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Young had an obvious love for the study of geology and saw it not as a threat, but as an aid to faith.
George Young was born on July 25, 1777, the fourth of ten children of John and Jean Young, at their small farm in the parish of Kirk-Newton, southwest of Edinburgh. Since George was born with only a right hand (the left forearm ended in a stump), agriculture was ruled out as a future vocation. His pious parents therefore educated him with a view to Christian ministry, a course consistent with his own spiritual convictions which developed early in his life.
To fulfil the requirements for ordination in the Church of Scotland, to which he and his family belonged, he commenced in 1792 four years of literary and philosophical studies at the University of Edinburgh. He distinguished himself especially in mathematics and natural philosophy, being a favorite student of Professor John Playfair, who was in the process of becoming the articulate interpreter of James Hutton’s uniformitarian geological theory.1, 2 Young completed his degree with high honors and then began a five-year course in theology at Selkirk, under the tutelage of Dr. George Lawson (1749–1820), a famous Scottish divine who was well read in philosophy, history, and natural science.3 In 1801 he was licensed to preach by the presbytery of Edinburgh.
After a brief visit in the summer of 1805 to Whitby, North Yorkshire, the following year he became the pastor of Whitby Chapel, a congregation he served for 42 years until his death. In 1819 the University of Edinburgh conferred on him the degree of M.A., and in 1838 he received an honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity from Miami College (Oxford, Ohio).4 In 1826 he married Margaret, a daughter of prominent Robert Hunter of Whitby and a woman known for her piety and ministry to women.5 They had a happy marriage until her death in 1846,6 but they had no children.7
Young faithfully discharged his responsibilities as a pastor and was respected for his concern for the poor and his generous, self-denying, Christian spirit, because of which he delighted to unite with Christians of other Protestant denominations in joint efforts of witness and service.8 His congregation fixed a monument over the pulpit of the church after his death, which honored Young for having “preached the Word of God within these walls with unabated zeal for 42 years, actuated and sustained throughout solely by a sense of duty, and an anxious desire for the salvation of souls.”9
Beyond this, his scholarly attainments were also considerable. He had a more than common knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French, and Italian, as well as an acquaintance with Arabic, Chaldee, and Syriac, and was considered quite an authority on the Anglo-Saxon language. He also developed his own shorthand, which he used for writing his sermons and which no one yet has been able to translate. His extensive knowledge of antiquities and numismatics enabled him to decipher ancient manuscripts, coins, and inscriptions with great skill.
In 1823 he became a founding member and the first secretary of the Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society, a position he held until his death, and which also included the establishment of the Whitby Museum.10 He was also a corresponding member of the Wernerian Natural History Society and the Northern Institution and an honorary member of the Yorkshire, Newcastle, Leeds, and Hull literary and philosophical societies.11 Although only an honorary member of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, Young served as an advisor to the Society and, as a series of ten letters from Young to the Society during the years 1823–27 shows,12 he served as the coastal representative procuring fossil and mineral collections for the Society.13
His published books numbered 21. Eleven were 30–40 pages long and contained sermons addressed to such topics as the experiences of seamen, compassion for British prisoners in France during Napoleon’s rule, the downfall of Napoleon, the unity of the Church, the deaths of Queen Charlotte and King George III, and the great solar eclipse of 1836. His longer works included a series of lectures on the Book of Jonah, a two-volume The History of Whitby,14 a treatise vindicating the evangelical principles of religion, a catalog of hardy plants for the garden,15 and a highly acclaimed biography of Captain James Cook.16
On the subject of geology, Young wrote six scientific journal articles and three books. A Geological Survey of the Yorkshire Coast (236 pages), written with the assistance of John Bird, first appeared in 1822, with a greatly revised edition (356 pages) coming out in 1828.17 Ten years later he published Scriptural Geology (1838, 78 pages), followed shortly thereafter by Appendix to Scriptural Geology (1840, 31 pages), in which he responded to John Pye Smith’s theory that Genesis described merely a local creation and local Noachian flood, both in the Mesopotamian Valley.18
After contracting influenza in early 1848, he died on May 8 (two years after his wife), which brought deep and general grief to the residents of Whitby. One contemporary biographer wrote of his death, “As in health, so also in affliction, he showed a child-like simplicity and confidence in the verities of religion; and his last words were: ‘Jesus is precious—exceedingly precious—whether we are living or dying.’ ”19
Young had an obvious love for the study of geology and saw it not as a threat, but as an aid to faith. He wrote:
The researches of the geologist are far from being unworthy of the Christian, or the philosopher: for, while they enlarge the bounds of our knowledge, and present a wide field for intellectual employment and innocent pleasure, they may serve to conduct us to the glorious Being.20
He hoped that his efforts would have a practical benefit for the manufacturer and businessman to know where the valuable minerals were, for the landed proprietor to know the nature of the strata under his soils, for the miners not to waste money searching for coal in the wrong places, and for “the admirers of the works of God” to be stimulated in their devotion to God.21 In addition to his scientific training at the university, his writings show that he kept himself current in his reading on geology and related fields in books and science journals, both British and foreign. But he also had extensive geological field experience. In his introduction to the Survey, Young stated that he and his co-author, Bird, had completed their study of the geology of Yorkshire.
