, Volume 12, Issue 2, pp 213-228

Lord Kelvin and the Age-of-the-Earth Debate: A Dramatization

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access

Abstract

This is a dramatization of a fictitious debate about the age of the earth that takes place in the Royal Institution, London, England, in the year 1872. The debate is among Sir William Thomson (later Kelvin), T.H. Huxley (Darwin's ‘Bulldog’), Sir Charles Lyell, and Hermann von Helmholtz. In 1862 Thomson published his celebrated and widely studied ‘The Secular Cooling of the Earth’ that raised the post-Darwinian debate of the age of the earth above the level of popular controversy. He entered the debate with all the arrogance of a newly established ‘science of the century’, namely the recently drafted laws of thermodynamics. The debate is partly based on a lively exchange of comments and arguments that occurred between T.H. Huxley and William Thomson, starting in 1868, when Thomson addressed the Glasgow Geological Society. This long public discussion also involved the ideas and the work of geologist Charles Lyell and those of the celebrated German physicist Hermann von Helmholtz. The confrontation is between the unyielding physicists and the insecure biologists and geologists who required a much longer time for the age of the earth than the physicists were prepared to give them. However, the debate ends on a conciliatory note, suggesting that perhaps Sir William's ‘storehouse of creation’ may contain a hereto undiscovered source of energy that is more bountiful than gravitational energy.