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Primer: Lyell’s Principles of Geology October 1, 2008

Posted by Will Thomas in EWP Primer.
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For today’s post, I want to talk about one of the most influential books in the natural sciences, Charles Lyell’s Principles of Geology, published in three volumes from 1830 to 1833.  Lyell (1797-1875) was an English gentleman, who turned to scientific study at university after originally intending to train to be a barrister.  His entry to geology came at a time when the field was becoming increasingly professionalized; Principles was his attempt to bring some philosophical rigor to the subject, to lend it further respectability as a modern, 19th-century “science”, that is, the sense that the term now connotes.

By the time Lyell wrote the Principles, mainstream geological opinion (and also some religious opinion) accepted that Biblical chronologies could not be maintained in light of fossil evidence.  Debates had thus turned to the various problems of “deep history”, such as: what had happened in the past, how the earth began and whether it was headed for an end, and whether geological history followed a clear progressive arc (more…)