. . . with no small labor; exploring the whole line of coast, and visiting every part of the interior likely to throw light on the objects of their research. Scarcely a hill or a valley, a cliff or a chasm, remains unexamined; scarcely an alum-work, a coal-pit, a quarry, or any other remarkable opening in the strata, has been left unvisited; so that, if the result should not come up to their wishes, or the expectations of their friends, they cannot well charge themselves with want of diligence, patience, and perseverance.22
Young more than once examined the geological formations around Edinburgh.23 He continued his geological field research and reading up to the time of his writings in 1840, for he said, “For many years I have paid particular attention to the courses of rivers, and have invariably found that these courses are connected with breaks, faults, denudations, or other irregularities in the strata through which they pass.”24 He also mentioned his discovery of a fossil fish in limestone rocks near South Shields, early in 1840, at the age of 63.25
A very important test, however, of his geological acumen must be the reviews of his geological writings by contemporary geologists. Of Young’s The History of Whitby (1817) the contemporary Whitby geologist Martin Simpson wrote:
. . . a work of high literary character and antiquarian research, in which he gave a very luminous and correct exposition of the rocks and organick remains of the district, [which] immediately produced a general revolution in publick opinion respecting the fossil remains of the district, and excited great zeal for further discovery.26
Young’s Geological Survey of Yorkshire (1822) received positive reviews from the Philosophical Magazine and the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal. Most of the former review, rather than giving an analysis of the book, is a lengthy quote from the Geological Survey giving some of Young’s argument against the old-earth theory of multiple catastrophes. However, the geologically informed, anonymous reviewer wrote generally:
Such has been the labor of the two gentlemen who have undertaken the task, that they have with unremitting ardour explored the whole line of the Yorkshire coast, from the Humber to the Tees, visiting every part of the interior likely to throw light on the objects of their research. Scarcely a hill or a valley, a cliff or a chasm, remains unexamined; scarcely an alum rock, a coal pit or a quarry, or any other remarkable opening in the strata, has been left unvisited,27 and the result of their labors is now laid before the public in a well-written memoir, illustrated by such engravings as fully explain the subjects referred to in the text. . . . The limits of a magazine are much too narrow to do justice to a work of this nature, either in the way of analysis or extract: we shall therefore content ourselves with quoting from the facts and inferences some observations of the authors on the hypothesis of successive creations or formations of strata, contended for by some geologists, but to which they are opposed.28
In an 1825 article on diluvial formations, Adam Sedgwick (the esteemed Cambridge geology professor), who likely knew Young personally, described the Survey as containing “some excellent observations.”29 The next year, in an article on the classification of the strata of the Yorkshire coast, Sedgwick again commended the work of Young and Bird, whose “information induced me to shorten the task which I had proposed to myself.” This was because “with many excellent details” the relations of the geological phenomena had been “elaborately and faithfully described” to give an accurate history of the structure of the whole Yorkshire coast.30
In light of the fact that readers already knew something of the nature of Young’s work from his 1822 edition of the Geological Survey, it is noteworthy that the pre-publication subscribers to the 1828 revised edition numbered 113, including 33 members of scientific societies, even though the theoretical part III of this edition was virtually unchanged from the first edition. Four of the latter subscribers were members of the Geological Society of London, one of whom was Reverend William Vernon (Harcourt), president of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society and one of the leading founders of the BAAS in 1831.31 Another subscriber was Mrs. Gideon Mantell, wife of the doctor and well-known old-earth geologist from Sussex.32
Young and Bird were quick to admit and correct previous errors as their geological studies progressed. In the introduction to the second edition of Geological Survey they wrote of themselves:
They are far from supposing that the work is free from mistakes, or that nothing more can be done for elucidating the geology of the district; on the contrary, their own experience has served to convince them, that a work of this nature is susceptible of progressive improvement; for as, in making this extended survey, they have been enabled to detect some mistakes in the sketch of the strata contained in the History of Whitby and the Vicinity; so, in the prosecution of this undertaking, they have been able, in various instances, on repeating their visits to the same spots, to correct inaccuracies in their first observations, and every new journey has supplied them with additional illustrations of the objects of their pursuit. It is natural, therefore, to expect, that such as may trace their steps, will detect other errors into which they have fallen, and discover new facts which have escaped their notice.33
The work was divided into three parts. Part 1 (172 pages) is a geological description of all the strata of the coast. Part 2 (126 pages, plus 37 pages of plates) is a description of the various fossils found, arranged into classes and identified according to the locations where they were found. This section contained a 17-page discussion of the famous Kirkdale Cave, which included a refutation of Buckland’s post-diluvian hyena den theory of the cave. Young especially pointed out a number of factual errors in Buckland’s description of the cave. He also gave his reasons for concluding that the cave and its fossil remains were deposited by the Noachian flood. Young’s argument was based on his own first-hand research of the cave, commenced within a week of its discovery, and on his personal discussions with the workmen who cleared the cave of fossils (sometimes while he was watching them), as well as conversations with William Salmond (FGS) and William Eastmead, the two geologists most involved in the analysis of the cave and its fossils. A number of the fossils were deposited in the Whitby Museum, which Young and Bird managed. In Historia Reivallensis (1824), Eastmead concluded that the cave was an antediluvian deposit. This discussion was a revised form of Young’s two journal articles on Kirkdale written in 1822 and mysteriously published much later in the Memoirs of the Wernerian Natural History Society.34
In Part 3 (46 pages) Young and Bird presented their theoretical inferences from these facts. They realized that there would be opposition to the latter part and addressed their critics:
As the hints here thrown out are chiefly suggested by existing phenomena, it is hoped that they may be serviceable to the studious enquirer. Where the views adopted by the authors militate against the favorite theory of any of their readers, they expect from the reader that candor and indulgence which he himself has a right to claim from others. On subjects involved in so many difficulties, mutual forbearance is indispensable.35
Young was cautious in his theoretical interpretations of the geological phenomena, because of what he perceived to be the still rather infant state of geology. In 1828 he wrote:
It is within the last twenty or thirty years, that geology has begun to assume her proper rank among the sciences. . . . Within these few years, the collection of geological facts has been rapidly accumulating. Still, if we may judge from the jarring opinions held on the subject, we have not obtained sufficient data, for establishing a general theory of the earth; in other words, we cannot satisfactorily explain the natural causes employed by the Creator to bring our globe into its present state; which, as all agree, is widely different from its original state. The chief thing to be done, therefore, in the present stage of the science, is to enrich it with ample stores derived from actual observation. . . . Every addition to these stores, will serve to enlarge and consolidate the basis on which a true theory of the earth, if such can be found, must necessarily rest.36
Even in 1838 he explicitly claimed that he was not offering a complete theory.37 Therefore, he preferred to focus his attention on the careful gathering and integrating of geological facts. In the summary of his 1838 Scriptural Geology he wrote:
Upon the whole, let us learn, in the pursuits of geology, to guard against launching into wild imaginations, alike unfavorable to science and religion. Let every phenomenon be attentively surveyed, let every fact be duly investigated, let facts be accumulated, and diligently compared; and, instead of indulging in flights of fancy, let sober reason and sound judgment determine the results.38
Nevertheless, more than any of the other geologically informed scriptural geologists, Young presented the most thorough explanation at his time of how the whole geological record could be harmonized with a literal reading of the Genesis account of creation and the Noachian flood. Therefore, we should consider his arguments carefully.
