Hutton painted by Sir Henry Raeburn (1776)
|Born||3 June 1726 |
|Died||26 March 1797 70) (aged|
|Alma mater|| University of Edinburgh |
University of Paris
|Known for|| Plutonic geology |
Member of the Royal Society of Agriculture of France
James Hutton // ; 3 June 1726 – 26 March 1797) was a Scottish geologist, physician, chemical manufacturer, naturalist, and experimental agriculturalist. Often referred to as the ‘father’ of modern geology, his work played a key role in establishing geology as a modern science.(
Through carefully reasoned natural observation of features in the coastlines and landscape largely of his native Scottish lowlands, Hutton came to understand that the Earth was not static, but underwent perpetual transformation, arguing from this that the earth could not be 'young', and promoting the theory - now a commonplace - that the remote history of Earth can be inferred through a correct appreciation of such observable present-day processes as erosion and sedimentation. His work on this did much to establish the modern concept of geologic time, also known as deep time.In his thinking on the subject, he also proposed the idea of a ‘system of the habitable Earth’ viewed as a deistic mechanism designed to keep the world eternally suitable for humans.
Hutton’s work contributed to what has since been called uniformitarianism, the fundamental principle of geology that explains the features of the Earth's crust by means of natural processes over the long geologic time scale. Some of his ideas in principle can also be found in the thought of others of his contemporaries, such as the French naturalist Georges-Louis Leclerc.
Hutton was born in Edinburgh on 3 June 1726, as one of five children of Sarah Balfour and William Hutton, a merchant who was Edinburgh City Treasurer. Hutton's father died in 1729, when he was three.
He was educated at the High School of Edinburgh (as were most Edinburgh children) where he was particularly interested in mathematics and chemistry, then when he was 14 he attended the University of Edinburgh as a "student of humanity", studying the classics. He was apprenticed to the lawyer George Chalmers WS when he was 17, but took more interest in chemical experiments than legal work. At the age of 18, he became a physician's assistant, and attended lectures in medicine at the University of Edinburgh. After three years he went to the University of Paris to continue his studies, taking the degree of Doctor of Medicine at Leiden University in 1749 with a thesis on blood circulation. 2:
After his degree Hutton went to London, then in mid-1750 returned to Edinburgh and resumed chemical experiments with close friend, James Davie. Their work on production of sal ammoniac from soot led to their partnership in a profitable chemical works, 2 manufacturing the crystalline salt which was used for dyeing, metalworking and as smelling salts and had been available only from natural sources and had to be imported from Egypt. Hutton owned and rented out properties in Edinburgh, employing a factor to manage this business.:
Hutton inherited from his father the Berwickshire farms of Slighhouses, a lowland farm which had been in the family since 1713, and the hill farm of Nether Monynut. 2–3 In the early 1750s he moved to Slighhouses and set about making improvements, introducing farming practices from other parts of Britain and experimenting with plant and animal husbandry. :2–3 He recorded his ideas and innovations in an unpublished treatise on The Elements of Agriculture. :60:
This developed his interest in meteorology and geology. In a 1753 letter he wrote that he had "become very fond of studying the surface of the earth, and was looking with anxious curiosity into every pit or ditch or bed of a river that fell in his way". Clearing and draining his farm provided ample opportunities. The mathematician John Playfair described Hutton as having noticed that "a vast proportion of the present rocks are composed of materials afforded by the destruction of bodies, animal, vegetable and mineral, of more ancient formation". His theoretical ideas began to come together in 1760. While his farming activities continued, in 1764 he went on a geological tour of the north of Scotland with George Maxwell-Clerk,ancestor of the famous James Clerk Maxwell.
In 1768 Hutton returned to Edinburgh, letting his farms to tenants but continuing to take an interest in farm improvements and research which included experiments carried out at Slighhouses. He developed a red dye made from the roots of the madder plant.
He had a house built in 1770 at St John's Hill, Edinburgh, overlooking Salisbury Crags. This later became the Balfour family home and, in 1840, the birthplace of the psychiatrist James Crichton-Browne. Hutton was one of the most influential participants in the Scottish Enlightenment, and fell in with numerous first-class minds in the sciences including mathematician John Playfair, philosopher David Hume and economist Adam Smith.Hutton held no position in the University of Edinburgh and communicated his scientific findings through the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He was particularly friendly with physician and chemist Joseph Black, and together with Adam Smith they founded the Oyster Club for weekly meetings.
