Category Archives: geology

The Howgill Fells, Sheep and geomorphology

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Last year I was asked to review  An Excursion Guide to the Geomorphology of the Howgill Fells Paperback  by Adrian Harvey for the Yorkshire Geological Society. The Howgills are more or less in Yorkshire but this was more geomorphology than geology.   

22 Jun. 2017, Adrian Harvey, Paperback: 128 pages. £14.99

Publisher: Dunedin Academic Press; Illustrated edition (22 Jun. 2017)

Language: English ISBN-10: 1780460708 ISBN-13: 978-1780460703

Apart from Ordovician in the Rawthey Valley and the Dent Fault, the Howgill Fells are not a magnet for geology fieldtrips. There are even some Ordovician glacial sediments. They could be described as a series of parallel whalebacks of Silurian slate with few outcrops and draped with post-glacial soliflucted sludge which occasionally overlies glacial till! Rock exposures are rare. This guidebook to the recent geomorphology by Andrew Harvey, emeritus professor of geomorphology at Liverpool, could make you change your mind.

The focus of this excursion guide is on the Postglacial geomorphology of the Howgills, as before that a static ice sheet could not do much geomorphology! They have neither the more dramatic geomorphology of the Lakes or the Dales, but geomorphology they have, and Harvey brings it to life. The book is in two parts. Part one deals with the general geomorphology and part two on the excursions.

The introduction is a general overview with a brief summary of the geology, and a mention of glaciation which is limited to the cwm above Cautley Spout and probable cwms west of the M6 south of Tebay. That much will be familiar to most geologists. The next two chapters are on what has happened and is happening since the glaciers retreated. When I say “what is happening” I mean that as Harvey has been visiting the Howgills for half a century, we are introduced to changes he observed. I found this fascinating and enlightening.

Chap 2, Holocene Landform Evolution deals with the sequence of events during the last 10,000 years. This began with the thawing of permafrost which resulted slope instability and the solifluction of reworked glacial till or head, which resulted in the fells being draped with reworked till. Much later were waves of hillslope gullying, which give the Howgills their characteristic aspect today. There was a major wave in the 10th century when Norsemen were rearing sheep. This slowed a century later due to William’s Harrying of the North, with a resurgence then a respite during the Black Death. This was a fascinating tying in of geomorphology to human history. Reflecting on this in the field should lead to good questions on the effect of us humans on the environment. Less historically, but more geomorphologically, he deals with gully structures and alluvial fans. A section on vegetation describes how, from pollen data, the fells were wooded or partially wooded before the Roman invasion.  Gully formation was favoured by extreme wet conditions and human activity, especially sheep rearing.

Chap 3 The modern Geomorphic System deals with the more recent erosional activities. Here Harvey uses his nearly half a century of field work in the Howgills to great effect. All the active gullys are identified and some given special attention, often giving a sequence of events, with photos, of the last 50 years. Carlingill and Grains Gill’s Gullys get pride of place. As well as that he describes the extreme events of July 1982 and December 2015, Both events reactivated gully erosion, affected the rivers and changed gully to channel coupling effects. The maps and photos make the events very clear.

Part Two is on the field sites. First is a reconnaissance road trip round the Howgills to bring out the salient features. It is the only trip which can be carried out by car, preferably by bike. The route of some 40 to 50 miles gives a fine overview and locates the stopping places.

Secondly, the main part are lengthy trips into the heart of the Howgills along various valleys. To the west are Grain’s Gill and Carlingill. To the north are Langdale, Bowderdale and Weasdale and to the south Cautley, the Gills above Sedbergh and Chapel Beck. I followed the routes on Carlingill, Bowderdale and Cautley. Harvey’s routes are detailed and easy to follow, but involve crossing rivers without bridges and the top of Carlingill by the Spout is serious. They are not for the faint-hearted but are magnificent routes in remote areas.

Carlingill

Carlingill is the highlight of all the excursions and is on tough terrain. I confess I went right up to the spout in Carlingill and had a challenge getting out of it!

P1040131Grain’s Gills Gullys from the fan near the confluence with Carlingill

There is a little parking by Carlingill Bridge, where can find the track. On either side are the lovely bog plants Butterwort, bog asphodel (flowering in July) and Sundew. The track on the left side going up Carlingill is never very visible but the lower parts are fairly easy but may require crossing the gill which could be full. The complexities of erosion of  Grains Gill is fascinating and some will divert for a close look. After that the gill rises slowly  with various gullies and erosion of different ages on either side.

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Once you go past Green Knott Gill the path either gets better or worse, depending who you are! The gill narrows and the path becomes more indistinct.  There is also a steep drop in to the gill for the unwary.

At the confluence with Little Uigill Beck the gill narrows and neither alternative is easy. 

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Continuing up Carlingill becomes more and more challenging and the spout is a dead end unless you are partial to hairy scrambling. I happen to be past it. the spout is dramatic, but was spoilt by some alternative religionist tying bits of plastic onto a tree.  I presume they thought it very green to leave such rubbish, which no better than balloons which descend on the fells. I am sure some will say I’m religiously intolerant. Maybe, but I don’t like litter of any form.

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Reaching the point below the “prayer” tree I was faced with a trilemma. The safest and most boring route was to retrace my steps. Or I could scramble up the side of the waterfall, which I would have done thirty years ago. Anyway I had lunch and then climbed up the very steep grass sloe to the right of the stream as you can see in the next photo. I am not sure of the wisdom of going up steep grass on all fours!! 

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Carlingill Spout and alluvial fan at Blakethwaite from Knowles. The gorge below the spout is difficult to escape from by climbing with a choice of rock or very steep grass!!

Once I got to the stop of the steep slope I gave a sigh of relief and then went more gently upwards (to the right in the photo) up Uigill Rigg to the top of Breaks Head 628m and then followed the track to the northwest along the ridge, looking down on Carlingill. It was an excellent walk full of geomorphological interest. It is not for the fainthearted.

Harvey’s description of the gullys, alluvial fans etc in each of these is very clear and informative.

