1892 – An Appeal to Common Sense

Henry Hoyle Howorth

There is a popular maxim that is frequently repeated: history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

This maxim is particularly pertinent in the context of the Anthropogenic Global Warming debate that has been raging on the internet for many years.

The debate has become extremely polarised and many of the protagonists have become one-sided propagandists who avoid open debate.

The supporters of Anthropogenic Global Warming base their opinions upon mainstream Settled Science whilst the prejudicially labelled Deniers argue that the Science Is Never Settled.

Technically, the Deniers are correct because a scientific hypothesis can only ever be disproved – it can never be proved. This is the beauty of the scientific method.

But as we live in the age of Post-Normal Science this technicality is of no importance to the mainstream.

However, Mother Nature is currently giving Global Warming the cold shoulder and the supporters of Anthropogenic Global Warming are slowly losing their bluster.

Back in the 19th century a very similar debate raged between the supporters of mainstream Settled Science and the Deniers.

The argument in the 19th century concerned the mainstream belief in Ice Ages.

This may seem strange to many observers in the 21st century because they have been schooled in the Settled Science of Ice Ages.

However, open minded readers in the 21st century may be surprised to learn that many of the arguments used by the Deniers in the 21st century rhyme with the arguments used by the Deniers in the 19th century.

This historical rhyming can be clearly encountered in a magnificent work by Sir Henry Hoyle Howarth entitled: The Glacial Nightmare And The Flood; A Second Appeal To Common Sense From The Extravagance Of Some Recent Geology.

From my perspective the preface from this book [which I unashamedly reproduce below] should be read by anyone who has received a formal education.

The writing style is [obviously] not modern but the intellectual content is timeless.

Before reading the preface to the book a quick refresher on a priori and Uniformitarianism may be helpful.

The terms a priori (“from the earlier”) and a posteriori (“from the later”) are used in philosophy (epistemology) to distinguish two types of knowledge, justification, or argument:

A priori knowledge or justification is independent of experience (for example “All bachelors are unmarried”). Galen Strawson has stated that an a priori argument is one in which “you can see that it is true just lying on your couch”. You don’t have to get up off your couch and go outside and examine the way things are in the physical world. You don’t have to do any science.

A posteriori knowledge or justification is dependent on experience or empirical evidence (for example “Some bachelors I have met are very happy”).


Uniformitarianism is the assumption that the same natural laws and processes that operate in the universe now have always operated in the universe in the past and apply everywhere in the universe. It has included the gradualistic concept that “the present is the key to the past” and is functioning at the same rates. Uniformitarianism has been a key principle of geology and virtually all fields of science, but naturalism’s modern geologists, while accepting that geology has occurred across deep time, no longer hold to a strict gradualism.

Uniformitarianism was formulated by British naturalists in the late 18th century, starting with the work of the Scottish geologist James Hutton, which was refined by John Playfair and popularised by Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology in 1830. The term uniformitarianism was coined by William Whewell, who also coined the term catastrophism for the idea that Earth was shaped by a series of sudden, short-lived, violent events.


1892 – An Appeal to Common Sense


It is a singular and a notable fact, that while most other branches of science have emancipated themselves from the trammels of metaphysical reasoning, the science of geology still remains imprisoned in “a priori” theories.

It was many years ago that one of the teachers to whom I am under great obligations, Adam Sedgwick, protested with the gravity of a true philosopher against this method of reasoning. “The study of the great physical mutations on the surface of the earth,” he said, “is the business of geology. But who can define the limits of these mutations? They have been drawn by the hand of Nature, and may be studied in the record of her works, but they never have been, and never will be, fixed by any guesses of our own, or by any trains of a priori reasoning based upon hypothetical analysis. We must banish all a priori reasoning from the threshold of our argument; and the language of theory can never fall from our lips with any grace or fitness, unless it appear as the simple enunciation of those general facts, with which, by observation alone, we have at length become acquainted. … An hypothesis is indeed (when we are all agreed on receiving it) an admirable means of marshalling scattered facts together. But by those who differ from us, an hypothesis will ever be regarded with just suspicion; for it too often becomes, even in spite of our best efforts, like a false horizon in astronomy, and vitiates all the results of our observations, however varied, or many times repeated”

With these words I most cordially agree, but if they were wise and just in 1831, they are equally wise and just now, when our science has become more professional and when authority therefore has become more paramount. “That the primary laws of Nature are immutable that all we now see is subordinate to those immutable laws and that we can only judge of effects which are past by the effects we behold in progress” are truisms of all science. When this sound doctrine is perverted, however, to teaching men that “the physical operations now going on are not only the type, but the measure of intensity of the physical powers acting on the earth at all anterior periods. This is to assume an unwarrantable hypothesis with no a priori probability.” This is the language of another great geologist, a distinguished observer and generalizer.

