The progression of life (1833–39)

in Worlds Before Adam

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print July 2008 | ISBN: 9780226731285
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226731308 | DOI:
The progression of life (1833–39)

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This chapter discusses how the directional and even “progressive” character of the history of life was powerfully reinforced during the 1830s. William Buckland argued in his Bridgewater Treatise that the oldest known forms had already been complex in anatomy, well adapted to their appropriate modes of life, and certainly not the crude imperfect beings that Lamarckian transformism was taken to entail. At much the same time, Swiss zoologist Louis Jean Rodolphe Agassiz, having inherited Cuvier's massive research project on fossil fish, classified them both zoologically and stratigraphically, and argued that their diversity had increased progressively in the course of geohistory, in just the way that the younger Brongniart had already outlined for fossil plants. Complementing Agassiz's work on their fossil fish, and that of the younger Brongniart and others on their plants, Phillips described in exemplary fashion the abundant invertebrate fossils of the Carboniferous. Murchison profited from this benchmark when he sought to extend Smithian or fossil-based stratigraphy downwards into the poorly known Transition rocks.

Keywords: directional geohistory; geology; history of life; vertebrates; fossils; William Buckland; Louis Agassiz

Chapter.  6281 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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