While not hesitating to challenge the theories of the most famous geologists, Young was respectful of their knowledge, research, and accomplishments. For example, he described his former professor, Playfair, as “one of the most learned” authors.39 Though critical of Cuvier and Brongniart’s theory of the Paris basin, Young nevertheless said that they were authors “to whom science is otherwise much indebted.”40 In spite of his strong refutation of Buckland’s theory of Kirkdale Cave, Young wrote, “We are sensible of the value of his researches into this subject,” and he described Buckland’s Bridgewater Treatise as generally “valuable” and “admirable,” the work of “my learned friend.”41 John Phillips’s writings were also “valuable.”42 Lyell, though even more hostile to Young’s views, was respected as an “indefatigable” collector of geological facts, and in several places Young used some of the ideas which Lyell had “advanced and ably maintained.”43
In return for such respectful disagreement, Young hoped for a similar kind of hearing from his critics. After stating in the Survey his reasons for rejecting the day-age theory he commented:
Aware that our sentiments on this subject differ materially from those of a great proportion of our literary friends, we would beg of them a patient hearing; that they may not condemn our remarks, till they have candidly weighed them.44
He obviously did not feel that he had received that kind of treatment from his geological opponents, for ten years later he introduced his Scriptural Geology by saying:
These geologists [his critics] complain, and have a right to complain, of those who stigmatize them as atheists, infidels, and enemies to revelation: yet they ought to remember, that they have no right, on their part, to denounce their opponents as bigots, fanatics, ignorant, and illiberal. It is not by hard names, but by strong arguments, that the cause of truth is to be established.45
Without apology, he used information and arguments from his geological opponents to refute their own theories, but he expressed his effort not to misrepresent them in any way.
The only work of a fellow scriptural geologist that Young particularly commended to his readers in 1828 was Granville Penn’s Comparative Estimate of the Mineral and Mosaical Geologies (1825), which Young felt had opposed the contemporary old-earth theories with “much force of argument.” He continued, “We are not prepared to admit all that Mr. Penn has advanced; but his theoretical views appear to us, on the whole, much more judicious than those which he combats.”46
In the introduction to his Scriptural Geology (1838), he indicated that he knew of other works being prepared for publication, but that he did not know their contents and so was unable to comment on their arguments. However, he did make a positive remark about Leveson Vernon Harcourt’s Doctrine of the Deluge (Vol. 3, 1838), and in his 1840 appendix he supported his argument with information from John Murray’s Portrait of Geology (1838) and William Rhind’s Age of the Earth (1838). Young gave no indication of personally knowing any of these other scriptural geologists.47
Young did not discuss at length the relation between Scripture and science, but he was clearly sensitive to the common objection raised against the scriptural geologists in light of the Galileo affair.
An appeal to Scripture on geological questions, is regarded by many as altogether inappropriate; because, from the superior nature of its objects, we cannot expect it to be occupied with matters of science. And it is true that the Bible is not intended to teach us geology any more than astronomy: its statements relating to nature are not expressed in scientific language, but are set forth in the simplest form; being in accordance with the appearances of things, and the views most generally received among men. Yet we are sure, that the facts of science may be reconciled with the sacred page; and we may be permitted to doubt the truth of any theory, which makes that reconciliation impossible. The volume of creation, the volume of providence, and the volume of inspiration, have all one author; and whatever apparent discrepances [sic] there may be between them, there can be no real opposition. It is an interesting fact that the progress of science has, in more than one case, illustrated the truth of the sacred records.48
Young never explained in detail how the interpretation of the Bible and the interpretation of the physical world should be harmonized. Nor did he explain on what basis he could rely on the Bible for his understanding of earth history, while at the same time agreeing with his opponents that the Bible is not intended to teach geology. However, he clearly believed that with regard to the origin and history of the earth, the plain teaching of Genesis (as he saw it) should guide the interpretation of geological phenomena, not vice versa. And he certainly did attempt to explain many geological phenomena in light of his biblical framework of a recent creation and global Flood.