Between 1767 and 1774 Hutton had close involvement with the construction of the Forth and Clyde canal, making full use of his geological knowledge, both as a shareholder and as a member of the committee of management, and attended meetings including extended site inspections of all the works. At this time he is listed as living on Bernard Street in Leith.In 1777 he published a pamphlet on Considerations on the Nature, Quality and Distinctions of Coal and Culm which successfully helped to obtain relief from excise duty on carrying small coal.
In 1783 he was a joint founder of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.
From 1791 Hutton suffered extreme pain from stones in the bladder and gave up field work to concentrate on finishing his books. A dangerous and painful operation failed to resolve his illness.He died in Edinburgh and was buried in the vault of Andrew Balfour, opposite the vault of his friend Joseph Black, in the now sealed south-west section of Greyfriars Kirkyard commonly known as the Covenanter's Prison.
Hutton did not marry and had no legitimate children.Around 1747 he had a son by a Miss Edington, and though he gave his child James Smeaton Hutton financial assistance, he had little to do with the boy who went on to become a post-office clerk in London.
Hutton developed several hypotheses to explain the rock formations he saw around him, but according to Playfair he "was in no haste to publish his theory; for he was one of those who are much more delighted with the contemplation of truth, than with the praise of having discovered it". After some 25 years of work,his Theory of the Earth; or an Investigation of the Laws observable in the Composition, Dissolution, and Restoration of Land upon the Globe was read to meetings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in two parts, the first by his friend Joseph Black on 7 March 1785, and the second by himself on 4 April 1785. Hutton subsequently read an abstract of his dissertation Concerning the System of the Earth, its Duration and Stability to Society meeting on 4 July 1785, which he had printed and circulated privately. In it, he outlined his theory as follows;
The solid parts of the present land appear in general, to have been composed of the productions of the sea, and of other materials similar to those now found upon the shores. Hence we find reason to conclude:
1st, That the land on which we rest is not simple and original, but that it is a composition, and had been formed by the operation of second causes.
2nd, That before the present land was made, there had subsisted a world composed of sea and land, in which were tides and currents, with such operations at the bottom of the sea as now take place. And,
Lastly, That while the present land was forming at the bottom of the ocean, the former land maintained plants and animals; at least the sea was then inhabited by animals, in a similar manner as it is at present.
Hence we are led to conclude, that the greater part of our land, if not the whole had been produced by operations natural to this globe; but that in order to make this land a permanent body, resisting the operations of the waters, two things had been required;
1st, The consolidation of masses formed by collections of loose or incoherent materials;
2ndly, The elevation of those consolidated masses from the bottom of the sea, the place where they were collected, to the stations in which they now remain above the level of the ocean.
In 1785 at Glen Tilt in the Cairngorm mountains in the Scottish Highlands, Hutton found granite penetrating metamorphic schists, in a way which indicated that the granite had been molten at the time. This demonstrated to him that granite formed from the cooling of molten rock rather than it precipitating out of water as others at the time believed, and therefore the granite must be younger than the schists.
He went on to find a similar penetration of volcanic rock through sedimentary rock in Edinburgh, at Salisbury Crags,adjoining Arthur's Seat – this area of the Crags is now known as Hutton's Section. He found other examples in Galloway in 1786, and on the Isle of Arran in 1787.
The existence of angular unconformities had been noted by Nicolas Steno and by French geologists including Horace-Bénédict de Saussure, who interpreted them in terms of Neptunism as "primary formations". Hutton wanted to examine such formations himself to see "particular marks" of the relationship between the rock layers. On the 1787 trip to the Isle of Arran he found his first example of Hutton's Unconformity to the north of Newton Point near Lochranza,but the limited view meant that the condition of the underlying strata was not clear enough for him, and he incorrectly thought that the strata were conformable at a depth below the exposed outcrop.
