Geology, evolution and Christianity in the 19th century

This by my friend the geologist, historian, and Anglican priest Michael Roberts, reminding us that the acceptance and active participation of clergymen and other believers in the emerging sciences of biology and evolution dates back more than three centuries.

Peddling and Scaling God and Darwin

If you read many historical studies of Britain in the 19th century, you will read that a major conflict was over science. That claim is overstated. Here is a brief overview.

 Geology (Deep Time) and Evolution?

From reading many books on church history, general history or popular science, it is easy conclude  that advances in geology in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and then evolution after 1859 had gradually been undermining belief in God as Creator as well as an almost official literal reading of the early part of the book of Genesis. The actuality is rather different.


Genesis 1 from a 1611 copy of the KJV

So often the work of Archbishop James Ussher is cited as the “official” view of the churches. In 1656 he published his Annales Veteris Testamenti (Annals of the Old Testament) which gave the famous date of creation as 4004BC. (Actually, it has…

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About Paul Braterman

Science writer, former chemistry professor; committee member British Centre for Science Education; board member and science adviser Scottish Secular Society; former member editorial board, Origins of Life, and associate, NASA Astrobiology Insitute; first popsci book, From Stars to Stalagmites 2012

Posted on November 2, 2016, in Charles Darwin, Creationism, Evolution, Geology, Religion, Science and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. There were Christians from the earliest days who did not insist on a literal reading of the Bible chronology as in today’s Young Earth Creationism. I don’t mean to suggest that they were talking about millions of years. The 1st-2nd century Epistle of Barnabas said that the “days” of creation in Genesis 1 were each a thousand years. (I’m not going to go into details.)
    Augustine said that the “days” did not represent any time period.
    Is there a study about the educated Christian view of the age of the Earth before the rise of modern science? Was there any interest in the question? When did the Young Earth become an issue of contention?


    • Michael Roberts, author of the blog piece I re-posted here, is the person to go to. The conflict between literalists and allegories’s in biblical interpretation is probably as old as the Bible itself.

      There were a few Young Earth creationists in the mid-19th century Church of England, but the modern Young Earth creationist movement really dates back to the 1960s, and Whitcomb and Morris’s The Genesis Flood, building on George McCready Price and the Adventist literalist tradition. In strongly religiously conservative areas ofScotland, I don’t know if old Earth geology ever penetrated, but there is now a clear alliance between old-style literalists, Creation Scientists, and the Intelligent Design group who are, in Scotland unlike the US, clearly Young Earth rather than Old Earth creationists.


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