Catastrophism and Uniformitarianism, Essay Example

Catastrophism and uniformitarianism are both two unique theories for how the earth has aged and changed over time. Catastrophism can be defined as the theory that the planet earth has been affected swiftly and suddenly. Charles Lyell was one of the leading proponents of catastrophism, and a founder of the theory of uniformitarianism. Lyell would become instrumental in the scientific community for his contributions regarding geological dating (Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, 2012). Those who accept the philosophy of catastrophism believe that the changes that occur to the earth’s surface, as well as at it’s core are sudden and drastic- a completely counter viewpoint to those who believe in uniformitarianism.

Uniformitarianism is the theory that the earth is affected by a slow and steady process that can be tracked much more regularly than the catastrophism theory. This theory assumes that the laws that operate the universe now have always operated the universe- and by that theory, the present is the key to the past. Uniformitarianism, also known as gradualism by the scientific community, is a much more accepted theory for the way the earth has changed over time. George Cuvier, a 19th century French scientist, came up with the proponent for catastrophism in the 1800s as a reasonable explanation for the fossils he and other archaeologists had been discovering (Encyclopaedia Britannica Online, 2012)(Uniformitarianism: Charles Lyell, 2010). Lyell took Cuvier’s information and expanded upon it in his book, The Principles of Geology, which attempted to explain the changes to the earth’s surface.

Uniformitarianism continues to be more widely accepted in the scientific community today for geological dating uses.


“Catastrophism (Geology).” Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 09 May 2013.

“Uniformitarianism: Charles Lyell.” Uniformitarianism: Charles Lyell. Understanding Evolution, 2010. Web. 09 May 2013.