He is best known for writing the Principles of Geology, which presented the idea of uniformitarianism
- the theory that changes in the earths crust during geological history resulted from the action of continuous and uniform processes.
In so doing, he briefly covers the infancy of paleontology, the debate between uniformitarianism
and catastrophism, and the tensions that existed between science and faith during this time, pointing out that religion actually played an important role in the development of earth history and science in general.
The fact that Lyell prefaced his book with an image of enduring classical architecture rather than fiery natural destruction was significant: the book's impact lay in its popularisation of the 'doctrine of uniformitarianism
', the idea that the Earth's past geological changes had occurred through processes that were visible in the present, over a greatly expanded timescale.
If Maud enacted Lyellian uniformitarianism
socially, ontologically, and literarily, Geric further argued, Tennyson also represented the nightmarish qualities of a uniformitarian, nonteleological universe in which there is no ultimate fixed, certain meaning and transformation is ever ongoing.
, and a Scientific Realism Debate That Makes a Difference," Philosophy of Science 82(5): 867-878.
Phylogeography, fossils, and Northern hemisphere biogeography: The role of physiological uniformitarianism
This notion of observing the complex, dynamic interrelations and processes of the natural world we exist in and using this to interpret the rock record of the past, what has since been called "uniformitarianism
," is a revolutionary idea, and radically transforms the way we see the earth and our place in natural processes; they show us how we exist in cyclical processes not in a linear progression.
Since evolutionists stressed out the fact that evolution was slow, namely as it still is occurring at present (this constituted precisely the justification of the uniformitarians, which is why today it is admitted that Darwin's theory is based on Lyell's principle of uniformity, itself derived from Hutton's uniformitarianism
), the age of the Earth had to be indeed very large.
Even bearing in mind the various meanings of the concept of uniformitarianism
that argue for more than a purely conventional basis for interpreting the nature of the past in the terms of the present (see e.g.
Still, most geologists are sanguine about prospects for exoplanet tectonics, based on their optimism in what Stern terms "theoretical uniformitarianism
," which in this case reflects the assertion of the universality of plate tectonics across the galaxy.
His widely read Principles of Geology presented an empirically formidable argument supporting Hutton's thesis "that all past changes on the globe had been brought about by the slow agency of existing causes" (I: 63), a theory of geological change known as uniformitarianism
. By applying the rates of geological processes observable today (e.g., erosion and uplift) to the past, one could reconstruct the earth's geological history and explain everything from the formation of canyons and mountain ranges to the break-up of land masses.
Admittedly, as Rankin (2003: 186) points out, reconstruction in Historical Linguistics would not be possible without the assumption of uniformitarianism
(see Lass 1997 or Janda and Joseph 2003).