Moving forward with our historical narrative of the development and adoption of evolution by Western culture, an accounting for the secularization of science, not only in biology but also in astronomy, cosmology, geology, and other earth sciences must be given. Part three in this series examined a very small part of the history that led Western thought to doubt the Bible’s revelation of anything materialistic. This included the revelation of the origin of mankind, the planet and generally anything found in the Genesis account of creation. Miraculous manifestations were considered mythological and humanism was replacing a reverence for God. For until the Renaissance and the Age of Reason most sciences were based upon a Judeo-Christian foundation in Western thinking. Just as God had made all living creatures, in cosmology God had made the Universe. In astronomy God had made the earth, the sun, moon and stars. In geology God had made an idyllic world that later became cursed by sin and death and made more chaotic, broken and distorted by the global flood of Noah. This great catastrophic flood could account for nearly every geological feature known at the time, from great canyons, to high mountain ranges, water was to be blamed for carving the landscape, creating massive fossil graveyards and drowning ancient cities to the depths of the ocean floor. Nevertheless, humanistic influences were growing among the ranks of the educated.
The historical development of geology as a science can be traced to ancient philosophers, but in large part with the arrival of Christianity, Western civilization adopted a Noachian global flood model to account for the massive oceanic sedimentary rock formations that literally layered the surface of every continent explored. From the 16th to the 19th centuries, during the Age of Reason, geology was developing as a scientific field. Philosophers and secular influences that doubted biblical miracles were questioning the biblical revelation of Earth’s history. Education encouraged new philosophical ideas and the origin of geological formations was not isolated from scientific research. Novel ideas were brought to bear in the consideration of how and when rock formations were formed and when and how fossilization occurred. The time scales needed for sediments to deposit on the face of the planet and explanations for how the current landmasses could have been submerged under the ocean to allow for such deposition were of prime concern to the birthing of this new science. Was the flood of Noah the only explanation for the thousands of feet of marine sediment that now lay deposited and solidified into the rock that comprised most of the surface of the present landmasses? Was the biblical catastrophe to be believed? Did scientific methods suggest other process were at work which may have demanded greater ages than the biblical 6000 years allowed?
A brief but exceptionally comprehensive review of the history of the development of geology as a science can be read at the website for “Answers in Genesis”. For our purposes, I want to focus on the times and influences which led Charles Darwin to believe that living forms had developed from a common ancestor. For the most part, 150 years after Darwin, these are the same interpretations of the scientific evidences that led Darwin to propose biological evolution; the transmutation of life forms creating new species. While he did not know the means by which variation arose and without proof of intermediate ancestry (missing links), he largely depended on the novel conclusions of his peers in the geological sciences. Men like James Hutton (1726-1797) and Charles Lyell (1797-1875) who are now considered the Father’s of modern geology were advocating great ages to the planet. Time was at least one of the factors Darwin needed for his proposition to be credible. A new geology that rejected the biblical flood model was coming into vogue and it added great ages to the planets existence to make sense of sedimentary geology. Fossilization was said to have taken millions of years to occur and this at the bottom of the ocean. Without these great ages to earth geology, Darwin would have been at a loss to account for the time needed for the millions of generations required for living beings to transform from one form of creature to another. It was bad enough that he had no known scientific mechanism to explain the source of the variation he saw in living things let alone to demonstrate the existence of the required intermediates. In Lyell’s geology, Darwin found the time he thought was needed for his proposal to be considered possible.
To put this into an elementary perspective Darwin needed to make his concept of evolution viable. Consider what changes would be required for something like a fish to change into a salamander or a salamander to transform into a lizard or for a lizard to transform into a mouse-like mammal. Although Darwin had no mechanism for how life forms gave rise to new variations, he could see that variations exist in every species. In the breeding of dogs and of pigeons Darwin could easily note differences in the individuals born and bred. This variation when applied in natural setting, Darwin thought, may have given rise to some features advantages to obtain food, hide from predators, outrun the competition, and find a mate. Through time, the accumulation of such traits would become dominant in the specie until it had only a distant relation to the original form from which it came. For such changes to accrue by natural selection, great lengths of time were needed. Geology was primed to give Darwin the time he needed and, hoping against hope, provide fossil evidence of the intermediate life forms required to substantiate his hypothesis.
The influence of Hutton and Lyell on the science of geology held sway to a number of developing sciences not the least of which was the concept of biological evolution. Up until their contributions numerous and brilliant minds were describing the same geological features as Hutton and Lyell observed using the classic global diluvial model – Noah’s flood. For instance John Woodward (1625-1728) wrote a number of books based on his observations that sedimentary rock formations were laid down by marine (ocean) sediments but in a rapid layering across thousands of square miles creating multiple strata or flat layers of mud and muck. Once the oceans receded from off the land these layers hardened into rock. One of the earliest paleontologist of his time, Woodward described in his work Essay Toward a Natural History of the Earth the powerful effect of the flood to pulverize pre-existing rocks, dissolve the crust of the planet and emulsify every living thing into “one confused mass” such that rock, sand, silt, clays, plants and animals were then deposited in layers such as we find them; fossils being the mineral remnant demonstrating the validity of his claim. The effects of gravity, fluid dynamics, weight, body size and density determined how the sediments were laid, one upon another to form the rock solid tombs in which once living creatures were embedded. Woodward did not stop with these observations but proceeded to describe the formation of rivers, canyons, caves and the carving out of these sediments as post-flood geology and the impingement of volcanism and earthquakes that must have contributed to the catastrophic effects of the global flood on the surface of the earth. Many other diluvialists contributed to the scientific opinions inherently dependent upon the flood and wrote of their opinions as well.
