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Author Topic:   Why is uniformitarianim still taught?
Tamara
Inactive Member


Message 16 of 89 (87567)
02-19-2004 4:00 PM
Reply to: Message 12 by MrHambre
02-19-2004 3:33 PM


Re: Cat-astrophism
quote:
Mr "Tailless Wonder" Hambre: Does that mean that the laws of physics, the decay rates of elements, gravitational pull, or the rotation of the Earth changed? A volcano or an asteroid does not nullify the consistency of these processes. The assumption of uniformitarianism is the reason we know about such upheavals in the first place.

Nope. The ancient Cretans did not need modern geology to tell them Santorini made their world well-nigh inhabitable. And the rotation of the Earth has changed. Maybe other things too, that we do not yet suspect.

As for my personal opinion, I am unabashedly pro cat-uni synthesis that would get its own damn name, thank you. Particularly, as you so wisely point out, the line between catastrophes and non cannot be tidily drawn.

[This message has been edited by Tamara, 02-19-2004]


This message is a reply to:
 Message 12 by MrHambre, posted 02-19-2004 3:33 PM MrHambre has not yet responded

  
Percy
Member
Posts: 15490
From: New Hampshire
Joined: 12-23-2000
Member Rating: 4.6


Message 17 of 89 (87573)
02-19-2004 4:26 PM
Reply to: Message 14 by Tamara
02-19-2004 3:50 PM


Re: Putting the 'if' back in Uniformitarianism
Tamara writes:

If you see a stratum full of twisted critters obviously squished suddenly in some disaster, uni is not the simpler hypothesis.

Burial is a prerequisite for fossilization, all fossils are under terrific pressure when buried deeply in the ground ("squished"), many fossils are twisted, so you cannot simply look at a stratum and conclude "twisted critters obviously squished suddenly in some disaster". Whether buried in a horrible disaster or simply died of old age next to a river and buried in sediments, the fossil will look the same. You need to look to the characteristics of the stratum to identify how it formed. In most cases the grain size indicates slow sedimentation over long periods, not sudden disaster. And while some fossils undoubtedly originated in disasters, animal life is killed and buried in disasters all the time. You need evidence not of local disasters, which no one questions happen, but of a world wide flood.

The mere fact that you're looking at a stratum at all is evidence against flood theory. How, during a flood, do you have multiple layers of disasters, each trapping a unique collection of creatures? And dead creatures floating in water wouldn't stratify according to difference from modern forms into multiple uniquely different stratigraphic layers, not to mention the problem of the transition from floating in water to encased in rock, and maintaining the floating order during this process.

--Percy


This message is a reply to:
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Silent H
Member (Idle past 3169 days)
Posts: 7405
From: satellite of love
Joined: 12-11-2002


Message 18 of 89 (87584)
02-19-2004 5:26 PM
Reply to: Message 14 by Tamara
02-19-2004 3:50 PM


After saying my description is how you understand it, you proceed to use the term uniformitarianism, without distinguishing which form (past or present) you mean. It seems in fact that you have used them interchangably. In that case I can't tell whether I agree with you or not.

How about using (if you agree with me anyway), gradualism for slow processes, catastrophism for fast processes, and uni for the idea that either speed process of yesteryear were the same kind of processes we see today.

Percy did a good job of explaining why smooshed does not mean a fast process had taken place. He also did a good job of explaining how even if uni accepts both grad and cat, a worlwide flood is still left out in the cold... especially by layering as you described.

I should add that my post also explains why Uni is still taught (the question posed in this thread). It is different than the gradualist form. Occam's razor supports the more comprehensive/general uni theory.

Does this post of yours mean your question has been answered?


holmes
"...what a fool believes he sees, no wise man has the power to reason away.."(D. Bros)
This message is a reply to:
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Replies to this message:
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NosyNed
Member
Posts: 8751
From: Canada
Joined: 04-04-2003


Message 19 of 89 (87589)
02-19-2004 5:36 PM
Reply to: Message 18 by Silent H
02-19-2004 5:26 PM


That has been my understanding of uniformatarianism (as understood today). That is, physical processes (slow or fast) act today as they have done.

I like the distinction between gradualism, catastrophism and uniformatarianism. They are different axes.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 18 by Silent H, posted 02-19-2004 5:26 PM Silent H has not yet responded

  
Silent H
Member (Idle past 3169 days)
Posts: 7405
From: satellite of love
Joined: 12-11-2002


Message 20 of 89 (87590)
02-19-2004 5:44 PM


Lies and the lying Lyell who told them...
Here's an interesting look at Lyell's work. It's an educational website so I'm pretty certain that this isn't biased (yet).

