Author: By Ian Taylor
The belief that the earth is billions of years old is an essential foundation for the theory of evolution. This belief was introduced to the Christian world by two events: the first was the exploration of the Americas by the European Christians in the late 1500s and the second was a mysterious “female voice” heard by a brilliant scientist on November 2, 1667.
As early as the 5th Century BC., Greek followers of Leucippus were opposed to the belief that the universe and the earth were created by supernatural gods. Leucippus proposed that eons of time and chance were responsible, and gods were unnecessary. The Jewish belief system holding to the Creator God passed into the Christian worldview and indicated the universe and our earth to be only a few thousand years old. They also believed that at an early point in history there was a worldwide and catastrophic flood in which Noah and his family and representatives of all the animal species were saved in a large vessel. This was the teaching throughout Christendom until the Victorian era.
Following the exploration of North America, “specimens” of the colored inhabitants, together with some from Africa, were brought back to Europe and paraded about as curiosities. This raised the question in the common mind: What color was Noah and his family? Racial bias on the part of the British and European Christians caused them to believe that Noah’s family was white. This led to the next question: how did the colored people survive the Genesis Flood if they were not on the Ark and the Flood was really global? The tentative conclusion offered was that the Hebrew Scriptures were written from the Hebrew perspective and the Flood was actually local. The Church authorities perceived this to be a heresy and fought back. However, the idea of a local flood remained latent in the liberal mind until the 1800s, and we shall return to it. In the meantime, the second event occurred in Florence, Italy.
Niels Stensen (1638-1686) was born in Denmark and at the age of 28  he moved to Florence, then the intellectual center of Europe. He had established himself as a brilliant anatomist and adopted the Latin version of his name, Nicolaus Steno, by which he is better known today. In October of 1666 a giant white shark weighing 2,800 pounds was beached on the west coast of Italy; the local fishermen cut off its head and took it to Professor Steno for examination. At about this time, there was some controversy about what we know today as fossils discovered in the rocks on nearby mountaintops; many of these were recognizable as seashells, but there were others in the shape of a human tongue and called “tongue stones”. No one knew what these were. Steno’s examination of the shark’s head immediately solved the problem: the tongue stones were shark’s teeth. Steno was a Bible-believing Lutheran and wrote that these objects had been deposited during the Genesis Flood when the floodwaters “covered the highest hills”. His interests then switched to the study of rocks and especially the formation of rock strata. He published his Canis Carcharia Dissectum Caput or dissertation on the examination of the shark’s head in the spring of 1667. In Conjecture Five he described how mixed sediments in flowing water deposited simultaneously according to their density. Following the departure of the floodwater, the layered sediments dried out, consolidated and hardened into the familiar rock strata. Steno was an astute observer and, in his walks in the Appennino hills on the East side of Florence, he had seen plenty of rock strata all neatly layered and sharply defined. However, sometimes, two strata blended together, indicating that they had been deposited at the same time as might be expected in turbulent waters. There are other indications that, if present, would not have escaped his attention: On occasion, as many as a dozen strata may be seen folded into what are known today as synclines and anticlines. Clearly, folding had taken place on the collective sediments before and not after lithifying or hardening into solid rock. A further sign of simultaneous deposition that Steno may have seen and may also be seen today, is a fossilized tree trunk passing vertically though multiple strata.
Florence was a melting pot of artisans and philosophers, and Steno, a Protestant, now had Catholic friends whom he admired for their faith. Religious questions filled his mind, and he records that while walking on November 2, 1667, he heard a woman’s voice call to him, telling him to cross the street to the house of one of his Catholic friends. He obeyed the voice and five days later he made a formal conversion to the Catholic faith. He continued to study rock formation and made a thorough study of the way solid bodies, namely fossils, were distributed within sediments that later became solid rock strata. His small dissertation was completed in 1668 and published in the spring of 1669. It is known as the De Solido and was a Prodromus or introduction to a longer dissertation that Steno was never able to complete. In the Prodromus he omitted the evidences that had caused him to speak of simultaneous deposition in the Canis and he now spoke of sequential deposition. He set out four principles for the formation of strata known today as Steno’s Law of Superposition: For example, in Principle #2 [page 30 in Latin original] he wrote, “At the time when one of the upper stratum was being formed, the lower stratum had already gained the consistency of a solid.” In other words, in less than twelve months he had completely changed his mind. Today, the Prodromus is claimed to be a classic and Steno is held to be the father of stratigraphy, that is, the foundation for all the geological sciences. Of importance, however, is the fact that as a believing Protestant he saw evidence for simultaneous deposition of sediments from one global flood, whereas, as a Catholic he believed in the sequential deposition of multiple sediments from multiple local floods. This new proposal introduced the element of time – vast ages that have since expanded into billions of years! The Prodromus appeared in 1669 and was translated into English by Henry Oldenburg, Secretary of the Royal Society, London, in 1671. In contrast, the Canis appeared in 1667 and was translated in 1958 – 291 years later!
As a postscript to Nicolaus Steno, he gave up science completely in 1675 when he was ordained a Catholic priest. Then, two years later, 1677, he was made a Bishop and sent to northern Germany where he died of malnutrition due to fasting and associated complications at the age of 48 in the town of Schwerin. In 1953 his body was transferred to the Capella Stenoniana, a chapel in San Lorenzo, Florence, and in 1988 Pope John Paul II said a mass of beatification. Steno is thus on his way to sainthood. The Vatican has unofficially supported the doctrine of evolution since the late 1890s.
