Geologists are concerned primarily with two subjects: Earth's physical features and the study of the planet's history. These two principal branches of geology are known, appropriately enough, as physical geology and historical geology. Today they are of equal importance, but in the early modern era, geologists were most focused on topics related to historical geology, in particular, Earth's age and the means by which Earth was formed. This debate pitted adherents of religion, which seemed to require a very young Earth, against adherents of science. A breakthrough came with the introduction of uniformitarianism, a still-influential principle based on the idea that the geologic processes at work today have always been at work. Opposing uniformitarianism was catastrophism, or the idea that Earth was formed in a short time by a series of cataclysmic events. Discredited at the time, catastrophism later gained acceptance, though this did not lead to support for the concept of a young Earth. In fact, the planet is very old—so old that all of human history is almost inconceivably short in comparison.

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