Darwin, Lyell, and Their Collaboration
Charles Lyell’s work on theories of uniformitarianism influenced Charles Darwin’s work on theories of natural selection and evolution. Darwin and Charles Lyell were two partners who collaborated to promote evolution and uniformitarianism. Lyell was also a friend of Charles Darwin, an English naturalist and former theology student who had proposed his theories of evolution in biology in the 19th century. The combination of uniformitarianism with Darwin's work gave a time frame for biological evolution through long ages in the millions of years. Darwin theorized that all biological species evolved from common ancestors and branched out into distinct species through a process called natural selection. Alfred Russell Wallace is also credited with independently producing the theory of evolution through natural selection, which explains that organisms that are better adapted to their environment tend to survive and produce more offspring. The development of millions of years as an accepted time frame for the earth's history was critically important in the academic and public acceptance of the theory of evolution as Darwin and Wallace proposed. In 1859, Darwin published his famous book, The Origin of Species, which greatly enhanced the acceptance of his work by the scientific community and the general public. By the 1870's, most of the scientific community and the public had accepted Darwin's work on the theory of evolution. Charles Lyell, a British lawyer, wanted to “free science from Moses” with the geologic time scale featuring millions of years of time. Before 200 years ago, most scientists were creationists and believed in the global flood. Lyell and Darwin in the early 1800's convinced science to accept old ages in the millions of years. Continental Drift Theory also was a large factor in the development of millions of years and the theory of uniformitarianism. This theory proposed that the continents moved horizontally across the Earth's surface at a rate of a few centimeters per year over millions of years. Continental drift was proposed as early as the 16th century by European scientists and this theory was more fully developed by the German scientist Alfred Wegener in 1912.