The Founding Father of Paleontology – Georges Cuvier was a prominent authority in natural sciences during the 19th century. His works paved the way for the enrichment of the scientific fields of anatomy, paleontology, and taxonomy.
Born on August 23, 1769, Jean Léopold Nicolas Frédéric, or most commonly known as Georges Cuvier, was a French zoologist and statesman. He is best known for his work “Le Règne Animal” which established the comparative anatomy and principle of faunal succession in fossils, thus making the concept of extinction as a scientific phenomenon, contrary to the pre-Darwin’s theory of evolution.
See how Georges Cuvier advanced humanity’s scientific knowledge through checking out the facts below.
Georges Cuvier Facts
1. Cuvier streamlined paleontology
Tagged as the “Founding Father of Paleontology”, Georges Cuvier’s works served as the backbone of today’s vertebrate paleontology. He was able to expand the Linnaean taxonomy and establish extinction as a fact.
His contribution to taxonomy includes categorizing classes into phyla and incorporating both fossils with others in the nomenclature. On the other hand, extinction during his period was only a controversial issue but was later proven by Cuvier in his writing Essay on the Theory of the Earth (1813).
Also, Cuvier became the most influential frontrunners of catastrophism.
2. Cuvier opposed the theory of evolution
Before the infamous Charles Darwin proposed his science of evolution, it was first thought by Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck and Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. However, Georges Cuvier opposed their theory of evolution. Accordingly, Cuvier argued that the evidence presented to support such theory was lacking, as it was only able to prove for cyclical creations and global extinction, an interesting fact about Georges Cuvier.
This disagreement between these proponents sparked a controversial scientific debate – whether or not the composition of the animal structure was caused by function or morphology. Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck held that it was the latter – evolutionary morphology – while Georges Cuvier supported the former – that animal structure is purely based on function.
3. Cuvier’s interest started with a book
At a young age of 10, Georges Cuvier found a book “Historiae Animalium” written by the Swiss physician Conrad Gessner. Little did he know that such will spark his passion for natural sciences and history.
Thereafter, Cuvier started going to his relative to read numerous volumes of the “Histoire Naturelle” written by the French naturalist Comte de Buffon. Interestingly, Cuvier really devoured these books and acquired as much information as possible. At the age of 12, he was already at par with the first-rate naturalists – Cuvier was well versed with different quadrupeds and bird species.
4. Cuvier excelled in German coursework
After spending four years in the gymnasium, Georges Cuvier was admitted for another four years at the Caroline Academy in Stuttgart. Apparently, he did not know any German language when he arrived. Nonetheless, with his zeal and diligence, he excelled in his coursework.
An interesting fact about Georges Cuvier is that just after over 9 months of rigorous studying, Cuvier won a school competition on the German language itself. Due to this, he was able to expose himself to the works of the German geologist Abraham Gottlob Werner.
5. Cuvier was a devout Lutheran
In all aspects of Georges Cuvier’s life – birth, family, education, and conviction – he was a devout and committed Lutheran Protestant. However, he was not vocal about his religious beliefs as he regarded such as a private matter. Nonetheless, Cuvier was active in the foundation of the 1818 Parisian Biblical Society where he also served as the society’s president.
6. Cuvier advocates catastrophism
Unlike the other natural scientists during this period, only a few, including Georges Cuvier, believed that extinction was not byproducts of anthropogenic causes. Instead, he proposed catastrophism – a theory which holds that the Earth’s geological features may be explained by the catastrophic events throughout the history of life.
Under catastrophism, Cuvier believed that the Earth suffered several catastrophes. These caused both the extinction of many species of animals and the appearance of different faunas as well.
Catastrophism became among the favorite topics of Cuvier. In fact, he explored his views on catastrophism and extinction in many of his works, particularly in the Researches on Quadruped Fossil Bones (1812).
7. Cuvier studies influenced scientific racism
Being a devoted Protestant, Georges Cuvier held that all men are descendants of Adam – the Bible’s first man. From thereon, there became three different races – the Caucasian, the Mongolian, and the Ethiopian. Cuvier believed that Adam and Eve were Caucasians, while the other races were just survivors of the catastrophe that hit the Earth 5000 years ago.
Indeed, his religious views deeply affected his scientific perspective. Using these categories, Cuvier identified races based on his perspective of beauty and ugliness of their bone structure. If he found a person favorable, he would tag it as Caucasian, an interesting Georges Cuvier fact.
8. Cuvier was honored through naming of animals
Due to his vast contribution and influence in taxonomy and paleontology, Georges Cuvier was memorialized through the naming animals, reptiles, and islands after him.
These animals include Cuvier’s beaked whale, Cuvier’s gazelle, a tiger shark Galeocerdo cuvier, among many others. While the reptiles include the lizard from Puerto Rico Anolis cuvieri, Bachia cuvieri, and Oplurus cuvieri. Further, there was an island in New Zealand named Cuvier Island!
9. Cuvier held several ranks
Throughout his lifetime, Georges Cuvier became many things. Under the leadership of Napoleon, Cuvier served as an imperial councilor. He also became the elected president of the Council of Public Instruction, the Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour, the Minister of the Interior, and the president of the Council of State under Louis Philippe, among other ranks and positions, a fun fact about Georges Cuvier.
Despite being primarily engaged in natural sciences, Cuvier was able to perform the above positions effectively! Nonetheless, his contributions to the administration remain not comparable to his direction in natural science.
Indeed, the works of Georges Cuvier revolutionized the 18th-century scientific thinking – the transition towards the 19th-century view of nature. Due to his contribution to taxonomy and paleontology, Cuvier was able to raise the difference of animals in terms of structural anatomy.
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