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John has been completely overlooked by historians, and his works related to the Genesis-geology debate were largely ignored by contemporary old-earth proponents.
John Murray is particularly significant for our consideration of the scriptural geologists because he has been completely overlooked by historians1, 2 and his works related to the Genesis-geology debate were largely ignored by contemporary old-earth proponents,3 even though he was competent in geology and was a very well-known scientist and Christian.
In about 1786, John Murray was born in Stranraer, Scotland, to Grace and James Murray, a sea captain, and from an early age he demonstrated a great interest in science. Though he eventually attained M.A. and PhD degrees, it was said by contemporaries who knew him that “he was literally self-taught” and therefore was a great example to young people placed in disadvantageous circumstances.4 In 1815, at the age of 29, he published his first work, The Elements of Chemical Science as Applied to the Arts and Manufactures and Natural Phenomena, in which he described himself as “lecturer on the philosophy of physics and chemistry.” For many years, starting in 1816, he gave an annual lecture course at the Surrey Institution and also became well-known through lectures (which generally included experiments) at mechanics institutes throughout the kingdom, which led Lord Brougham to describe Murray as “one of the best lecturers in the world.” Though he traveled extensively, his writings indicate that he made Hull his primary residence from about 1824 until 1850, when he moved back to Stranraer. Shortly after establishing residence there with his lifelong wife, severe illness reduced him to a helpless invalid at the same time that he faced great financial difficulties.5 He died on June 28, 1851. The Stranraer magistrates attended the funeral, the shops in the whole town closed, church bells tolled, and the streets of the procession were lined with spectators.6 Having been a loyal member of the Church of Scotland and a strong Calvinist7 all his life, the local paper said of him at this time:
His benevolent heart was a stranger to bigotry and sectarianism. He loved all who loved the Lord Jesus Christ. In the hours of sickness and of death he manifested the same meek, patient, and amiable spirit which had characterized his deportment through life.8
With great industry he developed an impressive breadth of knowledge in many subject areas of both science and literature. Not surprisingly, he did not gain great eminence in any single field, though he contributed much to chemistry and to mining. Between 1816 and 1835 he lectured, wrote several papers, and conducted many experiments in relation to the safety lamps used by miners. In the process, he developed a theory on the efficiency of the safety lamp which opposed the theory propounded by renown chemist Sir Humphry Davy, and which in 1835 led to an invitation to testify on safety lamps and mine ventilation before the Select Committee of the House of Commons on accidents in mines.9
His breadth and depth of knowledge and experience qualified him to become a Fellow of the Linnaean Society in 1819, the Society of Antiquities in 1822, the London Geological Society in 1823, and the London Horticultural Society in 1824. In 1837, he was an annual member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.10 His membership in the Geological Society continued throughout his career and his death was reported in the Society’s council minutes in 1858.
Additionally, he was a member of the Meteorological Society of London, the Wernerian Natural History Society of Edinburgh (from 1819), and the mechanics institutes of Exeter, Devonport, Portsmouth, and Bristol. He was also an honorary member of the Medico-chirurgical Society of Hull, the Medical Society of Inverness, and the philosophical societies of Sheffield and Hull. Finally, he was a corresponding member of the Northern Institution, the Horticultural Society of Edinburgh, and other societies.11
Besides lecturing and doing experimental research, he also traveled extensively to do his own firsthand geological and archaeological fieldwork. We will return to this later when examining his two most important writings related to the Genesis-geology debate. Additionally, he was a prolific writer, publishing 28 books (varying in length from 20 to 380 pages) and at least 60 articles in scientific journals,12 plus frequent correspondence to the Mechanics Magazine (from 1831 to 1844) and the Mining Journal (from 1841 to 1851). He had nearly 20 inventions which came into practical use.13 His journal articles addressed subjects in chemistry, physics, medicine, geology, natural history, and manufacturing. His books, some of which went through two or more editions, covered such diverse topics as the cultivation of the silkworm, illustrations of chemical experiments, modern paper, atmospherical electricity, pulmonary consumption (tuberculosis), hydrophobia (human rabies), plagues and quarantine, ventilation, disinfection and other sanitation measures, poisons, a shower bath and an artificial respirator (both of which he invented), diamonds, a method for forming an instantaneous contact with shore during a shipwreck, life boats, a lightning conductor, flax, glowworms, plant physiology, and the cow tree. He also wrote a passionate pamphlet calling for the end of slavery in the colonies, a book of minor poems, and a scientific/historical travel memoir of his three-month journey around Switzerland in 1825.14 Many of his works contain in the back very positive reviews of his previous works.15
Probably the greatest commendation Murray received in his lifetime16 from his scientific peers came in the form of personal testimonials in support of his (ultimately unsuccessful) candidacy for the chemistry chair at King’s College, London, in 1831. In his book on diamonds he publicly thanked, by name, 43 of over 100 such people.17 Among those named were one Anglican bishop, four Scottish university science professors, ten other members of scientific societies (including two presidents and one vice-president), seven surgeons, and several other prominent medical doctors. Most significant was the name of William Vernon Harcourt, president of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, a leading founder of the BAAS and a strong opponent of the scriptural geologists.18
Presumably, his lectures and writing provided the income that funded his travels and experiments.19 However, he expended considerable personal financial resources (sometimes to his own detriment) in his experimentation, especially related to human suffering and the improvement of life20 and some of his experiments involved personal risk, such as those he did on poisons and counter-poisons.21 As in the case of money, he appears also to have resisted the influences of party politics on his scientific work.22 On the other hand, some of his work was motivated by a strong sense of patriotism.23 His concern for thoughtful reflection and extensive reading and experimentation on a scientific problem is indicated by the years he devoted to some of the topics he researched before he published on them: the safety lamp (15 years), hydrophobia (12 years), and pulmonary consumption (12 years).24 He also had priority of discovery in four different areas of research: a cure for pulmonary consumption (by means of aerial clorine25), growth of New Zealand flax in Scotland (which was superior for making paper), a mining safety lamp, and fusing a diamond.26
Most important for this study were his two books directly related to geology and the Bible.27 The Truth of Revelation (276 pages) was published anonymously in 1831, with a signed and greatly revised second edition (380 pages) appearing in 1840. In this book, Murray endeavored to demonstrate the truth and inspiration of the Bible by an appeal to the existing monuments, sculptures, gems, coins, and medals from ancient peoples of the Near East and elsewhere. Between these two editions, in 1838, his Portrait of Geology (214 pages) appeared anonymously.28 This book was written to give proofs from geology of divine design in creation, and secondarily to add verification to the truth of Scripture. An examination of these two works reveals more about Murray’s geological knowledge and experience, which provides a necessary context for understanding the views he expressed in these two books.29
It is worthwhile to draw out in more detail from some of Murray’s own writings the extent of his scientific, and especially geological, qualifications, in light of the common characterization that scriptural geologists were poorly informed in these areas.
