Charles Darwin James Hutton

Darwin’s illegitimate brainchild

James HuttonIn the last issue of Creation, we showed that Charles’s humanist grandfather, Erasmus Darwin, preempted Charles on the subject of evolution by some 65 years with his book Zoonomia (1794), and that Charles used almost every topic discussed and example given in this work in his own On the Origin of Species, published in 1859.

Now new evidence has emerged that a Scottish geologist, Dr James Hutton (1726–1797), conceived a theory of selection as early as 1794. Hutton is best known as the man who proposed that the earth was ‘immeasurably’ old, not thousands of years, because he rejected the Flood of the Bible and so erroneously assumed that there were no major catastrophes in the earth’s early history.

Charles DarwinPaul Pearson, professor of paleoclimatology at Cardiff University, has recently found in the National Library of Scotland a formerly unpublished work of three volumes and 2, 138 pages, written by Hutton in 1794. Entitled An Investigation of the Principles of Knowledge and of Progress of Reason, from Sense to Science and Philosophy, it contains a full chapter on Hutton’s theory of ‘seminal variation’.

For example, Hutton said that among dogs that relied on ‘nothing but swiftness of foot and quickness of sight’ for survival, the slower dogs would perish and the swifter would be preserved to continue the race. But if an acute sense of smell was ‘more necessary to the sustenance of the animal’, then ‘the natural tendency of the race, acting upon the same principle of seminal variation, would be to change the qualities of the animal and to produce a race of well scented hounds, instead of those who catch their prey by swiftness’. And he went on to say, ‘The same “principle of variation” must also influence “every species of plant, whether growing in a forest or a meadow”.’


Apart from James Hutton, there were several other authors who, many years before Charles Darwin, published articles on the subject of natural selection.

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