Notice some of his rather interesting theories about the earth, given his "gradual" and apparently "static" doctrine...

1) Predicted that fossils in the geologic record will show that life appeared all at once and did not go from simple to more complex.

2) Believed the earth has always had the same internal temperature and could not be cooling off.

Ouch.


holmes
"...what a fool believes he sees, no wise man has the power to reason away.."(D. Bros)
    
Tamara
Inactive Member


Message 21 of 89 (87595)
02-19-2004 5:58 PM
Reply to: Message 15 by Percy
02-19-2004 3:56 PM


Re: You're right, uniformitarianism should not be taught!
Percy, I appreciate your thoughtful response. Let me see if I can convey my take on it better. I am not sure what you mean by bait and switch. I oppose uni because it was conceived not because the evidence of observation pointed that way, but for reasons of opposing the religiously minded, because it was wrong when it was conceived (as it was defined by Lyell), and because it is no more valid today -- on the face of it -- than it was then and still confuses people [apart from its "same laws apply today as before" version which provides virtually no information of interest], because it gets in the way of dealing directly with the evidence, and because it makes arguing with YECs far more difficult for layfolk than it needs to be.

As for it not being taught but deeply assumed, I think you are right, although it is found in textbooks. Which does not make it any less problematic. Now, I am sure we all here agree that the Earth was formed by both slow long gradual processes and sudden upheavals, regardless of the terminology. (Let's leave the biblical flood out of it, shall we? The problem comes when geologists, who hold uni deep in their assumptions and priorities, come to evaluate some part of the geologic record, or some formation. Ideally, they should come to the task without a bias, would you not agree? It does not make sense to make an apriori assumption that a formation X came about by slow processes over thousands of years when the possibility also exists that it came about as a result of a hurricane in a few hours. In other words, what makes sense to me most, is to assume uni & cat both at the outset, and go by the best evidence.

quote:
If you don't like the term uniformitarianism then you're in good company. I'll bet most geologists don't like it either.

LOL! So maybe there is hope, and the concept will bite the dust after all.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 15 by Percy, posted 02-19-2004 3:56 PM Percy has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 23 by Silent H, posted 02-19-2004 7:06 PM Tamara has not yet responded
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Tamara
Inactive Member


Message 22 of 89 (87597)
02-19-2004 6:04 PM
Reply to: Message 18 by Silent H
02-19-2004 5:26 PM


quote:
How about using (if you agree with me anyway), gradualism for slow processes, catastrophism for fast processes, and uni for the idea that either speed process of yesteryear were the same kind of processes we see today.

Mmmm... could be. Have to think about it.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 18 by Silent H, posted 02-19-2004 5:26 PM Silent H has not yet responded

  
Silent H
Member (Idle past 3169 days)
Posts: 7405
From: satellite of love
Joined: 12-11-2002


Message 23 of 89 (87602)
02-19-2004 7:06 PM
Reply to: Message 21 by Tamara
02-19-2004 5:58 PM


quote:
I oppose uni because it was conceived not because the evidence of observation pointed that way, but for reasons of opposing the religiously minded, because it was wrong when it was conceived (as it was defined by Lyell), and because it is no more valid today -- on the face of it -- than it was then and still confuses people...

It was not conceived solely to oppose the religious minded, it was not wholly wrong (though lyell was incorrect regarding mechanisms and characteristics of earth), and as it currently is understood it is valid and useful.

There seems to be this characteristic of people that don't like something, to pretend they are confused by it, and do everything they can not to understand it.

Within minutes of yahooing on uniformitarianism, catastrophism, and Lyell, all points on this issue can be clarified. I would hope, and I have seen you present no evidence to counter this idea, that a science teacher would deliver a better quality presentation than even a few minutes on yahoo.

So why does your confusion remain. Why should it not be taught as the theory, or principle, stands today? Even evolutionary theory has changed since Darwin. So has molecular and atomic theory. That's the beauty of science, it can change. You just have to keep up with it.

Uni certainly does not bias anyone in how they have to approach the study of a geologic phenomenon. NO ONE TODAY would take the default position that a formation was from a slow process UNLESS it had clear markers seen in other formations that are known to be from slow processes.

quote:
In other words, what makes sense to me most, is to assume uni & cat both at the outset, and go by the best evidence.

