Category Archives: geology

Cursed Christmas Carols; Mohler’s moanings

 

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One of my favourite Christmas Carols or hymns is Joy to the World, with words by Isaac Watts and a tune by the heavyweight composer G F Handel.
In fact it is hardly a Christmas Carol and is based on Psalm 98

O sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things. His right hand and his holy arm have gotten him victory.
2 The Lord has made known his victory; he has revealed his vindication in the sight of the nations.
3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the victory of our God.
4 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
5 Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre, with the lyre and the sound of melody.
6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord.
7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who live in it.
8 Let the floods clap their hands; let the hills sing together for joy
9 at the presence of the Lord, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.

When you compare the hymn with the psalm, it is clear that Watts dealt with the words very freely, but has made the psalm into a superb creation hymn with an implicit, but no more than implicit, reference to Jesus Christ. I wonder whether it is more suitable for the Creation Season than Christmas, but I will still use it for Christmas!!

Verse 1
Joy to the world! The Lord is come;
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven and nature sing,
And heaven, and heaven, and nature sing.
Verse 2
Joy to the earth! The Saviour reigns;
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.

Verse 4
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

Recently I read an interesting blog by Albert Mohler on the hymn. Mohler is a Southern Baptist who has shoved the Southern Baptists in a more reactionary direction in the last decade. I am no fan of his, but follow him as he is significant in the USA. He is also a young earther, which does not draw me to him. His recent blog on 8/12/17 caught my attention as he discusses the much-omitted third verse of this hymn. Here it is;

Verse 3
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make his blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

I winced as I read this, with its way of reading Genesis 3 with a CURSE afflicting the whole of Creation. I’ve written on this before and especially the influence of John Milton from Paradise Lost; https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2016/02/19/why-the-apple-didnt-kill-adam-and-eve/

paradiselost

Mohler is very much in the tradition of Milton! His blog is found here and included at the end https://albertmohler.com/2017/12/08/far-curse-found/?mc_cid=2244bcb749&mc_eid=9710ba7c22
Mohler takes the typical 6-day creationist view of the Fall as historical, with Adam’s fruit-eating resulting in god cursing the whole of creation, causing thistles and predation! He then stresses that Jesus’s death on the cross not only gives redemption to humans but also reverses the effects of the curse. (not that I can see that when the local cats eat our birds or I struggle with thistles.) Many YECs use their belief in a CURSE as why they must reject all science which demonstrates an ancient earth and evolution. After all, there can be no curse if T Rex munched other dinosaurs.


There are many problems with the so-called CURSE. Why would a loving god inflict all this “suffering” on animals who had never met humans, like Smilodon or even canivorous dinosaurs and trilobites?

Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis would totally agree over the CURSE

Of course, Mohler would collapse 4,560,000, 000 years into Ussher’s 2021 years, with creation in a mere 144 hours. More than that, however “literally” we read Genesis 3 it does not actually teach a CURSE as the language of Genesis 3 vs 14-18 is to elusive and poetical to conclude such a firm and harsh conclusion. I also reckon that it is a totally unsuitable reading for the first lesson of the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols. I would replace it with Ecclesiastes 4 vs 1-6.
Mohler then writes,

“Where is the curse found? Everywhere we look, we see the curse and its malignant effects. How far does it extend? To every atom and molecule of creation — from coast to coast, shore to shore, sky to sky, and to every square inch of the planet. That’s how far the curse is found.”

I am trying to visualise how all chemical reactions are CURSED and wonder how the CURSE afflicts the outermost reaches of the universe.
All in all, by emphasising a CURSE Mohler makes everything about Jesus Christ more incredible and rather bizarre, where Jesus seems to have been born in Bethlehem to correct the naughtiness of a pair of prehistoric scrumpers, rather than sorting out the folly and moral stupidity of the human race giving both a new and living hope and a guide for life, far better than any other way. Thus we think of Jesus Christ when we sing;

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.

But I couldn’t possibly sing verse 3.

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https://albertmohler.com/2017/12/08/far-curse-found/?mc_cid=2244bcb749&mc_eid=9710ba7c22
Think with me about verse three of the hymn, in which we read,
“No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make his blessings flow, far as the curse is found, far as the curse is found.”
The reversal of the curse is promised in the coming of the Messiah and the fulfillment of his atoning work. Implicit in this third verse is the promise of the new creation. We live in light of that promise, even as we look back to Bethlehem and as we celebrate Christmas.
But look carefully at the reference to the curse. Christ’s victory over sin is declared to extend “far as the curse is found.” What curse? How far does it extend? Where is it found?
We find the curse in Genesis, chapter 3. After Eve has eaten of the forbidden tree, and then Adam also ate, and after they found themselves facing God in the reality of their sin, God first cursed the serpent:
The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all livestock and above all beasts of the field; on your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”
Then, God cursed the woman:
To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.”
Then came to curse to Adam, and through Adam to all humanity:
And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
By Adam, our federal head, the curse of sin came upon all humanity. We are dust, who must return to the dust, for the wages of sin is death. All creation is under the effects of the curse. “Cursed is the ground because of you,” Adam is told.
The curse is God’s righteous judgment of sin, and the effect of the curse is death. The curse has fallen upon all human beings, first because of Adam’s sin and then because of our own. In Adam, we all sinned. In Adam, we all died.
Where is the curse found? Everywhere we look, we see the curse and its malignant effects. How far does it extend? To every atom and molecule of creation — from coast to coast, shore to shore, sky to sky, and to every square inch of the planet. That’s how far the curse is found.
Most importantly, every single human being is found under this curse. “For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
So, how can we sing about joy to the world?
Look with me to Galatians 3:10-14:
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
Here is the gospel of Christ, the good news. But first, the bad news. All who rely on works of the law are under a curse. All humanity is born under this curse, and under the law. The congregation that originally received Paul’s letter would have understood immediately where Paul grounded his argument, in Deuteronomy 27 and 28. At the end of the series of curses God delivered from Mount Nebo, we find the most comprehensive of all: “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” [Paul in Galatians 3:10, citing Deuteronomy 27:26]
We are born under the curse, we are cursed by the curse, and the law offers no escape. We cannot work our way from under the curse.
So where is the good news? Where is joy to the world? Look at verses 13 and 14.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. What we sinners could not and cannot do for ourselves, Christ has done for us. He removes the curse and the power of the law to condemn us.
How? He redeemed us from the curse by becoming a curse for us. The sinless Son of God became incarnate as the Word became flesh and dwelled among us. That sinless Son of God became sin for us, in order that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). He became a curse for us, by hanging on a tree, in fulfillment of Scripture.

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Genesis Chapter One and Geological Time from Ussher to Darwin

 

THE GENESIS OF RAY AND HIS SUCESSORS
or The Fall of the House of Ussher.

Jacobus_ussher

Evangelical Quarterly, Vol LXXIV no 2 p143–65, April 2002 (given as Conference paper for The John Ray Society Conference, Braintree, March 1999.,(also in the proceedings for the conference).

Abstract
Most writers assume that, until geological findings forced them to modify their beliefs in the 19th Century, all Christians believed that the earth was created in 4004 BC as a result of Ussher’s chronological calculations. By considering first John Ray and his contemporary theologians, poets and naturalists, it is clear that few followed Ussher even in the 17th Century. They favoured a Chaos-Restitution interpretation of Genesis One allowing a longer time. Most held this in the 18th Century but after the awareness of vast geological time the duration of Chaos was vastly extended to include all geological time. This preceded the Gap Theory of Chalmers in 1802. Until the 1850s this was the dominant interpretation, when Hugh Miller and Rorison rejected it. After that most conservative Christians rejected it, but it found new life in the Schofield Bible only to be rejected after the rise of Creationism in 1961.

To read the article with references please click on here

Genesis of Ray

Introduction

Dinosaurs have always captivated the younger generation and the recent television series Walking with Dinosaurs has attracted an older audience. In her recent book The Dinosaur Hunters Deborah Cadbury sought to tell the story of their discovery and related the work of Mary Anning, William Buckland, Gideon Mantell and Richard Owen. Her scientific account was good, but she sought to present the Revd William Buckland, as someone who was deeply disturbed that his geology was demonstrating the earth was far older than 6000 years. At Oxford, Buckland was supposedly met with hostility as she wrote, ‘All this made little impression on the canons and bishops at Oxford. Scholars and religious leaders were alarmed that the sacred evidence of the word of God should be muddied with bits of rock and dirt.’ Cadbury had repeated the “old, old story” that in the early 19th Century the discoveries of geology upset the Church and its leaders. However, apart from citing a few of the literalist “anti-geologists”, she provided no hard evidence for this and gave no instance of any canon or bishop who objected to Buckland. Neither can I – except for Nares, the regius professor of history. No mention was made of bishops and canons, such as Bishop Barrington of Durham, and G.S.Faber, an evangelical Prebendary of Durham, who supported Buckland. She even put down his later mental illness to his striving ‘to bridge the ever-widening gulf between religion and geology.’ Cadbury also alleged that ‘during his career, geologists had shown that the earth was not six thousand years old’, whereas the vast age of the earth was known decades before Buckland began geological research in 1810.
Among the educated relatively few in the two centuries before Buckland had actually held to a literal interpretation of Genesis One, insisting on creation in 144 hours. This becomes clear when the interpretation of Genesis by exegetes, theologians and “scientists” from 1650 is considered, beginning with John Ray and his contemporaries in the late 17th century and tracing out interpretations to the eve of the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859.

John Ray and his contemporaries.

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John Ray (1627-1705) was the greatest British naturalist of the seventeenth century and was one of the early members of the Royal Society and has been well served by Charles Raven’s biography , which details his chequered career inside and outside the Church of England. Conformist and non-conformist lay claim to him, as he was ordained deacon and priest on 23 December 1660, and refused to conform in 1662. He spent the rest of his life on the fringes of the Established Church. His botanical and zoological work was prodigious and is often regarded as the British Linnaeus. His many works included the three volumes of Historia Plantarum published between 1686 and 1704. He also considered the nature of species.
Ray also took an interest in Geology. At that time naturalists were beginning to recognise the organic origin of fossils and generally presupposed that all strata were deposited during the Noachian Deluge. Despite their diversity, they had a common outlook; strata were deposited in the Flood, and, as is usually portrayed, believed in a six-day creation because they lived ‘in an uncritical age.’ Whereas there is no question that the Flood was the most important cause of deposition for these Theorists, none believed in a literal six day creation and nor did most of their successors. This is despite Dawkins’ widely held contention that even in the 1860s most of the church accepted ‘the 4004 BC date for the creation then favoured by churchmen.’ With the demise of the conflict thesis of science and theology, no historian of science doubts that by 1820 most Christians accepted geological ages. However it is still assumed that before 1800 most adopted an Ussher chronology. If that were so then it is necessary to explain why in about 1810 Christians should suddenly adopt a non-literal interpretation of Genesis when the churches were moving in a conservative direction due to the rise of Evangelicalism combined with the reaction to the French Revolution . Yet, the leading protagonists of this “new” interpretation were two Evangelicals: Thomas Chalmers and John Sumner. In fact, Chalmers and Sumner were as traditionalist as Evangelicals ought to be! They were only tweaking a traditional theological idea. This idea is the Chaos-Restitution interpretation of Genesis One, which was widely held in the 17th Century as Burnet wrote, ‘so it is understood by the general consent of interpreters, both Hebrew and Christian.’ It was also the theology of John Ray.
John Ray wrote two works of natural theology; The Wisdom of God manifested in the Works of Creation and the Three Physico-Theologicial Discourses of which the latter was dedicated to John Tillotson, the Latitudinarian Archbishop. The Three Discourses are built round the standard 17th century themes of Creation, Deluge and the Dissolution of the World, with little reference to the redemptive work of Christ, indicating its Latitudinarian theology. The full sub-title indicates both the theological and scientific concerns of the author:
I. The Primitive CHAOS, and Creation of the World.
II. The General DELUGE, its Causes and Effects.
III. The Dissolution of the WORLD, and Future Conflagration.
WHEREIN
Are largely Discussed the Production and Use of Mountains; The Original of Fountains, of Formed Stones, and Sea-Fishes, Bones and Shells found in the Earth; the Effect of particular Floods and Inundations of the Sea; the Eruptions of Vulcano’s; the Nature and Causes of Earthquakes:
With an Historical Account of those Two late Remarkable Ones in Jamaica and England.
With PRACTICAL INFERENCES.
A superficial reader will simply take this as meaning a Six-day Creation, a geologically efficacious Flood and then a pyrotechnic end of the world within the space of 6,000 years. Mingled in with this are a whole series of geological and biological observations of limited scientific value.
However, a careful reading gives a different picture. Instead of fundamentalist Biblicism there is an intermingling of Biblical narrative, Classical ideas, Renaissance thought and scientific observation. Ray began with the creation of Chaos supported by citations from Hesiod and Ovid. He quoted Lactantius, ‘Hesiod not taking his beginning from God the Creator of all things, but from the Chaos, which is a rude and inordinate heap of confused matter.’ and that ‘Moses in the History and Description of the Creation in the first Chapter of Genesis, saith not that God had created all things in an instant in their full state and perfection, but that he proceeded gradually and in order.’ Only after the end of Chaos did God “create” in Six Days. Like many of his contemporaries, Ray argued in chapter Two ‘That the creation of the World out of a Chaos is not repugnant to the Holy Scripture.’ The section on the Deluge contained some scientific observation and that on the Dissolution of the World even more.
It is not possible to say that Ray confined the creation of the Earth to about 4000 BC, in conformity with Ussher’s chronology. He did not mention the extent of the duration of Chaos and though he seemed to imply that the Six Days were solar days. In his Of the Specifick Differences of Plants in 1674 he concluded, ‘God having finished his works of Creation, that is consummated the number of Species, in six dayes’ , which seems to imply solar days. However he rejected contemporary notions that the earth would last only six millennia from the initial creation. Yet, in dealing with Lhwyd’s suggestion that the earth must be older he was very guarded. After reading the first edition of Ray’s Miscellaneous Discourses concerning the dissolution of the world, Lhwyd wrote to Ray on 30 February 1691, ‘Upon the reading on your discourse of the rains continually washing away and carrying down earth from the mountains, it puts me in mind…which I observed’, and then described what he had observed in Snowdonia. He described innumerable boulders, which had “fallen” into Nant Peris, above Llanberis and Nant Ffrancon. As ‘there are but two or three that have fallen in the memory of any man now living, in the ordinary course of nature we shall be compelled to allow the rest many thousands of years more than the age of the world.’ Lhwyd was reluctant to ascribe them to the Deluge and in the second edition Ray commented on Lhwyd’s findings in a very evasive manner and avoided facing the logic of Lhwyd’s comments. On geological time Ray did not explicitly reject an Ussher chronology. However from his discussion of Chaos and other comments, he probably accepted that the earth was considerably more than five-and-a-half thousand years old, but left the reader to decide.

