Thursday, November 7, 2013

James Hutton and the Lost Preface

James Hutton, the Father of Deep Time, wrote a preface to his Theory of the Earth (1788 and 1795) that was not published until 1975!  Although Hutton was a Deist and rejected Genesis, he held that man has been on this planet for only thousands of years‼ [1]   So, in one sense, Hutton supported Young Earth Science (YES). 

Hutton’s title for the preface is “Memorial justifying the present Theory of the Earth from the suspicion of impiety.”  Hutton understood that his innovations contradict Moses.

Hutton begins his preface as follows:

It belongs to religion to teach, that God made all things with creative power; that perfect wisdom had then presided in the election of ends & means, and that nothing is done without the most benevolent intention. But it belongs not to religion to give a history of nature, or to inform mankind of those things which actually are; it belongs not to religion, to teach that natural order of events, which man, in his science, may be able to unfold, and, in the wise system of intellect, find means to ascertain. The object of revelation and that of natural philosophy being thus perfectly different, it must be absurd to suppose that these can truly interfere; as this may only happen in supposing them not strictly adhering to their respective subjects and one or other of them as not being just. [2]

Notice how this is similar to Stephen Jay Gould’s NOMA position (Nonoverlapping Magisteria).

Hutton shows genuine candor in his preface:

… which of those two contradictory doctrines [“science v. religion”] should be of the highest authority, or command belief: the one is supposed to be divine revelation, the other to be the produce of natural philosophy. Such a question will not appear strange to a person who is truly pious, who acknowledges that all faculties are given him from above, that the laws of nature are true & steady as their author, and that man, made after the image of God, has been ordained to read the wisdom of his author in his works.

lt may perhaps he alledged, that as, from the fallibility of human reasoning, a physical disquisition may he erroneous, revelation, proceeding from a source which cannot err, should not only be reverenced as sacred, but must be received without dispute, and stand unaffected by every authority which is precarious.… it is not here meant either to impeach the authenticity of revelation, or to defend the fallibility of philosophic reasoning; these two things, as sources of human information, can only be compared properly when each, in its kind, is considered as perfect. [3]

Science is “perfect?”  Hutton capitalizes God, but not Author (hmm …). Science is based on fallible human reasoning.

Hutton gives this shocking admission:

It must be evident that if there be in the author of nature truth and in the author of men benevolence, the word of God, whether revealed by the common faculties of man, or given to human understanding in a preternatural [outside of nature] manner, must be always one.  Consequently it were impious to suppose that either one or other of those two different means of information had superior authority or that the proper result of each had not an equal right to be believed. [4]

Is Mother Nature the 67th book of the Bible??  Where have I heard that before?

Hutton goes on,

The christian religion is founded upon what is contained in the ancient Jewish writings; and in those writings we find something which seems to have the appearance of natural history. But that this is not truly so, or, at least, that such a part of natural history has no concern whatever with the present theory of the earth, will appear from the following considerations. The mosaic history of the creation, in giving a most succinct account of the order in which things were made, contains no chronological description of the beginning of things, or such as might apply to our measure of time, which is by days & years. This will appear by considering, that the sun, by which we measure our time, was not formed until the fourth distinguished period of the creation; and that it would be unreasonable, or no less than absurd, to suppose the term Day, by which each of those periods is expressed, in this Jewish history, means any thing besides an indefinite period, or means any more than to signify that God made all things in a certain order. [5]

Hutton does not capitalize Christian or Mosaic.  Genesis clearly does give a natural history.  About sixteen centuries after Creation Week this globe was destroyed by a worldwide catastrophe (Gen. 9:11).  The Genesis days are real days (Ex. 20:11).

Hutton claimed that his theory, “… does not in any respect interfere with chronology of the Old Testament.” [6]  Genesis chapters 5 and 11 provide an accurate chronology that validates Young Earth Science (YES).

The Great Lisbon Earthquake (1755) occurred in Hutton’s time.  The earthquake and the associated tsunami almost destroyed Lisbon and the surrounding regions.  Seismologists estimate a magnitude 8.5 to 9 for this quake.  Despite such events, Hutton veered away from catastrophism.  Catastrophism is now in a Renaissance.  Writing in Megaflooding on Earth and Mars (Cambridge Univ. Press), Victor Baker states,

After centuries of geological controversy it is now well established that the last major deglaciation of planet Earth involved huge fluxes of water from the wasting continental ice sheets, and that much of this water was delivered as floods of immense magnitude and relatively short duration. [7]

Hutton held to fixity of kinds.  This biological stasis leads one to hold to a worldwide cataclysm. [3]   Biological essentialism => Catastrophism => Young Earth Science (YES).
“If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (Jn. 3:12).

Graphics credit:  Francis Schaeffer Hall.

1) “James Hutton on Religion and Geology:  the Unpublished Preface to his Theory of the Earth (1788)” by Dennis Dean, Annals of Science 32 (1975): 187-193, p. 191.
2) Ibid., p. 189.
3) Ibid.
4) Ibid., p. 190.
5) Ibid.
6) Ibid.
7) Megaflooding on Earth and Mars ed. by Devon Burr, Paul Carling and Victor Baker (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2009), p. 1
8) “Huttonian Biology and Geologic Upheaval” by Jay Hall, Creation Research Society Quarterly (1984), 21:76-78.

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