Evolutionary Biology/Charles Lyell

< Evolution before Darwin

Charles Lyell was the author of Principles of Geology, in which he introduced the theory of uniformitarianism.

Charles Lyell lived from 1797 to 1875. Throughout his life, his first love was geology. By using his studies of the Earth, Lyell was one of the first scientists to try and create a time scale for the history of the earth.

His book titled Principles of Geology is thought to be one of the most important scientific books ever written because it proposed a way to study the forces that changed the geology of the earth by observing geology of the modern world. This directly contrasted the theories of catastrophism and supernatural occurrences. In this book, he introduced his theory of uniformitarianism. This is the idea that by using observations of current natural processes, we can predict how processes occurred in the past. In order to do this, we must accept that changes in nature occurring millions of years ago are similar to the changes that occur today. This idea of a uniform process of change is the basis of the theory of uniformitarianism. He also believed that each of these processes followed the already known natural laws. He thought that the changes the earth went through would continue on the same path throughout the rest of the existence of the earth. This theory is very important in the aspect that it can possible explain occurrences like mountain building, glaciation and volcano creation.

Darwin was very impressed by Lyell’s geologic findings in Principles of Geology. He studied Lyell’s work as he traveled on the Beagle. As he explored the coastlines of South America, Lyell’s book had a great influence on how Darwin looked at the geologic aspects of the land. In turn, many of Darwin’s experiences and findings reinforced many ideas put forth by Lyell in Principles of Geology.