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Contested Authority in 19th Century Science

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  • c.f. Natural Philosopher / HIM - what about Somerville? Mary Anning? / Metropolitan v Provincial


  • In the 1600’s: Accepted by John Ray, Edmund Halley, William Whiston, etc

  • Later founder of Free Church of Scotland. Scripture allows for a gap which allowed for geological formation before six-day creation

  • Supported by William Buckland (who renounced global flood), Adam Sedgwick, William Whewell, John Herschel



  • (e.g. addition of extra day of creation after Deluge or claiming some verses were additions)
  • Testimony of the Rocks, 1857

  • Penn coined Mosaic G;Bugg coined SG; not an homogenous group.
  • Scriptural Geology, 1826 -> cf modern opponents
  • Similar to contemporary - some allowed for “appearance of age”
  • 1845

  • Geology was thus seen to undermine Christianity.
  • 1838, Reflections on Geology, Suggested by the Perusal of Dr Buckland’s Bridgewater Treatise
  • 1822
  • Lyell was no evolutionist – opposed Lamarck in PRINCIPALS. - he was an “insider” though

  • No expertise necessary. Only two SGs were members.
  • No evolutionist! 1831 GSL Presidential Address. In 1832 would recant his belief in a global flood.
  • 1831




  • John Martin - Attempts to use contemporary science - Fall of Babylon - Seventh Plague of Egypt - The Deluge - Sodom & Gomorrah - - The Great Day of His Wrath - And Iguanadon
  • John Martin - Attempts to use contemporary science - Fall of Babylon - Seventh Plague of Egypt - The Deluge - Sodom & Gomorrah - - The Great Day of His Wrath - And Iguanadon
  • John Martin - Attempts to use contemporary science - Fall of Babylon - Seventh Plague of Egypt - The Deluge - Sodom & Gomorrah - - The Great Day of His Wrath - And Iguanadon
  • John Martin - Attempts to use contemporary science - Fall of Babylon - Seventh Plague of Egypt - The Deluge - Sodom & Gomorrah - - The Great Day of His Wrath - And Iguanadon
  • John Martin - Attempts to use contemporary science - Fall of Babylon - Seventh Plague of Egypt - The Deluge - Sodom & Gomorrah - - The Great Day of His Wrath - And Iguanadon
  • John Martin - Attempts to use contemporary science - Fall of Babylon - Seventh Plague of Egypt - The Deluge - Sodom & Gomorrah - - The Great Day of His Wrath - And Iguanadon
  • BAAS as battleground - Importance of science being seen as not anti-Christian - Sedgwick in 1844, hammered Cockburn (Dean of Yk) for 90 minutes in BAAS meeting at York – marked end of SG

  • 1844 - that same year ....
  • A hugely evolutionary theory – constant change from the very beginning – lawful process – opposed to the literal dogmatism of the likes of the SGs

  • Difference Engine




  • Inventor of kaleidoscope
  • 1845 - Edinburgh Review - “a filthy abortion”

  • 1846 - Clearly worried bout ideas being put infront of the public before being examined by scientists

  • Problem both with public gullibility & inability of scientists to communicate.
  • 10th edn 1853 - A radically different beast – corrected by known scientists





  • Secondary information
  • elite THH & pious Miller / ‘Natural philosopher’ (generalist) versus ‘scientist’ / Natural Theology
  • Tied to natural history tradition

  • Geology as active pursuit
  • Geology as active pursuit
  • Geology as active pursuit

  • 1828, Introduction to Geology. This “admiration and astonishment” had a religious dimension

