Hugh Miller — 19th-century creationist geologist
by Andrew MacRae
“No man acquainted with the general outlines of Palaeontology, or
the true succession of the sedimentary formations, has been able to believe,
during the last half century, that any proof of a general deluge can be
derived from the older geologic systems, — Palaeozoic, Secondary
[Mesozoic], or Tertiary.”
–Hugh Miller, 1857, “The Testimony of the Rocks”,
“And be it remembered, that the expedient of having recourse to
supposititious miracle in order to get over a difficulty insurmountable
on every natural principle, is not of the nature of argument, but simply
an evidence of the want of it. Argument is at an end when supposititious
miracle is introduced.”
–Hugh Miller, 1857, “The Testimony of the Rocks”,
Hugh Miller (1802-1856) was a 19th-century Scottish geologist whose best
known work in science is probably his description of the Devonian
fossil fish1 of Scotland in his book “The
Old Red Sandstone”. His other major works include “Footprints
of the Creator” and the book that is excerpted here, “The
Testimony of the Rocks”. Miller had no formal training in geology,
but he had a great amount of experience in the field, particularly in the
Devonian rocks of Scotland where he lived, and where his initial interest
in geology was stimulated by his work as a quarryman at a young age.
His books were quite popular at the time, not the least because while a
geologist, he was a fervent believer in the Christian Bible, and extensively
involved its interpretation in his discussions about geology — more so
than some of his contemporaries. Although a creationist, Miller did
not believe in a global Noachian flood. He believed that the flood
was of only local extent, probably somewhere in the Middle East or Central
Asia. He found the geological evidence completely inconsistent with
the interpretation of the Earth’s geology as the product of a global flood.
To this extent, he was no different from almost all other geologists of
his day. A few scientists of his period believed that evidence of
the Noachian flood might still be found in the “superficial deposits”,
most of which geologists now assign to the Quaternary Period (and interpret
as glacial in origin in Europe), and that, therefore, Noah’s flood might
be a geologically recent event that was still of global extent. But
Miller also refuted this interpretation on the basis of the geological
Perhaps of particular interest to present-day creationists, however,
is the way that Miller also discusses the theological issues. Many
of the points Miller raises will be completely familiar to anyone who has
followed the newsgroup talk.origins for a while, no matter what their perspective
on the issues discussed there. Also, Miller’s “The
Testimony of the Rocks” book, published in 1857, provides useful historical
documentation of the state of geology and the “global flood” model a few
years prior to the publication of Darwin’s theory of evolution in “The
Origin of Species” in 1859. A common claim of some modern “young
Earth global flood” creationists is that the geologic time scale and fossil
succession is somehow “circular” or otherwise dependent upon evolutionary
theory. A simple reading of Miller’s discussion, prior to the proposal
of evolutionary theory, makes it obvious that before Darwin’s theory was
published, the basic fossil succession and geologic time scale was well-established
by completely independent means, even in the opinion of creationist
geologists of that time. Likewise, the theory of a global flood as
an explanation for the Earth’s geology had been completely abandoned by
almost all scientists familiar with geology, including the creationist
ones. It was not consistent with the evidence known even then.
The story of Miller ends on a tragic note. He died at his own
hands in 1856, after a long but episodic period of “illness of the brain”,
apparently aggravated by the stress of writing his final work. “The
Testimony of the Rocks” was published posthumously. The edition
I have has 32 pages of memorials at the front, mostly reprinted from contemporary
Miller’s book is organised as a series of “lectures”, presented as chapters.
The first two deal with the paleontology of plants and animals, and their
succession in the Earth’s geology. He then begins discussion of the
“two records”, Biblical and geological, in “lectures” 3 to 6.
Lectures 7 & 8
deal with the “Noachian Deluge”, and are
excerpted here. The first deals primarily
with theological issues, and the second primarily with geological.
Lecture 9 and 10 contrast the two types of evidence, with lecture 10 refuting
many of the “young Earth global flood” claims of the day. Miller
characterises the adherents to a global flood, who were attempting to refute
geologists of his period (irrespective of religious background), as “anti-geologists”.
Lectures 11 & 12 deal with the fossil flora of Scotland, and are primarily
Excerpts from “The Testimony of
I have chosen the chapters that deal with the “Noachian Deluge” as representative
because they really represent the centre of his book, and show what makes
Miller’s writings fairly unique these days — a balance of theological
and scientific discussion. I think his writings, while dated in some
matters of data, provide an interesting perspective for anyone interested
in the subject of “origins”. Miller’s 19th-century arguments put
an intriguing historical spin on the same old arguments that turn up in
talk.origins all the time. Most people will not realize just how
old these arguments really are! His refutations of “global flood”
geology are, in many cases, still applicable today to some types of “modern”
TESTIMONY OF THE ROCKS
GEOLOGY AND ITS BEARINGS
TWO THEOLOGIES, NATURAL AND REVEALED
Author of “The Old Red Sandstone,” “Footprints of the Creator,”
MEMORIALS OF THE DEATH AND CHARACTER OF THE AUTHOR
“Thou shalt be in league with the stones of the field.” — Job
|Memorials of the death and character of Hugh Miller
|LECTURE FIRST: The Palaeontological history of Plants
|LECTURE SECOND: The Palaeontological history of Animals
|LECTURE THIRD: The Two Records, Mosaic and Geological
|LECTURE FOURTH: The Mosaic vision of Creation
|LECTURE FIFTH: Geology in its bearings on the two Theologies.
|LECTURE SIXTH: Geology in its bearings on the two Theologies.
|LECTURE SEVENTH: The Noachian Deluge.
|LECTURE EIGHTH: The Noachian Deluge.
|LECTURE NINTH: The Discoverable and the Revealed
|LECTURE TENTH: The Geology of the Anti-Geologists
|LECTURE ELEVENTH: On the less known fossil floras of Scotland.
|LECTURE TWELFTH: On the less known fossil floras of Scotland.
“Earth in Upheaval”, and, more recently, by
Richard Milton in “The Facts of Life”(p.110).
Neither author seems to understand the more recent work on the fossil fish
of the Old Red Sandstone (e.g., Mykura, 1991 has
citations to older and more recent papers); or realize that Miller,
in later publications, refutes the claim that this or any part of the geologic
column can be explained as the result of a global flood. Miller also
refutes claims that large fossil accumulations like this can be explained
by catastrophic global flood processes.
Miller, Hugh, 1841. The Old Red Sandstone.
American Edition, 1857. From the 4th London Edition. Gould
and Lincoln: Boston, 288pp.
Miller, Hugh, 1857. The Testimony of the
Rocks. Or, Geology in Its Bearings on the Two Theologies, Natural
and Revealed. American Edition. Gould and Lincoln: Boston,
Milton, Richard, 1993. The Facts of Life:
Shattering the Myths of Darwinism. Corgi Books: London, 334pp.
Mykura, W., 1991. Old Red Sandstone.
IN: Craig, G.Y. (ed.), Geology of Scotland. Geological Society: London,
Velikovsky, Immanuel, 1968. Earth in Upheaval.
Dell Publishing: New York, 288pp.