Bowderdale

The route up Bowderdale is easier – if you can keep your feet dry – but the various gullys and fans are expounded in clarity and detail. I parked the car by Potts near Scar Sikes and followed the track over to Bowderdale. As i dropped down to Bowderdale the track got soggy and I was treated to sundew. I pointed them out to some walkers, who had never seen them before. 

Going up the Dale was fairly easy and Harvey’s guide pointed out many features, including the floods of 1982, where he had the advantage of seeing the area before and after the flood. His comments brought much of the scenery alive to me in a way I’d missed so often in the past.

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Greencomb Gully and the fan from the 1982 flood

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Hazel Gill with the more vegetated fan for the 1982 flood.

When i reached Hazel Gill I’d intended to go up randygill Top but felt lazy and walked back down the valley fording the river, which was very low, and then back to the car.

Cautley Spout

The route to Cautley Spout and beyond is one of my favourite hil lwalks, where I once saw a Brocken spectre.

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Harvey gives safety warnings!! I suppose these are necessary from the number ill-equipped walkers on the hills. the walk from the Temperance Inn  past the Spout and then one of the several routes to The Calf  676m or 2217ft is not the most difficult but can be fun for navigation in mist! The river capture at the col to Bowderdale is explained. It is an open question whether the cirque at Cautley Crags is due to the Loch Lomond advance or is earlier. Whether or not you stop at the foot of the Spout, you are treated to a range of geomorphology from glacial cirques to later solifluction.  This is a gem of a place which can be tailored to the group’s ability and agility. By stopping near the foot of the Spout enables one to see most of the salient features of Howgill’s geomorphology in one visit. Much more can be seen if one continues to the top of Cautley Crags. I love the path which is steep and airy in places. 

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If geomorphology is your only interest there is no need to go further but walking on the edge of Cautley Crags to Great Dummacks is delightful, unless there is a strong wind.

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Or take the more direct route up the Gill becks to the Calf, passing old sheepfolds and “houses” en route. 

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View from the bridge of the Rawthey of the Cautley glacial cwm, Cautley spout is to the right.

 

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View from top of Cautley Crags looking down Bowderdale. The steep line of trees shows the route of the Cautley

You can return from the Calf following a good path to Bowderdale and then cutting off on a diminutive tack to Bowderdale Head. A steep descent and then meandering through glacial deposits leads you back to the Inn, where you can buy some well-deserved orange squash. shortly before the footbridge you should finds some Butterwort and Sundew by going off the path.

The best two excursions are to Carlingmill and Cautley, and Harvey succeeds in making the geomorphology come alive.

This excursion guide has distilled half a century of field work in the Howgills and has made it accessible for those, like me, with an indifferent grasp of Holocene geomorphology. The maps, photos and descriptions are very clear and make you ask with Thomas Huxley, “why didn’t I think of that?” This guide is a model of what a geo-excursion guide ought to be.

Often the Howgill fells are seen as dreary and can be likened to half a dozen dead whales lying side by side, with one having its mouth open at Cautley Spout. Above are three routes I did which are variations on Harvey’s detailed routes.

As well as expounding the geomorphology of today Harvey also considered what it was in the past. It  was so different then and going back 1500 years or more it was far more wooded than it is now. trees have been in decline here for 2000 years, as in the Lakes and Dales and are due to two mammals. These are sheep and humans.

The serious deforestation began with the Vikings, who, when they were not pillaging, were tending sheep on the fells. By nibbling every green shoot down to ground, the sheep prevented the regrowth of any tree or shrub and got rid of most flowers. It’s same story in the Dales . Lakes and Wales, but fortunately Belties, or Belted Galloways, are replacing the sheep and doing excellent conservation work. It is not often you can eat conservation workers. And so until 1066  deforestation and erosion were going hand in hand, or rather, mouth by mouth.

One of the good things William the Conqueror did was to slow this process down for a while by sending his henchmen to the desolate north to harrow it – known as the “Harrowing of the North”.

 But when the harrowing stopped shepherding resumed and so did the erosion until the bacterium yersinia pestis arrived and caused the Black Death, thus stooping the raising of sheep again. Soon things recovered and the sheep continued their destructive geomorphological work up to the present day.

The Howgills are not the best place for wildlife and flowers are not numerous, but are there if you know where to look.

More recently, as with the rest of the high ground in northern England restoration has begun and we shall, hopefully, see more trees and their attendant wildlife.

 Meanwhile the Howgills are fantastic place to explore and relatively few people visit. If you go I hope essay and Harvey’s book bring it to life for you. If you want more then use the OS 1:25,000 OL19 and from that you’ll get a gist of my routes!

this is an expansion of a review I did for the Yorkshire Geological Society

Is “Is Genesis History?” History? The Hutton-Lyell Myth

“Is Genesis History” is a relatively new Creationist project attempting to give solid reasons for believing that Creation took place 6 to 10,000 years ago and not the billions years of science. They have recruited leading “creation” experts and scientists to give substance to the material.

isgenesishistory

The videos and blogs are well-produced  and seemingly coherent and reliable. One key aspect is to claim that until about 1800 all Christians believed in a young earth. At first sight that seems very plausible as geology is usually reckoned to have started with Hutton in about 1790.

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Just consider this video by Prof Ian Stewart.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00wkc23

or better

https://youtu.be/FYfuI2uZLmg

However Stewart’s claims about the bible are more assertion than based on evidence. Further Hutton was by no means the founder of geology as that started a century earleir.  This chimes in with the popular view that all were happy with a young earth until the geologists came along. This comes out in popular treatments of science, and even by competent scientists.

This video comes out with same story https://learninglink.oup.com/access/content/prothero-earth1e-student-resources/prothero-earth1e-see-for-yourself-james-hutton?previousFilter=tag_chapter-01

Both “Is Genesis History?” and popular views of science regurgitate forms of the now  debunked Conflict Thesis of science and religion. Many scholars have been debunking it for over half a century and thus there is no excuse to regurgitate it. The blog cashes in on old popular views of conflict and comes out with what may be termed the Hutton-Lyell myth, whereby they are presented as the first and leading voices for a vast age of the earth and sought to deliberately undermine Genesis. That simply ain’t true.

