Category Archives: Sedgwick

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.


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

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

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


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

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

And here is my interview

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

Genesis one for geologists

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


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.


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


Artwork by Ray Troll

Now read Chapter 4 of my book


A history of Evangelicals and Science – part 1 of 12 parts

Evangelicals and Science (pub 2008) Foreword and Introduction

In 2008 my Evangelicals and Science was published as part of the Greenwood series. On the same day Peter Hess produced Catholics and Science. 


My aim was to give an overview considered historically. I confess I was not an outside, impartial observer as my roots are evangelical and moved away, more from evangelical behaviour than theology. I became a Christian through the Christian Union at Oxford, so began with an excellent pedigree. Soon after I was in Uganda as an exploration and mining geologist, where I was baffled meeting a 300lb missionary from the southern States, who lent me creationist literature. I thought it bunk and that no one could believe it. In 1971 I went to L’Abri and was told to study books like The Genesis Flood. I soon found how flawed they were. No one was bothered in Britain until the Arkansas trial of 1981.

I studied the whole evangelical relationship with science mostly from a historical point of view, with an emphasis on geology. That comes out in the book and no apologies. I went historical as I felt that would clarify many issues and I found it did and that I was echoing the work of many historians of science like Ron Numbers and David Livingstone.

I could go on but in the successive blogs I’ll present another chapter, which you can read by opening the link beginning GNWD018

So here is the beginning;

The forewords of the editor and myself.



Chapter 1 What Are Evangelicals? 7
Chapter 2 Evangelicals, the Bible, and Science 33
Chapter 3 Eighteenth-Century Evangelicals and Science: From
Jonathan Edwards to John Wesley 59
Chapter 4 Evangelicals and Science in the Age of Revolution 83
Chapter 5 Post-Darwinian Evangelicals 113
Chapter 6 Evangelicals in the Shadow of Scopes 139
Chapter 7 The Rise of Creationism: Young Earth Creationism
and Intelligent Design, 1961–2007 165
Chapter 8 Evangelicals and Science Today 201
Chapter 9 Evangelicals, the Environment, and Bioethics 225
Conclusion 245
Primary Sources 249
References 285
Index 299

Chronology of Events



1720s Cotton Mather supports smallpox inoculation.
1730s Beginning of Evangelical Revival in Massachusetts (Edwards)
and England (Whitfield).
1738 Conversion of John Wesley.
1758 Death of Jonathan Edwards from smallpox vaccination.
1771 Francis Asbury goes to the American colonies and starts the
Methodist church.
1795 Death of John Wesley.
1790s Evangelicals blossom in Britain and America.
1790–1820s Series of evangelical science professors at Cambridge.
1817 Rev. Adam Sedgwick elected Professor of Geology at Cambridge

1812–1867 Michael Faraday at the Royal Institution, London, much experimental
work and lectures.
1820s–1840s Height of “evangelical” geologists


—Sedgwick,Lewis, Miller in Britain and Hitchcock and Silliman in United States.
1859 Publication of Darwin’s The Origin of Species.

1860s Correspondence of Asa Gray and Darwin on design and
1880s Height of “rapprochement” with B. B. Warfield and G. F.
1910 Publication of The Fundamentals.
1920s Rise of anti-evolution, and splits over modernism.
1925 The Scopes Trial, Dayton, Tennessee.
1930s Heyday of Harry Rimmer and George McCready Price.
1941 Formation of the American Scientific Affiliation in United
1944 Formation of what became Research Scientists Christian Fellowship
(later Christians in Science) in London.
1949 First Billy Graham Crusade at Los Angeles.
1954 Publication of Ramm’s The Christian Vew of Science and Scripture.
1961 Publication The Genesis Flood.
1962 Formation of Creation Research Society.
1972 Founding of Institute of Creation Research at San Diego.
1981 Trial at Arkansas.
1992 Formation of Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN).
1994 Formation of Answers in Genesis at Florence, Kentucky (with
Australian roots).

Image result for ken ham image
2000 Cornwall Declaration opposing the EEN.
2005 Charles Townes, Nobel Laureate for MASER and LASER
awarded Templeton Prize.
2006 American evangelicals divided over global warming.
2007 Opening of Creation Museum in Kentucky

And then my introduction, which gives an outline of each chapter and acknowledgments. Many will be familiar to those who follow the issue and I leave it to members of HOGG to identify the one who called me “bloody clergyman” and gave me immense help in my related interest on the history of geology.



To sum up where I stand consider the plaque to Adam Sedgwick in Dent


Darwin’s first attempt at geology – Llanymynech

After leaving Cambridge in early 1831 Charles Darwin returned to his home – The Mount – in Shrewsbury


and decided to learn some geology in preparation for a trip to Tenerife, which never came off. At that time geology was not well-developed and all the strata belowed the Carboniferous (U.S.A Mississippian) was unknown. Sedgwick and Muchison began to unravel later that year, with Darwin in tow with Sedgwick.


a superb presentation of the Geological Column by Ray Troll, accurate and witty.

