November 14: Charles Lyell

Charles Lyell (1797)

Charles Lyell

It was on this date, November 14, 1797, that pioneering Scottish geologist Charles Lyell was born the oldest of 10 children of an active naturalist. He was educated at Oxford and turned from the law to geology, publishing his greatest work, The Principles of Geology, in three volumes from 1830-1833. His researches demonstrated that the earth had to be far older than the Judeo-Christian chronology, and his 1863 work, The Antiquity of Man, prepared the way for Darwin to posit his ideas of human origins. He was a friend and influence on the great evolutionist, although Lyell accepted Darwin’s theory slowly and equivocally.

Lyell was knighted for his scientific accomplishments in 1848 and became a Baron in 1864. He maintained a theism until 1870, but by 1873, according to his autobiography, Lyell had abandoned not only any formal Christian creed, but had repudiated the ideas of immortality and a personal God, saying only that he thought it “probable” that there was some sort of “Supreme Intelligence.”* Tthe greatest geologist in Europe, Charles Lyell died on 22 February 1875.

* Life, Letters, and Journals of Sir Charles Lyell, Bart., 2 vols., 1881.

Originally published November 2003 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.

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Posted in Famous Freethinkers, Science

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