The debate between Catastrophists and Uniformitarians
has been mostly about what should be considered to be the normal
workings of nature--and which the abnormal.
Uniformitarian thinking, as expressed in the early 19th
century by Lyell, and his supporters, was--to some extent--a reaction
to early Catastrophism.
These men argued that the geological processes
operating at the time were no different than those that had always
been operating on earth. They believed the process of accumulating
deposits and various kinds of erosion were consistently uniform over
time, which amounted to millions of years. They were early
Their belief was based on evidence filtered through a
special kind of faith and that form of
extrapolation logic that can
say 'I'm alive today and was alive last month and 20 years before
that. Based on that trend, I'll be alive next month and 20 years from
Although at times the opposite seems to be true, this
belief in the earth's endless uniformity has always been based on a
strong underlying religious assumption whose impact is not always
acknowledged. The Judeo-Christian tradition assumes that a single
force, God, created the earth--one time--and that it remained as
created until covered over--one time--by the biblical deluge, which
then receded just as miraculously as it came. Supernatural power over
natural materials. God was viewed as THE only force acting directly
on the globe as a whole.
As the debate in the 18th and 19th century shows,
consciously or unconsciously, any other assumptions and inferences
had to line up with that core assumption--even among those who
professed that religious belief had been stripped out of their
evidence system. Geological evidence was read through unascknowledged
assumptions that way.
Ultimately, the uniformitarian conclusion was that
there were no earth-bound mechanisms that could justify belief in a
On top of that, there was, and is, the underlying
belief that (God') laws of nature were and are regular and
unchanging, as is God.
And, strangely enough, that leads to another
unacknowledged assumption: there is no catastrophe that is not willed
That quickly leads down a blind alley into circular
thinking. Since it's assumed that (God's) catastrophes--large and
small--have always existed to make a moral point to an immoral
audience, then without a moral point to be made there cannot be a
catastrophe, in the past, present or future.
Science is young and religion is ancient.
Inherently religious assumptions still pervade science
today--with the possible exception of the field of quantum mechanics
or, depending on your point of view, primarily in the field of