JF Ptak Science Books Post 2592
I pulled a volume at random of the Annals of Philosophy from the shelves--it was volume VI (new series) from 1823. Trying to think of what might be a hot-button issue (in English) for that year, I started flipping through the pages, reading the page headers: Humboldt on volcanoes, Beaufoy's astronomical observations, Mr. Moyle on the temperature of mines, Prevost on the blood, Pond on some astronomical topic, Ramond on the barometer, book reviews, scientific society announcements, and so on. Nothing really drew me in--until in the back, at page 344, this running header: "Prof. Henslow on the Deluge". That was a "something" that I was looking-but-not-looking-for.
This was a late-ish contribution to the history of the geology of the Great Flood, and in it, John Henslow (a great naturalist and botanist, 1796-1861) postulates that the flood was caused by the near-passing of a comet that disintegrated and contributed its enormous aequeous "nebulae" to the Earth's atmosphere producing the Noachic flood. He quickly sites a contemporary (one of many), William Buckland1, in this, who was one of the late leaders in the geological response to the flood, and who theorized a natural history of the flood and a production of an Ice Age. The belief that there was some scientific basis in the divinely-induced flood was buoyed by the general flavor of the mythology of the flood, which turns up in more than 100 cultures--so part of the Noahic flood argument as being true is the broad cultural base for it. Commonality across cultures like this doesn't necessarily make something real--there are many many parallels between the Bible and other sacred books besides this, like for example the savior descending into Hell for three days before resurrection, and that in stories that precede the New Testament. So common story bases make them popular, though not necessarily correct.
So Henslow thinks about the comet in a long tradition of Genesis geology, like Buffon and his comet. But what is more interesting to me in this issue is another contemporary, Reverend Adam Sedgwick, Woodwardian Professor of Geology at Cambridge University, who at the end of several decades in theorizing on catastrophic flood geology decided that he had taken a wrong turn. What happened then, in 1831, was a remarkable refutation of his earlier work. It was an enormous thing, a statement of real courage and conviction to the scientific process.