IBRI Research Report #57 (2006)

The Stones Cry Out:
How Early Christian Geologists 
Enlarged their Understanding of the Creation Account

David C. Bossard
Harleysville, Pennsylvania

Copyright © 2006 by David C. Bossard. All rights reserved.


The development of modern geology in the early 1800s challenged traditional Biblical interpretation in a way that no other  advance in science had. Over the centuries, there had been many philosophical challenges to Biblical revelation -- the nascent higher  criticism of the Biblical text, and many Christian and secular world  views as (then) recent examples -- but these are all based on  philosophical particulars that cannot be refuted objectively. Never before had such an extensive, sustained and comprehensive assault on tradition been fortified with such an abundance of irrefutable  factual data, which could be tested and affirmed by all, even those  with radically clashing world views. How, then, did devout Christians process this challenge? This paper describes the responses of a number of contemporary writers who held firmly to the divine inspiration of the Biblical text -- including prominent British and American  geologists and theologians of the period.


I have tried to be accurate in the statement of scientific fact, but it is possible, perhaps likely, that some factual errors have crept in. I would appreciate any corrections of factual errors. Please email them to me at dcb@ps-19.net. In particular, I solicit additional citations to work available over the internet, that may supplement or clarify some of the matters discussed.
  -- DCB


Although the author is in agreement with the doctrinal statement of IBRI, it does not follow that all of the viewpoints espoused in this paper represent official positions of IBRI. Since one of the purposes of the IBRI report series is to serve as a preprint forum, it is possible that the author has revised some aspects of this work since it was first written.

The Stones Cry Out:
How Early Christian Geologists[1]
Enlarged their Understanding of the Creation Account

David C. Bossard
Harleysville, Pennsylvania

Why should the enlightened Christian, who has a correct idea of the firm foundation on which the Bible rests, fear that any disclosures of the arcana of nature should shake its authority or weaken its influence? Is not the God of revelation the God of nature also?

Edward Hitchcock (1851)[2]


It is a fearful thing to array science and religion against each other...Men who have well studied the questions at issue, and who know the evidence of those geological facts to which such strong exception is taken, cannot by any possibility be brought to renounce their convictions.

John Pye Smith (1840)[3]


I have been described as one of the wretched class of persons who teach, that geology, rightly understood, does not conflict with revelation.

Hugh Miller (1855)[4]


For a number of years I have indulged a fascination with 19th century science – in fact, I run a web site with that name, where I post a number of books from the period.[5]

The 19th century was a golden age of science – as viewed from the eye of a practitioner. It was an exciting time to work as a scientist. Empirical science had shaken off the restraints and bad habits of medieval times. Newton’s remarkable work and the arrival of the microscope and telescope opened the door to vast new vistas. And things had not yet become too complicated! Until late in the century, it was still possible to have a comprehensive understanding of entire fields of work such as chemistry, biology, physics and astronomy.

There is nothing so fascinating as being in on the ground floor of a new science. And there were many opportunities for that in the 19th century. When I look back on my career, I feel enormously blessed to have experienced the very beginnings of the computer age. I recall reading an autobiography of Chuck Yeager, the famous test pilot. When asked in the 1980s if he was envious of the new generation of test pilots, he shook his head no. Test pilots now, he said, can’t fly seat-of-the-pants. Things are too complicated. They are almost totally dependent on engineers for their safety. When he flew, he flew by instinct. His instincts were good, and he trusted them. You can’t use instinct any longer.

I think I know what Chuck Yeager was saying, and I agree. The 19th century was golden because the scientists of the day were close enough to the beginnings that things hadn’t yet gotten too complex. It was a marvelous time to exercise true empirical science, a time when skilful practitioners forged the outlines of new sciences based on observations and logical analysis, playing Sherlock Holmes with the observable facts to forge them into daring conclusions, which could be tested and challenged.

Geology is a science that calls upon all sorts of other disciplines – all branches of chemistry, biology, physics and astronomy. So as the century proceeded, it got very complex and specialized – but at the beginning it was not that way.[6]

Modern geology began on June 11, 1799 when William Smith[7] wrote down the key to interpreting the rocks based on his own extensive work. The key was the Rosetta Stone that would open up the rocks’ language.[8] He made four key observations:

• First, that most of the rock on land is sedimentary rock, laid down in identifiable layers or strata;[9]
• Second, that the strata extend over large areas;
• Third, that the strata are characterized by the type of rock and fossil species; and

Fourth, that the strata are laid down in a specific order.

I am sure some scientists would howl in protest at the claim that geology began at this specific time – after all, didn’t the teachings of great geologists such as Werner[10] and Hutton[11] precede this? But here is the pivotal point: Werner and Hutton proposed theoretical explanations for the earth’s present form. Around 1800 there were two theoretical schools of geology: the Neptunists or Deluvianists (water was the main engine of change) and the Vulcanists or Plutonists (fire – heat – was the main engine of change). There were rational arguments for each position, and scientists were lined up on each side.

But the era introduced by William Smith was qualitatively different. William Smith didn’t propose theories, he made claims that could be objectively tested and verified.[12] He showed that the earth’s rocks contain a detailed record of the earth’s past.[13] You could take or leave Werner’s and Hutton’s theories, or balance them against your own favorite theory. But it is hard to dispute the observable facts revealed by William Smith. Of course there is some level of interpretation to William Smith’s findings, and you are certainly welcome to make your own interpretations. But the language of the rocks is very factual and concrete, and if you propose an interpretation, there are thousands of ways that your interpretation (or William Smith’s) may be supported or refuted. And – this is the peculiar power of the truly empirical sciences – the same facts that you base your interpretation upon can be verified and multiplied by any competent scientist regardless of his own views on the matter. And they were. Over the next forty years, the work of William Smith was duplicated, confirmed, and expanded by hundreds of scientists worldwide, in an astonishing explosion of knowledge. What William Smith had found to be true about the geology of the British Isles, proved to be equally true worldwide, in a remarkable harmony in the message that the rocks and strata convey.

The direct implications of William Smith’s geology were seen almost immediately. First, that the earth is demonstrably old[14] – much more than the 6 thousand years or so implied by the common understanding of the Genesis creation account.[15] Second, that the geologic strata emphatically could not be the result of a global deluge, as the common understanding of the Genesis flood account would have it.[16] Over the next few decades these implications would be fortified with a vast amount of corroborating material, to the point that, by the 1840s no thinking person who had a deep understanding of the facts of geology as they were then known, could doubt that the earth is very old, and that the strata cannot have been laid down by a global noachian flood.[17] A number of devout Christian geologists of the time, expressed these conclusions in just this definitive, absolute way.[18] The question is – and this is what we will consider – how did they then maintain their high view of Scripture?

This empirical basis for William Smith’s geology forged a dilemma for many practicing Christians of his day, because the findings challenged the common interpretation of the Biblical text. The Christians that I am interested in here were those who had a high view of the inspiration and accuracy of the Biblical account, a view that I myself share.[19]  These Christians did not believe that the Old Testament accounts are hoary myths, or folklore, but that they are accurate written records of the events that they describe.[20] But the geological record seemed to contradict many of the assumed interpretations of these accounts, particularly the creation account in Genesis 1-3 and the flood account in Genesis 6-8. What to do? As scientists, they could not disregard the clear evidence of geology, and as devout Christians, they could not deny the foundations of their faith. This is what we will explore.

