Thursday, June 14, 2012
This intimate link between early geo-theory and Christian philosophy proved to be very fruitful for some time, because the Christian tradition of visualizing the history of humans on Earth from the creation, via global revolutions such as the biblical Flood up to historical times (Rudwick 1992; Magruder) and the Judaeo-Christian sense of a finite Earth history (Rudwick; see also Rudwick 2005) prepared the ground for accepting the Earth’s different strata as testimony to the development of our globe through time. It was this religious, theological framework from which the early geology started to evolve, and that provided the tools used in popularization of the new science of the seventeenth century. It is understandable why, for example, geological phenomena such as erratic blocks and other debris covering much of Europe were initially seen as a consequence of events mentioned in the Bible and other ancient texts. However, with increasing observations there was a growing mismatch between what was expected according to ancient authorities (Godard; Luzzini) and the actual data. This was not necessarily a problem, since influential theologians, such as Augustine of Hippo (AD 354– 430) or the medieval theological scholar Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), knew that biblical texts needed to be interpreted and that adopting a naive literal reading might do more harm than good to the Christian faith:
In discussing questions of this kind two rules are to be observed, as Augustine teaches. The first is, to hold to the truth of Scripture without wavering. The second is that since Holy Scripture can be explained in a multiplicity of senses, one should adhere to a particular explanation only in such measure as to be ready to abandon it if it be proved with certainty to be false,2 lest Holy Scripture be exposed to the ridicule of unbelievers, and obstacles be placed to their believing (Aquinas 1273, 1st part, question 68).
Subsequently, attempts to reconcile the growing timescale of geology with biblical chronology became widespread in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The most popular, apart from more metaphorical interpretations of the biblical creation stories, were possibly the ‘gap theory’ (or ‘chaos/ restitution theory’3), claiming an indefinitely long time span between Genesis 1: 1–2 or 2–3 and the ‘day–age theory’ (or concordance theory), which interpreted the days of biblical creation as seven long eras, which might be equated with different geological formations (see Roberts, on Sedgwick).