Hugh Owen’s Response to Cardinal Ruffini

on the Days of Creation



Part I: Introduction

An Explanation and a Defense of Cardinal Ruffini’s Position

by Preserving Christian Publications


While praising Cardinal Ruffini’s refutation of evolution in The Theory of Evolution Judged by Reason and Faith, Hugh Owen, one of the three authors opposing evolution in the article in The Wanderer that we cited on March 23, wrote to us expressing his disagreement with Cardinal Ruffini’s timetable for the creation account in Genesis.  The question concerns whether a “day” in Genesis reveals a twenty-four-hour period, or instead represents symbolically a longer period of time.

We replied to Mr. Owen’s initial comments by asking him how he would respond to two arguments that Cardinal Ruffini had given, and he sent the lengthy reply that we are posting below.  By way of this introduction to Mr. Owen’s response, however, we wish to explain further how Cardinal Ruffini arrived at his conclusions, while we address specific arguments that Mr. Owen presents.

            Mr. Owen’s principal argument is based upon the sciences of hydraulics and sedimentology and experiments conducted since the time when Cardinal Ruffini’s book first appeared.  He reasons that the various layers on the earth’s crust did not need long periods of time to be formed, but instead were laid very rapidly and that this can be proved by scientific experiments made during the last several decades.  However, some of the scientists whom he cites, Juergen Schieber, John Southard and Kevin Thaisen, retain the terminology of the various geological periods even while presenting data showing this rapid formation of deposits.  The implication is that longer periods in the formation of sediments are not incompatible with more rapid geological events, such as floods, within the broader context of geological history.  In other words, it is not simply a question of whether there were longer geological epochs or twenty-four-hour periods, but of the length of such geological epochs.  The new geologically related experiments cited by Mr. Owen are valuable in refuting the claims of the evolutionists that these geological periods lasted hundreds of millions of years, but they do not disprove the hypothesis that God may have used periods of time that were longer than twenty-four hours.

            Cardinal Ruffini was not the only Catholic author who recognized the possibility of longer geological epochs while at the same time refuting the claims of the evolutionists.  Following him was Father Patrick O’Connell with his well known work Science Today and the Problems of Genesis (1959), who cited Cardinal Ruffini at length in an appendix.  Regarding the question currently under discussion, Father O’Connell transcribes the statement of the Pontifical Biblical Commission of June 30, 1909 in response to the question whether the word “Yom” (day) in Genesis should be interpreted as a natural day or in a less strict sense as a certain space of time. The Biblical Commission replied in the affirmative, stating that “free discussion is permitted to interpreters.”  The Magisterium therefore makes no definitive judgment on this question, leaving it to the free investigation of both theologians and scientists.

            Cardinal Ruffini himself cites other arguments from the Doctors of the Church and the Magisterium.  Among them is St. Thomas, who taught that Moses accommodated himself to the mind of his readers, proposing for them “only what manifestly appears to the senses” (page 82, n. 25), rather than giving a scientific explanation of the creation of the universe.  Cardinal Ruffini later cites Pope Leo XIII on this same principle of St. Thomas, where the Pontiff stated that the sacred writers “were not engaged in the deeper study of nature,” but rather “dealt with things in a somewhat figurative style or else in terms then in common use” (p. 87, n. 30).

            Finally, Mr. Owen discusses Cardinal Ruffini’s argument about the age of the universe from astronomy, in particular the length of time in light years that it takes for the light of the stars to reach the earth.  Addressing this question, Mr. Owen appeals first to the Fathers and Doctors, stating that “they taught that the natural laws which govern the world in the present order of providence did not apply during the creation period,” and then to a scientific argument, namely, that “careful measurements of the speed of light over many decades . . .indicate a steady decline in light-speed. . . .”