Later in 1787 Hutton noted what is now known as the Hutton or "Great" Unconformity at Inchbonny,Jedburgh, in layers of sedimentary rock. As shown in the illustrations to the right, layers of greywacke in the lower layers of the cliff face are tilted almost vertically, and above an intervening layer of conglomerate lie horizontal layers of Old Red Sandstone. He later wrote of how he "rejoiced at my good fortune in stumbling upon an object so interesting in the natural history of the earth, and which I had been long looking for in vain." That year, he found the same sequence in Teviotdale.
In the Spring of 1788 he set off with John Playfair to the Berwickshire coast and found more examples of this sequence in the valleys of the Tour and Pease Burns near Cockburnspath.They then took a boat trip from Dunglass Burn east along the coast with the geologist Sir James Hall of Dunglass. They found the sequence in the cliff below St. Helens, then just to the east at Siccar Point found what Hutton called "a beautiful picture of this junction washed bare by the sea". Playfair later commented about the experience, "the mind seemed to grow giddy by looking so far into the abyss of time". Continuing along the coast, they made more discoveries including sections of the vertical beds showing strong ripple marks which gave Hutton "great satisfaction" as a confirmation of his supposition that these beds had been laid horizontally in water. He also found conglomerate at altitudes that demonstrated the extent of erosion of the strata, and said of this that "we never should have dreamed of meeting with what we now perceived".
Hutton reasoned that there must have been innumerable cycles, each involving deposition on the seabed, uplift with tilting and erosion then undersea again for further layers to be deposited. On the belief that this was due to the same geological forces operating in the past as the very slow geological forces seen operating at the present day, the thicknesses of exposed rock layers implied to him enormous stretches of time.
Though Hutton circulated privately a printed version of the abstract of his Theory (Concerning the System of the Earth, its Duration, and Stability) which he read at a meeting of the Royal Society of Edinburgh on 4 July 1785; 209–304, plates I and II, published 1788. He put forward the view that "from what has actually been, we have data for concluding with regard to that which is to happen thereafter." This restated the Scottish Enlightenment concept which David Hume had put in 1777 as "all inferences from experience suppose ... that the future will resemble the past", and Charles Lyell memorably rephrased in the 1830s as "the present is the key to the past". Hutton's 1788 paper concludes; "The result, therefore, of our present enquiry is, that we find no vestige of a beginning,–no prospect of an end." His memorably phrased closing statement has long been celebrated. (It was quoted in the 1989 song “No Control" by songwriter and professor Greg Graffin. )the full account of his theory as read at 7 March 1785 and 4 April 1785 meetings did not appear in print until 1788. It was titled Theory of the Earth; or an Investigation of the Laws observable in the Composition, Dissolution, and Restoration of Land upon the Globe and appeared in Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, vol. I, Part II, pp.
Following criticism, especially the arguments from Richard Kirwan who thought Hutton's ideas were atheistic and not logical,Hutton published a two volume version of his theory in 1795, consisting of the 1788 version of his theory (with slight additions) along with a lot of material drawn from shorter papers Hutton already had to hand on various subjects such as the origin of granite. It included a review of alternative theories, such as those of Thomas Burnet and Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon.
The whole was entitled An Investigation of the Principles of Knowledge and of the Progress of Reason, from Sense to Science and Philosophy when the third volume was completed in 1794.Its 2,138 pages prompted Playfair to remark that "The great size of the book, and the obscurity which may justly be objected to many parts of it, have probably prevented it from being received as it deserves.”
His new theories placed him into opposition with the then-popular Neptunist theories of Abraham Gottlob Werner, that all rocks had precipitated out of a single enormous flood. Hutton proposed that the interior of the Earth was hot, and that this heat was the engine which drove the creation of new rock: land was eroded by air and water and deposited as layers in the sea; heat then consolidated the sediment into stone, and uplifted it into new lands. This theory was dubbed "Plutonist" in contrast to the flood-oriented theory.