By doing this they ignore

  1. earth history only began to be understood in 17th century
  2. By 1700 many “geological” savants realised earth was older than what Ussher proposed
  3. Before 1650 it was reasonable to assume young earth as it was also reasonable to accept geocentrism – and not to know about the circulation of the blood or the metamorphosis of caterpillars into butterflies!
  4. Biblical interpretations were more fluid in the 1800 years before Hutton than some claim!
  5. From 1600 there were essentially 3 main interpretations namely  – a 6/24 hour creation, gap theory  (or rather chaos restitution) , and day-age.  All were rather vague on the time involved. But then the geologists were vague on time too!

This is the second of five posts dealing with the question of ‘The Age of the Earth and the Bible.’ It is taken from the Is Genesis History? Bible Study available in our store. Read the first post here.

Learn More About the Is Genesis History? Bible Study Set

https://isgenesishistory.com/does-the-bible-speak-to-the-age-of-the-earth/

Adding up the Genealogies

Starting in the first century A.D. and continuing to the present, most interpreters examined the genealogies in the Bible and said they can be used to calculate the age of the earth.

There is some truth to this but it is very sweeping. You could also say that until well into the 17th century biblical interpreters also held the sun to go round the sun and thus the trials of Galileo and all that. As there was no hard evidence that the earth was ancient until about 1700 (yes, 1700 not 1800) it’s not surprising that theologians didn’t think the earth was ancient before then. More on this as we go along.

The first genealogy used this way is in Genesis 5. It reports the age of Adam when he fathered his son Seth, then the age of Seth when he fathered his son Enosh, and so on down to Noah who is said to have been 600 at the start of the Flood. If one sees Genesis 1 as a record of six normal days, and the genealogies as relationships without gaps, then it appears one can calculate the time from Creation to the Flood.

The next genealogy using the same pattern is in Genesis 11. Noah’s son Shem is said to have fathered Arpachshad two years after the Flood. The names and ages continue through Terah, the father of Abram, thereby providing a way to calculate the time between the Flood and Abraham’s birth.

There is no consideration on what the genealogies are and whether they are even complete. B B Warfield’s classic 1911 paper is worth a read https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/On_the_Antiquity_and_the_Unity_of_the_Human_Race

From Abraham forward, it is not as simple a process. There are no longer linear genealogies like the ones in Genesis 5 and 11 listing the father’s age at his son’s birth, so one must track down references to ages at significant events, cross-compare, then calculate together. This process takes one from Abraham to David; from David through the kings of Judah to the Exile; and from the Exile to Jesus’ day.

Once this Biblical timeline is established, specific people and events are seen to intersect with other calendars in the ancient world. These can then be matched to an ‘absolute’ astronomical calendar to determine an approximate age for the earth. For instance, the Jewish historian Josephus, writing around 94 A.D., used this process to calculate the age of the earth as approximately 5500 years from the date of his writing in the first century A.D.

Other men in the early church calculated similar ranges, with estimates provided by Cyprian, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexander, Julius Africanus, Hippolytus, Lactantius, Chrysostom, and Augustine. All of them put the creation of the world as less than 6000 years old from the date of their writing (with many approximating it at 5500 BC).

Prior to the 19th century, almost every significant Biblical commentator thought the Bible spoke to the age of the earth in a definitive way.

This is very sweeping and ignores the changes in interpretation after 1600 and more so after 1660, when Steno began his geological work. There was further extra-biblical evidence whether on geology, geography i.e. existence of Americas and Australasia only came in for Old World scholars  after 1492 with the age of exploration, along with new understandings of astronomy – and every aspect of science.

I have dealt with this in a book chapter, though it deserves a book in itself; Genesis Chapter 1 and geological time from Hugo Grotius and Marin Mersenne to William Conybeare and Thomas Chalmers (1620 – 1825) Read it here sp273-39

To summarise most commentators in the 16th century, both Roman and Protestant, took Genesis very literally, tending to a 6/24 day scenario. This was due to the influence of the Reformations on all churches almost making them take the bible more literally and avoid any allegorical meanings. Some theologians, RC and Protestant, adopted a chaos-restitution interpretation (a more erudite form of the later gap theory). In the early 17th century this is found in the massive commentary on genesis by the mathematician- priest Mersenne. It is the biggest book I have ever handled!! These writers argued that god first created chaos and after a period of time reordered it in 6 days. This linked in with Greek and Latin writers like Hesiod. The period of chaos could either be long or short and for Ussher it was only half a day!

My chapter shows how writers, Roman or protestant, held these views, chaos-restitution,  a day age or a 6/24 creation week, with a reticent on the age of the earth. Few of those who held the third argued against those who did not.

If I had to give numbers, I would suggest that most accepted chaos-restitution and thus extended Ussher’s timetable. This continued through Bishop Patrick and the Theeories of the Earth of the late 17 th century and into the 18th, before the hammers proved an ancient earth.

By 1770 many theologians were convinced that the earth was old, due to findings og geological savants since Steno. I come to Hutton later!

The period 1600-1800 marked a change in understanding the history of the earth as slowly evidence came in demonstrating an ancient earth. Many biblical commentators and theologians discussed these, though some did not. As evidence poured in for the vast age of the earth, many theologians took that into account .

These systems of dating continued through the medieval church and persisted up to the 17th century with the well-known calculation of Archbishop Ussher in England. Like other Protestants, Ussher used the Hebrew ‘Masoretic text’ used by Jewish scribes, a text somewhat different than the older Greek ‘Septuagint’ used in the churches of the first century. This choice resulted in him shrinking the timeline of the world by 1500 years and placing the date of creation at 4004 BC.

Ussher did not make great use of genealogies and his date of 4004 Bc for creation was not based on them.

