2008 Joint Meeting of The Geological Society of America, Soil Science Society of America, American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies with the Gulf Coast Section of SEPM

Paper No. 6
Presentation Time: 2:55 PM

Sir John William Dawson (1820–1899): Some Aspects of His Reconciliation of Scripture and Geology

AALTO, K.R., Geology, Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA 95521, kra1@humboldt.edu

Dawson's renown derives from his geologic mapping of the Canadian Maritime Provinces, expertise in Paleozoic paleobotany, able administration of McGill University, furthering of public education and professional organizations, and adherence to Scripture in interpreting earth history. His fervent denunciation of Darwinian evolution strengthened his desire to reconcile Scripture with science, and the many books and religious tracts he published from the1870's on promulgated his views to the general public. He attributed stratified drift in Canada to the Deluge, a great physical catastrophe that separated his palanthropic and neanthropic periods. He believed that palanthropic man, a race of strength and stature addicted to crimes of violence, perished along with the giant quadrupeds that then abounded as a result of miraculous or spiritual intervention directed to the destruction of this ungodly race. Dawson, self-taught in Hebrew, visited Egypt and Palestine during 1883-1884 to devote attention to features of geology that bear upon Biblical geography. Based upon study of the Mosaic books, he traced the route of the Exodus, attributing the miraculous passage across the Red Sea to considerable fluctuations of sea level occasioned by the winds and tides. To limit man's antiquity and explain Scripture scientifically, if not literally, Dawson fit the occasional catastrophe into a larger uniformitarian framework. For example, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah resulted from the escape of flammable gas and petroleum through the opening of a fissure along an old fault line, producing a pillar of smoke, burning bitumen and sulphur that fell upon the doomed cities. Charles Lyell worried that Dawson was placing his mind in a straitjacket, for he came vehemently to embrace or reject varied scientific theories or hypotheses based on their accordance with Scripture. Dawson became an intellectually isolated figure whose passionate crusades made him an anachronism.