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James Hutton: Scotland’s forgotten genius

James Hutton by Sir Henry Raeburn (c) Scottish National Portrait Gallery
“Hutton’s approach epitomises the Institute’s purpose, intent and values. He was willing to stand up to dogma, based on the rigorous pursuit of observation and science.

Two hundred and ninety-six years ago, one of the most influential Scots ever was born: a man whose influence on our understanding of the earth was revolutionary at the time and has unlocked vast areas of related knowledge since then. He successfully challenged the then-accepted idea that the Earth was only thousands of years old. And yet his name is barely known in his homeland, despite his worldwide impact and reputation elsewhere.

Born in Edinburgh in 1726, James Hutton was a geologist, physician, chemical manufacturer, naturalist and experimental agriculturalist. He is internationally regarded as the founder of modern geology and the first scientist to describe the Earth as a machine in which constant erosion is matched by the uplift of ocean floors to form new mountain chains. These ideas paved the way for the concept of “deep time” in geology which in turn informed Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Professor Colin Campbell, the Institute’s Chief Executive, said: “Few figures of the Scottish Enlightenment have had such a wide-ranging impact as James Hutton. A world-renowned scientist, he was willing to challenge accepted wisdom to create a new vision of how the world was formed and how it is constantly evolving.

“Hutton’s approach epitomises the Institute’s purpose, intent and values. He was willing to stand up to dogma, based on the rigorous pursuit of observation and science. He actively sought out and fostered opportunities to engage and collaborate with others across a wide range of disciplines. He was, by nature, highly creative and driven by curiosity about the world, but he also had a practical mindset and sought uses for his ideas around agriculture."

As its namesake did during the Scottish Enlightenment, the James Hutton Institute translates Scottish science to the wider world. Basic concepts, ideas, methods, theories and hypotheses are shared across systems and places and with collaborators internationally.

To prepare for the 300th anniversary of James Hutton's birth, a ‘Tercentenary Group’ of organisations and individuals is working to raise the profile of Hutton as one of the most influential scientists and intellectual provocateurs ever. Compared to some of his Enlightenment contemporaries, and others whose work built on his foundations, he is remarkably under-recognised and under-celebrated.

This year, a newly-published edition of a book by Scottish author Alan McKirdy explores Hutton's life and legacy. The book, entitled James Hutton: The Founder of Modern Geology, describes how Hutton was a man ahead of his time and how he developed a grand theory of the Earth in which he tried to make sense of a lifetime of observation and deduction about the way in which our planet functions. An excerpt of the book is available here.

Press and media enquiries: 

Bernardo Rodriguez-Salcedo, Media Manager, James Hutton Institute, Tel: +44 (0)1224 395089 (direct line), +44 (0)344 928 5428 (switchboard) or +44 (0)7791 193918 (mobile).

Printed from /news/james-hutton-scotland%E2%80%99s-forgotten-genius-1 on 01/12/23 05:46:40 AM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.