Jacobus_ussher

He, like others at that time, thought the earth would exist for 6 days of 1000 years; 4 before Jesus and 2 afterwards, making creation at 4000BC and the consummation in  2000AD. However from extra-biblical materials he realised Jesus was born in about 4 BC thus Creation was in 4000 + 4 = 4004BC. He deffo got the date of the consummation wrong at that should have happened in 1996! 1996 undermines Ussher as nothing else does!! Against that Ussher was a very fine scholar who only had the material available in 1656. Judged by 1656 his scholarship was immense and Rudwick argues that he gave us a sense of history AND geological history, thus beginning a revolution in history.

Why the difference in age? The Hebrew text of Genesis 5 and 11 often lists younger ages for fathers at their sons’ births in comparison to the Greek text. For instance, in the Greek Septuagint Adam is 230 years old when he has Seth. In the later Hebrew Masoretic text, however, he is 130 years old. The difference in ages adds up to a variation of approximately 1500 years. But where did this difference come from?

Although a complex and controversial topic, it is thought by some that a group of Jews living during the second century AD in Palestine intentionally adjusted some of the numbers in Genesis 5 and 11 in order to keep early Christians from using the age of the earth to calculate Jesus’ arrival as the fulfillment of a messianic prophecy. By subtracting approximately 1500 years from the history of the earth, Jesus would have been born too early to fit into the messianic window.[1]

Today, modern creation scientists and scholars are divided as to whether to accept the longer ages in the older Greek text or the shorter ages in the more recent Hebrew text. The former group places the age of the earth at 7500 years old; the latter at 6000 years old, often still relying on the work of Archbishop Ussher.

All other Christians do not use the genealogies in anyway to calculate the age of the earth

Ussher, of course, was just one of many scholars living during his day who, although disagreeing on specifics, ultimately agreed that the age of the earth was less than 10,000 years old. The point is that prior to the 19th century, almost every significant Biblical commentator thought the Bible spoke to the age of the earth in a definitive way.[2]

Not so as argued earlier. It would be fair to say that before 1660 (Steno) most held to a young earth, but undogmatically, but by 1800 the vast majority accepted an ancient earth, and this was for Evangelicals and Roman catholics too.

The Opinions of the New Geologists

In the early 19th century, however, the new sciences of geology and paleontology began to exert an influence on interpretations of Genesis.[3]James Hutton, George Cuvier, Charles Lyell, and others argued that the history of the earth was much older than 10,000 years; they based this view on their new interpretations of the rock layers and the fossils within them.[4]

It became obvious that the traditional view and the new view could not both be accurate since they provided two competing histories of the earth.

The major flaw is that the writer considers the “New Geologists” to have started with Hutton in about 1770, whereas geology had a long history going  back to 1660, and was already influential by 1700. Hutton, Cuvier and Lyell were not the only “New Geologists” but three of a large number from all over Europe who researched from 1770. To find out more read the mammoth tomes of Rudwick Bursting the Limits of Time  and Worlds before Adam. Some were Christian like J. A.  de Luc, Townsend, Soulavie, and the Anglican clergy like Buckland, the Conybeares and Sedgwick from 1810.

In the 1780s when Hutton was preparing his Theory of the Earth he wrote a preface in July 1785 arguing that his views were consistent with Christian revelation. He also argued that each Day of Genesis was of indefinite length

Hutton theory

Hutton sent the draft to the Rev William Robertson, Moderator of the Church of Sctoland and Principal of Edinburgh University. Note that Robert Darwin, father of Charles went to Edinburgh in 1783. Robertson de-drafted Hutton’s preface and here is part of it.

huttonmod1huttonmod2

Thus, we see that, by 1785 church leaders were accepting of a long geological time scale, and right at the heart of the so-called conflict. Robertson was not changing his views to placate Hutton’s geology, but re-iterating old understandings going back a century of more.

There are many more examples both in Scotland and England. In 1802 Thomas Chalmers furthered this with his exposition of a “Gap Theory”. He had been a student at Edinburgh in the 1790s .

It was similar in England with the Evangelical vicar of Pewsey, Joseph Townsend, one of William Smith’s advisors,

200px-william_smith_geologist

arguing in a similar vein in his 1813 The Character of Moses established for veracity as a Historian. Despite its title this work was a good summary of recent geology AND demonstrated its conformity with the Gospel.

By 1800 the evidence of these so-called “New Geologists” was over-whelming  and only a few rear-guard scholars opposed it. However several theologians like Thomas Scott simply ignored geological findings.

As a typical Englishman I shall leapfrog over Cuvier as I prefer rosbif and go to Lyell – who was a scot thus a haggis-eater rather than liking roast beef! At Oxford Lyell

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studied geology under Rev William Buckland

Bucklandglacier

and probably imbibed his views of an ancient earth from him and other geologists, many of whom were clergy. Significant as Lyell became as a geologist after 1830, he had no effect on encourage people to accept an ancient earth. Those who say he did either suffer from a conscious or unconscious bias or are lying.

I hope that with a few well-aimed guided missiles I’ve demolished this re-iteration of the Hutton-Lyell myth which is totally false and has no historical substance to it.Yet it is repeated time and time again by Creationists and the semi-heducated.

Many more as any historical account of geology would show eg Rudwick

This is an important observation: it was not simply a matter of differences in timescale, but of differences in events happening during those timescales. Everyone understood the implications of the profound change in age. In the new view of geology, the earth had a “deep history” with a series of events occurring in it that were radically different than the events recorded in special revelation.

As I demonstrated earlier this New view of Geology  goes back to 1660s with Steno and then others in Britain. It was not NEW.

Although non-Christians had already assigned Genesis to the realm of myth, these differences created a major issue for Christians: how did the history in Genesis fit with the new history of the earth? And what did it mean for the doctrines of revelation and creation?

One answer was to question the geological findings themselves. This was done by a series of “scriptural geologists” with limited success, a history that Terry Mortenson documents in his book The Great Turning Point.

The so-called Scriptural Geologists had virtually no grasp of geology and risible even by the standards of the 1830s. Here is my summary of them

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/01/06/creationists-in-the-19th-century/

The other answer was to change one’s interpretation of Genesis.

