Principles of Geology: Being an Attempt to Explain the Former Changes of the Earth,s Surface

Book Principles of Geology: Being an Attempt to Explain the Former Changes of the Earth,s Surface

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- By:
- Language: English
- Format: PDF - Djvu
- Pages:348
- Publisher: BiblioLife (January 28, 2009)
- Bestsellers rank: 2
- Category: Science & Math
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  • By Steven H Propp on December 10, 2009

    Charles Lyell(1797-1875) was a British geologist, developer and popularizer of the notion of geological Uniformitarianism, as well as a strong influence on Charles Darwin. This book was written between 1830-1833, and was subtitled, "Being an Attempt to Explain the Former Changes of the Earth's Surface, by Reference to Causes Now in Operation."Uniformitarianism is frequently summarized with the statement, "The present is the key to the past," but Lyell never makes this statement (it came from James Hutton). Lyell's work is an extension of the earlier work of James Hutton and John Playfair. Perhaps the most striking thing to the modern reader of Lyell's book is the degree to which topics other than geology are covered (it contains such chapters as, "Cosmogony of the Koran," for example).He strongly rejects the notion that the "worldwide flood" of Noah caused the geological record, "in the narrrative of Moses there are no terms employed that indicate the impetuous rushing of the waters, either as they rose or when they retreated, upon the restraining of the rain and the passing of a wind over the earth. On the contrary, the olive-branch, brought back by the dove, seems as clear an indication to us that the vegetation was not destroyed, as it was then to Noah that the dry land was about to appear.... For our own part, we have always considered the flood, if we are required to admit its universality in the strictest sense of the term, as a preternatural event far beyond the reach of philosophical inquiry..."He asserts that "until we habituate ourselves to contemplate the possibility of an indefinite lapse of ages having been comprised within each of the more modern periods of the earth's history, we shall be in danger of forming most erroneous and partial views in Geology." He suggests that "In our attempt to unravel these difficult questions, we shall adopt a different course, restricting ourselves to the known or possible operations of existing causes; feeling assured that we have not yet exhausted the resources which the study of the present course of nature may provide, and therefore that we are not authorized, in the infancy of our science, to recur to extraordinary agents. We shall adhere to this plan ... because ... history informs us that this method has always put geologists on the road that leads to truth..."Nevertheless, Lyell didn't claim that EVERYTHING in the geological record could be explained from present causes: "when any one has ventured to presume that all former changes were simply the result of causes now in operation, they have invariably been called upon to explain every obscure pheonomeon in geology, and if they failed, it was considered as conclusive against their assumption. Whereas, in truth, there is no part of the evidence of favor of the uniformity of the system, miore cogent than the fact, that with much that is intelligible, there is still more which is yet novel, mysterious, and inexplicable in the monuments of ancient mutations in the earth's crust."Lyell (who was a fervent Christian) believed in a relatively "late" origin of man, and relates "how there have been endless vicissitudes in the shape and structure of organic beings in former ages---how the approach to the present system of things has been gradual---that there has been a progressive development of organization subservient to the purposes of life, from the most simple to the most complex state---that the appearance of man is the last phenomenon in a long succession of events---and, finally, that a series of physical revolutions can be traced in the inorganic world, coeval and coextensive with those of organic nature."Lyell also believed in the general stability of species: "Instead of being astonished at the proofs there manifested of endless mutations in the animate world, they will appear to one who has thought profoundly on the fluctuations now in progress, to afford evidence in favor of the uniformity of the system, unless, indeed, we are precluded from speaking of uniformity when we characterize a principle of endless variation." He actually rejected the notion of evolution, stating for example that "It is idle to dispute about the abstract possibility of the conversion of one species into another, when there are known causes so much more active in their nature, which must always intervene and prevent the actual accomplishment of such conversions."He admits that his advocacy of a comparatively recent origin of man raised some objections: "It has also been urged, that as we admit the creation of man to have occurred at a comparatively modern epoch---as we concede the astonishing fact of the first introduction of a moral and intellectual being, so also we may conceive the first creation of the planet itself."This work is interesting reading for anyone interested in the history of science, geology, or evolutionary theory.

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