Now it should be understood that throughout the Christian era, long before the dawn of the age of science, the creation and flood accounts were singled out as puzzling, and there are many ways that they were understood. For example, Saint Augustine, back around 400 A.D. devoted a major part of his writing to the meaning and interpretation of the Genesis accounts. He puzzled over statements like “and the earth was without form and void,” and the question of how the “days” of creation were to be understood – regarding “days”, his puzzlement was why God, who is not bound by time, should take any time at all, and his own solution was that the whole creation occurred in an instant; I leave it to your curiosity to puzzle out how he then ended up with seven days.[21] Over his life, Augustine returned to these issues at least three times, the most recent being The Literal Meaning of Genesis.[22]

One of the things Augustine struggled with was whether the Genesis account was to be understood allegorically or literally. In his day, a number of Christian theologians put a lot of effort into reading the Bible allegorically, and Augustine, at first, was among that number. But later, he put aside attempts to see allegorical meaning, and concentrated on the literal meaning of the text. I should note, however, that some of his “literal” meanings seem to be a bit figurative, but that’s another story. Augustine uses the term “literal” to mean ‘a faithful record of what happened …according to the plain meaning of the historical facts’[23]

The fact is, what one means by “literal” in any human language, which by its very nature consists of figurative and allusive words, is itself a deep question.[24]  

In The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Augustine tried to reconcile his understanding of science with the interpretation of the Genesis account. Despite the primitive and largely fallacious science of his day, he had, in my view, the instincts of a true scientist, and a genuine interest in proper scientific inquiry, and as a result he was very bothered by theologians who would make interpretations that seem nonsense to scientists. There are a number of famous quotes from him along these lines. Among the rules of interpretation that he held to are these:

• That the Bible was written so as to be understandable by the author's contemporarys.[25]

• That the viewpoint of the Biblical writer is from the perspective of a person standing on earth, and not from the perspective of one viewing the earth from the heavens, or some other location. For example, in discussing the question, “Are the sun, moon, and stars of equal brightness?” he remarks,"They differ in glory to the eyes of men on earth," so the question of which is in actuality “greater” or “lesser” or whether they are equal, is not the point.[26]

Augustine saw that many of the particular passages in Genesis could be understood in a number of ways, and he was careful to lay out alternative interpretations without endorsing a particular one as the “only” way to see it.

So at the beginning of the 19th century, orthodox Christians, at least the educated theologians among them, understood that the Genesis accounts could be seen in a number of ways. Reasonable people could disagree on the particulars, and similarly, reasonable persons in the attempt to maintain unity and fellowship could defer to another person’s authority in areas of legitimate doubt.

But, as Tevye asked in Fiddler on the Roof, “How far can you make a man bend over backwards before he breaks?” Does geology push Christian geologists to the breaking point? These geologists believed not, and that is what we want to consider.

There was a more-or-less universal set of understandings, based, it was thought, on the most direct reading of the Biblical text. A brief summary might be this:

(1)   The material world had a definite beginning. Matter is not eternal. [27] [28]

On this point geologists generally agreed. The geologic record definitely indicates in the azoic rocks, which underlay all of the fossil-bearing strata, that life had a beginning, and knowledge of the figure of the earth (oblate spheroid) implied that the earth itself was at one time a molten mass. In this the geologists departed from the earlier view of Hutton and Playfair that the geological record has “no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end.

(2) The primordial world arose out of a state of chaos (“without form and void”).

As we noted earlier, this expression from Genesis 1:2 can be interpreted in various ways. Some early 19th century theologians and geologists (Thomas Chalmers, John Pye Smith, William Daniel Conybeare, William Phillips, William Buckland) took it to indicate a gap of indefinite extent between the creation of the “heavens and the earth” in Genesis 1:1 and the start of the creation week. Later geologists (Edward and Charles Hitchcock, Hugh Miller) questioned the gap, noting that the geological record has no indication of a catastrophic event[29] [30] – presumably resulting in the state of chaos – in the period just before the modern species of animals, plants and humans appear. By implication, this would move the period of chaos to an earlier time – perhaps as the earth was formed.[31]

(3) The primordial world was covered with water, out of which God “gathered” dry land.

On this point geologists generally agreed. There is abundant geological evidence that the continents were at one time under water – in some cases, as in Europe, the landmass was alternately raised and submerged multiple times.[32] The modern view is that the primordial earth was completely covered with oceans and that the landmass that ultimately formed the continents rose out of the water over a period of more than a billion years, literally “floating” on a molten mantle of dense basalt rock.

(4) Creation occurred in a creation week of 6 literal 24-hour days with the 7th day, the Sabbath, a day of rest.

The early geologists generally held to literal days (Thomas Chalmers, Conybeare, Buckland, Pye Smith). It is likely but not always clear that they assumed the days were back-to-back.[33] To maintain this position, they held to a primordial “gap” in which the geological column was laid down, and took the creation days to refer to a re-creation of life. Later geologists generally abandoned literal days, notably Hugh Miller who suggested that the days were “prophetic”, arguing that the language reads like a visual account in much the same way that some prophecies are understood – picking out highlights, telescoping time, and passing over other details. In Testimony of the Rocks he relates the creation days to geologic ages,[34] as if Moses were looking back over all of earth history as in a prophetic vision, and recording creation as the visual highlights. Other geologists, however, believed that this correspondence with geologic ages was imperfect at best.

(5) There was no protracted development of the plants and animals:

a.    Land plants were created on day 3.[35]

b.   Sea creatures and birds were created on day 5.

c.    Creatures “that move along the ground” were created with Man created last of all, on day 6.

The geological record flatly contradicts the view that humans were created within mere days of the creation of the plants and animals, unless one holds the view of some geologists that the creation week refers to a local creation of a human habitat. In this view, the geological record relates to a totally separate, protracted creation of the world’s plants and animals that is not mentioned in the Genesis account.

(6) The Creation account concerns the whole of creation, not just a localized part of it.

See the remarks above about a “local” creation.

(7) The Creation account, combined with the subsequent history of mankind recorded in Genesis (even allowing for gaps in the genealogy) implies that the earth is at most a few tens of thousands of years old.[36]

The geological record flatly contradicts this (see below).

(8) All plant and animal life was created to reproduce “after its kind.” (the fixity of species).

Many early geologists accepted this view, as long as “kind” was interpreted to mean something more general than specific species and varieties. Adherents would include most geologists through the 1830s, including Charles Lyell (who generally did not make comments in the line of natural theology)[37]. The very real gaps in the fossil record, and particularly gaps in the periods of renewal following catastrophes (for example, between the primary, second, tertiary eras), were viewed by many geologists as marking new direct creations by God. Among later geologists there was, however, expressed a kind of adaptation – in fact Hitchcock and others made the point that the environment determined the kind of animals created in a given era.[57]  Several geologists (Hitchcock, Miller, Agassiz, Dana and Geikie in their earlier years) argued against the concept that “progressive development” was a purely naturalistic thread through the entire creation process. This view was held by Robert Chambers and the biologist Lamarck. After Darwin’s publication of Origin of the Species  in 1859, the “progressive development” concept rapidly overwhelmed or ignored the objections of the early geologists, until in the end even former adherents as Lyell, Dana and Geikie, gave it at least lip service.37a

(9) Before Adam’s fall there was no death, because death was a punishment for Adam’s transgression.

This is flatly contradicted by all biological and geological evidence. A number of geologists wrote at length about this view (Pye Smith, Hitchcock, Miller).

(10)      The terms “all”, “every”, “the whole” in the Flood account are universal, not just local. Thus the flood was over the “whole” earth.

A number of the natural theology books written by geologists address this issue (Pye Smith, Buckland, Hitchcock, Hugh Miller) .[38]

The fact is that there are abundant instances in the Bible to illustrate that the cultural use of these seemingly all-inclusive terms, often simply signifies a large number, but not literally “all.”

Geology confirms the view that catastrophic floods occur throughout the geological record, and so the factuality of a massive flood as described by Moses is not in doubt.  But the flood must have been local, not universal, and a one year flood would not be likely to leave identifiable evidence. All geologists confirm that the main geologic strata are not flood deposits – the character of the geological strata, the orderly deposition of fossils, the vast ages over which the strata were formed under conditions of external tranquility, are inconsistent with a flood. See discussions in Pye Smith, Buckland, Hitchcock, and Miller.

