Charles Lyell (1797-1875) was an English geologist who established the glacial layers of the Eocene (dawn of recent), Miocene (less recent), and Pliocene (more recent) epochs during his excavations of Tertiary period strata in Italy. He was influential in urging Charles Darwin to publish his theories.

In most respects the personal life of Sir Charles Lyell was unremarkable, but his scientific work is of somewhat greater interest to the modern observer. (He did study law in addition to geology, marry, and have ten children, and he happened to be a wealthy British baron. If you find that interesting, you have my pity.)

He is best known for his influences upon Sir Charles Darwin with his text Principles of Geology, which forwarded the rather revolutionary hypothesis that geological changes occurred namely in gradual ways, with physical characteristics that faded or overlapped between periods rather than by means of catastrophic change from period to period. The prevailing notion of geology at the time was founded almost entirely on Biblical accounts, which set the age of the world at six to eight thousand years, a figure that today seems somewhat laughable to most*. These original figures were derived most particularly from the works of Irish Bishop James Ussher, which placed Creation to have occurred in 4004BC (using a system of estimation derived largely from the counting of "begats"--Usher was actually scientifically sound in most of his reasonings and estimates, save that his work was suppositional on the scientific sanctity of the Bible).

The links between Darwin's philosophy and Lyell's should be rather obvious, considering the stress each theory places upon the importance of gradual change, as opposed to the abrupt. This was more revolutionary a belief that one would think, today, and Lyell was met with some of the very same criticism faced by Darwin, in his time.

* I should probably qualify this statement. I've read recently that a 1993 Gallup poll indicated that somewhat less than half of all Americans believe the world was created within the last ten thousand years. I'm not sure how this poll was organized, so I can't attest to its objective construction, but it's a pretty scary notion, either way.

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