Murray’s up to date knowledge of mineralogy and geology is reflected in his description of the various rock types, definitions of geological terms, and the names of formations (in English, French, and German) associated with the work of Conybeare and Phillips, Murchison, De La Beche, Sedgwick, Lyell, etc. However, in his comments about the great “Devonian controversy,”30 which was drawing to completion in the late 1830s, Murray expressed dissatisfaction with the use of local names for rock formations that may not be strictly local and preferred instead a nomenclature of more universal application for the effective globalization of the study of geology.31
As noted earlier, in 1815 (in his first book) and in 1835 (before the parliamentary committee) he called himself a chemist. But judging from his writings in the latter part of his life, geology seems to have dominated his interests.32 In the late 1830s he referred to himself as “a practical geologist”33 and endeavored generally to stay out of the heated debates in theoretical geology, chiefly because it was his conviction that geology was still such a young science “in a state of constant revolution, and incessantly changing its aspect.”34 Obviously, he did not stay out of the debate completely.
As he stated, his “careful examination of geological phenomena, and observation of the facts consequent on the study of geology for many years” took him to such places as Switzerland, Italy, Germany, the Lyme Cliffs of Dorset, the Walker mine near Newcastle, and to the sites of erratic boulders all over the United Kingdom and Europe. He personally examined the immense collection of fossil bones in the possession of the man who diligently explored the cave near Torquay, called Kent’s Hole, and he had investigated “with considerable attention” the rounded pebbles and bones of Kirkdale Cave, the analysis of which had greatly augmented William Buckland’s fame in 1823,35 as well as the cavernous crevice in the (Isle of) Portland Oolite, which by the time of Murray’s 1838 book had almost been obliterated by quarrymen. He traveled to the British Museum in London and to a museum in Paris36 to compare their collections of Gallibi (human fossil remains found in 1805 in calcareous rock on the island of Guadaloupe), also to the museum in the Birmingham Philosophical Institution to study toad fossils, and back again to the museum in Paris, just a few years before writing his 1838 book, to examine a footprint preserved in a clay-sandstone slab.37
In discussing his explorations in the Isle of Man, he described his careful observations of elk bones found in white shell marl under eight feet of peat: “On fracturing one of the antlers, I discovered a considerable quantity of the earthy phosphate of iron, filling the interior—fragments of flints evidently employed by man, and probably in the chase, were discovered in the marl, also a styca of Ethelred.”
Another example of his careful field observations appears in his discussion of footprints found in the Dumfriesshire sandstone (and commented on by Buckland): “The impressions which I have examined, appear, at any rate, to belong to a three-toed animal, and the sand seems to have been raised behind the foot as is the case in animals traversing the sand on the sea shore; small scales of mica, are seen more distinctly in the impress.”38
Murray understood, and apparently accepted, the use of fossils in the identification and correlation of strata, for he said:
The great importance of studying organic remains is evident in this, that it enables us to identify particular rocks, and refer them to their common group, or formation, however distant, and in whatever country found; and when the continuity is broken, it is our only guide, since the mineral structure may be altogether different from its associated member. Sometimes these organic remains have existing counterparts, or living analogues, occasionally both in genera and species; and at other times they are without their types in the present order of things.39
However, he did not consider this a fool-proof method, because some life forms are found all through the formations from the oldest to the most recent. And herein lay one of his objections to the catastrophism of Buckland, Cuvier, and other leading geologists of his day. So he wrote:
This is a striking and memorable fact; and I do not see how it can be satisfactorily explained on the principles assumed by geologists—that is, repeatedly created, to be as repeatedly destroyed by succeeding cataclysms, for I believe it is the opinion of eminent geologists, that a new physical condition of things was constituted to meet the contingencies of the new order of being.40
Furthermore he stated:
The prevalent views of geologists seem to be to attach an overweening confidence and undue importance to the character and condition of the organic remains found in rocks, while others lean almost exclusively to their mineral structure. It is evident, however, that just geological inferences can only be found in a happy combination of both, and in a proper line of distinction between general and continuous strata, and local deposits, or formations, together with the circumstances which have concurred to break the line of continuity.41
Murray “personally examined the subterranean recesses of Herculaneum42 and its volcanic covering” and “especially examined, and with tolerable attention, the volcanic phenomena of the Neapolitan territory, in detail.”43 In 1818, at the risk of suffocation, he made observations and chemical experiments several hundred feet down in the crater of Mt. Vesuvius.44 This was evidently not a unique experience for Murray, because in 1840 he commented that “I have been in both active and extinct volcanic craters.”45 He apparently always had with him the means for doing chemical analysis, as, for example, when he discovered in the waters of the Dead Sea several substances that had gone unnoticed by other investigators, and when he visited Stonehenge in 1839 and chemically compared the stones there with marbles he had examined in Greece.46 But he also relied on the work of other scientists, as, for example, in his discussion of mineral veins he referred to R.W. Fox’s laboratory and fieldwork,47 especially using electricity, and noted that electrical action is associated with volcanoes.48 In his extensive 14-page discussion of what he believed was good evidence of antediluvian human fossils he cited the analysis of some bones done by a surgeon and fossil collector, William Tyson.49 Murray also collected rock specimens and fossils from such places as Kent’s Hole near Torquay, a coal mine in Yorkshire, Mt. Sinai, the Isle of Portland, and from various locations in Cornwall, Devonshire, Derbyshire, and Bohemia.50
These data show that he traveled widely in the United Kingdom and in Europe, sometimes even at risk to his life, in pursuit of geological and other scientific knowledge. Certainly in this regard he was more qualified as a geologist than either Hutton or Werner and, at the time, nearly as well-traveled as Buckland, Lyell, Macculloch, and other respected geologists.
His more-than-superficial knowledge of conchology, a subject so important for identifying and correlating rock strata, is reflected in these words:
Thus, in conchology, shells, generally, are the habitations of testaceae; but, this is, by no means, always the case: for the reverse of this happens in some instances. In the latter, instead of the animal inhabiting the shell, the shell inhabits the animal: thus, the dolabella of Lamarck, and the bulla aperta, and helix haliotoida of Linneus [sic], afford examples wherein the shell is embedded in the animal, and the animal is wrapped like a mantle round it. Sometimes the shell is a mere plate or escutcheon, as in the limax or slug; and in the beautiful argonauta vitrea, it is a case or pouch which contains some of the organs. Again, in almost every case, we find the spires of shells in one determinate direction, their mouths opening to the left hand; but, though extremely rare, there are remarkable exceptions to this rule: in these contrarieties, the whirls are reversed, and the involutions are to the right—for example, the murex perversus and fusus contrarius. We also find instances of this kind among the Linnaean genera of helix, strombus, and others. On the other hand, the reversed variety of the citrina is LESS RARE than the usual form. When the chank shell, turbinella of Lamarck, is found to possess this very curious character, it is highly prized by the natives of India. A chank shell, with an opening to the right, is, indeed, rarely obtained; but when found, always sells for its weight in gold.51
He read widely and in several languages: Latin, Italian, French, German, and some Hebrew.52 In addition to geological writers already mentioned, he indicated that he had read works by Cuvier, Buckland, Mantell, Hitchcock, Werner, Hutton, Playfair, Buffon, Demaillet, Lamarck, Burnet, Woodward, and Whiston. He was conversant with the writings of leading 18th and 19th century philologists, physicians, explorers, travelers, antiquaries, and Bible scholars.53 Additionally, Murray interacted with David Hume (Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, 1758), Charles Babbage (Ninth Bridgewater Treatise, 1837), Henry Milman (History of the Jews, 1829), and Sir Charles Bell.54
He only referred to the writings of three other scriptural geologists: Andrew Ure, Granville Penn, and George Young. He described Ure’s book (New System of Geology) as betraying “no very accurate knowledge of the principles of geology.” In discussing animals entombed in caves, he respectfully disagreed with Penn’s explanation, but he also rejected Buckland’s hyena den hypothesis on the Kirkdale cave in Yorkshire and instead “generally coincides” with “Mr. Young’s judicious remarks,” from which he quoted six pages out of Young’s A Geological Survey of Yorkshire (1828).55
Murray loved geology for it “charms and instructs the reflective mind” and has a very practical utility in wise and profitable mining, farming, well-drilling, and the construction of buildings, roads, canals, and railways.56 Furthermore, it is an aid to natural theology in that it reveals aspects of God’s creative power and wisdom, as well as serving as a support of scriptural revelation.