The words were originally directed against the development of the views of Hutton and Playfair, which we owe to the brilliant and fascinating pen of Lyell. He had explained with great wealth of illustration and a wonderful command of limpid and picturesque language, the necessity of studying Nature at work, if we are to unravel the history of Nature from the ruins of her handiwork. He taught, as it had never been taught before, that rain, snow, and frost, that river and sea, that volcano and earthquake, that these and similar instruments which Nature is continuously employing now, are capable, if we allow a sufficient draft upon time, of producing the largest effects. So far no one quarrels with him, and so far he was following modern methods in science, those methods which are alone inductive and empirical. When he went beyond this he travelled beyond the true limits of induction, and against the journey Sedgwick, Murchison, Hopkins and others protested. The protest was, however, largely addressed to an obstinate and perverse generation, which in its rebellion against the old teaching whereby every difficulty was solved by an appeal to the direct interposition of the Almighty, refused to listen to any other voice than that of Uniformity. Not uniformity in the sense that Nature has worked with similar tools and with similar methods in all ages, but in the sense that she has always worked with the same vigour and intensity, or, as Mr. Conybeare translated the argument as applied to geology, because a child grows two inches every year, therefore, that is the normal growth of a human being during the three score years and ten which are his allotted pilgrimage.

To uniformity in its former sense we all adhere, against uniformity in its latter and transcendental and metaphysical sense the following work is meant to be a protest as its predecessor was.

Misleading as I deem the arguments of Lyell and his scholars to have been when applied to the older beds, they were much more so when applied to explain the superficial mantle of gravel, clay, sand, etc., which covers the ragged and ruined surface of the older rocks, and gives to the earth its generally smooth and undulating outline. The former deposits are for the most part arranged in regularly stratified beds, with a regular succession which can be studied in many places in an undisturbed condition. It is very different with the superficial soft beds, which are so incongruous and heterogeneous in structure, which mantle the country irrespective of its contour, which often contain blocks of stone that have travelled hundreds of miles from home, and which afford so many puzzles to us all. Yet if there be a geological horizon, which it is important that we should study on sound principles, it is assuredly this one, for it enshrines the last completed chapter in the history of the world, and, mong many other interesting riddles, contains the explanation of the mysterious problem of the origin of our race.

To explain these beds has been the anxious effort of several generations of geologists, and the difficulty of the task may be measured by the divergent theories which have been forthcoming about them, and by the further fact that they still remain in many respects the despair of geology.

Forbes, in his chapter on the Geological agency of Glaciers, writes as follows: “The occurrence of vast masses of primitive rocks, apparently without any great wear and tear of travelling, upon secondary or alluvial surfaces at great distances from their origin, has been one of the numerous opprobria of geology. It is peculiarly so because a thousand circumstances demonstrate that the deposition of these masses has taken place at the very last period of the earth’s history. No considerable changes of surface have occurred since. These blocks are superficial, naked, deposited upon bare rock, which has received no coating of soil since, and are often placed in positions of such ticklish equilibrium that any considerable convulsion of nature, whether by earthquake or debacle, must inevitably have displaced them. A geologist might therefore justly be asked, “If you cannot account for these very latest and plainest phenomena of change and transport on the earth’s surface, whose various revolutions you pretend to explain, how shall we follow you, when you tell us of the metamorphoses of slates and the throes of granite?”

This was written in 1843. In 1866 M. d’Archiac, one of the most accomplished and trustworthy observers of recent times, could still write: “One of the epochs of Nature about which most has been written in recent times, that which immediately preceded our own and of which the duration was apparently not very long is, nevertheless, that about which we know the least, and which has given rise to the greatest number of hypotheses. The slight development of marine and lacustrine deposits, compared with the great predominance if not universal distribution of the erratic depots, their small thickness over wide extents of country, the entanglement of one part, and the regular succession of the other, the absence of regularity, symmetry and continuity in the disposition of the beds, have caused the comparisons and relations which it has been attempted to evolve from them to be incomplete and uncertain.”

I could easily quote passages from the geological writings of men in the forefront of our science on both sides of the Atlantic, to show that in the year 1892 we are still face to face with the unsolved problem of rationally explaining the manifold and perverse difficulties presented by the latest geological deposits.

