Category Archives: uniformitarianism

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.

james-hutton-caracitureimage-4

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

180px-charles_lyell

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/

Deconstructing a Creationist on Siccar Point

Some time ago the Creationist “geologist”, Tas Walker, wrote an article on the unconformity at Siccar Point in Scotland.

https://creation.com/siccar-point-trail?fbclid=IwAR22CvA_lqxLbs1280OBkafhr9b2CmlOGxVBILHL_6h-LUPXdh3zlYUW8QY

One of the most famous of geological sites is the unconformity at Siccar Point in Scotland.  James Hutton went there in 1788 with his friend Rev John Playfair. Near the sea they found  an interesting feature. Some rocks dipping steeply were overlain by almost horizontal strata. Sir John Hall later made a sketch

Photo; Paul Braterman from his blog which gives a more geological description of Siccar Point – https://paulbraterman.wordpress.com/2014/11/16/time-turned-to-stone-part-1-time-as-interval/  I will deal more with historical aspects.

The rocks at 65 deg are Silurian  and the flatter ones are Devonian. It represents a gap of 60 million years or so. This is elementary geology to but Hutton was the first to realise the incredible time gap. Since then many more have been found all over the world.

A fine one is the Steamboat Unconformity in the Blackhills with a gap of a billion years between mid Precambrian and Cambrian.

The time gap varies in unconformities!

https://michaelroberts4004.wordpress.com/2016/01/15/seeing-rocks-slant-unconformities-old-and-new/

Unconformities demonstrate a considerable lapse of time, something Young Earth Creationists do not like. Hence Siccar Point is a good target to eviscerate as “creationist geologist” like Tas Walker tries, flashing his doctorate from the Dunning-Kruger University, in this article.

“The heritage trail at Siccar Point, Scotland

Commemorating an idea that did not work”

Doesn’t it work? Let’s see!

Before going through his blog I’ll make some historical and geological comments about the background of Hutton at Siccar Point. This CMI blog seems to imply that Hutton pulled his ideas out of thin air when visiting, but a consideration of the previous 120 years of geologising all over Europe contradicts that.

What Tas does is to re-iterate the creationist version of the Hutton-Lyell myth. The creationist version is that Hutton and Lyell were the naughty boys who invented Uniformitarianism out of thin air to attack the bible. Unconformities were part of that attack along with Deep Time, which nobody had thought about before.

The myth has a secular form in an old-style bad history of science , which is hopelessly Brito-centric just focussing on two geologists as if they were the only ones. Creationists took this and gave it a demonic twist.

Thus we have two main issues – Deep Time and Uniformitarianism

Deep Time is simply vast geological time. In 1650 most educated and uneducated people in Europe thought the earth was about 6000 years old. There was no geological evidence to guide them, so that cannot be held against them. For the last 70 years geologists have argued that the earth is 4.56 billion years old. In the 1780s Hutton and others knew the earth was very old but not how old.

We usually think of Ussher’s date of 4004BC which is similar to John Lightfoot’s of 50 years less. Both wrote in the 1650s and were excellent scholars.

The journey began in the 1660s, when Nils Steno (later a Catholic bishop who got beatified) was studying fossils and strata in Italy and worked out the Principle of Superposition. He was rather undecided on the age of the strata. But he had made a vital breakthrough.

Twenty years later Edward Lhwyd and Rev John Ray spent much time botanising in Snowdonia. Lhwyd was struck by the number of boulders in Nant Peris. As only one had fallen in living memory, he tentatively concluded that the hundreds of boulders must have fallen at intervals of several decades, meaning that Ussher’s age of 4004BC needed to be revised upwards. After all 500×50 =25,000. A wee advance on Ussher! In fact, they were glacial erratics dumped almost together some 20,000 years ago, so Lhwyd was wrong! Even so, it was an interesting idea showing a questioning mind.

