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Abstract

Jean-André de Luc (or Deluc) (1727–1817), who first proposed the term ‘geology’ almost in its modern sense, was one of the most prominent geologists of his time. His ‘theory of the Earth’, published in several versions between 1778 and 1809, divided geohistory in binary manner into two distinct phases. The fossiliferous strata had been formed during a prehuman ‘ancient history’ of immense but unquantifiable duration. Then the present continents had emerged above sea-level in a sudden physical ‘revolution’, at the start of the Earth’s ‘modern history’ of human occupation. De Luc argued that the rates of ‘actual causes’ or observable processes (erosion, deposition, volcanic activity, etc.) provided ‘natural chronometers’ that proved that the ‘modern’ world was only a few millennia in age; and he identified the natural revolution at its start as none other than the Flood recorded in Genesis. So ‘nature’s chronology’ could be constructed from natural evidence, to match the well-established historical science of chronology based on textual evidence from ancient cultures. De Luc’s natural chronology was restricted to the recent past, but it provided a template for later geologists to develop a geochronology extending into the depths of geohistory. The historical importance of de Luc’s work has only been obscured by the myth of intrinsic conflict between science and religion.

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