            What Mr. Owen’s argument in reality exemplifies is the limited and hypothetical nature of scientific knowledge, as seen, for example, when St. Robert Bellarmine told Galileo that he could teach his theory as a hypothesis rather than as an established fact, a response which some have seen as confirmed by Einstein’s theory of relativity, as applied to both motion and time.  In other words, man has only a limited knowledge of the laws of the universe, and God did not reveal in Genesis a strictly scientific account of the creation.  Precisely for this reason Cardinal Ruffini argued against an overstatement of what Genesis taught about the age of the universe, while at the same time he defended the teaching of Catholic Tradition, in opposition to evolution, by upholding the direct creation by God of the bodies of our first parents.

            Therefore it is our belief that while Mr. Owen provides important arguments against the claims of evolutionists – their argument that the geological record provides evidence of hundreds of millions of years, a timetable necessary to justify evolution – Mr. Owen’s arguments do not disprove the position, favored by Cardinal Ruffini, that the days of Genesis may represent periods of time longer than twenty-four hours. And the same can be said regarding arguments from astronomy. If it takes light years, for example, for the light of the stars to reach the earth, Mr. Owen does not sufficiently prove that God created the laws of nature in the beginning to allow the light of the stars to reach the earth almost instantaneously. Nor has the geological record been sufficiently examined to prove that there were not geological periods lasting longer than twenty-four hours. This in summary was the position of Cardinal Ruffini.



Part II


Disagreement with Cardinal Ruffuni’s Position

Based on Geology and Astronomy

by Hugh Owen


Cardinal Ruffini's critique of transformism (reptile-to-bird or land-mammal-to-whale evolution) in The Theory of Evolution Judged by Reason and Faith is masterful, and he concludes his detailed consideration of the patristic teaching on the origin of the variety of living things with these words:

we are bound to ask ourselves if it is at all lawful to cite the Fathers of the Church in support of transformism (The Theory of Evolution Judged by Reason and Faith, p. 202). 

However, Cardinal Ruffini believed that geology had provided convincing proof for long ages of time of which there is no hint in "the sacred history of Genesis."  Indeed, he went so far as to write that:

To explain by means of a flood that lasted at most a year – as was the Deluge – the formation of the earth strata and the petrification of innumerable organisms . . .  is to disregard geology completely (The Theory of Evolution Judged by Reason and Faith, p. 76). 

This statement explains why, in spite of the fact that – as Cardinal Ruffini himself demonstrates – the obvious, straightforward interpretation of "yom" or "day" in Genesis 1 is a 24-hour day, he believed that natural science had made it unreasonable to adhere to the literal and obvious sense of the word.  Now it is hardly surprising that Cardinal Ruffini, as a theologian, deferred to the consensus view in geology in the middle of the twentieth century.  Our paper Creation and Time demonstrates that long before Cardinal Ruffini's day, at the end of the nineteenth century, the widespread belief among Catholic scholars that Lyellian geology had been proven true beyond a reasonable doubt was the primary reason for the abandonment of the interpretation of the Firmiter of Lateran IV that had been held by all of the greatest commentators on that Council for 600 years, from 1215 until the advent of Lyellian geology.  However, Catholics of the twenty-first century need to understand how that consensus view developed and how completely it has been overthrown by the advancement of science, especially in the field of sedimentology.

As long ago as 1956, Edmund M. Speiker, in the Bulletin of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists reflected, "I wonder how many of us realize that the time scale was frozen in essentially its present form by 1840," after the publication of Lyell’s Principles of Geology.[1]  Writing in Science in 1983, Stephen Rowland noted that "The basic time scale has remained unchanged since 1879, when the Ordovician period was inserted between the Cambrian and Silurian."[2] Indeed, in 1893, three years before the discovery of radioactivity, an age of 600 million years was assigned to the beginning of the Cambrian era, based on a slow and steady rate of sedimentation over millions of years.[3]

Nowadays the geological time scale is said to be based on radiometric dating, which is believed to offer an objective method for determining the ages of sedimentary rocks, by dating the rocks above or below the sedimentary rocks.  But T.C. Chamberlain who pioneered the practice of radiometric dating at the end of the nineteenth century based his estimated ages of rock samples on “biological requirements.” By this he meant the time required for the slow and gradual transformation of biological species—such as reptiles into birds and land mammals into whales.[4] These “biological requirements” were, in turn, based on Lyell’s principles of slow and steady sedimentation, which meant that nineteenth century sedimentology provided the interpretative framework for radiometric dating and continues to do so at the dawn of the third millennium. 