You can't assume both, but you can treat them with equal possibility. Scientists do, unless as I mentioned there are some markers. For example certain striations indicate windblown sand (slow windblown sand), and an oxbow lake is generally not formed after a few hours.

quote:
So maybe there is hope, and the concept will bite the dust after all.

I am uncertain why this is so much concern for you. Did someone die or something because of it? If it was just confusion, are all of these confused people also confused about how to use a library or the internet? Should we then hope libraries and the internet will bite the dust soon?

Seriously though, the same concept we are talking about with modern Uni would still be taught, just under another name. How will that help?


holmes
"...what a fool believes he sees, no wise man has the power to reason away.."(D. Bros)
This message is a reply to:
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Replies to this message:
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NosyNed
Member
Posts: 8751
From: Canada
Joined: 04-04-2003


Message 24 of 89 (87619)
02-19-2004 8:51 PM
Reply to: Message 23 by Silent H
02-19-2004 7:06 PM


Mostly Right
... it was not wholly wrong

Assuming that even the most strident of 'uniformatarianist' accepted that there was a volcano now and then, that rivers overflowed their banks and that climates varied moderately, it was not only 'not wholly wrong' it was almost 100% right.

There have been, what, 5 or so major 'catastrophes'? Each with a large impact to be sure. But the rest of the time we get things pretty much as they are. In that light even the old view of uniformatarianism isn't all that far off the mark.


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 Message 23 by Silent H, posted 02-19-2004 7:06 PM Silent H has not yet responded

  
Percy
Member
Posts: 15490
From: New Hampshire
Joined: 12-23-2000
Member Rating: 4.6


Message 25 of 89 (87625)
02-19-2004 9:35 PM
Reply to: Message 21 by Tamara
02-19-2004 5:58 PM


Re: You're right, uniformitarianism should not be taught!
Hi, Tamara,

I read Holmes's reply, and I think I had the same reaction. It isn't important that you agree, but I didn't see any sign of comprehension, and that mystifies me. It isn't like the definitions of uniformitarianism or the history of geology are rocket science, but let me respond to what you say and see if something resembling progress emerges.

Tamara writes:

I oppose uni because it was conceived not because the evidence of observation pointed that way,...because it was wrong when it was conceived (as it was defined by Lyell),...

This part *really* puzzles me because it directly contradicts what I described in my previous message, and yet instead of introducing counterarguments or countervailing evidence, you instead just declare these errors as if they were facts. The history of geology during the 19th century is extremely well documented, and you cannot rewrite it just to suit your antagonisms toward uniformitarianism.

Even if uniformitarianism were everything you think of it, even if it were a bald fact that uniformitarianism today were understood to be wrong and misguided and misleading and so forth, that would not change the facts of history that it was observation and evidence gathering by men sincerely seeking evidence of the flood that instead revealed an earth of great antiquity formed by the familiar everyday processes of erosion and sedimentation, and by the newly discovered process of uplift.

Not only did the evidence "point that way", but it still points that way. If you had gotten anything out of my previous post, it should have been that not only was uniformitarianism supported by the evidence when first introduced, it is *still* supported by the evidence today. That's why I said it is not even taught anymore because the concept, though not the term, has become an underlying principle of geology. I'm boggled that you would conclude with this:

quote:
If you don't like the term uniformitarianism then you're in good company. I'll bet most geologists don't like it either.
LOL! So maybe there is hope, and the concept will bite the dust after all.

I was talking only about the *term* uniformitarianism, not the concept. I'm mystified why you would think a concept that I described as having become woven into the very fabric of geology could "bite the dust." You could as rationally speculate that light will bite the dust as a concept within vision.

...but for reasons of opposing the religiously minded,...

Once again, this contradicts history on a point about which it is absolutely clear. We have letters in the man's very own hand. Lyell, often given credit for uniformitarianism but he was following ideas introduced by Hutton in the prior century ("the present is the key to the past"), was deeply religious, and only became more so with age. While Lyell's principles guided Darwin's geological thinking, Lyell and Darwin disagreed deeply about evolution. Lyell firmly believed in the Bible and the divine origin of life, and with sufficient intensity to prevent his following his ideas to their logical conclusion. The geologists of the day were fairly religious as a group, it was the norm for the Victorian era, and there was no thought of using their science as a tool to oppose their own religion.

The 19th century debate between catastrophists and uniformitarians was not so much a religious debate, though certainly it was full of religious overtones, as a scientific one. Both catastrophists and uniformitarians were seeking, though less so with time through the 19th century, to reconcile the evidence with Biblical accounts, and unfortunately for the catastrophists, the evidence held that the earth was predominantly shaped by gradual processes acting over long time periods.

