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Awesome Science: Historical Geology Curriculum Pack

As noted, uniformity of law is essential to all sciences. For instance, there is every reason to believe that the conservation of energy (a law stating that the total amount of energy in the universe remains constant) always has been the case. If the contrary were true, the conservation of energy could no longer properly be called a law, because it might cease to be the case at some time in the future.

The statement “The present is key to the past” was formulated by yet another Scottish geologist, Sir Archibald Geikie (1835-1924). Geikie’s statement often has been criticized as an oversimplification, because processes that occurred in the past may not necessarily be occurring now, or vice versa, even though they could occur again. This idea has required modification of uniformitarianism, as noted earlier, to take into account the fact that the speed and intensity of processes may not always be the same. Part of this modification has involved acceptance of a form of catastrophism, discussed later in this essay.

Variations in the speed and intensity of processes also were addressed by Gould, with his observation that “uniformity of rate” is a fallacy. So, too, is “uniformity of state,” which is one of the few areas on which adherents of creationism (a strict interpretation of the Genesis account) would agree with their opponents. Even the Bible, after all, says “In the beginning … the earth was without form, and void.”

Catastrophism

In Theory of the Earth (1795), Hutton suggested that the weathering effects of water produced the sedimentary layers of Earth. Based on observation of river flow and mud content, he realized that this process would require much longer than 6,000 years. So, too, did Lyell, author of the highly influential Principles of Geology, which appeared in 12 editions from 1830 to 1875 and which presented a strict version of uniformitarianism.

Aqueducts and other structures erected by the Romans had stood for a good one-fourth to one-third of the entire history of Earth, assuming that it was as young as Ussher’s biblical interpretation implied. Yet these Roman constructions had experienced very little weathering and certainly much less than mountains would have had to experience to leave behind the sediments observed by geologists. Surely, then, Earth must be millions upon millions of years old, not just a few thousand.