John M. Lynch (ed.), Creationism and Scriptural Geology, 1817–1857. Bristol : Thoemmes Press, 2002. Pp. xxiv+2994. ISBN 1-85506-928-8. £595.00 (hardback). DOI : 10.1017/S0007087403265171
This seven-volume set is part of a series published by Thoemmes Press on ‘Evolution and Anti-evolution: the debates before and after Darwin’. If books with titles like Creationism and Scriptural Geology raise expectations of contemporary creationism in the USA and, more recently, in Britain and thoughts of those who are anti-science, take Genesis literally and claim that the Earth is only a few thousand years old, this edition of works from the early and mid-nineteenth century will disappoint. In selecting these volumes with more serious intent, John Lynch has been careful to illustrate a far more complex situation.
During the ﬁrst six decades of the nineteenth century Christians published an immense number of books and tracts on the theme of Genesis and geology. Within Britain these were mostly by Evangelicals or other conservative Protestants with a theological commitment to the authority of the Bible and the reliability of its history. Some of these writers were very hostile to geology but others were either supportive of geology or, like William Buckland, geologists of some considerable skill. To select works for a seven-volume set was no easy task. Lynch chose eight authors who wrote from a strong Protestant perspective. Five were hostile to geology and three were supportive. Thomas Chalmers, John Pye Smith and Hugh Miller did not regard geology as inﬁdel and each adopted interpretations of Genesis which allowed them to retain their evangelical beliefs. The hostile ﬁve were John Mellor Brown, an Anglican clergyman, Granville Penn, grandson of the founder of Pennsylvania and an Anglican layman, George Young, a Congregational minister, and two laymen: George Fairholme and John Murray. Only two had good ﬁeld skills in geology: Miller, who needs no introduction, and George Young, who did some ﬁne work around Whitby in the 1820s. Smith was the leading Congregationalist theologian of his generation and his book shows a ﬁrst-rate knowledge and understanding of the geology of his day. No armchair scholar, Pye Smith wrote as if he used a geological hammer. In his doctoral thesis (partially reproduced in http://www.answersingenesis.org/home/area/bios/T_Mortenson.asp, the website associated with the creationist organization Answers in Genesis) Mortenson tried unsuccessfully to demonstrate Murray and Fairholme’s geological competence. The only weakness of Lynch’s selection is the absence of the Anglican clerical-geologists Buckland, Sedgwick, Conybeare and Henslow. John Lynch would have reinforced the argument of his essay if he had edited some of his chosen works (say removing Miller’s chapters on Scottish fossil ﬂora) and replaced them with Buckland’s Vindiciae Geologicae (Oxford, 1820). This would demonstrate Buckland’s ‘creationist and scriptural’ perspective, which changed over the next decades.
By choosing both ‘pro-’ and ‘anti-geologists’, Lynch has undermined the polarized historiography which usually surrounds the ‘Genesis and geology’ of this era. All eight writers can be rightly described as creationists and scriptural geologists, as they understood geology from the perspective of a full-blown doctrine of Creation and the authority of Scripture. Consider Thomas Chalmers. He became the leader of the Evangelicals of the Church of Scotland, with all the religious implications that carries. His faith was strongly based on the Bible as the Word of God, and thus was as scriptural as anyone else’s. He cannot be termed a moderate evangelical as Boyd Hilton described his pro-geology Anglican counterparts in The Age of Atonement (Oxford, 1988). Though no geologist, he was adamant that geology did not contradict the Bible. This he did famously with his ‘gap theory’, wherein he argued that there was a chronological gap between the initial act of Creation and the beginning of the ﬁrst creative act of Day One. All geological time occurred in that Gap. The choice of Chalmers, Smith and Miller is useful as the three works indicate the change in biblical interpretation over that half century from Chalmer’s semi-literalist gap theory to Miller’s poetic vision.
