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Larson&Ruse Chapter 4--Rock, Fossil, God

Posted By Randall D. Isaac, Monday, November 27, 2017

Once again Larson, the historian, returns to recount the history of geology as a preface to the coming revolution in biology.


“Before Cuvier, European naturalists typically held that no species---perfect in original creation---ever die out…Overturning this view, Curvier ultimately concluded that all fossilized animals differed in kind from modern ones and that no modern species existed in truly fossil form.”(p. 110)


Cuvier amassed evidence that fossils were of species that were not similar to any alive today. “To some, such evidence suggested evolution. Cuvier had already rejected this explanation based on his study of comparative anatomy by concluding that each type is too irreducibly complex to change, and the apparent absence of transitional forms in the fossil record confirmed this conclusion. In his extensive study of fossils, Cuvier saw only distinct species that persisted without change until they went extinct altogether at some remote time in the earth’s unimaginably long history.” (p. 113)


“Cuvier’s equation of the biblical deluge with the final catastrophe lost its principal scientific proponents in the 1830’s, when British geologists Adam Sedgwick and William Buckland, both evangelical Christian Oxbridge dons, concluded that a single flood of the type described in Genesis could not produce the complex deposits attributed to the last catastrophe and should have left human fossils, which were never found among its debris. Yet they drained the biblical deluge of geologic significance without drying up their Christian faith: the ages of creation simply moved back in time, more in line with the biblical account that places the days of creation before Noah’s time.” (p. 116)


“In his concept of steady-state volcanism…[James] Hutton proposed a cyclical process of igneous-rock mountains gradually rising from the earth’s molten core and then slowly weathering to create inhabitable land….[S]teady-state volcanism survived as a minority view that tempered the prevailing catastrophist, directional tone of early-nineteenth century geologic thought. Then in 1830, the English lawyer and gentleman geologist Charles Lyell gave it wings.” (p. 118-119)


“…Lyell refashioned Hutton’s cyclic outline of geologic history into a coherent scientific theory…Lyell saw long-term environmental change as gradual rather than abrupt and therefore posited that new species were created continuously rather than in spurts.” (p. 120-121)


William Buckland, an ordained Anglican cleric who obtained an Oxford readership in geology, flamboyantly described new fossils finds and built on Cuvier’s idea of directionality in the geological record. “Buckland’s God used systematic processes to guide terrestrial events with a designer’s touch; his God did not intervene irrationally…[T]he succession of species in the fossil record reflected God’s direction for life on earth. It had a beginning and human beings are its end…[H]e offered no specifics of how ‘the divinely endowed laws of creation’ might work except to affirm that they could not involve evolution.”(p. 128)


“In the half century since Cuvier and Werner came on the scene in the late 1700s, geology and paleontology had utterly transformed Western conceptions of the earth’s past and probable future…If ever there was a golden age of science and religion in Western Christendom, this was it. Neither side dominated or suppressed the other; both sides found inspiration from the relationship. For Christians, it required reinterpreting scripture to fit the advances of science. For scientists, it involved accepting the idea of divine design in nature.” (p. 131)


“The golden age ended abruptly…[T]he revival of evolutionism during the mid-1800s complicated the relationship between science and religion. The theory of human evolution became a flashpoint that could not be reconciled with the Genesis account as easily as Cuvier’s concepts of an ancient earth and geologic ages could.” (p. 132)


“…[N]ineteenth-century paleontology and geology offer a glimpse of what once was and again could be in the ongoing relationship between science and religion.” (p. 134)

Tags:  Larson  On Faith and Science  Ruse 

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