The photos below are in Nant Peris where Ray and Lhwyd saw the bouldersDSCF9511 (1)DSCF9512 (1)DSCF9513 (1)
Many of Ray’s scientifically inclined colleagues followed a similar pattern of Chaos, Restitution in Six Days, Deluge and the ultimate dissolution of the earth and wrote innumerable Theories of the Earth. These include Boyle, Halley, Burnet, Whiston, Woodward and the unknown Hobbes, rescued from oblivion by Roy Porter. These writers argued far more naturalistically than biblically as Gould argued in respect of Burnet and Whiston. Whiston, a friend of Halley, considered the earth to have begun as a comet at the end of the duration of Chaos and reckoned that the ordering of comet to a planet required more time than a creative week and thus each day of Genesis was a year. This, according to Gould, ‘was a big step in the right direction’. It also sought to explain by secondary causes, rather than invoking the direct hand of God.
These writers refuted each other interminably, but their common ground is belief in the creation of an initial Chaos of undefined duration, followed by a reordering Creation in Six Days, and much later followed by a Deluge. This is what Burnet meant by, ‘so it is understood by the general consent of Interpreters.’ This indicates that this slightly extended timescale for the earth was common parlance in the late 17th century. Burnet’s statement is not only substantiated by fellow “scientists”, including Keill in An Examination of Dr Burnet’s Theory of the Earth (1698) who wrote, ‘That the Earth was formed from a Chaos, must be unquestionably own’d by, who acknowledge the Holy Scripture…’ , but also by many theologians and contemporary poets. Patrick, Willoughby and Lowth published the main Anglican Bible Commentary in 1694. Bishop Patrick described Chaos as ‘a confused, indigested heap, without any order or shape.’(Verse 1) On the reordering of Chaos he wrote of the First Day ‘How long all things continued in mere confusion, after the chaos was created, before this light was extracted out of it, we are not told. It might be … a great while…’ (on verse 5) Patrick gave no clue as to the duration, but his reference ‘by long fermentation’ calls to mind Traherne’s The Salutation, where he wrote;
When silent I,
So many thousand thousand years,
Beneath the dust did in a chaos lie,
Traherne probably wrote this in about 1670 and its resonance with Patrick’s Commentary indicates a common tradition. However the chart in the commentary’s frontispiece on the Chronology of the Patriarchs from Adam to Jacob describes Adam as created in 4004BC. This indicates that most thought that humanity had existed only since then, but the earth was somewhat older. This limited antiquity of Man was unquestioned until the 19th Century. The Dissenting commentator Matthew Poole wrote in a similar vein in 1700 , though his fellow Dissenter Matthew Henry seemed to consider Chaos of limited duration in his commentary of 1708-10, which had the date of 4004 BC in the margin .
As Arnold Williams made clear in the Common Expositor the Chaos-restitution interpretation with the interweaving of Biblical and Classical literature was common during the Renaissance among both Roman and Protestant exegetes. Poets also shared in the Chaos-Restitution most notably Milton in Paradise Lost, although he inclined to a shorter time-scale, Spenser, Thomas Traherne, Dryden and Alexander Pope to name a few .
Archbishop Ussher stands in contrast to all of these, except Matthew Henry. His Chaos lasted only twelve hours, so that the Six Days began with the creation of Chaos, rather than the re-ordering of it. Further he considered that the duration of the earth was to be Six Millennia corresponding to the Six Creative Days, and it is that, and not calculations from biblical chronologies that gave the date 4004 BC for creation. The extra four years came from his sound historical argument that Herod had died by 4 BC. In historical retrospect Ussher has acquired a significance he did not have in the 17th Century. The 4004 BC date seems to have first appeared in the margins of Bibles in 1701 in editions published by the Clarendon Press under the direction of Archbishop Tenison and the Bishop of Worcester. This practice continued well into last century, and even Darwin thought it part of Holy Writ.
The general consensus of scientists, theologians and poets, was that Chaos was created first and then re-ordered in Six Days. Man was created in about 4000 B. C. and that opinion persisted well into the 19th Century, even when most accepted that the earth was millions of years old. Just how old the Earth is alluded to so imprecisely, except by Whiston, that their estimate on the age of the earth cannot even be guessed at. Traherne’s ‘thousand thousand’ is probably poetic licence (like Burgon’s ‘half as old as time’ for the age of Petra). Whether Patrick’s ‘long Fermentation’ was a few years or a few millennia is not clear. Going beyond the evidence and tentatively arguing retrospectively from the extension of the Chaos-Restitution theory a century later to incorporate all geology I am inclined to suggest tens of millennia.
The Chaos-Restitution was no new concept and had roots in both earlier biblical commentators and poets, both in the Renaissance and the Early Fathers. As Williams wrote, ‘The commentators thus provide considerable support for the poetic descriptions of chaos which abound in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century literature. Dubartas, Spenser, Phineas Fletcher, Milton, … Beaumont, all sing the original state of the universe, rude and unformed…’ Poetic descriptions of the chaos are common throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in the writings of Pope, Blake Byron, and the forgotten Erasmus Darwin.
The most important conclusion is that in the period 1660 to 1700 most educated Christians thought and argued that the “events” of Genesis One took place in a time period longer than 144 hours. They did not hold to a literal Six-Day Creation. The majority held that the Six Days work was a final re-ordering of a much older previously created Chaos. However Man remained a recent creation.

The Eighteenth Century

The Eighteenth Century was more of the same on the interpretation of Genesis. Though there was much geological work the significant breakthroughs took place at the end of the century with the awareness of the vast antiquity of the earth coming as a result of the work of de Saussure, Hutton, Smith, de Brogniart and Cuvier among others, in a Europe-wide development.
The dissemination of the slightly extended timescale of the Theorists of the Earth is evidenced by Buffon’s discussion of Whiston, Burnet and Woodward in the first volume of his Natural History, as well as those of Liebnitz and Scheutzer. He had little time for the Theories of the Earth and said, ‘I reject these vain speculations.’ However Buffon was vague about the age of the earth, presumably out of deference to the Sorbonne theologians, who even in 1850 were still propounding a six-day creation. Buffon (1707-1788) also carried out experiments on the cooling of red-hot globes of iron and then applied his findings to the cooling of a globe the size of the earth and estimated that the age of the earth must be in the order of 75,000 years. If this is contrasted to notions that the earth was only created in 4000 BC, then this is a radical age and was liable to offend the “theologians”. However it was not drastically different to suggestions made by British writers in the previous century and simply gave some experimental data to support them.
If Buffon is a forerunner of Darwin, Erasmus Darwin is doubly so. In his Preliminary Notice to Kraus’s Erasmus Darwin, Charles wrote, ‘he fully believed in God as Creator of the universe.’ Erasmus’s fin de siecle works on evolution were written in verse and in The Botanic Garden, reflect current understandings of Creation and Chaos,
‘—- Let there be light!’ proclaimed the Almighty Lord.
Astonished Chaos heard the potent word:-
Through all his realms the kindling Ether runs,
And the mass starts into a million suns;’
Charles wrote that Horace Walpole admired Darwin’s poetry as ‘sublime’. Perhaps not sublime, but these verses show the prevalence of the understanding of Creation and Chaos at the end of the 18th century. The immediate source of Darwin’s Chaos may be John Whitehurst the geologist . Darwin repeated his reference to Chaos in The Temple of Nature of 1802.
Taking a very different attitude to science were Hutchinson and his disciple Catcott. In 1748 Hutchinson wrote Moses’ Principia to oppose Newton. Both lay great store on Genesis and attempt to correct the “errors” of Newton and other 17th Century scientists. Many of the themes of Genesis One are similar to those in the Theorists but far less is made of the Chaos and Hutchinson seems not to hold that the period of chaos or tohu va bohu was of any significant duration. Some years later his disciple Catcott wrote his Treatise on the Deluge (1768). Catcott did discuss Chaos briefly but again there is no suggestion of anything but a short duration. The Hutchinsonian ideas were held by some until the early 19th century and the last Hutchinsonian scientist seems to have been William Kirkby, who argued for a Six-Day creation in his Bridgewater Treatise.
More amenable to longer ages was the Welsh Evangelical hymnwriter William Williams or Pantycelyn (1717- 1791), who was perhaps the best theologian of the Welsh Revival. He originally studied medicine, made deacon in 1740, but was never priested. He wrote prolifically in Welsh, and translations are rare. In 1756 he wrote Golwg ar Deyrnas Crist (A View of Christ’s Kingdom) which is an epic poem answering the Deists. Pantycelyn’s understanding of creation is discussed by Derec Llwyd Morgan, who contrasts him to John Owen, who affirmed Creation in one line, ‘From nothing was created all ‘neath the glorious skies’. Pantycelyn is anything but brief. In Notes at the end of the work he gives a long summary of the contemporary state of science, mostly based on Derham’s Astro-theology and Physico-theology indicating his scientific competence. Chapter II of his epic poem is a long poetic account of Creation amplifying Genesis One. Llwyd Morgan points out that ‘Williams, perhaps taking his cue from Milton, … Maintains that the ordered creation was fashioned out of chaos, but that God was also the Creator “Of Chaos vast and all its turbulence”.’ Williams maintains there were two creations: the creation of the basic materials and the creation of the universe with those materials, all of which God accomplished ‘in one hundred and forty four hours’, as it is in Genesis. Though the Recreation took 144 hours, Pantycelyn gives no indication how long Chaos had existed.
Remaining in Wales we turn to the anti-Evangelical Bishop Samuel Horsley (1734-1807) of St Asaph, a conservative old High Churchman . He had little sympathy for the Evangelicals, and must take some of the discredit for many “Calvinistic Methodists” leaving the Anglican Church . Horsley, who had considerable mathematical ability, held to a semi-literalistic stance, holding that there were neither sun nor stars until day four and that the earth was not a lump of the sun and four days older. These were first published the British Critic in 1802 in response to Geddes’ biblical Criticism, where Horsley argued that God created Chaos first and later re-ordered the Creation in the Six Days. As Horsley expressed it ‘The interval between the production of the matter of the chaos, and the formation of light (i.e. the first day) is undescribed and unknown.’ Haydn’s Creation contains similar ideas, with the orchestral introduction on The Chaos and the aria ‘And a new created world sprung up at God’s command’. Horsley is cited by the geologist Edward Hitchcock in answer to the biblical literalists of the 1830s and 1840s .
Following suit was Charles Simeon in Horae Homileticae and wrote (possibly long before 1832), ‘Five days had been occupied in reducing to order the confused chaos…. On the sixth, God formed man…’. Like Isaac Watts in his Scriptural History, which was one of Darwin’s school textbooks, and almost quoting him, he continued, ‘It is not for us to inquire why God chose this space of time for the completion of his work, when he could as easily have formed it all in an instant’. Watts omitted any reference to Chaos and wrote ‘God, who could have made all Things at once…’ Simeon made no reference to geology but was not convinced of geology in the 1820s. Carus reported that Simeon said, ‘Geologists take too much upon them…It is the fashion to ridicule Mr Bugg’s book: but it is much easier to ridicule than to answer many of its facts…. Faber’s idea of each day of creation being a 1000 years seems a little better than nonsense.’ Taking both together creates a problem as in Horae Homileticae Simeon supports Chaos then Creation, and, if Abner Brown and Carus were right, also supported the Anti-geologists. But then in the 1820s geology was still a young science, and non-acceptance of geology should not be seen as “fundamentalist” hostility.
This wide cross-section of Anglican clerics is chosen because most had some skills scientifically. Many more examples could be given . They reflect the dominant understanding of Genesis, which as argued above goes back beyond the Theories of the Earth to the commentaries and poetry of the Renaissance. Whether Evangelical or reactionary High Church they adopted the “non-literalism” of Chaos-Restitution.
Many poets incorporated Chaos when versifying on Creation or related matters. The ubiquity of Chaos is evidenced by Phillis Wheatley’s Thoughts on the Works of Providence;
That called creation from eternal night.
‘Let there be light,’ He said: and from his profound
Old Chaos heard
Wheatley was a slave born in Africa who was purchased by John Wheatley of Boston and also wrote a poem on the death of George Whitfield. In a letter to Samson Occom, a Mohegan Presbyterian minister in 1774, she wrote:
‘The divine Light is chasing away the thick darkness which broods over the Land of Africa; and the Chaos which has reign’d so long, is converting into beautiful Order.’
The Wheatleys, slave-owners and slave, moved in Evangelical circles and are more properly considered in respect of abolitionism, but this sheds light on the whole concept of Chaos. Sadly Phillis died in poverty at the age of 31 in 1784, after the death of the Wheatleys.
And so from an unknown slave-girl we move to a leading composer. Haydn’s Creation expresses the variety and ambiguity of the 18th century interpretation of the Creation Story in musical form, though it apparently gives a musical rendering of Genesis Chapter One in a literalistic manner. A closer examination belies this and indicates that the libretto allows a measure of “ruin-and-restitution” and has probable close links with contemporary sciences, especially the Nebular Hypothesis of Laplace. The Creation was one of Haydn’s last works and he began composing the score in 1796 after visiting London in 1791-2 and 1793-4. In 1795 Salomon gave the original English text of The Creation to Haydn. 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, it dates from about 1750, and is thus evidence for mid-century understandings of Genesis One. It closely follows Milton and other poets, as well as many exegetes, as described above. 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. The aria moves from Chaos to a new creation:
‘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! Further, the libretto for Day One precludes the possibility of taking the Chaos as the pre-existing material which God moulded into shape over six days
However in the 18th Century there were relatively few “literalists”. These were mostly from the more biblicist wing of the Evangelical Revival and included the Baptist Andrew Fuller and the poets William Cowper, who valued Erasmus Darwin’s poetry, and James Montgomery. However John Wesley concurred with the majority.
To focus on these literalists, or the literalists noises made by Horsley, obscures the fact that the majority of Christian writers had accepted an “elastic” Genesis long before the abyss of time opened up at the end of the 18th century by geologists throughout Europe. Their diverse understandings of geology are not relevant, as the issue is the vastness of time demonstrated by their geology. There were clearly implications for Christian theology and Christians needed some “scheme of reconciliation”.
One was that adopted by the “naturaliste et voyager genevois” Deluc or de Luc, who regarded the days of Genesis as representing very long periods of time. He wrote his Treatise on Geology 1809 and his Letters to Blumenbach were published in the British Critic in the 1790s, He allowed a Day to be a few thousand years and thus limited the age of the earth to some tens of thousands. It was probably due to this relatively limited age that Edward Nares, Thomas Arnold’s predecessor as Professor of History at Oxford, was able to accept geological finding in his Bampton Lectures of 1805. Yet three decades later he rejected the findings of geology as undemonstrable and infidel, as it became clear that geologists were demanding many millions of years . This “Day-Age” interpretation, as it came to be called, was a significant but minority understanding by Christians until the mid-nineteenth century.

