James Hutton

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James Hutton by Sir Henry Raeburn.

James Hutton (17261797) Scottish scientist and geologist, noted for formulating uniformitarianism and the Plutonist School of thought. He is considered by many to be the father of modern geology.


  • If an organised body is not in the situation and circumstances best adapted to its sustenance and propagation, then, in conceiving an indefinite variety among the individuals of that species, we must be assured, that, on the one hand, those which depart most from the best adapted constitution, will be most liable to perish, while, on the other hand, those organised bodies, which most approach to the best constitution for the present circumstances, will be best adapted to continue, in preserving themselves and multiplying the individuals of their race.
    • Source: An Investigation into the Principles of Knowledge (1794)
    • Note: This passage suggests that more than than 50 years before the publication of On the Origin of Species, Hutton anticipated Darwin's theory of natural selection.
  • The past history of our globe must be explained by what can be seen to be happening now. No powers are to be employed that are not natural to the globe, no action to be admitted except those of which we know the principle.
    • Source: Theory of the Earth (Paper, published in Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1785)
  • We find no vestige of a beginning - no prospect of an end.
    • Theory of the Earth (1795)

Quotes about Hutton[edit]

  • Hutton published a landmark treatise, Theory of the Earth, in which he set forth the principle of uniformitarianism: the present is the key to the past. He proposed the same processes of erosion, weathering, uplift and sedimentation that are sculpting the land today have been at work throughout the eons. ...In Hutton's day, uniformitarianism was a refutation of theories that called upon catastrophic events like the biblical flood to explain the way the world looked. But even as these deux ex machina theories fell to the wayside, Hutton's ideas continued to hold sway...

External links[edit]

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