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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How the Geological Theory of Uniformitarianism affects Everyone's Future


James Hutton the founder of the Theory of Uniformitarianism 


It was during the mid-17th century that the Archbishop JamesUssher of Ireland and a notable biblical scholar used the Bible to determine the age of the earth based on the generations described in the Bible. From carefully counting the number of generations described in the Bible Ussher it determined that the earth had been created during the year of 4004 BCE. This may not indicate the actual age of the earth although it does tell how many generations are described in the Bible.

A little more than a century later the Scottish geologist James Hutton who is called the father of geology came to the conclusion the earth was much older then it was believed to be by Archbishop Ussher. Working out of the University of Edinburgh Hutton laid down one of the basic tenets of geology when he suggested that the processes occurring today for the same processes that had acted in the past, and would be the same processes working in the future. This is a polite way of saying, “Nothing ever changed and nothing ever will.”

It was in 1785 that Hutton wrote, “we find no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end.” James Hutton, 1785.  100 based his theory on was the slow, natural processes that he is observed in the landscape of Scotland. One of the first things he realized was that if a stream was flowing for enough time it would create a valley. He also observed that ice could a erode rock, that sediment could accumulate in such a way as to form new landscapes. I'm also realized that the effects of great disasters on the face of the earth such as earthquakes, asteroids, volcanoes and floods are nothing more than a part of the regular cycle of earth processes.

The entire theory is postulated by Hutton known as the Theory of Uniformitarianism is based on the slow, natural processes that occur on the face of the earth cussing him to speculate that millions of years would've been required to form the surface of the earth into its present state. This theory was used to give rise to a new science that was closely related to geology that is called, “geomorphology.” This is the study of landforms and how they were created.

Hutton himself is not a very good writer that is considered by many to be unfortunate, but his paper of 1785 suggested an entirely new theory of geomorphology that is the study of landforms and their development. Another sentry was to pass before another geologist Sir Charles Lyell. Whose money and metal book the principles of geology that was published in 1830 popularized the concept laid down by Hutton in his earlier work on uniformitarianism.

Today the age of the earth is estimated to be about 4.50 5 billion years old with a planet having had enough time for the slow, continuous processes of geology to mold and shape our as we now know.  In the same vein we know that sudden disasters have also had some very profound impacts on our landscapes.

In 1994, the US National Research Concil will stated:

“It is not known whether the relocation of materials on the surface of the Earth is dominated by the slower but continuous fluxes operating all the time or by the spectacular large fluxes that operate during short-lived cataclysmic events. (Davis, 18).”

Today it is recognized that the water that falls on those writing during a storm slowly erodes the soil, wind is capable of moving the sands of the desert's, floods can change the course of a river while the theory of uniformitarianism unlocks the keys of our distant past and predicts the future and is the controlling factor for everything that occurs today.

For further reading about this subject consult:

Davis, Mike. Ecology of Fear: Los Angeles and the Imagination of Disaster.
Lyell, Charles. Principles of Geology.
Tinkler, Keith J. A Short History of Geomorphology. Barnes & Noble Books, 1985.

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