Young rejected Lyell’s uniformitarianism which maintained “that the strata have been formed in the same gradual way in which sediment is now being deposited” in the ocean and that all geological phenomena “may be accounted for by existing causes still in operation.”49 But he thereby was not constantly invoking miracles to explain what he observed. Although he clearly believed that the Flood was a unique event, he was also convinced that the rocks and fossils could be explained by causes similar to those observed in the present, which during the Flood had operated at abnormally and vastly magnified levels of intensity, frequency, and geographical extent as a result of special divine decree in judgment.50
The tranquil flood view came under severe criticism precisely because, from Young’s perspective, it must invoke numerous unnecessary miracles which were not justified by the biblical narrative. In defense of the global Flood view he said the following:
An effusion of waters over the whole earth, so still as not to destroy the vegetation, is the kind of deluge fancied by some geologists; but such a deluge could not take place without the most extraordinary miracles—miracles uncalled for, and of which Moses gives not the slightest hint. . . . But there was no occasion [during the Flood] for such miracles: existing causes, directed and controlled by the great First Cause, were sufficient to produce the deluge, without any new creation, or any violation of the laws of nature.51
The chief natural causes God used were, he believed, spelled out in the Genesis narrative: the 40 days of rain and the breaking up of the “fountains of the deep,” which included massive volcanic activity.52
I will focus on Young’s later writings of 1838–40, because they represent his most seasoned reflections on geology and the Bible, and because they appeared after the recantations of Buckland and Sedgwick and at a time when the contemporary and modern critics of the scriptural geologists stated or implied that no competent geologists still argued that the Flood was global and deposited the secondary and tertiary formations. Nevertheless, a summary of the arguments in the theoretical part of his 1828 Survey will provide a valuable context, especially since they were ignored by the reviewers of his day. As noted earlier, Young divided this third part into two sections: “facts and inferences” and “hints and conjectures.” The former he considered to be “certain,” whereas the truth of the latter was “only probable.”53
From his geological research of the Yorkshire coast he drew out 20 facts and inferences, which are as follows.54
For these 20 reasons, Young concluded that the old-earth “formation system [of multiple creations and revolutions before the creation of man] may please the imagination, and give scope to the fancy, but it will not stand the test of an appeal to facts.”67
Having discussed the facts and inferences that he considered to be “certain,” Young then proceeded to his “probable” hints and conjectures as to the time and the manner of the deposition of the strata. In defense of a literal interpretation of Genesis 1–11, he first dealt with the day-age theory for harmonizing Genesis with old-earth geological theory, which insisted that the strata had been deposited before the creation of man. He presented five reasons for rejecting this:
After giving his reasons for rejecting the notion of a tranquil Noachian flood (which we will consider later), Young concluded his theoretical discussions by responding to nine geological objections to his theory of a recent creation and a global catastrophic Noachian flood.70 These were presented in a question and answer format and covered such issues as the extent to which the antediluvian strata were demolished by the Flood, how the Flood could dissolve so much of the earth’s crust, how the pre-Flood world could have supplied all the animal and vegetable matter that we find in the strata, how the violent Flood could produce such a regular series of strata and, in many cases, homogeneous strata, how it could transport the quantity of matter necessary to produce the strata, what the cause of the breakup of the crust was, how plant life could survive the Flood and be so quickly restored after the Flood, and why more quadrupeds and humans were not found in the fossil record. In each case he endeavored to answer the objection based on known facts of natural science.
We now turn our attention to the arguments in Young’s Scriptural Geology and subsequent Appendix. The former (composed of two parts) was initially communicated to the geological section of the BAAS at their annual meeting in Newcastle in 1838. Only the first half of it was admitted to the meeting, and then only read in abstract, which was followed by a reply from Sedgwick. Before Young presented it to the public, it was enlarged.71
Like the original draft submitted to the BAAS, the published edition also was divided into two parts. In the first part he sought to prove from the geological evidence that the strata were laid down not over long ages but primarily in one period, the Flood. He then dealt with objections to this conclusion. In the second part he argued against the gap theory, and local and tranquil flood theories, by going into great detail about the effects of the Flood in relation to the geological phenomena. The 1840 Appendix, serving as a rebuttal to John Pye Smith’s criticisms and theories, added to his arguments against a local or tranquil flood. It also responded to Smith’s notion of a local creation.
To refute the old-earth theory, Young first briefly (in three pages) dealt with two common arguments. First, the regularity of the stratified deposits, the thinness of some of those strata, and the ripple marks on the upper boundary of some strata were interpreted by old-earth geologists as evidence of slow deposition over many years. But Young contended that this was not a justified inference because all these features can be observed as they form on present-day ocean beaches in a matter of days. Second, the claimed fact of different fossils occurring in different layers was interpreted by old-earth geologists to imply progressive creations over a long period, with different creatures “reigning” in each “age.” But Young countered that the complexity of creatures does not gradually increase as one proceeds up through the strata and, in fact, many fossils in the lowest strata are more analogous to living forms than some fossils in higher strata.
But the primary focus of Young’s rebuttal (p. 10–23) was on the idea that the fossils buried in the strata were situated in the place where the plants and animals had lived, died, and were later buried. He instead argued that the evidence pointed to the conclusion that these creatures had been transported by flood waters and deposited with the sediments of the strata.