As for it not being taught but deeply assumed, I think you are right, although it is found in textbooks.

Of course it is found in textbooks. In any decent geology textbook, it is found in the section on the history of geology, and nowhere else. I happen to have 3 geology textbooks, and I just checked the entry for uniformitarianism in all 3, and it is just as I said. Uniformitarianism is mentioned only as a point of history of geology, and is mentioned nowhere else in any of the books. But the main concept of uniformitarianism, a basic principle of geology, like the Cheshire cat's smile, remains with us still: the present is the key to the past.

Now, I am sure we all here agree that the Earth was formed by both slow long gradual processes and sudden upheavals, regardless of the terminology.

Depends what you mean by sudden upheavals. I was pretty specific when I asked in my previous message whether you meant pushing up mountain ranges in a year. If that's what you mean, then no, we definitely do not agree, and you have no evidence supporting your position that such is possible.

(Let's leave the biblical flood out of it, shall we?)

If you don't accept the flood, then fine, we'll leave it out. But if you *do* accept the flood, then why hide what you believe? Come on, Tamara, answer honestly - we're really talking about the flood, aren't we.

The problem comes when geologists, who hold uni deep in their assumptions and priorities, come to evaluate some part of the geologic record, or some formation.

What they hold deep in their assumptions is not uniformitarianism but naturalism. This is the concept that was originally embodied by Hutton's "the present is the key to the past." Natural forces shape our planet today, and those same natural forces shaped our planet in the past.

It does not make sense to make an apriori assumption that a formation X came about by slow processes over thousands of years when the possibility also exists that it came about as a result of a hurricane in a few hours.

This reveals little understanding of the way geological processes work. Sediment dropped by the violence of a hurricane in no way resembles the sediment of a quiet lake or sea. A geologist doesn't approach a formation with a priori assumptions that it's a quiet lake, but rather with a priori assumptions that the same processes that deposit sediment today also deposited sediment millions of years ago. If he finds tiny grain sizes he concludes quiet lake or sea, because today we find tiny grain sizes are only deposited by quiet water. And if he finds large grain sizes then he concludes violent event, because that's what we see happening today.

--Percy


This message is a reply to:
 Message 21 by Tamara, posted 02-19-2004 5:58 PM Tamara has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 26 by Sylas, posted 02-19-2004 11:16 PM Percy has acknowledged this reply
 Message 27 by Tamara, posted 02-20-2004 9:25 AM Percy has responded

    
Sylas
Member (Idle past 2610 days)
Posts: 766
From: Newcastle, Australia
Joined: 11-17-2002


Message 26 of 89 (87637)
02-19-2004 11:16 PM
Reply to: Message 25 by Percy
02-19-2004 9:35 PM


Re: You're right, uniformitarianism should not be taught!
Percy writes:


This reveals little understanding of the way geological processes work. Sediment dropped by the violence of a hurricane in no way resembles the sediment of a quiet lake or sea. A geologist doesn't approach a formation with a priori assumptions that it's a quiet lake, but rather with a priori assumptions that the same processes that deposit sediment today also deposited sediment millions of years ago. If he finds tiny grain sizes he concludes quiet lake or sea, because today we find tiny grain sizes are only deposited by quiet water. And if he finds large grain sizes then he concludes violent event, because that's what we see happening today.

What Percy said. This has been a rather weird thread. I don't think this thread has identified any problems with the teaching or application of geology. The evidence shows that the Earth is very old, and has been formed by processes acting over long periods of time; processes which leave traces we see in the present and which are in many cases still occuring in the present.

The word uniformitarianism is nearly always used in the context of the history of geology in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Modern geology has progressed considerably since those early days, and no longer fits exactly with all the views of the early uniformitarians, but the basic idea that the Earth is shaped continuously by processes in the past as it is being shaped by processes in the present remains foundational; not as an assumption but as a plain conclusion of evidence which has been extensively tested and studied at length. This foundation is not in any rational dispute.

Modern geology allows for sudden geological upheavals; but nothing like the global cataclysms involved by the early catastrophists. The catastrophists lost the scientific debate nearly two hundred years ago, because the models they were using do not match the evidence.

Cheers -- Sylas


This message is a reply to:
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Replies to this message:
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Tamara
Inactive Member


Message 27 of 89 (87689)
02-20-2004 9:25 AM
Reply to: Message 25 by Percy
02-19-2004 9:35 PM


Double dog sheesh!
Oh for crying out loud.