By early July Darwin had obtained his geological equipment and was especially proud of his compass-cum-clinometer. Here is his actual field bag and actual equipment, which is stuill the basis for field work today.


He also needed maps and he used Robert Baugh’s topographic map of Shropshire (wait for my next blog) and Greenough’s geological map of England and Wales. This is a photo of Darwin’s actual copy in Cambridge Univ Library.


After leanig how to use his clinometer on furniture he went into the filed to try his hand at field work. His destination was Llanymynech Hill some 15 miles west of Shrewsbury. I presume he travelled on one of the horses. His notes, transcribed below say NE, but that is typical of Darwin’s compass inversion, which he did both at Llanymynech and Cwm Idwal. If you don’t visit the sites and sit in stuffy libraries just reading his notes you’d never see this. You cannot do the history of geology without fieldwork, getting soaked, chased by irate cows and twisting ankles.

Llanymynech 16 miles NE [sic] of Shrewsbury; to the north of the village about ] of mile in an extensive quarry of Limestone. On the road to it, passed over a hillock of a soft slaty rock. some of the Strata were crumblingaway by exposure to the air. Strata very distinctly defined inclined at 78″. Direction ESE 6a 1i7N!7. The quarry is worked in the escarpment of a range of Carboniferous Limestone facing S by ]if. On the Eastern side & high in the hill where the stratification is better marked the rock more compact & of a redder colour. the seneral D is NE b N 14′. To the Westward & lower down D of st.ata is more NW 6< the angle lessl In centre there of quarry are several great cracks passing strait thrugh the rock now filled with clay. To this line the strata on each side are inclined on each side from [E crossed out] tOf 10″ & from [W crossed out] E 15o. It gives to the strata the appearance ofcurves. The stratification of the whole Western side appears to be less regular than that of the East. At one place I observed a series of strata having D ENE 10″ – The lowest Strata of Limestone that are worked consist of rocks of a softer texture, marked in patches by a brightish red, called by the’Workmen’bloody veined’Beneath there is the Delve consisting of avery argillaceous Limestone, soft & wastingaway on exposure to the air. it is not worth being burnt for Lime – The Workmen have never gone beneath this.

This has recently been put on the extensive website Darwin on line

Llanymynech Hill bounds the west of the Shropshire plain and his an extensively quarried limestone hill of 226 metres. The carboniferous limes lies on top of silurian slate (hill of slaty rock) There is a golf course on top for those who like to spoil a good walk and ther is a heitage trail. It is a hill I know very well as I have walked all over it and also done several of the rock climbs. On the visit I made all my measuresments i’d cycled the 11 miles from Chirk.


View looking ovber Breiden Hills


viewpoint with details for trail and on Darwin


Information board gleaned from my work

From Darwin’s notes it seems he came up from Llanymynech village and truned off on a lane at the bend GR266212.

The exposures are at the bend just up the hill. Continuing up you see the quarry cliffs and then need to find the paths onto them.


As you go up the lane you find the “slaty rock” with some obvious bedding. That was infuriating to measure as I found they dipped to the NW. It seems he was dyslexic  – like the best of us. The strata were later seen to be Silurian.


Following up from those slaty rocks a path leads you into a quarry. This not as Darwin saw it as further quarrying took place for about a century.  It is now abandoned and a  haven for wild flowers and rock climbing. Some of the hardest routes are here, which I had to second rather than lead.


The limestne is well-stratified, with some interspersed muddy beds. Worsely is valuable on this. (The mud made for hairy rock-climbing in the rain.)


To read more, open up for my paper in the Brit Jour of the History of Science

Darwin at Llanymynech

Peter Worsley has corrected some of my conclusions on the mudcracks!

Darwin was baffled by the Bellstone in Shrewsbury, but in 1831 nop one knew that it had trundled down from Scotland on an ice sheet


After his next work on maps (my next blog) Adam Sedgwick arrived on the scene at the Mount. Big sis Susan took a shine to the reverend geological bachelor and his sister Caroline wrote to Darwin on the Beagle to say they expected Susan to become Mrs Sedgwick!! That would have been fun for historians.

So in August Sedgwick arrived and took Charles around North Wales in a gig and taught him a litte geology








Is the Geological Column Evolutionary and Anti-Christian

Is the Geological Column anti-christian?

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

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

“Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain

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


(c) Ray Troll, @ratfishray

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

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

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

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

Image result for index fossils circular reasoning

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

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

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

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

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

Mr Michell’s Account of the south of England Strata

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Who invented the Geological column?

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

The Precambrian

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

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

And now to work our way religiously up the column!

The  Palaeozoic

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

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

The main deviser of the Carboniferous


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

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

So the Carboniferous was hardly atheistic but Christian!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what of their religious beliefs?

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

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

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

Mesozoic (strata from 65 to 250 my)

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

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

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


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

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

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

Cainozoic – strata from 65 my to now

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Is the Geological Column ungodly?

