Let me preface this post on the topic of ‘deep time’ by drawing your attention to a couple of book titles by secular authors on this very topic. The first is a book by Jack Repcheck called ‘The Man Who Found Time: James Hutton and the Discovery of the Earth’s Antiquity’. Notice the words ‘found’ and ‘discovery’ in the title. Mr. Repcheck is a book editor, and had been for 20 years as of the writing of the book in 2003. It is a popular read as opposed to scholarly, and although the book has no footnotes, Repcheck has included a ‘Sources and Suggested Readings’ section at the end of the book that is chalk full of reference material for further study.
The second book is called ‘The Dating Game: One Man’s Search for the Age of the Earth’ by Cherry Lewis. Notice the words ‘game’ and ‘search’ in the title. Her title was deliberate. No, it’s not a book on male-female relationships and the how to’s of ‘going on a date’. It’s about ‘deep time’ and in the author’s opinion the ‘dating game’ of the individuals who played major roles in searching for earth’s antiquity. Lewis’ lead actor in this game and to whom she is ebulliently praising is Arthur Holmes and the book is about Holmes’ vision of developing a geological timescale that would finally lead to an accurate date for the age of the Earth. She calls Holmes ‘the greatest geologist of the twentieth century’.
As these book titles would suggest, ‘deep time’ was a search, a game, a discovery and a finding. But isn’t all science some sort of new discovery? Doesn’t it entail searching, and questioning, and looking and finding? Yes, it most certainly does. That is the essence of science. There’s a big difference however when we’re talking about unobserved past events. ‘Deep time’ is just such a forensic type endeavor that is unobservable. It’s one thing for scientists to discover bones in the ground, to assemble and classify them according to types, and to find blood cells, DNA, and C-14 in these bones, it’s quite another to tell us because these bones were found in Triassic rock, that they are then older than 65 million years. Do you see the dilemma? The fossils are given an age based on the rock, and the rock is classified according to what fossils are found in it. It’s quite circular. Circular arguments are never good science.
So where did the idea of deep time come from then? Repcheck says Hutton ‘found’ it. Lewis says Holmes ‘searched’, agitated, and promoted it. They both argue, along with others such as MJS Rudwick, Bursting the Limits of Time: The Reconstruction of Geohistory in the Age of Revolution that it first came out of geohistory, long before it came out of astronomy. The idea of long ages and deep time has been around since the time of the Greeks in the 3rd and 4th century B.C., but it wasn’t until the burgeoning science of geology got off the ground in the late 18th century with the thinkers that came out of the Enlightenment that hundreds of thousands, even millions of years of prehistory was postulated for the planet we call home. Enlightenment thinking was dead set against Biblical thinking and the Biblical worldview which to a man had in the majority believed God’s account in Scripture that his creation and the history of the people he created, only stretched back thousands of years (approx. 6000), not hundreds of thousands or millions. For 1800 years of church history, a 6000 year old earth was the predominant view. It was held by the vast majority of those in the Christian faith right through the writings of the Westminster Standards of Faith, and one of the greatest church historians and chronologists of all time Bishop James Ussher in the 1650’s, the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith that followed a few decades later, and right up until the late 1700’s and early 1800’s.
So what happened? What changed? Not to throw in a teaser here, mis hijas, but something indeed did change, and it wasn’t good for the church. Unregenerate man is always looking for ways to discredit God, to dismiss, discount, and dismantle God’s own account of what He did recorded for us in Scripture, but it it another thing altogether when Christians do it. This is indeed what happened. The history of the Church’s accommodation and compromise on this issue is a long and storied one and will be addressed in my next post.
Vaya con Dios mis hijas,
Dear ol’ Dad