(11)      The ark rescued every “kind” of animals, not just a small selection; by implication, all animals subsequently radiated from Ararat throughout the earth after the flood.

Geological and biological evidence show that the species variations worldwide are inconsistent with the view that all animals radiated out from a localized area of the globe since the flood – there just isn’t enough time to generate that amount of speciation after the flood. Further, the number of species worldwide is far more than could be accommodated on the ark. If it is assumed that “kind” represents a significantly higher taxonomic level than species (family or genus), then the speciation in the time since the flood would not be sufficient to produce the present diversity.

Some authors resolved issues with the flood narrative by asserting: (a) the Noachian flood was a local flood; (b) the animals included on the ark were domestic and game animals that were of economic value to humans; (c) that the flood may have been associated with a raising or lowering of the land mass in the Ararat region. See Miller, Hitchcock.

It should be noted that the consensus of science before about 1800 did NOT contradict these eleven points. Just as prior to the time of Copernicus, the scientific consensus did not indicate that the Ptolemaic model of the universe was wrong. It is exceedingly unfair to poke fun at the theologians or scientists of these times for interpreting the Bible in the most direct possible way – after all, that is entirely in the spirit of Occam’s Razor. Only when the evidence clearly and unequivocally pointed in another direction, could it be reasonably hoped that Bible interpretation would change. In 1550, even after Copernicus published de Revolutionibus, I would probably have sided with the Ptolemaic world view – for one thing, the Copernican model left a number of important things dangling unresolved: the concept of inertia, for example, had not been either experimentally or theoretically explained. Galileo, whose experiments proved inertia, would not be on the scene for another century. In 1800, at the time that the science of geology began, the objective arguments for an extremely old age for the earth were still in the future, and again, there was little reason, in my view, to change the traditional interpretation of Scripture. However factual evidence would pour in at an incredible pace, and overwhelming evidence against this traditional interpretation would be developed.

We can summarize the response of geologists to the prevailing Biblical interpretation under 4 headings:

1.   Natural Theology in the 19th century – before and after 1859.
2.   Points of Agreement between geology and the prevailing Biblical interpretation.
3.   Points in which the geological record flatly contradicts the traditional views.
4.   Reconciliation.

Natural Theology in the 19th Century

If you look at geology books published in the 1800s you will notice that in the first half of the century, many of the prominent geologists devoted considerable effort to discussions of “natural theology,” which included indications of the “glory of God” displayed in his creation, and reconciliation of the natural revelation with the written revelation, or as it was put, the harmony between God’s Works and God’s Words. Geologists and theologians who published significant works on natural theology in the early-mid 1800s include, in approximate order: William Paley, Thomas Chalmers, William Conybeare, William Phillips (the nephew of William Smith), William Buckland, John Pye Smith, Edward Hitchcock, David King, Hugh Miller, and Louis Agassiz. Others spoke favorably of God’s hand in creation – men such as Charles Lyell, Adam Sedgwick and James Dana. Few prominent scientists openly argued for a fully naturalistic explanation of things, with the notable exception of Robert Chambers[39] who sided with the biologist Lamarck in arguing in Vestiges for “progressive development” of species, the basis for Darwin’s views.

The publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species in 1859 marks a significant change. After 1859, the treatment of natural theology by prominent geologist greatly diminishes, and most of what is said is by holdovers from the previous era – such as Louis Agassiz, and James Dana.

Of course, there was very much written about natural theology by Christian apologists who were opposed  to  the attempts to harmonize geology with the Bible, but we will not go into that here. 39a

Points of Agreement between the Geological and the Prevailing Biblical Interpretation.

As we already noted, many of the early Christian geologists remarked that there are many points on which the two accounts agree:

1.   Both state that life on earth had a beginning. The geological record indicates a blossoming of life on earth from an initial lifeless condition.

2.   Both state that dry land emerged from the oceans.

3.   In both, plants flourished on land before land animals

4.   In both, fishes and birds precede land animals.

5.   In both, humans appear last of all.[40]

6.   In both, humans derive from a single “Eve”[41]

7.   In both, human civilization radiates from the vicinity of the Near East.

8.  Both agree that humans are qualitatively distinct from all other living species.

This represents a reasonably universal consensus by mid-century.

Things that the Geological Record Does Not Allow.

Despite these points of agreement, there are some matters where the Geological record conflicts with the traditional interpretation of the Biblical Creation Account. As noted by some of the authors[42] ALL geologists agree with these points.

1.   The Earth is very old, certainly far older than the few thousands or tens of thousands of years that the traditional interpretation of the Biblical creation account allows.

2.   Death was a universal, and essential, attribute of life on earth long before humans were created. There was never a time when death was not the norm.[43]

3.   The individual geological strata were generally formed under tranquil conditions over very long periods of time.[44] They are emphatically NOT remnants of a noachian deluge.[45] [46]

4.   Noah’s ark did NOT contain every "kind" of animal.[47]

5.   All animals on earth did NOT radiate from a single point on earth, following a noachian deluge.

6.   Plants and animals were NOT created in the same literal week with humans.

7.   (Consensus after the 1840s) The face of the earth was NOT formed primarily as a result of violent “revolutions” as Cuvier assumed, but rather it was formed principally under tranquil conditions extending over vast ages of time.

Perhaps it is a bit of an exaggeration to say that all geologists agree on all of these points, but certainly there were few holdouts among people who had a thorough understanding of the geological sciences.

The Basis for Reconciliation

It should be emphasized that many of the prominent geologists prior to mid-century were theologically trained, and thoroughly familiar with Greek and Latin, and some had some acquaintance with Hebrew as well, so they could make valid comments on theological points of interpretation of the Biblical text.

1.   The Bible does not state that there was no death prior to Adam’s transgression, contrary to the traditional view.

Buckland, Pye Smith and others make this argument.[48]

2.   Universal words “all”, “every”, etc. may have restricted meaning, not global in the absolute sense, as proved by many clear Biblical examples.[49]

3.   The word “day” is not restricted in Scripture to 24 hour days.

4.   The Creation account in Genesis does not require that all of the events occurred without gaps or a pause.

5.   The Creation account is not an exhaustive account of the creation of all life.

At a minimum, the Genesis account does not discuss the creation of micro-organisms (for obvious reasons).


Our interest is in the views among Christian geologists who held to a high view of Biblical inspiration. These geologists only made changes in their interpretation when they were convinced that the geological data required it.

It is clear that their views evolved over time – as shown by their own writings or citations by later writers. It is also clear that they had a certain reluctance to make changes – and so only made them when the need for a viewpoint change became abundantly clear. Edward Hitchcock remarked that “It always produces a temporary evil to change the interpretation of a passage of the Bible.”[50]

1.  Creation account.

Consensus: Old earth, life existed long ages before Adam’s creation, death was a universal principle of life.

a.    Early view (prior to 1840)

Early geologists generally accepted a “revolutions” account of the past history of the earth.

                                                     (1).     Literal 24-hour creation days

Buckland remarked that the text did not require this interpretation, but that it was consistent with the geological evidence as he understood it.

                                                       (2).     Creation of fossil species before creation week.

                                                        (3).     Gap between creation of heavens and earth and first day.

Identified with “Without form and void” in Genesis 1:2.

                                                        (4).   Global re-creation during creation week (some authors were not explicit on this).

b.   Later view (after 1840)

Later geologists generally accepted a “uniformitarian” account of the past history of the earth, in response to the work of Sir Charles Lyell.

                                                     (1).     Some: Creation days are extended periods of time

1.   Topical, selective days (this reverts to Augustine[51])

2.   Days relate to geologic ages (Miller’s “prophetic days”[52] [53])

This correlation is selective, not perfect.[54]

                                                    (2). Some: Account is local creation of Eden.