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

2 Corinthians 11 vs1


J. Secord Controversy in Victorian Geology 1986

M Rudwick The Great Devonian contoversy 1985

M Rudwick Bursting the Limits of Time 2005

M. Roberts Evangelicals and Science 2008

Just before the Beagle, Darwin in Wales, 1831

1831 was an eventful year for Charles Darwin. In the first half of the year he graduated from Cambridge with an adequate degree. He had plans for the future; first an expedition to Teneriffe and then a life as a clergyman, when he’d have time for plenty of natural history. Had this happened he would have been one of the last of people without much Christian conviction to be ordained. Even Darwin noticed that clergy were more devout when he returned from the Beagle voyage in 1835.

Many make much of the fact that his degree was in theology and philosophy rather than science. But then you couldn’t do a degree in science, but Darwin did the next best thing, or was it the best thing. For much of his time at Cambridge he attached himself to Rev John Henslow, who was then prfessor of Botany. He had been professor of mineralogy and in the early 1820s produced memoirs on the geology of the Isle of Man and Anglesey. Have been round Anglesey with Henslow’s map and memoir I found found it an incredible piece of geology.

The second half of the year was so different. He had returned to Shrewsbury and tried to teach himself geology with limited success. For the most of August he was in North Wales with Adam Sedgwick as be begand his pioneering work on the Cambrian. After trekking from Capel Curig to Barmouth, he went home to find a letter inviting him on the Beagle.  He managed to get his uncle – a Wedgwood – to persiade his father  and on 27th December set sail from Plymouth.

Things were never the same again.

As you read this you will see how well qualified Darwin was to go on the Beagle. He was already recognised as one of the best of the young naturalists.

For the future Dawin the scientist, or rather Darwin the geologist, July and August were the most crucial. During July he tried to carry on the geology he’d learnt from Henslow and Sedgwick with limited success. He visted Llanymynech quarry and tried to produced a geological map of his home ares.

Then Sedgwick arrived in early August to stay at the Mount. From there Darwin joined Sedgwick on two day trips from Shrewsbury and on 6th August the set of for Llangollen in Sedgwick’s gig. Sedgwick was trying to work out the strata below the Old Red Sandstone (Devonian) and thus gradually sorting it out going down the succession. Ironically he got within 2 miles of this on Long Mountain near Shrewsbury, but turned back – possibly because the horse was knackered! It is a long pull-up and one many cyclists today would avoind or regard it as a hard climb.

As there is no Devonian in North Wales from Llangollen to the Great Orme, Sedgwick got nowhere, beyond teaching Darwin geology. A trip to Anglesey didn’t help and so Darwin left him to travel home to go shooting. As it was Sedgwick started to work around Llanberis and he had not stratigraphic markers to work on. But that is another story.


To go back to early July, Darwin received a parcel of a clinometer, and hammer and so started measuring angles all round the house. To test out his skills he rode the 15 miles to Llanymynech Hill,


which I describe in this paper along with Cwm Idwal

Darwin at Llanymynech

Darwin at Llanym

Also that July he took some local maps of Shropshire by John Baugh, traced then tried to make a geological map.


Both south of Shrewsbury and at Ness he found New Red Sandstone – Permotrias.


I ..coloured a map 

A paper on Darwin’s attempts of geological mapping around Shrewsbury, published in Archives of natural History  1999

Coloured a map

These are two papers one co-authored with Sandra Herbert.

and so we come to the main partof his geological journeys, this time with Sedgwick.

On 2nd August 1831 Sedgwick arrived at the mount in his gig. Dr Darwin thought him a hypochondriac. The next two days were spent looking for Old Red sandstone to the east of Shrewsbury and on the 6th Sedgwick and Darwin set off to north wales as described in this paper published in Endeavour in 2000.

Open and read


Darwin wanted to get home for some shooting and left Sedgwick near Bangor.After Darwin left Sedgwick he went to Cwm Idwal ,


And Sedgwick’s sketch of Devil’s Kitchen drawn a few weeks later.


then onto Plas y Brenin at Capel Curig, climbed Moel siabod and walked south to Barmouth

Darwin’s route as a mountain expedition, written for a mountain magazine


And now more scholarly!!

Darwin never took a compass bearing from Capel Curig to Barmouth. I don’t recommend you try it!! It would cross incredibly rough pathless ground. However I am willing to follow anyone who wishes to try it – especially if they are not used to british hills.  My sadism is coming out here.

As it was he went in a roundabout route and you can visit the localities he described.

Darwin’s Dogleg

This from Archives of Natural History describes the route Darwin took from Capel Curig to Barmouth

Darwin’s dog-leg



Carreg y Fran

And so after a few days with his mates he went home and found the famous letter!

Six months later he carried out his first geology on the voyage at Cape Verde and here I refer to Paul Pearson.