My object in this little volume has been to consider geological phenomena as a collection of curious facts, at once novel and rare, and affording decisive proofs of wise and beneficent design. The interest of geology is therefore of a sterling cast, as it ministers important aid to the student in natural theology. The science will also be found tributary, and that in no mystic or unintelligible form, to the cause of Revealed Truth, and thus “put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.”57
But Murray also believed that geology poses dangers.
Modern geology is the very beau idéal of romance; and it cannot be denied that, in many instances, bold assumptions and reckless speculation have usurped the throne of reason and reality. No marvel indeed, for it must be candidly admitted, that it requires no slight effort of the mind to curb the reins of imagination, when wandering among the wonders of a world destroyed.58
He believed that “geologists are generally a skeptical race; but whether such skepticism rests on a philosophical basis, we may well question.”59 In comparing the geology of the past to that in his own times he expressed his own attitudes to the dominant theories of the catastrophists and uniformitarians. While he disagreed with them at the theoretical level, he did not employ ad hominem attacks.
Modern geology differs materially from the speculative hypotheses which in former times amused the fancy and ministered to the imagination, while they left the mind as uninformed and uninstructed as it was before. It was formerly subordinated and tributary to mineralogy, though essentially distinct, and was thus defined, what geology is en masse, mineralogy is in detail. The geology of modern times, when legitimately engaged, is more busied in collecting and combining facts, than anxious to display its argumentative powers in rearing worlds, and bewildering its imagination, and beclouding its reason in labyrinths of perplexity and error. I do not say that all modern geologists are free from the charge of rash, intemperate, and even presumptuous speculations: of clysmic action there is no lack, and of cataclysms and what may well suffice—much more we think, than the book of nature teaches, or the sister volume warrants. There is, it is but too true, much dogmatism in modern times, and many conclusions formed in defiance of the principles of inductive logic; assertions are made to supplant facts, and inferences formed unwarranted by the premises. This indeed is the great difficulty with which the student has to contend. The facts are of the most sterling and interesting kind, and at once novel and instructive; but to separate the chaff from the wheat, and the grain from the tares “hic labor—hoc opus” [Latin for: This is the toil, this is the task]. While I therefore feel in common with all the students engaged in gleaning the fields of truth, the liveliest gratitude for the practical fruits developed in the assiduous researches of those excellent geologists, Messrs. Buckland, Lyell, Sedgwick, De la Beche, Conybeare, and others, I cannot subscribe to many of their opinions, and must remain a conscientious dissentient.60
Murray then went on in the next 14 pages to draw the readers attention to what he believed to be some of the erroneous speculations of Kepler, Demaillet, Lamarck, Leibnitz, Hooke, Woodward, Burnet, Whiston, Buffon, Werner, Hutton,61 Knight, Lyell,62 Buckland,63 Ure, Macculloch, and Mantell.
Murray did not provide us with a sustained discussion of his view of the “laws of nature.” Regarding Lyell’s radical uniformitarianism he wrote, “Mr. Lyell stands out in solitary relief from his fellows, and endeavors to explain the former changes which have supervened on the earth’s surface, by referring them to causes that are now in operation.”64 In such a comment, Murray was distancing himself from uniformitarianism while not denying the principle of uniformity (or actualism, as it was called on the continent), which is the principle that undergirds all modern scientific investigation.65
Murray’s commitment to the principle of uniformity is seen in his rejection of Sir Charles Bell’s conclusion that man could not have existed contemporaneously with the ichthyosaurus because the physical constitution of the earth was significantly different in the past. Murray stated:
I entirely repudiate the assumption that there was a physical change, as he [Bell] has assumed, and sufficient to impose such a negation of being [extinction of ichthyosaurus]; though I am prepared to admit mutations to a minor extent in the density of the atmosphere, and of course the concurrent hygrometric and thermometric relations; but there is abundant evidence to neutralize the sweeping conclusion [of Bell] referred to.
In the ripple marks, etc., on the forest marble, and on sandstone, I read the important lesson, that the flux and reflux of the tides, and the agency of the winds, were just the same then as now;66 the laws of gravitation, and the dynamics of the atmosphere, operated then precisely as they do in our own times. In the structure of the lenses which compose the eye of the trilobite, and are constructed precisely like the eyes of living crustacea, I see the same laws of light and vision then operating as now, and I therefore infer the same physical condition of light and the atmosphere; and I have trilobites in specimens of grauwache (transition) both from Devonshire, etc., and Bohemia. I find, too, that the bone was subject to the same diseases then as now prevail, such as caries, mollities and necrosis, and when fractured, it was healed by the same process of a callus. I have a specimen of silicified lignite, from the chalk, pierced by the teredo navalis, an event which occurs before our eyes. Similar facts might be indefinitely multiplied; and not only has the cheriotherium walked over the sands, not then indurated, nor consolidated into sandstone, but man himself has impressed his footsteps.67
Murray did refer to significant physical change related to the Flood.68 In contrast to Bell’s notion, however, that change was associated with an event resulting from a unique judgment of God which in certain ways disrupted the normal laws (or course) of nature. Here, then, Murray expressed his belief in the general laws of nature and criticized Bell’s view that such drastic physical change in the earth could be a normal characteristic of nature (rather than a unique intervention of God).