At the same time, other hypotheses were being offered which agreed in part with Woodward’s position. It was undeniable and still is that the land had been inundated by the oceans. This was and can be seen in the sedimentary nature of the rock layers that hold fossils. Oceanic deposition was required to account for the entire surface of the earth covered with sheets of sedimentary rock. However, to James Hutton the numerous layers of sedimentary rock and often of different composition, i.e., silt, clays, conglomerates, appeared to him as repeated diluvial exposures of the continents. He proposed that the continents sank under the oceans only to rise again and this over great ages to allow for the slow deposition of sediments on the ocean floor. Great ages would be required to form the rock layers some hundreds and others thousands of feet thick. The sediments would, over vast stretches of time, claim the dead that were deposited from the rivers to the ocean only to petrify them when the rising of the continent exposed the muck layers to the air, cementing the sediments and all that were contained therein to rock.
It was agreed that the surface of the earth could not be original since it was blanket with many layers of oceanic sediments. For Hutton the land was made from the deposits of the ocean floor and this by slow and timeless means being required for the accumulation of so much debris. Then the needed eons of time for a slow rise of the continents and exposure of the ocean bed to the atmosphere resulted in the concretion of sediment to rock. While the evidence of multiple layers of sedimentary rock composed of different substances might at first glance appear to support Hutton’s hypothesis, no natural phenomenon was or is known to cause the continents to sink and rise again. At least no formal mechanism has yet been put forth.
While Hutton who, among others, proposed that sedimentary geology could be explained by great ages of slow submergence and resurgence of the continents, it was Charles Lyell who created a structural framework by which to communicate and to diagnose a sedimentary layer. He did this by means dependent upon associating the types of marine shells found in a layer of rock with a particular sedimentary formation. Through his work he advanced the idea that sedimentary rock could be used to gain knowledge of earth history. By slow but progressive and monotonous processes taking millions of years, the formation of rock strata could be used as a timepiece and the organisms trapped in a specific layer typified the world’s ecology of that particular time. Geologic time became a nomenclature that typified Lyell’s hypothesis and highlighted the idea that the forces of nature seen in that day were the very means by which the history of the earth was laid down in the layers of rock. For Lyell, no form of catastrophic occurrence could account for the existence of geological formations.
It is of particular importance that the historical development of geology as a science is understood. Like biology, geology slipped from the hands of scriptural scientist to secular scientists. Revelation was outright rejected. For Darwin the opportunity to consider the slow transmutation of one life form into another was made available by Lyell’s work. Of the books Darwin took with him in his 5-year trip around the world the two most prized were the Bible and Lyell’s Principles of Geology. In consideration of the influence of other biologist of the time, including Darwin’s own grandfather, Lyell’s work literally gave Darwin the time (millions of years) he needed to consider the possibilities that transmutation of the species could account for the origin of speciation.
There remains to this day an absence for Darwin’s mechanism for transmutation of living forms as well as a complete ignorance of how continents dip down below the oceans and rise again. Nevertheless, for a large part of the developing scientific community, the novelty of these ideas combined with the social quest for materialistic means by which to explain the existence of the world and life pushed the Bible’s miraculous explanation of the world into the realm of mythology. Miracles do not explain how a thing comes to be. That is the nature of a miracle. Using the scriptures for guidance to materialistic mechanisms for the phenomenon of life and the existence of our universe is indeed vanity. However, the existence of the features of living things and the explanation for the origin of sedimentary formations are just two examples that cannot be rationally explained by scientific means without invoking some unaccountable process or mechanism that defies all sensibility to a secular hypothesis. It is not unreasonable to explain the existence of global patterns of sedimentary layers of rock by a global flood model. This is what is evident and the facts align with the hypothesis. It is not unreasonable to explain the existence of living beings by intelligent design since what we can comprehend defies our current knowledge of how molecules, cells and genetic programming exist otherwise. The existence of living things demands a designer; no other physical mechanisms make sense in light of what we have discovered. Secular science’s adoption of materialistic explanations only fulfills as Romans 1 says:
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.
Without accepting the revelation of God concerning things that have no materialistic answer in themselves and yet invoke unknown and unknowable processes to create an explanation otherwise is futile thinking. What can be ascertained from the facts of life is clearly understood to be beyond physical means and mechanisms. To invoke processes like continental submergence and rising again seems a deliberate rejection of what is obvious –catastrophic diluvialism (the flood of Noah). This will become more clear as we look closer at the earth’s surface and examine the sedimentary rocks, fossil finds, underwater cities, the ocean floor including the mid-oceanic ridge, the frozen tropical forests of Antarctica and the strange finds in the artic regions of the world.
Darwin needed time to make his hypothesis work. He also needed a source for the spontaneous origin of life and a source for genetic variation that today we know must be imparted as new information to the DNA molecule in order for evolution to be a potential mechanism for life’s development. Lyell gave Darwin the time needed for transmutation of species but at the cost of any known mechanism that could account for his own ideas of uniformitarian processes that shaped the land features of the planet. Lyell and Hutton and other’s could make up fascinating scenarios but no proof was to be found to support their hypotheses. Geology and biology were being explained by hypotheses that could not be tested. Fascinating stories were conceived but no hypothesis testing was possible.