William Rhind (1797–1874)

Another 19th century Scriptural geologist I would like to introduce you to is William Rhind. He was born into a large fanning family on November 30, 1797, in Inverlochy, Scotland. Little is known of his childhood but he received his early education first at the parish school of Duffus and later at the Elgin Academy. In 1812, he commenced his university studies at Marischal College, Aberdeen. After two years there he took up an apprenticeship with a well-known Elgin physician. Later he continued his medical training in Edinburgh, becoming a Licentiate of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in September, 1818. Upon completion of his medical studies he moved to London to gain further medical experience.

After a couple of years in London, he returned to Elgin and began a medical practice in a shop where he also sold medicines. Although he became quite successful in these endeavors, his real love was literature and scientific research. He soon found that Elgin was not a suitable location for such work and so in the mid-1820s he moved to Edinburgh, where he spent nearly forty years of his life writing and lecturing on various subjects of natural science, primarily botany, zoology and geology. However, he did not completely give up his practice of and writing about medicine. In April 1854, he became a lecturer in botany for a few years in the medical faculty of Marischal College in Aberdeen. But due to declining health he eventually moved in with the family of an older brother. Little is known of his activities in these later years, but he did revise some of his previous writings on botany. At age 76, he died peacefully of physical weakness on March 15, 1874.

Rhind, like Scriptural geologist George Young, suffered from a physical disability all his life; he was somewhat lame in both legs, a fact which makes his geological field research remarkable. His church affiliation remains unknown, though he was likely a member of the Church of Scotland. In any case, his writings reflect a strong commitment to the Scriptures. And according to one biographer, ‘he was universally loved for his character and bearing, and was a most amiable man. He was unassuming and retiring in his manner, but a most agreeable and interesting member of society.’ In addition to his early membership in the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, by 1830 Rhind also had become a member of the Royal Medical Society and Royal Physical Society of Edinburgh, and some time before 1858 he became an honorary member of the Natural History Society of Manchester. In 1835, he was an annual member of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

Rhind was a voluminous writer on many subjects. His non-scientific works included a historical work on his home county and three tourist guides of Scotland. Of his scientific writings, a number reflected his strong commitment to see good textbooks available for the education of children, aged 10–18 years. Many of these books went through several editions and included class books on the natural history of the earth, botany, geology and physical geography, zoology, meteorology, and elementary geography. He also produced three books for the general public: The Feline Species, Studies in Natural History, the first thorough work on the nature and cure of intestinal worms in humans.

His magnum opus was a 711-page History of the Vegetable Kingdom, which appeared in about 1841 and went through eight later editions up to 1877. It discussed both living and fossil plants and their uses. In addition to these books, Rhind published several scientific journal articles on various topics: a species of worm in sheep, spontaneous generation of living creatures (a theory he rejected), the geological arrangement of the strata, the hydrology of the British Isles, and coal found in Seil Island, Argyleshire. He authored three adult-level books dealing with geology. An 1833 book of excursions around Edinburgh described the geology and natural history of the area. It received two positive reviews in scientific journals, particularly for its valuable geological information.

In 1842, he published The Geology of Scotland and Its Islands, which was the result of his own careful geological field work as well as consulting the writings of at least 21 other local and national geologists. These two books were purely descriptive, but in 1838 Rhind wrote The Age of the Earth, in which he gave his geological reasons for rejecting the old-earth theories that had recently begun to dominate the thinking of most geologists. Although he was a qualified critic of these theories, his arguments like those of other geologically competent Scriptural geologists, were ignored by contemporary old-earth geologists. The old-earth train had left the station, and no one, regardless of his geological competence, was going to stop it or even slow it down.


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