New Ways to Interpret an Old Text

As a result, the 19th century saw the introduction of a number of new interpretationsthat attempted to synthesize Genesis 1 with a much longer period of time.[5] One was the ‘gap’ view which argued there was an indefinitely long period of time between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2.

They should be less partisan and more accurate here and actually note that the so-called new interpretations of Genesis in the early 19th century were minor modifications of older ones. This I argued earlier.

Another idea was the ‘day-age’ view which said each ‘day’ in Genesis 1 was actually a long period of time. There was much discussion as to just how long a period of time, as well as which events each ‘day’ symbolized, but, in the end, this view provided a symbolic or allegorical function that could be shifted as needed to match changing scientific views.

The result of these interpretations was that, for those who held them, it no longer became possible to determine the age of the earth from the Bible. Instead, it was the role of geologists to determine the age of the earth. This meant that geologists became the new historians of the earth, removing from the Bible the ultimate authority concerning the actual history of creation.

Oh for some accuracy here!! Most had not determined the age of the earth from the bible at least from 1700 as geological evidence came to light.

Some commentators and pastors argued this was an incorrect way of interpreting Genesis 1; they said these views were neither in the history of interpretation nor in the text itself.

They should have said who so that their case would have some substance.

n spite of this, it became more and more popular to interpret Genesis in light of the seemingly indisputable claims of many geologists that the earth was far older than 10,000 years. For some, it was an easy concession because it seemed to maintain the historical integrity of Adam and Eve as well as the rest of the Biblical text.

Due to their many historical howlers their case can be dismissed

The one nagging problem was the fossil record.

Yes it was a nagging problem for young earthers but no one else. This final comment is a vacuous rhetorical flourish evading the falsity of their arguments.

Perhaps their grasp of the science of geology and evolution is better than their history of science.

[1] For more details, see Henry B. Smith, Jr. “MT, SP, or LXX: Deciphering a Chronological and Textual Conundrum in Genesis 5,” Bible and Spade 31.1 (2018), 18-27.

[2] Terry Morteson, The Great Turning Point (Master Books, 2012) 44-45.

[3] Nigel M. de S. Cameron, Evolution and the Authority of the Bible (The Paternoster Press, 1983) 72.

[4] Martin Rudwick, Earth’s Deep History (The University of Chicago, 2014) 99,110.

[5] Mortenson, 33,35.

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To read; M Rudwick as in their references
D Young and Stearley. The Bible, rocks and Time
2876
Michael Roberts Evangelicals and Science (chapters available on my blog ; here is chap3 in biblical interpretation https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/11/27/a-history-of-evangelicals-and-science-part-3-of-12/

Bishop Spong meets Charles Darwin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://chqdaily.com/2018/06/spong-dialogue-between-darwinism-christianity-critical/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it is not!

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

Darwin’s Welsh visit of 1831 More here https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/07/03/just-before-the-beagle-darwin-in-wales-1831/  

300px-Adam_Sedgwick

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

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

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2018/02/03/how-to-deal-with-victorian-creationists-and-win/

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

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

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

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

1869_Wilberforce_A504_001

Bishop soapy Sam Wilberforce

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

anning

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

230px-Cyclomedusa_cropped

Rev William Buckland giving a geological lecture at Oxford

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

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2015/02/23/evolution-and-religion-in-britain-from-1859-to-2013/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://anglicanecumenicalsociety.wordpress.com/2010/06/10/bishop-spong-and-archbishop-williamss-response/

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

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

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

Hugh Miller and Me: Geology and Scripture Reconciled

Hugh Miller was a fascinating guy – geologist and evangelical.

Here Alex Staton, another 19th Century throwback of a geologist and clergyman (there are not many of us) writes about his life

This is good stuff and rock solid!!

Unconformable Views

I had promised myself (and you!) that I wasn’t going to allow myself to be drawn into interminable debates about the Bible and geology. There are two reasons for this. The first is that these kinds of debates go round in circles. They are frequently accompanied by a great deal of nastiness. The second reason is that there is no debate. We know that the earth is unimaginably old and that evolution is true(1). It doesn’t matter that some claim the Bible insists otherwise(2).

My reason for turning to geology and the Bible now is that I have been reading the excellent Hugh Miller, the Cromarty Stonemason. For those that may not know, here is a brief biography of the man.

Hugh Miller (1802-1856). Painting by William Bonnar (1800 – 1863). Inverness Museum and Art Gallery. Highland Council.

Hugh Miller was born in Cromarty in October…

View original post 5,451 more words

Geology and the Christian Faith – interview with David Wilkinson

Five years ago I gave a paper at the first of the Christian Leadership in an Age of Science project conferences at St John’s College Durham. It was originally supposed to be on geology and Genesis etc, but then I was asked to do the controversial issue of fracking.

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Rev William Buckland looking at Glacial striae in Snowdonia in October 1841. The Nantlle ridge in the background

During the conference I was interviewed by Prof David Wilkinson on me being a geologist and vicar. I deal  with my coming to faith, whether I found any conflict of geology and Christianity, my resolution of the two, and the value of geology. We ended up n fracking, when I said all the things I shouldn’t  – or should!

Very aptly I was interviewed in the Tristram Room in the college, named after the clerical naturalist Canon H B Tristram who was the first to use The Origin of species in a scientific paper – on the larks of the Holy Land.

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I was interviewed looking at Tristram (and thinking he agreed with me!)

Here is the site of ECLAS with many interviews and other resources, mostly from those more high powered

https://www.eclasproject.org/resources/

And here is my interview

https://vimeo.com/172916945

If you want more , here is a chapter I wrote for the Geological scoiety Special Publication 310 Geology and Religion

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2019/01/19/christian-belief-in-creation-in-relation-to-geology/

Genesis one for geologists

and from the same volume a study on the geologist, Adam Sedgwick battling with creationists

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2018/02/03/how-to-deal-with-victorian-creationists-and-win/

sedgwick

Genesis Chapter 1 and geological time from Grotius to Thomas Chalmers (1620 – 1825)

A common assumption, and one I started with, is that before the rise of geology in the late 18th century all Christian churches reckoned that god created in about 4000BC and the days of Genesis were of 24 hours .