Earlier, he stated that the original various forms of life were created instantaneously in a mature state during the six days of creation, as recorded in Genesis.69 Here, he argued that the “laws of ossification” would not explain the bones of the first created man, any more than the “laws of lignification” would explain the origin of the first created trees. Likewise, he said, the laws of lithifaction would lead the geologist to erroneous conclusions about the origin of the non-fossiliferous primitive rocks.70 In a similar discussion in his 1838 book he put it this way:
I do not believe that this science [geology] has a legitimate right to exercise its “cunning” on the forms of rocks developed in the creation of being, and to reason on their phenomena as if time and its infinitesimal and successional series were an essential element in the fiat of Almighty power—No! “He spake and it was done,” and “commanded and all things stood fast.” [Ps. 33:6, (9)] At this point, I must assume modern geologists have greatly erred. Crystallizations, precipitations, and other processes belong to the chemist and the laboratory, but the “ways” of the Author of these existencies [sic], and the “creator of the ends of the earth,” are not “as our ways.” If this point be not readily conceded, I frankly confess that there is much force in an observation made by an able writer on geology, namely, that “the mineral geology, considered as a science, can do as well without GOD (though in a question concerning the origin of the earth) as Lucretius did.” For my own part, I will have nothing to do with a Cosmogonal chaos. I acknowledge no authentic record of creation, except the chronicles of revelation.
The simplest intellect, and the soundest judgment, must equally discern that the same process of reasoning which we now apply to the phenomena of ossification and lignification, in determining the age of a man, or that of a tree, would fail as a metre in relation to the prototype of humanity, or the primitive tree. In the dawn of existence they were severally mature; had man not been so, as well as other links in palaeontology, then death would have instantly supervened on creation, and his cradle been his sepulchre. In like manner the “Master-builder” laid the foundations of the world; they were summoned into existence, and instantly “stood confessed,” complete in form and structure. This seems a reasonable, and I will add, philosophical view of the act of creation, and it is corroborated by the only appropriate standard of appeal. What has supervened since, however, becomes the legitimate province of geological science.71
Clearly, in Murray’s mind, there was a difference between the way God originally created the world and the way He now sustains it.72 In stressing the general consistency and continuity of the laws of nature, Murray followed on from the above quote to say that “two great evils” of modern geological theories (i.e., of catastrophists and uniformitarians) were:
Again, on the continuous chain of life he stated:
From infusoria [microscopic organisms] up to man, the terraqueous system of being seems to be connected with a continuous chain. In this chain the continuity is here and there broken; the extinct genera and species, whose organic remains are revealed to us, supply the vacant links, and complete the concatenation; and we therefore infer, on the soundest principles of inductive logic, that they necessarily belong to the same order of existing being; and farther, that the same physical laws must have been in incessant operation in all periods of the past; and hence deduce, as a natural inference, the same CREATOR AND ALMIGHTY LAWGIVER—“the same yesterday, today, and forever.”74
These statements on the continuity of the life chain could be interpreted to mean that he believed in some kind of theistic evolution. But we must balance our understanding of him on this point with these words:
Further, the rhapsodies of Lamarck, and his atheistical speculations, which have neither common sense nor the deductions of reason to recommend them, as well as the successive developements [sic] of some modern geologists, which seem to have originated in the same eccentricities and aberrations, are once for all nullified, and must be repudiated on the inductive basis of scientific truth. The discovery of mammiferous remains in the Stonesfield slate, as well as those of quadrumana, in the miocene period of tertiary strata, with many other corresponding phenomena, are entirely conclusive on this part of the argument. The laws of hybridism seem clearly to be the imposition of that INFINITE INTELLIGENCE, who is the “God of order and not of confusion.” These laws also most distinctly prove the extreme absurdity, at once of spontaneous production and successive developements [sic].75
In a brief section on miracles, Murray rejected both Hume’s definition (in his Essay on Miracles) of a miracle as a transgression of the laws of nature and Hume’s notion that miracles cannot be proven by testimony. Murray contended:
Nature determines the existence of a power superior to itself. Testimony can determine no fact whatever, it simply testifies the individual’s belief concerning it, and no more; and none but an infinite mind can determine the limits of nature’s laws, or set bounds to their operations. There is within and over these mystic wheels, a living principle—the plastic powers of which no finite mind can fathom. Are these laws so inelastic that they will refuse the impress of their author’s seal? Are they so inflexible that they will not bend to contingencies when their maker wills it? Was the omniscient eye of the Almighty lawgiver, bounded by the dim horizon of definite periods, and limited measures of time; and are the physical laws of physical phenomena not to be subordinate to the Almighty’s will, when specific purposes are to be consummated in the great moral and mental drama of which time is the theatre, and when such purposes cannot be fulfilled without such control or ordinance?
In order to illustrate our views on this subject, we may refer to a few of the miracles recorded in the Old Testament, without at all impugning the better counsel of those who may believe, that miracles may be a counteraction of the laws of nature in all cases: our views have to do with infidels; and it is to contest the question on their assumptions, that we take up our position. As we defy them to prove, that a miracle does, in its very nature, imply a contradiction of the laws of nature, or something contrary to them and cannot imply any thing else; we have ventured an opinion, that a miracle does not necessarily and essentially imply this. For aught they can tell, the original laws of creation may remain precisely as they were and now are; and a miracle may be altogether independent of those laws, and involve the question of a new law superadded to the previously natural course of events, and provided in the councils of heaven for the contingencies of time: that GOD, who “made a decree for the rain, and prepared a way for the lightning of the thunder,” (which laws were, in all probability, imposed after the deluge,) has many other laws in store, of which we know nothing.76
In other words, Murray seems to be arguing that the laws of nature are not so determinative that God cannot alter them if His purposes require it. The laws of nature are descriptive of God’s providential activity, or customary behavior, in the creation, not prescriptive of how God must act at all times. Miracles involve God’s uncustomary imposition of higher laws at particular points for particular reasons.
He then proceeded to illustrate this line of reasoning in his explanations, based on his scientific knowledge, of the miracles of meteoric stones falling from heaven on the enemies of Israel (Josh. 10:11), Joshua’s long day (Josh. 10:12), the apparent backward movement of the sun on Hezekiah’s stairs (2 Kings 20:11), and the ravens feeding Elijah (1 Kings 17:6). He concluded:
Apart from these considerations, a very natural inquiry may arise: Are we fully acquainted with these laws, so as to be able to sit in judgment on them, and define them accurately? We hold it to be an axiom, that there is no such thing as an anomaly in the sight of GOD, however convenient the term may be to us, who use it, to conceal an ignorance we are unwilling to confess.77
He gave three examples of anomalies which are the exceptions to the general laws of nature and said that such examples could be found in every department of nature. The examples were 1) the then recent discovery that two of the moons of Uranus moved in a direction contrary to the movement of all other bodies in the solar system, 2) certain plants that “violate” the laws of vegetable physiology, and 3) some creatures whose shells have features contrary to the normal laws of shell physiology.
So Murray viewed the “laws of nature” to be valid generalizations of the way God providentially sustains His creation (with some of those laws instituted at the time of the Flood), but that they are not descriptive of the processes God used to bring into existence the original perfect and mature creation. Furthermore, God has suspended or overridden these laws to perform miracles, and the Noachian flood was definitely an unparalleled disruption in the normal course of nature.
