Friday, September 28, 2012

Dr. A's Geology Course: Fossils

Today Dr. A has another blog post in his Geology course I can enjoy, which gets into a few of the odd theories about fossils that some used to hold.   
We take it for granted today that mold, cast and mineralized fossils are the relics of organic life. It may surprise the reader to learn that this was once a minority view, verging literally on heresy. Instead, it was widely believed that they were not: the most common view being that the fossils grew in the rocks as the result of a mysterious force known as vis plastica 
This explanation fitted nicely with the religious views of the time. Many fossils, if interpreted as the relics of once-living organisms, would have to represent species that had gone extinct, since no-one could find their modern equivalents. Now theologians argued that God, being perfect, would not have made any species so badly that it would go extinct; dissenting scientists such as Robert Hooke were obliged to guard themselves carefully against accusations of impiety. . . .
Another view proposed at about the same time was that the fossils were created by God when he created the Earth. This is certainly conceivable (an omnipotent God can do what he wants) . . . .
What most interests me, as a Christian, is how such strange notions of what God must have done took hold in what was presumably a Christian culture, because it is quite obvious NOW that they are anything but BIBLICAL  The natural world SHOULD be understood from a biblical perspective to exclude the appearance of organic creatures in rocks, whether thought to grow there or to have been created there from the beginning.  But I suppose it's possible that some theological idea had taken hold at the time that led to these notions.  The history of all this would be very interesting.

Apparently they also didn't know how to reckon with the Fall as the explanation for the extinction of former "species" (which in most cases aren't Species in the sense of Kinds anyway but varieties of a Kind, not that it matters a lot, just a point of fact), and they also didn't figure the Flood as the cause of all those dead things.  Did NOBODY have that idea?  I'd really like to know why or why not.  Was it a lack of biblical knowledge?  Of course many creationists today don't take the Fall into account either but keep their theorizing confined to some notion of the perfections of God's original Creation -- big mistake -- and most also have really inadequate ideas of what a worldwide Flood would do, so I suppose there's no reason to expect that earlier creationists might have done any better.   Of course I have the benefit of Morris and Whitcomb's book The Genesis Flood.

How many theories were there at the time to explain these things?  Although these odd ideas were apparently strongly defended there must have been others out there being argued.

Such preconceptions no doubt often ruled in science.  Once you get an idea firmly fixed in your head, or a science gets it fixed in their collective head, all else has to bow to it.  We see this ALL the time in each other (hardly ever ourselves of course).  And it is of course what has happened in the case of evolution and the Old Earth -- EVERYTHING must be conformed to those ideas.  Although their proponents most piously quote the Creed about how Science is neutral, how it's all about discovering truth no matter what, that simply is NOT what they are actually doing, as they are determined to rationalize evolution and undermine the slightest claim against it by hook or by crook.  And they don't see that that's what they are doing.

I have often wanted to read a really good history of science but I don't know if one exists.  One thing I would like to see is all the theories about fossils laid out as they entered the scientific lore, who proposed the theory and when and so on, how the reasoning went, how widely it was accepted, how they agreed or disagreed with other theories and so on.

Maybe Dr. A would like to take on this project.  He's been doing a nice job with Geology, and it sounds like he might even be planning to get it published as a textbook.  I think he should, despite disliking his occasional slams against creationism.

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