‘Marks of extreme violence’: Charles Darwin’s geological observations at St Jago (São Tiago), Cape Verde islands

P. N. Pearson and C. J. Nicholas


The first stop on Charles Darwin’s famous voyage around the world in HMS Beagle was at Porto Praya (Praia), the principal town on the island of St Jago (São Tiago) in the Cape Verde archipelago. From 16 January to 8 February 1832, Darwin enjoyed his first substantive opportunity to study the natural history of an exotic place. Darwin himself regarded this occasion as a significant turning point in his life because, according to his autobiography, it was here that he decided to research and publish a book on the geology of the places visited on the voyage. He also recalled that it was here, the very first port call, that convinced him of the ‘wonderful superiority’ of Charles Lyell’s uniformitarian geology over the doctrine of successive cataclysms that he had been taught in England. Later commentators have generally accepted this account, which is significant for understanding the intellectual background to the Origin of Species, at face value. In this paper we reconstruct some of Darwin’s observations at St Jago based on his contemporaneous notes and diary, and in the light of our own visit made in January 2002. We find little evidence to substantiate the claim that he interpreted the geology in Lyellian terms at the time. Instead, he formulated a theory involving a great cataclysm to explain the dramatic scenery in the island’s interior. He speculated that a torrent of water had carved the main valleys of the island, leaving deposits of diluvium in their beds. It is indisputable that Darwin came to embrace gradualist thinking enthusiastically during the voyage. Some of his observations made on St Jago, especially relating to uplift of the coast, were instrumental in this change of view, but the conversion was gradual, not sudden. His later published works make no mention of his original catastrophist interpretations.

And so Darwin went round the world studying the geology.

His last geological trip was to look for glaciation in Shropshire and Wales culminating in Snowdonia in 1842 as this paper on William buckland in 1841 and Darwin in 1842 shows.


Creationists in the 19th Century

Are Young Earth Creationists an old or a new phenomenon? Often when those who believe in 10,000 year old earth are mentioned it is assumed that they are traditional Christians. In fact they are not as their Young Earth arguments on go back to ellen White in the late 19th century. Sure many before 1800 believed the earth was young, but that was not folly or the rejection of science, but simply geology had yet to make the case for an ancient earth. By 1800 almost all educated people in Europe and north America accepted an ancient earth. Before that young earth was never, never, never the standard view of the churches.


Caution Creationists3

After 1817 in England some Christians, many of the clergy and some skilled in science, fought against old earth geology, despite many geologists being Anglican clergy. The first to do so was the Rev Thomas Gisbourne, who was a mentor to Wilberforce and the last patient to be treated by Erasmus Darwin in 1802. I love odd historical facts. Soon others joined him and they made a bit of noise until the mid-1850s when they went extinct in Britain until 1968.

I have found a motley collection of fifty individuals, many of whom were clergy. One was Dean Cockburn of York who ranted and raved at those like Sedgwick and Buckland, who were very effective at putting him and other anti-geologists down.




Here’s Sedgwick in action

I have not found one bishop among them, but there is at least one Young Earth bishop in the 21st century. Another bishop sent me an irate e-mail at six o’clock in the morning objecting to me writing to the Times agreeing with Dawkins for saying bishops should criticise Creationism more strongly.!!

I looked at them for years but only published in my book Evangelicals and Science, but in the 90s Terry Mortenson did a Ph D on them at Coventry University, which has no history of science department. He often claims it was a Ph D on the history of geology, but really it is an account of those who rejected geology, thus not about geologists! His work came out The Great Turning Point,which is many chapters from his thesis.  He claimed that his subjects were mostly well-informed in geology, but that is simply not the case. To read one like Fairholme on geology made me titter, (I have a copy of his wonderful book) and I am quite sure it had a worse effect on those great Christian geologists Buckland and Sedgwick, who were less circumspect than I am! As for Lyell, he laughed at them and let the clerical geologists deal with them!!


So a quick summary of the history of geology from 1660s. Before then most opted for a date like 4000BC as the date of creation like Ussher, but without strong conviction.


One of the first was Nils Steno and after that, just considering Brits, were a series of savants , including John Ray (who had doubts about a young earth),


who initially thought the earth was young and all strata were laid down in the flood. But that was under question by 1700 and during the next hundred years scholars of all sorts from all over Europe continued their field work and by 1800 the argument was whether the earth was many millions of years old or just few hundred thousand. Unexpectedly to us today one of the last to accept an old age was the canal engineer William Smith in about 1800, AFTER he had devised his ways of using fossils for relative age dating. It seems he was persuaded to do so by a trio of local vicars.


During the flowering of anti-geologists, real geologists were working out the geological column. Rev Adam Sedgwick was one of the most prolific.


The extract is very Anglo-centric, as that is where the players came from. For a fully European perspective you must read Martin Rudwick’s Bursting the Limits of Time.