As noted earlier, Murray was a Calvinist. He did not believe Calvin’s Institutes were free from error, but that most Protestants considered them to be “the most happy compendium of the doctrines of Christianity that was ever conceived by the mind of man.” Nevertheless, he believed that they must always be tested against the highest authority, which is Scripture.78 He only made passing comments in Portrait of Geology on his view of Scripture, though the ones he made are clear and consistent with a more thorough discussion in Truth of Revelation. In the preface to the Portrait he stated:
In has been my earnest endeavor to stand aloof from the hostile array of conflicting opinions [in theoretical geology]. There is only ONE authentic record of the primordial history of the globe, and of its tenants; that ancient book may be safely referred to, and in the question of geology, is the only legitimate standard of appeal. The facts of our science corroborate its evidence; and its relation of physical events has survived intact and undisturbed [sic] the progress of discovery. Hypotheses have indeed warred with, and may continue to assail the solemn and sublime dicta of Revelation, but it may fearlessly be asserted, that its INTEGRITY will “flourish in immortal youth.”79
In Truth of Revelation Murray began in the preface by stating that the Scriptures had been and were being fully vindicated regarding their historical reliability.
The mass of evidence which the researches of modern times have accumulated, in verification of the Scriptures of Truth, is so overwhelming in magnitude and variety, as to put infidelity to the blush, and leave its benighted votaries without excuse. . . . the recent accessions of new and unexpected facts, warrant us in asserting, that there is not an historical fact within the precincts of the Inspired Volume, unsubstantiated by some existing and tangible monument, which time wither has not already, or may not hereafter reveal.80
The chapters of the book lay out some of the evidence he gathered to support this claim. After some general remarks on atheism in chapter 1, he went on in chapter 2 to discuss how the presentday Jews, Samaritans, Arabs, and Gypsies, as well as the permanence of many Oriental, near-Eastern customs and habits all are living evidences of the truth of Scripture. In chapter 3 he cited examples of monuments to the truth of the Bible in the topographical features of the Holy Land. Chapter 4 treats the necessity of revelation from God, and chapter 5 deals with Genesis 1–11 in the light of recent geological theory. More about this will come later.
In chapter 6, Murray considered the relation of the Bible to Egyptian and Indian chronology. He criticized the views expressed by Playfair in his Astronomy of the Brahmins (1822)81 and concluded, in the words of the famous 18th century Oriental scholar, Sir William Jones,82 that the early chapters of Genesis were not borrowed from Israel’s neighbors, but composed the oldest history of the world we have.
There is no shadow, then, of a foundation for an opinion, that Moses borrowed the first nine or ten chapters from the literature of Egypt; still less can the adamantine pillars of our Christian faith be moved by the result of any debates on the comparative antiquity of the Hindoos and Egyptians or of any inquiries into the Indian theology.83
His defense of the historicity of the fall of man by reference to ancient coins and the remnants of truth, which he believed are contained in the pagan mythologies of antiquity, appears in the seventh chapter.
In chapter 8, he dealt with the Noachian deluge. We will look later at his views related to geology. Here I only note his conclusion based on the historical evidence he presented from Sir William Jones, Cuvier, Mr. Rich, and Dr. Wiseman, as well as ancient writers like Josephus, Lucian, Plutarch, Juvenal, and Ovid, that the Flood was a historical fact.
We may therefore state, that the evidence on this question is universal and conclusive. The Chaldeans, Phoenicians, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Goths, and Druids, Persians, Hindoos, Burmese, Chinese, Mexicans, Peruvians, Brazilians, Nicaraguans, the inhabitants of Western Caledonia, the Otakeitan and Sandwich Islanders, all have recorded the event of the Deluge, and it is incorporated in our annals. This universal testimony is wonderful, and we should think amply sufficient to satisfy the most skeptical mind.84
Chapters 9 through 12 present historical evidence in support of the veracity of various biblical accounts, such as the Tower of Babel, Abraham, Moses and the Exodus, the giving of the Ten Commandments, the serpent in the wilderness, Samson, and the Babylonian captivity. The historicity of the New Testament is defended in chapters 13 through 15. The book closes with quotes from Matthew Hale, John Milton, John Locke, Lord Bacon, Robert Boyle, and others affirming the truth of the Bible. Sir William Jones seemed to express Murray’s views best when Jones wrote on the last leaf of his Bible:
I have regularly and attentively read the Holy Scriptures, and am of [the] opinion that this volume, independently of its divine origin, contains more sublimity and beauty, more pure morality, more important history, and finer strains of poetry and eloquence, than can be collected from all other books, in whatever age or language they may have been composed.85
Murray devoted several pages to the extraordinary care the Jews gave to the copying and preservation of the Scriptures and confirmed the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, saying:
Its style, its careful transmission from age to age, the numerous independent authorities which corroborate this, such as the Samaritans, the Jews of the eastern hemisphere—ancient and modern—separated by barriers that have remained impassable for many centuries—Pagan evidence—all proclaim the authenticity of the sacred code of the Jews, beyond doubt or appeal.86
In holding this view he was not ignorant of the skeptical biblical criticism developing on the continent, particularly in Germany. In the preface he stated that “the neologists of Germany” are “worse than infidel” and are “left without excuse” and in a discussion of the death of Christ he wrote, “The reality of the Savior’s death has been denied by the infidel German school, though the reality of our Savior’s life has not been questioned.”87
Regarding the interpretation and clarity of Scripture, he stated that “in beneficent condescension to our feeble intellect and limited reason, the Supreme Being has, in the Revelation he has sent us from heaven, used no unintelligible symbols. Deity speaks to us in our own tongue. . . . It applies to all nations of the world alike.”88 When discussing the Fall of man he was more explicit.
The fall of man is a terrible event in the history of the species. It is related with differing brevity, and with all the simple emphasis of truth. . . . I am perfectly aware that this fearful transaction has been considered metaphorical or figurative—a flourish of orientalism; but the Bible no where deceives us, and the event detailed is perspicuous and palpable. . . . The Jews understood it as a literal event, do now receive it as such, and it was so understood in the apostolic age.89
To Murray, the account of the Noachian flood was similarly perspicuous. He wrote, “This description of a catastrophe, which is attested by universal consent of mankind, and confirmed by the testimony of geological phenomena, is though brief, a very circumstantial and explicit account.”90 And in general he viewed the relation between the interpretation of the geological record and the interpretation of the scriptural record this way:
I may premise, however, that though creations antecedent to MAN may possibly not differ the philological argument and the language of Scripture, yet, irrespective of its testimony, I confess, after a careful examination of geological phenomena, and observation of facts consequent on the study of geology for many years, I can find nothing to disturb the generally received recognition; and I confess, too, that my opinion can only be changed by a different class of facts to what has yet been adduced, and very different elements of reasoning to any I have yet met with. There cannot be a position more fixed and determinate than this—namely, that the right meaning of a Hebrew word is to be determined by the canons of philology, and not by the elements of geology. The Scripture narrative existed before the science of geology had an existence among men, and as geology is in a state of constant revolution, and incessantly changing its aspect, and moreover, is yet in an incipient state; if the Scripture is to be determined by such a versatile and ever-changing reference, there can be no standard whatever, and the pillar of our security is shaken to its foundation. Geologists were wont to convert the demiurgic days into periods of indefinite and indeterminate length, but this untenable position is now abandoned by all geologists, and the mode or scene of attack is shifted, being transferred to the Hebrew word BARA, in the first paragraph of the Genesis [sic], and the conjunction which links the first and second verses. . . . As modern geologists have abandoned this error [making the days of creation long ages], I advert to it because, on a former occasion, I had already insisted that it could not be reasonably or consistently maintained; and it moreover proves how dangerous it is to tamper with sacred truth, which sooner or later must always triumph.91
It is clear from Murray’s defense of the historicity of Scripture in his Truth of Revelation that he believed that Scripture conveyed more than just religious and moral truth. He was convinced that the Bible also is completely accurate (though not exhaustively detailed) in its historical parts, which included the first 11 chapters of Genesis.
