CHAPTER 2- EDEN QUESTIONED: HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVES
•Europeans invoked the Bible as the ultimate source of knowledge, even concerning
specific questions of earth history.
•Based on an interpretation of the Bible, it was commonly believed, in the past that
the earth was less than 6000 years old.
•Best-known attempt to determine the precise age of the earth based on the Bible
was by Archbishop James Ussher (1581-1656).
⇒Determined that the world was created in the year 4004 B.C; more precisely “upon
the entrance of the night preceding the 23rd day of October”
⇒ Ussher was wrong
•Some Europeans & Americans of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries began to seek
enlightenment about the world around them from a source other than the Bible though
still believing in God—that is from nature itself.
⇒Called themselves natural scientists or natural philosophers and began exploration
of various natural sources of info about the earth and the heavens.
Uniformitarianism: The Contribution from Geology
•Many of the early natural scientists accepted Ussher’s claim of a recent creation,
but when they looked directly at nature they saw evidence for extensive physical change in
•The new science of geology described natural features that clearly indicated the
earth had undergone vast amounts of change in its appearance.
•Some thinkers viewed the earth appearance as the result of a series of natural
catastrophes (Noah’s flood being one of them).
•Believed that these catastrophes accounted for the diverse layers of rock and other
evidence of substantial change that they observed. Those who adhered to this were called
•CATASTROPHISTS: an adherent of the idea that the world was changed over
time by a series of catastrophic events.
•Geologists observed mostly sloe-acting, steady processes of change.
⇒Some interpreted this to mean that these slow-acting processes had produced the
present appearance of the earth.
•Reverend Thomas Burnet (1635-1715) suggested that the condition of the earth
could best be explained and its age determined by reference to ordinary, slow-acting, non-
catastrophic natural processes of erosion by ice, wind and water.
⇒He still concluded that the earth was very young.
•Robert Hooke (1635-1703), a 17th century English scientist, was fascinated by
⇒Correctly interpreted fossils as the remains of animals and plants that no longer
⇒Contended that organisms became extinct b/c the earth was always changing.
⇒Also believed that the world was quite young.
•The geological and biological records are indeed the result of slow, ordinary, long-
term phenomena and catastrophic events.
•By the late 18th century some scientists began to question the historical accuracy of
the Genesis account.
•In 1749, the 1st volume of A Natural History by the French scholar Georges Buffon
(1707-1788) was published.
⇒Articulated a perspective called uniformitarianism.
⇒UNIFORMITARIANISM: the concept that biological and geological processes that
affected the earth in the past still operates today.
⇒To learn about the earth, study the earth.
⇒The world looks the way it does b/c of known, natural, observable processes not b/c
of catastrophic events no one has ever witnessed.
⇒By the 4th volume of A Natural History, as pressure mounted on Buffon, he felt
obliged to retract everything he said.
⇒He tried to accommodate the biblical story of Genesis with his uniformitarian
perspective in his Epochs of Nature.
⇒He suggested that the world was indeed ancient and that earth’s history could be
divided in 6 distinct epochs.
⇒He estimated that the duration of each epoch was in thousands of years.
•Scottish geologist James Hutton (1726-1797) explicitly advanced the notion that by
studying natural, slowly working, repetitive processes (that is uniform, natural processes
such as erosion and weathering) we could explain the earth’s geology and geography.
⇒Presented uniformitarianism in a way that glorified even more greatly the creator
who had produced such a clever, self-sustaining system for the benefit of his crown of
⇒For such a system to work, a 6000 yr time span was insufficient.
⇒Suggested that the earth was at least hundreds of thousands of years old.
•The English geologist Charles Lyell (1797-1875) was perhaps the most eloquent 19th
century advocate for the uniformitarian perspective.
⇒Memorable statement: “The present is the key to the past.”
⇒In other words the key to understanding the past rests in the study of those
geological processes that can be observed in the present.
•The work of Buffon and especially Hutton and Lyell had opened the door for the
concept of an OLD earth- an earth that had existed long enough for the slow erosion of
mountains, the cutting of great canyons, the changing of animal species and even, perhaps
the evolution of humanity.
Natural Selection: The Contribution from Biology
•An implication of these ideas: life on earth, including human life, may also have
•Many geologists were anxious to investigate nature to seek support for divine
•Swedish botanist Carl von Linne (1707-1778) also known as Carolus Linnaeus, was
a strict creationist.
•CREATIONIST: one who believes that a supernatural power was responsible for
the origin of the universe, the earth, and living things.
⇒He believed the world and all its habitants had been divinely created all at once
and had undergone no change (or perhaps only limited change).
⇒Looked at varying degrees of similarity and difference among organisms, a process
today called comparative biology.
⇒COMPARATIVE BIOLOGY: the study of similarities and differences among
plants and animals.
⇒He devised a system of categories and names that identified living thing and
indicated their physical similarities as he felt God has planned them.
⇒His system of classification was called TAXONOMY.
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF FOSSILS
oFolklorist Adrienne Mayor (2000,2005) made a persuasive argument that
people in the past, including the Greeks and Romans of classical times and the
native peoples of North America of past centuries, encountered the fossilized bones
of extinct creatures and attempted to interpret them within their own
understanding of the world.
oAs early as the 8th century B.C., some people were interpreting the fossilized
bones of extinct animals as the remains of “strange beasts that no longer existed.”
oLike the Greeks, Robert Hooke had recognized that some fossils represented
the remains of creatures that no longer existed.
oUnlike the Greeks, Pawnee, or Kiowa, Robert Hooke viewed these creatures
not as supernatural monsters but as ordinary animals that had become extinct.
oOther fossils showed particular kinds of creatures has undergone change
over time (ex. The skeletons of modern elephants did not look exactly like those of
their ancient, extinct relatives).
oFossils were often found in identifiable layers of rock and soil.
⇒Scientists called these layers strata (singular, stratum) and their study
⇒STRATA (SINGULAR, STRATUM): layers of different rock and soil types.
⇒The deeper strata generally represented older events and those closer to the
surface more recent ones.
⇒Thus, the fossils embedded within the strata reflected a history of life on earth.
oThe big question, as the 1800s began, was not if change had occurred but how.
Chapter 2- eden questioned: h istor ical perspect ives. Europeans invoked the bible as the ultimate source of knowledge, even concerning. Based on an interpretation of the bible, it was commonly believed, in the past that specific questions of earth history. the earth was less than 6000 years old. was by archbishop james ussher (1581-1656). Best-known attempt to determine the precise age of the earth based on the bible. Determined that the world was created in the year 4004 b. c; more precisely upon the entrance of the night preceding the 23rd day of october . Some europeans & americans of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries began to seek enlightenment about the world around them from a source other than the bible though still believing in god that is from nature itself. Called themselves natural scientists or natural philosophers and began exploration of various natural sources of info about the earth and the heavens.