4 - "The present is the key to the past." Introduction Even...

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"The present is the key to the past." Introduction Even before Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was the acceptance of the idea of uniformitarianism. Largely due to the work of Charles Lyell on geology, catastrophism was replaced by uniformitarianism. Uniformitarianism can be defined as a geological doctrine that processes acting in the same manner as at present and over long spans of time are sufficient to account for all current geological features and all past geological changes. 1 Before Lyell published Principles of Geology: An Attempt to Explain the Former Changes of the Earth's Surface by Reference to Causes Now in Operation between 1830 and 1833, uniformitarianism was not widely accepted as the correct explanation for the origin of the Earth. Rather, catastrophism was the more acceptable theory before Lyell’s contributions. Catastrophism can be defined as a geological doctrine that changes in the Earth's crust have in the past been brought about suddenly by physical forces operating in ways that cannot be observed today. 2 For several reasons, this shift in geology represents one of the most significant developments in science to date. I will now further expand on the opposing ideas of uniformitarianism and catastrophism, as well as how uniformitarianism has affected the world of science since its inception. Development of Uniformitarianism The origins of uniformitarianism began with a Scottish geologist named James Hutton. Towards the end of the 18 th century, Hutton proposed his ideas about the Earth’s 1 www.merriam-webster.com. 2 www.merriam-webster.com. 1
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history, which he believed was much longer than what was believed at the time, and how he believed that it could be interpreted by current processes. When he brought these ideas to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, he was faced with much opposition. Many of his critics believed that his proposal went against popular religious principles. These concepts did not gain support until Charles Lyell published his work Principles of Geology . Lyell conducted a vast amount of geological research around the world in order to demonstrate the validity of his version of uniformitarianism. With new evidence and
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This note was uploaded on 06/17/2008 for the course BISC 3 taught by Professor Farber during the Fall '07 term at Brandeis.

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4 - "The present is the key to the past." Introduction Even...

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