PZ Myers has a fascinating post on the history of geology which traces the first discoveries of evidence for an old earth by regular old tyme religious people during centuries wherein challenging belief in God was very few people’s top priority. The advent of Darwinism did not set in motion a conspiracy of atheists who sought to fill out an anti-god “worldview” or “presupposition” by manufacturing implausible theories of an old earth as creationists allege. Good honest Christian scientists stumbled onto evidence which led them honestly towards thinking the earth might be older than previously thought. Myers’ full post on this history is must-read for anyone not already fully versed in the history of geological inquiry. Here is just a taste:
Let’s begin with Robert Hooke (1635-1703). He dabbled brilliantly in many things, but one subject of particular interest was the origin of these curious fossils that people kept digging up, which were thought to be either creatures turned to stone by some miraculous process, or were the expression of an intrinsic nature of stone to mimic life. Hooke examined the details of fossils microscopically, and determined that they had once been alive, and also worked out how the transformation had occurred — by the perfusion of minerals into buried or immersed dead organisms. He also examined the distribution of fossils; finding fossilized clams on mountaintops, for instance, says something about the prior state of that environment.
Most of those Inland Places. . . are, or have been heretofore under the Water. . . the Waters have been forc’d away from the Parts formerly cover’d, and many of those surfaces are now raised above the level of the Water’s Surface many scores of Fathoms. It seems not improbable, that the tops of the highest and most considerable Mountains in the World have been under Water, and that they themselves most probably seem to have been the Effects of some very great Earthquake.These conclusions were evidence-driven. Almost no one in the late 17th century would have been interested in opposing religion, so you can’t pin that heresy on Hooke. He is simply describing the natural world and finding certain conclusions inescapable, including some to which creationists today still can’t adjust — and note that he is writing this more than 300 years ago.
There have been many other Species of Creatures in former Ages, of which we can find none at present; and that ’tis not unlikely also but that there may be divers new kinds now, which have not been from the beginning.
And then there’s Baron Cuvier (1769-1832) and Alexandre Brongniart (1770-1847) who studied the rocks of the Paris Basin. There were many quarries situated around Paris that cut deep into the hills to provide building stone, and they gave these two the opportunity to look into the structure of the rocks. They identified five major layers, and by examining the fossils, worked out what kinds of animals and plants lived there when the layers were deposited. They found that layers with saltwater species were interleaved with layers containing freshwater species — Paris had been under the sea at least twice!
Cuvier was not an atheist. In fact, he was even adamant that the earth was relatively young, but in a way that contradicts what Answers in Genesis would tell you.
This is why presuppositionalism is such an obscenely corrupt epistemology. Anyone who would reduce the remarkably evidence-driven progress of science to an epistemological and ethical equivalent of committing by faith to presuppose the truth of alleged “special revelation” simply because science involves thinking in many cases with paradigms and theories has no interest in honest assessment of better and worse ways of thinking but is only interested in making their willful commitment to prejudice seem ethically indistinguishable from genuine, truth-discovering openmindedness.