  • Transcript

    • 1. Contested Authority Professionalization and Popularization in Nineteenth Century Science
    • 2. Geology Development of stratigraphy and mapping Discovery of “deep time” and primeval fauna Naturalistic explanation tied with deism
    • 3. Scientist Coined in William Whewell's 1834 review of Mary Somerville's On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences “We need very much a name to describe a cultivator of science in general. I should incline to call him a Scientist. Thus we might say, that as an Artist is a Musician, Painter, or Poet, a Scientist is a Mathematician, Physicist, or Naturalist.” (1840)
    • 4. Two Episodes The rejection of biblical literalism by the emerging geological community The controversy over the 1844 publication of Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation.
    • 5. Allegorically True Literally “Simply A True Story” Revealed Text
    • 6. Chaos-Restitution Matter & Life Created Fossils Formed 4004 BCE 2348 BCE Perhaps multiple cataclysms and creations 6-day Edenic Noah’s Flood Restoration (local?)
    • 7. Thomas Chalmers “There is a prejudice against the speculations of the geologists, which I am anxious to remove. It is said that they nurture infidel propensities … This is a false alarm. The writings of Moses do not fix the antiquity of the globe.” 1804
    • 8. Gap Matter Created 4004 BCE 2348 BCE Gap of undetermined length Life Noah’s Flood created (local?)
    • 9. Day-Age Matter Life Fossils Created Created Formed 1 2 3 4 5 6 Six “Days” of Creation Humans Created Noah’s Flood (local)
    • 10. Scriptural Geologists “Mosaic geology” Amateurs who felt that they were competent to comment on the emerging body of professional geological work. Writing for popular audiences They themselves interpreted and modified scripture
    • 11. Hugh Miller on the “anti-geologists” “It need not surprise us that a writer who takes such strange liberties with a book which he professes to respect, and which he must have had many opportunities of knowing, should take still greater liberties with a science for which he entertains no respect whatever, and of whose first principles he is palpably ignorant.”
    • 12. 1. Granville Penn (1761–1844) 13. Frederick Nolan (1784–1864) 2. George Bugg (1769–1851) 14. William Martin (1772–1851) 3. Andrew Ure (1778–1857) 15. Sharon Turner (n.d.) 4. Henry Cole (1792–1858) 16. Joseph Sutcliffe (n.d.) 5. Thomas Gisbourne (1758–1846) 17. William Kirby (1759–1850) 6. Samuel Best (1802–73) 18. William Brande (1788–1866) 7. James Mellor Brown (1796–1867) 19. William Martin (1772–1851) 8. Fowler de Johnsone (n.d.) 20. Walter Foreman (n.d.) 9. George Young (1777–1848) 21. Robert Fitzroy (1805–65) 10. George Fairholme (1789–1846) 22. John Murray (1786–1851) 11. William Rhind (1797–1874) 23. Thomas Rodd (1763 - 1822) 12. William Cockburn (1773–1858) 24. James Rennie (1787 - 1867)
    • 13. George Bugg “Geology cannot possibly exist consistently with a fair and literal construction of the Word of God” and so contradicts “the plainest dictates of common sense” “I ardently hope, however, that we shall .. value more our Bible and its plain and obvious instruction ... and ‘meddle not with them that are given to change’.”
    • 14. Major Objections Evidence for “catastrophic” change Problems with accurately dating strata Presence of human remains in “old” strata Geology was prone to “over-theorizing”
    • 15. Hugh Miller on the “anti-geologists” “The follies of the present day are transcripts, unwittingly produced, and with of course a few variations, of follies which existed centuries ago; and it seems to be … that scarce an explanation of geologic phenomena has been given by the anti-geologists of our own times, that was not anticipated by writers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.”
    • 16. Concern If the earth was populated prior to the Edenic creation, then there must have been death. If there was death, then biblical themes of original sin and redemption through the sacrifice of Christ were called into question.
    • 17. James Mellor-Brown Denial of the global flood by Buckland “affords another illustration of men who pull down the bulwark, but disclaim any intention of endangering the citadel. The Trojan Horse, drawn within the walls of the devoted city by friendly hands, is a standing emblem of men acting under the unsuspecting guidance of the Evil One.”
    • 18. Gideon Mantell Need to “silence the idle clamours that have been raised against geological speculations, from their supposed tendency to skepticism.”
    • 19. Lyell “We cannot sufficiently depreciate the interference of a certain class of writers … While they denounce as heterodox the current opinions of geologists, with respect to the high antiquity of the earth and of certain class of organic beings, they do no scruple to promulgate theories concerning the creation and the deluge, derived from their own expositions of the sacred text, in which they endeavour to point out the accordance of the Mosaic history with phenomena which they have never studied, and to judge of which every page of their writings proves their consummate incompetence.” (1827)
    • 20. Geological Society Formed in 1807 A hierarchical metropolitan group that relied on the expertise of provincial workers.
    • 21. Adam Sedgwick “[T]he goodly pile, gentlemen, which many of you have helped to rear, after years of labour, has been pulled down and reconstructed; but with such unskilful [sic] hands that its inscriptions are turned upside down; its sculptured figures have their heads to the ground, and their heels to the heavens; and the whole fabric, amid the fantastic ornaments by which it is degraded, has lost the beauty and the harmony of its old proportions.”
    • 22. Discourse on the Studies of the University Science was the decipherment of the records of creation All parts of the universe are “knit together by the operation of a common law” which offers proof of “beauty, and harmony, and order” This in turn yields to the argument from design and the Designer - a proof “so strong that it never has been and never can be gainsaid” Transmutation was “a theory no better than a phrenzied dream”
    • 23. Sedgwick on Literalism Conflicts between science and religion were not to be solved by “shifting and shuffling the solid strata of the earth, or dealing them out in such as way as to play the game of an ignorant and dishonest hypothesis - not by shutting our eyes to the facts, or denying the evidence of our senses; but by patient investigation carried out in the sincere love of truth and by learning to reject every consequence not warranted by direct physical evidence.”
    • 24. Against Scriptural Geologists “Who is the greatest unbeliever? Is it not the man who, professing to hold that this book [the Bible] contains the Word of God, is afraid to look into the other volume, lest it should contradict it?'
    • 25. Against Scriptural Geologists “[T]o confound the ground- works of philosophy and religion is to ruin the superstructure of both
    • 26. British Association for the Advancement of Science Founded in 1831 Formed against elitism of Royal Society of London Bringing science to the people outside London Attacked by William Cockburn and others as theologically unsound.
    • 27. Scriptural Geologists The reaction of the scriptural geologists was “in part a cultural [one] to the social and cognitive exclusion of all but self-styled experts from an area of speculation that, in the heyday of theories of the earth, had been open to all.” Martin Rudwick
    • 28. Scriptural Geologists “[L]argely pre-professionals or members of the older professions – classically educated and genteel laymen, versed in polite literature; clergymen, linguists, and antiquaries – those, in general, with vested interests in mediating the meaning of books, rather than rocks, in churches and classrooms.” James Moore
    • 29. Geology ‘When I need to know what a rock is, I go to it. I hammer it; I dissect it. I then know what it really is’ (Robert Dick) ‘A man, to be a true geologist, must have a body as well as a soul. No mincing town-dandy or sickly bookworm is likely to thrive in the profession.’ (Edward Forbes)
    • 30. Robert Bakewell “Geology discovers to us proofs of the awful revolutions which have in former ages changed the surface of the globe, and overwhelmed all its inhabitants: it reveals to us the forms of strange and unknown animals and unfolds the might and skill of creative energy, displayed in the ancient world: indeed, there is no science which presents objects that so powerfully excite our admiration and astonishment.”
    • 31. By1850, geology was being characterized as a practical, specialized, active, ‘masculine’ endeavor that was amenable to Christianity.