He rejected the in situ theory for plants because, first, no existing peat bog was thick enough to produce the vast coal seams, which were also interspersed with ocean-deposited sediments. He cited evidence and arguments from Lyell and Phillips to support his contention that upright fossil trees and stems, so often associated with the coal, had been transported to their positions before being buried. In response to the claim that such trees often showed evidence of the work of boring insects on the surface, which was interpreted to have taken place while the tree grew, Young said that it was marine creatures that did this work as the tree floated and he referred to a log with such markings that had been retrieved recently from the sea and was in the Whitby Museum.72
The in situ theory to explain fossil animals was also problematic in Young’s view. The beds loaded with shells generally lie conformably above or below the coal formations, which were clearly transported deposits. Also, there is often the mixture of marine and terrestrial creatures in a single stratum. Further, a four to five inch thick seam (in the Lias formation) extends for many miles on the coast and is primarily composed of oyster shells. The shells give every indication of having been transported and the bed is far more extensive than any modern oyster bed. Similarly, he argued, the upper oolite strata abounding in corals and shells are unlike the arrangement of modern coral reefs and must have been transported.73 He argued that the proven proliferation of animalcules, insects, and sea-life in the present world74 would have been even greater in the generally tropical climate of the pre-Flood world, which could provide all the material necessary to form the chalk by the depositing currents of the Flood. When we come to the tertiary, Young said, these deposits are too limited in extent and thickness to be assigned whole ages of time. Finally, the highly preserved fossils are not proof of the in situ theory, for ocean currents are known to carry glass bottles with messages inside all the way across the Atlantic without causing any damage.75 Thus, Young concluded, the great epochs of geological history are only fanciful products of the imagination.76
As proof that the sedimentary rock record is largely the result of one depositional event, the Noachian flood, Young gave five reasons.77 First is the general conformity; each stratum insensibly or gradually transitions into the one above with no erosional inequalities at the boundary to suggest long ages before the next was deposited. Second, though there are also some unconformities, no doubt caused by volcanic force from below (which is a sudden, not a gradual, event in any case), these show evidence of rapid deposition, not slow deposition over thousands of years. This is because the breaks or faults differ the whole rock mass of many strata78 and also in cases where the breaks are small, the strata (from the lower to the upper) are bent, indicating that all the strata were only partially consolidated at the time of movement. Third, the denudation of the strata, again differing many strata in a location to produce the valleys and alluvial detritus, must have occurred also when the strata were only semi-consolidated. Furthermore, there is no evidence of the denudation of the surface of past “worlds” at different levels in the stratigraphic record. Fourth, highly preserved and flattened fossils (e.g., of fish and reptiles) point to rapid deposition of the strata with accumulating pressure on the lower, still soft, layers. Many such fossils showed evidence of crushed bones and contorted bodies, suggesting that they were violently entombed alive.79 Finally, the evidence of tropical climate throughout the geological record was strong evidence to Young that it had all been laid down in one short period.
In the remaining pages of Part I,80 Young dealt with two geological objections and one theological objection to his view. The evidence for a global tropical climate in the past81 helps to explain the existence of tropical plants and animals in the strata as well as the prodigious quantity of fossils generally. Secondly, to the fact that many fossils are peculiar to particular strata and different from living forms, Young responded that the rich variety of creatures in the present world would have been greatly augmented in the antediluvian world and, as today, would not have been equally distributed on the earth.82 In addition, the currents of the Deluge would have been in many different directions carrying different creatures from different locations.83 Theologically, it was objected that a 6,000-year old creation limits the display of God’s glory; also, there was no clear reason why God waited so long to create the world. But Young countered that as mere humans we are in no position to judge God’s choice of when He created the world. As far as God’s glory is concerned, Young felt that creation in six days demonstrates more of God’s power and skill than creation in six years or six ages of untold years. Furthermore, the amount of glory ascribed to God is not determined by the length of time used to create something, but rather by the evident wisdom of its design and adaptation to the purposes for which it was created.
In Part II, Young turned his attention to the various attempts to harmonize the creation account with old-earth theories. He spent no time on the day-age theory because it “seems now to be abandoned as utterly untenable.”84
Rather, he presented four reasons for rejecting the gap theory. First, even if one conceded that there is life on other planets85 and many creations before Genesis 1:3, out of the wreck of which this present world was created (as Gen. 1:2 might suggest), such a scenario was not the pre-adamite theory of the leading geologists. That theory did not end with a wrecked chaos before the present state of the world, but with a good world of marvelous creatures, continents, oceans, rivers, etc.86 Second, there was a theological problem. All the thousands or millions of years of pre-adamite worlds supposedly passed without any rational beings on earth (i.e., man) to praise God for His works. How could there be so many ages with no provision for such an important task? Third, another theological objection, which Young had raised in 1828 against the day-age theory, was the fact that:
According to scripture, it was man’s disobedience that brought death into the world, with all our woe; but, according to this geological system, death had reigned and triumphed on the globe, in the destruction of numerous races of creatures, thousands of years before man existed.87
The final and, to Young, the strongest reason for rejecting the gap theory was that the theory “leaves no room for the deluge, that great catastrophe so distinctly recorded in sacred history.”88 In other words, Young felt that by either tranquilizing or localizing the Flood, the gap theory trivialized (and effectively denied) the biblical description of the Flood.
Since a discussion of the Flood occupied most of this second part of his book, we will look at it in more depth shortly. Before that I will briefly summarize how Young responded, in his 1840 Appendix, to John Pye Smith’s idea of a local creation (i.e., Gen. 1 only describes the creation of a portion of central Asia). Young agreed with Smith that God used figurative language to describe himself, that in “matters of science” He accommodated the descriptions to the knowledge of the Jews and early Christians, and that universal terms in the Bible were also used in a limited sense. But these facts could not be used to reject a universal creation for several reasons. The ancient Israelites were not nearly as ignorant as Smith portrayed them, argued Young. And at the time Moses wrote Genesis, they knew of larger portions of the globe than just the area outlined by Smith, so that there was no need to use universal terms to describe a local creation, if it indeed had been only local. Furthermore, Genesis 1–11 professes to describe the early history of the whole world, not just central Asia, which became the focus after the Flood.89
By combining the arguments of his 1838 and 1840 books, we get a total picture of why he rejected the local flood and tranquil flood views and instead contended that the secondary and tertiary formations were attributable to the Flood. First, let us consider the local flood theory.
