The Father of Modern Geology

James HuttonOn this day in 1726, the great geologist James Hutton was born. Like most scientists of that time, he worked a large number of fields. But he is most remembered for his work in geology. He is often referred to as the “Father of Modern Geology.”

He came up with the idea of uniformitarianism. This is the idea that how the environment changes now is how it always has. So by looking at the effects of things like erosion, he saw how the crust of the earth changed over very long periods of time. It’s important to remember that at the time he was working, the vast majority of people were young earth creationists. So that alone was a big deal. Obviously, he didn’t know about plate tectonics, but he did understand that rock was created in the oceans and then pushed up onto the land.

Most interesting, Hutton was the first scientist to suggest that the earth itself was a living organism. This, of course, is the basic idea of the Gaia hypothesis. He also applied his ideas of uniformitarianism to changes in species. He did not come up with the idea of natural selection, but it is known that a young Charles Darwin had read his work, and it undoubtedly affected the way he saw the world.

Happy birthday James Hutton!

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

2 thoughts on “The Father of Modern Geology

  1. Really good call. Always worth remembering how much "modern" science and technology got rolling around 1800, and Hutton was one the power horses. (Also Playfair).

    Now if you could a nod to Rumford and Dalton… And Gauss and Helmholtz and Emmy Noether….

  2. @mike shupp – Well, I’ve mentioned Dalton on his birthday. I gave the day to Gauss and have talked about him several other times. Helmholtz was mentioned on his birthday and elsewhere. You are right that Emmy Noether is a major oversight. As for the Count, well, maybe some day…

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