The more writers I read, the more I was aware of the diversity of opinion 0n the matter, and that Christian churches were most undecided on the subject

In the 16th century despite the drift to sola scriptura the influence of the renaissance added to that and depicting it simplistically

Bible alone – or so some claimed!

went to

Bible plus classical literature (eg Ovid)

Jacobus_ussher
paradiselost

and also

Bible plus classics plus astronomy.e.g. Calvin

calvin

Thus when it became apparent that Ussher was slightly out in his estimates, either the time of Chaos was extended to allow for geological time, or the 6 days of Genesis were extended, first to a year and then indefinitely, hence we have

Bible plus Classics plus astronomy plus geology e.g Hutton’s clergy friends!! and so many all round Europe

james-hutton-caraciture

Though some, but fewer as time went on, and popular commentators did not always agree.

It was expressed wonderfully in Haydn’s oratorio The Creation

Here is a brief account of mine on developing understandings of Genesis One, from Chaos of Ovid to Geology.

Genesis Chapter 1 and geological time from Hugo Grotius and Marin
Mersenne to William Conybeare and Thomas Chalmers (1620 – 1825)

Please open to read the whole chapter………….

sp273-39

Atheists make a pig’s ear of the history of Geology – just like Creationists!!

The one certainty about Christmas Day is that Jesus was not born on that day. Others were, including some great scientists. The most well-known was Isaac Newton who got into calculus after an apple fell on his head. It was not a Pink Lady, nor was it a golden delicious.

Another was William Smith a great geologist who was born in 1769. He epitomises the symbiotic relationship of geology and industry, which the William Smith expert par excellence, Hugh Torrens, reckons is often overlooked by those who focus on the learned savants who never soiled their hands by working in industry, whether canals, coal mines or in drainage. Smith did all three and was guided by practical concerns rather than academic ones. As a result his interest in geology was practical and not theoretical.

Smith was born into humble origins and after a little schooling got employment with a surveyor, Edward Webb, in 1787. He progressed rapidly and a few years later moved to near Bath to assist in the construction of two canals running almost parallel to each other.  It was there that he recognised strata  AND their fossils appeared in the same order. Not for him were theories of the earth, the age of the earth and other geognostical speculations. All that mattered was to use his empirical information to further his work in enabling the transport of coal from the mines to Bath and beyond. His theoretical ideas were limited. For most of the 1790s he thought the earth was but a few thousand years old and that was the age of the strata! These strata were gently dipping to the east and he believed they were originally laid down at that angle a few thousand years ago. Despite the fact he independently worked out the principle of faunal succession of fossils along with the educated savants Cuvier and Brongniart over in Napoleonic France, he never saw his findings as giving the history of an ancient earth until the fin de siecle when the Rev Benjamin Richardson enlightened him and led him away from bishop Ussher.

After something went wrong Smith left the company in 1799 and spent many years getting work as a drainage engineer and in the course of his travels found enough evidence to publish his famous map in 1815, which is incredibly accurate.

William Smith's A Delineation of the Strata of England and Wales with part of Scotland (1815)

That nearly broke him and broke he became later and spent time in a debtor’s prison. On his release he moved to Yorkshire and with his nephew John Phillips forged a new life and set Phillips up as a top-notch geologist. A few decades later Phillips became geology professor at Oxford despite having no degree. Not that you’d realise that from Phillips’ geological work.

In 1831 Smith was given belated recognition by the Geological society of London and he died in 1859.

There is, sadly, no decent biography of Smith, but Hugh Torrens has published extensively and republished Phillips’ hagiographic inverse nepotistical biography in 1844 in 2003, with two chapters of his own. It is probably the best source on Smith and his work.

The biography by Simon Winchester The map that changed the world (2001) is frankly woeful, as summed up in a review I wrote in 2001

