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The Doctrine of Uniformitarianism (uniformity)

The Facts of Uniformitariansim

The doctrine of uniformitarianism is usually credited to Charles Lyell a Scottish geologist of the 1800's. It is said that Charles Darwin had a copy of Lyell's text while on board the HMS Beagle. As one evidence of uniformitarianism Lyell made note of the slow accumulation of sediment at the mouths of various rivers in Great Britain. Every year the spring rains would cause sediment to be washed into those rivers and then carried to the sea where it would settle out. Lyell noted that this annual flow added just a few 100th's of an inch of sediment each year. Lyell assumed that those same processes had formed those sedimentary layers at the same slow rate over a long period of time. By measuring the depth of the layers, and measuring the rate at which that sediment was deposited, Lyell then calculated the apparent age of those sedimentary layers. This idea is the foundation of the Doctrine of Uniformitarianism.

Observations on Uniformitariansim

The Doctrine of Uniformitarianism sounds very technical and also very scientific. But it is actually quite simple and is based on common sense. In everyday language this doctrine of science states that what happens today also happened in the past. This idea is often extrapolated to state that what happens today will also happen in the future. Without even thinking about it we accept the outcome of this doctrine every day of our lives. For without the doctrine of uniformity we would even be afraid to get out of bed in the morning.

Take gravity as an example. We assume that the pull of gravity will be the same today as it was yesterday. For if gravity could change from one day to the next we would experience some very strange events. What if during the night the force of gravity had suddenly become twice as strong as it was when we went to bed? As soon as we got out of the bed in the morning we would be pulled to the floor. Or what if gravity had somehow ceased to exist during the night. We would probably float up and hit our head on the ceiling. But no one is afraid to get out of bed in the morning thinking that the pull of gravity might have changed during the night. We assume, and rightfully so, that the force of gravity does not change from day to day. We also assume that it will be the same tomorrow. This is the fundamental concept of uniformitarianism. We, as reasonable creatures, trust in the uniformity of the physical and chemical processes that we encounter everyday of our lives.

The Doctrine of Uniformity is a completely logical concept. It can be assumed that things happened in the past as they happen today. It can also be assumed that things will happen the same way tomorrow. This is the natural outcome of living in an orderly universe. But these assumptions are not science. And, these assumptions may end up being proved false. In the meantime, if the Doctrine of Uniformitarianism is going to be applied to some processes then it should be applied to all. We should not pick and choose only those processes that support some preconceived opinion. Unfortunately science accepts this doctrine for some processes but then reject it for others.

The First Law of Thermodynamics

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