The Dikes of Biblical Chronology

History tells us most eloquently that a vast expansion of the Biblical time-scale eventually leads to a greatly reduced concept of the Creator's work, and definitely not to "an expanded conception of the Creator."

Warren H. Johns, an instructor in religion at Columbia Union College, is currently on study leave for graduate-course
work in geology at Michigan State University.


JAMES HUTTON, the Scottish geologist, stood before the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1785 and proclaimed: "But if the succession of worlds is established in the system of nature, it is in vain to look for any thing higher in the origin of the earth. The result, there fore, of our present inquiry is, that we find no vestige of a beginning—no prospect of an end" (Toulmin and Goodfield, p. 157). Thus an explosion was initiated that blasted a way through the restraining dikes and opened the way for the spread of uniformitarian geology and its twin sister, organic evolution.

Historians of geology recognize the deep significance of Mutton's uniformitarian formula, which has been echoed in dozens of scientific works. Many, such as the historian G. L. Davies, claim for Hutton a "first": "We must reserve our acclaim for Hutton as the first true geologist to appreciate the magnitude of the terrestrial time-scale. Earlier geologists from Hooke to deLuc had considered extending the Mosaic chronology by perhaps a few millennia, but Hutton was the first geologist to perceive that the age of the Earth was so great as to be almost beyond human comprehension" (Davies, p. 181). Thus Hutton is considered to be "the father of Uniformitarianism," or as Davies calls him, "the first true uniformitarian."

Hutton may have been the first to ex tend the bounds of earth history into the limitless aeons of the past, but he was certainly not the first to overstep the bounds set by Biblical chronology. A half century before Hutton's Theory of the Earth came into print, a Frenchman, DeMaillet, in 1748 anonymously published a book called Telliamed, which is named after the fictional Indian philosopher who dialogs with a Christian missionary. Here is one excerpt that indicates how the traditional time-scale of Christianity was being assaulted: "But, continued Telliamed, not to enter a question, which you look upon to be necessarily connected with your religion (Christianity). . . . Let us here be con tent not to fix a beginning to that which perhaps never had one. Let us not measure the past duration of the world by that of our own years" (Haber, p. 111).

DeMaillet's book, Telliamed, was one of three significant works in the mid-eighteenth century France to be published propounding organic evolution. Speaking of this widely read work, one author says: "He made one of the first fumbling attempts to link cosmic to biological evolution; he anticipated a greater age for the world" (Eiseley, p. 30). Even at its earliest inception evolution needed time, vast amounts of time.

More Scientific Attempt

A more scientific and less speculative attempt to put evolution on a firm genetic basis was made by the Frenchman Maupertuis just three years later. Considered to be the "pioneer of modern genetics" and the "founder of evolution" (Glass, p. 51, ff; Millhauser, p. 63), Maupertuis in his System of Nature (1751) explained, how a process of gradual evolution could take place: ". . . by reason of repeated deviations ... to which perhaps the passage of centuries will bring only imperceptible increases" (Toulmin and Goodfield, p. 188). One evaluation of his theory is this: "It was the first competent scientific treatment of the new idea (evolution of new species). . . . For solidity and influence, it was outstanding in the little evolutionary movement of the 1750's" (Millhauser, p. 63).

The one historian who has resurrected him as a significant precursor of Dar win, Bentley Glass, has this evaluation: "Maupertuis' studies thus led him to evolution. Here with certainty he must be ranked above all the precursors of Darwin" (Glass, p. 74). One can catch glimpses in his writings of the intuitive need for a greatly expanded time-scale if his new views on evolution were to take root.

The great French naturalist, Comte de Buffon, the third evolutionist of the 1750's to dare publish his views, found himself quickly suppressed by the conservative faculty of the Sorbonne. It was not until three decades later that he published a much more highly developed view of evolution in his famous Epoques de la Nature. Buffon divided history into seven epochs by arguing that each day of Creation equaled a vast length of time, thus maintaining a semblance of the Scriptural history. His earth chronology was 75,000 years, a figure more than ten times that of Biblical chronology.

Need Vast Amounts of Time

Buffon's evolutionary ideas did not stem from his studies on geochronology, but his expanded earth chronology stemmed from the evolutionary ideas that he had held for years. What he needed was time, vast amounts of time, if his evolutionary theory was to see daylight. He realized the direction his studies on the cooling of the earth from a molten state would lead, toward that of more time: "In the manuscript copy of the Epoques he wrote, 'When I counted only 74,000 or 75,000 years for the time passed since the formation of the planets, I gave notice that I con strained myself in order to oppose received ideas as little as possible.' To explain the phenomena satisfactorily, he continued, it would be necessary to assign to the first periods of cooling alone, not some thousands of years, but a million, if not more" (Haber, in Glass, p. 236). Buffon, as much as any eighteenth-century scientist, prepared the way for the destruction of the dikes of Biblical chronology.

Notice how the historians of science (all of whom probably adhere to evolution themselves) have evaluated Buffon: "The Epoques . . . contains the earliest attempts to compute the age of the earth by an experimental method, ignoring calculations based on Biblical history" (Eyles, in Schneer, p. 166). Another historian, after admitting how far wrong were Buffon's estimates com pared with today's time-scale, calls him "the voice of the future." "Moreover, his calculations had proved the essential point: that the time-barrier could be breached" (Toulmin and Goodfield, p. 149). What other barrier could this be than the approximate 6,000 years of Biblical history?