Simon. B. A. Winchester. The Map that changed the world (The tale of William Smith and the birth of a science
London: Viking, 2001. 338pp. hb. £12.99. ISBN 0–670–88407–3
Over the last few years there have been several popular works on the history of science and Simon Winchester has produced a very readable life of William Smith, the “Father of English Geology”. The author is both a geologist and a journalist and brings both skills to his book. (His geological background is almost identical to mine as he was two years my senior at university and began work in a Ugandan mine.)
            William Smith is one of the many neglected scientists, whose significance is not widely known. His story is accurately and well told and makes a gripping read, how a canal engineer laid down the basis of geological correlation thus enabling the strata to be put into historical order. Smith was a canal engineer and developed his understanding of fossils in the strata in the coal seams and canals near Bath, before travelling the length of England. The book details his travails in publishing his map in 1815, his spell in a debtors’ prison and how his work was plagiarised by George Greenough. At the end of the 1820s Smith was befriended by clerical geologists such as Sedgwick and Buckland, who enabled him to be given the recognition he deserved. To know more simply read the book.
            However Winchester’s book suffers from two weaknesses. First, he makes too much of a hero of Smith and ignores his contemporaries thus giving the impression that Smith is the father of geology and not only the “Father of English Geology”. The crucial decades for the growth of geology was from 1780 to 1800, as advances were made simultaneously throughout Europe. Winchester gives a little recognition to Hutton and the much-maligned Werner (whose work is now being recognised and who also attempted a map of his homeland), but does not refer to de Saussure of Geneva and the Frenchmen, Soulavie, Cuvier and Brogniart. Consequently the subtitle The tale of William Smith and the birth of a science gives insufficient recognition to the other numerous midwives of geology.
            Secondly, Winchester has a totally inaccurate understanding of the British churches in relation to the rise of geology and simply repeats, with exaggerations, the old myths that there was a mighty war of Genesis and geology in the early 19th Century. He refers to the “church” negatively some thirty times and it gets tedious. His prejudice surfaces most blatantly on p29, ‘The hunch that God might not have done precisely as Bishop Ussher had suggested,…, was beginning to be tested by real thinkers, by rationalists, by radically inclined scientists who were bold enough to challenge both the dogma and the law, the clerics and the courts.’’ Or to put not to fine a point on it, only those who were not Christians in any way. Here Winchester is writing of the 1790s a mere one hundred years after the Revd John Ray and Edward Lhwyd were questioning the age of the earth. In fact throughout the previous century most thinkers Christian or deist thought the earth was older than Ussher’s estimate. What is the dogma and the law which forbade suggestions of an old earth? Granted some clerics did hold to Ussher’s age but the vast majority did not. Lastly, who was under any threat from the law for holding to millions of years? How does Winchester explain that it was clerics Richardson and Townsend who spread Smith’s ideas and Playfair Hutton’s? In his discussion of the clerical trio Buckland, Sedgwick and Conybeare he manages not to mention that they were ordained and any reader of the book could be forgiven if he did not realise that Sedgwick was a devout evangelical cleric! Winchester simply cannot accept that a clergyman could actually accept geological ages without challenging his faith, as is evidenced by his comments on Lewis, who helped Murchison unravel the Silurian in 1831. He wrote,’Many of the … fossilists were …called divines – a curious happenstance, considering the assault that any intelligent understanding of fossils would later have on divinity’s most firmly held notions, like the Creation and the Flood. The Reverend Thomas Lewis of Ross–on–Wye is characteristic of the type:’ (p115) This can only be described as complete and utter nonsense, if not bigotry. The author has absolutely no knowledge of the doctrine of Creation or the Flood and is ignorant of how the clerical geologists actually thought. His section dealing with Ussher (p16–21) is both flippant and inaccurate and even gets the first day of creation on Monday 23 October (day one) and the creation of animals on the Thursday 26 October(day six)! Actually Ussher wrote, ‘Sexto die, Octobris vigesimo octavo’ and it was Friday the day before the Sabbath! This kind of lampoon is fine for Peter Simple in the Daily Telegraph but not for a serious Guardian journalist. Winchester has simply not grown out of the outworn conflict thesis of science and religion, which by now should have been rejected by any who dabbles in the history of science and Christianity. However it is a persistent myth which is propagated through a popular misunderstanding. This myth encourages both unbelief and creationism.

This book is a veritable curate’s egg, on Smith as a geologist it is OK, but as soon as he puts matters into religious context rotten as only a rotten egg can be! This could have been an excellent book.

Many of the … fossilists were …called divines – a curious happenstance, considering the assault that any intelligent understanding of fossils would later have on divinity’s most firmly held notions, like the Creation and the Flood. The Reverend Thomas Lewis of Ross–on–Wye is characteristic of the type:’ (p115)

Sheer coprolite of the first order. Nearly all of these clergy thought the earth was ancient, including Tom Lewis who basically handed Murchison the Silurian System on a plate or rather a rock exposure

Poor Winchester had a bee in his bonnet about how the church persecuted these terrible geologists. It makes a good read but is simply untrue. The trouble is that people read AND BELIEVE Winchester’s book, as did the blogger from the FFRF (Freedom From Religion Foundation ) for Smith’s birthday this year.

https://ffrf.org/news/day/dayitems/item/14358-william-smith?fbclid=IwAR0ml8UlQuVDlmpbqKShWbQWawukS5xg98S8YAfWzcMKF13wP4n0TxF2oYI

William Smith

William Smith

On this date in 1769, William Smith, known as the “Father of English Geology,” was born in Oxfordshire. Smith, who trained as an apprentice surveyor, single-handedly produced the world’s first geological map in 1815 of England, Wales and part of Scotland, spending 15 years on the project.

Smith, “whose agnosticism was well known,” according to biographer Simon Winchester (The Map That Changed the WorldWilliam Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology, 2001), produced a “map that heralded the beginnings of a whole new science … a map that laid the foundations of a field of study that culminated in the work of Charles Darwin. It is a map whose making signified the start of an era, not yet over, that has been marked ever since by the excitement and astonishment of scientific discoveries that allowed man at last to stagger out from the fogs of religious dogma, and to come to understand something certain about his own origins and those of the planet.”

Winchester also noted: “For the first time the earth had a provable history, a written record that paid no heed or obeisance to religious teaching and dogma, that declared its independence from the kind of faith that is no more than the blind acceptance of absurdity.”

Smith went bankrupt in 1819, spending several weeks in a debtor’s prison, then worked as an itinerant surveyor for many years. Not until 1831 did the Geological Society of London conferred on him the first Wollaston Medal in recognition of his achievement. His fossil collection is housed in the Natural History Museum, formerly part of the British Museum, in London. He died in 1839 at age 70.

“In 1793 William Smith, a canal digger, made a startling discovery that was to turn the fledgling science of the history of the Earth — and a central plank of established Christian religion — on its head.”

—Publisher’s blurb, “The Map that Changed the World” (Harper, 2001)

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

**********************************

Though we have never met, Winchester and I have a very similar pedigree. He was two years ahead of me studying geology and thus learnt at the feet of the same teachers – who were a fantastic group. After Oxford he took a job as a geologist at Kilembe mines in Uganda, but only stayed a few months. Two years later I also took a job there on graduation and lasted a bit longer as I was transferred to South Africa. In both places I acquired similar nicknames, which I am not allowed to even mention today, though I am as proud of them as my african tribal name. I am not sure that my behaviour would have got a gold star from exponents of Critical Race Theory, but I am sure Martin Luther King and Alan Paton would have approved.

Let’s consider the howlers in this blog

“In 1793 William Smith, a canal digger, made a startling discovery that was to turn the fledgling science of the history of the Earth — and a central plank of established Christian religion — on its head.”

ararat_or_bust

I must ask “what Central plank”?  Clearly it means that in 1800 the churches, and especially the Church of England, reckoned the earth was less that 6000 years old and made Ussher’s 4004BC an item of faith. That is simply untrue as first 4004BC was never an item of faith and secondly by 1780 most educated clergy and bishops followed the geological savants and accepted a vast age of the earth. Some were actually practising geologists eg Michell of Cambridge and the trio of clergy from Bath, Warner, Richardson and Townsend, who worked with Smith from 1798 or so.

