Sunday, September 11, 2005

Charles Lyell and the Founding of Modern Geology

When the young Charles Darwin set out on his voyage on H.M.S. Beagle he carried with him a recently published volume called "Principle of Geology: An attempt to explain the former changes of the earth's surface by reference to causes now in operation" by Charles Lyell and devoured it eagerly.

Charles Lyell was the man who did for the field of geology what Darwin would later do for the field of biology. Before Lyell, most prevalent theories of geology saw the earth as shaped by cataclysmic singular events in the past based on creationist accounts in the Bible. Lyell argued that all the varied features on the earth's surface are produced by the gradual operation of immutable natural laws over a long period of time and that those laws can be induced from observations of current geological phenomena--thus established the foundations of modern geology.

Later in his life, Darwin would say: "I really think my books come half out of Lyell's brain. I see through his eyes."

Click here for a biography of Sir Charles Lyell from Encyclopedia Britannica (1910-1911).

Click here for a brief account of Lyell's "Principle of Geology."

"...Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology, published in 1830, shook prevailing views of how Earth had been formed. His book was an attack on the common belief among geologists and other Christians that unique catastrophes or supernatural events -- such as Noah's flood -- shaped Earth's surface. According to this view, a once-tumultuous period of change had slowed to today's calmer, more leisurely pace."

-- Shrikant Rangnekar

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