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Assessing the Fossil Record - Louis Agassiz

The most prominent antievolutionist in America, indeed in the world, in the years after the publication of Charles Darwin’s 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 earth—and 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.Ronald L. Numbers, Darwinism Comes To America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998), p. 28. The best biography of Agassiz is Edward Lurie, Louis Agassiz: A Life in Science (Chicago: University...

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