The mythology surrounding James Hutton and Hadrian’s Wall

Published: 17 May 2012 (GMT+10)
Wikipedia: Velella Hadrian’s wall just east of Greenhead Lough, Northumberland in October 2005.
Hadrian’s wall just east of Greenhead Lough, Northumberland in October 2005.


There is a certain mythology that has grown up in geological circles around James Hutton (1726–1797), the Scottish physician widely regarded as the father of modern geology. The legend that passes along the corridors of academia makes a good story for geology students looking for a hero. You can find versions of the legend on the web by Googling “James Hutton Hadrian’s Wall”.

According to the story, James Hutton, using his keen observation skills, discovered that the earth was unimaginably old—much older than the 5,800 years he learned during his early Presbyterian upbringing.

His seminal moment came, so the story goes, after returning from Hadrian’s Wall, which was built in Britain by the Romans in AD 122. Hutton observed that, in more than 1500 years, the wall was hardly touched by erosion. Yet the volcanos in the area had been much eroded. And when he visited Siccar Point on the coast east of Edinburgh, he found evidence of ‘former continents’ that had been entirely worn away. Thus, by his careful observation and by logical deduction he discovered geological time.

But the reality is quite different.

First, James Hutton’s logic was flawed. He ignored the history of this planet as recorded in the Bible and did not consider the geological effects of Noah’s Flood. If he had, he would have found that the biblical age of the earth is consistent with biblical history. The catastrophic movement of water during the Flood explains how the erosion that Hutton observed at Siccar Point actually occurred in a short time. Hutton should have realized that Hadrian’s Wall was built after Noah’s Flood. When he compared the erosion on Hadrian’s Wall with the erosion on volcanos in the area, and with the erosion at Siccar Point, it was an invalid comparison. He was comparing things that are not comparable.

Second, he allowed his preconceived ideas to affect his observations. Because he imagined slow-and-gradual geological processes in the past he missed the obvious evidence for geological catastrophe at Siccar Point. To be fair, he was not aware of turbidites, catastrophic sedimentary processes only discovered following the Grand Banks earthquake off the coast of Newfoundland in 1929.

It’s a nice story but it’s not accurate. Visit Siccar Point today and you can see for yourself the abundant evidence for catastrophe, consistent with the biblical Flood. For details of this evidence see Unmasking a long-age icon.

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Readers’ comments

Brian C.
Surtsey, Mt St. Helens and other known recent catastrophic events give the "appearance" of great age (even give long radiometric ages) but they are known to be recent.
John Allen H.
Mosaic requirement that "on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed" (Deuteronomy 19:5). JAMES HUTTON initial theory holds water is not washed away by the "Great Deluge" Today's science theories are many times over studied and verified by a multitude of different persons with different skills and abilities in their perspective fields... INDEPENDENT of each are conclusions drawn that offer verification of the theories offered. Yet the exception to this rule seems to apply to position of CHRISTIAN SCHOLARS with a single REFERENCE - THE BIBLE which in itself has undergone word semantics in order to conform the message to existing population without any formal education and told to be taken as true... AGAIN I refer to Mosaic requirement that "on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed" (Deuteronomy 19:5) WHO ARE THE 2 or 3 witnesses?
Tas Walker
Hi John, Ask yourself, "Who observed the event of Noah's Flood?" Noah and the seven others with him on the Ark. The details of this event have been recorded in the Bible. Accounts of it have also been passed down in oral stories in different cultures all over the world.
Scientists do follow the Deuteronomy principle of multiple witnesses in their work, which is why science is such a powerful tool for studying the world. But today's scientists did not observe the events in history that they talk about, when they speak of something happening millions of years ago. So, when they ignore Noah's Flood as an explanation for the rocks on the earth they are all going beyond the evidence that they have actually observed.

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