Chalmers, Sumner and the Gap Theory

By the beginning of the 19th Century the majority of Christian or nominally Christian, writers had modified the consensus of the Theorists. The sequence based on Genesis One to Eleven of Chaos, re-ordering Creation with man being created in about 4000BC and then the Deluge evolved into a vastly extended Chaos, which encompassed a multiplicity of Deluges. One might say that the theologians quietly slipped geology into the Chaos. The first theologian who is known to have done this was Thomas Chalmers at St Andrews in the winter of 1802 . At this time Chalmers was a Moderate and a colleague of Playfair. He had become an Evangelical by1811 and despite his far more biblicist theology his understanding of geology and Genesis remained unchanged. Many writers, notably Henri Blocher and Weston Fields credit Chalmers with a novel interpretation. Blocher wrote positively that Chalmers ‘was seeking to reconcile Genesis with the new discoveries about the age of the earth’ , but Fields reckoned that ‘Chalmers deemed it necessary to harmonise the Scriptures and science in order to save Christianity from the onslaught of atheism!’ Several years earlier, the Irish chemist and opponent of James Hutton, Richard Kirwan wrote vehemently against such an interpretation and wrote, ‘the earth at the time of its creation was without form, &c. therefore another terraqueous did not previously exist in a complete state out of the ruins of which the present earth was formed, as some have lately imagined;’ . Kirwan wrote this before June 1798 and implied this was a widely held opinion, thus pointing to its existence some years previously.
South of the border Joseph Townsend (1739-1816) published The Character of Moses Established for Veracity as a Historian, Recording events from the Creation to the Deluge in 1812. Its apologetic tone is apparent from its title and is a cautious acceptance of geology by an Evangelical who was a colleague of the Countess of Huntingdon in his earlier years. Townsend was instrumental in disseminating William Smith’s geological ideas at the turn of the century while he was living in Bath. His work gave a survey of contemporary geology and followed the Chaos-restitution interpretation, though tending to have a fairly limited view of the earth’s antiquity. Townsend seemed reluctant to accept millions of years for the age of the earth, but even so his “middle-aged” earth is a far cry from a few thousand years.
A few years later in 1816 the future Archbishop of Canterbury, John Bird Sumner (1780-1862) published A Treatise on the Records of Creation. Much of this was related to political economy but part of the appendix was on the relationship of Christianity and Geology, following the chaos-restitution interpretation.
Chalmers and Sumner were largely responsible for forging a new geologico-theological consensus by modifying older interpretations, though there have been no detailed studies of their work. Both, and especially Chalmers, are often regarded as making a radical change. Hugh Miller in The Testimony of the Rocks credited Chalmers with an original interpretation, whereas Chalmers did no more than popularise a modification of a traditional view, which was already widely held. This is not to denigrate Chalmers and Sumner, but puts their work in perspective.
Most Anglicans and Presbyterians accepted this reconciliation of Genesis and geology in the 1810s and 1820s. On the Anglican front this is clearly seen by an extended study of their journals, notably the Christian Observer, the British Critic and the Quarterly Review. Their attitude may be summed up as positive to ambivalent to geology and apart from the first none contain no hostility to geology.
As well as being the most common interpretation by theologians and popular religious writers, the Gap Theory was widely adopted by clerical geologists. The most widely read work was Conybeare and Phillips’ Outline of the Geology of England and Wales (1822). The introductory chapter, presumably by Conybeare (1787-1857), later Dean of Llandaff, contains a long section on the theological implications of geology. In the late 1820s he was advising S.C.Wilks, the editor of the Christian Observer, who was trying to head off evangelical anti-geologists. Conybeare wrote that ‘Two only points can be in any manner implicated in the discussions of Geology.
I. The Noachian Deluge
II. The Antiquity of the Earth.’
As a Diluvialist the former was no problem to Conybeare. On the latter, Conybeare followed Sumner. Human antiquity was the Six Thousand Years indicated by a strict reading of the Bible – something which was not questioned for a decade. He gave three hypotheses ‘With regard to the time requisite for the formation of the secondary strata’. The first is a literal six days which he does not expressly exclude, the second the Long Day, which was forcibly expounded by the evangelical G.S.Faber (1773-1854), and the third Chaos-Restitution. Conybeare avoided recommending any of the three, but his preference is implicit in a long footnote citing Sumner on the Records of Creation. (lxi) Ecclesiastically Conybeare was an orthodox Anglican, with evangelical leanings. Conybeare and Phillips was the main geological text in the 1820s; Darwin owned a copy, which he took on the Beagle, as did Samuel Wilberforce. .

buckland

 
William Buckland (1784-1856) devoted part of his Inaugural Lecture Vindiciae Geologicae at Oxford in 1819 to the relationship of geology and “the Mosaic Records”, adopting the Chaos-Restitution hypothesis citing Sumner, Horsely and Buffon for support. Buckland returned to this in his Bridgewater Treatise where the second chapter considered the Consistency of Geological discoveries with sacred History. That chapter offended anti-geologists for its espousal of an ancient earth, and thus Buckland’s Bridgewater was followed by a spate of anti-geologies condemning “infidel” geology in the late 1830s. Buckland rejected any notion of ‘a detailed account of geological phenomena in the bible’. To put it briefly, Buckland roundly rejected any idea that all strata were laid down in the Flood and had reservations over a “Long Day”. He returned to his inaugural lecture where he claimed, ‘the word ‘beginning’ as applied to Moses … to express an undefined period of time, which was antecedent to the last great change…’ (p19). To support his case Buckland referred to Chalmers, Pusey, Burton, Horsely, Sumner and others. He also cited Adam Sedgwick’s (1785- 1873) Discourse on the Studies at the University of Cambridge and the long discussion on geology in the Christian Observer in 1834.
A survey of contemporary theological writings show that this was the most widespread “reconciliation” of geology and Genesis in the period 1810 to 1850 and that the biblically literalist Anti-geologies, such as Cockburn, Fairholme, Fitzroy and others were minority concerns despite the noise they made.
It is easy to regard the Chaos-Restitution interpretation of Genesis as special pleading and a forced exegesis. However even such a commentator as S.R.Driver in 1902 still contains echoes of it as did more recently Claus Westermann . By the end of the 19th century it was been given a Dispensationalist twist as the “Gap Theory” and was enshrined in the Schofield Reference Bible. This allowed the early “Fundamentalists” to accept geological science, if not evolution. However following the rise of Creationism after 1961, the Gap Theory has now been almost completely discarded . From a later vantagepoint, whether the late 19th or even early 21st century, it is difficult to conceive that this interpretation MADE SENSE AT THE TIME whether for theological or scientific reasons. It was considered to be a careful well-thought theological understanding and biblical interpretation, which both took earlier understandings into account (Tradition) and modern understandings of science especially Geology (Reason). Thus, ignoring the Kirk for a moment, it epitomised the classic intellectual Anglican approach of Scripture, Tradition and Reason, which found expression in Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity. It is probably due to its Godly rationalism that it was not accepted by the more extreme and often dissenting Evangelicals, who accepted Scripture in an extreme sola Scriptura sense as opposed to Tradition and Reason.

The Slow Demise of the Chaos-Restitution Theory
The Chaos-Restitution Theory was the most widely held reconciliation of Genesis and geology until mid-century. Hugh Miller (1802-1856) questioned it in a footnote in Footprints of the Creator , his anti-evolutionary critique of the Vestiges in 1847. This he expanded in his posthumous The Testimony of the Rocks (1858), both in the Preface and in two chapters on Genesis and geology. He explained why he felt it necessary to reject Chalmers’ Gap Theory, which had been widely held for 50 years in favour of his concept of The Mosaic Vision of Creation. In the preface, Miller spelled out the geological reasoning behind this change. He wrote, ‘I certainly did once believe with Chalmers and with Buckland that the six days were simply natural days of twenty-four hours each … and that the latest of the geologic ages were separated by a great chaotic gap from our own.’ This was reasonable to Catastrophists, who reckoned that each geological era was closed off by a catastrophe. Miller explained that this was no problem with ‘the Palaeozoic and Secondary rocks’, but was with recent strata. He continued, ‘During the last nine years (written in c1856), however I have spent a few weeks every autumn in exploring the later formations.’ From his study of the Pleistocene, he concluded that many of our ‘humbler contemporaries’ especially molluscs existed long before man. Thus ‘No blank chaotic gap of death and darkness separated the creation from which man belongs from that of the old extinct elephant … and hyaena, or for familiar animals … lived throughout the period which connected their times with our own.’ As a result Miller rejected the whole idea of Chaos then Restitution and adopted the view of six prophetic days of creation. Chalmers’ ideas were more congenial to a Catastrophist than to a Uniformitarian geology, with its seamless geological development throughout time. Within a few decades became Miller’s ideas became the commonest understanding of Genesis by conservative Christians.
An early example was Dean Francis Close (1797-1882) who gave a lecture for the YMCA in 1858 and made extensive use of both Miller. Close was a leading Evangelical and the Pope of Cheltenham. Despite his rigorous Evangelicalism, he took a very “liberal” view on Genesis. In the 1820s while at Cheltenham, he preached on early Genesis, but took Genesis very literally and mentioned neither Chaos nor geology . Within thirty years he moved from literalism to a scientifically informed non-literalism.
Close was criticised from a most unlikely source for being too free and easy with Holy Writ, as his friend Sedgwick wrote a long letter discussing the shortcomings of Miller. Sedgwick had long rejected Chalmers’ views on Genesis in that he regarded the Days as indefinite periods. His biography by Clark and Hughes sheds little light beyond his non-literalism and the most detailed comment is his letter to Close. Sedgwick thought Miller might do some harm as his over-schematic approach was geologically wrong, and concluded ‘Hugh Miller was a man of great natural genius, +in some parts of geology, admirably well informed, but it is not always safe to follow him, when he travels beyond his own beat – His “Testimony of the Rocks” is in its way a noble work – it may do much good, but it may do some harm – for when men connect certain difficult passages of the bible with any scheme of interpretation which has gained their confidence, they are almost certain to look with suspicion, + ill will, on any man, who does not accept this interpretation + to suspect them of infidelity –.’
‘I make no difficulty in the words Morning + Evening, they are only I think meant to mark the beginning + end of periods or days, – the Mosaic day is assuredly not 24 hours, + if we once admit a prophetic extended meaning of day, our souls are then free, + we are permitted to give any indefinite period, + the word day.’
‘I do not like the scheme of stretching the Bible, like an elastic band, till we can wrap up our hypotheses in its sacred leaves.’
This letter is of great significance as the leading Evangelical geologist wrote it to another Evangelical. Both had a high view of scripture and both were more than convinced by geological findings. Both took Genesis “non-literally” yet Sedgwick, cautious as usual, was reluctant ‘of stretching the Bible, like an elastic band’ and preferred to wait as this ‘will end in harmony, + true accordance with the word of God’. Undoubtedly Darwin and Goodwin in Essays and Reviews would dismiss this stance as both had a mythological view of Genesis, but it demonstrates the shift away from the “Chaos-Restitution” interpretation.
Within a few years Gilbert Rorison was arguing for a totally pictorial exegesis of Genesis in Wilberforce’s Answers to Essays and Reviews and the Chaos-Restitution interpretation rapidly went out of fashion. Archdeacon Josiah Pratt of Calcutta was one of the last serious writers to expound it. After that it was taken up by nascent Fundamentalists in the late 19th century, and was enshrined in the Schofield Reference Bible, while the Day-Age interpretation gained ground among the more “intellectual” conservatives, most notably by J.W.Dawson .

Conclusion
To understand and empathise with the long story of the interaction of geology and Genesis from the 17th century until today requires some imagination and ability to transport oneself back in time as the whole storyline is frequently lost in the tendency to polarise interpretations of Genesis into either literal or mythical. This does not permit a fine-grained understanding and seduces one into overlooking the acceptance of vast tracts of time behind a claim to take Genesis literally. As a result it is all too easily assumed that all Christians took Genesis literally, with Creation in c4004 BC. This fails to see both the continuity from Ray and his contemporaries to the late 19th century coupled with the constant interaction of “Genesis” and “Geology” throughout these long centuries. This continuity from the 17th Century shows that the exegesis of Genesis adopted in the early 19th Century was not a last ditch defence against the rising tide of science, but a conservative development of an older exegesis. However few doubted that man had been formed some six thousand years ago until the 1840s.
It cannot be stressed strongly enough that there was undoubtedly a vast difference between the beliefs of educated and uneducated Christians. The majority of the latter probably simply accepted creation in 4004 BC, though this may do them a disservice. The case of Phillis Wheatley should warn against too easy an ascription of “literalism” to the mass of Christians. The table in Figure 1 attempts to contrast the received perception of Christian understanding of Genesis and time and my revisionist proposal.
A historical view of science and religion which reckons accept that a “literal Genesis” was the norm in the Western world will give a distorted understanding of both the Theories of the Earth and the early development of Geology in the 1790s when considered in a religious context. Instead of a revolutionary change from Literalism to Liberalism , there was an evolutionary change from the commentators of the Renaissance, through the Theorists, the development of the “Gap Theory” by Chalmers and his unknown predecessors, its rejection by Hugh Miller so that there was scarcely a literalist when Darwin published in 1859. This has particular relevance to the problems of Victorian religious doubt. Two recent writers who re-iterate the received version that literalism was the norm are A.N.Wilson and Paul Badham , both of whom have a polemical purpose.
The limitation of this paper is that only one aspect of the relationship of the implications of the vast age of the earth and the Christian Faith has been considered, that of Genesis One and Geological Time. I make no apology for that.
There are several other issues of great importance, the first is the relationship of sin, suffering and death as portrayed in the Bible and Christian theology in relation to the changing understandings of geology and biology, and the second is the relationship of Anthropological Time in relationship to Genesis and Theology. Both have been largely ignored, and a strong view of the Fall is one of the attractions of creationism to Evangelicals today. A historical study of the Fall from 1600 to 1860 is necessary here, as by no means all theologians of this period groaned under the burden of a Miltonic Fall. The influence of Noah’s Flood in the history of geology has been given a comprehensive treatment by Davis Young in The Biblical Flood.
I rest my case, as Richard Dawkins would, on the evidence.

Michael.B.Roberts,

Acknowledgements.
It is difficult to acknowledge all who have helped me, but particular mention must be made of Stella Brecknell at the Oxford Museum for giving me free access to Buckland papers and other material. The letter from Sedgwick to Close is quoted by permission of Dean Close School. I have benefited from discussions with David Livingstone, Paul Marston, Jim Moore, Jim Secord, Hugh Torrens, and John Wolffe among others, none of whom are responsible for what I write. I also acknowledge grants from the Church in Wales. This paper was presented to the John Ray Society Conference at Braintree in March 1999.Genesis of Ray

 

