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Abstract

In 1841 John Phillips proposed that there were three great periods of past life on the Earth, namely the Palaeozoic, the Mesozoic and the Cainozoic, terms which are still used today. This was by no means Phillips’ sole contribution to geochronology and this paper examines his evolving views on it over a span of forty years. In the 1820s he adopted the Deluge as a notion which reconciled Genesis and geology. From the 1830s he adopted a liberal Christian position, which saw attempts at such reconciliation as futile and dangerous, and incurred the wrath of so-called scriptural geologists. From 1853 to his death, Phillips was a public figure as successively deputy reader, reader, and professor of geology in the University of Oxford. He was also president of the Geological Society from 1858 to 1860. The publication of Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859) not only provoked him to reaffirm his liberal Christian beliefs but also induced him to give greater attention to geochronology as a weapon to be used against Darwinian evolution.

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