As far as the Galileo affair was concerned, Murray felt that it had no comparison to the Genesis-geology debate.
The statics and formularies of astronomical science are nowhere taught in the sacred narrative; but the creation of the world at a specific period of past time, the fall of man, and the infliction of death as the penalty due to his transgression, together with an universal deluge, (certainly not a local inundation)—these facts are clearly and unequivocally taught in the records of Revelation, and no man may contravene them; and yet they are virtually repudiated by modern geological speculations. “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” [Ps. 11:3] Are the Protean forms and chameleon hues of a constantly changing science, to be made the test and touchstone of immutable truth? It is quite true, Weissenborn of Weimar talks about a “shortsighted interpretation of a symbolical tradition,” quite upon a par with a metaphorical flood and a moral deluge. I cannot think, however, that though modern geologists are making rapid advances to these infidel conclusions, they are as yet quite prepared to go so far.92
Murray strongly believed that the accounts of creation, Noah’s flood, and the biblical chronology are generally written in clear understandable language and are literally and historically accurate.93 He stated in the preface to his 1840 book:
I have also in these pages abandoned the geological argument, except in so far as geological monuments substantiate and confirm the doctrine of an UNIVERSAL DELUGE, entirely repudiated by modern geologists, though its summary rejection assails the authenticity of the Mosaic narrative in an essential point. If language has any meaning, its universality is clearly and unequivocally propounded for our belief, and no man may contravene its high authority or challenge its testimony; and I trust I have clearly proven that the phenomena of geology corroborate the announcement of the catastrophe of the Hebrew prophet.
While I feel satisfied that in the facts revealed in modern geological research, startling and astonishing though they be, there is nothing to disturb the sacred history of creation, yet there are many difficulties and perplexities connected with arrangement and classification [of the geological phenomena]; and facts, on which there can be no misunderstanding, are better separated, in a work like the present, from conflicting speculations, and what is allowed by the dispassionate observer to be ad hoc subjudice.94
In chapter 5, when he discussed creation, chronology, and geology, he opened with these words:
The opening drama of the history of time is introduced by the Hebrew prophet, under the influence of inspiration, with inimitable majesty and magnificence; and there is a grandeur and a glory about it, which stamps upon it the image and superscription of heaven. When we examine it with a philosophic eye, we discover such traces of integrity, and such elements of truth, as prove incontestibly [sic] its source and origin to be divine.95
Murray was clearly of the conviction that God’s acts of creation were instantaneous in their effects, though spread over six 24-hour days. He wrote that “No one can read the record of creation without being impressed with the conviction, that matter and motion were instantaneous products of Almighty Power.”96 Quoting an unnamed author he reasoned:
Common sense discerns that creation alone can give origin to existence; or first formation, to that which before did not exist; it discerns, that there can be no intermediate stage or degree between nonexistence and existence, and therefore no graduality in passing from the one state to the other. To the mode of creation, we cannot therefore ascribe that mode of succession to which we give the name of time. The action of creation, was therefore effected without the mediation of time, and consequently, in that mode which we express when we exclude all notion of the mediation of time; namely, immediately, that is instantaneously, or suddenly.97
His view of terrestrial bodies applied no less to the celestial bodies, and was a conclusion he drew from Scripture as well as from his knowledge of astronomy.
By reading attentively the sacred narrative of creation of Genesis, it seems quite clear that the entire solar system was created simultaneously and contemporaneously with this earth, and physical astronomy clearly teaches that this must have been the case. Let us remember that the various members of the solar system reciprocally depend upon each other—act and react, and are thus relatively equipoised. The sun and moon influence the earth, and are influenced by it. Were one member to be withdrawn from the solar system, all the other members would suffer; nor is it possible for us to calculate the confusion and ruin that might be entailed on the whole, if even the least important of the number were extinguished from the system in which these spheres revolve.98
As a general statement he could then conclude, “When we survey the act of creation, it seem [sic] obvious, that the creative fiat was followed by instant obedience; matter started into being when the voice of the CREATOR vibrated on the TOHU BOHU; and became conscious from the infusion of living principles; distinct and definite periods marked the succession of creation.”99
At the end of creation week the perfect universe “stood a finished monument, erected to the glory of the Creator.”100 From then on the procreation of plant and animal life and the changes to the inanimate creation proceeded according to the “laws of nature.” Though in God’s wise providence some creatures became extinct, no new forms of life were being created to replace them.
There is not the slightest evidence to suppose that their places [i.e., that of extinct forms of life] have been supplied; it would be most unphilosophical, and even rash, to assume any thing of the kind—certainly unwarranted by Scripture; for we read that “God rested from his work” at the termination of the demiurgic days, and the observation and experience of ages concur in a similar conclusion.101
This biblical teaching, as he understood it, along with his geological knowledge led him, as we would expect, to reject the catastrophist notion of many revolutions, each followed by new acts of creation.