GFGFHGFH

D. Cadbury, The Dinosaur Hunters (London, 2000), 21.
D. Cadbury, The Dinosaur Hunters (London, 2000), 284.
M.B. Roberts, ‘Geology and Genesis Unearthed’, Churchman 112 (1998), 225 –255.
C.E. Raven, John Ray, Naturalist, (Cambridge, 1942, 1986 2nd ed).
A.J. Cain., ‘Thomas Sydenham, John Ray, and some contemporaries on species’, Archives of Natural History 26 (1999), 55-83.
From the Memorial to Edward Lhwyd in Jesus College, Oxford erected in 1905 at the height of the warfare of science and religion era.
D. McFarland (ed), The Oxford Companion to Animal Behaviour, (Oxford, 1981), 155.
R. Porter, Enlightenment Britain and the creation of the modern world, (Harmondsworth, 2000) p467-70.
M.B. Roberts, Geology and Genesis Unearthed, Churchman, 112, (1998), 225 –255.
Thomas Burnet, The Sacred Theory of the Earth,(London, 1681), Chapter IV, p30.
J. Ray, The Wisdom of God manifested in the Works of Creation, (London, 1691).
J. Ray, Three Physico-Theologicial Discourses, (London, 1693), 3.
J. Ray, Three Physico-Theologicial Discourses, (London, 1693), 5.
Cited in ref 2 p83.
E. Lhwyd to John Ray (30 February 1691), cited in Ray op.cit 12, 285.
J. Ray, op. cit. ref 7, 285-289. These and other valleys are littered with rocks, most of which are erratics deposited by glaciers. In Nant Peris there are many thousands, and if, according to Lhwyd, one fell every twenty five years that would make the earth over 100,000 years old.
S.J. Gould, Ever since Darwin, (Harmondsworth, 1980), 141-146, Bully for Brontosaurus, (Harmondsworth, 1991), 368-381.
W. Whiston, A new theory of the earth, (London, 1696), 1 – 69, especially 51.
J. Keill, An Examination of Dr Burnet’s Theory of the Earth, (Oxford, 1698), 29-39.
Patrick, Lowth, Arnold, Whitby and Lowman, Critical Commentary and Paraphrase of the Old and New Testament and the Apocrypha, (London, 1764 -1st edit 1694), vol I, 1 –3.
T. Traherne, Selected poems and prose, (Harmondsworth, 1991), 3.
Poole, like Bishop Stillingfleet, accepted that the Deluge was local rather than universal, and would presumably agree theologically with Ballard’s search for the Ark in the Black Sea!
The inclusion of the date 4004 B.C. in many commentaries may well indicate the age of humanity and not the age of the earth.
A. Williams, The Common Expositor, (Chapel Hill, 1948).
S. Spenser, Poetical Works, (Oxford, 1912), 545, (Colin Clouts come home again, lines 847 –860.)
J.Dryden, A Song for St Cecilia’s Day,1687.
A. Pope, Dunciad Variorum, book 1, line10, Windsor Forest, lines 12-15.
This section is over-brief and only hints at the way in which poets use Chaos.
Williams, ref 24, 49.
Blake’s The Book of Urizen has roots in Genesis and ideas of Chaos, see P. Ackroyd, Blake, (London, 1995), 170ff.
G. Gohau, Les sciences de la Terre aux XVII et XVIII siecles, (Paris, 1990), 237-315.
D. Dean, James Hutton and the history of geology, (Cornell University Press, 1992).
Buffon, Natural History (trans by Wm Smellie),(London, 1781, ed of 1812), vol 1, 35
Maupied, Dieu, l’homme et le monde connus par le trois premiers chapitres de la Genese, (Paris, 1851).
P. Barrett &R. Freeman (eds), Works of Charles Darwin, (New York, 1989) vol 29, 41.
D. King-Hele, Erasmus Darwin, (London, 1999), 346-9.
J. Hutchinson, Moses’ Principia, (London, 1749), 4-5.
A Catcott, A Treatise on the Deluge, (London, 1768), 51-54.
W. Williams, Golwg ar Deymas Crist (1764, Translated as A View of Christ’s Kingdom trans R.Jones (London 1878), 231-44.
D. Llwyd Morgan, The Great Awakening in Wales, (London, 1988), 224-5.
Horsley was not above nepotism as he appointed his son to the parish of Chirk, which was my previous living. Some years later he fled to Scotland leaving large debts.
F. Mather, High Church Prophet, (Oxford, 1992).
S. Horsley, British Critic, xix, (1802), 6ff.
E. Hitchcock, The Religion of Geology, (Glasgow and London, n.d.), 51.
C. Simeon, Horae Homileticae, (London, 1832), 2.
I. Watts, A short view of the whole Scripture History, (London, 1781), 4.
A. Brown, Recollections of the Conversation Parties of Rev Charles Simeon, (London, 1863), 325.
I have studied a very large number of commentators and theologians of the 18th century and found that the vast majority of all denominations adopted “chaos-restitution”. Many were vague about the duration of the Chaos. Those who held to a strict Six Days were very rare, and those who allowed the Genesis Days to be “long” were almost as rare.
The Norton Anthology of American Literature, (New York, 1994), 819.
Norton Anthology, 826.
Cited in N. Timperley, Haydn: The Creation, (Cambridge, 1991), 19.
G. Gohau, Les Sciences de la Terre, (Paris, 1990), 237ff.
E. Nares, Man as known to us theologically and geologically,(London, 1834), 22.
There is no detailed study of either Chalmers’ Gap Theory or subsequent developments. My suspicion is that others anticipated Chalmers and the documentary evidence is somewhere in Scotland. See Hanna, W., Memoirs of the life and writings of Thomas Chalmers, (Edinburgh, 1852), vol 1, 79-80.
H. Blocher, In the Beginning, (Leicester, 1984), 41.
W. Fields, Unformed and Unfilled, (Nutley, N.J.), 1976, 40.
R. Kirwan, Geological Essays, (London, 1799), 47.
J. B. Sumner, A Treatise on the Records of Creation, (London, 1816), Vol II, Appendix, No 1, 339-359.
Roberts, op cit., 234-236, 243-244.
W.D.Conybeare. & W. Phillips, Outlines of the Geology of England and Wales, (London, 1822), lvi.
G. Faber, A Treatise of the Three Dispensations (London, 1823), 111-65.
Wilberforce’s copy is owned by Prof D.R. Oldroyd of Sydney.
W. Buckland, Vindiciae Geologica, (Oxford, 1820), 25-28.
W. Buckland, Geology and Mineralogy, Considered with reference to Natural Theology, (London, 1836).
Roberts, op cit, 247-250.
S. Driver,The Book of Genesis, (London, 1904), 4.
C. Westermann, Genesis 1 –11: a Commentary, (London, 1984), 104f.
See Weston Fields, Unformed and Unfilled, (New Jersey, 1976).
H. Miller, Footprints of the Creator, (1881, 1st edn 1847), 332.
H. Miller, The Testimony of the Rocks, (Edinburgh, 1858), x – xi.
F.J. Close, “Hugh Miller’s “Testimony of the Rocks” – God in his Word and in his works”, in Lectures delivered before the YMCA, Nov 1857 to Feb 1858, (London, 1859), 239 –272.
F. Close, The Book of Genesis considered and illustrated (London 1826, 6th edn 1841).
Adam Sedgwick to Dean F. Close, 27 March 1857, hand-written copy in archives of Dean Close School, Cheltenham.
G. Rorison, Replies to Essays and Reviews (ed S.Wilberforce) (London, 1861), 281-6.
J. Pratt, Scripture and Science not at variance, (London, 1871).
J. Dawson, the Origin of the World according to revelation and Science, (London, 1880)
Note that literalism and liberalism are used in their incorrect popular usage.
A.N.Wilson, God’s Funeral, (London, 1999). Badham, P, The contemporary challenge of Modernist theology, (Cardiff, 1998).
M.B. Roberts, “The History of the Fall” given at the Christians in Science Conference in September 1990.
D. Young, The Biblical Flood, (Exeter, 1994).

 

From 4004BC to 13.5 billion years

The Abyss of Time

(The Discovery of Deep Time)

 Featured Image -- 5288

One of the most dramatic sights in the world is the Grand Canyon. Nowhere demonstrates more vividly the abyss of time than this abyss. To stand at the rim and to glimpse the Colorado flowing 5000 feet below is to glimpse time and possibly to suffer chronological vertigo as well as vertigo. The Precambrian rocks at the bottom are nearly two billion years old. Above that and succeeding each other like layers in a cake are strata through most of the geological record from the Cambrian (550 m.y.) to the Permian (283 m.y.). The duration of time recorded in the rocks is beyond comprehension whether one peers down from the rim or spends six hours climbing up the geological timescale from the Colorado River in sweltering heat. The Grand Canyon is a monument to Deep Time.

However, four hundred years ago the earth was thought to be a few thousand years old. This story is how the abyss of time was gradually comprehended as a scientific understanding of the earth developed. According to Archbishop Ussher in 1656 the earth was created on 22 October 4004 BC. That date has come to signify the traditional date of Creation according to the Church and what the geologists and Darwin had to battle against. Enlightened scientists struggling against the bigotry of a benighted Church makes a lively story but has less truth than a Grade B Western.

The discovery of Deep Time is not simply one of Judaeo-Christian time giving way to scientific time after a long and bitter struggle. The picture is more complex as religious ideas have been both inhibiting and liberating in developing our concept of time. The scientific understanding of time, whether geological or astronomical, developed in Western Europe from about 1650, in societies which had a dominant, but declining, Christian culture. As a result the influence of Christian thought on time must be considered carefully, without degenerating into a cowboys-‘n-injuns scenario of the church fighting against science

It is also one in which any concepts of circular or cyclical time gave way to linear time. There is an apparent paradox here. Linear time has roots in the biblical tradition with an initial act of Creation, followed by acts of God in history, the Flood, Abraham, Moses, David and the Monarchy, the Exile and finally Jesus Christ. Cyclical time has roots in the Greek and Eastern traditions and surfaces in the scepticism of the 18th century where the eternal nature of the physical universe was emphasised against the finite, linear Christian view. Christians accepted the “Arrow of Time” long before it became scientifically incontrovertible, whether from evolution or the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

 

Diagram showing the linear understanding of time by Christians in 17th Century.

 

 

 

Creation   >       Man.>     Abraham >     Moses     David      Exile >    Jesus      >     2nd Coming

4004        2000                1500       1000         590         4BC                 ?

_________________________________________________________________________

 

The story of the scientific examination of the age of the earth and universe and that of “Deep Time” goes back 350 years to 1650. Before that there are interesting, and at times profound, philosophical discussions on time but these are not scientific and give no sense of duration. However before considering these it is essential to consider Christian understandings, which were prevalent as the Scientific Revolution began in the 17th century, beginning with Genesis.

 

The Book of Genesis

 

The stories of Genesis are wellknown to Westerners. However, trivialising teaching in school and Sunday school caused many adults to think that kangaroos on the Ark and Creation in 144 hours are an integral part of Christian belief. To cast doubt on these can cause immense grief to churchgoers! Few reflect on what Genesis meant to the writer(s), or when it was written. The latter is the easier question; most biblical scholars reckon that it was compiled from earlier sources in Mesopotamia in about 500 BC; a minority reckon it was compiled in about 1000 BC; while many Evangelicals hold that Moses wrote Genesis and the Pentateuch in about 1250 BC. Because many parallels have been found between Genesis and other Near Eastern Creation myths, such as The Epic of Gilgamesh and some claim that this shows that Genesis is derivative.

Exactly how the Hebrews understood Genesis is harder to answer. Some scholars argued that the universe was a three-decker one and the representation of time is literal. If the Hebrews were as informed on astronomy as their neighbours in Egypt and Mesopotamia, they would not have held such crude ideas. As the Old Testament writers borrowed ideas from both civilisations (e.g. Proverbs 22 is borrowed from the Teaching of Amenope), they probably knew their astronomy as well. However, there are few studies focusing on the question of what the ancients actually believed about time and this may be an unanswerable question. Without entering the controversy whether the Old Testament is historical or not, the Hebrews were not as concerned about chronology as later societies.

 

The Early church

 

The early Christians were more concerned about time and chronology and soon began to elucidate the biblical chronology. Until 400AD the vast majority of Christians believed that the earth would last only 6000 years and had existed for about 5500 years when Christ was born. They argued the latter from taking all biblical chronologies, especially those in Genesis 5 and 11, literally.  The former idea stemmed from “Chiliasm” – a belief that the earth would last Six days of millennia (from Psalm 90 vs 4 and 2 Peter 3 vs 8). This was proclaimed, rather than reasoned, as in the Epistle of Barnabas (c130 AD); “Therefore, my children, in six days – six thousand years, that is – there is going to be the end of everything.” This concern with the end of the world, or the coming of the Millennium, may explain their great interest in chronology.

An early example is Ad Autolycum by Theophilus of Antioch. Little is known about him beyond that he became Bishop of Antioch in 169 AD and wrote this volume after the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180 AD. He was a Greek and was strongly influenced by Jewish Christians. At the end there is a chronology from creation to the death of Marcus Aurelius (d 180 AD), a duration of 5695 years, suggesting that Creation occurred in 5515 BC. The chronologies are detailed and calculated from the biblical data and are not far off Ussher’s compilations and today’s’ estimates from Abraham to the Exile.

Theophilus was highly literalistic, while others, like Augustine, took the days of Genesis allegorically; few reckoned the earth to be more than a few thousand years old.

 

Diagram comparing estimates of Biblical Chronology by Theophilus (180) Ussher (1650) and in the Good News Bible (1976). The date for Noah is taken from Pitman and Ryan, Noah’s Flood, (1999)

EVENT       THEOPHILUS                             USSHER                                     GOOD NEWS BIBLE
EXILE                  561                                           593                                                     587
DAVID(d)          1079                                           1014                                                   970
MOSES              1577                                           1491                                                   c1250
ABRAHAM       2262                                            1921                                                   c1900
NOAH               3273                                             2347                                                   5600
CREATION       5515                                              4004                                                     ??

 

The Renaissance

 

The Renaissance was a time of broadening of horizons and exploration. Columbus discovered the New World; Copernicus (1473-1543) rejected the Ptolemaic system and proposed heliocentricity as the best explanation of the relation of the sun and planets. There was a revival in the study of ancient texts, classical and biblical, which also resulted in the Reformation. In all this flowering of exploration, scholarship and literature there was a sense of the unity of knowledge.

It also marked the dawn of a historical consciousness but concepts were few and the Scriptures were some of few texts, which went back to the earliest history. Thus attempts at the history of the world involved the fusing of biblical and classical writings. An example is Sir Walter Ralegh’s (1552?-1618) History of the World, which he published in 1614 while in the Bloody tower of the Tower of London. Ralegh considered the world to be created in about 4000 BC and also gave a long dissertation on the four rivers of the Garden of Eden (Genesis chap 2). Ralegh’s date was the same proposed by the Protestant reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546), the Roman Catholic Cardinal Bellarmine (1542-1621), and the devisor of the map projection, Mercator (1512-1594). A century earlier Columbus (1451-1506) was more generous with 5443 BC. These few dates show how widely accepted a date of 4000 to 5000 BC was for the origin of the earth. The majority of Protestant and Roman Catholic theologians concurred on about 4000BC and the Geneva Reformer John Calvin (1509-1564) typically reckoned “the present world is drawing to a close before it has completed its six thousandth year.”

 

Chiliasm

As the Reformation progressed some developed a revamped Chiliasm. In the early 1600s the Dutch Protestant theologian Josef Scaliger put creation at 25 October 3950 BC. (Autumn was a favoured time for Creation, as the fruits would provide sustenance for the winter.) The most well-known Chiliaist was Archbishop James Ussher of Armagh (1581-1656). Ussher, whose uncle was an ancestor of the Queen (through an illegitimate niece of the Duke of Wellington), was a very able scholar and no obscurantist. He became Archbishop of Armagh in 1625.

Jacobus_ussher

 

The most well-known of his works was Annales Veteris Testamenti (1650), which was a solid piece of chronological scholarship in which he argued from historical grounds that Jesus was born not in 4BC. But he is remembered for his date of creation – 4004 BC. Despite popular representations, he did not arrive at this figure from arithmetic applied to dates of patriarchs and other Old Testament figures. To Ussher there were six Chiliastic days of 1000 years apiece followed by the seventh day of the Millennium. There were four Chiliaistic days before Christ and thus Creation took place in 4004 BC, on the night before 23 October. Adam was created on 28 October. This date causes amusement to many, but the rest of Ussher’s chronology was very sound for the 17th century as he was a careful scholar. ( figure n.) His chronological calculations for the rest of the Old Testament are close to today’s estimates. Had not Ussher’s chronology been inserted in many English Bibles from 1704, he would probably have been forgotten, except to historians who valued his careful work.

 

Theories of the Earth, 1660-1710

 

The Royal Society of London, founded in 1660, epitomised the flowering of science both in Britain and the continent. The work of Robert Boyle, Isaac Newton and others in physics and chemistry needs no introduction. Less well-known is the natural history of John Ray (1627-1705), Edward Lhwyd (1660-1709) and others. The period also saw the beginnings of a scientific study of the earth and their findings were published in turgid volumes known as “Theories of the Earth”. On a first reading these seem to be a literal reading of Genesis stories with a few semi-scientific glosses. A closer read shows them to be more profound as they meld together the Bible, the classics, almost mediaeval “book” learning with the citing of endless authorities and scientific insight in a Chaos-Restitution interpretation of Genesis One. Here they shared the outlook of most theologians (except Ussher!) and literary writers such as Thomas Traherne and Alexander Pope. Instead of taking the Creation story to teach creation in six short days, writers, following an interpretation going back to the early Church Fathers, claimed from Genesis (Chapter one verse one) that God first created Chaos (without form and void) and after an interval recreated it in six days. The duration of Chaos was undefined. With Ussher it was twelve hours, but for most it was a long and unspecified duration.  Some, notably Thomas Burnet (1635?-1715), Edmond Halley (1656-1742) and William Whiston (1667-1752), reckoned the days to be more than twenty-four hours. Halley attempted a calculation of the age of the earth from the sea’s salinity, but came to no firm conclusions other than it was tens of thousands of years old. Likewise theological writers of the day; Bishop Simon Patrick (1626-1707) reckoned that God first created Chaos and then later re-ordered it in Six Days. He said of the duration of Chaos, ‘It might be … a great while;…’ Few accepted Ussher’s date of 4004 BC for the initial Creation, though most accepted that humanity first appeared in about the year 4000 BC, hence the general acceptance of the rest of Ussher’s chronology. The extension of time by the “Theorists” and contemporary theologians was minute compared to the billions of years of geological time, but was, as Stephen Gould wrote of Whiston’s argument that the day of Genesis one was a year long was, “a big step in the right direction.” In Britain the way was open for a longer time-scale.

Fossils and Geology

Not until the late 17th Century were “formed stones” or fossils recognised as imprints of dead creatures rather than formed as “sports of nature” in place. Only then could “fossils” be used to demonstrate former life and it took a century before the succession of fossils was used to put strata into historical order. Possibly the first person who used the succession of fossils to demonstrate evolution was Charles Darwin in a notebook in 1838, shortly before he “discovered” Natural Selection. In the 1690s there were insufficient grounds to suggest “Deep Time” or the continual reworking of the earth’s crust as understandings of erosion were rudimentary. Ray, Whiston and others cannot be expected to have done otherwise.