Young presented his reasons for believing that the antediluvian human population was at least as great and as widely dispersed over the earth’s surface as in the 19th century, so that a local flood would be inadequate to destroy that ungodly race of men.90 Then there was the plain and repeated use of universal terms to describe the Flood (such as “all,” “every,” and “under heaven”). Also, the local flood would involve a number of miracles, which, as noted earlier, Young deemed unnecessary and unjustified. Such miracles would have been: 1) while the sea level was raised over the mountains locally in Mesopotamia, it would have had to be kept constant at the normal level generally on the earth; 2) the flux of the waters that flooded the local area would have had to be restrained from producing a natural reflux; 3) this action of the water would have needed to be maintained for 150 days, with no water slipping out through the many mountain passes on the edge of this local area; and 4) the diurnal and annual motion of the earth could not have been differed by this watery bulge. Another problem was the lack of any surviving landmarks to identify this local area of creation and flood which Pye Smith envisaged. Furthermore, Young asked, why was the ark needed at all, if Noah, his family, and the animals could easily migrate out of the area? The building of the ark and a year’s confinement in it were unnecessary hardships on them. Finally, Young argued, 2 Peter 3 draws a tight parallel between the Flood and the coming universal conflagration.91
The notion of a tranquil flood was equally problematic to Young. The purpose of the Flood was to destroy the earth, not just man, according to Genesis 6:13. The year-long duration of the Flood intimates that much more than the drowning of earth’s inhabitants was its object. Young thought it reasonable to assume, from the description in Genesis, that “many years might revolve before the ocean subsided to its present level.” Also, like the local flood theory, a tranquil flood would necessitate miracles “uncalled for, and of which Moses gives not the slightest hint,” such as the creation and annihilation of the flood waters and the suspension of the laws of water erosion by flooding rivers and tempestuous seas (which would naturally accompany 40 days of rain and the volcanic activity that produced the rupturing of the fountains of the deep). For these reasons, the notion of a tranquil flood was quite unbelievable to Young.92
In arguing that God directed and controlled existing causes to accomplish the judgment of the Flood, Young challenged his geological opponents by saying:
Is it, then, unreasonable or unphilosophical to suppose that when the Almighty resolved to destroy an ungodly world, he might employ the energies of this great expansive force [volcanic activity] to heave up the bottom of the sea, and to shake, dissolve, and depress the land? We cannot easily conceive how the fountains of the great deep could be broken up, in any other way, so as to co-operate with the rains in overflowing the world. In this way, the object could be accomplished by the supreme Ruler, without forming any new matter; and as, at the creation, one day only was occupied in raising up the dry land from the sea, even so at the Deluge, a single day might have sufficed for submerging the dry land beneath the waters. But, instead of being the work of a day, this mighty revolution was in progress during several weeks; the earth sinking, and the sea rising, in a gradual and comparatively tranquil manner; so that the safety of the ark and its inmates was not endangered, and time was allowed for effecting, in a more orderly way, the changes now made in the crust of the earth. There was not one great terrific convulsion to complete the work at once; but a series of smaller convulsions, carrying it forward by successive stages. Now, may we not trace, in the different formations of the stratified rocks, a correspondence with these successive convulsions; and on this principle, explain the diversified phenomena of the present strata? Let us inquire, then, into the effects, which volcanic agency thus operating, would naturally produce.93
Over the course of the next 30 pages, Young endeavored to demonstrate this by describing in some detail his conception of the year-long progression of the Flood’s work in relation to the present state of the stratigraphic record and by answering the most common objections to this view, of which he was aware.94
Among other things in his description of the progress of the Flood, he explained how the earth could have been so quickly prepared for human and animal life after the Deluge. The consolidation of the strata, providing an adequate base for the new post-diluvian soils, was much faster than was supposed by the old-earth geologists since the chief agent of induration was not time but rather several factors: chemical action, the pressure of the rapidly accumulating strata, and the heat and electricity associated with the volcanic activity. Though much of the pre-Flood vegetation would have been buried in the strata to form coal seams, Young reasoned, a considerable portion of seeds, roots, and even whole plants would still be floating on the receding waters and take root in the rich moist alluvial soils left by the Flood. In the weeks that Noah waited for the earth to sufficiently dry, this would have produced a lush mantle of vegetation for the earth, in which the dove found a fresh olive leaf. Likewise, some still-floating carrion would have provided food for the raven Noah had sent out earlier.95
Young contended that the alternating fresh water and marine formations were better explained by the complex vicissitudes of the Flood than by a long series of multiple catastrophes gradually raising and then lowering the land. The different kinds of rocks were formed by the sorting power of water, igneous intrusions, and postdepositional chemical modification.96 Faulting and aqueous denudation associated with the recession of the floodwaters resulted in cliffs, caverns, and valleys, the detritus from which the alluvial sands, gravels, and erratic boulders were formed.97
Another issue Young addressed, as he had in 1828, was why fossil bones of man and quadrupeds were so rarely found and then only in the top strata and alluvium. He replied that quadrupeds would naturally escape the Flood longer, because of mobility. But he also cautioned against concluding the non-existence of creatures on the basis of the lack of fossil evidence, because quadruped footprints in lower strata proved that they had existed at the time those strata were being deposited, even though their bones had not been found in them. Also, bird and monkey prints occasionally had been found, but bones of both were a much rarer discovery.98
The main reason we do not find many [human remains] in the rock strata is that, for the most part, the pre-Flood land and sea changed places during the Deluge.As far as human remains are concerned, the main reason we do not find many in the rock strata is that, for the most part, the pre-Flood land and sea changed places during the Deluge so that most human remains would be buried under the ocean bottom beyond the reach of geologists. Still Young contended that some relics had been found in ancient deposits, such as the caves in Gailenreuth (Germany), in Bixe, Pondres, and Souvignargues (France), and in Liege (Belgium).99
