VINDICIÆ GEOLOGICÆ, RELIQUIÆ DILUVIANÆ, 1820-23
<<-- Episodes Listing
“Y a-t-il eu un temps où le globe ait été entièrement inondé ? Cela est physiquement impossible.” ("Inondation," Voltaire, 1764)
“[A] universal deluge at no very remote period is proved on grounds so decisive and incontrovertible, that, has we never heard of such as event from Scripture . . . Geology itself must have called in the assistance of some such catastrophe, to explain the phenomena of diluvian action which are universally presented to us, and which are unintelligible without recourse to a deluge exerting it ravages at a period not more ancient than that announced in the Book of Genesis” (Buckland, 1820)
In 1812, William Buckland (1784-1856) was appointed as reader (“professor”) of mineralogy at Oxford University. At that time, Oxford was a bastion of the Church of England establishment and academicians at Oxford had to be ordained ministers in that Church. In 1818 he petitioned successfully to have geology established as a discipline of study and in 1819, to inaugurate his new position as Reader of Mineralogy and Geology, he gave a lecture on the topic of “the connexion of geology with religion.”
lecture he was careful to show that geology, like other sciences, was entirely
compatible with conventional religion in various ways. Of particular relevance
here was his claim that there was geological evidence of events mentioned in the
Bible. While he did not shy away from asserting his belief that Earth was
extremely old – which was the conventional view among scholars by then – he
emphasized that “[A] universal deluge at no very remote period is proved on
grounds so decisive and incontrovertible, that, has we never heard of such as
event from Scripture . . . Geology itself must have called in the assistance of
some such catastrophe, to explain the phenomena of diluvian action which are
universally presented to us, and which are unintelligible without recourse to a
deluge exerting it ravages at a period not more ancient than that announced in
the Book of Genesis.” At the time, most geologists agreed that a major break
with the past had occurred relatively recently, and most believed that it was
aqueous in nature, but Buckland was virtually alone at this late date in
equating it specifically with the Mosaic Deluge.
The evidence of a catastrophic deluge he refers to here are: the presence of loose, often unsorted deposits (“diluvium”) overlying the solid bedrock; the carving of various topographic features, including valleys (“vast chasms or gorges, the production of which is not referable to any causes now in action, and which indicate a series of different operations conducted at an ancient period of time”); and the geologic record of recent extinctions that were by then well established by the work of Cuvier and others to have occurred at the end of the Tertiary Period. The fact that human remains had not, as yet, been found in these deposits, was ascribed to the fact that humans were still limited to the Middle East at the time of the flood.
The lecture was published the next year (1820) under the title of Vindiciae Geologicae .
Buckland climbed into the top echelon of Europe's geo-historians with his work on recent fossil sites in England. This work complemented that of the great French naturalist Georges Cuvier and Buckland received the Royal Society of London's prestigious Copley Medal (left) for part of it.
Buckland's book Reliquiae Diluvianae (“Traces of the Flood”) summarized his own research and reviewed that of several other geologists. Its focus was twofold: to establish "that there has been a recent and general inundation of the globe," and to establish the nature of the native fauna at the time of the debacle (p.47).
Upon reviewing: the contents of various caves in England and Wales and in Germany, landforms such as those described by James Hall in the Edinburgh region and the erratics described by de Saussure, and the nature of deposits sitting atop the bedrock through much of northern Europe (“diluvial loam and gravel”), he concluded: that there was “the strongest evidence of an universal deluge.”
Kirkdale Cave (Yorkshire):
Here, Buckland found evidence of a hyenas' den. This was the work for which he received the Copley Medal in 1822. The bones in this and similar caves in northern Europe contained provided evidence of life prior “to the last great convulsion that has affected [the planet’s] surface.” Buckland equated this “convulsion” with the “recent and transient inundation” described by Georges Cuvier in his researches on the continent. Generally these were species not found today in northern Europe (such as hyena, tiger, elephant [mammoth], rhinoceros, and hippopotamus). “So completely has the violence of that tremendous convulsion destroyed and remodeled the form of the antediluvian surface, that it is only in caverns that have been protected from its ravages that we may hope to find undisturbed evidence of events in the period immediately preceding it” (p.42).