Most of the writers had some “scientific” understanding and often spent as much time refuting each other as suggesting new ideas. Some were mostly speculative, as was Thomas Burnet’s The Theory of the Earth. Despite his devotion to the Deluge, he sought to explain phenomena naturalistically and somewhat extended the duration of Genesis One. John Ray’s Miscellaneous Discourses concerning the dissolution of the world shows the beginning of careful observation on earth processes and questions over geological time. After reading the first edition of Ray’s Miscellaneous Discourses, Lhwyd wrote to Ray on 30 February 1691, ‘Upon the reading on your discourse of the rains continually washing away and carrying down earth from the mountains, it puts me in mind…which I observed’, and then described what he had observed in Snowdonia. He described innumerable boulders which had “fallen” into the Llanberis valleys. (Most of these are glacial erratics.) As ‘but two or three that have fallen in the memory of any man…, in the ordinary course of nature we shall be compelled to allow the rest many thousands of years more than the age of the world.’ Ray commented on Lhwyd’s findings and seemed deliberately to avoid facing the logic of Lhwyd’s comments. He nailed his colours firmly to the fence, and did not explicitly reject an Ussher chronology. However from his discussion of Chaos and other comments, it is fair to conclude that he accepted that the earth was considerably more than five-and-a-half thousand years old, but left the reader to decide.

 

Time in the Enlightenment

 

Often the 18th Century is presented as a geological Dark Age until Hutton shed light with his theory in 1788. The 18th century did not see a rapid advance in geology until about 1780, as observers continued the work of their 17th century forbears. Geologically the most important question was how to work out the historical succession of strata and that occurred at the end of the century.

Two who broke loose from the Theories of the Earth were de Maillet and Buffon. Benoit de Maillet (1656-1738) was a French diplomat with a sound grasp of the geography and geology of the Mediterranean and amplified Cartesian cosmogony. His work Telliamed: or conversations between an Indian philosopher and a French missionary did not appear until 1748, though manuscripts had circulated from 1720. It was an odd work both accepting mermaids and reporting careful observation on marine deposition. Our main interest is that the author reckoned the earth to be over two billion years old and according to Albritton the work acted as a leaven among 18th century geologists.

Buffon

Buffon, born as Georges-Louis Leclerc (1707-88) was the Keeper of the Jardin de Roi in Paris and in 1749 published the first volumes of Histoire Naturelle, but by his death in had published only 35 of the projected 50 volumes. His work was widely available in English. His classification of the natural world is of no concern to us, but his discussion of Whiston, Burnet and Woodward in the first volume of his Natural History is. He had little time for these Theories of the Earth and said, ‘I reject these vain speculations.’ However according to Roger, his biographer, Buffon borrowed more from Whiston than he was willing to admit. It also shows that the Theorists’ longer timescale was wellknown on the continent. Buffon also carried out experiments on the cooling of red-hot globes of iron and then applied his findings to the cooling of a globe the size of the earth and estimated that the age of the earth to be about 75,000 years. Though vastly greater than 4000 BC, it was not drastically different from British writers in the previous century and gave some experimental data to support them. In unpublished manuscripts Buffon reckoned the earth to be 3 million years old. In 1751 he was censured by the theologians at the Sorbonne and responded by claiming that the first verse of Genesis should read; “In the beginning God created the materials of the heavens and the earth”. This, in fact, is similar to the ideas of the initial creation of chaos, which was so widely held – at least by Protestants in Britain and Immanuel Kant.

Chaos and Time

Buffon went further than his contemporaries on the duration of time but the consensus of a Chaotic existence of matter in the early phases of the creation found its way into 18th century poetry. One was Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), whose early attempt of putting forward a theory of evolution was in rhyming couplets. If Buffon is a forerunner of Charles Darwin, Erasmus Darwin is doubly so. Charles wrote of his grandfather, ‘he fully believed in God as Creator of the universe.’ and Erasmus’s fin de siecle poems on evolution, considered by Horace Walpole as “sublime”, reflect current understandings of Creation and Chaos,

            ‘—- Let there be light!’ proclaimed the Almighty Lord.

Astonished Chaos heard the potent word:-

Through all his realms the kindling Ether runs,

And the mass starts into a million suns;’

The views of Erasmus Darwin on the age of the earth are similar to Christians of the time. Take William Williams (1717- 1791), who wrote the hymn Guide me O thou great redeemer.  In 1756 he wrote Golwg ar Deymas Crist (A View of Christ’s Kingdom) an epic poem answering the Deists. Chapter II of his epic poem is an account of Creation. There were two creations: the creation of the basic materials – Chaos – and the creation of the universe with those materials, all of which God accomplished ‘in one hundred and forty four hours’, as in Genesis. Though the Re-creation took 144 hours, Pantycelyn gives no indication how long Chaos had existed. Most other religious writers held similar views and only a minority espoused a young earth.  At the end of the 18th century they also sang about it as in Joseph Haydn’s oratorio The Creation, with the orchestral introduction on The Chaos followed by the aria ‘And a new created world sprung up at God’s command’.  The libretto of The Creation dates from England in about 1750. An unknown poet took Milton’s ideas in Paradise Lost and wrote it for Handel. In 1792 Haydn obtained a copy while in England and put it to music on returning to Austria.

Many poets incorporated Chaos when versifying on Creation or related matters. The ubiquity of Chaos is evidenced by the Black poet Phillis Wheatly’s Thoughts on the Works of Providence;

That called creation from eternal night.

            ‘Let there be light,’ He said: and from his profound

            Old Chaos heard

Wheatley was a slave born in Africa who was purchased and treated as one of the family by John Wheatley of Boston. The Wheatleys, slave-owners and slave, moved in Evangelical circles and are more properly considered in respect of abolitionism, but this sheds light on how the concept of Chaos and thus of the duration of time was widely held. Sadly Phillis died in poverty at the age of 31 in 1784.

Hutchinsonian Literalism

Very different are the clerical scientists John Hutchinson (1674-1737) and his disciple Alexander Catcott (1725-79). In 1748 Hutchinson wrote Moses’ Principia to oppose Newton. Both lay great store on Genesis and sought to correct the “errors” of Newtonianism. Far less is made of the Chaos than in the Theories and Hutchinson seems not to hold that the period of chaos or tohu va bohu was of any significant duration. In 1868 his disciple Catcott wrote his Treatise on the Deluge which implied that Chaos was of short duration. The Hutchinsonian ideas were held by some until the early 19th century and the last Hutchinsonian scientist seems to have been the entomologist William Kirby (1759-1850), who argued for a Six-Day creation in his Bridgewater Treatise. It would be fair to see Hutchinsonianism as a biblicist reaction to the prevalent Newtonianism.

For the first three-quarters of the century there was no consensus on the duration of time. What the uneducated believed no one can say with certainty but the case of Phillis Wheatley should caution against assuming a mere six thousand years as only the literate have left any evidence. A minority did take the Bible literally and adhere to an Ussher chronology,

but most Christians, whether evangelical or not, stretched matters with an indefinite chaos with humanity limited to 6,000 years. It is difficult to decide whether the lines of William Cowper (1731-1800), an evangelical poet, who also wrote a poem of appreciation to the botanical poet, Erasmus Darwin, reflect a concern for geology or not,

Some drill and bore

The solid earth, and from the strata there

Extract a register, by which we learn

That he who made it, and reveal’d its date

To Moses, was mistaken in its age.

William Cowper “The Task”

 

The Discovery of Deep Time.

 

Until the end of the 18th Century the vastness of time was little understood. Though the priority for the discovery of Deep Time is often assigned to James Hutton (1726-97), the Scottish physician and scientist, the “discovery” was also made by several scientists in Europe in the last two decades of the 18th century; the Genevan polymath and mountaineer Henri de Saussure (1740-99) in the Alps near Chamonix in 1778, the much-maligned German mineralogist Gottlieb Werner (1749-1817), the Parisian palaeontologists Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) and Alexander Brogniart and in England, the Canal engineer William Smith (1769-1839) working near Bath.

200px-william_smith_geologist

None should be given all the credit. However by 1800 the age of the earth was known to be millions of years.

Bound up with this was the development of the use of fossils to determine stratigraphy and the historical order of rocks. Before long the succession of life was known with the attendant fact of extinction. The stratigraphic column was slowly worked out and was the main task of geologists until mid-century and slowly the familiar sequence of Cambrian, Ordovician, etc. was worked out.

Yet no precise figure could be given to the age of the earth; de Saussure thought the earth to be very old, his compatriot J.A.de Luc (1727-1817) thought it to be tens of thousands, yet in the 1780s Abbé Soulavie was denounced for impiety by fellow Abbé Barruel for allegedly giving an estimate of 356,913,770 years. By 1820 the eccentric British clerical-geologist William Buckland (1784-1856) was reckoning “millions of millions” of years. There was no concerted attack by the church as most educated Christians happily accepted geologists findings, which was not surprising as many were clergy. Prominent at the end of the 18th century were John Playfair (1748-1819) of Edinburgh and Joseph Townsend (1739-1816) of Bath, who publicised the work of Hutton and Smith respectively. Some churchmen did oppose geology, but they were always a small minority.

Christian Accommodation

At the beginning of the 19th Century many Christian or nominally Christian, writers modified the consensus of the Theorists. The sequence based on Genesis One to Eleven of the initial creation of Chaos, re-ordering Creation in Six Days with man being created in about 4000BC and then the Deluge evolved into a vastly extended Chaos to allow for the vast time of geology and a multiplication of Deluges. Theologians quietly slipped geology into the Chaos. The first theologian seems to have been Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) at St Andrews in the winter of 1802. In 1816 the future Archbishop of Canterbury, John Bird Sumner (1780-1862) published similar ideas in A Treatise on the Records of Creation. Both Chalmers and Sumner were Evangelicals – of an intellectual bent. This harmonisation of geology and Genesis was widely accepted and prevented any major conflict, but from 1820 to 1850 a minority tried to dismiss geology and insist on a Six-Day Creation. Their strongest opponents were the clerical geologists and their supporters.

From about 1810 the main concern of English geologists was simply to work out the stratigraphic order of rocks before asking more philosophical questions. Most geologists accepted some kind of multiple Catastrophism with Noah’s Deluge as the last of these, and were known as Diluvialists. In the 1820s some geologists, notably Charles Lyell (1797-1875), rejected Catastrophism and suggested a more gradual Uniformitarianism. Thus meetings of the Geological Society of London were often fiery debates between the Fluvialists led by Lyell and the Diluvialists led by the Rev W.D.Conybeare (1787-1857), when no holds were barred. These were great fun as were the associated dinner parties where the port flowed freely. The debates are often presented as if it were Lyell who introduced notions of a great age. He did not as all of the “Conybeare Sect” (as Lyell called his friends) accepted vast geological ages. Some of the humour may be seen in Henry De la Beche’s watercolour cartoon lampooning Lyell’s “piddling” geology. De la Beche (1796-1855) was the first director of the British Geological Survey. However the result of Uniformitarianism was that the Deluge was no longer seen as geologically significant or as the last of many Catastrophes, but many geologists were not entirely convinced of Lyell’s Uniformitarianism. Lyell scarcely affected opinions on the age of the earth.

 

Geology comes of Age

 

For the first half of the 19th century there was an almost unanimous conviction that the earth was extremely old, but not how old. Geologists were unravelling layer upon layer, strata upon strata going from the recent Drift rocks down through the Mesozoic to the Cambrian and below. The time involved was immense and apparently immeasurable. Critics of geology picked up sweeping statements of geologists, who spoke of millions of years as if they were days. Buckland reckoned the earth to be “millions upon millions”

buckland

 

and his friend Conybeare “quadrillions”. Darwin said of his geology tutor Adam Sedgwick (1785-1873), “What a capital hand is Sedgwick for drawing large cheques upon the Bank of Time!” Beyond affirmations of great age Lyell gave no figures. This consensus of millions upon millions may contrasted to tens of thousands of de Luc in the 1790s. After the mid-1820s no geologist would even suggest that, no matter how religious he was. The earth was millions of years old, but no one knew how many.

 

 

REACTION TO DEEP TIME

 

Throughout the half-century when Deep Time was developed a minority opposed the vast extension of time. In the 1790s Richard Kirwan (1733-1812) famously opposed Hutton partly on the spectre of an eternal earth. In 1802, the very year that the French naturalist J.B. de Lamarck (1744–1829) first developed his own theory of evolution, François-René de Chateaubriand (1768-1848) of Combourg château in Brittany published the Génie du Christianisme, a Catholic literary tour-de-force re-acting against the French Revolution. He  rejected Buffon’s long timescale commenting, ‘Dieu a dû creér, et sans doute créér le monde avec toutes les marques de vétusté.’ This can be translated ‘created the world with all the marks of antiquity and decay’, thus the world may appear ancient but is actually a recent creation. This was later taken up by Gosse. As biblicist Evangelicalism took root in Regency Britain opposition to geological ages mounted, even dismissing such evangelical geologists like Sedgwick as infidels. This did not last and by 1850 most educated people, whether or Christian or not, had accepted the Deep Time of geologists. For decades geology had been the most popular science, clergy did sterling fieldwork in their spare time, geology books were available in mechanics institutes, and geology lectures were given in most towns and often in churches. The picture Pegwell Bay painted by the founder of the Pre-Raphaelite movement William Dyce (1804-64) in 1860 encapsulates the awareness of geology and other matters scientific with its almost photographic detail of the flint bands in the chalk cliffs. It is often interpreted as depicting geological vertigo, but by 1860 scarcely any educated people or clergy rejected geological time. Almost the only person who did was the naturalist Phillip Gosse (1810-88), whose life was put in semi-fictional form by his son in Father and Son. Gosse was a man of extreme religious views and was not a member of any mainline church. In 1857 he wrote Omphalos (Greek for navel) to show that although the earth appeared old all was created in an instant some 6000 years ago. Thus Adam was created de novo complete with a navel. The book was a lead balloon and the parson-naturalist Charles Kingsley (1819-75) reckoned it made God a liar. There was no other answer.

If Gosse can be ignored for being beyond the fringe, le channon (or Canon) F.Maupied as a leading Roman Catholic theologian at the Sorbonne cannot. In the 1840s Maupied was teaching a literal creation and a rejection of geology during his lectures, something which had never occurred at Oxford or Cambridge. After 1850 apart from a few extreme Evangelicals and Seventh Day Adventists hardly anyone argued against Deep Time until 1961 when the Creationist movement took off.

The motivation for this reaction against Deep Time was both theological and political as it reflects reaction against both Revolution in France and Reform in Britain.

 

Deep Time and The Origin of Species

 Charles Darwin

When Darwin published The Origin of Species in 1859, the vast age of the earth was as established as heliocentricity, but no firm figures could be put to its age. To many physicists geologists were far too cavalier in their guesses on geological time. The Revd Samuel Haughton (1821-97), Geology Professor at Dublin and an ardent opponent of Natural Selection suggested that 1,526 m.y. had passed since the beginning of the Cambrian, three times the present figure.  Darwin was equally generous with time and suggested that some 300 m.y had passed since the early Cretaceous. He argued this on sound geological reasons, but also to give sufficient time for evolution.

Though many make much of (limited) religious objections to Darwin, the strongest opposition came from physicists such as William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin)(1824-1907), P. G.Tait (1831-1901), James Joule (1818-89) and others. Theirs was a chauvinism from “exact scientists” to the imprecision and lack of quantitative methods of both geologists and biologists. Physicists sometimes regard geologists as stamp collectors! Kelvin struck at the heart of both with his estimates of the age of the earth. From 1855 Kelvin reckoned the age of the earth to be no more than 100 m.y., a minute fraction of the time Darwin needed for evolution to occur through Natural selection. With the authority of physics most biologists and geologists succumbed. In later editions of The Origin of species Darwin removed all reference to his high estimates and thus for the rest of the 19th Century Darwinism as such went into eclipse and most evolutionists adopted a non-Darwinian evolution.

