That’s So Second Millennium
Episode 026 - The Rejection of Young Earth Creationism in the 19th Century

Episode 026 - The Rejection of Young Earth Creationism in the 19th Century

September 24, 2018

- Decay and refutation of the Genesis minimalist paradigm for interpreting geology.
    - What do contemporary young Earth creationists think happened during this epoch of human history (c. 1700-1830)?
    - Do they think about it at all?
    - Do they think that it was a conspiracy or open rebellion, a force of will to reject the Bible?

- Late 18th / early 19th century debate over the age of the Earth
    - Change in status of fossils of extinct species from a doubted claim to a means of dating strata
        - In Steno's time, the fact that shells of many extinct species clearly do not belong to living animals was considered a telling argument in favor of their abiotic origin.
        - By the early 19th century, enough work had been done on systematic stratigraphy across Europe that geologists recognized a number of extinct fossil groupings that could be found in a variety of places, and the conviction grew that these assemblages were the remains of living communities that existed at specific intervals in Earth's past.
        - In turn, using fossil assemblages to cross-correlate rocks across Europe and eventually across the rest of the planet allowed the erection and refinement of the geological timescale that we still use today.
    - Hutton: "we can see no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end"
        - Criticized as bringing back Aristotelian eternalism, but Hutton defends his statement as a comment on the limitations of what we can observe
- Final burst of "diluvialist" theory in the 1820s
    - "Drift", including "erratic" boulders, gravels, and sands in places contemporary streams and gravity could not have left them (e.g. on hillsides)
    - Some such deposits of gravel and sand in Europe and a few other places scattered across the world, particularly in caves, held recent fossils; these were bundled up together and held to be products of either Noah's Flood or a similar flood at a different, somewhat earlier date.
    - No human remains found in these deposits (at the time the debate was being resolved, at any rate).
- Lyell begins publishing "Principles of Geology" in 1830
    - Pushes the Huttonian theme of uniformitarianism to its extreme.
    - Lumps Genesis minimalists, diluvialists, catastrophists, and even directionalists together
    - Lyell's uniformitarianism was never accepted in absolute completeness
        - Even before the advent of thermodynamics in the 19th century, it was still common sense that the Earth is cooling down with time.
- What happened to the evidence once taken as proof of diluvialism?
    - The gradual, halting acceptance of ice ages as the source of "drift"
- Where did the debate go from there?
    - Direct reference to Genesis as a historical reference for geological events died out of the living stream of geological debate.
    - Physicists, and devotees of the new discipline of geophysics, began to look for ways to constrain the Earth's age with the means available to late 19th century physics. The name of William Thomson, later Lord Kelvin, is most remembered today for essentially issuing ultimata to stratigraphers and paleontologists based on his cooling histories of the Sun and the Earth. A tug of war ensued between geologists in these old subdisciplines, whose estimates of the required time for the deposition, uplift, and erosion of strata ran into the hundreds of millions of years, and the physicists, who thought that 100 million years was roughly the longest conceivable time allowable.
    - Of course, the physicists were wrong; their estimates of the age of the Earth were yet another area where the advent of 20th century physics (radioactivity, which ultimately is a quantum physics effect) overturned previous thought:
        - First, radioactivity heats the interior of the Earth--and nuclear fusion drives the Sun--meaning that the old estimates of cooling lifetimes were meaningless.
        - Second, radioactivity gives us many ways of actually calculating numeric ages of minerals and rocks.
        
-The upshot for the debate between young Earth creationists and geologists.
    - It pays to keep in mind that the radiometric dating line of evidence for the long age of the Earth came very, very late in the history of geology. It's not a primary argument, certainly not historically, and perhaps not even scientifically, for an age of the Earth that radically transcends 6,000 years.
    - Geology, like physics, chemistry, and biology, was born in the 17th century, in an intellectual climate steeped in Biblical minimalism. There was no shortage of geologists who *wanted* a global Genesis flood to have existed and left evidence of its passing. They were argued, or even argued themselves out of this belief, very reluctantly.
    - It's also worth taking some time to think:
        - Does the text of Genesis demand a global flood? Really? We are that sure of the definitions of the words and the history of the text?
        - Is a God that presided over the ad hoc instantaneous creation of a complex planet any greater in concept than the God that created a whole universe and the laws that govern its growth and change over 13 billion years?

Episode 025 - Geology after Steno: Catastrophism, Uniformitarianism, and Fideism

Episode 025 - Geology after Steno: Catastrophism, Uniformitarianism, and Fideism

September 17, 2018

- Competitor paradigms in early geology, their conceptual and thematic relationships to Noah's Flood.
    - Catastrophism and its inverse, uniformitarianism

Hutton, in some circles (especially Anglo-American ones) considered the father of geology, was a curious hybrid (from our point of view, anyway) of philosophical convictions. On the one hand, and what makes him famous and venerated among geologists today, is his methodology and core assumption that processes happening on the contemporary Earth are the same processes that have shaped it throughout its history. This idea was worked up and spread broadly by Lyell.
    On the other hand, he expressed a thoroughgoing sense of teleology...that the world was set up in such a way so as to maintain its surface condition fit for animal life.

Controversy between "catastrophists" and "uniformitarians / actualists"
    
Cowper, "The Task": "[God] was mistaken in the date he gave to Moses" (Cowper himself is castigating these scholars)
    The putative tension that people like Cowper, Steno, Pascal, even arguably Aquinas felt between science,
        mathematics, philosophy and their faith
    How has this played into the widespread notion that faith and reason are opposed?
    Cf. the tension between being Christian and being a soldier
        
"Deists" like Werner and Hutton discard the rigid post-Reformation sola scriptura straitjacket, yet they become just as dogmatic about their own theories.