I have thought it right in the following pages to begin with an account at considerable length of the various theories which have been propounded to explain a large series of these beds. I have done so more especially, because my own conclusion largely involves a return to the views of those older geologists, who wrote before the world was dazzled by the extravagant development of the Glacial theory, and because their careful labours have been recently ignored.

At one time most men agreed that these beds were assorted and distributed by water, and the great conflict between the Huttonians and their opponents, was as to whether the water acted in an a normal way, that is in the form of rivers, or the sea, or in an abnormal way, that is by means of catastrophes or debacles, as it was the fashion to call them. It must be said that the Huttonians had found it hard to keep the field, for it seemed impossible to realize that water acting in any normal way could transport great blocks of stone for hundreds of miles, and spread vast sheets of gravel and clay over whole continents.

Hence the stretching of the theory of Uniformity almost to the breaking point by Lyell and Darwin, who in order to meet the facts, postulated the submergence of whole continents, and the floating over them from some unknown Arctic sea of fleets of icebergs which were supposed to have sailed in and out of the Alpine valleys, across Germany and Russia, etc. etc., and to have dropped their burdens as they went. The sea bottom is then supposed to have risen again, and to have disclosed what we now see.

The impossibility of maintaining this view in presence of the facts, will, I think, be found to be satisfactorily shown in the penultimate chapter of the following work; although this was scarcely needed, since the view itself was ultimately abandoned by its principal champions.

At this stage Charpentier and Agassiz, came to the rescue of the sorely tried theory of Uniformity. The Swiss geologists, who had studied the modus operandi and results of glacier work, had also noticed signs and evidences in Switzerland that the modern glaciers are only shrunken relics of much larger glaciers which at one time existed there, and that the unmistakable work of these old glaciers could be traced far down the valleys in the shape of polished and striated rocks, transported debris, etc., etc. This led to inquiry being made elsewhere, and it soon became patent that, unless we are to ignore the clearest evidence, we must allow that in the last period of the earth’s history there was a development of glaciers on a large scale in nearly all latitudes where high land existed.

This view, which was first propounded and elaborately argued by Charpentier, has stood the test of criticism, and seems to be established beyond question.

When ice was shown to have had a greater extension, and consequently a greater potency in former times, than now, it opened up possibilities as to its capacity to explain a great deal more than had been dreamt of. The position was at once seized by Schimper and Agassiz, and their arguments and rhetoric took the world by storm.

It was plausible to argue that the same force which could carry great masses of granite and other rock from the upper Alpine valleys into the lower country, was competent when working on a larger scale to scratch, furrow and smooth wide extents of country many leagues away from any mountain chain, or any sloping ground; to remove masses of gravel, boulders and clay, mixed with unweathered stone, over many degrees of latitude and longitude, and to explain all the varied and widespread phenomena of the drift. Hence the invocation of a Glacial Period to explain what were deemed to be plainly glacial phenomena.

The Glacial theory as thus propounded by Schimper and Agassiz, was naturally very welcome to the champions of Uniformity, for it seemed to offer a way of escape from a great difficulty without appealing to other than every-day causes.

It is true that the magnitude and wide geographical distribution of the facts to be explained involved unusual courage on the part of those who held this view, and some of his followers were startled and confounded by the lengths to which Agassiz was prepared to go. For he not only invoked a time when a portentous winding sheet of ice covered the temperate zone, but he also took it into the tropics, and argued that a similar icy mantle once filled the valley of the Amazon in Brazil.

While this last extension of the theory met with considerable opposition, the main conclusion for which he fought, namely, that the drift was deposited by continental ice-sheets conterminous with the drift itself, became the predominant creed of a large and powerful school of geologists.

Some of Agassiz’s eager scholars soon saw that the new theory needed external support. If, as they argued, the doctrine of Uniformity is conciliated by the prospect of a great ice age and widespread ice-sheets, it also requires that, such an ice age should be explained without a breach in the continuity of Nature’s laws. Hence the fervid appeals by the Glacial school of geologists to astronomy and meteorology to furnish a satisfactory basis on which their theory might stand, and which should enable them to say that an ice age was not a mere accidental occurrence, whose explanation is uncertain, but a part of the great scheme by which the Universe is governed, and the natural result of the ordinary operation of Nature’s laws.