He asserted that human remains had not only been found in caves, but also in solid rock, such as the limestone on the island of Guadaloupe. This too had been firmly rejected by the old-earth geologists,100 so Young remarked:
It is to be regretted that further researches have not been made into that interesting deposit; especially as most geologists roundly assert, that the stone is a mere modern concretion. This notion, now so generally adopted, is quite at variance with the plain facts of the case as detailed by Mr. Konig, in the Philosophical Transactions for 1814; and the valuable specimen in the British Museum gives it no countenance whatever. The stone, which I carefully examined, greatly resembles some varieties of oolite limestone; like which, it contains fragments of shells and of corals; the latter, as in the oolite, sometimes retaining their original red color. The bones are entirely fossilized and have no appearance of recent bones accidentally incrusted with stalactite or travertine. Nothing but a fixed determination to set up theory against fact can resist the evidence arising from this discovery. The strange idea, that these imbedded human remains are the result of a battle and massacre, of so late a date as 1710, may be believed, when once another petrified field of battle can be pointed out; but it is far more likely, that we shall first discover other fossil specimens of the human race in secondary rocks, affording such irresistible evidence, as will at once annihilate the whole system of pre-adamite creations.101
The last six pages of Scriptural Geology and the bulk of the Appendix were devoted to answering ten objections to the Flood being the cause of most of the stratigraphic record.
1) It was asserted by Young’s opponents that the fact of extinct creatures was inconsistent with Noah’s mandate to save two of every living thing. Young replied that in the Bible “all” does not always mean all, but often only denotes very many so that what Genesis means is that Noah was to take either all the animals within his reach in that part of the world where he lived, or all the animals which God thought necessary to replenish the earth.102
2) Closely related to this was the objection that the ark was far too small for the purpose of carrying the number of creatures envisaged by the global flood view. Young insisted that critics calculated on far too many species, since, for example, most insects and reptiles (or their eggs) could survive outside the ark on floating vegetation.103
3) The thickness of the strata are too great to be produced by the Noachian flood, objected the critics. Again, Young charged them with gross exaggeration as a result of adding together the measurements of the extreme thickness, rather than the mean thickness, of each strata. This was erroneous, because the strata were not of uniform thickness throughout, but rather lens-shaped (thick in the middle and tapering at the edges),104 and were not of universal extent over the face of the globe. Therefore, instead of the geological column being ten miles deep, as some old-earth geologists supposed, Young thought two miles was closer to reality and a credible production of the Noachian flood.105
4) Critics asserted that a flood as violent as the scriptural geologists supposed could not produce such distinct, homogeneous strata as we find. Young had briefly responded to this in 1828 by referring to the sorting action of oceanic tides observed on modern beaches.106 In 1838 he argued that, in reality, these characteristics of the strata militate far more against the theories of his critics. He thought it inconceivable that there could have been a purely oolitiferous ocean depositing its homogeneous stratum for thousands of years followed by a purely cretaceous ocean depositing the evidence of its reign for another epoch of thousands of years, and so on. On the other hand:
We shall shew a disposition to be “willingly ignorant,”107 if we shut our eyes against evidences everywhere visible, indicating that the earth has experienced convulsions inconceivably greater than any now felt, and that the stratified rocks have been deposited at a rate incomparably more rapid than the present depositions of mud in the ocean. Professor Buckland himself, though he attempts to neutralize the effect of his own testimony, shews in his [Bridgewater] Treatise ([Vol. 1] p. 307), by indubitable tokens, that the lias at Lyme Regis must have been deposited with a rapidity a thousand times greater than the sediment now accumulating in the sea; for the fossil cuttle-fish found there, must have been killed and imbedded in the strata almost in a moment of time, being prevented from discharging the contents of their ink-bags. “I might register the proofs of instantaneous death, detected in these ink-bags, for they contain the fluid which the living sepia emits in the moment of alarm; and might detail further evidence of their immediate burial, in the retention of the forms of these distended membranes; since they would speedily have decayed, and have spilt their ink, had they been exposed by a few hours to decomposition in the water. The animals must therefore have died suddenly, and been quickly buried in the sediment that formed the strata, in which their petrified ink and ink-bags are thus preserved.” It is strange, that the learned author of these valuable remarks, should ever advocate the system of gradual deposition, during countless ages. The difficulties attending that system are vastly greater, than any that can be started [sic] against the diluvian theory.108
Young’s final criticism against the old-earth interpretation of the homogeneous strata was its ambiguity; his opponents never explained “in what way these destructions can have taken place, or in what form the new creations followed them.” It appeared to Young from their expressions that they might be resurrecting the old notions of the frequent spontaneous generation and gradual evolution of life and that the world is eternal.109
The remaining objections against the Flood to which Young responded were specifically raised by Smith. 5) Smith supposed that a global flood would necessitate a miraculously created supply of water five miles deep to encircle the globe and cover all the high mountains. Young countered that no such miracle was required since the present oceans had enough water; all that was needed was for the ocean beds to rise by volcanic force and the land would correspondingly sink. Furthermore, it was not essential, or even legitimate, to assume that the pre-Flood mountains were as high as at present.110
6) To the question of post-diluvian animal distribution, Young responded that the antediluvian universal tropical climate only gradually changed to the present varied climatic conditions. This process of climatic change would have allowed time for the migrations to take place.
