Before the hills in order stood:: the beginning of the geology of time in England
Published:January 01, 2001
John G. C. M. Fuller, 2001. "Before the hills in order stood:: the beginning of the geology of time in England", The Age of the Earth: From 4004 BC to AD 2002, C. L. E. Lewis, S. J. Knell
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That order should govern the nature of the world is an idea not confined to England, though the history of science in this country demonstrates again and again that a conception of Divine Order lay at its heart. To people of earlier days, want of order implied confusion, displacement, derangement, time out of joint, even the presence of malevolent power – ‘when the planets in evil mixture to disorder wander’. The divine scheme revealed by scripture was a frame and support for Earth science. It told an indisputable story of an ordered beginning, a diluvial reordering, and a future end in dissolution. It was a story backed by secular law, and no thinking person could have been unaware of it. Yet ‘when’ and ‘how’ were legitimate questions, answered in detail by hexaemeron writers. It is an educational curiosity in England that a particular Biblical chronology drawn up in 1650 accompanied scriptures printed for use in schools until 1885 – a matter of consequence to the history of all geological thought in this country.
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The Age of the Earth: From 4004 BC to AD 2002
The age of the Earth has long been a subject of great interest to scientists from many disciplines, particularly geologists, biologists, physicists and astronomers. This volume, The Age of the Earth: from 4004 BC to AD 2002, brings together contributors from these different subjects, along with historians, to produce a comprehensive review of how the Earth’s age has been perceived since ancient times. Touching on the works of eminent scholars from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, it describes how concepts of the Earth’s history changed as geology slowly separated itself from religious orthodoxy to emerge as a rigorous and self-contained science. Fossils soon became established as useful markers of relative age, while deductions made from geomorphological processes enabled the discussion of time in terms of years. By the end of the nineteenth century biologists and geologists were fiercely debating the issue with physicists who were unwilling to give them the time needed for evolution or uniformitarianism.
With the discovery of radioactivity, attempts to calculate the Earth’s age entered a new era, although these early pioneers in radiometric dating encountered many difficulties, both technical and intellectual, before the enormity of geological time was fully recognized. This effort affected both the theory and practice of geology. Geochronology was largely responsible for it maturing into a professional scientific discipline, as increasingly refined techniques measured not only the age of the rocks, but the rate of processes which now elucidate many aspects of the Earth’s evolution.
Even today the Earth’s chronology remains a contentious topic — particularly for those dating the oldest rocks — and it is implicated in debates surrounding our hominid ancestors, the origins and development of life, and the age of the universe.
The Age of the Earth: from 4004 bc to AD 2002 will be of particular interest to geologists, geochemists, and historians of science, as well as astronomers, archaeologists, biologists and the general reader with an interest in science.