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Andrew Alden

When Geology Was Creationist

By November 20, 2012

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When a Twitter post pointed me to a homeschooler's curriculum for creationist geology, I was struck by how much it reminded me of the views of James Hutton, who launched modern geology in the late 1700s. That led to a delightful afternoon rereading Hutton's original paper of 1788 and considering where geology began and where it went. Hutton's Earth, like that of today's creationists, is a purpose-driven planet. The modern geologist's Earth is a mysterious self-driven planet, born in fire and headed for further adventures after a long set of profound changes. (I should add that the curriculum is very good as far as it goes. Where it does not go is instructive.)

UPDATE: I'm pleased to see that the economic Nobelist and speaker of common sense Paul Krugman lauded Hutton in his New York Times blog today in reaction to yesterday's news that Senator Marco Rubio wouldn't commit to acknowledging an ancient Earth. Creationism was once the scientific law of the land, and Hutton was right in the creationist mainstream when he propounded his ancient-Earth theory. When I look at today's creationists, all I can say is how the mighty have fallen.
First posted 15 Feb 2010


February 12, 2010 at 7:44 am
(1) jules says:

At least the curriculum is based on the evidenced based reality of a old earth chronology. Some religions have had the humility and rationality to gradually get over their literalist beliefs to align with the reality that science has shown us about the physical universe.

Hopefully, in spite of the increased persistence shown by their adherents lately, those fundamentalist adherents that persist in holding on to the delsuional nonsense of a young earth/universe; the “left behind”(pun intended); will finally realize that history will pass them by if they choose to live in willful ignorance and mediocrity.

February 12, 2010 at 6:41 pm
(2) Jason says:

IF there was a WORLDWIDE flood, as described in the Bible, what would you expect to see as evidence?
Take a second look around and try to put aside your “fundamentalist” (Humanism, the OFFICIAL religion of the U.S., has PLENTY of Darwinian Fundamentalists)views, and see if it looks like there could have been a WORLDWIDE flood….i.e. millions of dead things burried under 1000′s of feet of sediment…and remember that there would have been a lot of local events that happened for hundreds or thousands of years afterward as it all settled.

February 12, 2010 at 7:21 pm
(3) Geology Guide says:

Jason, generations of good Christian geologists did just that and concluded that there could not have been such a flood.

February 12, 2010 at 11:39 pm
(4) Fred says:

Julie, wikipedia says: A delusion, in everyday language, is a fixed belief that is either false, fanciful, or derived from deception. Can you prove beyond doubt that the RATE of processes today have been occurring since the earth was formed? The answer is no, so the possibility of uniformitarianism COULD be false. So, your fixed belief that the rate of processes happening today have occurred at the same rate in the past means you may be delusional. Carefull what you believe. I recommend studying every side of the argument instead of relying on others.

Jason, your interpretation holds just as well as the uniformitarian. Problem is, we are in a dogmatic era of evolution/uniformitarianism. Most scientists are afraid to lose credibility and therefore retain and throw out data at will to fit the current theories.

Geology Guide, don’t forget to tell Jason that many other godd Christian geologists concluded that there was a flood. So your point is moot.

February 13, 2010 at 8:10 am
(5) 4gea says:

Fred, I’m afraid you’re the one who’s delusional.
To quote you, “be careful what YOU believe, and be sure to study every side of the argument” (which is, obviously, NOT what you’ve done).

February 13, 2010 at 8:15 am
(6) Jules says:


First off the name is Jules.

Nobody can prove anything beyond absolute doubt because in a universe as immense in time and space as the one we find ourselves in there is always the possibility of of new data that could change our conclusions. So yes good science is open to revision of it’s views. That is why science is a discipline that continues to inform us of the “truths’ of the universe…it is open to new data to support new conclusions when warrented.

