Ordinary General Meeting 18 October 1972

Geological controversies: past debates and their relevance today*

The Darwin-Whewell controversy W. F. Cannon, Smithsonian Institution, Washington.

In 1837-1838 Charles Darwin realized that a simple extension of Charles Lyell's Uniformitarianism would not be enough of a basis for a complete natural history. Lyell's Catastrophist Christian opponents in science, notably Adam Sedgwick and William Whewell, were asserting “materialist” systems could not explain instinct, moral sentiment, and aesthetic response in men or animals; these were qualities which contemporary Romantics rated as the highest. Darwin felt challenged—most directly by Whewell, President of the Geological Society of London—to erect a system based on Uniformitarian geology which was nevertheless as complete as this Catastrophist- Romantic alternative. To do this he had to go, in biology, beyond Lyell's emphasis on geographical distribution and into the details of structure and function in organisms.

The Piltdown problem reconsidered K. P. Oakley, British Museum, Natural History.

Dr Oakley outlined the story of the original discovery of the Piltdown remains and went on to tell how he and his colleagues had been able to show that the skull fragments and mandible could not have belonged to the same individual but had been treated to make it appear that they did. He refuted various myths concerning the Piltdown remains, including the claim that the material had been so carefully protected by the British Museum that no experts or students had been able to examine them.

Some northwest Highland controversies and their outcome J. Sutton, Imperial College, London.

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