                                                    (3). Account concerns only a small part of the creation of life.

                                                    (4). No geological evidence for a recent "gap".

2.  Flood account.

Consensus: Most Geologic Strata are NOT formed by a deluge. There is evidence of occasional local deluges throughout geologic history. Most plants/animals worldwide are specialized to their own locale, with a clear genetic relationship with local fossils. They could not have radiated from a single locale within modern time – the human race is an exception to this rule.

a.    The Noachian flood was a local deluge.

                                                     1.     It included the entire human race at the time.

                                                      2.     Some: Correlated with the rise/fall of the region of Ararat.

b.   The ark held only some (local) “kinds” of plants/animals. 

                                                     1.     Some: Limited to Domestic animals and wild game animals.

                                                      2.     The limited time since the noachian deluge does not allow for much speciation, hence the “kinds” are limited to genus or species – not families or higher.

3.  Progressive Development (Evolution)

a.    Before 1859:

Prior to the appearance of Darwin’s Origin of Species, most geologists (with the notable exception of Robert Chambers) accepted the following principles.

                                                     1.     All major body plans (Mollusca, Radiata, Articulata, Vertebrata) appear together in the earliest fossil strata (Cambrian era).[55]

                                                      2.     The fossil record has no Classes that are not also found among present-day plants and animals.[56]

                                                       3.     Major transitions between strata are characterized by annihilation and sudden appearance of totally different species.

                                                       4.     The fossil record within a stratum indicates that species have a strictly limited range of natural variation, regardless of the duration the age represented by a given stratum.

                                                       5.     Plant and animal varieties appear to respond to environmental changes, rather than some internal mechanism for change. No major “innovations” appear within a stratum, but only between strata separated by major environmental changes.

                                                    6.   The geologic record shows a regression in complexity from the earlier species, rather than a progression as one would expect. Cuvier, Buckland, Hitchcock and other geologists noted this point. [56a]

In his 1860 book Elementary Geology, Hitchcock specifically excludes natural laws as the engine of speciation.[57] 

David King talks about “truths in zoology” which apparently favor transmutation, but which collapse under close scrutiny.[58]

b.   After 1859:

After 1859, the “old guard” geologists (Agassiz, Hitchcock, Dana) continued to hold out, but little is written on “Natural Theology.” Such discussions are evidently considered beyond the purview of geological writers. Dana, in the 4th edition of his Geology (1894 — shortly before his death), (reluctantly?) includes natural evolution in his text, which previously he had held out against in prior editions.

Lydia Miller, the widow of Hugh Miller, remarked as follows on the change that took place after 1859:

“I must confess that I was at first startled and alarmed by rumours of changes and discoveries which, I was told, were to overturn at once the science of Geology as hitherto received, and all the evidences which had been drawn from it in favour of revealed religion. Though well persuaded that at all times, and by the most unexpected methods, the Most High is able to assert Himself, the proneness of man to make use of every unoccupied position in order to maintain his independence of his Maker seemed about to gain new vigour by acquiring a fresh vantage-ground. The old cry of the eternity of matter, and the 'all things remain as they were from the beginning until now,' rung in my ears. God with us, in the world of science henceforth to be no more! The very evidences of His being seemed about to be removed into a more distant and dimmer region, and a dreary swamp of infidelity spread onwards and backwards throughout the past eternity.”

Lydia Miller, 1869[59]

This quote, which comes from the preface to Hugh Miller’s  Sketchbook of Popular Geology, sets the scene for our discussion. The statement comes just 10 years after the appearance of Darwin’s Origin of Species. Already in that short time, the mood of geology had shifted dramatically from a wide concensus that noted strong evidence for God’s handiwork in creation, to a naturalistic view that saw no need for God — as Lydia Miller wrote, “God with us to be no more.” The dreary swamp of infidelity seemed to flood the landscape, so soon after many prominent scientists had declared that the evidence of geology strongly points to the work of a creator.

Lydia Miller expressed the consternation that must have been shared by many of these geologists: had new changes and discoveries indeed so altered the landscape?  What had they missed in their so-careful analysis of geological data — done, by the way, amidst hostile opposition from all sides, and thus carefully, carefully crafted (or so they thought)? In the end, Lydia remarked that, no, they had not missed the mark; the evidence is still the same; it has not changed: it is only being ignored and brushed away.

Concluding Remarks

Psalm 19 begins with the words "The heavens declare the glory of God" and then goes on to use other active words of communication: "proclaim", "pour forth speech", "display knowledge", and this is done with a "silent voice" that goes out, without speech or language, into all the world. What better example of this can be found than in the language of the rocks uncovered in the glorious golden days of Geology?

That silent speech of the stones enriched our understanding of how God created humans, the final goal and crowning achievement of his creative work.

I would love to stop on this note, and yet I am forced to acknowledge that many ignorant but sincere Christians actually see this proclamation as an unwelcome challenge to their concept of God and his Inspired Word. In the days of the geologists that we have considered here, such Christians opposed their work, even calling it evil. And despite these geologists'  marvelous discoveries and clear exposition of their work, that opposition has only grown more strident in the intervening years between then and now.

If I did not have total confidence in God's sovereignty, I might despair that his Church would be hopelessly damaged by this ignorant opposition to his own declaration of his glory. Certainly in the minds of many outside the church, and in particular in the minds of the highly educated of this number,  the appearance of this opposition cannot work to enhance the cause of Christ.

But in fact this strain of ignorance is nothing new. It has been going on for over 1500 years. As far back as 400 A.D., St. Augustine warned against this kind of ignorance on the part of Christian apologists:

“Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of the faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason?”

St. Augustine (416 A.D.)[60]

The result can hardly help but fulfill the sad remarks of St. Augustine, and cause the Gospel message to appear not only morally distasteful but also scientifically and logically impossible to many sincere, educated and thinking unbelievers.  But for the grace of God, which is abundant and active,  the church would surely falter. But it will not fall. God is greater than  any  opposition to his proclamations, by friend or foe. Glory be to his name, forever more. Amen.

David C. Bossard
March, 2006



†† = Available for viewing on-line at http://www.geology.19thcenturyscience.org.

** = Available for viewing on-line at http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/vestiges/.

++ = Available for viewing on-line at http://www.victorianweb.org/religion/paley1.html





Agassiz, Louis



†† Contributions to the Natural History of the United States of America (1860);

†† Principles of Geology (1863)

Blakewell, Robert



Introduction to Geology (1833)

Buckland, William


Theology, Geology

†† Bridgewater Treatise, Vol. VI.: Geology and Mineralogy Considered with Reference to Natural Theology (1835)

Chalmers, Thomas



[Endorsed Gap Theory, lectures 1803-4];

Bridgewater Treatise - On the power, wisdom and goodness of God as manifested in the adaptation of external nature to the moral and intellectual constitution of man (1833);

On Natural Theology (1847)

Chambers, Robert



** Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844)

Conybeare, Wm. Daniel



†† Outlines of the Geology of England and Wales &c. (1822)

Cuvier, Georges



†† Discourse on the Revolutions of the Globe (1822)

Dana, James D.