By the 1820s most evangelicals adopted the Chaos-Restitution Theory
of Chalmers and Sumner, seemingly removing any conflict between Genesis
and Geology. However, this statement needs qualification, as the only
people who can be studied are those who wrote either in books or magazines.
The pages of the Christian Observer the leading Anglican evangelical
journal give an insight into Anglican Evangelical attitudes to geology. The
editor, S. C. Wilks (1789–1872) tried to avoid controversy, but ensured
the anti-geologists were always answered, relying on W. D. Conybeare
for geological guidance. From 1827 the division between Bugg and Faber
dominated several volumes, and the correspondence became acrimonious
with articles such as “On the Infidel Tendency of Certain Scientific Speculations”
(vol. 34, 1834, pp. 199–207) and then “Replies to a Layman on
Geology” (pp. 306–316), written by Conybeare. For twenty years, Wilks,
the editor, attempted to guide his readers into accepting geology without
totally censoring the anti-geologists. A modern-day parallel can be seen in
Christianity Today.
Before the 1820s dissenting and Methodist evangelicals were more likely
to interpret the Bible literally. By the reign of Victoria their leading scholars
had accepted geological findings.Most notable was the Congregationalist
John Pye Smith, a Biblical scholar, who published The Relation between the
Holy Scriptures and Some Parts of Geological Science in 1839, originally given
as the Congregational Lecture in 1838. Smith adopted a novel exegesis of
Genesis 1, by arguing that God had recreated a small portion of the earth
in six days and put Adam and Eve there. The rest of the planet had been
there for millennia, thus accommodating geological ages. Pye Smith gave
an excellent resume of geology, and criticized the “anti-geologists.” In 1837
another Congregationalist George Redford (1785–1860) also wrote on the
relation of geology and Genesis in The Holy Scriptures Verified, grappling
with the issues in a muddled way, more or less accepting the Gap Theory
and for his geology looking to Fairholme as well as Buckland. Redford’s muddled
arguments indicate that he was not a dogmatic literalist, but just a minister confused on science.
Though there was a considerable diversity among evangelicals of all
denominations, the majority were supportive of geology. Only a vocal minority
considered geology to be infidel.Commentators frequently adopted
a non-literal approach to Genesis, most notably the Free Kirk Robert Candlish
During the early nineteenth century there were numerous harmonies of
Geology and Genesis. Though some were “anti-geologies,” the majority
accepted geology and propounded their harmonies with variable geological
competence. The most widely sold and competent was Buckland’s
Bridgewater Treatise. By the 1850s the vast majority of educated Christians
accepted geology, the enthusiasm for “anti-geology” had waned,
evincing the astronomer Rev. Robert Main’s (1808–1878) comment in the
conservative Replies to Essays and Reviews (Wilberforce, 1862) edited by
Samuel Wilberforce: “No educated Christian accepts 4004B.C. as the date
of creation.” That was true then, but not today!
The Chaos-Restitution theory was the mos widely held reconciliation of
Genesis and geology until mid-century, which Hugh Miller challenged in
Footprints of the Creator (Miller, 1847, p. 332), his anti-evolutionary critique
of the Vestiges and in The Testimony of the Rocks (Miller, 1858). Within a few
years Gilbert Rorison was arguing for a totally pictorial exegesis ofGenesis
in Wilberforce’s Answers to Essays and Reviews (Wilberforce, 1861, pp. 281–
286) and the Chaos-Restitution interpretation began to go out of fashion.
Archdeacon John 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 enshrined in the Schofield Reference Bible, while
the Day-Age interpretation gained ground among the more “intellectual”
conservatives, notably by J. W. Dawson.
Most typical of the 1850s are the volumes by Pratt, Hitchcock, and Miller.
John Pratt (d1871) was Archdeacon of Calcutta, and in the midst of his missionary
work wrote on the isostasy of the Himalayas. An evangelical, he
published Scripture and Science not at variance in 1856 and revised it in
1871,when he still held the Gap Theory and rejected Rorison’s exegesis in
Replies to Essays and Reviews. From its title the American Edward Hitchcock’s
The Religion of Geology (1853) sounds unpromising. Hitchcock was
no mean geologist, and was aggressive in justifying geology to those like
the Hebraist Moses Stuart. Hitchcock saw the problem as being caused by
too literal a reading of Paradise Lost and that “the theologians having so
mixed up the ideas of Milton with those derived from inspiration,” thus
giving rise to Bishop John Colenso’s (1814–1882) complaint “The truth
is that we literally groan, even in the present day, under the burden of
Milton’s mythology” (Colenso 1863, vol. iv, p. 148). Though Colenso was
notorious for his views on biblical criticism in the 1860s, his approach to
Genesis One was similar to that of evangelicals and he quoted extensively
from them. Pride of place must go to Hugh Miller’s The Testimony of the Rocks,which
has already been mentioned.
These three represent the moderate, scholarly evangelical. Others were
less moderate, as is shown by George Eliot’s essay on the immoderate
evangelical—John Cumming (1807–1881). He wrote at least twice on science,
first a lecture given at Exeter Hall in 1851 and then his peculiar
Church before the Flood (Cumming, 1854). Eliot’s criticisms of Cumming are
fair (Eliot, 1973), but a dismissal of Cumming will miss an essential point.
Cumming was very conservative, yet, accommodates the whole of geology
into the first two verses of Genesis. Joseph Baylee (1808–1883), Principal of
the Anglican theological college, St. Aidan’s Birkenhead, was also an ultraconservative,
who wrote on geology and Genesis and allowed geology
to sit alongside his almost literal Genesis (Baylee, 1857). This acceptance
of geology is easily lost in a cursory reading as Baylee claims to be literalist
and it demonstrates the need to study Victorian (or any) writing on
their terms and not with spectacles provided by the twenty-first century.
Their exegesis may not be convincing, but it shows that ultraconservatives
accepted geology.

