Assessing the Fossil Record - Louis Agassiz
The most prominent antievolutionist in America, indeed in the
world, in the years after the publication of Charles Darwins
Origin of Species was the Swiss immigrant Louis Agassiz
(1807-1873). Already a world-renowned authority on fossil fishes
and glaciers when he moved to the United States in 1846, Agassiz
soon acquired a professorship at Harvard University and established
himself as the leading man of science in the United States. The
son of a Protestant minister, he abandoned the Calvinist orthodoxy
of his youth for liberal Unitarianism.
Agassiz based his opposition
to evolution on philosophical and scientific rather than biblical
reasons. Late in life he confessed that he would "have been
a great fellow for evolution if it had not been for the breaks
in the paleontological record." In the decade or so before
the appearance of the Origin of Species he acquired a reputation
in some circles as an "infidel" because he ridiculed
the notion that fossils represented "the wrecks of the Mosaic
deluge" and dismissed the story of Adam and Eve as an "absurdity."
Instead of a creation in six literal days about 6,000 years ago,
he taught that the earth had undergone a series of catastrophes
and divine re-creations, evidence of which could be seen in the
fossil-bearing rocks. He believed that species of plants and animals
had not originated "in single pairs, but were created in
large numbers," in the habitats they were intended to populate.
Living species thus had no genetic connection with previous inhabitants
of the earthand might not even be genetically related to
members of the same species now living.
Despite his own unorthodox
beliefs, Agassiz became the darling of Christian antievolutionists
in the 1860s and early 1870s. His death in 1873 deprived opponents
of evolution of their leading scientific spokesman.
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| Contributed by: Dr. Ron Numbers