†† Manual of Geology 4th Ed. (1862-1896)

Darwin, Charles


Geology Biology

Origin of Species (1859)

De la Beche



Report on the Geology of Cornwall, Devon, and West Somerset (1839)

Figuier, Louis



†† The World Before the Flood (1872)

Geikie, Archibald



†† Geological Sketches At Home and Abroad (1882);

†† Text-Book of Geology (1902)

Haeckel, Ernst



†† The History of Creation: Or The Development of the Earth and Its inhabitants by the action of Natural Causes (1876)

Hitchcock, Charles



†† Elementary Geology (1855)

Hitchcock, Edward


Theology, Geology

<>Geological Map of Massachusetts (1833);
†† Elementary Geology (1855)
†† Religion of Geology and its Connected Sciences (1851); 

Humboldt, Alexander von



†† Cosmos: A Sketch of a Physical Description of the Universe (1845)

Hutton, James



Theory of the Earth (1785; 1795). The article published in Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Vol. I (1788) is available on line at

King, David


Theology, Geology

†† The Principles of Geology Explained (1851)

Lamarck, Jean Baptiste



Historie Naturelle Des Animaux Sans Vertébres (1815)

Lyell, Charles



<>†† Principles of Geology (1832);
†† Elements of Geology (1838);
†† The Antiquity of Man (1863)

Mantell, Gideon Algernon


Theology, Geology

<>Wonders of Geology (1840),
†† Medals of Creation (1844)

Miller, Hugh



<>†† The Footprints of the Creator (1851);
†† Sketchbook of Popular Geology (1855);
†† Testimony of the Rocks, or Geology in its Bearings on the Two Theologies, Natural and Revealed. (1855).

Murchison, Roderick Impey



The Silurian System (1839)

Owen, Richard



Key to the Geology of the Globe (1857)

Paley, William


Theology, Biology

++ Natural Theology (1802, 1st Ed.).  

Phillips, William



†† Outlines of the Geology of England and Wales &c. (1822)

Playfair, John



Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth (1802)

Sedgwick, Adam



A Discourse on the Studies of the University (1835)

Smith, John Pye



†† On the Relation between the Holy Scriptures and Some Parts of Geological Sciences (1840)

Smith, William



A New Geological Map of England and Wales (1818)

Suess, Eduard



†† The Face of the Earth (1883)

Werner, Abraham Gottlob



A treatise on the external characters of fossils. (1805)

Winchell, Alexander



†† Sketches of Creation (1870): A Popular View of Some of the Grand Conclusions of the Sciences in reference to The History of Matter and of Life;
†† Walks and Talks in the Geological Field (1886)


[1] I use the term “geologist” to mean a person who has a deep and active “hands-on” interest in geology. Many of the early geologists were amateurs, in the sense that geological pursuits were not their main vocation. This number included a remarkable number of clergy. The work of many such “amateurs” contributed mightily to advance the science.

[2] Edward Hitchcock, Religion of Geology (1851), p. 38.

[3] John Pye Smith, On the Relation between the Holy Scriptures and some parts of the Geological Science.(1840) p. 20.

[4] Hugh Miller, Testimony of the Rocks, p. vii.

[5] See http://www.19thcenturyscience.org. Many of the references cited in this paper are posted at http://www.geology.19thcenturyscience.org.

[6] The discovery of tectonic plate movement is an example of how geology (by necessity) became complex. This solved the puzzling problem of the movement of large land masses. The massive work of Eduard Suess in the late 1800s provided the basic groundwork for the final solution, which was not generally accepted until the mid 1900s. Suess coined the name Gondwana Land for the original landmass which evolved into the present continents. His major work is The Face of the Earth. Suess’ work is particularly interesting for the almost painfully detaiiled (but very readable) logical analysis of massive amounts of observations worldwide to determine the details of how landmasses moved in the earth’s past.

[7] William Smith (1769-1839).

[8] See a narrative of this in IBRI RR#53: David C. Bossard, Geology Before Darwin at http://www.ibri.org/RRs/RR053/53geology_19thC.html .

[9] Hitchcock, Elementary Geology, p. 243 “It is a moderate estimate to say, that two-thirds of the surface of our existing continents are composed of fossiliferous rocks; and these often several thousand feet thick.”

[10] Abraham Gottlob Werner (1750-1817) was a professor at Freiberg Mining Academy in Germany from 1775.

[11] James Hutton (1726-1797). Considered by some to be the Father of modern geology. Wrote Theory of the Earth (1785 and 1795), subsequently featured and popularized in John Playfair (1748-1819), Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth (1802).

[12] For the record, I do not minimize the importance of theoretical work, which was the focus of my own career in mathematical modeling and computer simulation. But there is nothing so powerful and compelling as objective facts, such as William Smith revealed to the world. In my view the theory of evolution is at this stage. It is a theory that needs more objective data. The National Academy of Sciences (See Teaching about Evolution and the Nature of Science, National Academy Press, 1998, p. 56 “Is evolution a fact or a theory?”) howls when creationists suggest this, because they think that such a statement appeals to a popular nonscientific prejudice against “theories.” But in my view there is much of evolutionary theory that was set at a time when the modern insights into biology and genetics were unknown, and the strong tendency was to under-appreciate the vast complexity in molecular genetics. If I were a student today, contemplating a career in science, I would consider the fields of evolutionary biology and genetics as very promising areas for modeling and computer simulation, with the objective to explore the limits and laws of natural development. In this regard, see my remark on the trilobite phacops schizochroal eye in David C. Bossard, Abundant Life: The Diversity of Life in the Biosphere, IBRI Colloquium lecture (2001). The printed text is not available on the web, but the audio lecture can be heard at http://www.ibri.org/MP3/IC-0103.mp3.

[13] Cuvier remarked,

"It is to fossils alone that must be attributed the birth of the theory of the earth; that, without them we could never have surmised that there were successive epochs in the formation of the globe, and a series of different operations. Indeed, they alone prove that the globe has not always had the same crust, by the certainty of the fact that they must have existed at the surface before they were buried in the depths where they are now found. It is only by analogy that we extend to primitive formations that conclusion which fossils enable us definitively to ascribe to secondary formations; and if there were only formations without fossils, no one could prove that these formations were not simultaneously produced. Again, it is to fossils, small as has been our acquaintance with them, that we owe the little knowledge we have attained respecting the nature of the revolutions of the globe. They have taught us, that the layers which comprise them have been undisturbedly deposited in a liquid; that their alterations have corresponded with those of the liquid; that their exposure was occasioned by the removal of this liquid; that these exposures have taken place more than once. None of these facts could have been decided on without these fossils." [Cuvier, 1822, p. 36]

[14] The arguments to prove the old age of the earth did not have the benefit of radioactive dating methods, which first gave accurate estimates in the 1920s, following the invention of the mass spectrometer by the physicist Frances William Aston (1877-1945). In 1893, James Dana in his Manual of Geology stated (p. 1026) “the safe conclusion from all the Geological and Physical facts is that Time is long, very long; long enough for the development of all the earth's rocks, mountains, continents, and life. Geologists have no reason to feel hampered in their speculations, while the extreme results of calculation are 10,000,000 and 6,000,000,000 years." It is quite remarkable that this range spans  the current estimate (4.55 billion years).

[15] Modern advocates of a recent creation allow the age of the earth up to 10,000 years or more to allow for gaps in the genealogy between Adam and Noah.

[16] Buckland, Bridgewater Treatise, Vol. VI. The bulk of Buckland’s work is to offer proof of design as evidenced in the fossil record. He illustrates his view with many examples of exquisite design – for example, in the Nautilus and Ammonite siphuncle which regulates the buoyancy of the animal (p. 317 ff).

p.16 “Some have attempted to ascribe the formation of all the stratified rocks to the effects of the Mosaic Deluge; an opinion which is irreconcilable with the enormous thickness and almost infinite subdivisions of these strata, and with the numerous and regular successions which they contain of the remains of animals and vegetables, differing more and more widely from existing species, as the strata in which we find them are placed at greater depths.” 

p. 17 It has been supposed by others, that these strata were formed at the bottom of the sea, during the interval between the creation of man and the Mosaic deluge…. To this hypothesis also, the facts I shall subsequently advance offer insuperable objections.