The challenge was not neglected, and many elaborate theories have been evolved by sharp-witted and ingenious men, in order to satisfy the champions of the apparently triumphant and unanswerable Glacial theory. A criticism of these various theories will be found in the following pages, where it is attempted to be shown that they have all completely failed, either to meet the facts of geology, or to be consistent with the laws of physics, and it seems to be as plain as anything can be that the dictum of the great French geologist, Charles Martins, is still true, namely, “that, if the Glacial theory be sound, its explanation is a secret which the future alone can disclose.”

One of the chief objects of the following book, however, is to show that the Glacial theory, as usually taught, is not sound, but that it ignores, and is at issue with, the laws which govern the movements of ice, while the geological phenomena to be explained .refuse to be equated with it. This is partially acknowledged by the principal apostles of the ice theory. They admit that ice as we know it in the laboratory, or ice as we know it in glaciers, acts quite differently to the ice they postulate, and produces different effects, but we are bidden to put aside our puny experiments which can be tested, and to turn from the glaciers which can be explored and examined, to the vast potentiality of ice in the shape of portentous ice-sheets beyond the reach of empirical tests, and which we are told acted quite differently to ordinary ice. That is to say, they appeal from sub-lunary experiments to a priori arguments drawn from a transcendental world. Assuredly this is a curious position for the champions of Uniformity to occupy. In regard to it I will quote a fable already utilized by Hugh Miller. ‘A wolf,’ says Plutarch, “peeping into a hut where a company of shepherds were assembled, saw them regaling themselves with a joint of mutton. ‘Ye gods!’ he exclaimed, ‘what a clamour they would have raised if they had caught me at such a banquet.’ ”

I hold that the Glacial theory, as ordinarily taught, is based not upon induction, but upon hypotheses, some of which are incapable of verification, while others can be shown to be false, and it has all the infirmity of the science of the Middle Ages. This is why I have called it a Glacial Nightmare. Holding it to be false, I hold further that no theory of modern times has had a more disastrously mischievous effect upon the progress of Natural Science. It is not merely in the domain of geology that its baneful influence has been felt. We cannot take up a text book, in which the profounder problems of Biology are treated, problems like the distribution of animals and plants, the pedigree of life, the origin, and beginnings of the human race, without being impressed with its influence as a factor.

In all these and many other inquiries, the postulate of an ice age forms a necessary element of current theories. The length of the following argument is in fact the homage paid to the widespread influence of the theory, which made it incumbent in disputing it to do so with such care and completeness as I can command, amid manifold duties, and indifferent health.

What, then, is shortly the burden of the following argument?

I admit completely, that the position maintained by Charpentier in his work on Glaciers is unassailable, first, because it makes no appeal to any occult and hidden forces underlying the movements of ice, but proves the existence of greater glaciers formerly by comparing and equating the ruins they have left with the ruins made by existing glaciers. Secondly, because it is consistent with all the geological facts that we can summon to test it by. On the other hand, I not only disbelieve in, but I utterly deny the possibility of ice having moved over hundreds of miles of level country, such as we see in Poland and Russia, and the prairies of North America, and distributed the drift as we find it there. I further deny its capacity to mount long slopes, or to traverse uneven ground except when under the impulse of gravity. I similarly deny to it the excavating and denuding power which has been attributed to it by those who claim it as the excavator of lakes and valleys, and I altogether question the legitimacy of arguments based upon a supposed physical capacity, which cannot be tested by experiment, and which, is entirely based upon hypothesis. This means that I utterly question the prime postulate of the Glacial theory itself.

The purport of the following pages, however, is not wholly critical and destructive. If we sweep away the Glacial theory in its extravagant form, we have not swept away the difficulties which it was introduced to explain. It is our duty, it seems to me, in view of the importance of the issue, to meet these difficulties. How then are they to be met? The answer to this question I have tried to give in the last chapters of this book. The answer is not one consistent with the modern developments of the theory of Uniformity, and for those who hold with Ramsay that Nature has not varied either in the rapidity, the intensity, or the quality of her work since she began to mould the world, there is nothing in those chapters which can prove acceptable. My masters, Sedgwick and Murchison, taught me a very different lesson which I have seen no reason whatever to unlearn. They taught me that no plainer witness is to be found of any physical fact than that Nature has at times worked with enormous energy and rapidity, and at others much more evenly and quietly, and that the rocky strata teem with evidence of violent and sudden dislocations on a great scale. That these catastrophes were aimless and lawless, I do not believe. On the contrary, they were the result of law, but of a law whose tendency we have not yet perhaps duly measured, and whose key we might perhaps have discovered if we had not been pursuing the fantastic shadows of metaphysical reasoning for so many years.

