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Hugh Miller — 19th-century creationist geologist

by Andrew MacRae
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“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”, p.324
“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”, p.344.


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 evidence.

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 newspaper articles.

Excerpts from “The Testimony of the Rocks”

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 descriptive.

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” creationism.

On the
Author of “The Old Red Sandstone,” “Footprints of the Creator,” etc., etc.
“Thou shalt be in league with the stones of the field.” — Job
Memorials of the death and character of Hugh Miller 7
LECTURE FIRST:  The Palaeontological history of Plants 33
LECTURE SECOND:  The Palaeontological history of Animals 86
LECTURE THIRD: The Two Records, Mosaic and Geological 141
LECTURE FOURTH:  The Mosaic vision of Creation 179
LECTURE FIFTH: Geology in its bearings on the two Theologies.  Part I 211
LECTURE SIXTH: Geology in its bearings on the two Theologies.  Part II 237
LECTURE SEVENTH: The Noachian Deluge.  Part I 283
LECTURE EIGHTH:  The Noachian Deluge.  Part II 320
LECTURE NINTH:  The Discoverable and the Revealed 362
LECTURE TENTH:  The Geology of the Anti-Geologists 392
LECTURE ELEVENTH:  On the less known fossil floras of Scotland.  Part I 429
LECTURE TWELFTH:  On the less known fossil floras of Scotland.  Part II 463


“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, 502pp.

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, p.297-344.

Velikovsky, Immanuel, 1968.  Earth in Upheaval.  Dell Publishing: New York, 288pp.

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