[17] Hitchcock, The Religion of Geology, pp. 31-35 Established principles of the science that have a bearing upon religious truth: "[Seventhly]The remains of animals and plants found in the earth are not mingled confusedly together, but are found arranged, for the most part, in as much order as the drawers of a well-regulated cabinet. In general, they appear to have lived or died on or near the spots where they are now found. … [Seventeenthly]…Every successive change of importance on the earth's surface appears to have been an improvement of its condition, adapting it to beings of a higher organization, and to man at last, the most perfect of all."

[18] I have personally been accused of “stringent, unyielding dogmatism” for making similar statements.

[19] Edward Hitchcock, Elementary Geology (1860), p. 383 “Three classes of men have written concerning the connection between geology and religion. The first class are professed believers in revelation; but they do not suppose the Mosaic record to be inspired and infallible as to history of science; and hence they are not surprised to find discrepancies and absurdities in what they regard as a myth or fable of the creation. The second class are firm believers in the Bible, but not in geology, which they consider so unreliable that it ought not to be taken into account at all in the interpretation of Scripture. The third class believe in the divine inspiration and authority of every part of the Bible; but they admit also the great principles of geology, and think the two records not only reconcilable, but that they cast mutual light upon each other, and that geology lends important aid to some of the most important truths of revelation. With this last class our views coincide entirely, and we regard it as useless in this work to describe the theories by which the other classes attempt to sustain their views, since the authority of the Bible is destroyed by the first, and the settled principles of science ignored by the second.”  See also Hugh Miller Testimony p. 344.

[20] Those who believed that the Genesis account is mythical, or who have an anti-supernatural views,  have no difficulty with the Genesis Creation account or its interpretation, because they do not view it as authoritative.

[21] St. Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, translated and annotated by John Hammond Taylor, S.J., Paulist Press, 1982: Volumes 41 and 42 of Ancient Christian Writers. Introduction: “The days of creation, he suggests, are not periods of time but rather categories in which the creatures are arranged by the author for didactic reasons to describe all the works of creation, which in reality were created simultaneously.” Cf. also Book Four, Chapter 34 “All things were made both simultaneously and in six days.”

[22] St. Augustine, ibid. For the history of his writings on Creation, see the Introduction to volume 41. In citing Augustine, it is important to realize that his views evolved over time. Regarding his views on creation, Literal Meaning is the most mature of his writings on the subject, and should have precedence over earlier views he may have expressed.

[23] “Augustine distinguishes literal or proper meaning from allegorical, prophetic, or figurative meaning. The literal meaning tells what actually happened; the allegorical, prophetic, or figurative meaning tells what the events foreshadow or typify.” Introduction to Literal Meaning of Genesis, p. 9.

[24] For an example of the deep use of figure in language, see Raymond Adolph Prier, Thauma Idesthai: The Phenomenology of Sight and Appearance in Archaic Greek (1989).

[25] Edward Hitchcock, Religion of Geology, Chapter 1: “Revelation may describe phenomena according to apparent truth, as when it speaks of the rising and setting of the sun, and the immobility of the earth; but science describes the same according to the actual truth, as when it gives a real motion to the earth, and only an apparent motion to the heavens. Had the language of revelation been scientifically accurate, it would have defeated the object for which the Scriptures were given; for it must have anticipated scientific discovery, and therefore have been unintelligible to those ignorant of such discoveries. Or if these had been explained by inspiration, the Bible would have become a text-book in natural science, rather than a guide to eternal life.”

[26]  Augustine, Op. cit., Book Two, Chapter 16.

[27] This, incidentally, contradicted the views of many ancient philosophers who held that matter is eternal. It also contradicted the (then) contemporary view that the elements never change (the notion of fixed chemical formulas for all compounds, expressed in terms of the unchangeable elements was quite new at this time), which some took to mean they were eternal. The fact that matter and the universe had a beginning was not universally accepted until the 1950s. The eternity of matter is an example of a theoretical point on which reasonable men could disagree at that time. There is a curious but illuminating instance of this misunderstanding about the unchangeable elements that may be worth remarking. In defending the inspiration of the Bible, Buckland commented on the passage about the future “day of the Lord” in 2 Peter 3:10-12 “the heavenly bodies will be burned and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.”

the "destruction" is not of the earth but of matter on the earth. He explains, "The common opinion is, that intense combustion actually destroys or annihilates matter... But the chemist knows that not one particle of matter has ever been thus deprived of existence; that fire only changes the form of matter, but never annihilates it."  [Buckland, 1837, p. 304]

It is now known that the elements can in fact “burn up” and in fact that is one of the processes that fuels the stars.

[28] Hitchcock, Geology of Massachusetts, p. 395: If I understand Geology aright, so far from teaching the eternity of the world, it proves more directly than any other Science can, that its revolutions and races of inhabitants had a Commencement, and that it contains within itself the chemical energies, which need only to be set at liberty, by the will of their Creator, to accomplish its destruction.”

[29] Early geologists thought that the earth’s history was characterized by occasional catastrophic events that resulted in the formation of mountains and other surface features. Hence Cuvier’s 1804 book title The Revolutions of the Earth. Charles Lyell’s books, the Principles and Elements of Geology, written in the 1830s and updated in many editions over the next decades, argued convincingly with extensive factual documentation, that despite appearances, the earth’s features are the result of ages-long movements that slowly changed the face of the earth. The past and present are governed by the same uniform set of laws and processes. Later geologists accepted this uniformitarian concept, which replaced catastrophism as the explanation of the earth’s past. In the late 1800s Eduard Suess carried on this work in The Face of the Earth, which set the groundwork for the modern tectonic plate theories.

[30] Hitchcock, Elementary Geology (1860), p. 94 “The basis of nearly all correct reasoning in geology, is the analogy between the phenomena of nature in all periods of the world's history: in other words, similar effects are supposed to be the result of similar causes at all times. This principle is founded on a belief in the constancy of nature; or that natural operations are the result of only one general system, which is regulated by invariable laws.”

[31] For an alternative interpretation of this passage, see David C. Bossard, A Physicist Looks at Creation Day One, IBRI Research Report 51, 2003, available at the IBRI website. The view  expressed in this  report is similar to Augustine's updated, of course, to reflect modern cosmology.

[32] The fossils contained in the strata indicate by their specific species, whether the land was dry or submerged, and whether submerged land was under fresh or salt water.

[33] An alternate view that still holds to literal days allows gaps of arbitrary length between the creation days. I do not recall seeing this specific view spelled out in the geology books of the period, but it is a present-day view of some.

[34] Hugh Miller, Testimony of the Rocks, p. 160 “Day One = azoic (pre-Cambrian); Day Two = Silurian & Old Red; Day Three = carboniferous period (great plants); Day Four = Permian and Triassic period; Day Five = Oolitic and Cretaceous periods (great sea-monsters and birds); Day Six = Tertiary period (great terrestrial mammals)."

[35] Actually, the narrative specifies fruited plants with seeds – i.e. the angiosperms, the most recently created division of land plants, which arrived in the geologic record long after the first land plants.

[36] Many at the time understood that the genealogies of the Bible may contain gaps – that “fathers” or “sons” may skip generations. So many did not take the Ussher chronology as the final word.

