famous words: 'The result therefore, of our present enquiry is
that we find no vestige of a beginning, - no prospect of an end'.
He considered that 'with respect to human observation' geo-
logical time was simply too long for us to imagine. Being so
flatly in contradiction with the Scriptures, this led to him being
accused of having 'deposed the Almighty Creator of the Universe
from his O~ce', but Hutton was insistent: 'In nature' he writes,
'we find no deficiency in respect of time'.
James Hutton died in 1797 before his theory had gained much
credence, the year that Charles Lyell was born, a man destined
to become one of the greatest influences in modern geology.
When Lyell became a geologist (he originally trained to be a
lawyer) he took up where Hutton had left o¬. He looked at the
geological processes operating around him and realised that
they were the key to understanding what had happened in the
past. He considered that nothing could have occurred in the geo-
logical record that was not happening now, and that all that was
required was a vast amount of time for geological processes to
endlessly recycle and reshape the planet, eventually creating the
world as we observe it today. But he had one significant advan-
tage over Hutton.
In the 1790s William Smith, then a surveyor working on
building canals to carry coal, recognised that there was a regu-
lar and systematic order within the rocks of southern England.
A self-educated man, Smith observed that not only were rocks
ordered in a way that could be followed for miles across the
country, but that the suites of fossils contained within those
rocks 'always succeed one another in the same order' making it
possible to correlate one rock with another that contained
the same suite of fossils, even though they were miles, or even
countries, apart. But Smith was unable to reconcile what he
observed with an understanding of how it had occurred, so,
resigning himself to this state of a¬airs, he got on with his work,
believing that these matters were not of his concern: 'I have left
o¬ puzzling about the origin of Strata and content myself know-