Religion though, especially fundamentalism is stuck in one spot refusing to accept any evidence that does not conform to a pre-concluded worldview of mythical origins

There are physically or mathematically derived reasonable conclusions though that we have come to depend on by the fact that many experimental attempts have not falisified those conclusions.

A literal belief in the words of one book and relying mostly on faith alone that those words are absolutely true is not anyway equivalent to the methods,proofs and evidence that science uses. Taking verses out of the Bible, what experiments and demonstrations do you suggest we set up to prove conclusively that a worldwide flood happened?

So far the preponderance of evidence that modern geology has found for explaining the deep time geological processes of the earth outweigh anything that a creationist belief can come up with to explain the physical reality we experience.

Show us then not by faith or wishful “fancy” as you put it the “manufactuers label” on anything of physical matter that would conclusively point to a worldwide flood or furthermore an origin of supernatural means.

February 13, 2010 at 12:45 pm
(7) Jules says:

Here is an issue I have never seen addressed (except maybe in the link below) in Creationists nonsensical arguments for a worldwide flood and the incredulous story of Noah.

If all the animals saved on the ark departed from one place after the flood, how did the creatures that could not swim or fly get to the other continents separated by great oceans that they eventually ended up?

In addition, if Noah did not travel to every remote spot on earth to retrieve these animals how did those who could not fly or swim reach his location, considering the oceans that keep them apart?

I have had my own episodes (sometimes ending in disillusionment) where I presumed things were true because of an authority, but a common trait that I see in “true believers” is that they very seldom try to falsify their beliefs or think beyond the stories that been passed down to them by authority figures like preachers, family members and politicians etc. who also do not take the time to think critically or scientifically beyond the comfortable insularity of their cherished beliefs.

Scientists too can have their blind spots, delusions and egos, but science, unlike some religious belief, is also self-correcting through peer review and bad hypothesis and theories will be weeded out eventually.

If you can stomach it, peruse some of the total nonsense and over the top speculations (without a shred of evidence) at this link explaining some assumed details of Noah’s Ark and the flood. The author tries to incorporate plate tectonics and other real science into the mythical story to give it some credibility, I suppose for the educated reader who has been exposed to science. It is a jumble of incoherent ideas and theories that only show how desperate these medievalists are to hold onto their delusions.


February 13, 2010 at 4:25 pm
(8) Geology Guide says:

I think all the comments so far (including my own) are boring. We don’t need another instance of people bringing up the same tired talking points. What interests me is the way that James Hutton applied critical thinking in a society that truly was a “Christian nation.”

I hope that scientists will study his paper and appreciate the quality of his thinking, even though much of what he concluded turned out to be completely wrong (things like the lithification of rocks). I hope that creationists will do the same, and maybe tell us where Hutton departed from today’s orthodoxy, if he did (I think he did).

February 15, 2010 at 6:39 am
(9) Gerard says:

I have a friend, a geologist and a religious believer – of whom I asked: “how do you reconcile your personal beliefs in the factual correctness of the Genesis account, against your scientific training as a geologist: given the wonderful picture of deep time revealed by U-Pb Zircon dating and stratigraphy; the amazing structure of sedimentary formations that pile km upon km of rock to make mountains of breathless grandeur; and the wonder of faunal succession that tells so much about the progression of life, recorded in rock, over the last 500+ million years of Earth history? (to mention but few examples).

My friend, always happy to consider the opinions of the opposing side, and listen with respect if not belief (as I listened to him with respect) politely said: “God created the Earth in a state of ‘functional maturity’. Meaning that he put the old zircons in those rocks, and engineered their deformation and alteration, a few thousand years ago, so that you would be able to use all of your knowledge accumulated over the Ascent of Man (since Adam) to determine this incredible history, and thereby know his greatness. The account of Genesis is the way it happened”.

I said to him “then we have an impass, if the very basis of scientific method and investigation can be simply disregarded as a whim of a Creator”

From this we both learned that Scientific Method and Religious Faith are incompatible. He is happy to believe, whereas I am happy to be convinced by scientific evidence.

