Volume 49, Fall 2012
Battlegrounds of Natural History:
John K. Reed, Emmett L. Williams*
ctualism is a fundamental assumption of secular natural history.
It replaced the Christian view of causality through providence, and it asserted an absolute physicochemical and geological continuity.
Though often confused with uniformity and uniformitarianism due to secular obfuscation, actualism, at root, is a method of geology that limits historical processes and events to observed present-day causes. Actualism fails as an absolute explanation of historical causality: it cannot be precisely defined, it surreptitiously assumes unjustified metaphysical positions, and its secular formulations fail logical and empirical truth tests. Only when justified as a contingent manifestation of providence does it avoid these problems. However, that formulation is of little help in deciphering the rock record, because it was largely shaped by nonactualistic discontinuities.
George Gaylord Simpson, prominent twentieth-century evolutionist and formidable foe of early creationists, faced an unexpected attack late in life. His neo-Darwinian/Lyellian views were challenged by secular revolutionary views of biohistory (punctuationism) and geohistory (neocatastrophism). In
1970 he published an argument against critiques of uniformitarianism. He failed to slow the new trend but did a service to all by identifying six foundational topics
of natural history (Figure 1). Having addressed the first, naturalism (Reed and
Williams, 2011), this paper addresses the second, actualism.
Actualism emerged from the optimistic idea of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that science (modeled after Newtonian physics) could unlock
Earth’s past. But today’s climate is different. Christians object to its underlying materialist philosophy, and atheist philosophers, who have
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