Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Uniformitarianism is a school of scientific philosophical thought that states that the modern laws of nature that we observe today have always been present since the formation of the universe and are also found throughout the universe (in other words in the parts that are unobservable to us).  This can...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Uniformitarianism is a school of scientific philosophical thought that states that the modern laws of nature that we observe today have always been present since the formation of the universe and are also found throughout the universe (in other words in the parts that are unobservable to us).  This can be more simply expressed with the phrase "the past is present."  In other words, we can deduce that natural forces in effect today have always been present, thus we can use the present as a starting point into the past.

While this can be mostly readily accepted in areas like chemistry (atom structure remaining unchanged since formation) and physics (light and energy properties unchanging over time), in geology it is not as simple.  For example, have the Earth's tectonic plates always moved, or did that phenomenon start after a certain point of maturation?  Geological uniformitarianism was popularized by 19th century British geologist Charles Lyell.  He was a major proponent of the theory.  The opposing theory is called catastrophism, which holds that periodic catastrophic events formed the Earth as we know it, with long periods of calm between events.

Modern geology tends to favor a mix of the two theories.  They largely believe in uniformitarianism (though not quite to the Lyellian degree), but period catastrophic events have upset the careful balance and had dramatic impact. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team