Natural Resources, School of


Date of this Version

Fall 1999


Nebraska History 80:3 (Fall 1999), pp. 95-104.


Copyright 1999 Nebraska State Historical Society.


Changes in ideas and in technology can come about as slow incremental modifications, as well as by major paradigm shifts. In the case of the development of the ideas of geologic history and time, I will try to present these changes broadly and then look at how some of these have affected interpretation of Nebraska geology. Changes of view on three fronts were important in the development of geologic history and time concepts. First is the question of the nature of time. Is time cyclic or is it linear? The Greco-Oriental cultures had a world view based on cosmic cycles, but the Judea-Christian world view was more linear and reflected the historical nature of the Bible. Cosmic cycles had a repeating pattern with no beginning or end to the cycles. In the linear view time, the universe, the Earth, and its creatures had a beginning point and are moving to an end. The age of the Earth differed in these two views as well. Cosmic cycles were multiple and repetitious. Each took a long time (12,000 years in one Indian cycle). In contrast the Judea-Christian view of the Earth started with the Creation and ended with the Last Judgment.3 The age of the Earth in this view was only about 6,000 years, calculated in the seventeenth century using Biblical accounts of the numbers of generations since the Creation. The time and date of the Earth's creation were calculated as noon on October 23, 4004, B.C.E. (derived in 1650 by James Ussher, archbishop of Armaugh, according to Stephen Gould), or 9:00a.m., October 26,4004 B.C.E. (derived in 1654). However, other similar dates were also circulating. All of these had in common a short duration and linear history of the Earth. Second , the development of modern geologic thought originated in Europe partly as a result of the long development there of perspective art. Multipoint and aerial perspective were mastered by northern European artists during the Renaissance." This mastery of a three-dimensional technique and way of viewing things had a major impact, beginning in the mid-1600s, on the thinking of early scientists there who contributed to the development of three-dimensional views of the transformation of the Earth through time.