Pre-Darwinian Evolutionary Theory - P2
The Father of Paleontology
Page last updated: 11/2015
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Although he criticized Lamarck, Cuvier did not reject the idea that there had been earlier life forms. Cuvier was actually the first scientist to document the extinction of ancient animals and was an internationally recognized expert on dinosaurs.
Lyell & Uniformitarianism
Critics were quick to point out that if Lamarckianism was correct, the children of cowboys, who have developed bowed legs as a result of a lifetime of riding horses, would be born with bowed legs, and the children of professional weight lifters would be born with enlarged muscles. It is obvious that these things do not occur.
Because of the weakness of Lamarck’s theory, it was relatively easy for the French scientist, Georges Cuvier, and other critics to discredit the idea of inheritance of acquired characters.
Like many other scientists of his day, Cuvier advocated the theory of catastrophism. This theory was based on the assertion that there have been violent and sudden natural catastrophes such as great floods and other very sudden physical changes to the earth.
On May 18, 1980, a magnitude 5.1 earthquake shook Mount St. Helens. Part of the mountain slid away, releasing pressure, and triggering a major eruption of the volcano. This is a type of catastrophe that Cuvier believed caused extinction.
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However, Cuvier also got in wrong, in that he rejected the idea that the previous existence of dinosaurs implied that evolution had occurred. He believed that species were fixes and did not change. So, as an early paleontologist, how did he account of the existence of many extinct species?
Organisms living in those areas where these sudden, violent changes had occurred were often killed off and replaced by new life forms moving in from other geographic areas. The fossil record of this type of region would show abrupt changes in species. to his astute observations on biological evolution in the 1830's.