Others reckoned the earth must be older too as did Hooke and Hobbes (see my Genesis and Geological time p41)

Genesis 1 & geological time from 1600-1850

Going into the 18th century more and more studied the rocks throughout Europe and almost all concluded that the earth was old. Less geological was Buffon who in his Epoques of 1778 argued from cooling globes the earth had to be at least 74,000 years old, but privately argued for millions. If you want more read Martin Rudwick’s Earth’s Deep History or Gabriel Gohau Les sciences de la terre aux XVII et XXVIII siecles.

Few continued with a young earth after Scheuzer, apart from the English Hutchinsonians, followers of John Hutchinson (1674-1737). One was Alexander Catcott whose Treatise of the Deluge (1768) is the oldest book I own. It’s a mix of biblical theology, speculations about the ark ( which included 2 camelopards and quoting Bishop Willkins “1825 sheep… for the rapacious beasts” ) and some good geomorphological observations.

 By the end of the 18th century few scientists/savants did not accept Deep Time and the Irishman Richard Kirwan was one of the handful who didn’t. Even J.A. de Luc, who is often presented as a young earther, believed in an ancient earth, but not as ancient as Hutton’s!

In the last decades of the 18th century Hutton just took the standard view of an ancient earth along with a galaxy of workers all round Europe –Rev J  Michell, Fr. Soulavie, de Saussure (of Mt Blanc fame), De Luc, Werner an others in almost every country, but an Anglocentric approach, which only considers Hutton and Lyell, misses that.

Hutton is NOT the father of Deep Time, but one of many very able scientists, who worked on deep time.

We also need to note that from 1660 Christians, especially clergy, were involved in the discovery of geological time. In 1785 the Rev William Robertson, Moderator of the Scottish Kirk, was totally supportive of Hutton and reckoned that nothing in Hutton’s  work was “in any respect repugnant to the Mosaic account of creation.” And for the last 135 years most Christian ministers, evangelical or not, have agreed with Robertson, from Billy Graham to John Stott, loads of Popes and Archbishops and those in local churches.

Uniformitarianism

This is used as a bogey term. In one sense Uniformitarianism in the sense of “the present is the key to the past” is both widely used and has to be used and basic to any historical study. In its minimal sense it means that the physical processes today occurred in the past – e.g. water flows downhill, and the physics and chemistry is the same. In the maximal sense it insists that rates of processes were identical in the past. At times both Hutton and Lyell tended toward that view, though Lyell in his Principles of Geology looked to more “catastrophic” processes to explain how erratics were moved from the central alps to the Jura Mountains, as in the case of the Pierre a bot – but that was before the concept of Ice Ages.

Continental geologists use the term “Actualism” to show how present geological processes relate to past geological time and events. It is a better term as the word itself allows more variation of “rate” as “uniformitarianism” as a word does.

After Lyell published in 1831 most British geologists ditched the older ideas of catastrophism and those who did not, like de la Beche and William Buckland, found themselves left behind both geologically and in time as they got older and younger geologists took their place. For 150 years a weakness in geology was that geologists tended to think all processes had always been slow and gradual, but that was slowly overturned in the 20th century as Ager made very clear, Ager may not have been a Uniformitarian but he was a strict Actualist.

Two examples;

Volcanic rocks. Travellers around Europe would see active volcanoes at Vesuvius and Etna. One who studied Vesuvius was Lord Hamilton, cuckolded by Lord Nelson. From Italy some found the hills in Auvergne looked like and had similar rocks to Italian volcanoes, pointing to them being volcanoes. Similar hard rocks were found in Britain and Hutton studied the Salisbury Crags. The similarities – the present is the key to the past – demonstrated these were volcanic. Repeat a thousand times!

Ripple marks. Those who play by rivers and the shore will find many ripple marks in places and often see them being formed by a river or the see. At times exposed rocks have marks which look identical and comparison – the present is the key to the past – points to them being laid down by water. When working in Precambrian strata in South Africa, I found that the Stinkfontein sandstones (900my)  often had ripple marks, which I duly measured and recorded, helping me work out the direction of the ancient rivers. One day it rained hard – a downpour in a desert – resulting in flash floods. These produced ripple marks in places so I measured and compared them.

