Skepticism and the “Uniformitarian” Principle

By Wayne Jackson

One of the major concepts championed by the skeptical community is known as “uniformitarianism.” This is the notion that Earth’s processes, as they always are, reflect that which always has been. The late Dr. George G. Simpson of the American Museum of Natural History, and a professor at Columbia University, expressed it like this (in concert with two colleagues).

“There is an important principle fundamental for paleontology, geology, or any science that has historical aspects: the present is a key to the past. That principle was the subject of bitter controversy a century or two ago, when it was endowed with the formidable name of the doctrine of uniformitarianism. It is now accepted as true by virtually all scientists, and without it there could be no really scientific study of any kind of history” (Simpson, et al., pp. 741-742 emp. orig.).

The fallacy of this statement lies in its extrapolated generality. It certainly is the case that there exists a regular order to nature, a dependable cause-and-effect mechanism—as indeed the Bible itself indicates. In describing the post-Flood environment, Moses declared that “seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night” would be the natural order of Earth’s events for the balance of human history (Gen. 8:22).

However, when certain scientists adamantly insist that the “uniformitarian” concept has always been inflexible, you may be sure there is a sinister motive lurking nearby. In their minds, the “uniform” principle rules out any supernatural intervention, such as the divine orchestration of miracles, as such were employed in facilitating the unfolding plan of redemption. Likewise, to the radical naturalist, there is no room for the providential operation of God in a behind-the-scenes manipulation of nature’s forces for the accomplishment of a sacred goal.

The skeptic thus chides the Christian for his conviction that there have been, at times, significant exceptions to the uniformitarian principle. When such accommodates his own philosophical agenda, however, our adversary himself opts for “exceptions” to the “uniform” concept. Let me illustrate this in two ways.

Some atheists, while conceding that the Universe is not eternal, allege that at some point in the ancient past, “matter” simply created itself from nothing. When pressed as to how this might occur, they are at a total loss to produce a viable theory. Does science witness “matter” being created today? It does not. Every serious student of physics knows that the “First Law of Thermodynamics” indicates that no matter is being created currently. How, then, does one argue that a “something-from-nothing” phenomenon occurred in the remote past? “Conditions must have been different then,” is the reply. In other words, “exception” becomes the appeal.

Then there is this. What is the origin of life? The disciples of Charles Darwin contend that life originated spontaneously. It simply burst into existence, the living from the non-living—all by itself! Evolutionists know, of course, that there is not a shred of evidence sustaining this speculation. Dr. Simpson, et al., confessed that:

“spontaneous generation does not occur in any known case. All life comes from life. That is one of the really great and fundamental generalizations of biology” (p. 261).

But what did Simpson and colleagues really believe? Listen to them (from the same page of the previously cited text no less!): “Most biologists think it probable that life did originally arise from non-living matter by natural processes.” What was their rationale for this incredible leap in logic. It was this: “©onditions were clearly quite different” in the ancient world!

What happened to the “present-is-the-key-to-the-past” mantra? If the present is the key to the past, and life is not being spontaneously generated today, then common sense would lead to the conclusion that life never did originate itself.

The logical fact of the matter is this. If matter is not eternal, and it does not have the ability to create itself, it must have been created by a non-material Source. If there is no evidence that biological life has the ability to generate itself, rational thought leads to the conclusion that life commenced from a non-biological, eternally-living Source that is beyond the domain of the physical.

The Bible reveals the Source as God! “In the beginning God …” Think sensibly, and believe it.

Sources/Footnotes
  • Simpson, George G. Colin S Pittendrigh, Lewis H. Tiffany. 1957. Life: An Introduction to Biology. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace, Co.
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About the Author

Wayne Jackson has written for and edited the Christian Courier since its inception in 1965. He has also written several books on a variety of biblical topics including The Bible and Science, Creation, Evolution, and the Age of the Earth, The Bible on Trial, and a number of commentaries. He lives in Stockton, California with his dear wife, and life-long partner, Betty.