Introductory Summary of the History of Geologic Study

Background History

The early 1800s had already witnessed the discarding in geology of the centuries-old belief in a literal, seven-day Creation Week and a short Earth history. Geologists began the correlation of distant strata through the use of fossils in the early 1800s and soon established the nomenclature for the geologic “Periods.” Non-evolutionary geologists who viewed the Earth as very old then devised the geologic time scale. The stratigraphic record and its fossils were generally accepted by these early geologists as evidence of Divine creations spread over immense geologic time (Gillispie, 1951, pp. 98-148).

The Genesis Flood was still expounded in scientific literature during the early part of the 1800s, and then it too became passé later in the century. What had been thought to be possible Flood evidence was later seen to be deposits from the glacial period. Hutton's The Theory of the Earth (1785), Lyell's Principles of Geology (1830), and Darwin's Origin of Species (1859) dramatically changed the way the world's scientific establishment, many churches, and education institutions viewed the Earth's history. This became possible because, even previous to the 1800s, fundamental truths had already been lost.

Earlier Views of the Creation Event

Scripture begins with a basic truth: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). God is immediately introduced into the creation equation. God is seen as the Principle Cause. There is yet another equally important truth. God not only created but He sustains “all things by His powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3). Unfortunately, the notion of God as Sustainer began to be lost in the time of Newton (1642-1727):

He [Isaac Newton] believed in absolute time and absolute space, which he associated with God. Newton believed that the age of miracles was over… Newton believed that God had withdrawn from the universe which He created, and that He operated solely through the laws which He had established at the time of creation… Logically it led to deism and made agnosticism a reasonable approach. (Klotz, 1985, pp. 32-33.)

More and more God became the “God of the gaps.” God became visible only when science seemed unable to supply the answers. As science seemed to supply more and more answers, God faded further and further away. However, Scripture consistently places what has become known as “natural law” squarely in the active hands of God. He is never pictured as distant from His creation, but rather as the One who began it and still actively sustains it (Acts 17:24-28).

James Hutton (1726-1797) introduced Newton's fundamental error into the early study of geology. It was not an out-and-out denial of God, but the exclusion of God from geologic events. As Gillispie (1951, pp. 48-49) observes:

Certain consequences of Hutton's views became immediately apparent. Most obvious was the vastness of geological time which his theory demanded… Hutton offered no evidence for a creation, and no denial of it either; he simply had nothing to say about it… And the whole concept hung upon the proposition that the cumulative effects of minute forces and infinitesimal changes can produce results equal to those of any sudden cataclysm and (though this was never stated) superseding the necessity for any divine intervention.

Newton had unknowingly set the stage for the much later works of Hutton, Lyell, Darwin, and others who had powerful philosophical theories concerning origins and Earth history. Hutton never implicitly excluded God, yet his disregard for Divine intervention in the Earth's history has become the hallmark of modern-day geology (Dunbar, 1960, p. 18):

Geology grew up under this [Christian Creation view] influence and, during its early years supernatural explanations were invoked for many natural phenomena… The uprooting of such fantastic beliefs began with the Scottish geologist, James Hutton, whose Theory of the Earth, published in 1785, maintained that…given sufficient time processes now at work could account for all the geologic features of the Globe. This philosophy, which came to be known as the doctrine of uniformitarianism, demands an immensity of time.

Let it be understood that creationists do not deny in any way proper use of one's God-given senses while researching past geologic events. But on questions of origins, the framework must be what the Teacher has said on matters otherwise unattainable or forgotten. The only other option is a framework based upon human philosophy and that is a poor substitute for the words from the One who was there.

Read the author's answer for: What are some of the current new ideas and problems being discussed by Flood geologists? Includes speculation on possible solutions to various problems.

Author: Bob Gentet, Creation Research Society. Previously published in Creation Research Society Quarterly, Volume 37, June 2000. Text Copyright © 2000-2001, Creation Research Society, All Rights Reserved—except as noted on attached “Usage and Copyright” page that grants ChristianAnswers.Net users generous rights for putting this page to work in their homes, personal witnessing, churches and schools. Photos and illustrations property of Films for Christ.

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  1. CRSQ--Creation Research Society Quarterly

  2. Carl O. Dunbar, Historical Geology (New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1960).

  3. Charles Coulston Gillispie, Genesis and Geology (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1951).

  4. John W. Klotz, Genes, Genesis, and Evolution (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955, 1970).

  5. _____Studies in Creation (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1985).

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