Observations placeholder

Bryson, Bill - On the achievements of George Cuvier



Type of Spiritual Experience


One of the first theories of extinctions was written in 1796 by George Cuvier who wrote a landmark paper ‘Note on the Species of Living and Fossil Elephants’ in which he put forward for the first time a formal theory of extinctions.  His belief was that from time to time the Earth experienced global catastrophes in which groups of creatures were wiped out

A description of the experience

Bill Bryson – A Short history of nearly everything

For religious people including Cuvier himself, the idea raised uncomfortable implications since it suggested an unaccountable casualness on the part of Providence.  To what end would God create species only to wipe them out later?  The notion was contrary to the belief in the Great Chain of Being, which held that the world was carefully ordered and that every living thing within it had a place and purpose and always had and always would.

When William Smith first proposed the idea of rock strata and noted fossil appearances and disappearances in them, this confirmed that God had wiped out creatures not occasionally but repeatedly.  Furthermore whilst some species were wiped out, others continued unimpeded into succeeding eons

The source of the experience

Cuvier, Georges

Concepts, symbols and science items


Science Items

Activities and commonsteps