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Uniformitarianism, also known as the Doctrine of Uniformity or the Uniformitarian Principle,[1] is the assumption that the same natural laws and processes that operate in our present-day scientific observations have always operated in the universe in the past and apply everywhere in the universe.[2][3] some consider that uniformitarianism should be a required first principle in scientific research.[4] Other scientists disagree and consider that nature is not absolutely uniform, even though it does exhibit certain regularities.[5]


In geology, uniformitarianism has included the gradualistic concept that "the present is the key to the past" and that geological events occur at the same rate now as they have always done, though many modern geologists no longer hold to a strict gradualism.[6] Coined by William Whewell, it was originally proposed in contrast to catastrophism, [7] by British naturalists in the late 18th century, starting with the work of the geologist James Hutton in his many books including Theory of the Earth.[8] Hutton's work was later refined by scientist John Playfair and popularised by geologist Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology in 1830.[9] Today, Earth's history is considered to have been a slow, gradual process, punctuated by occasional natural catastrophic events.


  1. Scott|first=G. H.|date=1963|title=Uniformitarianism, the uniformity of nature, and paleoecology |journal=New Zealand Journal of Geology and Geophysics|volume=6|issue=4|pages=510–527 |doi=10.1080/00288306.1963.10420063|issn=0028-8306|doi-access=free
  2. Gordon 2013, p. 79
  3. Gould 1965, pp. 223–228, "The assumption of spatial and temporal invariance of natural laws is by no means unique to geology since it amounts to a warrant for inductive inference which, as Bacon showed nearly four hundred years ago, is the basic mode of reasoning in empirical Science principles underpinning Science : A contemporary introduction, 4th ed. Routledge, 2019, 173
  4. Simpson 1963, pp. 24–48, "Uniformity is an unprovable postulate justified, or indeed required, on two grounds. First, nothing in our incomplete but extensive knowledge of history disagrees with it. Second, only with this postulate is a rational interpretation of history possible, and we are justified in seeking...as scientists we must seek...such a rational interpretation."
  5. Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière, contenant les epoques de la nature pp. 3–4. Paris: L'Imprimerie Royale (1778).
  6. FARIA, Felipe. Actualismo,Catastrofismo y Uniformitarismo. In: Pérez, María Luisa Bacarlett & Caponi, Gustavo. Pensar la vida: Filosofía, naturaleza y evolución. Toluca: Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México, p. 55-80, 2015.[1]
  7. Pidwirny & Jones 1999, "the idea that Earth was shaped by a series of sudden, short-lived, violent events."
  8. James, Hutton (1785). Theory of the Earth CreateSpace Independent Publishing.
  9. Uniformitarianism: World of Earth Science.