As well as combating the Neptunists, he also opened up the concept of deep time for scientific purposes, in opposition to Catastrophism. Rather than accepting that the earth was no more than a few thousand years old, he maintained that the Earth must be much older, with a history extending indefinitely into the distant past. –still too short when compared with the accepted 4.6 billion year age in the 21st century, but a distinct improvement.His main line of argument was that the tremendous displacements and changes he was seeing did not happen in a short period of time by means of catastrophe, but that processes still happening on the Earth in the present day had caused them. As these processes were very gradual, the Earth needed to be ancient, to allow time for the changes. Before long, scientific inquiries provoked by his claims had pushed back the age of the earth into the millions of years
It has been claimed that the prose of Principles of Knowledge was so obscure that it also impeded the acceptance of Hutton's geological theories.Restatements of his geological ideas (though not his thoughts on evolution) by John Playfair in 1802 and then Charles Lyell in the 1830s popularised the concept of an infinitely repeating cycle, though Lyell tended to dismiss Hutton's views as giving too much credence to catastrophic changes.
It was not merely the earth to which Hutton directed his attention. He had long studied the changes of the atmosphere. The same volume in which his Theory of the Earth appeared contained also a Theory of Rain. He contended that the amount of moisture which the air can retain in solution increases with temperature, and, therefore, that on the mixture of two masses of air of different temperatures a portion of the moisture must be condensed and appear in visible form. He investigated the available data regarding rainfall and climate in different regions of the globe, and came to the conclusion that the rainfall is regulated by the humidity of the air on the one hand, and mixing of different air currents in the higher atmosphere on the other.
Hutton taught that biological and geological processes are interlinked.James Lovelock, who developed the Gaia hypothesis in the 1970s, cites Hutton as saying that the Earth was a superorganism and that its proper study should be physiology. Lovelock writes that Hutton’s view of the Earth was rejected because of the intense reductionism among 19th-century scientists.
Hutton also advocated uniformitarianism for living creatures – evolution, in a sense –and even suggested natural selection as a possible mechanism affecting them:
Hutton gave the example that where dogs survived through "swiftness of foot and quickness of sight... the most defective in respect of those necessary qualities, would be the most subject to perish, and that those who employed them in greatest perfection... would be those who would remain, to preserve themselves, and to continue the race". Equally, if an acute sense of smell became "more necessary to the sustenance of the animal... the same principle [would] change the qualities of the animal, and.. produce a race of well scented hounds, instead of those who catch their prey by swiftness". The same "principle of variation" would influence "every species of plant, whether growing in a forest or a meadow". He came to his ideas as the result of experiments in plant and animal breeding, some of which he outlined in an unpublished manuscript, the Elements of Agriculture. He distinguished between heritable variation as the result of breeding, and non-heritable variations caused by environmental differences such as soil and climate.
Though he saw his "principle of variation" as explaining the development of varieties, Hutton rejected the idea that evolution might originate species as a "romantic fantasy", according to palaeoclimatologist Paul Pearson.Influenced by deism, Hutton thought the mechanism allowed species to form varieties better adapted to particular conditions and provided evidence of benevolent design in nature. Studies of Charles Darwin's notebooks have shown that Darwin arrived separately at the idea of natural selection which he set out in his 1859 book On the Origin of Species , but it has been speculated that he had some half-forgotten memory from his time as a student in Edinburgh of ideas of selection in nature as set out by Hutton, and by William Charles Wells and Patrick Matthew who had both been associated with the city before publishing their ideas on the topic early in the 19th century.
Uniformitarianism, also known as the Doctrine of Uniformity, is the assumption that the same natural laws and processes that operate in our present-day scientific observations have always operated in the universe in the past and apply everywhere in the universe. It refers to invariance in the metaphysical principles underpinning science, such as the constancy of cause and effect throughout space-time, but has also been used to describe spatiotemporal invariance of physical laws. Though an unprovable postulate that cannot be verified using the scientific method, some consider that uniformitarianism should be a required first principle in scientific research. Other scientists disagree and consider that nature is not absolutely uniform, even though it does exhibit certain regularities.
John Playfair FRSE, FRS was a Church of Scotland minister, remembered as a scientist and mathematician, and a professor of natural philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. He is best known for his book Illustrations of the Huttonian Theory of the Earth (1802), which summarised the work of James Hutton. It was through this book that Hutton's principle of uniformitarianism, later taken up by Charles Lyell, first reached a wide audience. Playfair's textbook Elements of Geometry made a brief expression of Euclid's parallel postulate known now as Playfair's axiom.