A third historian continues in much the same vein of thought. "Buffon's Epoques was the first history of the earth to give an estimate of actual elapsed periods of time to explain the fossil strata" (Haber, in Glass, p. 234). He then describes the long-range effects of Buffon's compromise with Biblical history by means of stretching out the days of Creation: "Although it was not appreciated for many years, by taking a path of compromise with Mosaic history, Buffon furnished a means of reinterpreting Genesis so as to make room in it for ideas of time and change. Once the orthodox were forced by the geological record to abandon their concept of a finished world of six thousand years' duration, they found the Epoques to be a useful source of face-saving expedients" (Haber, in Glass, p. 236). He concludes by saying, "The work as a whole promulgated an evolutionary view of nature, which his critics recognized would, if adopted . . . , substitute a natural process of changes for external deity in the work of creation" (Haber, in Glass, p. 236). Is it not significant that the rise of evolutionary thought is correlated with rupture in the dikes of Biblical chronology?

Does It Matter?

Those who assert that it doesn't matter how much time has elapsed in earth's history should consider the impact of what a host of historians of science are saying. One states: "In tracing the history of geomorphology in Britain during the period between 1705 and 1807, it is convenient to show first how a slight loosening of the Mosaic shackles gave the late eighteenth-century geologists a somewhat less cramped terrestrial time-scale against which to set their studies" (Davies, p. 97). Another boldly declares: ". . .in the eighteenth-century, the time-scale of Biblical chronology became an onerous barrier to scientific progress" (Haber, p. 25). A third well-known historian also states: "Once geological time had been ex tended beyond six thousand years, British geology possessed the means of liberating itself from many of its own errors" (Millhauser, p. 41). What is being said here is that the chronological implications of the scriptural account were an effective barrier to the rise of organic evolution.

To move from the eighteenth century into the nineteenth, an increasingly more rapid erosion of the Biblical dikes of chronology is evident, climaxing in the 1850's and 1860's. Again quoting from historians who probably adhere to evolutionary thought: "If our ideas about the past are now no longer restricted within the time-barrier of earlier ages, this is due above all to the patience, industry, and originality of those men who, between 1750 and 1850, created a new and vastly extended time-scale, anchored in the rock strata and fossils of the Earth's crust" (Toulmin and Goodfield, p. 141).

"The crest of the first phase of the time revolution in Western thought had been reached and passed by 1865. The enclosing dikes of Biblical chronology had been decisively burst, and hence forth no scientist had to trim his views on the duration of the world lest his religious and moral reputation be destroyed. ... It took half a century more to win over the public at large" (Haber, p. 290).

Another authority who also appears to be writing from an evolutionary framework suggests that any erosion of the dikes of Biblical chronology initiates an erosion of Christianity itself.

"The breaking down of Biblical chronology and Mosaic history proved to be an important link in the chain of events which led to a reassessment of the basic truths of Christianity in the nineteenth century and to an expanded conception of the Creator" (Haber, p. 264).

History tells us most eloquently that a vast expansion of the Biblical time scale eventually leads to a greatly reduced concept of the Creator's work, and definitely not to "an expanded conception of the Creator"!


Davies, Gordon L. The Earth in Decay. London: MacDonald & Co., 1968.

Eiseley, Loren C. Darwin's Century. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1961,

Glass, Bentley; Owsei Temkin and William L. Straus, eds. Forerunners of Darwin. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins
Press, 1959.

Haber, Francis C. The Age of the World: Moses to Darwin. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1959.

Millhauser, Milton. Just Before Darwin. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1959.

Schneer, Cecil J., ed. Toward a History of Geology. Cambridge, Mass.: The M.I.T. Press, 1969.

Toulmin, Stephen, and June Goodfield. The Discovery of Time. London: Hutchinson & Co., 1965.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus

Warren H. Johns, an instructor in religion at Columbia Union College, is currently on study leave for graduate-course
work in geology at Michigan State University.

January 1976

Download PDF
Ministry Cover

More Articles In This Issue

The Great Deception

The role of deception in end-time events.

The King Is Coming

The New Testament Witness to Christ's Second Coming

Efficiency? Yes—But More!

From One Leader to Another

In Search of the Hittites

The monthly biblical archeology column

Plea for a Christ-Centered Eschatology

The key to unlocking the hidden, underlying unity of the two Testaments is the Person of Christ.

The Meaning of Genesis 1:1

Lexical, Grammatical, syntactical, and stylistic considerations to understanding the meaning of Genesis 1:!

On Giving Advice

The author gives wise advise on giving advice

High-level Wellness

Reprinted by permission from author's book, Come Alive, Review and Herald Publishing Association 1975.

Messages from your Nerves

The hypochondriac just loves taking pills and injections. His supposed illness has nothing to do with what he is trying to treat.

Your Teeth—Love 'em or Lose 'em

In a society that seems to be so concerned about personal appearance why are so many losing this essential component of a beautiful smile?

View All Issue Contents

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up

Recent issues

See All