From: Michael Roberts (email@example.com)
Date: Tue Sep 23 2003 - 17:32:40 EDT
> What were the philosophical foundations of the early Geologists that were
> deriving emperical data and scientific evidence for the age of the earth?
> You always do this type of thing to me Steve! But it is an important point
which I can only answer in a cack-handed way.
Like almost all scientists of all periods including all the scientists who
read this the early geologists did not think much of their philosophical
foundations. I am sure William Smith would not have understood the question
and would have thought it too airy-fairy.
I will take early geologists from 1660 to 1820. All believed in some kind of
God and were somewhere along the spectrum of orthodox Christian (Prot or RC)
to deist. Thus as God was rational they expected the earth to be rationally
ordered. They considered their senses to be reliable whether in observation
or experiment. N.B. not all science was experimental. They bowed the knee to
Bacon and never considered what Baconianism really was.
Most after about 1630 thought God (desist or Christian) first made chaos and
then ordered it and looked for observations to explain the ordering. Those
with a Christian affiliation whether Latitudinarian or not (Lats were the
rationalistic liberals of 1700 - Ted forgive my oversimplification), thought
that events were tied in with a fairly literal version of Genesis and reckon
most rocks were deposited by the flood. That was the consensus in 1700. Most
followed that in the 18 cent except the more deistic -Maupertius KAnt and
as the 18cent continued more and more found a simple appeal to the Flood was
no good and extended the timescale. Thus Buffon ( who was an RC whom did not
take his Christian faith to bed with him ...) rejected a global flood and
argued for an old age in 1750ff, following an RC priest Needham. Others did
the same whatever religious persuasion.
One was William Hamilton in the 1770s who lived in Naples. He noted the many
historic lava flows i.e. post AD79- Pompeii and how after time soils formed
on top of the lava flow. He then looked at earlier flows and note d the same
thing and reckoned Vesusvius to go back 10s of thousands of years and thus
the earth was anciueint. In c1779 de Saussure studied alpine rocks at
Chamonix and reckoned that they must be very old - but no dates. There were
many more in the latter decades of the 18 cent.
I have tried to answer the question by summarising what the early geologists
did. I dont think they had a well-formulated philosophical foundation but
rather a sense that from Steno's principle of superposition rocks would be
laid down in order. The important thing to note is that no-one started with
the assumption of an old earth. In fact "geologists" (we cant use that word
for pre 1800 workers) started with the assumption of a YOUNG earth and then
slowly rejected it as the evidence went against. That is what happened to
Glenn to his great credit and may be happening to Allen, who is echoing the
views of the late 17th century people like Ray and Whiston who had
considerably extended Ussher's timescale.
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