Here's the scoop:
No, I do not assume there was a world wide flood in biblical times.
Yes, I do assume there was a massive flood in prehistoric Mesopotamia.
I don't know if there was a Utnapishtim/Noah ferrying animals to save them and letting the humans drown, but from what I know about humans, maybe I would have done the same.

Now are you happy???!!!

I think my point about the squished fish was not the best. I could have said instead, geologists looking at craters and dutifully explaining them as volcanic for a long time when the evidence spoke for impact. But no matter... it was just an example, and I think there is general agreement here that geologic events ought to be approached on their own merit.

Percy, don't patronize me. I am trying to make up my mind about something, and do not appreciate condescension. I do appreciate the various points and information you have provided, and that goes for others here as well.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 25 by Percy, posted 02-19-2004 9:35 PM Percy has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 28 by Percy, posted 02-20-2004 9:51 AM Tamara has responded

  
Percy
Member
Posts: 15490
From: New Hampshire
Joined: 12-23-2000
Member Rating: 4.6


Message 28 of 89 (87695)
02-20-2004 9:51 AM
Reply to: Message 27 by Tamara
02-20-2004 9:25 AM


Re: Double dog sheesh!
Tamara writes:

Percy, don't patronize me. I am trying to make up my mind about something, and do not appreciate condescension. I do appreciate the various points and information you have provided, and that goes for others here as well.

I wasn't patronizing you. I was dumbing it down appropriate to your previous message, which was notable for the lack of comprehension it displayed and for the several severe factual errors it contained. If you don't want to feel patronized then spend the effort necessary for understanding what was said and for getting your facts straight. You should be directing your anger in the opposite direction.

I could have said instead, geologists looking at craters and dutifully explaining them as volcanic for a long time when the evidence spoke for impact. But no matter... it was just an example, and I think there is general agreement here that geologic events ought to be approached on their own merit.

You can move the target or adjust your sights and I have no problem with it, but this isn't the same point you were making before. You were accusing uniformitarianism of causing improper bias in geological assessments, and I think we've pretty much shown this is not the case. But here you are critisizing geology not for anything having to do with uniformitarian principles, which is the topic of this thread, your thread, but for taking a while to ferret out the true origins of some craters.

We could move on to this new topic, but that should be done in a new thread. Are we done with uniformitarianism?

--Percy


This message is a reply to:
 Message 27 by Tamara, posted 02-20-2004 9:25 AM Tamara has responded

Replies to this message:
 Message 34 by Tamara, posted 02-20-2004 11:46 AM Percy has responded

    
Tamara
Inactive Member


Message 29 of 89 (87697)
02-20-2004 10:15 AM
Reply to: Message 18 by Silent H
02-19-2004 5:26 PM


what is kind?
quote:
How about using (if you agree with me anyway), gradualism for slow processes, catastrophism for fast processes, and uni for the idea that either speed process of yesteryear were the same kind of processes we see today.

Ok, holmes, getting back to you on this one.
Here is my puzzle. Were the processes of yesteryear the same kind and same speed or intensity as we see today? We agree that they were not necessarily the same speed or intensity, right? Were they the same kind? Now by kind, do you mean natural, as in opposition to supernatural? Because on the face of it, just talking natural, it seems to me that for example, assuming that since the process of continental drift is extant today, it was also extant way back when, is incorrect. So what is meant by "kind"? Or let me give a fringe example: some astrobiologists have postulated the possibility of life being seeded from space, perhaps by design (meaning alien design). Now that would be a possibly unique event or process, not extant today. Maybe there are better examples.

I am not a geologist. But on the face of it, from the vantage point of an Earthling, I see an earth being affected by all sorts of processes, some possibly unique, others common, some predictable, some unpredictable, some slow, some fast, with intensities changing. Do you see it differently?


This message is a reply to:
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PaulK
Member
Posts: 12438
Joined: 01-10-2003
Member Rating: 2.6


Message 30 of 89 (87699)
02-20-2004 10:34 AM
Reply to: Message 29 by Tamara
02-20-2004 10:15 AM


Re: what is kind?
The principle of attempting to explain an observation in terms of known processes rather than appealing to unique events is one of the basic principles of science (parsimony aka Occam's Razor).

So if this is your objection to uniformitarianism as it actually applies to modern geology then your objection applies to all science, not just geology.


This message is a reply to:
 Message 29 by Tamara, posted 02-20-2004 10:15 AM Tamara has not yet responded

    
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