Bill Taylor explains some of the thinking behind the Time-Line installation, “Genesis Aotearoa”, at Victoria University (See also Page 13)
As a lay person I entered the world of Earth Science with a sketchy understanding and appreciation of what it entailed. Coming from an arts background there was a substantial degree of culture shock. Once this had been worked through I began to experience a rich interchange of knowledge and understanding; the interface of science and art is an exciting dynamic.
The Royal Society was concerned that while I was on Fellowship I actually learnt something. Over the years I had developed some curiosity about evolution but hadn’t pursued this beyond the school’s library. Issues such as the Big Bang, 4.6 billion years of Earth history, Chaos Theory and the expanding universe were really out of my zone of appreciation. Continental Drift theory I could appreciate but my knowledge was scant.
This curiosity blended informally and naturally with an appreciation of creation myths, such as the Maori creation myth that I often used to motivate art classes. Parallel to this was a strong sense of scepticism towards Creation Science: I always felt Genesis was yet another myth.
The prime reason for creating something like the Time Line, though, was to prove the point that art and science complement each other and enrich learning at even sophisticated levels of inquiry.
In other words, the connection goes deeper than cosmetic decoration or superficial patronage. This is a mutually worthwhile and purposeful connection, one that is not so obvious with other generic arts.
Bishop Ussher and Other Fathers of Science
In the mid-sixties, while sitting fidgeting in church, my elder brother pointed to the top of the first page of his Bible and told me knowledgeably that people thought that the world began 6000 years ago. He was referring to the Ussherian date of 4004 BC. News like this fed an already phobic imagination with visions of divine catastrophes.
Later the National Geographic and its articles on Richard Leakey’s discoveries (in the late sixties and early seventies), dated in millions of years, led me to relax a bit and see the world and my place in it as a little more tenable.
The Ussherian date provides a good lead-in to the culture of science. His scholarly and scientific use of the Bible was regarded as impeccable, thorough and unreproachable. James the First was so impressed with his approach that he had the dates included at the top of each page in the edition of the Bible that bears his name.
Ussher’s work was preceded by that of Dr John Lightfoot, Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University, who in 1644 gave an even more precise time of 9.00 am on 23 October 4004 BC.
Sir Isaac Newton played the same game. By his calculations the world began in 3996 BC. This conclusion caused alarm amongst his colleagues in the Royal Society. Some members’ theories that the Chinese Dynasties went back as much as 6000 years were rendered untenable.
Lightfoot, Ussher, and Newton represent through their rigour, and logical sequential inquiry into the evidence they held, the attributes of good scientists. This style of thinking would eventually undermine their original conclusions, as people sought and critiqued new evidence.