National Geographic retells the lonely battle of J Harlen Bretz against the scientific establishment, and what made them so pig-headed.
Glenn Hodges tells in bold narrative how one man, not even trained in geology, figured out the Channeled Scablands in eastern Washington state. It’s a story we’ve told before, but this article in National Geographic, with Michael Melford’s stunning photographs, is a keeper. The headline and subtitle give a flavor of what’s below:
Formed by Megafloods, This Place Fooled Scientists for Decades
Geologists couldn’t account for the strange landforms of eastern Washington State. Then a high school teacher dared to question the scientific dogma of his day.
“Harley Bretz” was so intrigued by the odd landforms he saw, the idea of a megaflood struck him as the explanation. It was after his insight that he decided to learn geology. Excited with his hypothesis, and now armed with a PhD (and a more-dignified name ‘J Harlen Bretz’), he expected the rational, fair-minded scientific community to share his excitement. He published his theory in 1923. Boy, was he in for a shock!
It was geological heresy. For almost a century, ever since Charles Lyell’s 1830 text Principles of Geology set the standards for the field, it had been assumed that geological change was gradual and uniform—always the product of, as Lyell put it, “causes now in operation.” And floods of quasi-Biblical proportions certainly did not meet that standard.
So were they convinced by the evidence? Were they open to following the evidence where it led? Were they free of anti-religious bias?
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