Though he stressed the instantaneous nature of the original creative acts of God, he also made it clear that the days of creation were normal 24-hour days. He rejected the day-age theory because 1) the context of Genesis 1 “sufficiently defined” the Hebrew word YOM (day), 2) the sabbath command of Exodus 20:11 ruled out any notion of an indefinite time period, and 3) ancient heathen writers also believed in a six-day creation. He rejected the gap theory because, while the Hebrew word BARA elsewhere in Scripture meant “adorn,” “array,” or “set in order,” the narrative of Genesis 1 demanded the highest meaning of “create out of nothing,” as Hebrews 11:3 indicated, and if it did not mean this in Genesis 1, then the Hebrews had no word to speak of creation out of nothing. The use of the conjunction at the beginning of Genesis 1:2, said Murray, cannot be so flexible and elastic in meaning to imply millions of years, for this negates the continuity of the passage.102
Murray devoted considerable attention to the question of the creation of light on the first day and the sun (and moon and stars) on the fourth day. At the beginning of his discussion he appeared to believe that the sun was created on the first day (as the source of the light) and only became visible on the fourth day. But after discussing this for three pages, he entertained the possibility that:
In some localized form, apart from the orb of the sun, light might have arisen over the axal [sic] revolution of the earth, divided the day from the night in periodic times, and not have been transferred to the splendid station of one of the foci of the ellipsis until the fourth diurnal revolution. It was the opinion of the Greeks and Romans, indeed, that the sun was created on the fourth day.103
In the end he did not commit himself to either interpretation, but left open the question of when the sun was created (day 1 or day 4).104
Murray also did not commit himself on the precise age of the earth, though clearly it was only thousands of years old. He discussed the dates of Ussher (4004 B.C.), Dr. Hales (5411 B.C.), the Samaritans (6084 B.C.) and the Septuagint (7229 B.C.), as well as the efforts of Halley and Newton to reconcile the discrepancies between these chronologies and concluded:
When the complexity of the question is estimated, and its liability to fallacy, with the independent sources which must be reconciled, it is rather remarkable that the error is not of wider extent.105
Regarding the determination of the age of the earth by a study of the strata and fossils he said:
To natural chronometers I shall again refer, as concurring to validate the date of the deluge. But to claim a high antiquity for our globe from the extraordinary premises which some have assumed, is quite sufficient to excite our astonishment. We particularly allude to an attempt to determine the age of the world from the process of petrifaction in the piles of Trajan’s Bridge, and Brydone’s story about the alternations of lava and earth on the flanks of [Mount] Etna.106
Elsewhere he stated:
As for the questio vexata of systems antecedent to man, with “millions of ages,” and “creations and destructions innumerable,” I confess I have strong objections to these dogmas. The phenomena of geology do not, in my mind, warrant or require such deductions. There are difficulties, no doubt, but to fly off from the orbit of induction to the eccentric regions of speculation, is not a procedure best calculated to solve them. . . . . Let it be remembered that there is no absolute CHRONOMETER in geology, and I very much doubt whether there yet be a fixed relative one among fossiliferous rocks, because there are FOSSIL REMAINS COMMON TO THEM ALL; and again, fossils innumerable are common both to tertiary and secondary strata; a fact that repudiates the assumed distinction.107 The statics of a sound chronology being absent, prudence would require us to be cautious and less dogmatical in a science confessedly of intense interest, but comparatively young in age. Besides, fossiliferous rocks are local, not circumambient.
It is quite true, numerous animals that once have walked the earth, and lived as well as we, are extinguished from the map of existence, and sealed up in the cerements of the solid rock, to remain an evidence in after times, in order to confront the atheist; and the only question therefore, in those that have no living analogues, is, first, whether they belong to antecedent systems of being, anterior to man, or to the present and existing chain of being; and, second, whether their disappearance or extinction, is any evidence whatever of a different physical condition of the globe in former assumed revolutions.
I can only, in this place, refer cursorily to the general facts, and have elsewhere considered the phenomena of this science, as a practical geologist, more in detail.108 In the existing chain of being, there are links wanting, here and there, in the line of continuity, and it does happen that the extinct animals, whose organic remains have been discovered, do, in many instances, if not in all, fill up these absent links, and perfect the chain of continuity. The dinotherium, for instance, supplies the hiatus between pachydermata and cetacea; the habits and habitats of the dinotherium, as deduced from its organic remains, precisely correspond with those of the behemoth of scripture, and he is a bolder philosopher than I pretend to be, who would venture to assert that the Dinotherium was not contemporaneous with the patriarch of Uz—“Behemoth, whom I made with thee” [Job 40:15].
Again, there are many organic remains found interspersed among all the strata; and some, the Terebratula, for instance, found in the supposed earliest, or lowest of these, and yet exist in living analogues; of this description are the nautilus, echinus, gryphea, trigonia, etc.109
In summary then, Murray was convinced, both on the basis of his study of the Scriptures and geology, that Genesis 1 was a historical account of a supernatural creation in six 24-hour days a few thousand years ago (though he was not adamant about the precise year of the first day of creation or the precise day of the creation of the sun). This creation included all the life forms represented in the fossil record (including dinosaurs) and in modern times. The procreation of life forms and resultant variation within the original created kinds has been according to laws different from those by which God created the prototypes.
In Portrait of Geology, Murray addressed the relation of the Bible and geology primarily with reference to the Flood. He stressed several times that this unique flood was “penal,” and not just one of many natural disasters in the normal course of nature.110 Unlike any other natural catastrophes, this Flood drastically changed the world.
There is a fact stated in Scripture of considerable importance when considered in this relation: “the fountains of the great deep were broken up”—this unequivocally implies the issue of torrents from the bosom of the globe; and it seems, to us, more likely that the nucleus of the earth is an abyss of water than a lake of fire, however the latter view of it might coalesce with Buffon’s notion, of which that of Hutton was a more elaborate transcript. The synchronous mention of the fountains of the great deep, along with the floodgates of heaven, is very remarkable, and seems to refer the effect to a uniform cause. The SUPREME BEING, if we may be permitted to hazard an opinion, seems to have accomplished this great event, by differing a vast change in the density of the atmoshpere [sic]; to this circumstance we are inclined to refer, as a secondary agent in the fiat of deity, the rush of the waters from the recesses of the earth, “when they brake forth as if they had issued out of the womb.” This increased density, in the first creation, might be the “bars and doors” referred to in the Book of Job [38:10]. In pursuing our inquiries, we shall perceive that this greater density of the atmosphere, in the antediluvian world, will account for an increased temperature in climate; and perhaps, too, be connected with the extended term of human life in the antediluvian world; since a diminished density, would be accompanied with not only a change of temperature, but a change in the hygrometic [sic] character of the atmosphere.111
From these thoughts and other details stated in Genesis, Murray reasoned that there would have been no rain, clouds, or rainbow before the Deluge. Rather, the earth was watered by very copious and uniform dew. And where did the waters of the Flood go? He answered that, “For any thing we know to the contrary, the diluvial waters may have retreated into the profound abysses of the earth; besides, much would disappear as water of crystallization, in crystalline rocks, and much, also, as water of composition, in sedimentary rocks.”112 Many who rejected the notion of a global Flood asserted that the Flood was too brief to be able to account for the geological record. Murray, on the other hand, thought that although the Flood lasted only for a year, the earth did not reach a state anything like its present state of relative climatic and geological equilibrium until many years or even centuries later.
Though the waters only “prevailed on the earth for one hundred and fifty days,” it by no means follows, that when they were “assuaged,” or began “to abate,” they were so soon reduced to their present limits. Centuries might have rolled away before they had contracted their bounds to the dimensions that now restrain them.113
Murray acknowledged that the geological record is in many ways “perplexing and complicated” to interpret properly. He took this as the expected result of the combined work of the normal course of nature and the great and singularly abnormal Deluge. He stated:
No doubt there have been local catastrophes of greater or less extent, both in antediluvian and postdiluvian times, and these combined with a universal deluge, seem to me quite adequate to the solution of geological phenomena, without the assumption of “an age of reptiles and a reign of saurians.”114
In discussing the biblical account of the Flood, Murray quoted Genesis 7:10–24 and italicized the following words to emphasize the violent and global nature of the Flood: were all the fountains of the great deep broken up and the windows (or floodgates) of heaven were opened (v. 11), all the high hills that were under the whole heaven were covered (v. 19), the mountains were covered (v. 20), all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man (v. 21), of all that was in the dry land, died (v. 22), every living substance was destroyed, both man and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of heaven (v. 23). He described this account as “though brief, a very circumstantial and explicit account.”115 Given his conviction that the account of the Flood, indeed the whole first 11 chapters of Genesis, could hardly be more perspicuous, Murray’s reaction to the interpretations of the Scriptures by De la Beche, Phillips, Lyell, and others who denied the Flood, by reinterpreting it as a tranquil local affair, is understandable.
