In the 19th century the physical sciences, and other branches of learning, became increasingly specialised and fragmented.

Geology and Fossils

Ray refers to Woodward’s theory. John Woodward, Professor of Physick at Gresham College published An Essay towards the Natural History of the Earth in 1695. Woodward argues that the biblical flood had caused a general dissolution of earth’s material which had then settled out by weight into the various geological layers he had observed in England.

“ Agostino Scilla... his observations concerning the strata or beds whereof the mountains near Messina are composed; which lie in this order, first Gravell, then middleing sand, then fine sand,; after that 3 layers of sand and gravell of different fine-nesses, come 3 other layers in ye same order with the former, and so on several times one after another... I do not see how this disposition of beds can consist with Dr Woodward’s hypothesis... I have formerly objected against the Generall Deluge bringing in shels the causes that the Scripture assigns of that Deluge viz. a rain of 40 days, and the breaking up the fountains of the great Deep or bringing the subterraneous waters upon ye superficies of the Earth; and not any inundation of the Sea at all: which causes were more likely to carry down shels to the sea than to bring any up; especially so far as into ye midst of great Continents. Most consonant therefore to ye Scripture and to reason it seems to me that at first the Earth was covered with water; that ye land was raised up by subterraneous fires at ye Divine command, and that gradually first where Animals and men were created, and then fuurther and further, the waters being driven back. Afterward when the greatest part of the Earth was thus raised, the skirts were alternated by the sediments of rivers and flouds, whence & from ye inundations of the sea came the severall beds or layers of Earth. The finding of a bed of shells upon sinking a well at Amsterdam at above 100 feet depth seems to me an evident proof, that there was then the bottome of the sea, & that all the earth above it was but the sediments of great flouds.”
Further Correspondence p.266-7, 8 June 1696

17th century naturalists disagreed whether fossils were ‘formed stones’ merely resembling living creatures, or the remnants of real creatures. And if remnants, whether they had been deposited by the biblical flood or in some other way. The difficult question of extinction was also raised.

“ As for formed stones I have no great variety... all gathered up in England, except one... found at Altdorf in Germany. ... I have great variety of Glossopetrae dug up in Malta, which I perswade my self were originally no other than Sharks teeth.”
Further Correspondence p.207, 7 May 1690

“ I have long fluctuated in my opinion concerning the Originall of these stones, whether they be shells of fishes petrified, or primary productions of Nature...”
Further Correspondence p.210, 7 Nov 1690

“... there is little likelyhood of demonstrating how the Universall Deluge could lodge these bodies so deep in ye bowels of ye mountains and rock; yet it would be a great satisfaction to me to see it well made out. ... Delineations of birds upon slate are very strange and scarce credible: therefore I shall suspend all discourse of them, till I be fully satisfied as to the matter of the fact.”
Further Correspondence p.

254, 7 Sept 1694

On Woodward’s theories

“ I wonder how his shells should sink lower than metals in ye graet fluid.." Burnet "is of the opinion that there is no mountain on ye earth now, that is an original mountain, or that existed when ye world first rose, & concludes with Aristotle that ye Sea and land have changed places, & continue so to doe; and that he thinks it not possible for any man, fairly to solve ye Phenomenon of marine bodies found in mountains, by any other Principle." ... yet Dr Woodward hath invented another.”
Further Correspondence p.257

“ I know it is a hard thing to give a good account of the originall of Fossil shels and formed stones, and a satisfactory answer to all objections against either opinion: therefore a man hazards his reputation that is positive and confident on either side.The like may be siad of the delineations of plants upon Slate or other stones. I did once embrace a middle way...”
Further Correspondence p.264, 3 Feb 1695

“ Yet on the other side there follows such a train of consequences as seem to shock the Scripture-History of ye novity of the World; at least thay overthrow the opinion generally received and not without good reason among Divines and philosophers, that since ye first Creation there have been no species of Animals or vegetables lost, no new ones produced. But whatever may be said for ye antiquity of the earth itself and bodies lodged in it, yet that ye race of mankind is new upon ye earth and not older than ye Scripture makes it, may I think by many arguments be almost demonstratively proved...”
Further Correspondence p.260, 8 Oct 1695

“... ye beds of oyster shells which are found in Kent, Surrey and other places doe a little stagger me, so that all their circs considered I can hardly shake off my former opinion that those were originally Beds of living oysters, breeding and feeding in the places where they are now found, which were anciently the bottom of the sea... You have... overthrown Dr Woodward’s hypothesis.. that these bodies were brought up from the sea and scattered upon the Earth by the Generall deluge.”
Further Correspondence p.284, Letter of 13 Feb 1703


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