Re: Terry Mortenson in Carlisle, PA

From: Michael Roberts <>
Date: Tue Nov 15 2005 - 12:12:08 EST


That is just what I expected. He has a particular warped view of those he
considers to be the founders of uniformitarian geology and simply ignores
the overtly Christian ones like de Luc, Soulavie, Townsend, and coming into
the 19th century Sedgwick, Henslow, Conybeare, Fleming and Buckland. His
book and thesis are full of distortions and his attempt to demonstrate the
geological competence of the so-called Scriptural geologists is risible. I
wonder where you draw the line between shoddy scholarship and a decided
flexibility of the ninth commandment.

Below is what I have written about one of the leading Scriptural Geologist
George Fairholme. I love his floating mammals.

When it comes to the use of the Bible , Mortenson would do well to start
with 2 Cor 11.vs 1



One of the frequent contributors to the Christian Observer during the 1820s
and 1830s on anti-geology was George Fairholme (1789-1846), who signed
himself as "A Layman on Scriptural Geology". Fairholme was Scottish born and
had no university education. According to Mortenson his denominational
affiliation is not known, nor are his evangelical convictions. As well as
contributing to the Christian Observer and the Philosophical Magazine,
Fairholme wrote on the General View of the Geology of Scripture (1833) and
the Mosaic Deluge (1837). The preface of the latter discusses the
theological results and scepticism caused by geology and especially the
rejection of a universal deluge, "there cannot be conceived a principle more
pregnant with mischief to the simple reception of scripture". All emphasis
is put on the universality of the Deluge; - "if false....then has our
Blessed Saviour himself aided in promoting the belief of that falsehood, by
....alluding both to the fact and the universality of its destructive
consequences to mankind".(p61) Fairholme made much of stems of tall plants,
which intersect many strata, (an idea revived today by Creationists with
their Polystrate fossils) and above all he emphasised a rapidity of

            In the General View of the Geology of Scripture (1833) Fairholme
gave the air of geological competence, enhanced by his ability to cite
geological works. His geology simply does not bear comparison with major
geological writers of the 1820s and 1830s, whether Buckland, Sedgwick,
Conybeare, Henslow, or amateurs like Pye Smith. Though he claimed to carry
out geological fieldwork, there is no evidence that he did more than ramble
though the countryside. There are no field notebooks like those of Sedgwick
or Darwin. His lack of geological competence is best seen in his discussion
of the relationship of coal to chalk. (In the Geologic Column coal is found
in the Upper Carboniferous or Pennsylvanian strata and chalk in the Upper
Cretaceous.) Fairholme wrote;

the chalk formation is placed far above that of coal, apparently from no
better reason, than that chalk usually presents an elevation on the upper
surface, while coal must be looked for at various depths below the level of
the ground. (Fairholme 1833 p243)

He had previously discussed this (op cit p207-210) and concluded, having
mis-understood an article in the Edinburgh Encyclopaedia, that "Nothing can
be clearer than this account; and it appears certain, that, as in the case
of the Paris Basin, this lime-stone formed the bed of the antediluvian sea,
on which the diluvial deposits of coal, clay, ironstone, and free-stone,
were alternately laid at the same period."(p209)

It is clear that Fairholme regards Carboniferous Limestone and the
Cretaceous chalk as the same formation, and wrote on coal fields that ,
"they lie among sandstones, ., but have, in no instance, been found below
chalk, which is one of the best defined secondary formations immediately
preceding the Deluge, ." Thus the Cretaceous strata are pre-Flood and the
Coal Measures were deposited during the Flood!

