Tag Archives: James Hutton

Philosophical Foundations of the Geologic Timescale: Uniformitarianism

Dear hijas,
rocks-arent-clocks
From our last post in reviewing Dr. John Reed’s book “Rocks Aren’t Clocks: A Critique of the Geologic Timescale”, we saw that evolution is one of the foundations of the timescale. It is not the only one however. The concept of uniformitarianism that was promoted primarily by Charles Lyell in the 1830’s is also essential to the concept of deep time and the resulting timescale. Uniformitarianism used in its fullest sense means: a philosophy and method that allows science to become the arbiter of history. For Lyell, it was a mix of the methodological principle of uniformity (a principle which all scientists accept) with the gradualistic theory of history. This well-regulated past of imaginary vast eons, paved the way for Darwin and his evolutionary ideas, quite different from Biblical history, and contrary to the concepts of God creating and then overseeing the cosmos.

Reed says that “All three ideas–evolution, uniformitarianism, and deep time–are closely connected. Although many people today reject Lyell’s gradualism and are increasingly skeptical of evolution, the timescale and geologic history remain unscathed. But if all three are intertwined, the selective rejection of evolution and uniformitarianism, with no consequences for the timescale, seems schizophrenic.”

Reed then goes on to talk about James Hutton’s role in the idea of uniformitarianism. James Hutton, you remember, a Scottish natural philosopher and early geologist in the 1700’s, was called by some ‘The man who found time’. Reed says, “Hutton knew Genesis had to be discredited to make way for his deistic view of history. So he went straight for the jugular–there is nothing more basic to orthodox Christianity than ex nihilo creation and the end of the world at the final judgment; for the Bible begins with the famous words, ‘In the beginning’ and then moves immediately outside the ‘system of nature’ in the next words, ‘God created.'”
uniformitarianism
Remember mis hijas, uniformitarianism is not the same as uniformity, but the secularists like to equivocate here and make them say the same thing. They are not the same thing, however, and you shouldn’t confuse the two. ‘Uniformity’ is an essential axiom of science and is the idea that patterns in nature, or more frequently called ‘natural laws’ operate in the same predictable manner over space, time, and for the most part, scale. Because it is a statement about the nature of reality, it is a metaphysical assertion, justified only by Christian theology. ‘Uniformitarianism’, however, assumes that past causes will be natural ones like those observed in the present. This is not a scientific assertion, but a ‘philosophical’ one. Do you see the difference?

I pray that you do see the difference and that you will be able to share that difference with your friends and colleagues. Uniformity is at the heart of science, uniformitarianism is not.

With Love,
Dear ol’ Dad
Vaya con Dios mis hijas

Radiometric Dating: The Geologic Column

geological time scale

Dear hijas,

Did you realize that the geologic column came before and preceded radiometric dating and the counting and extrapolating of parent and daughter isotopes into millions and billions of years? Radiometric dating as a science didn’t come to fore until the early 1900’s, yet the geologic column and it’s eons, era’s and periods were established in the 1800’s.

Why is this significant? It was Nicholas Steno, a Christian and creationist, who in the late 1600’s introduced the idea of superposition; that rock layers (or strata) are laid down in succession, each layer representing a ‘slice’ of time, and that any given stratum is probably older than those above it, and younger than those below. The principles were simple, applying them to real rocks wasn’t.

Steno believed that those ‘slices’ of time were a result of the universal and global judgement of God in the Flood of Noah. He believed that the sediments laid down in ‘layers’ came from and were a result of this global year-long Flood. Read Genesis 6-9 again and pay special attention to the dates given in the text. Take note of when the text says a particular year, month, and day. Add up the dates. It’s a simple exercise, and yet you’ll find the floodwaters upon the earth were not just 40 days and 40 nights.

It was others then, who came after Steno, like Hutton and Lyell, who took these ‘slices’ of time, not dealing with the Biblical text which indicated a massive and global tectonic event like Noah’s year-long Flood, and inserted the idea of millions of years into the rocks. They believed that an older layer like the Cambrian must be millions of years older than a younger layer like the Pleistocene. They used present processes observed at their time for deposition and erosion of rocks and extrapolated unwarranted into an unseen past. This might seem logical to do, but this is not science, for rates may have not been the same over this unseen period of time, and there may have been one or more events that catastrophically altered these processes that they can’t and are unable to see. One of those major events was a worldwide global flood.

From a starting point of no Flood, (a wrong starting point), men like Hutton, Lyell, and others came to wrong conclusions (millions and millions of years). An incorrect starting point that there was no act of God in judging mankind on the earth with a global and universal Flood, gave wrong conclusions that there were millions and millions of years in each of the layers of the geologic column. And remember, all this before the advent and discovery of radiometric dating.

One might ask, “But doesn’t radiometric dating prove that these men were right in their millions and millions of years assumption? Who cares if radiometric dating came afterwards? It proves today that they were right”.

Not so fast. Radiometric dating is fraught with assumptions and discordances that throw the whole effort into a tizzy with questions about its reliability. Different pair elements give different dates for the same rock. But more on that in my next post.

Vaya con Dios mis hijas,

Dear ol’ Dad

Deep Time: It’s “Discovery”, Promulgation, and Use Against the Biblical Worldview: Part 3

Dear hijas,

The Man Who Found Time

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 Dating Game

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