Lyellian geology not only provides the framework for the interpretation of radiometric dating of earth’s rocks.  It also provides the framework for interpreting astronomical data used to determine the age of the solar system and of the whole cosmos.  For example, in the early twentieth century most astronomers believed that the sun was gradually contracting and converting gravitational energy into heat.  The famous astronomer Sir Arthur Eddington challenged this hypothesis, not on empirical grounds, but because “it is not much use extending the age of the earth without extending the age of the sun.”[5]  According to Eddington, astronomers ought not to put their trust in astronomical arguments alone but must “turn to the sister sciences for other and perhaps more conclusive evidence. …The age of the older rocks [of the earth] is found to be about 1,200 million years. …The sun, of course, must be very much older than the earth and its rocks.”[6] Thus, Lyellian geology was even used to determine the age of the sun!

The reliance on the Lyellian geological framework as the ultimate basis for assigning dates to prehistoric objects has continued to the present day.  East African fossils of alleged human ancestors are still “dated” by radiometric dating of lava flows whose ages were in turn determined with reference to the standard stratigraphic scale.  According to physicist Dr. Jean Pontcharra:

In theory, dating fossils with the K40/Ar40 method, is only possible if they are buried above or under a solidified lava flow. In reality, fossil deposits are far away from magmatic flows. The stratigraphic scale is used to match the depth of fossil occurrence with the depth of lavas flows located several miles away. The lava flows are dated by radiometric Ar and an age is given to their strata depth. In fact the radiometric results are calibrated with the stratigraphic scale. The excess argon demonstrated in contemporary deposits also alters the results on supposed old rocks and prevents any consistent age to be attributed to the fossils. In addition, the necessity to match with the standard stratigraphic scale destroys the credibility of the entire process.[7]

It is ironic that the foundations of evolutionary theory were laid by amateur scientists who did not do experimental research and that all of the experimental research that has been done by evolutionary scientists since then has been shoehorned into a framework constructed without experimental verification.  Even when geologists like Harlan Bretz challenged the conventional Lyellian, uniformitarian interpretation of major geological formations, like those found in the Missoula scablands, and proved that massive formations could be—and had been—produced rapidly by catastrophic forces, no attempt was made to reconstruct the geological time scale that had been erected by Lyell and his disciples.  Instead, mainstream geologists defended the Lyellian time scale on the grounds that they had taken catastrophism into account, but without explaining how the same geological framework that had been erected on the assumption of slow and gradual formation of sedimentary rocks could accommodate catastrophism without being overhauled!  Such a situation could not endure forever, of course, and in the second half of the twentieth century, a number of scientists began to do experiments in sedimentology and developed laboratories where experimental research could be performed.

In the 1980s, French researcher Guy Berthault demonstrated that sediments suspended in a liquid are sorted by physical characteristics and deposited in strata simultaneously.  The two principal stages of his research program dwelt upon research in lamination and stratification.  In 1986, Berthault conducted sedimentation experiments in still water with a continuous supply of heterogranular material.  A deposit was obtained, giving the illusion of successive beds of laminae.  These laminae were the result of a spontaneous periodic and continuous grading process, which took place immediately, following the deposition of the heterogranular mixture.  The thickness of the laminae appeared to be independent of the sedimentation rate but increased with extreme differences in the particle size in the mixture.  Where a horizontal current was involved, thin laminated layers developed laterally in the direction of the current.  A second series of experiments was performed at the Marseilles Institute of Fluid Mechanics which demonstrated that in still water, continuous deposition of heterogranular sediments gives rise to laminae, which disappear progressively as the height of the fall of particles into water (and apparently their size) increases.  Laminae follow the slope of the upper part of the deposit.  In running water, many closely related superposed types of lamination appear in the deposit.

