Since the 1795 publication of James Hutton's Theory of the Earth with Proofs and Illustrations, uniformitarianism, sometimes simply stated as “the present is the key to the past” has been a fundamental tenet of geology. Uniformitarianism's slow geologic processes, combined with the enormous age of the Earth, have been a cornerstone of geologic thinking for the past 200 years.

On the other hand, catastrophists, such as the influential French naturalist Georges Cuvier (1769–1832), sought to explain all geologic features in a few thousand years, based partly on a literal interpretation of certain Biblical events. For example, catastrophists claimed that...

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