Smith, “whose agnosticism was well known,” 

It is very difficult to work out Smith’s religious beliefs, due to so little written evidence and there is no evidence for this statement. Neither Torrens nor I have got very far on it. One thing is absolutely clear from Torrens’ work is that when Smith worked out his principles in about 1793-6 he thought that the earth was but a few thousand years old and it took a trio of vicars to dissuade him!!! In 1814 Smith arranged for his nephew, Phillips to stay with Rev Benjamin Richardson and be educated, Phillips was always a good churchman.

map that heralded the beginnings of a whole new science … a map that laid the foundations of a field of study

This is twaddle. The new science went back to Steno in the 1660s

For the first time the earth had a provable history

This was a mayor issue in the 1790s when geological savants knew the earth was ancient but couldn’t give a history. Smith in 1793 thought the earth was young and that the strata he saw were laid down in a particular order at the time of creation. As torrens said it was a “Timeless Order” and only later courtesy of the 3 revs, but a  history into and thus producing something akin to Cuvier and Brongniart on the Paris Basin

the excitement and astonishment of scientific discoveries that allowed man at last to stagger out from the fogs of religious dogma

jesusfacepalm

Facepalm! It was well-known long before the earth was ancient and a young earth was not part of religious dogma. Silly man.

“For the first time the earth had a provable history, a written record that paid no heed or obeisance to religious teaching and dogma, that declared its independence from the kind of faith that is no more than the blind acceptance of absurdity.”

BmZJVIpCEAEmHN_

Another faceplam. SBAW simply ignores the whole development of geology from the time of Steno, both in Britain and the Continent. My favourite howler from Winchester, not cited here,  is on p29;

The hunch that God might not have done precisely as Bishop Ussher had suggested,…, was beginning to be tested by real thinkers, by rationalists, by radically inclined scientists who were bold enough to challenge both the dogma and the law, the clerics and the courts.’’

There are so many historical errors here. Savants started to question 4004BC or rather an earth a few thousand years old with Ray

300px-John_Ray_from_NPG

and Lhwyd in the 1680s – both were “real thinkers” and Ray was a clergyman, unlike some products of the Oxford Geology Dept. It’s remarkable how many of the “radically inclined scientists” were Christians and even clergy. A young earth was not the dogma of the church, as few of the churches ever defined it and definitely not the Church of England (or Scotland) and there was no court case against geologists suggesting deep time.

‘The hunch that God might not have done precisely as Bishop Ussher had suggested,…, was beginning to be tested by real thinkers, by rationalists, by radically inclined scientists who were bold enough to challenge both the dogma and the law, the clerics Jacobus_ussherand the courts.’’

Poor SBAW, very few after 1656 actually agreed with Ussher and by 1780 most educated people , including most clergy, thought the earth was a wee bit older. Americans, please note, I am english!! There were simply no court cases, or even threats of one.

I am afraid this quote has had me chuckling for two decades on the cluelessness of some educated at top universities, but sadly many think that Winchester is right on what he writes about.

Usually I pull up Creationists for their inaccurate history but now do the same to a respected journalist, OBE and American citizen.

Fourth Law

That this blog is found on the atheistic Freedom from Religion Foundation website shows that secularists can make as big a pig’s ear of the history of science and science’s relation with Christianity as any Creationist. I’d have thought that Jerry Coyne, Dawkins, Steve Pinker and Dennett would not approve of such a shoddy article.

Useful References;

My book Evangelicals and Science;   chapter 5 deals with period and these geological Christians!  https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/12/07/evangelicals-and-science-part-5-of-12/

Hugh Torrens; Timeless Order; William Smith and the search for raw materials. In Lewis and Knell, The Age of the earth from 4004BC to AD2002. Geol Soc of london special Publication no 190.

Memoirs of William Smith, John Phillips,  ed Hugh Torrens 2003

Martin Rudwick Earth’s Deep History Chicago Univ Press 2014

And

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

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

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

https://answersingenesis.org/blogs/ken-ham/2020/12/19/phil-vischer-veggietales-creator-responds/?fbclid=IwAR0FvNdicbQd-8BROtEcaXMgmjmTdsi7d6cIHYHK42Er3y-VvxCUkzQLp4w

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

Here’s what Ken didn’t like;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GNWD018C04_p83-112 .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My book chapter on the Scopes years.

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

My chapter considering many aspects of YEC and ID.

GNWD018C07_p165-200

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

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2020/01/03/the-genesis-flood-a-revue-in-1969of-the-creationist-pot-boiler/

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

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

Evangelicals and Science – post-Darwinian evangelicals – part 6 of 12

Well, moving on in time.

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Darwin’s statue in Shrewsbury, blessed by Bishop of Shrewsbury in 1896

Here we have Evangelicals and science after Darwin published The Origin of species.

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Soapy Sam on the right

I’m sure many will expect a whole of crypto-creationists but there were none – except in the wastes of the Mid-West.

The concerns are less evolution than biblical criticism, human antiquity and loss of faith.

At the time no one thought Ellen White was significant, but she gave birth to Young Earth Creationism.

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This little critter is a serious theological problem!!

Now read the chapter!!

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Evangelicals and Science – part 5 of 12

Evangelicals and science in the Age of Revolution 1789-1850

This was a hectic sixty years, Napoleonic Wars, great advances in technology and science all over Europe. Selection is impossible, but here I have chosen “evangelical” issues partly based on a backward glance.

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That means a considerable focus on geology, as many British geologists were evangelicals, as were those who opposed geology.

This period saw the formation of the geological column; Cambrian, Silurian, Devonian etc, and a universal conviction of Deep Time

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Artwork by Ray Troll

Now read Chapter 4 of my book

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