The Birth of Geologic Ages

15 Jul

The Geologic Column, as we understand it, today has its roots in the philosophies of the 18th century secret societies. It began as a vehicle to support evolutionary thought in an effort to show that the more complex species had arisen from more ancient, simpler life forms. Nicholas Steno, Roman Catholic bishop from Denmark, who also studied geology, formulated the principle of superimposition, meaning: “Sedimentary layers are deposited in a time sequence, with the oldest on the bottom and the youngest on the top.”

The first attempts to formulate a geologic time scale for strata containing fossils was done by people like Steno, mentioned above, and Abraham Werner, a German geologist who interpreted major rock formations in the earth’s crust as strata laid down from one great flood.[1] Later in the 18th century James Hutton, a Scottish farmer and naturalist, formulated the theory of uniformitarianism[2]. He presented his “Theory of the Earth; or, an Investigation of the Laws Observable in the Composition, Dissolution, and Restoration of Land Upon the Globe” before the Royal Society of Edinburg, England, in March and April of 1785. It is believed today that it was these very readings before this society that earned him the title of father of modern geology.

What Hutton proposed was that the earth’s center was hot and that new molten rock formations began first in the oceans, but afterward uplifted into new lands and finally consolidated the depositions into stone. Since the depositions were gradual and functioned then at the same rates as they do in the present, then it is possible to estimate the times it took to deposit all the rock stratifications we are able to observe. His theory was a frontal assault upon the more widely held view (at the time) of catastrophism,[3] but notice what occurred here. Nothing more scientific was presented in order to develop Hutton’s theory of uniformitarianism. Rather it, like the Biblical view is an **interpretation** of the strata we see. Hutton’s theory of uniformitarianism is not any more scientific than the theory of catastrophism. It is an ideology, just like the Biblical view, that interprets what we observe, but Hutton’s theory would have a profound effect upon how geology would be interpreted in the nineteenth century and into modern times.

In a previous blog I mentioned that Lord Monboddo was very influential in the theory of evolution decades before Charles Darwin wrote his The Origin of Species. He was friends with Sir Joseph Banks, the president of the Royal Society of Edinburg, before whom James Hutten presented his theory of uniformitarianism in 1785. In 1784 Sir Joseph Banks wrote to Lord Monboddo concerning a German book which supported Lord Monboddo’s then present theory of ancient humans having tails like animals.[4] The point is that Hutten’s work was praised and supported by the society, simply because it supported their own concepts of great ages needed for their theory of life origins and development to transpire.

Principles of Geology by Charles Lyle (Image from Google Images)

Principles of Geology by Charles Lyle
(Image from Google Images)

Later in the 19th century the strata became identified through fossil indexing, but it wasn’t until the works of Charles Lyell, personal friend of Charles Darwin, that Hutton’s doctrine of uniformitarianism really came into its own. While creationists were suggesting thousands of years for the history of the earth, naturalists were suggesting millions of years.[5] Nevertheless, such suggestions could not be empirically proved, so why such a huge difference? The difference concerns ideology. Each group interpreted the stratifications upon the earth’s crust in order to support their own worldview. Creationists believe the Bible, while naturalists don’t believe in God, or if he exists at all, he doesn’t have much to do with what occurs on earth. The point in all this is that the theory of evolution, like the belief in a benevolent Creator God, is an ideology—or a worldview. Science is used in an effort to support one or the other of these ideologies. Nevertheless, we need to keep in mind that at the end of the day science is interpreted by one’s ideology and not the other way around.

[1] Warner’s theory was known as Neptunism.

[2] The assumption that the same natural laws and processes that operate in the universe now have always operated in the universe in the past and apply everywhere in the universe. It includes the concept gradualism, i.e. “the present is the key to the past” and is functioning at the same rates.

[3] The belief that the geologic formations are accounted for through catastrophes such as the Noahic Flood, and that the earth is only thousands of years old.

[4] See Reports from Commissioners  by Great Britain’s Parliament “House of Commons”.

[5] Lyell was the first to suggest over 300 million years.

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Posted by on July 15, 2013 in naturalism, theory of evolution


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