Last modified on 14 July 2016, at 14:45

Buffon

Georges-Louis Leclerc, The Comte de Buffon (1707-1788) was a French pre-Darwinian evolutionist whose philosophical way of looking at the world paved the way for subsequent revolutionary thinkers such as Charles Darwin.[1] He is known as partisan of Spontaneous generation, a philosophically-based doctrine that was later experimentally disproved by Pasteur as error.[note 1] Buffon became one of the icons for Liberally biased educational institutions such as UC Berkeley.[2]

Life

Buffon was born into the wealth and prestige of the French aristocracy and was educated in law and medicine, but his real interest was nature and natural philosophy. He served as director of the zoological Royal Garden in Paris for more than 50 years. During his carrier, he helped Lamarck to gain positions both in French Academy of Sciences and in the Royal Garden, where Lamarck later, in 1793, after the Revolutionary government renamed the Royal Gardens into the Museum of Natural History, became a head of department dedicated to invertebrate studies.[3]

Forerunner of Evolutionary Thought

De Buffon together with Lamarck presented the ancient Greek myth of the Great Chain of Being to the scientific world in a new guise, whereupon it came to influence Darwin who took this speculative concept[note 2] as the starting point for his evolutionary views.[1] [4]


Publications

  • Histoire Naturelle (1749-1789), the wide-ranging 44-volume study where Buffon reveals himself as an exponent of the doctrine of the Great Chain of Being, with man being placed at the top of the Chain. New creatures were constantly appearing at the bottom of the Chain, arising from inorganic matter through spontaneous generation.[1] By volume fourteen, Buffon was speculating about the evolutionary origin of similar species from common ancestral types. He proposed that Native American mammals were, in response to “harsh” local climatic conditions, invariably smaller and weaker than their counterparts. Such thinking where the climate was ascribed a creative power pushed God back in time or out of picture altogether – Buffon never clarified this. Buffon’s views were countered by Thomas Jefferson who depicted large, strong Native American animals in his 1787 book Notes on the State of Virginia.[3]
  • Les Epoques de la Nature (1788), Buffon here openly suggested that the planet was much older than the 6,000 years, and discussed concepts very similar to Charles Lyell's "uniformitarianism" which were formulated 40 years later.[2]

Notes

  1. cf.Biological singularity
  2. cf. Microevolution and Macroevolution in Fallacy of extrapolation

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Comte de Buffon. Retrieved on December 17, 2013. “The Comte de Buffon was a French evolutionist and one of the best-known scientists of the 18th century. He served as director of the Royal Zoological gardens in Paris for more than 50 years. To a large extent Darwin based his theory on the works of de Buffon. One can see most of the teachings that Darwin employed in de Buffon’s wide-ranging 44-volume study Histoire Naturelle. In his Histoire Naturelle, Buffon reveals himself as an exponent of the doctrine of the Great Chain of Being, with man being placed at the top of the Chain. ... Moreover, new creatures were constantly appearing at the bottom of the Chain, arising from inorganic matter through spontaneous generation...From that point of view, the concept we refer to as the theory of evolution was actually born with the ancient Greek myth of the Great Chain. There were many evolutionists before Darwin, and the most of their original ideas and so-called proofs were already to be found in the Great Chain of Being. With de Buffon and Lamarck the Great Chain of Being was presented to the scientific world in a new guise, whereupon it came to influence Darwin.”
  2. 2.0 2.1 Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788). Retrieved on November 9, 2014. “100 years before Darwin, Buffon, in his Historie Naturelle, a 44 volume encyclopedia describing everything known about the natural world, wrestled with the similarities of humans and apes and even talked about common ancestry of Man and apes. Although Buffon believed in organic change, he did not provide a coherent mechanism for such changes. He thought that the environment acted directly on organisms through what he called "organic particles". Buffon also published Les Epoques de la Nature (1788) where he openly suggested that the planet was much older than the 6,000 years proclaimed by the church, and discussed concepts very similar to Charles Lyell's "uniformitarianism" which were formulated 40 years later.”
  3. 3.0 3.1 E.J. Larson (2006). Evolution: The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory. New York: Modern Library, 13–18, 39. ISBN 0-8129-6849-2. 
  4. David Berlinski (2009). "Has Darwin met his match?", The Deniable Darwin. Seattle, USA: Discovery Institute Press (reprinted from Commentary February 1998 by permission), 468. ISBN 978-0-9790141-2-3. “Charles Darwin allowed himself to speculate. Invoking “a warm little pound” bubbling up in the dim inaccessible past, Darwin imagined that given “ammonia and phosphoric salts, light, heat, electricity, etc. present,“ the spontaneous generation of a “protein compound” might follow, with this compound “ready to undergo still more complex changes” and so begin Darwinian evolution itself.”