Monday, September 1, 2008

A Brief History of Geology

Geology is a particularly alluring field for premature attempts at the explanation of imperfectly understood data.” (Dana)

Geology has to choose between the rashness of using imperfect evidence or the sterility of uncorrelated, unexplained facts.” (Gregory).

In the 18th and 19th Centuries, those who held to the view that science would have all the answers were sadly at odds with a religious establishment that had become suspicious of the motives of all scientists - and considered that, rather than being the pursuit of knowledge and understanding, science was the pursuit of lies and deception. However, ironically, it was hundreds of years earlier, that a Catholic Priest from Poland, named Copernicus, got the ball (or should I say globe) rolling by suggesting that the Earth revolved around the Sun (and not the other way round). Then of course came Galileo, his great Champion. Both men came to be viewed by the Catholic Church of the time as heretics; considered to be peddlers of pernicious and dangerous lies, and were even threatened with excommunication from the Church.

So it was that, in their turn, Hutton (the first to find clear evidence [on the south-east coast of Scotland] that the Earth was indeed very old) and Rutherford (the first to try and calculate a sensible age for it) were, at first, denounced and derided by the established Church of their day. But you don’t have to be a geochemist or a geochronologist to work out that the Earth is very old; it really is a "no-brainer" - there are literally mountains of evidence indicating that the Earth is very old and that all its fossil-bearing rocks could not possibly have been deposited in one go. (For example, consider the size of the Grand Canyon - given the extreme slowness of the erosional processes that have produced it; or the thousands of metres of sediments built-up beneath the Mississippi delta - all deposited on a shallow sea-bed that must, therefore, have been subsiding for a very long time). What is also clear, however, is that over geologic time there have been numerous catastrophic floods of the kind recounted in the Bible (in the Story of Noah and his Ark) - in the Middle East and elsewhere on the globe. However, early, naïve thinking on the age of the earth had, in fact, already been abandoned by most theologians, even before Darwin was even out of nappies.

Yet, if it is amusing to consider that it was only at the very end of the last century that the Catholic Church officially conceded its error in insisting the Sun orbits the Earth, then it is equally sad that many Evangelical Christians today still feel that it is necessary to try and defend the notion that the Earth is not actually very old. This is “sad" because, post-Darwin, so much of what scientists have discovered actually supports belief in the existence of some sort of Creator (with the possible exception of String Theory, which attempts to side-step the issue by invoking 12 dimensions and numerous parallel universes!).

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