These are two simple examples and there are many more. Needless to say, working it out in practice is often difficult

This is Uniformitarianism proper rather than an idea plucked out of thin air.

The worst example of mis-applying Uniformitarianism is the argument from the rapid formation of a gorge at Mt St. Helens to an alleged rapid formation of the Grand Canyon. Now that takes the biscuit!  The volcanic ash was deposited rapidly during the eruption and then eroded before they could consolidate. Even in 2009 I found that applying a small jet of water from a masculine source caused rapid erosion!

The Grand Canyon was cut into hardened sediments, from Precambrian to Mesozoic, exposing the unconformity between the Precambrian and Cambrian. On my ascent and descent I was unable to erode anything!!

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Now here is Tas Walker’s article

https://creation.com/siccar-point-trail?fbclid=IwAR22CvA_lqxLbs1280OBkafhr9b2CmlOGxVBILHL_6h-LUPXdh3zlYUW8QY

by Tas Walker

My comments are in italics

Siccar Point | CC BY-SA Dave Souza

High above the cliffs on the Scottish coast—60 km east of Edinburgh—is an interpretive billboard that overlooks a rocky point.1 It is part of a heritage trail opened in 2006, celebrating the life of James Hutton, a local farmer and physician

. This is a silly putdown as Hutton was these, but far more. He was part of the Scottish Enlightenment, which involved the Kirk, an a pioneer geologist.

 who became known as the ‘father of modern geology’.2

. He often shares this title with William Smith of England. I prefer to see him as one of many key figures from Steno in the 1660s onwards.

 He proposed the geological philosophy of uniformitarianism—that present geological processes are the key to understanding the rocks.

This is a cardboard cut-out history of geology. “the geological philosophy of uniformitarianism” sounds impressive but is nonsense. All geologists, then and now, sort of accept uniformitarianism, with the present as the key to the past, but Hutton almost over-played the rate of rock formation  and the sameness of processes. It was a difference of degree, not kind, to Catastrophists.

Hutton assumed Noah’s Flood never happened.

He avoided the question but was long convinced of the vast age of the earth as were the vast majority of geologists of his day. Hence he was always looking at rocks so much older than the flood.

 He did not appreciate the enormity of that global catastrophe, which involved faulting, folding, and immense deposition and erosion.

Hehe. Nor did any other geologist from the 18th century!!

The locals are keen to capitalize on Siccar Point, claiming it is the most important geological site in the world.2 

Not all would agree, but Siccar Point is very important – Vallorcine nr Chamonix, Old canals near Bath (Smith), Auvergne volcanoes, Jurassic Coast, Steno’s Tuscany come to mind.

The story goes that these rocks led Hutton to conclude the earth was not made in six days.

That is simply not so. He was already of that opinion as were the vast majority of geologists from 1700 whether Christian or not. It was the same in England and the European mainland

 Rather, faulting and folding were important processes in the evolution of the landscape.3 The sign at the site says the rocks proved geological time was virtually unlimited,

No, just very long as Hutton et al could not pin down a time except in words of de Saussure of Mt Blanc fame “tres vieux”.

contrary to the few thousand years, which most people believed at that time.1

That is very misleading. Most people at that time could not read and as all they heard came from simple preaching they probably thought the earth was young. As for those with education many agreed with Hutton, or rather the scientific savants throughout Europe, and by 1800 the vast majority of educated, Christian or not, accepted an ancient earth

But Hutton did not discover deep time, he assumed it.

Nonsense. Deep time was coming in from the time of Steno in Italy in the 1660s. Right from the 1660s there was an increasing awareness that the earth was more than a few thousand years old. Thus Lhwyd and John Ray tentatively argued for an older earth in the 1680s. Throughout the 18th century researchers found evidence that the age of the earth was immense but could not put a date on it. Hutton was one of those

 That was partly because Hutton’s knowledge of geology in the late 1700s was seriously limited.

