Arrears blogging: November 14 -- Our High-Strung Planet

One of the things about the science stuff in the Harvard Classics is that it's difficult for the non-scientist to figure out how outdated it is. Take Charles Lyell, giant of geology (apparently), and stimulator of Darwin. In today's reading he makes an argument that the geologic processes we've seen are the same ones that made the geologic world we dig into and puzzle about, or at least he appears to; it's pretty dense going:

The readiest way, perhaps, of persuading the reader that we may dispense with great and sudden revolutions in the geological order of events is by showing him how a regular and uninterrupted series of changes in the animate and inanimate world must give rise to such breaks in the sequence, and such unconformability of stratified rocks, as are usually thought to imply convulsions and catastrophes.
Do we believe this anymore? I mean we believe it in the sense that we don't believe that the fossil record is the way it is because of the Flood; but I think we have a better sense of all the catastrophes our poor planet has been through -- extinctions and the planet almost freezing to death and it's current incarnation of deciding that it would rather be Venus.

In fact, in the section of this reading where Lyell starts talking about why the fossil record is so random, you get the sense that Mother Earth is one of those unstable, ever-changable moms you read about in the My-Crazy-Family genre of memoir:
Forests may be as dense and lofty as those of Brazil, and may swarm with quadrupeds, birds, and insects, yet at the end of thousands of years one layer of black mould a few inches thick may be the sole representative of those myriads of trees, leaves, flowers, and fruits, those innumerable bones and skeletons of birds, quadrupeds, and reptiles, which tenanted the fertile region....

The sediment of the Rhone, for example, thrown into the Lake of Geneva, is now conveyed to a spot a mile and a half distant from that where it accumulated in the tenth century, and six miles from the point where the delta began originally to form. We may look forward to the period when this lake will be filled up, and then the distribution of the transported matter will be suddenly altered...

Rocks before concealed may have become exposed by denudation; volcanos may have burst out and covered the surface with scoriƦ and lava...
Of course, being a Californian, I know that the earth cannot be propitiated. Geologists, taking the long view as they do, seem to be fairly cool about this. Maybe natural philosophy is the best one after all.

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