Deep time is the concept of geologic time. The philosophical concept of deep time was developed in the 18th century by Scottish geologist James Hutton (1726–1797); his "system of the habitable Earth" was a deistic mechanism keeping the world eternally suitable for humans. The modern concept shows huge changes over the age of the Earth which has been determined to be, after a long and complex history of developments, around 4.55 billion years.
Historical geology or paleogeology is a discipline that uses the principles and techniques of geology to reconstruct and understand the geological history of Earth. It focuses on geologic processes that change the Earth's surface and subsurface; and the use of stratigraphy, structural geology and paleontology to tell the sequence of these events. It also focuses on the evolution of plants and animals during different time periods in the geological timescale. The discovery of radioactivity and the development of several radiometric dating techniques in the first half of the 20th century provided a means of deriving absolute versus relative ages of geologic history.
The Old Red Sandstone is an assemblage of rocks in the North Atlantic region largely of Devonian age. It extends in the east across Great Britain, Ireland and Norway, and in the west along the northeastern seaboard of North America. It also extends northwards into Greenland and Svalbard. These areas were a part of the ancient continent of Euramerica/Laurussia. In Britain it is a lithostratigraphic unit to which stratigraphers accord supergroup status and which is of considerable importance to early paleontology. For convenience the short version of the term, ORS is often used in literature on the subject. The term was coined to distinguish the sequence from the younger New Red Sandstone which also occurs widely throughout Britain.
Jedburgh is a town and former royal burgh in the Scottish Borders and the traditional county town of the historic county of Roxburghshire.
Rev Dr Matthew Stewart DD FRS FRSE was a Scottish mathematician and minister of the Church of Scotland.
An unconformity is a buried erosional or non-depositional surface separating two rock masses or strata of different ages, indicating that sediment deposition was not continuous. In general, the older layer was exposed to erosion for an interval of time before deposition of the younger layer, but the term is used to describe any break in the sedimentary geologic record. The significance of angular unconformity was shown by James Hutton, who found examples of Hutton's Unconformity at Jedburgh in 1787 and at Siccar Point in 1788.
Sir James Hall of Dunglass, 4th Baronet FRS FRSE was a Scottish geologist and geophysicist. He was a Member of Parliament for St. Michael's borough 1807–1812.
Dunglass is a hamlet in East Lothian, Scotland, lying east of the Lammermuir Hills on the North Sea coast, within the parish of Oldhamstocks. It has a 15th-century collegiate church, now in the care of Historic Scotland. Dunglass is the birthplace of Sir James Hall, an 18th-century Scottish geologist and geophysicist. The name Dunglass comes from the Brittonic for "grey-green hill".
Cockburnspath is a village in the Scottish Borders area of Scotland. It lies near the North Sea coast between Berwick-upon-Tweed and Edinburgh. It is at the eastern extremity of the Southern Upland Way a long-distance footpath from the west to east coast of Scotland. It is also the termini of the Sir Walter Scott Way and the Berwickshire Coastal Path. At the nearby village of Cove, there is a small fishing harbour.
Plutonism is the geologic theory that the igneous rocks forming the Earth originated from intrusive magmatic activity, with a continuing gradual process of weathering and erosion wearing away rocks, which were then deposited on the sea bed, re-formed into layers of sedimentary rock by heat and pressure, and raised again. It proposes that basalt is solidified molten magma. The name plutonism references Pluto, the classical ruler of the underworld, while "volcanism" echoes the name of Vulcan, the ancient Roman god of fire and volcanoes. The Oxford English Dictionary traces use of the word "plutonists" to 1799, and the appearance of the word plutonism to 1842.
Siccar Point is a rocky promontory in the county of Berwickshire on the east coast of Scotland. It is famous in the history of geology for Hutton's Unconformity found in 1788, which James Hutton regarded as conclusive proof of his uniformitarian theory of geological development.
The geology of Scotland is unusually varied for a country of its size, with a large number of differing geological features. There are three main geographical sub-divisions: the Highlands and Islands is a diverse area which lies to the north and west of the Highland Boundary Fault; the Central Lowlands is a rift valley mainly comprising Palaeozoic formations; and the Southern Uplands, which lie south of the Southern Uplands Fault, are largely composed of Silurian deposits.
