Among the questions that attracted interest in that fanatically inquisitive age was one that had puzzled people for a very long time—namely, why ancient clamshells and other marine fossils were so often found on mountaintops. How on earth did they get there?
Those who thought they had a solution fell into two opposing camps. One group, known as the Neptunists, was convinced that everything on Earth, including seashells in improbably lofty places, could be explained by rising and falling sea levels. They believed that mountains, hills, and other features were as old as the Earth itself, and were changed only when water sloshed over them during periods of global flooding.
Opposing them were the Plutonists, who noted that volcanoes and earthquakes, among other enlivening agents, continually changed the face of the planet but clearly owed nothing to wayward seas. The Plutonists also raised awkward questions about where all the water went when it wasn't in flood. If there was enough of it at times to cover the Alps, then where, pray, was it during times of tranquility, such as now? Their belief was that the Earth was subject to profound internal forces as well as surface ones. However, they couldn't convincingly explain how all those clamshells got up there.