catastrophism

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catastrophism

(kətăs`trəfĭzəm), in geology, the doctrine that at intervals in the earth's history all living things have been destroyed by cataclysms (e.g., floods or earthquakes) and replaced by an entirely different population. During these cataclysms the features of the earth's surface, such as mountains and valleys, were formed. The theory, popularly accepted from the earliest times, was attacked in the late 18th cent., notably by James Hutton, who may be regarded as the precursor of the opposite doctrine of uniformitarianismuniformitarianism,
in geology, doctrine holding that changes in the earth's surface that occurred in past geologic time are referable to the same causes as changes now being produced upon the earth's surface.
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.

Catastrophism, however, was more easily correlated with religious doctrines (e.g., the Mosaic account of the Flood) and remained for some time the interpretation of the earth's history accepted by the great majority of geologists. It was systematized and defended by the Frenchman Georges CuvierCuvier, Georges Léopold Chrétien Frédéric Dagobert, Baron
, 1769–1832, French naturalist, b. Montbéliard, studied at the academy of Stuttgart. From 1795 he taught in the Jardin des Plantes.
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, whose position as the greatest geologist of his day easily overbore all opposition. In the 19th cent., it was attacked by George Poulett Scrope and especially by Sir Charles LyellLyell, Sir Charles
, 1797–1875, British geologist. After studying and briefly practicing law, he spent most of his life in travel and in popularizing scientific ideas.
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, under whose influence the contrary doctrine gradually became more popular. Recent theories of meteorite, asteroid, or comet impacts triggering mass extinctionsmass extinction,
the extinction of a large percentage of the earth's species, opening ecological niches for other species to fill. There have been at least ten such events.
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 can be interpreted as a revival of catastrophism.

Bibliography

See R. Huggett, Catastrophism: Asteroids, Comets, and Other Dynamic Events in Earth History (1998); T. Palmer, Controversy: Catastrophism and Evolution: The Ongoing Debate (1999).

catastrophism

[kə′tas·trə‚fiz·əm]
(geology)
The theory that most features in the earth were produced by the occurrence of sudden, short-lived, worldwide events.
(paleontology)
The theory that the differences between fossils in successive stratigraphic horizons resulted from a general catastrophe followed by creation of the different organisms found in the next-younger beds.
References in periodicals archive ?
Sasha Lilley, for one, disputes the catastrophist teleology.
For a discussion of how the likelihood of a climate catastrophe has affected a leading climate scientist, see Elizabeth Kolbert, The Catastrophist, NEW YORKER, June 29, 2009, at 39.
The telegram from the prize committee to Bretz closed dramatically with the words "we are all catastrophists now.
When trying to mobilize public concern about the present state of agriculture and world food supply, the catastrophists often seize on short term periods of apparent stasis or decline to highlight their concerns, but Smil shows that these are often misplaced and that there can be "perfectly non-catastrophic explanations" such as weather and changing policies for fertilizer subsidies, support prices, or diets.
Catastrophists warn that global climate change will result in increased frequency and severity of storms and a rapid rise in sea levels.
Declare a well-informed position based on the facts (reliable data, not just "published" data, as many global warming catastrophists often cite).
The foremost researcher of fossils, the Frenchman Georges Cuvier (1769- 1832) adopted this theory Catastrophists believed that, since the most recent catastrophe, Noah's Flood, the earth's surface had been stable.
I think the 19th-century controversy between the uniformitarians and the catastrophists also provides an apt comparison.
Lyell had been threatening to publish a book on the geological history of Man, which was to be a bomb-shell flung into the camp of the catastrophists.
Quite a number of both conservative and radical catastrophists - myself among them - gathered to converse and lecture on such star-crossed topics, summarizing cosmic disasters and potential calamities that spanned the time frame from ancient mytho-historic moments to the most contemporary appearance of the Hale-Bopp comet.
Catastrophists studied this history and concluded that change is primarily driven by uncontrollable, unpredictable forces.
Arguments have been advanced for and against the convergent crises thesis - Catastrophists versus Cornucopians.