It may seem that geology presented little challenge to evangelical faith
in the nineteenth century. That was not so for someC hristians,who argued
that geology undermined the truth of Genesis and are frequently termed
Scriptural Geologists, which can cause confusion as geologists like Sedgwick
and Buckland held both geology and a conservative interpretation of
Genesis. So they could rightly be termed Scriptural Geologists. Millhauser
(1954) to a limited extent and Mortenson (1996, 2004) define Scriptural Geologists
as those who claimed that all geology was within the confines of
Six Days and a Flood. To Mortenson “scriptural”means a literal hermeneutic.
Therefore, all who reject literalism have compromised their biblical faith,
be they Sedgwick or not. Throughout his work, Mortenson made strident
criticisms of conventional geology and claimed that several “Scriptural
Geologists” were competent geologists. However his failings are twofold.
First he misunderstands conventional nineteenth-century geologists and
wrongly claims that their geology is based on assumptions of the vast age of
the earth, and secondly he fails to discern that his “competent” scriptural
geologists misunderstood geology. Hence, his work has value in giving
biographical details, but not in the assessment of the scriptural geologists.
Against Mortenson, John Lynch takes a wider view of “scriptural geology”
in his introduction to Creationism and Scriptural Geology, 1817–1857
(Lynch, 2003), a seven volume series reprinting some of eight “scriptural”
geologists. Five were hostile to geology and three supportive. Thomas
Chalmers, John Pye Smith, and Hugh Miller did not regard geology as
infidel. The hostile five were John Mellor Brown an Anglican clergyman,
Granville Penn (1761–1844), grandson of the founder of Pennsylvania and
an Anglican layman, George Young (1777–1848), a Presbyterian minister
and two laymen George Fairholme (1789–1846) and John Murray (1786?–
1851), a chemist. Only two had good field skills in geology, Miller who
needs no introduction and George Young, who did some competent work
around Whitby in the 1820s. By choosing both “pro-” and “anti–geologists”
Lynch undermined the polarized historiography,which usually surrounds
“Genesis and Geology” discussions. All eight writers can be rightly described
as Creationists and Scriptural Geologists, as they understood geology
from the perspective of Creation and Scripture. Chalmers, Pye Smith, and
Miller were respected evangelicals whose works indicate the change in biblical
interpretation over that half century from Chalmer’s semi–literalist
Gap Theory to Miller’s poetic vision. However, in a recent lecture to the
Evangelical Theological Society Mortenson (2001) stresses the theological
compromises of Chalmers, Pye Smith, and Miller, who had “succumbed”
to the Enlightenment.
There is less correlation of evangelical fervor and opposition to geology
from 1817 to 1857 than today. I am aware that most historians, whether
Millhauser or Mortenson refer to flood geologists as Scriptural Geologists
but I prefer the term anti-geologist used by Miller in The Testimony of the
Rocks in his chapter The Geology of the Anti-Geologists (Miller, 1857). Miller
as an evangelical was not going to let others claim the term scriptural. Anti-geologist is theologically neutral and focuses on attitudes to geology, not scripture.

The flowering of “anti-geologists” came as a deluge in the mid-20s and
annoyed Uniformitarian and Catastrophist alike. Their cry was that geologists
were mistaken and ungodly. Some had good scientific credentials
outside geology, like Brande of the Royal Institution, John Murray and
Andrew Ure (1778–1857) of Glasgow, others were evangelicals for example
Bugg, Nolan, Cole, Best, Mellor Brown, and Young and some were traditionalist
clergy for example Vernon Harcourt (brother of the cofounder
of the British Association), Dean Cockburn of York, and Edward Nares.
Despite their variety the anti-geologists had a common theme; the earth
was a few thousand years old being created in six 24-hour days and the
strata were laid down in the Noachian Deluge. Many emphasized that
there was no death or suffering before the Fall (Genesis 3) and thus no animals
had lived for more than a few hours before Adam. This was to retain
the centrality of the Atonement, as death is the curse of sin. (Most orthodox
Christians, e.g., Sumner, Chalmers, and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce
did not reckon that animal death before the Fall affected the Atonement.)
The importance of the “anti-geologists” can be overstated as they attracted
much attention, particularly in retrospect. The “anti-geologists”
were attacked most vigorously by other Christians, as was Ure’s A New
System of Geology (1829), which was scathingly reviewed anonymously in
the British Critic of 1828. Lyell identified the reviewer,