This conclusion is, in effect, the same as that arrived at by some of the best writers on the subject. Let me quote from one of them.

“No one appreciates more highly than I do,” says Mr. Babbage, “the labours of those older geologists,” that is, Lyell and his school, “who first taught an earlier generation to estimate more truly the power and efficiency of certain forces which act very slowly but continuously during long periods of time. The error in scientific speculation against which they fought was the error of laying exclusive or exaggerated stress upon forces of a particular kind forces the existence of which they did not deny, but which had worked only at comparatively distant intervals and in alliance always with other forces, the operation of which is ceaseless. It is precisely the same error in principle, though exhibited in a different form, which is now exhibited by those geologists who attribute almost everything to running water and to scraping ice. They are simply catastrophists in a new dress. They attribute extravagant power and stupendous effects to one form of force instead of to another. There is, indeed, one difference, and it is a difference in favour of the older school of catastrophists rather than of the younger that whereas there never could be any doubt of the adequacy of subterranean force to produce the effects ascribed to it, there is the greatest doubt of the adequacy of rain and ice to effect in any time, however long, the stupendous changes ascribed to them by Mr. Geikie. On the other, there is really nothing stupendous about these effects when they are regarded in connection with the known and visible effects of subterranean force. The highest ranges of mountains we have are, relatively to the circumference of the earth’s crust, infinitely smaller than the puckers on an orange-skin.”

Again, the same writer says: “Magnitude is all relative. The store of Time and the store of Force may be regarded as both unlimited. But it does not follow that in accounting for any given effect we are entitled to draw to an unlimited extent either upon the one or upon the other. Extravagant demands may as easily be made upon the one or upon the other. The inventions and imaginations to which the extreme glacialists resort are, beyond all comparison, more violent than those which were common with the old convulsionists. Whole continents are built up upon the top of the existing mountains, which there is no proof whatever ever existed; and then these continents are all ground down by ice or washed away by ordinary surf, and yet so that not a fragment shall be left behind. I venture to believe that I shall have some support from the great leaders of geological science, who, in power of intellect, are still young among us, when I record my dissent from the extravagant theories of the younger glacialists.”

With this reasoning I quite agree. The earth seems to me to be full of evidence of intermittent violence and repose. In facing the solution of the Drift problem I must be taken therefore to postulate, not merely the possibility of catastrophes, but to maintain that they have occurred frequently in the world’s history.

Secondly, I would claim that, while the Glacial theory makes demands upon the powers of ice which are inconsistent with its proved qualities and cannot be made to fit in with the facts which have to be explained, the power to which I appeal makes no demands whatever upon any force but that of which we can establish the competency, both by direct experiment and by theoretical calculation, and that, so far as we know, it explains all the facts.

Thirdly, this explanation is one which was deemed satisfactory and complete by the Fathers of Geology, men who were quite as keen observers and quite as keen critics as their descendants, and who were also more independent, and less dominated by official orthodoxy in Science. For a long time some of the most brilliant masters of our science were advocates of the Diluvial theory as an adequate explanation of the facts. It is true that some of them attempted to explain too much by this cause, and that until Charpentier published his famous work the operations of land ice, on a much larger scale than that in which it works now, had been overlooked.

It is true, also, that the views they maintained were in some cases sophisticated by an appeal to untenable postulates, but in the main the theory, of which I am an advocate, is a return to that so strenuously supported by Hall and Conybeare, Von Buch, Sedgwick, Murchison, D’Archiac, Phillips, and many others.

Lastly, I claim to have already established the necessity of this appeal on entirely different grounds. In my previous work on the ” Mammoth and the Flood,” I collected a great mass of evidence which went to show that the Mammoth and some of its companions, including so-called palaeolithic man, were swept away in wide areas by a great flood of waters which drowned them, and then covered them with continuous layers of loam and gravel. The facts and the arguments adduced in that book have been referred to many times by many writers for their manifold character and widereaching and cumulative effect, and I am pleased to think that some of the first authorities in this country and elsewhere in the realms of Physics of Natural History and Archaeology, have assured me that they considered the argument unanswerable in so far as the particular facts referred to are concerned, and that what is needed is that it should be supplemented by a similar argument based on geological grounds. On the other hand, in the many reviews of that book which have appeared here in France and Germany and in America, I know of none in which its arguments have been met or traversed, while the great majority give a verdict of suspense dependent on the production of adequate geological evidence.