“If,” says Mr. De la Beche, “the existence of man and those extinct animals should ever be satisfactorily proved, it would become a curious question whether his so found remains are those of an extinct species!” How this speculation is to be reconciled with the Mosaic narrative I have yet to learn. . . . Mr. John Phillips has boldly, though I think indiscreetly, promulgated the following assumption and speculation—“If it should be generally admitted by theologians that the Noachian flood, though general with respect to the area over which the early races of mankind had spread, was not an universal deluge, some one of the repeated geological deluges, which could not be universal, though some of them were every extensive, may perhaps be successfully compared with that event!”116 If language has any meaning, this is a direct impeachment of the sacred records. This author [Phillips] elsewhere calls the “diluvial hypothesis” “a seducing error,” “a monstrous violation of the laws of nature,” and “a narrow and unreasonable interpretation of the Mosaic narrative.” Weissenborn of Weimar, terms it “a short sighted interpretation of a symbolical tradition.” Mr. Lyell accounts for “an event related in Scripture,” by the overflow of an inland lake elevated above the level of the sea, or the depression of the land below that plane! Some say, indeed, that the account of the deluge, though recorded as an historical event, is “metaphorical”—a mere oriental flourish of speech: others again, that it is “elliptical in the extreme;” and another party that a “moral” event was meant, and not a physical catastrophe. Most extraordinary assumptions and interpretations I must needs say.117
In addition to the written and oral traditions of peoples around the world concerning a “universal and penal flood,”118 Murray presented what he believed to be “conclusive and irresistible” geological evidences for a global flood. The most important line of evidences included the global distribution of erratic boulders, gravels, valleys of denudation, and limestone caves, which he believed doubtlessly were contemporaneous in formation. Though some erratic boulders were the result of local causes, he reasoned, only a universal flood could satisfactorily explain their global distribution.119
Murray also believed that there was compelling fossil evidence for antediluvian man and that this evidence had been neatly ignored or unjustifiably discarded by most geologists. He devotes 14 pages120 to a discussion of some of the evidence from Guadaloupe (reported to the Royal Society in 1814) and the limestone caves near Köstritz, Germany (found in 1820);121 near Bize, Pondre, and Sommières, France (reported to the French Academy of Sciences in 1829); near Liège, Belgium (found in 1833–34); and several other locations. Several times Murray complained that the leading geologists seemed anxious to overlook or explain away this evidence.122
Murray also presented historic evidence of rapid mountain building to show that G. Poulett Scrope’s assumption of tens of thousands of years needed for the formation of the Auvergne region in France was illegitimate.123 He answered the alleged difficulty of harmonizing the great thickness of the stratified rocks with the scriptural narrative of the Flood by citing known examples of very rapid deposition of limestone.124 Although he presumed that some coal was the product of lacustrine deposits of plant material, such as possibly in his day in peat bogs in France, he also cited evidence for a marine origin, believing it to be the better explanation for the vast coal beds found throughout the world.125
As to the date of the Deluge, he gave the following geological argument in support of the biblical chronology.
That the chronometric period of the universal Deluge cannot have been anterior to the date assigned to it by the Hebrew cosmogonist can be clearly determined by an appeal to natural chronometers, such as the phenomena of the advance and formation of glaciers, and those of the talus or debris of rocks, accumulated at the base of mountains. To these may be added the advance of the sand-flood on the land, and the entire formation and progress of dunes, on the sea coast. The L’landes of France and some parts of Ireland and of Cornwall, exemplify what we refer to, and to these united testimonies may be added the formation of deltas at the mouths of rivers—the deposition of the alluvion transported by their waters.126
From all these lines of evidence he concluded:
The evidence in favor of a UNIVERSAL DELUGE, identical with that recorded in the inspired narrative, becomes thus as complete, when combined with the unequivocal traditional testimony of a world; on the aggregate principles of an inductive generalization, as any problem in Euclid. This general and universal testimony cannot be disturbed by any apparent partial and limited discrepancy, if that seeming exception can be explained by any local or casual circumstance that may have occurred subsequent to the event.127
Therefore he considered as “rash” Sedgwick’s statement in 1831 that there is no geological evidence of the Flood. To Dr. Kidd’s remarks in his Bridgewater Treatise (1833) that any potential geological evidence for the Flood was obliterated by God so as to better try our faith, Murray replied, “I, on the contrary believe that we might reasonably expect the very reverse, in order that our faith might be strengthened and confirmed, and that a perennial monument of the penal infliction should remain till the end of time.”128
I have already shown that Murray understood the account of the fall of man in Genesis 3 in a literal historical sense. Buckland preached his sermon at the Cathedral of Christ Church in Oxford on January 27, 1839, in which he discussed several passages of Scripture to justify his view that there had been animal death and catastrophic extinctions before the Fall.129 Murray voiced his objection to Buckland’s position in the Christian Observer magazine. He viewed Buckland’s interpretation of the biblical texts (which applied the Fall only to man) to be unique and concluded that the old-earth idea that pain, suffering, and death were a part of the original created order stripped them of any penal character.130
Contrary to the general charges leveled against the 19th century scriptural geologists, Murray was a highly qualified and respected scientist with a competent knowledge of geology who believed, because of both the biblical teaching and the geological evidence, that God created the world in six literal days a few thousand years ago and that He judged the world in a unique, global Flood. While his understanding of and belief in the Scriptures guided his interpretation of the rocks, he was not ignorant of the rock strata and fossils. He traveled widely to study geological formations, observed carefully the rocks and fossils, used chemical analysis, and relied on the work of other experts as he interpreted the geological evidence from a broad and recognized knowledge of many scientific disciplines.
Murray never developed an “anti-geology” attitude. During his entire life he was enthusiastic about the practical benefits of geology and contributed constructively to this end. He did not make ad hominem attacks against those geologists with whom he disagreed, but showed respect for their knowledge and accomplishments in science and geology. Also, he did not deny all geological facts, which the geologists had commendably gathered. Rather, he believed that not everything the old-earth geologists called “facts” were facts indeed. Many of them were, in his opinion, disputable speculative inferences from the indisputable facts, and he gave his geological and biblical reasons for firmly rejecting those inferences.
While he held firmly to Scripture, he did not have a blind faith that refused to look at challenging objections. He admitted that there were as yet unsolved geological problems for his young-earth view, but because of what he believed to be the infant state of geology and the multifarious evidences that the Bible is the inspired and infallible Word of God, he was confident that these geological problems would eventually be solved and the literal historical accuracy of the early chapters of Genesis would be vindicated, just as other criticized parts of the Scriptures had been previously substantiated.
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.