In the 1880s Kelvin reduced his estimates to about 24 m.y., thus almost making any evolution impossible, unless there was an ineffable outside agent controlling evolution. Kelvin had virtually bludgeoned geologists into accepting limits on the age of the earth and for a half-century from 1860, few geologists dared to suggest more than 100 m.y. for the age of the earth. In 1860 John Phillips (1800-74), nephew of William Smith and geology Professor at Oxford suggested 96 m.y. He estimated that the rate of deposition today is one foot in 1,332 years. As the estimate of the thickness of fossiliferous strata was 72,000ft, that made about 96 m.y. This date gave credence to Kelvin’s 1868 estimate of 100 m.y. Huxley was less happy but was unable to assail Kelvin’s calculus. Few geologists were able to challenge Kelvin, partly because they had no good method of quantifying geological time and had to adopt guesstimates based on supposed rates of deposition as table    shows. Though rates of deposition were very much guesses the thickness of strata in the various periods are good indication of the relative length of the periods. In 1893, three years before the discovery of radioactivity, William McGee took Precambrian sediments into consideration. Playing with the arithmetic he allowed the age of the earth to be somewhere between 10 m.y. and 5,000 b.y. and favoured 6 billion, not far of the 4.64 b.y. of today.

Despite this great disparity of estimates, the one agreement was that the age of the earth was to be measured in millions of years. This was shared by most Christians, including the evangelicals, whose ideas of time were included in the booklets published in 1910, entitled The Fundamentals. Writers such as James Orr, a Scottish theologian and George Wright an American clergyman and geologist used this limited time to show how evolution had to be divinely guided rather than occurring through chance and natural selection. But by then time was getting deeper still.

 

Deep time goes deeper

 

While Kelvin was shrinking the age of the earth, in 1896 the French physicist Henri Becquerel (1852-1908) discovered Radioactivity as Uranium compounds emitted energy similar to x-rays. Radioactivity had two major implications for the age of the earth. The first was that radioactive decay created immense energy, thus negating Kelvin’s arguments for a cooling earth. The second was that radioactive elements could be used to measure time as they disintegrated at a fixed rate – known as their half-life. Kelvin went to the grave without accepting the implications of radioactivity, which destroyed all his arguments and soon gave methods of estimating the age of rocks and of the earth and gave vastly greater figures. In 1905 the English physicist John William Strutt, later Lord Rayleigh (1842-1919) showed that a mineral containing radium was 2 billion years old because of its helium content. In the same year Bertrand Boltwood suggested that Lead may be the end product of the decay of uranium and calculated the ages of 43 minerals from 400 to 2,200 my. The radiometric dating game had begun.

Arthur Holmes and the Age of the Earth

For the next fifty years the most innovative geologist on the dating-game (and on plate tectonics) was Arthur Holmes (1890-1964). He wrote many articles on geological time and several editions of a short, but profound book The Age of the Earth in 1913, 1927 (this edition cost 6d) and 1937. In 1913 he based his work on three Uranium-Lead results from the Palaeozoic. Combining this with the thickness of sediments, he estimated the base of the Cambrian to be 600m.y., remarkably close to present figures of 550m.y. Whatever flaws there were in his work, they show remarkable geological insight. As time wore on the number of age determinations multiplied and are almost infinite. A study of Holmes’ work over half a century (as carried out by Cherry Lewis) shows how a scientific theory can be gradually supported by strong experimental data.

Initially Holmes reckoned the age of the earth to be under 2 billion years (actually 1.6 b.y. in 1913 and 1927 and 1.75 b.y. in 1937), but from 1946 this was seen to be nearer 4.6 billion, with the Cambrian commencing in about 550-590 m.y., with the lower estimate being accepted today. Despite the many refinements and explosion of methods and age determinations, this picture has remained the same for half a century. There are three basic methods of determining the age of the earth. The first is to date the oldest rocks on earth, as this will give a minimum age of the earth. The ages of the Amitsoq gneisses of Greenland, first “dated” by the Oxford geologist Stephen Moorbath and others in the early 1970s has not yet been bettered.  The five methods used (see figure   ) give an average of 3.65 billion years. Nearby the Banded Ironstones give ages of 3.8 b.y. These are for whole rocks and in the last ten years minute fragments of detrital Zircons in early Precambrian sediments have given ages up to 4.4 b.y. indicating that the grains may have been formed at that time yet deposited by water in about 3 b.y. ago. That indicates that the earth had cooled to form a crust with 200 M.y. or so from the formation of this planet. The second are the ages of meteorites, which give ages between 4.5 and 4.7 b.y. (see figure   ) The third is more theoretical and is to determine “model lead ages” from the decay of uranium into lead for the Earth, Moon and meteorites and was developed independently by Holmes and Houtermans in 1946. (For a more technical discussion read Dalrymple, The Age of the Earth.)

 

Astronomy becomes Cosmology

 

In the early modern period up to 1800, Astronomers were more interested in matters of space rather than time, as first geocentricity was rejected and then elliptical orbits accepted rather than circular ones. It was possible to calculate the distance of stars by geometrical means. As estimates had been made of the speed of light since the 17th century, by 1800 the distance of some stars indicated that they were two million light years away thus indicating a vast age of the universe in harmony with geological estimates. Beyond that they was little sense of time and estimates on the age of the universe could first be made in the 1920s, nearly two decades after radiometric age determinations showed the earth to be several billions of years old.

This was due to the discovery of the redshift-distance relation – Hubble’s Law – in the 1920s. Edwin Hubble (1889-1953) worked at the Mount Wilson Obsevatory above Los Angeles with Milton Humasson, a former muleteer turned astronomical photographer. Hubble’s Law pointed to the Universe forming at a particular time and thus from then the age of the universe became an important and potentially answerable question. Over the next seventy years this became a perennial issue in which the “age” depended on the value of Hubble’s Constant. An irony here is that this time astrophysicists had to see that their results concurred with the geologist’s age of the earth of several billion, rather than the physicists in the person of Kelvin over-ruling geologists. The Belgian astronomer-priest Fr G. Lemaitre (1894-1966) began to talk of a beginning in time for the universe whereas in 1932 Einstein had clearly avoided this question. At a meeting in Rome in 1952 W.H.W. Baade (1893-1960), a German émigré living in the States, argued that the universe was between 1.8 and 3.6 billion years old, somewhat less, but in the same order, as estimates for the age of the earth. All hinged on the value of H – Hubble’s Constant. To cut a long story short, (or else read Gribbin’s The Birth of Time), estimates for H have varied from 40 to 525, with suggested ages up to 20 billion years. In 1997, estimates for the age of the universe lie between 10 and 13 billion years, with a best value of 11.5 billion. And that clearly concurs with the geologists.

However, a philosophical or theological question remains. What was there before the birth of this universe? It was Fr Lemaitre who implicitly raised this question, which also has theological implications.

 

The duration of homo sapiens

 

Until the 19th Century few doubted that humans had only existed for 6000 years, or a similar short duration. In the absence of archaeology and limited historical research this is not surprising. Even when geologists were pushing back the age of the earth, 6000 years for humanity was still accepted. Often this is put down to the doctrinaire influence of the church over the age of the earth as is often claimed over the human remains at Paviland Cave in South Wales. In the 1820s William Buckland reckoned these human remains, which he christened the Scarlet Lady of Paviland, to be Roman in age, but later work showed them to be 20,000 years old. In part this was due to Buckland holding a recent existence of humanity though he was most liberal on geological time.

During the early 19th Century evidence came in slowly and by mid-century many were accepting of a longer human history. By 1847 the geologists Edward Vivian and William Pengelly were suggesting that the human remains at Kent’s Cavern in Devon were far older than the Deluge, but their ideas were not acceptable to the Geological Society. Charles Lyell held that humankind was recent (i.e.6000 years old) in 1831 but in The Antiquity of Man (1864) extended it to 100,000 years. That remained controversial for many years and even in 1912 G.F.Wright, no mean geologist, was arguing that ‘the antiquity of man … need not be more than fifteen thousand years old.’ That was almost immediately untenable due to radiometric age-dating. The date of the appearance of Homo Sapiens is a matter of controversy and today is reckoned to be in the order of 100,000 to 150,000 years ago. The question is debated with vigour both in the technical literature and popular presentations by Leakey and Stringer.

 

The cosmic story

 

At the beginning of the Scientific Revolution there was a simple cosmic story based on the early chapters of Genesis taken at face value. The story was similar for the three monotheistic religions Judaism, Christianity and Islam, reflecting their common roots. The great eastern religions and the animist cultures had different stories. An essential feature of the monotheistic story was that these events had happened in time, albeit a mere few thousand years ago.

As science advanced this story was changed beyond recognition and to most people has been totally replaced by a scientific cosmic story spanning well over ten billion years. Gone were any immediate acts of a Creator producing fully-formed aspects of creation. No longer can one say with Milton;

The grassy clods now calved, now half appeared

            The tawny lion, pawing to get free

            His hinder parts, then springs as broke from bonds,

            And rampant shakes his brinded mane; Paradise Lost VII 463-66 (5)

Instead was a slow development from the initial formation of the universe so that everything can be seen as evolving from Hydrogen. The sceptic might say, “In the beginning Hydrogen.” And so the whole total evolutionary story from the Big Bang may be traced out, through the heavy elements to the formation of the Solar System with Sun and planets, of life and ultimately, in almost the last moment, human beings. At times this acts as a secular creation story replacing the biblical one. However whether or not this is seen to exclude God it does emphasise the vastness of time, which is beyond human expectation and comprehension.

 

The Arrow of Time

 

The Christian understanding of time has been linear, starting from Creation and progressing to Christ to the Second Coming, thus having an “Arrow of Time”. In the 17th century the Theorists and Newton in his biblical researches followed this linear scheme. Newton’s Laws of Motion, which could explain and describe the motion of the heavens and mundane objects exemplified a reversible view of time. Creation was conceived as God making an up-and-running universe rather than an evolving one. Throughout the 18th Century this proved an excellent scientific way of looking at the universe as the motion of heavenly bodies could be described mathematically and their future paths predicted. Basically the same methods are used today and Einstein’s Relativity and Quantum Mechanics are essentially reversible.

As geologists developed their understanding of Deep Time and the stratigraphic succession in the 19th century some, notably overtly Christian geologists like Sedgwick, Buckland or Conybeare interpreted the succession as a linear progression, in which God had progressively created various life-forms. In 1830 Lyell gave an anti-progressive gloss to his uniformitarianism, which prevented him from accepting evolution until 1865. Lyell adopted a steady-state view of the earth, denied directional change in the fossil record and speculated that creatures similar to extinct forms might recur, thus activating De la Beche’s satirical pen once more. Darwin took Lyell’s Uniformitarianism and retained the linear geological progression of Sedgwick and others giving a strong directional and irreversible aspect to evolution, later often known as Dollo’s Law.

The irreversibility of time began to be grasped by physicists in the mid-19th century as thermodynamics was developed as a result on research on the production of energy from steam engines. The work of Helmholtz, Clausius and Kelvin led to the significance of entropy and thus to the Second Law of Thermodynamics. In whatever physical process entropy always rises. Applied to the universe this means that the temperature will inevitably become uniform throughout. The other implication is that this gives a direction and irreversibility to the universe, with time pointing from the past to the future, like an arrow. Hence the Arrow of Time.

 

Left Behind?

 

One of the best-selling books in evangelical bookshops is Timothy de la Haye’s novel Left Behind, which portrays the events leading up to the Return of Christ and the Millennium as interpreted by Dispensationalists. Since the mid-nineteenth century Dispensationalists have developed the Chiliasm of the past into detailed fulfilments of prophecy and some have even suggested that Saddam Hussein was the Antichrist. Other contenders have been Napoleon and Hitler. De la Haye claims that Christ will return soon and the Tribulation will be inflicted on the godless who were left behind. Not only does de la Haye hold that the earth has little time left but also that it has only existed for about 10,000 years as he is very much a Creationist and his Christian Heritage College was for a time associated with the Institute of Creation Research at San Diego founded by Henry Morris (b1918).

Creationism has risen to such dominance especially in the USA that many do not realise that it was insignificant until the publication of The Genesis Flood by Henry Morris (a professor of hydraulic engineering) and J.C.Whitcomb (an Old Testament scholar) in 1961. The main arguments of Creationism are simple and beguiling and reject both evolution and any concept of Deep Time. While the falsity of Creationism has been frequently exposed, its influence remains unabated as is evidenced by the continual problems in science education as in Kansas in 1999, and law suits in Australia.  The Kansas proposals removed any mention of cosmology and deep time, presumably because without Deep Time evolution is impossible. Creationism’s influence has spread to Britain and much of the world, including the former Soviet Union, and presents itself as “true Christianity”. The popular but inaccurate opinion that Darwin shattered belief in a literal creation lends credence to their arguments, as does the strident atheism of some pop scientists. Creationism has had immense influence on popular culture in the USA and elsewhere and it spreads divisively into church life and issues of public education. The National Council for Science Education at San Diego is devoted to opposing Creationism. Creationism’s appeal must be recognised and that at its heart is a total rejection of Deep Time and thus any scientific understanding of the universe. However it must be said that not all anti-evolutionists reject Deep Time, most notably exponents of Intelligent Design though they often avoid the issue.

Image result for ken ham imagedinopica

Creationists, whose leaders often have Ph.D.s in science and engineering, leave the majority bewildered on why they should adopt such untenable beliefs. Slick explanations of religious brainwashing will not do. Two main reasons are a fear that a rejection of a literal Genesis will destroy the Christian faith and a certain amount of general chronological vertigo as the billions of years which trip off the tongues of geologists and astronomers and seem so glib and threatening to finite souls.

 

How much time left?

 

The end of the world has always held a fascination if only in a fascination for disaster movies. Many have their understanding of Christian views of the end of the world coloured by predictions of Jehovah’s Witnesses or Dispensationalists, which are not held by most Christians. There have long been scientific speculations on when the world will end and how long time will last. The two questions are not the same. For our planet there are two possible fates. First all or most life could be destroyed by a colliding comet or asteroid, similar to that which struck Earth 65 million years ago. But that would not be the end of time as the Earth would still be there, even though humans were destroyed. Then in about 5 billion years time the sun may become a Supernova and explode and destroy the Solar System, but there would still be a Universe. The final fate of the Universe is much further off and would be when everything is uniform and entropy has increased to its maximum. The question is if there is no more change, can there be time? (see Paul Davies, The Last Three Minutes)

 

Conclusion

 

Like any development in human thought, the discovery of Deep Time has not been a simple linear progression as the forces of truth overcame the forces of ignorance. The popular story of the Church holding out for 4004BC until they were totally routed by scientists, who overcame their obscurantism by scientific heroism, is far wide of the mark.

Before 1600 most people believed that the earth was created in 4000BC for the simple reason there was no arguments against this view. As we have seen significant breakthroughs occurred in the late 17th century with the misunderstood theories of the earth, in the end of the 18th century with the simultaneous development of geological understanding all over Europe, the discovery of radioactivity and its application to dating rocks in the 1890s, and the discovery of the redshift-distance relation by Hubble in the 1920s, which demonstrated a beginning to the Universe.

Only since 1946 has it been possible to date the age of the earth to 4.5 billion years, since the 1960s the Age of the universe has been variously estimated between 10 and 20 billion years. Today the age of the earth can be dated with fair precision at 4.55 b.y. and the Universe less precisely as 13 b.y. give or take a couple of billion.

We have come a long way from the 6000-year-old universe held by most in 1500. The development of understanding over the last half millennium has progressed not smoothly, but in fits and starts. One cannot separate “scientific” understandings, from “philosophical” or even “religious” ones as all had a part to play. At times these could inhibit or retard understanding and at other times accelerate it. There was no simple liberation of free thought from religious tyranny.