In the following pages, then, I claim to have shown that a widespread flood, which seems to be a necessary postulate, if we are to adequately grapple with the extinction of the Pleistocene fauna, is an equally necessary postulate if the geological facts are to be duly explained. At all events, I claim for my arguments that they deserve adequate criticism. I am not aware that I have omitted to notice a single fact or difficulty which needs explanation, and I have tried to make the book a fairly complete monograph on the controversies with which it deals. That it contains many faults, both of commission and omission, I know well, and those who have tried to wade through the vast multitude of publications dealing with the problems here discussed, and who realize also the many and critical and necessary side issues which have had to be sifted and criticized in the process of exhausting the problem, will be tender and considerate to my method and my plan. For the facts, arguments, and conclusions adduced, I ask for no quarter. If they can be shown to be false and misleading, they had better be swept away mercilessly. If they are true, as I believe them to be, they cannot be ignored. Meanwhile, I am ready to enter the arena and to fight hard for them.

The book does not exhaust the problem, nor does it profess to do so. When it was begun I hoped to have brought together all the geological evidence bearing upon it, but the necessity of entering at much greater length than I intended into the history of the Glacial theory if I was to do justice to the predecessors, upon whose shoulders I am privileged to stand, and the necessity also of discussing at adequate length the many theories of Ice motion and the various astronomical and meteorological explanations of the Ice age, have made it impossible to condense all my arguments in one book. The work is, in fact, limited to the so-called drift beds. That the same conclusion follows, from a consideration of the distribution of the valley gravels, the brick earths and loams, the loess, chernozem and Pampas mud, etc., I have tried to show in papers printed in the Geological Magazine. The facts and arguments contained in those papers I hope to enlarge and deal with in another volume, in which the geological evidence forthcoming from countries where the true drift does not occur, will have a part, and in which it may be possible perhaps to discuss the extent and the cause of the Pleistocene Flood, and the question of whether it was one of a recurrent series of similar catastrophes, as I am disposed to think it was, or an exceptional and unique event.

At present I merely claim to have made good my promise to produce adequate geological evidence in support of the theory I advanced in my former work. This theory seems to me to be overwhelmingly established, and to be an absolutely necessary postulate if we are to treat our science as an Inductive science at all. Being so, I would go a step further and not only return to older opinions, but also return to older and clearer and better nomenclature. The Pleistocene Flood, though far from being universal, was certainly one of the most widespread catastrophes which the world has seen. It forms a great dividing line in the superficial deposits as was maintained long ago, and as such, it is a very useful landmark which ought to appear in our nomenclature, and I do not know of any better terms than ante-diluvian and post-diluvian to mark the two great divisions of the post-Pliocene beds.

Ante-diluvian times, so far as we can see, were marked in the temperate latitudes ‘of both hemispheres by accumulations of ice in the shape of large glaciers on the high lands (then probably much higher) of Western Europe, of North America, of Australia, New Zealand, and perhaps South Africa. Alongside of these glaciers, and in contact with them in all these latitudes, were wide champaign and wooded districts in which the Mammoth and the woolly rhinoceros were the most prominent animals in North Asia and Europe, the Mammoth and the Mastodon in North America, the Mastodon and the great Sloths in South America, the various species of gigantic Kangaroos and Wombats in Australia, the great wingless birds in New Zealand. They lived and thrived in the near neighbourhood of the ante-diluvian glaciers, just as the apteryx now thrives in the luxuriant forests near the great glaciers in New Zealand, and just as the tiger and the rhododendron thrive close to the Himalayan glaciers.

Meanwhile, in Northern Asia and Western Europe, and in North and South America certainly, and probably also in Australia, ante-diluvian man lived alongside of and hunted the ante-diluvian animals, and if we are to clear up his pedigree we must find the true interpretation of these ante-diluvian beds.

Presently came a tremendous catastrophe, the cause of which, as I have tried to show in the Geological Magazine, was the rapid and perhaps sudden upheaval of some of the largest mountain chains in the world, accompanied probably by great subsidences of land elsewhere. The breaking up of the earth’s crust at this time, of which the evidence seems to be overwhelming, necessarily caused great waves of translation to traverse wide continental areas, as Scott Russell, Hopkins, Whewell, and Murchison argued they would, and these waves of translation as necessarily drowned the great beasts and their companions, including palaeolithic man, and covered them with continuous mantles of loam, clay, gravel and sand, as we find them drowned and covered. They also necessarily took up the great blocks which the glaciers had fashioned, and transported them to a certain distance and distributed them, and the Drift associated with them, as we find them distributed. This Induction, whose details are contained in the following pages, seems to me to be complete, not only because it adequately explains the facts, but because it is the only theory that does so, and I know nothing against it, but the almost pathetic devotion of a large school of thinkers to the Religion founded by Hutton, whose High Priest was Lyell, and which, in essence is based on a priori arguments like those which dominated mediaeval scholasticism and made it so barren.