This now brings us to Charles Lyell (1797-1875), the son of wealthy Scottish parents who, while educated as a Christian, had difficulties with the biblical miracles, especially with Noah and his Ark. He studied law at Oxford and was inspired by the lectures of William Buckland who taught Georges Cuvier’s Catastrophist theory in support of the Genesis Flood. Cuvier had concluded that the layers of sedimentary rocks beneath the streets of Paris were the result of sequential continental floods caused by rising sea levels. After graduation, Lyell took the customary European tour and visited France and Italy. He began to realize rivers could never have provided all the sediment evident as sedimentary rock seen in, say, the Alps. On the other hand, rising sea levels would have a worldwide effect, making Noah and his Ark look like an embarrassing necessity! He took the tourist trip to the Bay of Naples and there saw the Roman temple of Serapis at Pozzuoli (given as Puteoli in Acts 28:13). Here there were three remaining marble columns while about half-way up each column were holes made by lithodomi, a small sea-dwelling crustacean. Clearly, this meant that after construction of the Temple, the land had sunk below sea level, then had risen again. In fact, the land began to sink slowly in the third century AD, then, in 1538, quickly rose again during volcanic activity from nearby Mount Nuovo. Lyell was delighted because this clearly meant rising sea levels were unnecessary; here was evidence that it was the land that could sink and rise. Given sufficient time, the received sediments could be hundreds of feet thick. The explanation quickly gained support by the liberal theologians because the Biblical Flood could now be confined to a local event, thereby making Noah and his Ark essentially redundant.
The Temple of Serapis became an icon of truth to Lyell, and an illustration of it appeared as the frontispiece to all 12 editions of his book, The Principles of Geology. The first edition appeared in 1830-33. It was written for the layman and popular, yet there were critics because the evidence for land sinking and rising was confined to local volcanic areas. Then good fortune stepped in because it happened that in 1835, during his 5-year voyage, the young Charles Darwin (1809-1882) had had first-hand experience of land elevation “twice the area of the Black Sea” during the earthquake at Concepçion, Chile, when the land had risen 5 to 15 feet. This was exactly the evidence Lyell needed to counter his critics. From that time to the present day, Lyell’s geology based upon the assumption of a series of sequential local floods over enormous periods of time was, and still is, the reigning dogma ruling all the geological and biological sciences. It needs to be emphasized that neither Lyell nor anyone since has proposed a viable mechanism for the sinking and elevation of entire continents, not once but at least a dozen times! There are known to be about a dozen different types of sedimentary strata, and textbooks commonly gloss over this by saying: “sediments deposited during successive transgressions and regressions of the sea.” Left this way, the author or professor does not have to be specific whether the floods were caused by the sea rising or the land sinking. It should be emphasized that the working geologist has no interest in the age of the rocks. In the 1850s Lyell tried to determine their age by dividing the rate of sediment deposited by rivers in one year into the greatest thickness of a given stratum. He arrived at a few hundred thousand years for the few known strata at that time. This greatly encouraged Darwin and the liberal theologians because here was seen to be proof positive that the time taken to form just the rocks greatly exceeded the few thousand years claimed by the Bible.
Evolution of life forms occurred between each local flood and, with increasing knowledge of the complexity of life, more time was continually required. Those vast ages are therefore between the sediments and have been decreed by committee! In 1940, the textbook age of the earth was 2 billion years. Today, it is 4.5 billion years.
Three evidences for simultaneous deposition of sediments that form all of the world’s sedimentary rocks were mentioned earlier (e.g. when two adjacent strata blend together, the phenomena is known as Inter-bedding. It means that two strata, one dated at, say, 400 million years and the other dated at 300 million years, were actually deposited at the same time. In his Canis, Steno wrote: “bodies that make the waters muddy are not all of the same weight … first the heavy particles, then the least heavy will settle down.” Steno was fully aware of the way solids having different densities behave in liquids since he was employed in the Accademia del Cimento of the Grand Duke Ferdinand II and quite familiar with the improved version of Galileo’s thermometer. This device is a very good demonstration of simultaneous deposition in a liquid by solids of different density. Finally, simultaneous deposition is observable and repeatable, two of the primary requirements of science. Mixed sediments can be poured into a tank of flowing water and the stratified and sorted sediments observed to form layers on the bottom of the tank. The process has also been observed when rivers are in flood. In contrast, while sequential deposition of sediments to form the familiar strata may appeal to the imagination, it can neither be observed nor repeated due to the immense times involved and thus cannot properly be regarded as science.
In 1973 Professor Derek Ager made public what he called “The Persistence of Facies” and gave as an example the late Cretaceous limestone that can now be traced as a continuous sedimentary deposit from Ireland to Australia. While Lyell could not have known this, the implications are enormous because it means that at least half the globe was covered with water at the same time in order to receive those continuous chalk sediments. Furthermore, regardless of whether the land sank or the sea level rose, there is still no measurable evidence that elevation or depression is taking place.
Finally, readers will be familiar with the textbook diagram showing a column of strata on the left with the Cambrian Period at 600 million years at the lowest level and the Cenozoic era at 100,000 years at the top. Adjacent to this is a second column of life forms with the trilobite at the bottom and man at the top. The reader is left with the impression that fossil life forms are actually found in this order of increasing complexity and are told that this is the most compelling evidence for the evolution of life. This is actually a hypothetical diagram and is demonstrably untrue; the working geologist has never used it. Since the eighteenth century, men from England to Italy involved in canal digging and mining have used fossil seashells, graptolites etc. to identify strata. Lyell stumbled upon this “trade secret”, organized it, graced it with Greek names and, since the 1830s, the seashells etc. have been the index fossils for classifying each geological stratum; it is still a virtual “trade secret” of the geologist. The system works, though not perfectly, but it is emphasized there is no sign of increasing complexity among these seashells and thus no evidence for evolution.