There is now a wide consensus on both the age of the earth and of the universe, with a knowledge is that not only that this universe has a beginning but so does time. We are now back with Augustine who claimed that the Universe was not created in time but with time. It is that question with which cosmologists like Stephen Hawking are grappling. Yet despite the irrefutable scientific evidence of vast antiquity a sizeable minority of the Western world still retain a chronological vertigo and reject any concept of Deep Time in favour of a universe which has existed only for a few thousand years.

 

Short Bibliography

C.J. Albritton, The Abyss of Time, California, 1980

P.J.Bowler, Evolution; the History of an Idea, California, 1989.

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

G.B.Dalrymple, The Age of the Earth, California, 1992.

Paul Davies, The Last Three Minutes, London, 1994.

J.Gribbin, The Birth of Time, London, 1999.

Cherry Lewis, The Dating Game, London, 2000.

R.Numbers, The Creationists, New York, 1992.

  1. Young and Steary , The bible, Rocks and Time, Grand Rapids, 2005.

 

Glossary

Chiliasm, a Christian belief centred on the Millennium, usually taking the form that the earth will last 6000 years before the Millennium is ushered in. Held by some early Chrsitians, some in 17th Century e.g. Ussher and extreme Evangelicals today. (from Greek for 1000.)

Millennium, – a thousand years. Usually taken to be the thousand years of Chrsit’s reign after his Return, based onm a literal reading of Revelation 20, which most Christians take as symbolic.

Dispensationalism, a form of popular chiliasm developed in the 19th Century, which is strong on predicting future events and a comlex working out of the Second Coming of Christ. De la Haye is an example.

Literal(ism). An unhelpful, but often used, term to label Christains who especially take Genesis One as teaching a Six-Day creation.

Evangelical. A Christian tradition stemming from the 18thCentury Revival putting especial emphasis on the Bible and the atoning death of Christ. Often wrongly considered to be literalist in use of Bible, but some are!

Deluge. Normally the Flood of Noah, which from 1650 to 1750 was thought to be the main geological cause of the strata. From 1780 to 1840 many geologists thought strata were deposited by a succession of Deluges, Noah’s being the last. This was also known as Catastrophism or Diluvialism. Lyell’s Uniformitarianism put paid to it. Recently, following Henry Morris, Creationists argue that Noah’s Deluge laid down all strata. Geologists totally reject this idea.

Catastrophism. (Not always a helpful term)  see Deluge

Diluvialism. See Deluge.

Uniformitarianism. A geological outlook that geological processes in the past were uniform to processes today and thus reluctant to posit any catastrophe. Held dogmatically by Lyell and Darwin but is under question today, especially as one considers the extinction of dinosaurs. Before 1830 known as Fluvialists. See de la Beche’s cartoon on this “piddling” school of geology!

Radiometric Age-Dating. Radioactive elements disintegrate at a fixed rate known as a Half Life. For example Uranium disintegrates into Lead, and the proportions of both elements in a mineral can be measured. In certain circumstances this can give the age of the mineral or rock. The techniques are too complicated to be explained here, but see Lewis or Dalrymple.

 

Biography;Michael Roberts, M.A. (Oxon), B.A. (Dunelm) F.R.Hist>S.

Michael studied Geology at Oxford and spent 3 years in Africa as an exploration geologist. He studied theology at Durham and was ordained into the Anglican Church in 1974.  . He is a keen mountain walker and has written articles on science and religion (one on Darwin and Design received a Templeton Award in 1997) and Darwin’s geology and a book Evangelicals and Science (2008).

A N Wilson’s bogus study of Darwin

The Times of London has gone down in my estimation with an appalling weekend essay on Darwin by the novelist and semi-intellectual A N Wilson, who after an atheist phase has returned to some kind of faith. Sadly his faith has not improved his intellectual discernment.

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A wag visited Darwin’s statue in Shrewsbury!!

Wilson has a “radical” biography on Darwin due out in September 2017 and has given two tasters; one in the London Evening Standard, https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2017/08/07/charles-darwin-exposes-a-n-wilson-as-a-fraud/

and one in the Times https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/darwin-s-greatness-is-founded-on-a-myth-r0563g83q

As one , who for several decades has studied the letters and works of Darwin and also researched his Welsh geology of 1831 and 1837-41 through fieldwork https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2017/08/04/darwins-boulders/ 

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Outcrop at Llanymynech

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Darwin’s boulders at Cwm Idwal

I am familiar with much of his thought and development. (As a Christian – and vicar – I have also considered his religious views). Despite having been led to be negative towards him by American fundamentalists I slowly but surely developed a great respect for Darwin as a scientist and a caring man of integrity. I have transcribed many of his geological notes – pausing over words like “vomitory” or “mammified rocks”, reading innumerable letters , scientific papers  and most of his books. Sadly, I don’t think Wilson has done any proper historical research and according to John Van Whye has used decades old studies, which have been superceded.

It is difficult not be angry over articles (and probably the biography ) of Wilson as they make so many unsubstantiated claims and seem only wishing to belittle a great scientist. His writing do not share the critical, yet sympathetic, approach of scholars like Janet Brown, Sandra Herbert, Rob Wesson , Jim Costa and many others. These do not go in for blind adulation but look at all the evidence carefully as I hope I do. Yes, Darwin made mistakes, as he did over Glen Roy in 1838 and many of his ideas are incomplete – often due to lack of knowledge as with genetics.

It does seem that Wilson is simply sceptical of Darwin’s science and I suspect he has been unduly influenced by the american Intelligent Design movement, whose loathing of Darwin is only exceeded by their inaccuracy, whether on Darwin’s alleged problem on the Cambrian Explosion or whether his ideas inspired Hitler.

Below is his Times essay interspersed with some comments.

Darwin’s greatness is founded on a myth

The great Victorian naturalist was slow to understand natural selection and reluctant to credit earlier evolutionists

During his visit to the Galapagos Islands Charles Darwin failed to understand the significance of the birds that he observed there
During his visit to the Galapagos Islands Charles Darwin failed to understand the significance of the birds that he observed thereGETTY IMAGES

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Charles Darwin’s version of the evolutionary idea was presented to the world in 1859 with his book On the Origin of Species. It is often spoken of as a work of science. Some have even called it the greatest scientific work ever written. Whatever you make of it, it is a strange book. Most of its central contentions, such as the idea that everything in nature always evolves gradually, are now disbelieved by scientists, and the science of genetics has made much of it seem merely quaint.

It depends what is seen to be gradual. The history of our planet goes back 4.6 billion years and looked at from that time perspective is “gradual” though at times changes are more rapid, but still very gradual in human terms.

Yet it was so much more than a work of science. It was the great consolation myth for the Victorian middle classes. Darwin effectively told the Victorians: “Rather than trouble yourself by the gross selfishness of living with vast accumulated unearned wealth, carriage drives, servants and villas, tell yourself that the differences between rich and poor are just the way nature organised things.”

Middle-class Victorians found in Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species a consoling myth that, thanks to evolution, they deserved to be better off than their servants
Middle-class Victorians found in Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species a consoling myth that, thanks to evolution, they deserved to be better off than their servantsTHE PRINT COLLECTOR/GETTY IMAGES

This explains its instant bestseller appeal. It also explains why there was a Darwinian revival in the 1980s, with the me-generation all trying to believe in “the selfish gene” as an explanation for why City slickers could earn hundreds of times more than the feckless “workers”, and why the market could make the first world so much richer than the third.

In Darwin’s scheme of things, the Victorian rich were the perfect expression of evolution. In perfecting itself, nature started with amoebas, and moved on through dinosaurs and flying lizards, fish, fowl and mammals until it came to the apes, so obviously like the poor savages of Tierra del Fuego or Papua New Guinea. Above the savages were the southern Europeans, above them the British and, at the top of the evolutionary pecking order, sat the great families of England, the Darwins, the Arnolds, the Huxleys and the Wedgwoods, who all intermarried and were obviously cleverer than anyone else.

some comments of remarkable silliness. Darwin also took concern on helping the poor

If the Origin of Species is only a scientific work, then it is unique in the history of science. Darwinism is the only scientific theory which was inspired, not by scientific experiment, not by observation in the field or the laboratory, but by reading a now-discredited work of economics — Thomas Malthus’s theory of population.

Malthus wrote at the juncture in history when Britain was threatened with starvation by the Napoleonic blockades. His theory was a simple one. There is a limited amount of food in the world. When it has all been eaten, any “surplus population” will inevitably starve. Wars, revolutions and all human calamities are ultimately caused by hunger or the fear of hunger.

This is simply contradicted by considering how Darwin’s thoughts on evolution developed. He read Malthus in September 1838 but crucially had finished his Notebook B in January 1838. Here he made an argument for evolution from his knowledge of the the fossil succession. He could see the change of species but could not explain the HOW. On this he was like his predecessors. But Malthus, Blyth and Matthew gave the germ of the idea of Natural Selection giving a How of evolution. Wilson got it wrong. Darwin was working from field observations both of living and fossil creatures.

Once the Napoleonic wars were over, the population of Europe soared. So did the food supply. Instances of starvation occurred most notoriously in Ireland in the 1840s, where the selfish landlords, many of them absentee, insisted on exporting huge quantities of grain while the peasant population, dependent on the potato, died of hunger. The Westminster government was scandalously late in reacting, partly because it believed that the potato famine was a Malthusian “solution” to the “problem” of a large, anti-English, Roman Catholic population. In other words, Ireland was not a demonstration of the truth of Malthusianism, it was a victim of it. We find similar, and much more alarming examples, later in history, when Darwin’s ideas were used to justify genocide and mass murder.

Darwin was a war baby, born in 1809 during Napoleon’s attempt to starve the country. In the previous 50 years, British stock breeders, taking a leaf out of the book of racehorse breeders, had begun to vary and increase the amount of eatable livestock. This was the era when the Aberdeen Angus and the Gloucester Old Spot first appeared. It was the Royal Navy in 1805, and the British and German armies in 1815, that defeated Napoleon, but the farmers and fishermen did their bit. Nevertheless, the memory of Britain’s Malthusian years lingered. Dickens’s Scrooge, with his snarling contempt for the “surplus population”, was conceived in the 1840s when Darwin was writing his first version of his famous theory, and showed how powerfully the central idea of Malthus survived.

Four of the species of finch observed by Darwin on the Galapagos Islands, showing variation of beak. It was not Darwin but John Gould, an ornithological illustrator, who recognised them as distinct species
Four of the species of finch observed by Darwin on the Galapagos Islands, showing variation of beak. It was not Darwin but John Gould, an ornithological illustrator, who recognised them as distinct speciesGETTY IMAGES

Darwin had several reasons for wishing to conceal where his evolutionary ideas came from. He was acutely conscious that the most famous evolutionary scientist in British history was his own grandfather, Erasmus Darwin who, 70 years before the Origin of Species, had posited the idea that life had a single origin, from which all the different species evolved.

When Charles Darwin went as a medical student to Edinburgh University, he found a lively scientific scene and attended the lectures of those who were avid readers, not only of Erasmus Darwin, but also of the French evolutionists, such as Lamarck, Cuvier and Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. Darwin’s tutors, Robert Grant and Robert Jameson, made sure that he was up to date with the huge progress that had been made in evolutionary science in their day.

Why, when he grew to be famous as the author of the Origin of Species, did he play down the importance of what he had learnt at Edinburgh? Why did he imply, in his autobiography, that his grandfather’s work had no influence upon him? Why did he make so little reference to Grant, for example, who had set him thinking about the problems of evolutionary science, and to their solutions?

Erasmus Darwin wrote his ideas on evolution in verse and did not give much on a scientific basis of evolution. That is what was lacking in all his evolutionary predecessors.

One of the reasons is that Darwin, as well as being a supremely observant and talented naturalist and collector of specimens, was also boundlessly ambitious. His hero was Alexander von Humboldt, of whom Napoleon quipped (with some accuracy) that he was the most famous man in Europe. He was a universal genius who had travelled the world as a scientist-explorer-discoverer and returned to explain the mystery of life itself to Europeans agog for the answer.

Darwin was not content just to be a Victorian beetle-collector on a pennyfarthing bicycle. He had set his sights much higher and he ruthlessly refused to acknowledge his sources. When the Origin of Species was first published, Darwin received many letters of complaint from fellow scientists such as Baden Powell, father of the founder of the Scout movement, pointing out that he had not acknowledged their work.

BP’s letter no longer exists and from  remarks about it was not a letter of complaint. There may have been a few letters, but not the “many” of Wilson. This is shoddy scholarship.

Darwin was a weird mixture of being intensely shy and stridently in need of cutting a dashDarwin was also scared of upsetting the apple cart. Erasmus Darwin had been accused, together with Darwin’s other grandfather, Josiah Wedgwood, the great potter-entrepreneur-industrialist, of sympathy with the French revolution. They were watched by the secret service. One of the chief reasons, after the Napoleonic wars, why British scientists fought shy of French evolutionary ideas was that they associated them with revolutionary ideas. The two things went hand in hand, and, of course, simple-minded creationism — the idea that God had simply plonked species down on earth in an immutable form — was indeed at variance with scientific truth.

Darwin was a weird mixture of being intensely shy and stridently in need of cutting a dash. He wanted to be famous, but he did not want the limelight. He was a liberal in politics, but in every aspect of life he was a small-c conservative. It horrified him that anyone would associate him with the revolutionary ideas that had animated Erasmus and Josiah. Before he died, he wrote a short autobiography for his children and in it any reference to 19th-century evolutionary biology before Charles had lived is blithely airbrushed from the story.

Why put so negatively/ It was not mentioned rather than air-brushed. It was a private autobiography more than anything else

A generation later, and the Darwinian faith had evolved the story of the master’s Damascene conversion to the theory of natural selection while he was a young man on HMS Beagle, sailing to the Galapagos Islands. We all know the story. Darwin noticed the different finches, from island to island, and how they had different-shaped beaks. It was here that he saw the phenomenon of descent by gradual modification happening before his very eyes.

What actually happened was this. Darwin sent back a vast number of specimens collected during the voyage of the Beagle. The notion is propounded that a revolution was taking place in his views on the immutability of species. As a matter of fact, Darwin failed to identify most of the finch specimens that he collected on the Galapagos as finches at all. Some he labelled blackbirds, others “gross beaks” and one a wren. He gave them to the Ornithological Society of London, who gave them to John Gould, an ornithological illustrator, to be identified. It was Gould, not Darwin, who recognised that they were all distinct species of finch.

So what, Darwin was more interested in the geology of the Galpagos

It was Captain FitzRoy, not Darwin, who made collections of finches and labelled them correctly, and, as Harvard University’s Frank Sulloway demonstrated in 1982, it was FitzRoy’s identification of the differences between the finches which enabled Gould to make his remarkable observations.

Darwin’s Descent of Man is an absurd, embarrassing book. I wonder sometimes how many Darwinians have actually read it to the endDarwin never mentioned the differences between the finches in the Origin of Species, even though, during the celebrations of the 150th anniversary of publication, Gould’s drawings of the Galapagos finches were reproduced again and again as if they were Darwin’s “discovery”. Moreover, Peter and Rosemary Grant, evolutionary biologists from Princeton University, spent over 25 summers studying these birds, mainly on the island of Daphne Major. They revealed that the beak changes were reversible. This is hardly “evolution”.

Beaks adapted from season to season depending upon whether droughts left large, tough seeds, or heavy rainfall resulted in smaller, softer seeds. Even had Darwin noticed the supposed evolution of finches’ beaks on the Galapagos Islands and thereby become an instantaneous convert to his famous theory, the epiphany would have been wrong.

We see here a classic evolution of mythology. And this is not surprising. Because Darwinism, as opposed to some of his groundbreaking work of natural history, such as in his studies of barnacles and earthworms, and his wonderful book on the expression of emotions in animals, was a religion from the start.

The Gloucester Old Spot and the Aberdeen Angus were not the only new hybrids which evolved through stockbreeding in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. An entirely new class came into being then, the class to which Darwin himself belonged. The rentier or upper-middle class provided Victorian England with almost all its intellectuals. They were in effect a new aristocracy and they fashioned the Victorian way of looking at the world.