[37] In Principles, Lyell argued against the evolutionary views of Lamarck:

[546] [Discussing Lamarck's Theory] "Lamarck enters upon the following line of argument: The more we advance in the knowledge of the different organized bodies which cover the surface of the globe, the more our embarrassment increases, to determine what ought to be regarded as a species, and still more how to limit and distinguish genera. ... The greater the abundance of natural objects assembled together, the more do we discover proofs that every thing passes by insensible shades into something else.[549] I must here interrupt the author's argument, by observing, that no positive fact is cited to exemplify the substitution of some entirely new sense, faculty, or organ, in the room of some other suppressed as useless. All the instances adduced go only to prove that the dimensions and strength of members and the perfection of certain attributes may, in a long succession of generations, be lessened and enfeebled by disuse; or, on the contrary, be matured and augmented by active exertion. It was necessary to point out to the reader this important chasm in the chain of evidence, because he might otherwise imagine that I had merely omitted the illustrations for the sake of brevity; but the plain truth is, that there were no examples to be found; and when Lamarck talks "of the efforts of internal sentiment," "the influence of subtle fluids," and "acts of organization," as causes whereby animals and plants may acquire new organs, he substitutes names for things; and, with a disregard to the strict rules of induction, resorts to fictions, as ideal as the "plastic virtue," and other phantoms of the geologists of the middle ages. It is evident that, if some well-authenticated facts could have been adduced to establish one complete step in the process of transformation, such as the appearance, in individuals descending from a common stock, of a sense or organ entirely new, and a complete disappearance of some other enjoyed by their progenitors, time alone might then be supposed sufficient to bring about any amount of metamorphosis. The gratuitous assumption, therefore, of a point so vital to the theory of transmutation, was unpardonable on the part of its advocate.
[556]  THE theory of the transmutation of species, considered in the last chapter, has met with some degree of favour from many naturalists, from their desire to dispense, as far as possible, with the repeated intervention of a First Cause. ...[561] Lamarck has somewhat mis-stated the idea commonly entertained of a species; for it is not true that naturalists in general assume that the organization of an animal or plant remains absolutely constant, and that it can never vary in any of its parts. All must be aware that circumstances influence the habits, and that the habits may alter the state of the parts and organs; but the difference of opinion relates to the extent to which these modifications of the habits and organs of a particular species may be carried. 

In later years, after the appearance of Darwin’s Origin of Species, Lyell modified these views (see the following note).

37a  See, for example, Charles Lyell, The Antiquity of Man, pp. 385-424.

[38] John Pye Smith, [247]To those who have studied the phraseology of Scripture, there is no rule of interpretation more certain than this, that universal terms are often used to signify only a very large amount in number or quantity.”

[39] Robert Chambers (1802-1871), Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844), on the web at http://www.stephenjaygould.org/library/vestiges/. See the remarks in Hitchcock Religion of Geology, Lecture 9 p. 238ff attributed to the "anonymous" writer of Vestiges.

39a See Davis A. Young, The Biblical Flood: A Case Study of the Church's Response to Extrabiblical Evidence (1995)  for an analysis of these opposing views. Exerpts of the book are located at http://www.bringyou.to/apologetics/p82.htm. In addition, Pei Smith, Hitchcock and Hugh Miller include remarks about opposing views, from their perspective.

[40] Buckland [103] “no conclusion is more fully established, than the important fact of the total absence of any vestiges of the human species throughout the entire series of geological formations.”

[41] Humboldt in Cosmos (1858) states “[358] While we maintain the unity of the human species, we at the same time repel the depressing assumption of superior and inferior races of men.  There are nations more susceptible of cultivation, more highly civilized, more ennobled by mental cultivation than others, but none in themselves nobler than others. All are in like degree designed for freedom.”

[42] Here are some quotations:

Rev. David King (1851) (on the age of the earth) [031]Every impartial mind, which fairly examines this subject, will be forced to the conclusion that the facts of geology do teach as conclusively, as any science not founded on mathematics can teach, that the globe must have existed during a period indefinitely long, anterior to the creation of man. We are not aware that any practical and thorough geologist doubts this, whatever are his views in respect to revelation. [It is] the unanimous voice of such men as Cuvier, Humboldt, Brongniart, Jameson, Buckland, Sedgwick, Murchison, Conybeare, Greenough, Bakewell, Lyell, Mantell, De la Beche, and many more; who not only stand among the most distinguished philosophers of the present day, but -- many of them at least -- are equally well known as decided friends of revelation.”  

Rev. John Pye Smith (on the age of the earth) [295]persons who have spent thirty, forty, even fifty years in laborious investigation; many of them, having set out with the opinion of the [young age of the earth]; who have personally explored all the most important districts in the British isles, in France, in the Alpine countries, in Germany, and in Eastern and Northern Europe; also, in Asia, North and South America, and many parts of Africa and Australasia; who have endured herculean toils in the field of personal labour; expending large sums of money in their travels for this very object; who have come to geological investigations well prepared by mathematical and chemical science; who have pursued those investigations with untiring perseverance, and with the severest jealousy against precipitate conclusions: and what answer do THEY give? With one mouth they say, NO; IT IS IMPOSSIBLE.

[43] Hitchcock, The Religion of Geology, p. 72 [T]he Bible does not inform us whether the death of the inferior animals and plants is the consequence of man's transgression. ...[G]eology proves violent and painful death to have existed in the world long before man's creation. ... [P]hysiology teaches us that death is a general law of organic natures. It is not confined to animals, but embraces also plants. ...[I]n such a system as exists in the world, this universal decay and dissolution are indispensable. For dead organic matter is essential to the support and nourishment of living beings.

[44] Hitchcock, Elementary Geology, p. 244: The first scientific account of fossil footmarks, was in 1828...In 1836, the first description was given of the tracks in that most prolific of all localities, the valley of Connecticut river...so many other localities have been discovered in Europe and America, that scarcely any fossiliferous formation is now without its footmarks.

[45] Hitchcock, The Religion of Geology, p. 103ff. there is nothing in the Mosaic account of the deluge which would necessarily lead us to expect permanent marks of such a catastrophe within or upon the earth. First, most of the cases of accumulations of drift, occurred previous to man's existence upon the globe, and cannot have been the result of Noah's  deluge. Secondly. No remains of man or his works have been found in drift, nor indeed till we rise almost to the top of the alluvial deposit.

[46] Ibid., [110] [T]he facts of geology forbid the idea that our present continents formed the bed of the ocean at so recent a date as that of Noah's deluge, and that the supposition that all organic remains were deposited during the two thousand years between the six days' work and the deluge is totally irreconcilable with all correct philosophy…. [The Deluge] could not have deposited the fossil remains in the rocks. This position is too plain to the practical geologist to need a formal argument to sustain it.

First. On this supposition the organic remains ought to be confusedly mingled together, since they must have been brought over the land promiscuously by the waters of the deluge; but they are in fact arranged in as much order as the specimens of a well-regulated cabinet.  

Secondly. On this theory, at least, a part of the organic remains ought to correspond with living animals and plants, since the deluge took place so long after the six days of creation. But with the exception of a few species near the top of the series, the fossil species are wholly unlike those now alive.

Thirdly. How, by this theory, can we explain the fact, that there are found in the rocks at least five distinct races of animals and plants, so unlike that they could not have been contemporaries? or for the fact, that most of them are of a highly tropical character? or for the fact, that as we rise higher in the rocks, there is a nearer and nearer approach to existing species?  

Fourthly. This theory requires us to admit, that in three hundred and eighty days the waters of the deluge deposited rocks at least six miles in thickness, over half or two thirds of our existing continents; and these rocks made up of hundreds of thick beds, exceedingly unlike one another in composition and organic contents. Will any reasonable man believe this possible without a miracle? But I need not multiply arguments on this point. It is a theory which no reasonable man can long maintain after studying the subject.

[47] John Pye Smith [136] “We cannot represent to ourselves the idea of [the animals] being brought into one small spot, from the polar regions, the torrid zone, and all other climates; their preservation and provision; and the final disposition of them – without bringing up the idea of miracles more stupendous than any that are recorded in Scripture, even what appear appalling in comparison.”

[48] See Hitchcock op. cit. p. 72.

[49] John Pye Smith, [247]To those who have studied the phraseology of Scripture, there is no rule of interpretation more certain than this, that universal terms are often used to signify only a very large amount in number or quantity.”