Berthault then conducted experiments in stratification at the Fort Collins hydraulics laboratory of the Colorado State University with the professor of hydraulics and sedimentology Pierre Julien. For these, it was necessary to operate with water in a recirculating flume traversed by a current laden with sediment. As Hjulstrom (1935) and his successors had defined the critical sedimentation rate for each particle size, the current velocity would need to be varied. By modulating the current velocity, a superposition of different sized particles could be obtained.

The flume experiments showed that in the presence of a variable current, stratified superposed beds form simultaneously in the direction of the current. The result, on the scale of strata, also conformed, on the scale of facies, to the findings of Golovkinskii, Inostrantzev and to Walther's law (Walther, 1894; Middleton, 1973; Romanovskii, 1988), according to which the extension of facies of a specific sequence is the same in both a lateral and vertical direction. Laboratory experiments on the desiccation of natural sands also showed preferential fracturing (or joints) of crusty deposits at the interface between strata of coarse and fine particles. Rather than successive sedimentary layers, these experiments demonstrated that stratification under a continuous supply of heterogeneous sandy mixtures results from segregation for lamination, non-uniform flow for graded beds, and desiccation for joints. Superposed strata are not, therefore, necessarily identical to successive sedimentary layers.       

During the first decade of the twenty-first century, Berthault worked intensively with a team of Russian sedimentologists directed by Alexander Lalomov (Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Ore Deposits) and applied paleohydraulic analyses to geological formations in Russia. One example is the publication of a report in 2007 by the Lithology and Mineral Resources journal of the Russian Academy of Sciences. It concerns the Crimean Peninsular. It shows that the time of sedimentation of the sequence studied corresponds to a virtually instantaneous episode whilst according to stratigraphy it took several millions of years.  Moreover, a recent report concerning the North-West Russian plateau in the St. Petersburg region shows that the time of sedimentation was much shorter than that attributed to it by the stratigraphic time-scale: 0.01% of the time.[8]

In the conclusion to a paper presented by Berthault at a conference devoted to a scientific critique of evolutionary theory at Gustav Siewerth Akademie in Germany, Berthault observed that:

Paleohydraulic analysis determines the time of sedimentation of a sequence, which is shown to be much shorter than the stratigraphic time. Evidently, this short time period does not support the evolutionary hypothesis that life arose from non-life and that life-forms developed from a common ancestor through innumerable genetic mutations over hundreds of millions of years (see: .  .  . By calling into question the principles and methods, upon which geological dates are founded, and in proposing the new approach of paleohydrology, I hope to open a dialogue with specialists in the disciplines concerned, who are able to appreciate the implications, and propose a geological chronology in conformity with experimental observation based upon time of sedimentation—time which is insufficient for the evolution of species, as conceived by the proponents of the evolutionary hypothesis.[9]

Defenders of the Lyellian framework have criticized the new experimentally-driven sedimentology, but the critics are having an increasingly difficult time defending the Lyellian framework.  For example, noted critic Alan Hayward articulates the conventional wisdom that:

shale is made of compacted clay. As most readers will have noticed, clay consists of exceedingly fine particles which take a long time to settle in water. Turbulence keeps them in suspension and consequently clay will only settle in calm water.[10]

However, recent experimental studies in mudstone formation have shattered that conventional wisdom.  In a recent report in Science by Schieber et al, the authors conclude:

