GSA Connects 2021 in Portland, Oregon

Paper No. 50-2
Presentation Time: 1:55 PM


LOHFF, Kathleen J., Severna Park, MD 21146

Geology developed as a science around the central theme of creating an earth-history. Regarding the natural world as having a history apart from human observation was a new concept. Reconstruction of the earth’s past produced divergence of opinion and theory. Perhaps one of the most controversial theories was that of James Hutton (1726-1797). First published in the 1788 Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Hutton concentrated on the acquisition of principles that would enable geologists to distinguish natural operations that maintained the habitability of the earth. The cornerstone principles of the theory, later called Uniformitarianism, were the forces of heat and pressure coupled with the abstract concepts of causation and time. Combined, these principles of geology provided a mechanical explanation for the process of decay and renovation by which strata were formed. The outcrops at Siccar Point, Glen Tilt, and Jedburgh in Scotland confirmed Hutton’s theories.

Today, these sites have become holy places for geologist around the globe. Siccar Point is considered by many to be the birth place of modern geology. Certainly, it confirmed Hutton’s theory about causation which moved geology from reliance on catastrophic events to the development of mechanical explanations that were consistent in action and degree across earth’s history. The purpose of this paper is to examine the theories that James Hutton developed and explain why these sights were of importance to the reception of the theories. The research for this paper is based largely on primary sources and observations from James Hutton’s, including but not limited to “Theory of the Earth” Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1788), Theory of the Earth Vols. I and II (1795), Observations on Granites (1790), and An Investigation of the Principles of Knowledge Vols. I, II, and III (1794). Because of Covid restrictions, actual observance of the sites is limited to secondary sources.