Cross-cutting relationships is a principle of geology that states that the geologic feature which cuts another is the younger of the two features. It is a relative dating technique in geology. It was first developed by Danish geological pioneer Nicholas Steno in Dissertationis prodromus (1669) and later formulated by James Hutton in Theory of the Earth (1795) and embellished upon by Charles Lyell in Principles of Geology (1830).
Glen Tilt is a glen in the extreme north of Perthshire, Scotland. Beginning at the confines of Aberdeenshire, it follows a South-westerly direction excepting for the last 4 miles, when it runs due south to Blair Atholl. It is watered throughout by the Tilt, which enters the Garry after a course of 14 miles, and receives on its right the Tarf, which forms some beautiful falls just above the confluence, and on the left the Fender, which has some fine falls also. The attempt of George Murray, 6th Duke of Atholl to close the glen to the public was successfully contested by the Scottish Rights of Way Society in 1847. The massive mountain of Beinn a' Ghlò and its three Munros Càrn nan Gabhar, Bràigh Coire Chruinn-bhalgain and Càrn Liath (975) dominate the glen's eastern lower half.
Hutton's Unconformity is a name given to various notable geological sites in Scotland identified by the 18th-century Scottish geologist James Hutton as places where the junction between two types of rock formations can be seen. This geological phenomenon marks the location where rock formations created at different times and by different forces adjoin. For Hutton, such an unconformity provided evidence for his Plutonist theories of uniformitarianism and the age of the Earth.
Theory of the Earth was a publication by James Hutton which laid the foundations for geology. In it he showed that the Earth is the product of natural forces. What could be seen happening today, over long periods of time, could produce what we see in the rocks. This idea, uniformitarianism, was used by Charles Lyell in his work, and Lyell's textbook was an important influence on Charles Darwin. The work was first published in 1788 by the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and later in 1795 as two book volumes.
Events from the year 1785 in Scotland.
Lieutenant Colonel Ninian Imrie of Denmuir was a Scottish army officer and geologist. He gave the first wholly geological description of the Rock of Gibraltar. He stirred the Plutonist versus Neptunist debate during the Scottish Enlightenment.
In 1770, James Hutton, an experimental farmer and the owner of a sal ammoniac works, began poking into the peculiar shapes and textures of the Salisbury Crags, the looming, irregular rock formations in Edinburgh. Hutton noticed something astonishing—fossilized fish remains embedded in the rock. The remains suggested that volcanic activity had lifted the mass from some depth in the sea. In 1785, he delivered a lecture to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, which included the remarkable statement that "with respect to human observation, this world has neither a beginning nor an end." Coolly discarding Biblical accounts of creation, the book that he eventually published, Theory of the Earth , helped to establish modern geology.Italic or bold markup not allowed in:
"The result, therefore, of this physical enquiry", Hutton concluded, "is that we find no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end".
Hutton possessed an instinctive ability to reverse physical processes – to read landscapes backwards, as it were. Fingering the white quartz which seamed the grey granite boulders in a Scottish glen, for instance, he understood the confrontation that had once occurred between the two types of rock, and he perceived how, under fantastic pressure, the molten quartz had forced its way into the weaknesses in the mother granite.Italic or bold markup not allowed in:
Whilst visiting Allar's Mill on the Jed Water, Hutton was delighted to see horizontal bands of red sandstone lying 'unconformably' on top of near vertical and folded bands of rock.
It is ironic that Hutton, the man whose prose style is usually dismissed as unreadable, should have coined one of the most memorable, and indeed lyrical, sentences in all science: "(in geology) we find no vestige of a beginning,—no prospect of an end." In those simple words, Hutton framed a concept that no one had contemplated, that the rocks making up the earth today have not, after all, been here since Creation.
there's no vestige of a beginning, no prospect of an end (Hutton, 1795)
|Wikiquote has quotations related to: James Hutton|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to James Hutton .|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Hutton, James .|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1885–1900 Dictionary of National Biography's article about Hutton, James (1726-1797) .|