It is not true that Victorian England was a pious place, nor that the majority of thinking women and men were simple Bible Christians who lost their faith when they read Darwin. Most 19th-century intellectuals were agnostics or atheists and Christians such as Gladstone or Newman were the exceptions. Most of these people longed for what a neo-Darwinian of the 20th century, Richard Dawkins, said was something that “made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist”.

This is a naive and historically poor summary of Victorian thought and like his awful book on the Victorians. Here he airbrushes out Christians who did so much in science; Faraday, Joule, Kelvin, Sedgwick . He seems to be revivig the descredited warfare of science and religion

They believed they had found it in the extreme simplicity of Darwin’s theory that an impersonal force of nature, discarding the weak and promoting the strong, inexorably explains absolutely everything.

This is very simplisitic on the likes of Huxley and Hooker

In the Origin of Species, he had not mentioned the human race at all. In his Descent of Man, he finally admitted how he thought humanity had evolved. It is an absurd, indeed embarrassing, book. I wonder sometimes how many Darwinians have actually read it to the end. It tells us that savages such as he met in Tierra del Fuego spoke largely in grunts and had almost no vocabulary. Yet missionaries visited the place not long after Darwin and compiled a dictionary of their language, finding they possessed a vocabulary of over 30,000 words.

If Darwin had been right, the fittest, that is white, middle-class people, would predominate over the Irish and savages. The opposite appeared to be happeningBoth sinisterly, and ludicrously, the Descent of Man suggests that the survival of the fittest was not, in fact, occurring in Victorian Britain. If Darwin had been right, the fittest, that is white, middle-class people, would predominate over the Irish and savages. The opposite appeared to be happening. Darwin made it clear that he thought something would have to be done to correct this troubling state of affairs. His cousin Francis Galton took up the suggestion and pioneered the “science” of eugenics, in which he openly advocated making it illegal for savages and the working classes to breed. We all know where that led in the time of the national socialists, but we sometimes blind ourselves to the source of Hitler’s ideas.

Here we go – Darwin leads to social Darwinism (not) and that led to Hitler’s genocide. A spurious argument

It was not long before Darwin’s Descent had awoken Britain to a fear of “race suicide”. Sidney Webb, one of the leading left-wing social engineers of his generation and who helped draft the constitution of the Labour Party, feared Britain was “gradually falling to the Irish and the Jews” owing to their high rate of reproduction.

Webb, in common with HG Wells, George Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill, shared the view that middle-class women would be “shirking in their duty” if they did not have families to outnumber those of the feckless poor. Less than 30 years would elapse between boring little Sidney Webb expressing the fear that his country would fall to the Irish and the Jews, and another European country, Germany, enacting the Reich Citizenship Law, the Marital Health Law and the Nuremberg Laws for racial segregation.

All were based on bogus Victorian science, much of which had started life in the gentle setting of Darwin’s study at Down House, near Bromley in Kent.

This is simply risible as anyone who has even dipped into Darwin’s incredible scientific output. He began as a geologist writing 3 works on the geology of the Beagle voyage recently described so well by Rob Wesson , an American seismologist who is an expert on South america https://www.amazon.co.uk/Darwins-First-Theory-Exploring-Quest/dp/1681773163/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503746212&sr=1-1&keywords=rob+wesson and of course the geology he did in the UK  https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2017/08/04/darwins-boulders/

or a recent work by Jim Costa, an american biologist on all Darwin’s scientific work carried out while living at Downe House, from earthworms, climbing plants, orchids etc https://www.amazon.co.uk/Darwins-Backyard-Small-Experiments-Theory/dp/0393239896/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503689158&sr=1-5&keywords=costa+james 

Now if these are bogus science then so is the work of Einstein and Hawking. This is a remarkably silly comment, but sums up the quality and perception of Wilson’s study of Darwin

Assam Earthquake 15th August 1950

As we mark the 70th anniversary of India and Pakistan, we would also remember that the Assamese did not have a good day on the 15th August.

During the night a massive Mag 8.6 earthquake struck the area, with its epicentre just inside Tibet.That makes it far bigger than the Mag 7.8 in Nepal in 2015. However the damage or loss of life, though considerable, were far less as the area was less densely populated.

My own interest is that we were living in Jorhat on the tea plantations of Assam at the time and the quake became part of family history. We lived in a bungalow, which was built on stilts for protection against earthquakes and had about ten servants as was the norm.

So what happened?

The bungalow on stilts began to sway. Wardrobes fell over, but didn’t hit anyone.

The car, an american Studebaker, rolled out off the garage onto the lawn.

My parents took my brother and I to spend the night in the car.

In Jorhat there was much damage, but also poetic justice. There were acute food shortages and grain sellers kept their grain hoping to get higher prices. However the quake collapsed many of the warehouses and then the price dropped. Locals imply went in and took what they wanted.

The other personal detail concerns a friend of my parents, Frank Kingdom Ward, a botanist and plant-collector. He was known to be in the vicinity of the epicentre and was actually sleeping on top of it. nothing was heard of him for three months when he re-appeared. On 16th August he had intended to botanise in a Himalayan valley, but that was partly filled in with landslides. He slowly made his way out and returned to safety.

For further details read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1950_Assam%E2%80%93Tibet_earthquake

Not surprisingly that is the biggest quake I’ve been in. When I was working at Kilembe mines as a geologist in the Ruwenzori Mountains of the Western Rift Valley smaller quakes were common. we often had Mag 3 to 5 quakes and as they did no damage we almost ignored. The most memorable one was during a church service at All Saints Church, Kilembe. Halfway through a hymn a quake struck and the whole church (wooden) shook violently. The organist missed a note and carried on. Nobody mentioned afterwards.

Two years earlier a Mag 6.5 hit the northern Ruwenzori and a dozen were killed, including the son of a vicar Rev Mikairi Nturanke, who I later knew well and went to a harvest service in his church. I preached my first sermon there!

Since then I’ve felt a few quakes in Britain but none more than 5.  the biggest caused a little damage but no injuries.

Living in Lancashire now, we often have unfelt Mag2s and occasionally a bit more but I have never felt any.

This biggest were those of Preece Hall fracking in 2011 being up to Mag 1.5 and Mag 2.3 . They were hardly felt and did no damage , despite dubious claims. The biggest damage was to the minds of certain people who read about them later and wrote creatively about them.

 

Many don’t grasp the Magnitude scale. I am rather simplifying and seismologists might like greater precision, but this gives the picture.

From this you will see that the fracking quakes of Lancashire were no more than lightning bolt, that the Mag 8.6 in Assam  was far greater than the explosion of Mt St Helens and about the same as Krakatoa.

Even the quakes, due to injection into wells,  of Oklahoma which are mostly about 3 to 4 are trivial compare to those of the 2004 tsunami, Nepal 2015 and Assam 1950

 

 

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From the diagram above it is clear that any quake of less than Mag 4 does not cause significant damage.

Below is a map of quakes in 2017 showing that nearly all are confined to the Pacific Ring of Fire or the Alps-Himalaya Tectonic belt

 

 

Charles Darwin exposes A N Wilson as a fraud

What a rubbish article!!

Frankly this article by A N Wilson in the Evening Standard couldn’t have been much worse if it had been written by a Young earth Creationist like Ken Ham or Kent Hovind.

I lifted the whole article and made a few comments on the worst errors. I expect the book to be worse.

In the 90s I read Wilson’s two books; God’s Funeral – written in his athiest phase, and The Victorians, which on science and religion just repeated the well-worn, and, by then well-refuted, myth of the conflict of science and religion. I was not impressed then and am less so today.

Since then he has come back to faith , having originally been an Anglican ordinand. However he is still better at creative writing, rather than well-researched writing, which cares about intellectual honesty and accuracy.

It is so different from great biographies like that of Janet Browne, or rob Wesson’s recent study of Darwin’s South American geology – Darwin’s First Theory.

If you think I am annoyed about this, you may just be right.

For those who don’t know me, I am a semi-retired Anglican priest, who still runs a parish. I took a degree in geology and was an exploration geologist before ordination. I have written a fair amount on science and religion and also on Darwin’s geology and his beliefs.

BTW you should never use the word “silly” when criticising someone’s writing, unless………

A.N. Wilson: It’s time Charles Darwin was exposed for the fraud he was

https://www.standard.co.uk/comment/comment/it-s-time-charles-darwin-was-exposed-for-the-fraud-he-was-a3604166.html?amp

Two of his theories about evolution are wrong — and one resulting ‘science’ inspired the Nazis

Comments deleted!!

Visionary or crank? Charles Darwin in 1881, photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron
Visionary or crank? Charles Darwin in 1881, photographed by Julia Margaret Cameron Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy

Charles Darwin, whose bearded face looks out at us from the £10 note, is about to be replaced by Jane Austen. I’ve spent the past five years of my life writing his biography and mastering his ideas. Which do you throw out of the balloon? Pride and Prejudice or The Origin of Species?

Funnily enough, in the course of my researches, I found both pride and prejudice in bucketloads among the ardent Darwinians, who would like us to believe that if you do not worship Darwin, you are some kind of nutter. He has become an object of veneration comparable to the old heroes of the Soviet Union, such as Lenin and Stalin, whose statues came tumbling down all over Eastern Europe 20 and more years ago.

Silly writing. Very few, especially among scientists, venerate Darwin. He is highly regarded as a great scientist and his limitations known.

We had our own version of a Soviet statue war in London some years ago when the statue of Darwin was moved in the Natural History Museum. It now looms over the stairs brooding over the visitors. It did originally sit there, but it was replaced by a statue of Richard Owen, who was, after all, the man who had started the Natural History Museum, and who was one of the great scientists of the 19th century. Then in 2009, the bicentenary of Darwin’s birth, Owen was booted out, and Darwin was put back, in very much the way that statues of Lenin replaced religious or monarchist icons in old Russia.

By the time Owen died (1892), Darwin’s reputation was fading, and by the beginning of the 20th century it had all but been eclipsed.

Too simplistic. If you read Bowler’s works eg The Non-Darwinian Revolution, you will note that after 1880 natural selection went out of favour for half a century. However Darwin was still highly respected as events on his centenary show.

Then, in the early to mid 20th century, the science of genetics got going. Science rediscovered the findings of Gregor Mendel (Darwin’s contemporary) and the most stupendous changes in life sciences became possible. Watson and Crick discovered the structure of DNA, and thereafter the complexity and wonder of genetics, all demonstrable by scientific means, were laid bare. Only this week we have learned of medicine’s stupendous ability to zap embryonic, genetically transmuted disorders.

Darwinism is not science as Mendelian genetics are.

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That is a most face-palming comment. The use of the word Darwinism is unhelpful whether to describe the science of Darwin or his so-called followers. As for Darwin his science is as accomplished as it is wide ranging. He started as a geologist and showed great prowess. I have been lucky to study his geology in Shropshire and Wales in depth. This took place before and after his voyage on the Beagle. This can be studied in Sandra Herbert Charles Darwin;geologist and Rob Wesson.Darwin’s first theory. (or my lesser writings just-before-the-beagle  ) He had great plans for his geology in the 1840s and want to look at every limestone reef in Britain but illness put paid to that..

So on moving to Downe he did a highly detailed study on Barnacles, wrote the Origin and after that wrote some wonderful scientific monographs on so many aspects of biology. He was fascinated by the chemistry of drosera/ sundew which catches flies instead of photosynthesising. He was the first to use chemistry in biology. An American friend is writing a book on his experimental work.

I wonder if Wilson has read many of Darwin’s books, scientific papers or even notebooks

None of this denigrates Mendel or Wallace. Though Mendel is not highly significant.

 

It is a theory whose truth is NOT universally acknowledged. But when genetics got going there was also a revival, especially in Britain, of what came to be known as neo-Darwinism, a synthesis of old Darwinian ideas with the new genetics. Why look to Darwin, who made so many mistakes, rather than to Mendel?

A silly comment. All good scientists make lots of mistakes. Darwin described his 1839 work on the Parallel roads of Glenroy  as a “long, gigantic blunder”. I found many in his 1831 geology BUT he produced so much good science.

 

There was a simple answer to that. Neo-Darwinism was part scientific and in part a religion, or anti-religion. Its most famous exponent alive, Richard Dawkins, said that Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually satisfied atheist.

Perhaps so for Dawkins up to a point, but still grossly simplistic and silly.

You could say that the apparently impersonal processes of genetics did the same. But the neo-Darwinians could hardly, without absurdity, make Mendel their hero since he was a Roman Catholic monk. So Darwin became the figurehead for a system of thought that (childishly) thought there was one catch-all explanation for How Things Are in nature.

The great fact of evolution was an idea that had been current for at least 50 years before Darwin began his work.

Silly. There had been tentative suggestions for 50 years, but none whether Erasmus Darwin Lamarck or Chambers in the Vestiges were acceptable scientific theories. Darwin produced the first scientifically TENABLE theory of evolution, even though there were gaps

 

His own grandfather pioneered it in England, but on the continent, Goethe, Cuvier, Lamarck and many others realised that life forms evolve through myriad mutations.

silly. See above. BTW Cuvier adamantly rejected evolution but was excellent on the succession of life worked out from fossils

Darwin wanted to be the Man Who Invented Evolution, so he tried to airbrush all the predecessors out of the story.

Pure fantasy. You just need to read all his references in his books

He even pretended that Erasmus Darwin, his grandfather, had had almost no influence on him.

Probably true as Erasmus put his ideas into a poem 🙂

He then brought two new ideas to the evolutionary debate, both of which are false.

One is that evolution only proceeds little by little, that nature never makes leaps. The two most distinguished American palaeontologists of modern times, Stephen Jay Gould and Niles Eldredge, both demonstrated 30 years ago that this is not true. Palaeontology has come up with almost no missing links of the kind Darwinians believe in. The absence of such transitional forms is, Gould once said, the “trade secret of palaeontology”. Instead, the study of fossils and bones shows a series of jumps and leaps.

Many reckon that Gould and Eldredge overstated the jumps, but both they and Darwin were operating on a long timescale.  Hey what!! I wonder if Wilson wants to reject the geological timescale. He might even find Ken Ham a good buddy.

Hard-core Darwinians try to dispute this, and there are in fact some “missing links” — the Thrinaxodon, which is a mammal-like reptile, and the Panderichthys, a sort of fish-amphibian. But if the Darwinian theory of natural selection were true, fossils would by now have revealed hundreds of thousands of such examples.

A typical Creationist argument. in fact “Darwinism” (I hate the term – just say evolutionary science) predicted Tiktaalik and Shubin went to find it in Greenland. In a sense all fossils are intermediates!! Wilson’s misunderstanding of evolution is immense.

Species adapt themselves to their environment, but there are very few transmutations.

Darwin’s second big idea was that Nature is always ruthless: that the strong push out the weak, that compassion and compromise are for cissies whom Nature throws to the wall. Darwin borrowed the phrase “survival of the fittest” from the now forgotten and much discredited philosopher Herbert Spencer. He invented a consolation myth for the selfish class to which he belonged, to persuade them that their neglect of the poor, and the colossal gulf between them and the poor, was the way Nature intended things.

Silly. Despite, or in spite of his wealth., Darwin had a great concern for the poor and needy. This statement runs contrary to everything we read about him and his actions

He thought his class would outbreed the “savages” (ie the brown peoples of the globe) and the feckless, drunken Irish. Stubbornly, the unfittest survived. Brown, Jewish and Irish people had more babies than the Darwin class. The Darwinians then had to devise the hateful pseudo-science of eugenics, which was a scheme to prevent the poor from breeding.

Eugenics cannot be blamed on Darwin

We all know where that led, and the uses to which the National Socialists put Darwin’s dangerous ideas.

A smear tactic with no historical foundation

Now that we have replaced Darwin on the tenner with the more benign figure of Miss Austen, is this not the moment to reconsider taking down his statue from the Natural History Museum, and replacing him with the man who was sitting on the staircase until 2009 — the museum’s founder, Richard Owen?

A.N. Wilson’s Charles Darwin: Victorian Mythmaker (John Murray, £25) is out next month