[50] Hitchcock, Religion of Geology, [Regarding the age of the earth] p. 68 “it always produces a temporary evil to change the interpretation of a passage of the Bible, even though, as in this case, it be the result of new light shed upon it; because it is apt to make individuals of narrow views lose their confidence in the rules of interpretation. But when the change is once made, it increases men's confidence in the Word of God, which is only purified, but not shaken, by all the discoveries of modern science. In the present case, it does not seem to be of the least consequence, so far as the great doctrines of the Bible are concerned, whether the world has stood six thousand, or six hundred thousand years. Nor can I conceive of any truth of the Bible, which does not shine with at least equal brightness and glory, if the longest chronological dates be adopted.

[51] Books 4 and 5 of Augustine, Literal Meaning of Genesis. His discussion is complex, but it appears that days concern phases of creation rather than specific days. Augustine noted that the narrative has a stylized structure with 3 days of formation followed by 3 days of fulfillment. Cf. Introduction, p. 9 “The days of creation, he suggests, are not periods of time but rather categories in which creatures are arranged by the author for didactic reasons to describe all the works of creation, which in reality were created simultaneously.”

[52] Miller, Testimony, p. 135 "Had there been human eyes on earth during the Palaeozoic, Secondary, and Tertiary periods, they would have been filled in succession by the great plants, the great reptiles, and the great mammals... I ask whether the Mosaic account of creation could be rendered more essentially true than we actually find it, to the history of creation geologically ascertained.... The inspired writer seized on but those salient points that, like the two great lights of the day and night, would have arrested most powerfully, during these periods, a human eye...." p. 140: “The geological facts … lead me to believe that the days of the Mosaic account were great periods, not natural days.”

[53] Miller, Testimony, p. 155 “If the revelation [of the Creation narrative] was by vision, that circumstance affords of itself a satisfactory reason why the description should be optical: and, on the other hand, since the description is decidedly optical, the presumption is of course strong that the revelation was by vision.” p. 160 “...We thus get this very important rule of interpretation, viz. that the representations of pre-human events, which rest upon revelation, are to be handled from the same point of view, and expounded by the same laws, as the prophecies and representations of future times and events, which also rest upon revelation.”

[54] Miller, Testimony, p. 156 "What would sceptics such as Hobbes and Hume have said of an opening chapter in Genesis that would describe successive periods,—first of molluscs, star-lilies, and crustaceans, next of fishes, next of reptiles and birds, then of mammals, and finally of man; and that would minutely portray a period in which there were lizards bulkier than elephants, reptilian whales furnished with necks slim and long as the bodies of great snakes, and flying dragons, whose spread of wing greatly more than doubled that of the largest bird? The world would assuredly not receive such a revelation." ... From every view of the case, then, a prophetic exhibition of the pre-Adamic scenes and events by vision seems to be the one best suited for the opening chapters of a revelation.

[55] Buckland (1837) states,

[p. 61, 413]Beginning with the animal kingdom, we find the four great existing divisions of Vertebrata, Mollusca, Articulata, and Radiata, to have been coeval with the commencement of organic life upon our globe.…all of the four existing great Classes of the grand Division of Articulated animals, viz. Annelidans, Crustaceans, Arachnidans, and Insects, and many of their Orders, had entered on their respective functions in the natural world, at the early Epoch of the Transition Formations.”

[p. 272] “It appears that the character of fossil Fishes does not change insensibly from one formation to another, as in the case of many Zoophytes and Testacea; nor do the same genera; or even the same families, pervade successive series of great formations; but their changes take place abruptly, at certain definite points in the vertical succession of the strata, like the sudden changes that occur in fossil Reptiles and Mammalia.”

[56]  Buckland, ibid. [p. 61] “It has not been found necessary, in discussing the history of fossil plants and animals, to constitute a single new class; they all fall naturally into the same great sections as the existing forms.”

[56a] Hugh Miller's book Footprints of the Creator is a general refutation of the hypothesis of progressive development.

[p. 307ff] All the facts of geological science are hostile to the Lamarckian conclusion, that the lower brains were developed into the higher. As if with the express intention of preventing so gross a mis-reading of the record, we find, in at least two classes of animals, - fishes and reptiles, - the higher races placed at the beginning: the slope of the inclined plane is laid, if one may so speak, in the reverse way, and, instead of rising towards the level of the succeeding class, inclines downwards, with at least the effect, if not the design, of making the break where they meet exceedingly well marked and conspicuous.

      Miller's views are reflected in Hitchcock, Religion of Geology, p. 255ff. Buckland Geology and Mineralology gives a separate argument, based on his study of the Nautilis and Ammonites, and other shellfish:

[p. 312] The history of Chambered Shells tends further to throw light upon a point of importance in physiology, and shows that it is not always by a regular gradation from lower to higher degrees of organization, that the progress of life has advanced, during the early epochs of which geology takes cognizance. We find that many of the more simple forms have maintained their primeval simplicity, through all the varied changes the surface of the earth has undergone; whilst, in other cases, organizations of a higher order preceded many of the lower forms of animal life; some of the latter appearing, for the first time, after the total annihilation of many species and genera of a more complex character.

See also the discussion in Agassiz Contributions to Natural History on "Prophetic types among animals", Vol. I, p. 116ff.

[57] Hitchcock, Elementary Geology, p. 373, “Inference 6 -- The changes which the earth has experienced, and the different species of organic beings that have appeared, were not the result of any power inherent in the laws of nature, but of special Divine creating power."

“In all the more than 30,000 species of organic remains dug from the rocks, they are just as distinct from one another as existing species, nor is there the slightest evidence of some having been developed from others. The gradual introduction of higher races is perfectly explained by the changing condition of the earth... For the most part the new races were introduced by groups, as the old ones died out in the same manner. New groups were introduced at once...There is decisive evidence that in many cases during the geological periods, animals, instead of ascending, descended on the scale of organization from the more to the less perfect.”

See also David King, p. 103ff.

[58] David King, Principles of Geology Explained, p. 184ff

There are two orders of truths in zoology, one of them, when exclusively pursued, apparently favourable to the doctrines of the transmutationists, and the other, although equally true, is but rarely insisted on.  The gradation of lizards to serpents is of the most imperceptible kind, and there are animals, regarding which it is difficult to decide to which division they should belong. The gradation from the frog tribe to fishes is still more remarkable, and animals have been recently discovered of so intermediate a nature as to render it a delicate matter to pronounce whether they are to be referred to the batrachia or to fishes. These facts are apt to carry away the imaginations of young naturalists, especially when the other point of view is neglected. There are groups of animals in which transitions are impossible, and combinations of organs which can never occur. A tiger with cloven hoofs, and still more, a winged serpent, cannot exist. In like manner there are some divisions of the animal kingdom so well defined, and whose differences from all other classes are so great, that we can scarcely imagine a transition to another class. Thus, to take an obvious instance, there is no middle term between a vertebral and invertebral animal. ...The birds lead to nothing, they graduate into no other class. They stand between mammifers and reptiles. To convert a bird into a mammifer, or even into something intermediate, is inconceivable. ,,,The idea of a mammiferous animal includes not one condition, but many, all inseparable, viz., utero gestation, mammary glands; and these again involve fleshy lips and tongue for suction, an epiglottis to protect the windpipe, a diaphragm and abdominal muscles, which are also necessary for the same ends. None of these conditions exist in birds, nor are they compatible with the structure of a vertebrate destined to fly.... On the other side of the birds we find the reptiles; but here also the void between the two groups is deep and wide. Both are oviparous, but the reptiles are cold-blooded, while birds possess the highest temperature of any class of animals.

[59]  Hugh Miller (1802-1856), Sketchbook of Popular Geology, 4th Ed. 1869, Preface p. xxx. The Sketchbook was edited and published posthumously by his wife, Lydia Miller.

[60] St. Augustine, op. Cit. Book 1 Ch. 19. p. 42.

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