“A bishop, Buckland ascertained (we suppose Sumner), gave Ure a dressing in the British Critic and Theological Review! They see at last the mischief and scandal brought on them by Mosaic systems”

(Lyell.). By the way, Sumner was an evangelical and later Archbishop of Canterbury.
There appear to have been no anti-geologists in America until the Lord
brothers writing in the 1850s in reaction to Hitchcock’s The Religion of
Geology. Eleazer Lord responded with The Epoch of Creation: The Scripture
Doctrine Contrasted with the Geology Theory (1851) and his brother David
Geognosy, or the Facts and Principles of Geology against Theories (1855). Both
criticized geologists and their Christian apologists like Pye Smith, Hitchcock,
and Miller and argued for a belief in a six-day creation. By the time
of the Civil War American Scriptural Geology had almost gone, soon to be
resurrected by Ellen White (Stilling, 1999).
Many anti-geologists were evangelical clergy and laity. The first work,
which challenged geology was Thomas Gisbourne’s The Testimony of Natural
Theology to Christianity in 1818. Gisbourne was a friend of William
Wilberforce and the last patient to be treated by Erasmus Darwin in 1802.
The book was eirenic, but objected to geology, because the existence of
death in the animal world implicit in the existence of prehistoric life before
Adam contradicts the view in the opening lines of Paradise Lost
Of man’s first disobedience, and the fruit
Of that forbidden tree, whose mortal taste
Brought death into the world, and all our woe,
The storm broke in the 1820s in the Christian Observer, creating internecine
warfare among evangelicals, and was paralleled by the publication
of aggressive critiques of geology. It began with reviews of G. S.
Faber’s A Treatise of the Three Dispensations in 1823, which was classic theology
on the “dispensations” of Abraham, Moses, and Jesus Christ, but
the third chapter Respecting the length of the Six Demi-Urgic Days caused the
problem. Here Faber summarized geological findings under the guidance
of Buckland. Bugg took great objection. Several years later Bugg wrote to
the Christian Observer criticizing the editor S. C. Wilks for taking the “side
of modern geologists” and listed the five difficulties of the bible versus
geology, which were
(1) Geology claims that death was there before Adam sinned,
(2) Geology denies the Six Days of Creation
(3) “Scriptural Creation” is handed over to Geology.
(4) Prevents missionary work among the Hindoos.
(5) Removes the basis of the Sabbath {Bugg, 1828, p. 329)

[this is exactly what Young Earth Creationists argue today.]

