Lyell’s Slow-and-Gradual Geology Is No Longer Tenable

by Dr Jerry Bergman

The latest study published in the journal titled American Scientist is an article titled “Reexamining Lyell’s Laws” by New York Professor Michael Rampino. The article opines that “Increasing evidence points to the role of periodic catastrophes in the shaping [of] Earth’s history, challenging long-standing dogma within geology.”[i] The long-standing dogma is uniformitarianism, the idea that changes in the earth during geological history have resulted primarily from the action of slow, continuous and uniform processes. Furthermore, present geological changes have been considered the key to past geological changes. This perception contrasts with the theory that changes in the earth’s crust during geological history have resulted chiefly from rapid, violent and non-uniform events, such as floods.

In short, the two views would explain the formation of the Grand Canyon by a little water over a very long period of time (uniformitarianism) or a lot of water in a short period of time (catastrophism). Darwin relied heavily on uniformitarianism in developing his theory of evolution because he realized for it to be viable requires an enormous amount of time to evolve life from simple organisms, such as bacteria, to complex organisms, such as humans.

A book titled Principles of Geology by British lawyer-turned-geologist named Charles Lyell (1797-1875) postulated that the earth was shaped by very long period of slow, gradual changes. Principles of Geology was the most influential geological book in the middle of the 19th century. Lyle’s book was one of the few books that Darwin had with him on his 5-year-long voyage on the HMS Beagle. He studied the book carefully on his travels around the world and it turned out to be critical in his theory of evolution because it gave him the needed time for evolution to occur.

The very foundation of Darwin’s theory was built on sand.

Although uniformitarianism has dominated geology since the middle 1800s, in the past few decades it has been increasingly questioned by researchers. In his article, Rampino straight out stated that the scientific “evidence shows that Lyell was fundamentally wrong. Catastrophes indeed caused many major changes that we see in the geological record.”[ii] Thus, the very foundation of Darwin’s theory was built on sand. Rampino added that “Lyell mocked the idea that catastrophic changes had occurred in Earth’s history, and he railed against the zealous geological catastrophists” who studied the major effects of the geological forces that we regularly observe today, such as earthquakes, volcanoes, comets and meteorites.[iii]

In spite of the overwhelming evidence against Lyell’s thesis, why was it accepted by so many geologists for so long? Rampino concludes the reason why it was widely accepted was because Lyell’s Principles of Geology was “a tight a priori argument” and its conclusions “seemed unassailable” in arguing a worldview that “proved to be extremely effective in the court of scientific opinion.”[iv]  Today it is recognized that uniformitarianism accounts for much geological history but that catastrophism accounts for a very significant portion of that history. Unfortunately, today “some geologists are still reluctant to appeal to catastrophic events, even when the geological evidence points that way.”[v] Such is the effect of dogma in science.

[i] Michael Rampino. 2017. Reexamining Lyell’s Laws. American Scientist. 105(4):224-231. July-August.

[ii] Rampino. 2017. p. 226

[iii] Rampino. 2017. pp. 224-225.

[iv] Rampino. 2017. p. 225.

[v] Rampino. 2017. p. 231


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