I must now say a few words in justification of the mode in which this work has been put together.

A casual reader, on turning over its pages, will be apt to say: Here is a compilation, a mere collection of opinions and of facts gleaned from other sources. Perhaps if he will take the pains to read a little more closely, he will find that this would be a very inadequate and unfair view of the position. Of course, like every other man who has written a scientific book, I am dependent for a great deal on what others have written and what others have discovered. If it had not been for the scientific decalogue which prescribes, inter alia, that the man who first makes an induction is entitled to the credit of it, I could very easily have written the whole book without giving a reference and without quoting a passage. This also explains the laborious traversing of a vast number of books dating from the earlier days of geological writing, which are most of them forgotten, if justice was to be done to the first rational explanations of the Drift phenomena. Hence also the marshalling of many successive views in illustration of the progress of a complete theory on the subject. The survey is, I know, not exhaustive, for the subject is vast beyond conception, but I trust that justice has been done to some men at least, who lived before Agamemnon and whose keen eyes and whose sound judgment it has been the fashion to decry, while much .of what they have written has been treated as obsolete.

This is my explanation of the large number of opinions quoted, and of references made which perhaps unfairly disguise the fact that I have tried, in view of what follows, to examine the drift phenomena in many countries, and have frequently worked out conclusions for myself for which I have quoted others, because others had already been over the same ground and reached the same results, and were therefore entitled to the credit of what they first described. The general argument and the general theory, with a great deal of illustration, is entirely my own. The men of water had been long ago dispersed and scattered, the men who would dare to appeal to cataclysms and catastrophes are few indeed. Those who would venture to jeopardize their character for scientific sobriety by reviving and extending the views of the geologists of fifty years ago on great diluvial movements are not to be found anywhere. Whether right or wrong in his conclusion, it is perhaps well that, among the erratic heretics who are careless of prestige and indifferent to conventional opinion, one should occasionally be found to challenge the dominant creed by assailing its foundations.

I hope I may have escaped one penalty of a good deal of polemical writing, and that nothing contained in the following pages will be found offensive to the living or unfair to the dead. If I cannot agree with some of the conclusions of Lyell, of the Geikies, and of Bamsay, I am well aware of the gap that separates us in reputation and in knowledge, and of the debt I owe them all, and no one has a profounder regard and appreciation of what they have done than myself. They have taught me a great deal of what I know.

I must now turn momentarily to protect myself against misconstruction in another direction. This work, like its predecessor, is written in the interests of no school of thought, and is meant to be merely an inductive argument from the facts. It may be used by some to support a position which is not mine, and which, as I have said elsewhere, is not a conclusion of Science, but a dogmatic opinion, partly based upon the primitive traditions of mankind and partly on ingenuous speculations in cosmology made before the birth of science. It has no other value.

No doubt if the catastrophe I have described really occurred in the human period, as my contention is, the fact must have impressed the imagination of the survivors, and it is not unnatural to find it reflected in many scattered traditions.

This is a very different thing, however, from the conclusion that the views here established support a narrative whose dogmatic value depends upon its details, or give any countenance to the notion that the postulated flood was universal, that it destroyed all life save what was sheltered in one vantage, or that the human race began its genealogy again from one fortunate family.

The story in the Bible is interesting as an early example of a widespread tradition, and nothing more. Whether directly derived from Babylonia, or through some intermediate source, we cannot with our present knowledge suppose that the narrative was incorporated in the Pentateuch before the tenth and perhaps not before theseventh century B.C., and that is the measure of its value as a Jewish record. To suppose that religion or morals are helped or furthered by trying to give some greater authority to the story by factitious appeals to geology, must end in disappointment and in failure, and it is right to say plainly that it involves both a dangerous logic and a misleading hope to continually try and equate notions which are incommensurable, while it must inevitably mislead those who ought not to be misled. The grave and wise words of Sir Francis Bacon ought assuredly to be ever present to us when we embark on the impossible task of equating science and faith. “Tanto magis haec vanitas inhibenda venit et coercenda quia ex divinorum et humanorum male-sana admixtione, non solum eduntur philosophia phantastica sed etiam religio haeretica.” These wise words are thus paraphrased by a great geologist, who was also a church dignitary, my master, Sedgwick. “This vanity merits castigation and reproof the more, as, from the mischievous admixture of divine and human things, there is compounded at once a fantastical philosophy and an heretical religion.”