A few years after Faber’s work, Bugg published his magnum opus Scriptural
Geology in two volumes, which was an answer to Buckland. Bugg
claimed that “whatever is contrary to that Bible must be false.” He started
from the premise that the Mosaic narrative gives the general order of the
strata with one physical revolution on the third day and that “Christian
Geologists are bound in honor and conscience to agree.” What follows is a
variety of theological argument, a rejection of contemporary geology, and
a reinstatement of the Deluge as the source of all strata. Bugg’s motivation
was theological as he was unable to accept animal death before the Fall.
Frederick Nolan (1784–1864) was a notable Oxford divine of his day,
whose career parallels that of Faber. Both were leading evangelical theologians
publishing prodigiously on the similar subjects of evangelical
beliefs, polemics against the Oxford Movement and millenarianism. The
pair made forays into geological science, Nolan rejecting it and Faber welcoming
geological findings. In 1832 Nolan was elected to the Royal Society
and in 1833 he gave the Bampton Lectures entitled The Analogy of Revelation
and Science established (Nolan, 1834). Nolan argued that the findings of
geologists were mistaken and the earth really was a few thousand years
old. Buckland’s anger was undisguised as his wife Mary wrote to William
Whewell on May 12, 1833,
we have had the Bampton Lecturer holding forth in St Mary’s against all modern
science, . . . Denouncing all who assert that the world was not made in 6 days as
obstinate unbelievers, etc.” (Morrell and Thackray, 1984)
Though Nolan’s  Bamptons were soon eclipsed by Keble’s Assize Sermon
on July 11, 1833, which marked the start of the Oxford Movement, Nolan’s
lectures highlighted a rumbling problem within the churches. At that time
geology was the science of the day with its strange extinct beasts, its
vast time scale, with the present day “towering o’er the wrecks of time.”
Geology had captured the imagination of the British public.
There were other evangelicals who took up cudgels against geology
during those two decades. To obtain an exhaustive list would involve
the detailed scanning of journals and libraries. In his research Mortenson
identified about thirty and I have found another dozen or so. In mere
numbers this is a fraction of Christians who wrote positively of geology.
They had passed the peak of their activity in about 1840 and thereafter
dwindled, though still making some impact in the 1850s. There are a
variety of reasons for their decline. A major factor was simply increasing
age; younger evangelicals were more open to geology, following on first
from Chalmers and Faber, then Pye Smith and Miller, and then those like
Birks and Pratt. Faber and Birks were strong millenarians, which indicate
the lack of correlation of anti-geology with millenarian views, as is the case
in the twenty-first century and the Seventh Day Adventists.
This may seem to be an oxymoron, but numbers of anti-geologists argued
that their geology was more scientific than conventional geology.
A frequent contributor to the Christian Observer during the 1820s and
1830s was George Fairholme (1789–1846), who signed himself as “A Layman
on Scriptural Geology.” Fairholme was Scottish born and had no
university education. According to Mortenson his denomination is unknown,
nor are his evangelical convictions. As well as contributing to
the Christian Observer and the Philosophical Magazine, Fairholme wrote on
the General View of the Geology of Scripture (1833) and the Mosaic Deluge
(1837). The preface of the latter discusses the theological results and skepticism caused
by geology and especially the rejection of a universal deluge,
“there cannot be conceived a principle more pregnant with mischief to the
simple reception of scripture.” All emphasis is put on the universality
of the Deluge—”if false. . . . then has our Blessed Saviour himself aided
in promoting the belief of that falsehood, by. . . . alluding both to the fact
and the universality of its destructive consequences to mankind” (p. 61).
Fairholme made much of stems of tall plants,which intersect several strata
(Polystrate fossils).
In the General View of the Geology of Scripture (1833) Fairholme gave the air
of geological competence, enhanced by citing geological works. His geology
does not bear comparison with geological writers of his day, whether
Buckland, Sedgwick, or amateurs like Pye Smith. Though he claimed to
carry out geological fieldwork, there is no evidence that he did more than
ramble though the countryside. His lack of geological competence is best
seen in his discussion of the relationship of coal to chalk. (In the Geologic
Column coal is found in the Upper Carboniferous or Pennsylvanian strata
and chalk in the Upper Cretaceous.) Fairholme wrote
the chalk formation is placed far above that of coal, apparently from no better
reason, than that chalk usually presents an elevation on the upper surface, while
coal must be looked for at various depths below the level of the ground. (Fairholme,
1833, p. 243).
He had previously discussed this (op cit pp. 207–210) and concluded,
having misunderstood an article in the Edinburgh Encyclopaedia, that
Nothing can be clearer than this account; and it appears certain, that, as in the case
of the Paris Basin, this lime-stone formed the bed of the antediluvian sea, on which
the diluvial deposits of coal, clay, ironstone, and free-stone, were alternately laid
at the same period. (Fairholme, 1833, p. 209)
It is clear that Fairholme regards Carboniferous Limestone and the Cretaceous
chalk as the same formation, and wrote on coal fields that
they lie among sandstones, . . . , but have, in no instance, been found below chalk,
which is one of the best defined secondary formations immediately preceding the
Deluge, . . .
Thus the Cretaceous strata are pre-Flood and the Coal Measures were
deposited during the Flood!
To a geologist today and in 1833 that is risible! When Fairholme penned
this, it had been known for decades that Chalk always, always overlie
the Coal Measures with a vast thickness of strata in between. In 1799,
William Smith drew up a list of strata from the coal measures to the chalk,
which was extended in the table accompanying his geological map of 1815
(Phillips, 1844/2003). Cuvier and Brogniart, who had worked extensively
in the Paris Basin, gave the same succession. Thus by the standards of his
day, Fairholme was talking nonsense as he was when he wrote
“But during the awful event [the Deluge] we are now considering, all animated
nature ceased to exist, and consequently, the floating bodies of the dead bodies
must have been bouyed up until the bladders burst, by the force of the increasing
air contained within them.” (Fairholme, 1833, p. 257)
It is impossible to agree with Mortenson’s assessment, “By early nineteenth
century standards, George Fairholme was quite competent to critically
analyze old-earth geological theories”(Mortenson, 2004, p. 130).
Though Fairholme took it upon himself to criticize geology, he did so from
sheer ignorance, as is evidenced by his claim that Chalk always underlies
Coal. Fairholme, like all anti-geologists, attempted from his armchair to
find fault with geology, which he regarded as infidel, but his “scientific”
objections were a total misunderstanding of geology. No wonder they
were rounded on by Sedgwick, who in A Discourse on the Studies of the
University (1834/1969) wrote that the anti-geologists
have committed the folly and the sin of dogmatizing on matters they have not
personally examined. (p. 106)
and regarded some as

“beyond all hope of rational argument.”

Then, as now, the advantage of writing   ridiculous works is that the refuting of them
is beyond the wit of rational people.

[Nothing like ending with a scathing remark from a Dalesman!]


This is how I feel after reading anti-geologists or creationists



This is another good read