            To any geologist today that is risible, but it is clearly wrong
to judge Fairholme's geological competence by the geological standards of
2004. However, by the geological standards of 1830 they are still risible!
When Fairholme penned these words, it had been known for decades that Chalk
always, always overlie the Coal Measures with a vast thickness of strata in
between. In 1799 William Smith drew up a list of strata from the coal
measures to the chalk and extended this in the table accompanying his
geological map of 1815 (Phillips 1844/2003). This was put to immediate
effect by Smith and John Farey in their search for coal, who stressed that
it was futile to look for coal in the Jurassic and Creataceous strata. A
notorious example was coal hunting at Bexhill, Sussex from 1805 to 1811
where fortunes were lost by looking in the wrong strata, despite Farey's
warnings (Torrens 2002). Smith's work was re-iterated with shades by
plagiarism by Greenough in his own geological maps of 1818 and 182 (Darwin
used a copy of the 182 edition in 1831.). In their Outlines of the geology
of England and Wales (1822) Conybeare and Phillips gave the succession from
the Carboniferous limestone through to the Chalk. Continental geologists
like Cuvier and Brogniart, who had worked extensively in the Paris Basin,
gave the same succession. Thus by the standards of his day, Fairholme was
talking utter nonsense as he was when he wrote, "But during the awful event
[the Deluge] we are now considering, all animated nature ceased to exist,
and consequently, the floating bodies of the dead bodies must have been
bouyed up until the bladders burst, by the force of the increasing air
contained within them. p257

It is impossible to agree with Mortenson's assessment of Fairholme, "By
early nineteenth century standards, George Fairholme was quite competent to
critically analyze old-earth geological theories,"(Mortenson 252) It is
small wonder that contemporary geologists dismissed Fairholme and his fellow
travellers with derision and contempt. Though Fairholme took it upon himself
to criticise almost every aspect of geology, he did so from a position of
sheer ignorance, as is evidenced by his claim that Chalk always underlies

Fairholme, like all Anti-geologists, attempted from his armchair to find
fault with geology, which he ultimately regarded as infidel, but without
exception his "scientific" objections were a total misunderstanding of
geology. It is small wonder that they were rounded on by geologists such as
Sedgwick`, who wrote of them in scathing ways. In A Discourse on the Studies
of the University (1834 - 1969), he wrote that the anti-geologists "have
committed the folly and the sin of dogmatizing on matters they have not
personally examined." (106) and regarded some as "beyond all hope of
rational argument." Then, as now, the advantage of writing such ridiculous
works is that the refuting of them is beyond the wit of rational people.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Ted Davis" <>
To: <>
Sent: Tuesday, November 15, 2005 3:58 PM
Subject: Terry Mortenson in Carlisle, PA

> Last night I heard Terry Mortenson speak at Dickinson Law School in
> Carlisle, PA. The talk went nearly 70 mins, followed by ca. 40 mins of
> Q&A
> that allowed me to get in one question about the many Christian geologists
> of the 19th century. Mortenson began with a lengthy segment that was a
> decent academic lecture, about where/how the old earth position
> originated--he traced it to 8 "atheist or agnostic or vague theist or
> unitarian" thinkers, such as Buffon, Hutton, Cuvier, and Lyell (I had some
> disagreement with how he presented some of them, but agreed with some
> also).
> He did mention some of the evangelicals (Hugh Miller, John Fleming, one or
> two others) who held gap/day age views before really castigating the
> "liberals" (those who did not take Genesis One as historical) and then
> praising the scriptural geologists. At one point he sketched the decline
> and fall of Princeton, using Spurgeon, Hodge, AA Hodge, Warfield, and
> finally Billy Graham's former friend (turned atheist) Charles Templeton to
> show everyone the inevitable result of accepting evolution. A highly
> selective reading, to say the least.
> Perhaps the most interesting feature was his opening with two scriptures I
> hadn't previously seen used in this context: 2 Cor 10:4-5 "speculative"
> and
> Col 2:8 "philosophy" and "empty deception". I knew therefore that
> somewhere
> we'd see 1 Tim 6:20-21 "Science falsely so called", and it came near the
> end. Lots of blanket, unsupported generalizations were heard. ("The
> rocks
> really are screaming Noah's Flood", "Everyone has the same facts," "There
> is
> no evidence against the Flood," etc.) The way in which he moved
> seamlessly
> from quasi-academic mode into quasi-evangelistic mode was impressive.
> Mortenson knows his schtick.
> It would have been fun to have been given real time (20-30mins) to
> respond,
> but that wasn't going to happen. I did get to talk to some of his
> followers
> afterwards, and one or two were open to hearing alternatives.
> Ted
Received on Tue Nov 15 12:15:13 2005

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