7) To another of Smith’s objections, Young responded that fresh and saltwater fish and their spawn could survive in the waters of the Flood, because there would not have been a completely homogeneous mixture of these two kinds of water.111
8) Regarding the refurbishment of the earth at the end of the Flood to make a suitable habitation for Noah’s family and the animals, Young wrote:
Hence, Dr. Smith’s remarks (p. 162–163) about the perils of descending Mount Ararat, on the wet and slippery faces of naked rocks, and the necessity of a miracle, to save Noah and his family and cattle from breaking their necks in attempting to get down, are rather puerile.112
This was because the volcanic activity during the Flood would have sustained the tropical climate for some time after the Flood, thereby aiding the drying and solidification of the surface sediments and the rapid growth of lush vegetation during the several months of receding waters between the time of the landing of the ark and disembarkation from it.
9) The dating of extinct volcanoes in southern France and of some trees (by the tree-ring method) to be much older than the supposed date of the Flood led Smith to reject its universality. But Young rebutted that the ages of trees and lavas were equally difficult to determine.113 He also cited examples, taken from Murray’s Portrait of Geology, of the rapid formation of volcanic cones. Based on his own observations, he rejected the notion that existing rivers cut the valleys through the lava; rather they only slightly modified valleys formed by faults and denudation of the Flood waters.
10) Finally, adding to the answer he had already given in 1838, Young explained how the Flood could have produced the thinly laminated layers in the strata. He objected that Smith had no proof for his assertion that a 1/25-inch thin layer represented one year’s deposition. On the contrary, flatly crushed and highly preserved fish, which naturally decay in hours, were frequently found fossilized in such laminated strata, which was a clear proof of very rapid deposition and lamination.114
Young summed up his defense of the Flood as the chief cause of the geological record by saying that all the current old-earth views miserably failed to explain the phenomena. He said:
It is acknowledged, in a quotation from Dr. Macculloch,115 “that the accumulation of materials at the bottom of the ocean, is a work infinitely slow.” Can this infinitely slow deposition account for the phenomena presented by our present rocks? The materials washed down by the rivers, or abraded from the coasts by the sea itself, are deposited, partly along the shores of the ocean, and partly in hollows in its bed. In this manner, banks of mud, sand, and gravel are formed in various spots; and a few organic substances, chiefly shells, may be found mixed up with such materials. But what ground have we to believe that these banks are future rocks in embryo? Is there any portion of them that can be called an incipient bed of red sandstone, or of magnesian limestone or of oolite or of lias or of chalk? At the mouth of one or two great rivers are found masses of drifted trees, covered with mud, illustrating in some degree, the origin of coal beds; but where do we find any carboniferous strata now forming; any incipient beds of sandstone, shale, ironstone, and coal? It is plain that the existing rocks, composed in so many instances of homogeneous materials, have been deposited under very different circumstances, and with far more rapidity, than any of those accumulations of sand, gravel, or mud now going on.116
Furthermore the notion of a long series of elevations and submersions of the crust lacked any real supporting evidence. He continued:
“In the majority of cases,” adds Dr. Smith, “it is shown by physical evidences of the most decisive kind, that each of those successive conditions was of extremely long duration; a duration which it would be presumptuous to put into any estimate of years or centuries, etc.” But where are these decisive evidences—where is there any evidence at all that such successive conditions, such seesaw motions, such dippings and redippings of the earth’s crust, have ever taken place? The evidences exist only in the wild imaginations of some modern geologists. It is true that in countries where earthquakes and volcanoes prevail, coasts have been elevated, or have subsided; and in a few instances, the same spots that have sunk at one time, may have risen at another: but can the occurrence of one or two isolated facts of this kind authorize us to set up a system of alternate elevation and subsidence as a general law of nature, prevailing throughout the globe during countless ages? Dr. S. objects to my ascribing the phenomena of unconformable strata “to the elevating force of volcanic agency” (p. 390); but surely it is more rational to suppose, that in such cases, volcanic agency has thrown one set of strata out of their natural position before the next set began to be deposited over them, than to attempt an explanation of such phenomena on the principle of alternate elevation and subsidence.117
The contemporary descriptions of Young’s character as a non-conformist pastor in a small town, the nature of his geological and non-geological writings and the peer reviews of his scientific work and writings indicate that he was a very competent geologist who was motivated to write on the subject of geology out of a sincere passion for truth, both scientific and biblical.
He sought to explain the Flood and the geological record by natural processes analogous to those operating in the present, though greatly magnified during the Noachian flood. In this regard he argued in a manner very similar to how all the old-earth catastrophists contested the uniformitarian interpretations of the geological data. Cleevely stated that Young “questioned many of the facts concerning fossils, sedimentation and geological time.”118 But the evidence here presented shows that it is more accurate to say that rather than generally questioning the facts themselves, Young objected to old-earth interpretations of those facts. He also opposed the old-earth theories because he believed that they ignored significant contrary geological facts and involved alternative interpretations of Scripture which were not exegetically sound. Though he often strongly disagreed with his opponents’ geological theories, he respectfully acknowledged their contributions to the advancement of the science.
Using both geological and scriptural arguments, he attempted to provide a brief answer to every difficulty and objection to the biblical view of earth history of which he was aware. He believed that new discoveries would throw much additional light on the subject. But he hoped that his research and writings would assist future geologists to arrive at a more accurate knowledge of the structure and history of the globe.
Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.