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A THREE-STEP VIEW FOR THE HISTORY OF GEOLOGY

ALESSANDRO IANNACE

 
Dipartimento di Scienze della Terra dell’Ambiente e delle Risorse
Università Federico II Napoli, Italy
aleianna@unina.it
Earth Sciences History Vol. 38, No. 2, 2019 pp. 388–402
 
doi: 10.17704/1944-6178-38.2.388
 
ABSTRACT
The evolution of geology as an independent science can be envisaged as a relatively continuous process yet marked by three fundamental steps. These represented singularities which established significant advances in the epistemological and heuristic power of the discipline. This interpretation of history has to be strictly based on an evaluation of the epistemological basis of geology according to modern scholarship. The recognition of these ‘golden spikes’, albeit artificial, may help geologists to better grasp the philosophical position of geology with respect to other sciences. The first step was the publication of Steno’s Prodromus in 1669, which established the methodological rules for decoding a geologic history from the geometrical arrangements of beds. The second step was the founding of the Geological Society of London in 1807, an act by which a new community recognized itself as a scientific and professional entity applying a novel methodology in the study of Earth. Their approach represented a synthesis of the Wernerian-historical and the Huttonian-causal methods. The third step was the emergence of plate tectonics in 1967, when the actualistic method (i.e. uniformity of laws and processes) could be extended to the interpretation of the whole lithosphere. At the same time, the heuristic power of historical geology was validated by independent, physico-mathematical testing. Keywords: Steno, Geological Society of London, plate tectonics
 
 
 
Figure 3. Two icons of the classic geological synthesis of mountain belt evolution, contrasted with the very first geodynamic reconstruction of the European and African plates in the Mesozoic. Uppermost cross-section is the illustration of the Alps structure by Emile Argand in his La téctonique de l’Asie in 1924. Lower left is Haug’s (1900) representation of the Mesozoic geosynclines and continental areas. Lower right is the Triassic position of the African and Euro-Asian plates and Tethys Ocean in the first, plate-tectonic based, geodynamic reconstruction of Smith et al. 1973.
 
Keywords: Steno, Geological Society of London, plate tectonics