In 1926, the geomorphologist William Morris Davis, in a paper extolling the virtues of outrageous hypotheses, bemoaned the lack of hot debates that had characterized geology in the nineteenth century. Starting in the early 1960s, fiery debates over aspects of Earth history have flared up in many branches of the Earth and life sciences, many of them now as hot, if not hotter, than those that alluded to by Davis. Plate and plume tectonics, Earth expansion, cosmic catastrophism, giant tsunamis, snowball Earth, punctuated equilibrium, coordinated stasis, the Gaia hypothesis, and many more have all generated fierce arguments. The pages of this little book explore selected debates concerning events and processes in the geosphere and in the biosphere. The selection of debates follows my own somewhat miscellaneous interests within the Earth and life sciences. I hope the debates on offer provide readers from specialist disciplines with an occasional interdisciplinary insight. The opening chapter is at once a sort of intellectual route-map that sets the debates in a broad historical context and a sketch of things to come. The remaining chapters deal with debates about the insides of the Earth, the bombardment hypothesis, frigid climates, cataclysmic floods, the pattern of evolution, mass extinctions, patterns in life's history, and life-environment connections.
Richard John Huggett Poynton January 2006
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