Pathetic comment. Yes, Hutton’s knowledge of geology was limited compared to 1850,1900, 1950 or today, but he knew a lot.

 He did not know that the lower Silurian rocks were turbidite beds, deposited rapidly from underwater density currents that sped across the ocean floor as fast as 100 km (60 miles) per hour.4 Neither did he know the upper strata were of a terrestrial origin, deposited from a vast expanse of fast flowing water that covered a large part of the continent, depositing thick, cross-bedded strata.5,6

This comment is plain silly. Turbidites were discovered between 1925 and 1950. It is like criticising Isaac Newton for not knowing Relativity

But most significantly, Hutton assumed Noah’s Flood never happened.

 He did not appreciate the enormity of that global catastrophe, which involved faulting, folding, and immense deposition and erosion.

 During the Flood, the rocks at Siccar Point were eroded in days or weeks, not over millions of years.

Face palm

The notice board at Siccar Point, which needs a little improvement

As John McEnroe said on the tennis courts “Are you serious?” The “What really happened” is pure bunkum.

Hutton is hailed as a father of modern geology for his philosophy of uniformitarianism, but ironically geologists now acknowledge that uniformitarianism does not work.

A veritable half truth

 Toward the end of his career, Derek Ager, professor of geology at Swansea, Wales, said of uniformitarianism, “We have allowed ourselves to be brain-washed into avoiding any interpretation of the past that involves extreme and what might be termed ‘catastrophic’ processes.”7

See above on Uniformitarianism. Ager wrote to me in a letter complaining how creationists twisted his work.

Hutton’s friend (and popularizer) John Playfair, who accompanied him by boat to Siccar Point in 1788, is famous for his impressions of that trip. He is quoted on the sign. “The mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time.”

However, as the son of a Presbyterian minister, it is unfortunate that Playfair did not connect his Bible with the world around him

Thus in one sentence Tas walker condemns the vast majority of Christians to perdition

. A better response would have been, “The mind was sobered to look upon the enormity of God’s judgment at the time of Noah.”

Mine is to study Exodus 20 vs 16!!!

I cannot see how anyone can write such an article as it is so inaccurate. I am sure it is not pleasing to God. 

references and notes

  1. Interpretation board, Siccar Point; geograph.org.uk/photo/2143249. Return to text.
  2. International interest in new James Hutton trail, Berwickshire News, 21 June 2006; berwickshirenews.co.uk/news/local-headlines/international-interest-in-new-james-hutton-trail-1-237894. Return to text.
  3. Siccar Point, Gazetteer for Scotland, 2011; scottish-places.info/features/featurefirst5590.html. Return to text.
  4. Fine, I.V. et al., The Grand Banks landslide-generated tsunami of November 18, 1929: preliminary analysis and numerical modelling, Marine Geology 215:45–57, 2005. Return to text.
  5. Browne, M., et al., Stratigraphical Framework for the Devonian (Old Red Sandstone) Rocks of Scotland south of a line from Fort William to Aberdeen, British Geological Survey, Research Report RR 01 04, p. 50, 2002; nora.nerc.ac.uk/3231/1/Devonian[1].pdf. Return to text.
  6. For a detailed geological analysis of Siccar Point see: Walker, T., Unmasking a long-age iconCreation 27(1):50–55, 2004; creation.com/siccarpoint. Return to text.
  7. Ager, D., The Nature of the Stratigraphical Record, Macmillan, London, p. 70, 1993. Return to text.
  8. After this the landscape was eroded by ice sheets in the post-Flood Ice Age. Return to text.

That begs a lot of questions as the Ice Ages began 2 million years ago. Which Ice Age does he mean? Was it the upper or Lower Dryas or an earlier one?