Buckland refused to address the cause of the inundation: in fact, “the discoveries of modern geology . . . have not yet shown by what physical cause it was produced" (p.225-226). But he did note that there did appear to have been a sudden change in climate at the time of the inundation, as evidenced by the frozen elephant [mammoth] recently found in Siberia and described by Cuvier and others.
Kirkdale Cave as described by Buckland in 1821 (left) and as the entrance is today (above).
Superficial deposits, erratics, landforms:
“Diluvium [is] . . . extensive and general deposits of superficial loam and gravel which appear to have been produced by the last great convulsion that has affected our planet” (p.2).
“The [diluvium] itself possesses no character by which it is easy to ascertain the source [the process] from which it has been derived . . . The catastrophe producing this gravel appears to have been the last event that has operated generally to modify the surface of the earth” (p.191).
Buckland described these materials as being widely distributed to the north of the River Thames.
Some rocks clearly had come from Norway, implicating “a violent rush of waters from the north” (p.198). Buckland accepted that flood waters could move erratics of considerable size.
Buckland enthusiastically endorsed the work of Sir James Hall in the Edinburgh region concerning landforms and “dressings” on rocks (scratches, gougings) that appeared to be the result of a flood. Regarding erratics in the Jura Mountains of Switzerland (such as Pierre a Bot), he accepted evidence of inundation to the highest altitudes in the Andes and Himalayas, quoting Genesis: “all the high hills and mountains under the whole heavens were covered” (p.223)[Genesis 7:19]. At this stage in his career, he equated this “recent and general inundation of the globe” with the Genesis Flood. Although older students of Earth’s history such as Linnaeus and Voltaire might have been skeptical (“Y a-t-il eu un temps ou le globe a ete entierement inonde? Cela est physiquement impossible” - Voltaire), unlike he and Cuvier, their opinions were not informed by the researches of “modern geology,” according to Buckland (p.225). However, Hall had clearly implied than there had been more than one wave at different places and times throughout Earth's history, and most British geologists at the time, while they accepted that there had been a relatively recent deluge, were non-committal on its identification as the Noachian Flood.
There was an on-going debate concerning the origin of valleys at this time. Buckland ascribed valleys to the “retiring action” of the “diluvial waters.” Buckland found it “quite impossible the [erosion of the valleys] could have been produced in any conceivable duration of years by rivers that now flow in them" (p.237).
He cited two specific instances:
He believed: Kirkdale cave had existed on the shore of a lake in the Vale of Pickering: this lake then drained as flood waters cut the present gorge of the Derwent River through the Howardian Hills and chalk escarpment to the south (p.43-44). (The Derwent drains away from the coast although it originates within a few miles of the coast.)
The valleys of the Cherwell and Evenlode Rivers breach the Cotswolds escarpment north of Oxford, and both valleys contain a trail of quartz pebbles (also located on uplands) that originate in the Vale of Avon lowland to the north (p.249 et seq.).
Diluvial thinking, overall:
Physical and biological evidence pointed to a relatively recent, dramatic event in Earth's history, the evidence for which was very fresh indeed. A global deluge (or a series of regional deluges) appeared to be the correct kind of process (in fact the only kind known) believed capable of effecting such dramatic changes across wide areas of Earth's surface: it fit well within the thinking of the day.
The Vale of Pickering, drained by the south-flowing Derwent River.
The escarpment of the Cotswold Hills north of Oxford, breached by the Evenlode (W) and Cherwell (E) Rivers.
“Ideal View of the Quaternary Epoch – Europe
(Figuier, 1863, p.316)
Buckland, W. 1820 Vindiciæ geologicæ; or The connexion of geology with religion explained, in an inaugural lecture delivered before University of Oxford, May 15, 1819, on the endowment of readership in geology (William Buckland Publisher, Oxford)
http://ships.umn.edu/glaciers/Buckland/Vindiciae Geologicae William Buckland.pdf
Buckland, W, 1823 Reliquiae Diluvianae: or, observations on the organic remains contained in caves, fissures, and diluvial gravel, and on other geological phenomena, attesting the action of an universal deluge (John Murray, London) http://books.google.com/books?id=VsoQAAAAIAAJ
Figuier, L. 1863 The world before the deluge (Cassel, Petter, Galpin & Co, London)
<<-- Episodes Listing