Louis Agassiz, fully Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz

Agassiz, fully Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz

Swiss-American Paleontologist, Glaciologist and Geologist

Author Quotes

One naturally asks, what was the use of this great engine set at work ages ago to grind, furrow, and knead over, as it were, the surface of the earth? We have our answer in the fertile soil which spreads over the temperate regions of the globe. The glacier was God's great plough.

Study nature, not books.

The earth was covered by a huge ice sheet which buried the Siberian mammoths, and reached just as far south as did the phenomenon of erratic boulders. This ice sheet filled all the irregularities of the surface of Europe before the uplift of the Alps, the Baltic Sea, all the lakes of Northern Germany and Switzerland. It extended beyond the shorelines of the Mediterranean and of the Atlantic Ocean, and even covered completely North America and Asiatic Russia. When the Alps were uplifted, the ice sheet was pushed upwards like the other rocks, and the debris, broken loose from all the cracks generated by the uplift, fell over its surface and, without becoming rounded (since they underwent no friction), moved down the slope of the ice sheet.

The eye of the trilobite tells us that the sun shone on the old beach where he lived; for there is nothing in nature without a purpose, and when so complicated an organ was made to receive light, there must have been light to enter it.

The facts will eventually test all our theories, and they form, after all, the only impartial jury to which we can appeal.

The glacier was God's great plough set at work ages ago to grind, furrow, and knead over, as it were, the surface of the earth.

The long summer was over. For ages a tropical climate had prevailed over a great part of the earth, and animals whose home is now beneath the Equator roamed over the world from the far South to the very borders of the Arctics ... But their reign was over. A sudden intense winter, that was also to last for ages, fell upon our globe.

The office of science is not to record possibilities; but to ascertain what nature does ... As far as Darwinism deals with mere arguments of possibilities or even probabilities, without a basis of fact, it departs from the true scientific method and injures science, as most of the devotees of the new ism have already done.

The time has come when scientific truth must cease to be the property of the few, when it must be woven into the common life of the world.

The world is the geologist's great puzzle-box; he stands before it like the child to whom the separate pieces of his puzzle remain a mystery till he detects their relation and sees where they fit, and then his fragments grow at once into a connected picture beneath his hand.

When chemists have brought their knowledge out of their special laboratories into the laboratory of the world, where chemical combinations are and have been through all time going on in such vast proportions,?when physicists study the laws of moisture, of clouds and storms, in past periods as well as in the present,?when, in short, geologists and zoologists are chemists and physicists, and vice versa,?then we shall learn more of the changes the world has undergone than is possible now that they are separately studied.

While a glacier is moving, it rubs and wears down the bottom on which it moves, scrapes its surface (now smooth), triturates the broken-off material that is found between the ice and the rock, pulverizes or reduces it to a clayey paste, rounds angular blocks that resist its pressure, and polishes those having a larger surface. At the surface of the glacier, other processes occur. Fragments of rocks that are broken-off from the neighboring walls and fall on the ice, remain there or can be transported to the sides; they advance in this way on the top of the glacier, without moving or rubbing against each other ... and arrive at the extremity of the glacier with their angles, sharp edges, and their uneven surfaces intact.

Absorbed in the special investigation, I paid no heed to the edifice which was meanwhile unconsciously building itself up. Having however completed the comparison of the fossil species in Paris, I wanted, for the sake of an easy revision of the same, to make a list according to their succession in geological formations, with a view of determining the characteristics more exactly and bringing them by their enumeration into bolder relief. What was my joy and surprise to find that the simplest enumeration of the fossil fishes according to their geological succession was also a complete statement of the natural relations of the families among themselves; that one might therefore read the genetic development of the whole class in the history of creation, the representation of the genera and species in the several families being therein determined; in one word, that the genetic succession of the fishes corresponds perfectly with their zoological classification, and with just that classification proposed by me.

America, so far as her physical history is concerned, has been falsely denominated the New World. Hers was the first dry land lifted out of the waters, hers the first shore washed by the ocean that enveloped all the earth beside; and while Europe was represented only by islands rising here and there above the sea, America already stretched an unbroken line of land from Nova Scotia to the Far West.

Embryology furnishes, also, the best measure of true affinities existing between animals.

I have devoted my whole life to the study of Nature, and yet a single sentence may express all that I have done. I have shown that there is a correspondence between the succession of Fishes in geological times and the different stages of their growth in the egg,?this is all. It chanced to be a result that was found to apply to other groups and has led to other conclusions of a like nature.

The world has arisen in some way or another. How it originated is the great question, and Darwin's theory, like all other attempts, to explain the origin of life, is thus far merely conjectural. I believe he has not even made the best conjecture possible in the present state of our knowledge.

The surface of the earth is not simply a stage on which the thousands of present and past inhabitants played their parts in turn. There are much more intimate relations between the earth and the living organisms which populated it, and it may even be demonstrated that the earth was developed because of them.

The resources of the Deity cannot be so meagre, that, in order to create a human being endowed with reason, he must change a monkey into a man.

The epoch of intense cold which preceded the present creation has been only a temporary oscillation of the earth's temperature, more important than the century-long phases of cooling undergone by the Alpine valleys. It was associated with the disappearance of the animals of the diluvial epoch of the geologists, as still demonstrated by the Siberian mammoths; it preceded the uplifting of the Alps and the appearance of the present-day living organisms, as demonstrated by the moraines and the existence of fishes in our lakes. Consequently, there is complete separation between the present creation and the preceding ones, and if living species are sometimes almost identical to those buried inside the earth, we nevertheless cannot assume that the former are direct descendants of the latter or, in other words, that they represent identical species.

Philosophers and theologians have yet to learn that a physical fact is as sacred as a moral principle. Our own nature demands from us this double allegiance.

It must be for truth's sake, and not for the sake of its usefulness to humanity, that the scientific man studies Nature. The application of science to the useful arts requires other abilities, other qualities, other tools than his; and therefore I say that the man of science who follows his studies into their practical application is false to his calling. The practical man stands ever ready to take up the work where the scientific man leaves it, and adapt it to the material wants and uses of daily life.

In-depth studies have an influence on general ideas, whereas theories, in turn, in order to maintain themselves, push their spectators to search for new evidence. The mind's activity that is maintained by the debates about these works, is probably the source of the greatest joys given to man to experience on Earth.

I will frankly tell you that my experience in prolonged scientific investigations convinces me that a belief in God—a God who is behind and within the chaos of vanishing points of human knowledge—adds a wonderful stimulus to the man who attempts to penetrate into the regions of the unknown.

Branches or types are characterized by the plan of their structure,Classes, by the manner in which that plan is executed, as far as ways and means are concerned, Orders, by the degrees of complication of that structure, Families, by their form, as far as determined by structure, Genera, by the details of the execution in special parts, and Species, by the relations of individuals to one another and to the world in which they live, as well as by the proportions of their parts, their ornamentation, etc.

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Agassiz, fully Jean Louis Rodolphe Agassiz
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Swiss-American Paleontologist, Glaciologist and Geologist