Our observations do not support the notion that muds can only be deposited in quiet environments with only intermittent weak currents. Instead, bedload transport of flocculated mud and deposition occurs at current velocities that would also transport and deposit sand. Clay beds can accrete from migrating floccule ripples under swiftly moving currents in the 10 cm/s to 26 cm/s velocity range, a range likely to expand as flows with larger sediment concentrations are explored . . . In the course of two decades of detailed studies of shales and mudstones, one of us has seen comparable low-amplitude bedforms  in shale units that were deposited in a wide variety of environments. Examples can be found in the Mid-Proterozoic Belt Supergroup, the Devonian of the eastern United States, the Jurassic Posidonia Shale, the Cretaceous Mancos Shale, and the Eocene Green River Formation. This suggests that mud accretion from migrating floccule ripples probably occurred throughout geologic history. Many ancient shale units, once examined carefully, may thus reveal that they accumulated in the manner illustrated here, rather than having largely settled from slow-moving or still suspensions. This, in turn, will most likely necessitate the reevaluation of the sedimentary history of large portions of the geologic record.[11]

As Schieber notes in his report, “Mudstones constitute up to two-thirds of the sedimentary record and are arguably the most poorly understood type of sedimentary rocks.” Moreover, it is important to note that the mudstone formations mentioned by Schieber in his Science report are massive.  The Belt Supergroup shales near Glacier National Park are up to 2100 meters thick,[12] the Marcellus shale in the Devonian in the Eastern United States is up to 900 feet thick,[13] the Ohio shale in Kentucky is up to 500 feet thick,[14] and the Mancos shale is between 1000 and 5000 feet thick.[15]  Thus, the experimental research proving that formations of this size can be explained in terms of rapid deposition of sediment by turbulent waters supports Berthault’s call to reconstruct the geological time scale in the light of experimental findings. 

The importance of Berthault’s research has been underscored by recent research in paleontology, radiometric dating and genetics which strongly supports his contention that the geological time scale ought to be reconstructed.  Meticulous carbon-14 dating of material from virtually every part of the geological column has produced results in the same range as fossils of mammoths and other megafauna that are known to have lived contemporaneously with man.[16]  Soft tissue and DNA have been found in dinosaur bones and other megafauna, and collagen from dinosaur bones has been dated using accelerated mass spectrometry in the same carbon-14 age range as modern mammals.[17]  In the field of genetics, researchers Kimura and Kondrashov have shown that the vast majority of mutations have a slightly-harmful effect on an organism.  These slightly-harmful mutations accumulate, producing a steady degradation of the genome, and imposing a time limit “on the existence of vertebrate lineages”—a time limit much lower than the millions of years evolution requires.[18]  The research of Berthault, Lalomov, and Schieber demonstrates that fossilized organisms entrapped in many massive sedimentary rock formations lived simultaneously and therefore provide no evidence of evolution.

Of course, geology was not the only field of natural science in Cardinal Ruffini’s day wherein the consensus view appeared to rule out the Biblical time-scale that had been accepted by all of the Fathers, Doctors, Popes and Council Fathers of previous centuries.  In Cardinal Ruffini’s words: 

the science of astronomy, to confine ourselves to it, today offers insoluble objections to the strict literal interpretation.  The stars . . . could not have shed their light on the earth in the same day without a miracle (The Theory of Evolution Judged by Reason and Faith, p. 76). 

In reality, the belief that our ability to see stars billions of light years away “proves” that the universe is billions of years old flows from the unfounded assumption of Rene’ Descartes, Immanuel Kant and the philosophers of the Enlightenment that “things have always been the same from the beginning of creation.”  In contrast, the Fathers and Doctors of the Church understood and taught that the natural laws which govern the world in the present order of providence did not apply during the creation period when God was fashioning the universe.  Moreover, the Scriptures refer many times to the “stretching out of the heavens” by God during the creation period, an action which could well mean that the stars and galaxies were created much closer to the earth and then spread apart, thus greatly reducing the original distance between them and the earth in the beginning. Even today, scientists have no way to make direct measurements of the speed of light in deep space, and careful measurements of the speed of light over many decades where it can be measured indicate a steady decline in light-speed, which may explain why light from the newly-created stars and galaxies could have reached the earth almost instantaneously at the beginning of creation. Recent experiments on earth have shown that the speed of light is not a constant in space or time.  “Blue glow” Cherenkov radiation in swimming pool nuclear reactors results from electrons moving faster than 186,000 miles per second. In other experiments, the speed of light has been slowed down,[19] brought to a stop and then accelerated[20], while “another experiment showed light pulses that exceeded the speed of light by a factor of 300!”[21] Thus, it is wrong to claim that the distant starlight problem falsifies the sacred history of Genesis.

