James Hutton was the father of geology but also of a son by a mistress whose identity remains mysterious, though some mention a Miss Edington.

Geology is the study of stanes, as he’d have been happy to call them since, unlike other leading figures of the Scottish Enlightenment, he resisted the temptation to anglicise his accent to sound like a jessie.

He was unashamedly bald, at a time when the condition was rightly considered disgraceful, and declined to wear a wig as other sufferers did.

He became financially independent using chimney soot and was a uniformitarianist, though we will not be discussing his sex life in this article. As a Scot, he is – typically – taught more in American schools than Scottish ones. This is because many Scots still resent the fact that he overturned the prevailing religious view that the Earth was created at around 6pm, just in time to make the BBC evening news, on 24 October 4004 BC.

Hutton was born some time later, in Edinburgh on 3 June 1726, his mother Sarah Balfour, his father William Hutton, a merchant who was Edinburgh City Treasurer. As you’ll have come to expect from previous discussion of geniuses in this series, Hutton's father died when the boy was young, in this case just three. If you’re wondering why you’re so thick, it’s because your selfish father declined to shuffle off when you were wee.

Hutton was educated at the High School of Edinburgh, and the Yoonies of Edinburgh and Paris. It was after returning to Embra from yonder France that his work on the production of sal ammoniac from soot led to the creation of a profitable chemical works manufacturing smelling salts and crystalline salt for dyeing and metalworking.

Hutton inherited two farms in Berwickshire and since, as I understand it, farms consist of soil an’ that, he had ample opportunity to poke aboot Mother Earth’s underbelly, looking (as he said of his own young self) “with anxious curiosity into every pit or bed of a river that fell in his way”. Not mental at all then.

In 1764, he went on a geological tour of the north of Scotland with George Maxwell-Clerk, ancestor of scientist James Clerk Maxwell, but no relation to the Maxwell Backward Clerks. By this time, his geological theories were starting to come together and, over the next 20-odd years he got his rocks off with visits to the Cairngorms, Salisbury Crags in Embra, and Siccar Point, off the coast near Eyemouth.

What was getting him excited? Well, horizontal strata resting on top of vertical strata for starters. It seemed to him that the geological processes causing this could only have happened over zillions of years. He had also noticed granite penetrating metamorphic schists – ken? – which suggests that it had been molten. Well, it was arguable, I suppose.

Though rubbish at writing, he insisted on putting this in publications like Theory of the Earth; or an Investigation of the Laws observable in the Composition, Dissolution, and Restoration of Land upon the Globe, which at the time of going to press is not available on Waterstone’s buy-one-get-one-half-price deals.

I know I promised not to mention it again, but Hutton was an early advocate of what became known as uniformitarianism, a precursor of the theory of evolution. As he put it: “If an organised body is not in the situation and circumstances best adapted to its sustenance and propagation, then blah-blah.”

Hutton’s theories brought him into conflict with religious eejits, many of whom still adhered to the views of James Ussher, [CORR] 17th-century Primate of All Ireland, whose tormented brain fomented the idea of Earth being “created” by a big celestial tradesman one October nearly 6,000 years before.

Then there were the Neptunists, backed by many dumbo scientists of the time, who convinced themselves that rock strata were laid down after one big giant flood. Noah way!

As it turns out, according to my back of a fag packet calculations – multiply by x, carry 2, subtract the first symbol you thought of – the Earth is 4,543,000,000 years, two months, 17 days, 32 minutes and 20 seconds old. No, 21 seconds. Twenty-two. Twenty … oh, sod it.

Hutton was what is called a polymath. Instead of parrotting established truths, he lobbed his brain into many areas producing, for example, the first theory of rain, which argued that rainfall is regulated by air humidity and the mixing of currents in the higher atmosphere. Is it, aye?

He was also ahead of his time in seeing the planet as a living system, as in the Gaia hypothesis promulgated by James Lovelock in the 1970s

Hutton loved a laugh, and was not the least bit stuffy. A key aspect of the Scottish Enlightenment was having pals, with scientists and writers partying away together in Edinburgh and exchanging ideas. A founder of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Hutton was best buds with Joseph Black, Adam Smith and James Watt.

When Watt was depressed, Black said he wished he could “give you a dose of our friend Hutton’s company because he would cheer anybody up”. What a boy: the life and soul. And so, of course, he had to die.

Although Hutton’s views had brought him into conflict with theological pillocks, he still believed in a benevolent deity and accordingly, in 1791, the Lord blessed him with painful bladder stones, forcing him to give up field work to concentrate on finishing his books. After a dangerous operation, his insides were none the better, and he died in Edinburgh on 26 March 1797.

Hutton never married, and had little to do with the son he sprogulated by nefarious means. However, he did support him financially – “Here’s a groat. Get yirsell some chips” – and the boy went on to become a post office clerk in London.

Of course, if Hutton père had had the decency to die when the boy was in infancy, James Junior might have gone on to become a genius too. But c’est la vie, as the French say. It is the life.