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In the Beginning ...

Sir Charles Lyell

Painting of Sir Charles Lyell seated with legs crossed and hands folded in front and wearing a waistcoat and coatSir Charles Lyell, First BaronetThe pre-eminent geologist, Sir Charles Lyell, 1797-1875, was Professor of Geology at King's from 1831-1833.

As a child, Lyell acquired a love of entomology and the new science of geology. Following study at Exeter College, Oxford, and prior to his appointment to King's, Lyell toured the continent and was elected Secretary of the influential Geological Society.

It was during this stage of his career that he advanced an important new theory determining the ages of successive geological epochs by the presence within the rocks of different species of extinct flora and fauna.

He incorporated this into a model of gradual change of the earth's surface geology over an immense period of time - millions of years as opposed to the mere six thousand years implied by traditional calculations based upon the date of Creation derived from study of the Bible.

Lyell effectively threw into doubt the whole Creationist basis of the biblical story. These findings were presented in the Principles of Geology (1830-33). The book was an instant popular success, running to twelve editions by 1875.

Lyell was appointed Professor of Geology at King's College in 1831 and proved a colourful and capable speaker. However, his challenge to traditional biblical chronology set the Professor on collision course with the orthodox opinions of the College authorities.

They intervened to prohibit the attendance of women from a planned series of Lyell's lectures at King's scheduled for the summer term of 1832. The ban effectively forestalled public participation at the lectures and made Lyell's position untenable. He resigned in October 1833.

Lyell subsequently cemented his reputation with further geological expeditions, the publication of numerous classic texts including Elements of Geology, and Presidency of the Geological Society. He died in 1875.

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