Theories of Geological Evolution: Catastrophism vs Uniformitarianism – Video & Lesson Transcript


Georges Cuvier lived in France right at the turn of the century, from 1769 to 1832. At that clock time in history, european scientists had a identical hard habit of interweaving their studies of the Bible with their studies of natural science. When it came to Earth ‘s history, they looked to the biblical report of the capital flood to help them understand the geological events of the past. Outside the religious earth, Cuvier was besides making observations that puzzled him about the fossil record. He saw a lot of mysterious gaps ; that is, certain species would show up for long periods of geological time and then abruptly disappear. Combined with his impressions of the violent natural disasters recounted in the Bible, Cuvier ‘s observations made him believe that most of worldly concern ‘s history was characterized by geological catastrophe. This estimate emerged and spread among scientists as the hypothesis of catastrophism. Catastrophism is the hypothesis that Earth ‘s features are largely accounted for by violent, large-scale events that occurred in a relatively unretentive sum of time. so, a species that went extinct was probably killed off by a elephantine natural disaster. An impressive mountain roll was credibly formed by global earthquakes and eruptions. Cuvier and other scientists believed that most major features of the land we see today were established a very long time ago by identical dramatic events. These events would not at all resemble the small-scale natural disasters we experience in our clock. The drama was over, immortalized in religious texts, never again to be seen on such a humongous scale.


In 1785, a geologist and physicist named James Hutton proposed another idea. He thought that most of the features on the airfoil of the Earth were formed by dull, ongoing geological processes, not by sudden catastrophic events. Hutton did n’t believe that there was anything happening long ago that was n’t still happening on Earth nowadays. In other words, ‘the present is the key to the past. ‘ The erosion of landforms, the deposition of sediments, the drift of continents and the outbreak of volcanoes – all of these were happening long ago, on roughly the lapp scale and at approximately the lapp rate as they are nowadays. Hutton ‘s mind was a major turning point in the field of geology. He called it uniformitarianism : the theory that Earth ‘s features are largely accounted for by gradual, minor processes that occurred over retentive periods of time. besides called gradualism, the hypothesis of uniformitarianism was fleshed out and popularized by another geologist, Charles Lyell. In the 1830s, Lyell published Principles of Geology, which explained the fine details of uniformitarianism. The script became a anchor textbook for geologists and besides influenced the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin. But although Charles Lyell published the actual book, it is still James Hutton who gets the citation for being ‘ The Father of Modern Geology. ‘ Hutton ‘s rationale of uniformitarianism gave geology a real number boost that helped it grow into the highly-detailed, running discipline that it is today .
Principles of Geology was published right around the time when westerly science was trying to unravel itself from biblical and other religious associations. Scientists did n’t feel like they had to account for the great flood anymore. rather, they stuck to the things they could see : mountains eroding, volcanoes erupting, rivers shifting their courses. Geologists came to realize that massive changes can occur on Earth ‘s surface if the minor processes are given adequate time. so, along with uniformitarianism came the realization that Earth was much, much older than we had previously believed.

Modern Consensus

Nowadays, geologists have leaned slightly back toward catastrophism. They know that there were some reasonably big geological events in the past, like asteroid impacts and massive volcanic eruptions that changed our planet in significant ways. These events could surely happen again, but humans have never seen them on such an enormous scale. besides, modern theories of development have changed. We used to think that species evolved gradually, lento changing from one species to another. But now biologists embrace the idea of ‘punctuated equilibrium, ‘ which theorizes species remain static for long periods of time and alone change during short-circuit bursts of evolution. This theory is supported by lots of fossil testify. In fact, it ‘s the lapp tell that led Georges Cuvier to formulate his hypothesis of catastrophism therefore long ago ! sol, the details of our geological theories are still up for consider. But, in general, we now embrace uniformitarianism, with a tip of catastrophism .

Lesson Summary

The two main theories about the history of Earth are catastrophism and uniformitarianism. Both theories acknowledge that the Earth ‘s landscape was formed and shaped by natural events over geological meter. While catastrophism assumes that these were violent, ephemeral, large-scale events, uniformitarianism supports the mind of gradual, durable, small-scale events.

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Catastrophism was proposed by Georges Cuvier, who was influenced by biblical interpretations and believed that all major geological events are now finished. James Hutton was the founder of uniformitarianism, which is based heavily on scientific observation and assumes that all major geological processes are distillery happening today. early geologists embraced catastrophism, then moved into uniformitarianism, and, most recently, slid second into reasonably of a compromise. We distillery use the basic ideas of uniformitarianism as a foundation for geological report, but we recognize that some elements of catastrophism are an integral character of the history of our planet .

Learning Outcome

When you have seen this video lesson, you should be able to :

  • Identify and define the two main theories of Earth’s landscape
  • Recognize that Georges Cuvier developed the theory of catastrophism
  • Recall James Hutton founded uniformitarianism
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