Episode 024 - Geology after Steno: Diluvialism, Neptunism, and Vulcanism

Episode 024 - Geology after Steno: Diluvialism, Neptunism, and Vulcanism

September 10, 2018

With acknowledgments to A. Hallam and his Great Geological Controversies

18th century: it becomes more and more possible and even fashionable to discard the minimalist Scriptural timescale
Nevertheless, Western thought is so thoroughly steeped in Christianity that every major development is either an extension (subconscious or not) of a Christian theme or a deliberate rejection of one.

- Decay and refutation of the Genesis minimalist paradigm for interpreting geology.
    - "Diluvialism", the theory that either Noah's Flood as a global phenomenon c. 3000 BC or a similar worldwide flood at a more loosely defined point in Earth's history
- Competitor paradigms in early geology, their conceptual and thematic relationships to Noah's Flood.
    - Neptunism, vulcanism, plutonism

The difficulty of even finding good outcrops to come to solid conclusions about geological questions

Controversy between the "neptunists", "vulcanists", and "plutonists" revolves around a very limited number of observations at key field localities in west-central Europe:
    Flat-lying basalts in Saxony sandwiched into a sedimentary sequence
    Volcanoes in Italy, especially Vesuvius (the most accessible and famous)
    Extinct but still recognizable volcanoes in Auvergne, in France, where basalt cones and flows overlie huge thicknesses of granite

Episode 023 - Clericalism, Sex Abuse, Addiction, and Hope

Episode 023 - Clericalism, Sex Abuse, Addiction, and Hope

September 3, 2018

Discussion notes:

We start to discuss what everyone in the Catholic Church has been discussing for over a month now, which is the new storm of revelations about sexual abuse of children, youths, and seminarians by priests and bishops.

Parallels between modern day and the 17th century. Nicolaus Steno (the subject of our last podcast) lived in a tumultuous time, and many of his contemporary churchmen, Protestant and Catholic both, do not cut an inspiring figure on the stage of history. Steno tried to live a better life, but it's easy to see his heroic efforts as useless and even a bit misguided. He likely wore himself to death conforming to an ideal that was not quite what Jesus of Nazareth said or intended. (You can say that about many priests in the history of the Church; Michael McGivney and Augustine Tolton are arguably analogous figures here in America.)

Why are we bringing this up on this podcast? The purpose of the podcast is to explore whether faith and reason are compatible. Since both Bill and I believe that the Catholic faith is both reasonable and true, we have and haven't made a secret of the fact that there is an apologetic (in the technical sense of "Christian apologetics") aspect of what we're doing here.

Clerical scandals such as the one that we're facing now are an impetus to some people to reject the Catholic faith as, analogously, the misbehavior of leading members of other faiths, political, and philosophical movements can lead others to reject those as well. We feel it worth while to take one podcast to examine whether that makes sense rationally as well as emotionally.

The collapse of cultural Catholicism in perhaps its last bastion, Ireland...more on this later.

Bill: "All creation is crying out for a new day of change..."

Why I find the 17th century so depressing...a focus on external statements of faith rather than conversion of heart. The massive hypocrisy of Christians fighting war after war against other Christians, whether in the name of their own religious doctrine or, even more so as the century wore on, simply using that as a cover for their own petty political goals.

The conflict between faith and science depends on a lack of intellectual humility. It's a difficult human weakness to overcome (difficult, not impossible) to actually take the observations and reasoning of others seriously and let it influence one's own thinking, rather than just bulling ahead and believing what one prefers to believe.

Paul's followup:

Why clerical scandal is not intrinsically a logical argument against faith. Why nevertheless it is certainly a problem in an indirect sense: if these men can't or won't live up to the standards of Christianity, how can others?

The long decay of the medieval model of the Church, with bishops as wealthy, powerful political figures. The intrinsic tension between this model and the New Testament, recognized throughout the centuries. The ease with which prelates in such a scheme can get caught up in contemporary intellectual currents. The 20th century myth that sexual activity (and a great many other things, like consumer goods and hour long automobile commutes) is a necessity like eating or sleeping. The temptation to enter the priesthood for cultural reasons and to be an authority figure in one's community.

Problems on both the "liberal / progressive" side of modern culture and "conservative" side. Liberal: to reject the testimony of history and wave about in the current of contemporary opinion. Conservative: to adopt a conformist attitude that's primarily about not doing things proscribed by an older culture and one's contemporary conservative subculture. Both attitudes lack strength. One gives in to the noise in the broader culture; the other, being cut off from the real God of love and action, can find itself lacking the ability to live up to the negative goals of celibacy or sexual exclusivity.

What do WE do about it all?
    Is there a way to volunteer to help the victims in your diocese? Are you in, or should you get into, a position to help change the way the institutions of the Church--or any other church or organization you are part of and care about--work so that this sort of thing is avoided in the future?
    If not, or if a frank discernment of your life situation pushes you in a different direction, what else can you do to "look after widows and orphans in their need" (James 1, reading from last Sunday)? What in your life is most important that you're not doing? What do you need to weed out in order to focus on that?

    I myself recognize that in the tension between 1) my work: my consulting, my writing, my scholarship and 2) my private life, which is in desperate need of focus and effort to make it more livable and worthy of Jesus Christ, I think I am also badly in need of 3) finding additional ways to serve others. Where do I do that and how?
    
    If YOU happen to be a victim of sexual or physical abuse, please report it and please find help. You have been wounded, and there are places where you can find healing.