Re: Fossils and the flood

R. Joel Duff (
Fri, 31 Jul 1998 21:31:34 -0500

At 11:01 AM 7/31/98 -0400, you wrote:
Ted Davis wrote in response to my earlier questions about the origin of our
current understanding of fossils:

>Recent historical study of early geology has concluded that it was mainly
>the diluvialists (ie, those who believe in a major biblical flood) who were
>prepared to believe that fossils are really the remains of living creatures
>and not simply "freaks of nature" or Platonic forms not endowed with the
>"breath of life." An excellent example is the work of the Swiss naturalist
>Johann Jacob Scheuchzer, author of many important works including
>"Complaints and Claims of the Fishes" (1708). This curious book takes the
>form of a trial of mankind by the fossil fish, who speak up to defend their
>organic origin against men who deny it because they want to forget about the
>flood! Similar views, less creatively expressed, are found in Woodward and
>other early geologists.
>I'm not arguing here that diluvialists were the only people who accepted the
>organic origin of fossils, or that this was the only important argument in
>favor of that theory. But I am trying to say that a theological commitment
>to the flood as a worldwide catastrophe DID lead the diluvialists to
>advocate the organic origin of fossils before that view was generally
>accepted. The scientists, it would seem, learned to think of fossils as
>organic partly (not solely) because the diluvialists made the case for it,
>motivated by theological beliefs. So Joel's comments would seem to put the
>horse before the cart.


Thanks for the response. I do believe this is a most reasonable response
and I would say that these are good reasons for accepting fossils as
remnants of formerly living things myself. I am not really arguing that we
should see them in any other way but have been just stressing the point that
it is only our fallible human logic that leads us to believe this. Couldn't
it be that these Christians were wrong, I don't think so but it could be,
just because they could fit this interpretation into their theology doesn't
mean they were correct. The Bible still doesn't address the question
directly and so any conclusion must be based on our examination of
extraBiblical evidence. I would suggest that Christians today have looked
at the data and said that the diluvial theories are as wrong as the theories
that fossils were not the remnants of formerly living things. I would still
suggest it would be easier to change ones views of fossils than to
manipulate the vast amounts of other data into a flood geology context.
Also, I do believe that an examination of historical diluvialists that were
Christians will also show even then many began to question the ability of a
global flood to explain the fossils they observed and they were questioning
this from a Christian worldview.

I'll accept that the diluvialists theological commitment did allow them a
place to accept the true nature of fossils for they had a context into the
origin of fossils could be explained. In fact from the early 1600's to
early 1800's on could make the argument that those that desired to accept
fossils representing formerly living organisms were forced to fit there
observations into a Flood model. Some notable naturalists such as Ray,
Lhwyd and later Hooke were at one time favorable to the diluvial concept by
rejected much of it later though they were still hard pressed to provide any
alternative explanations. I find it very interesting that Ray especially
desired to see fossils in the context of the Flood but objected to the
extreme positions later evoked by Woodward because his studies of the nature
of fossils could not be reconciled with the flood. There are other cases of
naturalists desiring to accept a global flood but finding the evidence
lacking. Ray appears to have been torn in many ways about the nature of
fossils and their relationship to the history of the earth probably never
finding any peaceable solution in his own mind.

Let me be clear, I do think there are amply reasons to accept the modern
understanding of the nature of fossils. I think the fact that it was
naturalist with a Christian worldview that studied and described them this
way excellent testimony to the abilities God has granted us to study and
understand our world.
My point is rather simple though I understand many will disagree. There is
a multitude of evidence put forth by honest Christians that suggest that
flood-geology is not a viable model for understanding the geological record.
Some of this evidence is unchanged from the 1600s when scientists that
worked within a Christian worldview had personal struggles with the fact
that the data didn't fit flood geology models. Why do some follow the flood
model without question today when it is based solely on the fact that
fossils have to somehow be explained because they are post-fall? I would
say that there have been presented on this group evidences that the flood
can't account for certain features that the evidence is so obvious that
surely it wouldn't be any more difficult to simply find arguments that
fossils have been misinterpreted than to continue to try to defend the flood
model. Further if one can simply answer (I am not directly speaking of you
Ted) any evidence that God just made it that way, why not just say about
fossils "God just made them that way?" That certainly would be a more
parsimonious belief than the hoops that are being jumped through to account
for the evidence of long ages.

Don't be overly offended out there. I am pushing this topic well beyond what
it really deserves mostly because I just wanted to see if we could get to
the root of some basic assumptions that aren't often talked about.