How about we all stop trying to be the one who is right, and accept that people who need to believe in something more than facts will defer to a God; and people who can understand their world through scientific method will not defer as such.

I still think I am right based on what my study and training have helped me to deduce from rocks. I don’t really want to shove that in the face of people with faith; and I would certainly appreciate if they showed me the same courtesy.

February 15, 2010 at 2:50 pm
(10) Geology Guide says:

Gerard, your friend’s position (if you’ve presented it accurately) is an interesting contrast to Hutton’s. Hutton’s God devised a perfect machine to sustain a habitable planet on its own, intervening only to introduce Man. Hutton tested his version of the machine with some interesting predictions that he published in 1795 as Theory of the Earth, with Proofs and Illustrations. Your friend’s God devised a perfect simulation of that, and the end of our research is to marvel at the perfection of his simulation. Your friend can still be driven by curiosity to advance science, within the limits of his concept of God. Science, I think, does the same but replaces “God of the Bible” with “the unknown.” It is intellectually tidier, and more universal.

February 15, 2010 at 9:26 pm
(11) Jjules says:


You are right about science being intellectually tidier and more universal and definitely more logical.

Why would anyone, much less a scientist want to worship a capricious deity who is essentially a grand deciever that distorts the chronological evidence of his creation?

November 21, 2012 at 12:11 am
(12) Rod says:

Oh dear, I’ve been motivated to comment on this.

As a Geologist and a born-again Christian I must point out that Creationists (especially the ‘young earth’ type) as well as those dogmatic anti-theist scientists often read more into things than they should. For example, the stories of creation in Genesis should be looked firstly from the point of the whole Bible. Genesis is therefore about the nature of how God is good and humans are sinful. It also shows us the nature of sin, blame, hiding it, justifying it etc… Theologically I struggle to see that the Bible is an ongoing narrative of the geology and scientific development of the earth – so I wonder why so many people think it is!

In summary, if you want to know about God, read about Him in the Bible. If you want to learn about earth history buy a geology textbook. Physical Geology by Skinner and Porter is a great beginning!

I was a Geologist before I became a Christian. There is no need for them to be contradictory.

November 21, 2012 at 5:56 am
(13) jtmckee says:

#1 he gave the same answer that Sen Obama gave to the same question in 2008. Of course obama’s answer was seen as awesome.

#2 apparently in your lifetime there are zero examples of conventional wisdom being turned upside down

#3 to proclaim the infallibility of the 4.6b yr theory is an arrogance not befitting a scientist

November 21, 2012 at 2:50 pm
(14) Geology Guide says:

Jtmckee: If #1 is correct, then touché sir. I would have given Obama the same advice I gave Rubio in the previous post. I would also have called it a “gotcha” question. However, in his case the question was, what would tell your (6-year-old) daughter about the Genesis story.

#2 I have seen plenty of conventional wisdom upended, even in geoscience, but the ancient universe goes considerably deeper than conventional wisdom. It’s right up there with gravity and the Standard Model–accurate out to all decimal places.

#3 Most scientists skip the part about “we think this because the universe appears exactly as if it were true.” They get tired of saying it, and people always complain they’re longwinded.

November 21, 2012 at 1:40 pm
(15) mining engineer says:

I’ve always wondered why the bible never mentioned dinosaurs or soap or electricity or bacteria …
But, hey, 40 days and 40 nights is a lot of rain. Ali Baba had 40 thieves, too.
Long ago people used the word ‘forty’ like we use the word ‘million’ today. I’ve got a million things to do today!

November 21, 2012 at 2:20 pm
(16) mining engineer says:

#3 to proclaim the infallibility of the 4.6b yr theory is an arrogance not befitting a scientist

Proclaiming that an age given to within +/- 100 million years is a statement of infallibility and arrogance tells me you do not understand science.

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