Ideas and Evidence in Science: The Kirkdale Cave

Background: The book that changed the world

So convinced was Buckland by his theory that, in 1823, he wrote an entire book based on his findings in Kirkdale and other caves. He argued that the bony remains found in the cave allowed scientists to discover what kind of animals lived in Britain before the Biblical flood. The specimens found at Kirkdale became the founding collection of the Yorkshire Museum and the scientific interest aroused founded the Yorkshire Philosophical Society.

The book was a major seller and helped cement Buckland’s reputation as one of the most important geologists of his day.

However, his theories aroused a lot of controversy, particularly with the church, and as the geology collections at the Yorkshire Museum grew clerics were dismayed to discover that they were being interpreted in ways that were moving away from biblical interpretation.

Events came to ahead when the British Association for the Advancement of Science visited York in 1844. A stinging attack was published by The Dean of York Minster entitled The Bible defended against the British Association. Adam Sedgwick, the renowned Yorkshire geologist delivered a fierce reply in a meeting held in the Hospitium in the gardens of the Yorkshire Museum.


The controversy refused to die and eventually the York Corporation decided they could not entertain both the Dean of York Minster and the geologists at a dinner. They withdrew their invitation to the geologists with George Hudson - the Lord Mayor and 'railway king' - stating 'We’ve decided for Moses and the Dean'.


Although William Buckland refused to completely relinquish his religious ideals relating to the Great Flood, his interpretation of the material deposited in the Kirkdale Cave was of vital importance in raising the profile of geology as a scientific discipline.

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