfast.

Within the British and US Protestant churches there is an immense variety of  understandings of the doctrine of creation, particularly within the mainstream
denominations, which have both liberal and conservative or evangelical wings. I will subdivide them into three main groups, two of which may be divided again. These are:
(1) non-realism;
(2) critical realism ((a) liberal; (b) conservative);
(3) naive realism ((a) old-Earth creationism (evolution denied); (b) young-Earth
I have chosen this relatively unusual way of classifying  Christian belief today as I consider it to be the best way of highlighting the spectrum of today’s Protestants, especially in the English-speaking world. Like any classification it has its limitations
and, as we are dealing with human thought, these groups do not form watertight compartments. The various types of ‘realism’ give a good focus, as they centre on the nature of God, creation, and the meaning and content of theological language,
which may or may not look to the Bible as revelation. At the extreme of non-realism, theological language is purely metaphor, which gives meaning to life, and in naive realism every biblical statement ‘naively’ and literally describes concrete phenomena.

The title may seem odd but the German editor had asked a Roman Catholic Priest to write a chapter as well.

I also wrote a chapter on Adam Sedgwick’s views on geology and faith. Sedgwick (1785-1873) was a great ealry 19th century geologist, who worked extensively in Wales and Devon and gave the name to the Cambrian System. He was an evangelical, taught Darwin geology and was not too happy with the young earth creationists of his day.


Adam Sedgwick; geologist and evangelical.


And so to my chapter on creation for geologists!

An Anglican priest’s perspective on the doctrine of creation
in the church today
Genesis one for geologists

More reading


Chimps, Orangutans and Gorillas Evolved from a Common Ancestor on Noah’s Ark

Monkey business on Noah’s Ark

Ken Ham regards the great apes (excluding humans) as evolving after the flood


Naturalis Historia

When the Creation Museum in Kentucky opens back up on June 8 they will have a new exhibit on great ape origins.  There you will be able to learn how all gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees and all species of fossil apes including australopiths share a common ancestor no more than 4500 years ago.

Ken Ham has been promoting the new exhibit the past couple of days including recording interviews with the creators of the exhibit.  I was not surprised—though I expect that many visitors to the Creation Museum may be—by the radical nature of their proposed rapid evolution of all apes (except humans) from a pair of common ancestors. This is another example of their willingness to accept aspects of evolutionary biology usually called macroevolution.   We have discussed their hyperevolutionary hypotheses many times including our recently published peer-reviewed paper, Dissent with modification: how postcreationism’s claim of hyperrapid speciation opposes yet embraces…

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A Six-day Evolutionist? It depends on what you mean by evolution

Creationists get in a tizzy about evolution trying to distinguish microevloution (OK) and macroevolution (not OK)

Naturalis Historia

Young-earth creationists like to talk about two types of evolution, one is real (microevolution), and the other is a lie from the pit of hell (macroevolution). They act as if their were a chasm between the two as large as the Grand Canyon. But when their literature is explored identifying where microevolution ends and macroevolution begins gets very fuzzy.

In our just published peer-reviewed paper, Dissent with modification: how postcreationism’s claim of hyperrapid speciation opposes yet embraces evolutionary theory, we illustrate how young-earth advocates have redefined the terms macroevolution and microevolution to advance their own view of the origins of biological diversity.  We show that the boundary between micro and macroevolution has no clear demarcation in the practice of young-earth creationism despite their rhetoric.  This is not to say that there aren’t aspects of macroevolutionary theory (e.g. universal common descent) that aren’t real points of disagreement but finding where…

View original post 1,770 more words