It is not part of my subject, but I cannot help parenthetically saying that Divines would do well to separate rather more sharply than hitherto the annalistic and ritualistic from the essentially religious books of the Bible. It is not Moses and Samuel who among the ancient sears are very helpful to us in these days in the realm of morals, or in presenting high ideals and standards for our guidance. It is rather Isaiah, Jeremiah and Job.

I have to thank my old friend Dr. Woodward for allowing me to discuss some of the issues contained in the following pages in the Geological Magazine. I have further to thank the Council of the Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society for permission to reproduce a long paper which I published in its Transactions, dealing with the various theories of ice motion, and I have also to thank a large number of geologists from whose works I have derived infinite pleasure and profit, and whose labours I have read and criticized.

Much of what is of value in the following work belongs to them. In regard to the mistakes and blemishes which it contains, and which are largely my own, I have to plead that the book has had to be written under manifold disabilities and especially the double burden of time being heavily mortgaged by other duties, and health and eyesight having been equally uncertain. This has prevented the necessary revision which the book would otherwise have had. I know well that in many cases its style is slovenly and that many verbal slips occur throughout it. These accidents will, I trust, not entirely monopolize the attention of my critics, who will perhaps do some justice to the long and conscientious labours it enshrines and the important issue it tries to raise. I shall feel indebted to any one who is disposed to comment on what I have said, if he will let me have an opportunity of profiting by the criticism, and will send me what he may write.

In introducing another work to the frigid welcome of a world overloaded with books, I cannot forget the patience of those who have been the uncomplaining partners of my long toil at home. In conclusion, it is with genuine sympathy and appreciation that I appropriate the words of the weary monk, who, after long days in the Scriptorium wrote, “Explicit, expliceat ; ludere Scriptor eat.”

The Athenaeum,
November, 1892.

The Glacial Nightmare And The Flood; A Second Appeal To Common Sense From The Extravagance Of Some Recent Geology – Volume I – 1892 –
Sir Henry Hoyle Howorth [1842-1923]


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7 Responses to 1892 – An Appeal to Common Sense

  1. malagabay says:

    Anyone familiar with the works of Immanuel Velikovsky probably experienced a feeling of déjà vu whilst reading this Preface penned by Sir Henry Hoyle Howorth.

    Lastly, I claim to have already established the necessity of this appeal on entirely different grounds. In my previous work on the ” Mammoth and the Flood,” I collected a great mass of evidence which went to show that the Mammoth and some of its companions, including so-called palaeolithic man, were swept away in wide areas by a great flood of waters which drowned them, and then covered them with continuous layers of loam and gravel.

    The Glacial Nightmare and The Flood
    Sir Henry Hoyle Howorth

    This is because Sir Henry Hoyle Howorth is explicitly referenced by Immanuel Velikovsky in Earth in Upheaval.

    Charles Darwin, who denied the occurrence of continental catastrophes in the past, in a letter to Sir Henry Howorth admitted that the extinction of mammoths in Siberia was for him an insoluble problem. 7

    7. Whitley, Journal of the Philosophical Society of Great Britain, XII (1910), 56. G. F. Kunz, Ivory and the Elephant (1916), p. 236.

    A late opponent of the Ice Age theory, Sir Henry H. Howorth (1842-1923), sought the origin of such tidal waves in a sudden rise of a mountain chain or in an earthquake of the oceanic bottom. 2

    2. Howorth, The Glacial Nightmare and the Flood (1893), p. xx.

    Here, once more, Darwin thought that the imperfection of the geological record may in some cases simulate the suddenness of the extinction; but he acknowledged in other cases his inability to explain the spontaneity of the extinction of some species. He still wondered, as in the days of his South American travels, why horses had disappeared in pre-Columbian America where they had every favorable condition for propagation; and in a letter to Sir Henry H. Howorth he acknowledged his inability to explain the extinction of the mammoth, a well-adapted annual.

    Earth in Upheaval
    Immanuel Velikovsky

    However, Sir Henry Howorth does not appear to be explicitly acknowledged in the posthumously published Mankind in Amnesia by Immanuel Velikovsky.

    No doubt if the catastrophe I have described really occurred in the human period, as my contention is, the fact must have impressed the imagination of the survivors, and it is not unnatural to find it reflected in many scattered traditions.

    The Glacial Nightmare and The Flood
    Sir Henry Hoyle Howorth

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