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Even less should we let that knowledge influence our judgment of the players, acting as they did in their own time, constrained by the concepts and data then available.

One outstanding feature of this drama is the role played by those who themselves were not, or not exclusively, geologists.

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By 1788 Hutton had formulated a theory of cyclic deposition and uplift, with the earth indefinitely old, showing “no vestige of a beginning—no prospect of an end.” Hutton considered the present to be the key to the past, with geologic processes driven by the same forces as those we can see at work today.

The first argument was completely undermined after taking into account the amount of heat generated by radioactive decay.

The second depended on highly dubious theories of formation of the earth and moon and plays relatively little role in this compilation.

It is a drama consisting of a prologue and three acts, complex characters, and no clear heroes or villains.

We, of course, know the final outcome, but we should not let that influence our appreciation of the story as it unfolds.

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