In conclusion, I hope that your readers will read the paper Creation and Time with an open mind, especially in the light of two fundamental truths:  In the first place, that the First Vatican Council and St. Pius X (in Lamentabili in 1907) condemned the proposition that "the progress of the sciences" required that the Catholic doctrine of creation be "recast" or altered.  Since it is impossible to reconcile the long ages of evolution with the traditional doctrine of creation as set forth, for example, in the Roman Catechism, without "recasting" it, this charitable anathema effectively rules out any possibility that theistic evolution could be deemed acceptable for Catholics by the Magisterium.  In the second place, as partially demonstrated above, in the last few decades cutting-edge sedimentology, genetics and paleontology, as well as other scientific disciplines, have provided abundant evidence that the long ages of Lyellian geology never existed.   Had Cardinal Ruffini been presented with this evidence, there is no doubt that he would have upheld the traditional interpretation of the Firmiter that St. Lawrence of Brindisi, Cornelius a Lapide and the greatest Catholic commentators of the pre-evolutionary era believed and proclaimed. 


[1] Edmund M. Speiker, “Mountain-building and the Nature of the Geologic Time-scale,” Bulletin of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists, (1956) 40(8):1769_.

[2] Stephen Rowland, “A New Shirt for Carl,” Science (1983) 4(5):80_82.

[3] Cf. C. Schuchert, Geochronology. Bulletin of the National Research Council. (1931) 80:10_64.

[4] Stephen G. Brush,. “The Age of the Earth in the Twentieth Century,” Earth Sciences History (1989) 8(2):170_182.

[5] A.S. Eddington,. The Internal Constitution of the Stars. (New York: Dover, 1926; reprinted 1959), p. 295.

[6] Ibid, p. 96.

[7] Jean Pontcharra, “Are Radioactive Dating Methods Reliable?” (Bierbronnen: Gustav Siewerth Akademie, 2010).

[8] Guy Berthault, “Experiments in Stratification Do Not Support the Theory of Evolution,” (Rome: Sapienza University, 2009), pp. 15-30.

[9]  Guy Berthault, “Time Required for Sedimentation Contradicts the Evolutionary Hypothesis,” (Bierbronnen: Gustav Siewerth Akademie, 2010).

[10] Alan Hayward, Creation and Evolution: The Facts and Fallacies (London: Triangle, 1985), pp. 123–125.

[11] Juergen Schieber, John Southard, and Kevin Thaisen, “Accretion of Mudstone Beds from Migrating Floccule Ripples,” Science 14 December 2007: Vol. 318. no. 5857, pp. 1760 – 1763.





[16] Josef Holzschuh et al, “Recent C-14 Dating of Dinosaur Fossil Bone Collagen,” (Bierbronnen: Gustav Siewerth Akademie, 2010).

[17] Ibid.

[18] Alexey Kondrashov, Journal of Theoretical Biology, 1995, 175:583.

[19] Lene Vestergaard Hau, et al, “Light Speed Reduction to 17 Metres per Second in an Ultracold Atomic Gas,” Nature, Volume 397, 18 February 1999, pages 594-598, quoted in (accessed 1-29-15)

[20] “Observation of Coherent Optical Information Storage in an Atomic Medium Using Halted Light Pulses,” Nature, Volume 409, 25 January 2001, quoted in (accessed 1-29-15)

[21] L.J. Wang, et al “Laser Smashes Light Speed Record” Nature, Volume 406, 2000 page 277, quoted in (accessed 1-29-15)