Lord Kelvin and the Age of the Earth
Burchfield, Joe D.
Between 1860 and 1930 the accepted estimate of the age of the earth evolved from the virtually unlimited expanse of time demanded by Charles Lyell and the mid-century uniformitarian geologists, through a series of ever more restrictive limits imposed by late-nineteenth century physics and geology, to the vast but quantitatively definable chronologies revealed by radioactive dating. During this period, the question of the earth's age stirred heated debate; stimulated important studies in physics, geology, astronomy, and biology; and served as the focus for a fascinating interplay of ideas and personalities.
Dr. Burchfield treats the evolution of the concept of geological time from its first emergence as a subject for a quantitative determination through the development of the procedures for radioactive dating, focusing attention upon two main themes: the conflicts and interdependence among several branches of science involved in the search for the earth's age, and the remarkable degree to which that search was dominated by Lord Kelvin. The author's broader aim has been to illustrate the way in which individual and collective preconceptions, the deference to authority, and the interactions among scientific disciplines affect the development of scientific ideas.