George Young (1777–1848)


In the next few sub-articles, I would like to introduce you to a few of the most geologically competent 19th century Scriptural geologists that I was privileged to study. I begin with George Young, who was born in 1777 on his parents’ small farm near Edinburgh, Scotland. Since George was born with only a right hand (the left forearm ended in a stump), agriculture was ruled out as a future vocation. His pious parents therefore educated him with a view to Christian ministry, a course consistent with his own spiritual convictions, which developed early in life.

To fulfil the requirements for ordination in the Church of Scotland, to which he and his family belonged, in 1792 he commenced four years of literary and philosophical studies at the University of Edinburgh. He distinguished himself especially in mathematics and natural science, being a favorite student of Professor John Playfair, who was in the process of becoming the articulate interpreter of James Hutton’s old-Earth uniformitarian geological theory. Young completed his degree with high honors and then began a five-year course in theology. In 1801 he was licensed to preach by the presbytery of Edinburgh. After a brief visit in the summer of 1805 to Whitby, North Yorkshire, the next year he became the pastor of the Presbyterian chapel there in Cliff Street, a congregation he served for 42 years until his death in 1848. [On one family trip, we were able to see what is left of the old chapel building and also the two houses George had lived in.]

In 1819, the University of Edinburgh conferred on him the degree of M.A. and in 1838 he received an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree from Miami College (in Oxford, Ohio). In 1826 he married Margaret Hunter, a daughter of prominent Robert Hunter of Whitby and a woman known for her piety and ministry to women. They had a happy marriage and fruitful ministry together until her death in 1846, but they had no children.

Young faithfully discharged his responsibilities as a pastor and was respected for his concern for the poor and his generous. self-denying, Christian spirit, because of which he delighted to unite with Christians of other denominations in joint efforts of witness and service. His congregation fixed a monument over the pulpit of the church after his death which honored Young for having ‘preached the Word of God within these walls with unabated zeal for 42 years, actuated and sustained throughout solely by a sense of duty, and an anxious desire for the salvation of souls.’

Beyond this, his scholarly attainments were also considerable. He had a more than common knowledge of Hebrew, Greek, Latin, French and Italian, as well as an acquaintance with Arabic, Chaldean and Syriac, and was considered quite an authority on the Anglo-Saxon language. He also developed his own short-hand, which he used for writing his sermons and which no one yet has been able to translate. His extensive knowledge of antiquities and numismatics enabled him to decipher ancient manuscripts, coins and inscriptions with great skill.

In 1823 he became a founding member and the first secretary of the Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society [‘philosophical’ then included fields of science], a position he held until his death and which included the establishment of the Whitby Museum. He was also a corresponding member of the Wernerian Natural History Society and the Northern Institution and an honorary member of the Yorkshire, Newcastle, Leeds and Hull literary and philosophical societies. Although only an honorary member of the Yorkshire Philosophical Society, Young served as an advisor to the Society and, as a series of ten letters from Young to the Society during the years 1823–27 shows, he served as the coastal representative procuring fossil and mineral collections for the Society.

His published books numbered twenty-one. Eleven were 30–40 pages long and contained sermons addressed to many diverse contemporary topics. His longer works included a series of lectures on the Book of Jonah, a respected two-volume History of Whitby, a treatise vindicating the principles of evangelical Christianity, a catalogue of hardy plants for the garden, and a highly acclaimed biography of Captain James Cook. The planned nationally known publisher of the latter book wanted Young to eliminate his many instances of advocating Christian missions in the book. But Young’s Christian convictions would not allow him to comply, so he had to publish the book at his own expense.

He wrote two works on geology. A Geological Survey of the Yorkshire Coast (236 pages) first appeared in 1822, with a greatly revised edition (356 pages) coming out in 1828. Ten years later he published Scriptural Geology (1838, 78 pages), followed shortly thereafter by Appendix to Scriptural Geology (1840, 31 pages), in which he responded to the objections of one of his clerical critics. As far as periodical literature is concerned, Young edited for two years The Whitby Panorama and Monthly Chronicle and he published six articles on geology in the respected scientific journals of his day. He also played a prominent part in the religious, literary and benevolent institutions of Whitby and was generally responsible for writing their annual reports.

After contracting influenza in early 1848 at the age of 71, he died on May 8 (two years after his wife), which brought deep and general grief to the residents of Whitby. One contemporary biographer wrote of his death, ‘As in health, so also in affliction, he showed a child-like simplicity and confidence in the verities of religion; and his last words were: “Jesus is precious — exceedingly precious — whether we are living or dying”.’

Young was the most geologically competent of the Scriptural geologists. His writings show that he was well read in geological and scientific literature, both journals and books. But he also made very thorough investigations of the geology of his home area of Yorkshire, where a great percentage of the so-called ‘geological column’ was exposed in the mines and on the sea coast. The published results of these observations were praised for their accuracy by the leading old-earth geologists at the time. His writings on Yorkshire also very much stimulated others to make geological investigations.

In his two books on geology, Young gave the most thorough analysis of the geological record done by any Scriptural geologist. He also answered in a gracious and respectful, yet challenging way, the specific geological and theological arguments of the leading old-earth geologists. He contended that the rocks and fossils gave abundant evidence that most of the geological record was the result of Noah's Flood and that therefore geology did not prove that the Earth was millions of years old. He was firmly convinced by the scientific and Biblical evidence that God had created the world in six literal days about 6000 years ago. In spite of his recognized geological and Biblical competence and well-known and respected Christian reputation, his arguments were completely ignored by his geological opponents, even those geologists who also were ordained clergymen and knew him personally.

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Published: 31 March 2006