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Ages Geological     Ages Astronomical

Lyell's "The Student's Elements of Geology"

Introduction by Philip Stott

Introduction: The Student's Elements of Geology

Chapter 1: On the Different Classes of Rocks 

Chapter 2: Aqueous Rocks

Chapter 3: Fossils in Strata 

Chapter 4: Consolidation of Strata and Petrifaction

Chapter 5: Strata Above the Sea

Chapter 6: Denudation

Lyell's interpretation of the "record of the rocks" is the one which has dominated geology for more than a century. The first few chapters of his famous text book are reproduced here (with thanks to the Gutenberg Project). I have made a few comments. It is worth remembering that the uniformity principle on which Lyell based his reasoning about what he saw in the rocks has been discredited, though his conclusions have largely gone unchanged.

Lyell's principle of uniformitarianism: "No processes have, from the earliest times to which we can look back, to the present, ever acted but those now acting, and they have never acted with degrees of energy different to which they now exert."  has been replaced by: "the laws of science have remained constant over time."

These two assumptions allow totally different interpretations of the rock record. The abandoning of Lyell's principle has been forced upon geologists by evidence for enormously catastrophic incidents:- huge meteorite impacts, vulcanism on a vast scale, etc. which Lyell's principle specifically excluded. The time scale deduced using Lyell's principle is still held. There is now no defensible basis for that time scale. As can be seen from Lyell's own work, such basis as did exist was unsound.


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