Georges Cuvier. Le Règne Animal Distribué d’après son Organization: pour Servir de Base a l’Histoire Naturelle des Animaux et d’Introduction à l’Anatomie Comparé. Paris: Deterville, 1817.  Purchased through the Harriet Randolph Memorial Fund

     
 

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Even while theological writers like Paley were attempting to reconcile the new scientific discoveries with Christian theology, scientists such as the French naturalist Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) continued to find fresh evidence of a changing world. Cuvier is best known for his work concerning the extinction of species, drawing upon fossil evidence. In 1800 he published a paper which argued that the differences among the skeletons of modern elephants and mammoth and mastodon fossils demonstrated that each animal came from a different species, and that therefore one could conclude that the mammoth and the mastodon were extinct. His paper came at a time when extinction was still widely argued, since many believed that it implied imperfection in God’s creation. Instead, some scholars claimed that fossils of large unknown creatures were the ancient ancestors of species which still existed and would eventually be found in unexplored regions of the earth. Cuvier’s work made a strong case for rejecting this argument.  


In Le Règne Animal, Cuvier laid out an organization of the natural world that he intended to serve as the basis for organizing all species, both living and extinct. The arrangement was based upon the nervous system, the structure he regarded as the most common and least variable amongst all the species. Cuvier was not a proponent of evolution, though, and the structures he outlined represented a hierarchy of forms, but not one in which common ancestries were assumed. 

 

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