James Hutton

A geologist James Hutton was one of the brightest representatives of the Enlightenment. His studies proved that the world was much older than was previously thought. According to the geologist, the conventional age of the world is 6000 years. James Hutton devoted many years of hard work to prove of his theory. He made a significant contribution to the study of problems of the human evolution. James Hutton never achieved the same recognition as many scientists, although his ideas have changed the views of modern humanity on the world. Nowadays, James Hutton is called the father of modern geology. Undoubtedly, Hutton made a significant contribution to the science of geology.

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General Notion on the Human Origins

A person is a complex integrated system that, in turn, is a part of more complex systems – biological and social. A person was formed as a biosocial being. There is a problem of the human evolution. Considering the ambiguity in solving this issue, the formation of the concept of the human evolution occurred with the emergence of various theories and hypotheses. Some of them are eligible for partial existence. However, some theories contributed directly to address this issue and are evolutionary.
The theistic conception dominated until the XIX century. According to this theory, the world was the result of the act of the divine creation. Thus, the world does not have development and history. Past and future are exactly the same as the present time. It fully applies to humans. The only reason for the creation of the world and people is the desire of God. Thus, there is no explanation of natural causes and patterns of occurrence and development of the world and people. In the nineteenth century, intensive scientific comprehension of the problems of the human evolution began. The Scottish geologist James Hutton made a significant contribution to the study of problems of the human evolution.


James Hutton was born in Edinburgh. Becoming an assistant to a lawyer, he became interested in chemistry. He had been studying medicine for three years . Later, he studied in Sorbonne, where he researched the thesis for a Doctor’s degree in the circulation. In 1749, James Hutton received the degree of Doctor of Medicine. Nevertheless, medicine as a profession did not attract Hutton. Apparently, he belonged to the type of people who could not immediately find the vocation. Suddenly, he abruptly changed his field of interest and became a farmer near Edinburgh. However, traveling in his native Scotland, England and Wales, Hatton turned to the problems of geology. The connection of knowledge of chemical and geological sciences helped him find a right way to understand the conditions of occurrence of treasures of the Earth.
His interest in chemistry led to the fact that Hutton became a companion in a small industrial company producing ammonium salts. It allowed James Hutton to accumulate sufficient funds. In 1768, he decided to devote himself to scientific pursuits. Hutton had not made a single discovery until he was 42 years old. At that time, nobody suspected that the world was on the cusp of a new era in the development of geological knowledge.

James Hutton’s Discovery

In the life of James Hutton, there was a long period of geological field observations. Scotland became his natural laboratory. The scientist hardly ever left its boundaries, like his scientific adversary – German geologist Abraham Werner, who drew his conclusions based on the study of rocks and minerals of Saxony. Nevertheless, both scientists were excellent connoisseurs of geological views of that time.
It is hard to say exactly when it was the first time that James Hutton formulated the most important fundamental conclusion – granite and basalt are formed from molten material by the volcanic eruption. Thus, he strongly supported the nascent concept of plutonism. According to this concept, arrays of rocks and surface relief were largely formed by the action of ground forces – internal heat of the Earth. In contrast to this view, Abraham Werner was an ardent opponent of this theory. He believed that originally Globe was a liquid mass, like a giant drop of water, from which the chemical vapor deposition of primary rocks occurred. History of geology of the XVIII century was the scene of fierce debates between the followers of Scottish and German scientists.
Much time had passed before James Hutton decided to make his basic theory public. Only in 1785, he made a report to the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Three years later, the journal of the society reproduced the text of the report. Its title was cumbersome and illegible – Theory of the Earth; or an Investigation of the Laws observable in the Composition, Dissolution, and Restoration of Land upon the Globe. A language and a style of presentation could be better. However, originality and depth of content eclipsed all disadvantages. James Hutton offered a cyclic model of the Earth. He believed that the planet was in a state of dynamic equilibrium. The beginning and the end of its long history and development are unknowable in principle. Internal heat is released periodically by volcanic eruptions. It causes land elevation. The resulting precipitates are deposited in the seas. According to James Hutton, the surface of the Earth is changing not as a result of disasters but gradually. All processes occurring in nature have always been and remain equitable and sustainable. Hutton introduced into science a peculiar principle of conservation of geological processes called uniformitarianism. Later, Charles Lyell will deepen and develop it further.
However, Hutton’s work remained almost unnoticed. Only his compatriot Richard Kirwan reacted extremely negatively on the article. James Hutton decided to express his theoretical views more clearly and accompanied them with additional evidence and illustrations. After 25 years of careful study of the erosion of river valleys and the formation of sediments in estuaries, Hutton wrote a two-volume treatise entitled Theory of the Earth. The third volume also remained in the manuscript. One century later, it was discovered in the archive and published in 1899.
James Hutton’s new theories contradicted the then popular theory of neptunism. It considered the formation of all the mountains a consequence of the great flood. However, James Hutton suggested that the inner part of the Earth was burning hot and that the lava was the engine that had caused the formation of new mountains. The Earth is exposed to erosion by wind and water deposited in the layers on the bottom of the sea. Burning hot lava drains remained layers in rocks and raises them as new land areas. In such a way, new continents were formed. This theory gained the name plutonism.
For the first time, James Hatton suggested a hypothesis that there was a geologic time, which did not coincide with the age of human civilization and had no relation to the Biblical creation. Based on his observation that the deposits of sedimentary rocks accumulated probably only with a speed of one inch per year, Hutton concluded that the accumulation of sufficient amounts of sedimentary rocks took hundreds of thousands of years. Thus, James Hutton claimed that the Earth was not a few thousand but a few million years old. Moreover, the exact date of its creation cannot be determined. The main argument of the scientist was that the observed results of geological shifts and changes could not have happened in such a short time. The processes that occurred in the past slowly and steadily take place in the present. Hutton proposed the concept of actualism. According to this concept, geological processes acting in the present do not differ from the processes operating in the past. James Hutton formulated the principle of actualism with the phrase “present is a key to the future’.
Two years after the publication of the Theory of the Earth, James Hutton died. He did not wait for a decent assessment of his views. Perhaps, heavy and pretentious presentation was the main cause of this neglect. The eloquence that allowed Hutton to shine during conversations completely left him as soon as he intended to write. His works were also quite overwhelmed with references to the divine wisdom. However, John Playfair, a friend of Hutton, wrote a book Illustrations of Hutton’s theory, which was published in 1802. He introduced Hutton’s ideas in short and correct style. John Playfair added new examples and additional arguments to the theory of the Earth. Playfair’s work made the theory of the Earth the public domain. It had a strong influence on the development of a geological thought.


James Hutton is a Scottish naturalist, geologist, chemist, and physicist. He is considered the father of modern geology and geochronology. Hutton’s generalizations were a major step forward in the understanding of the evolution and actions of geological forces. His main achievement is a statement of the evolutionary theory of anthropogenesis. He formulated the theory of evolution of geological formations presenting the geological history of the Earth as some repetition cycles of the destruction of one continent and the emergence of others. James Hutton pointed to the similarities of modern and ancient geological processes.

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