Of the ‘anti-geologists’ Mellor Brown gives little more than a rant against Buckland; Fairholme, Murray and Young try to demonstrate that geological ‘facts’ actually point to a young Earth. The choice of the armchair geologist Penn is inspired as Penn argues that all theologians who ‘interpret’ Genesis to allow high antiquity do so because they are seduced by ‘mineral geology ’. That could be possible for a Buckland or a Conybeare in the 1820s but not Bishop Patrick, writing in 1694. Penn is useful for his theological discussion, including his suggestion that four verses (11–14) of Genesis Chapter 2 were later additions. Small wonder Miller berated Penn for his lack of respect for Holy Writ. Penn’s work gives a good insight into how geology was argued against on theological grounds.
The selection needs to be considered in toto, as dipping into the volumes may not give the overall picture which Lynch intended. When all the works are considered they give a good snapshot of scriptural geology from 1817 to 1857. Perhaps I should use the word daguerreotype; the picture is in faded sepia as the boundary between geologists like Buckland and their opponents like Brown is not always clear when we consider writers like Sharon Turner and some theological writers who appear to be undecided. There were no sharp boundaries among Christians writing on geology, as there was, so to speak, every possible transitional fossil between Brown and Buckland.
Gone is the sharp, polarized historiography of White and Draper and their successors. Their assumption was that if someone was in any sense ‘scriptural’ then he had, by deﬁnition, to be opposed to geology, as ‘scriptural’ involves a literal acceptance of Genesis. Thus White typecast Buckland as not a member of the ‘orthodox party’, which included J. Mellor Brown. Yet as Rupke pointed out in his The Great Chain of History (Oxford, 1983), such evangelical clergy as Sumner, Faber and the ultra-conservative Bishop Shute Barrington supported Buckland. Even so, White’s simplicities are reiterated by Deborah Cadbury (The Dinosaur Hunters, London, 2000) and Simon Winchester (The Map that changed the World, London, 2001) in their popular works on the history of geology.
This polarization was still apparent in Gillispie’s classic Genesis and Geology (New York, 1951), where he wrote that Fairholme and Pye Smith ‘set forth sillier … systems of nature reconciling the Mosaic record with misconceived scientiﬁc fact’ (p. 163). Though they were both evangelicals they could not be more different in their geology. There is no ‘misconceived scientiﬁc fact’ in Pye Smith. Cannon’s Science in Culture (New York, 1978) developed this polarization with her argument of a broad church network of Anglican clerical geologists, the implication being that to accept geology a cleric must take a liberal view of the Bible. However, Sedgwick’s overt evangelicalism and Buckland’s theological advisors undermine her conclusions.
Ironically this polarized historiography has resurfaced in the most detailed study yet of the scriptural geologists by Terry Mortenson. If White can be charged with categorizing all and sundry into ‘goodies’ and ‘baddies’, Mortenson does the same but with the roles reversed. Fairholme, Young, Penn and others are the goodies who ﬁght against the atheistic and uniformitarian geology of the baddies, including Hutton, Lyell, Buckland and Sedgwick. Mortenson particularly stresses the theological compromises of Chalmers, Pye Smith and Miller (http://www.zondervanchurchsource. com/convention/parallel.htm#DB). They had succumbed to the wiles of the inﬁdel Enlightenment. Mortenson’s contrast of his goodies (Fairholme, Young and Penn) and his baddies (Chalmers, Pye Smith and Miller) is extremely signiﬁcant as Lynch chose all six as representatives of creationism and scriptural geology.
Lynch’s introduction represents a continuation of the rejection of this polarized historiography, a rejection begun by Rupke, Marston and Rudwick in the 1980s and developed in Lindberg and Numbers’s God and Nature (Berkeley and London, 1986). He has effectively challenged any polarized historiography of Genesis and geology by implicitly classifying any conservative Protestant writer on geology as a creationist and a scriptural geologist. He is correct to do so, but he has not provided a convenient classiﬁcation or account of this genre of writing. That is not a criticism; I have also failed to do so, being defeated by the sheer diversity of the material in which pro-geologists like Sedgwick, Miller and Smith can be devout evangelicals and the anti-geologist Ure could be dismissed by Bakewell as no more a practical religionist than he was a practical geologist. There seems to have been less correlation of evangelical fervour and anti-geology from 1817 to 1857 than there is today.
These seven volumes are a ﬁne contribution to the available sources of our understanding of the period and though very expensive should be on the shelves of every major library. They repay close study.
Michael B. Roberts
Universiy of Lancaster