Louis Agassiz


Louis Agassiz : biography

May 28, 1807 – December 14, 1873

In his work he noted similarities of distribution of like species in different geological eras, a phenomenon clearly not the result of migration. Agassiz questioned how fish of the same species live in lakes well separated with no joining waterway, Agassiz concluded they were created at both locations. According to Agassiz the intelligent adaptation of creatures to their environments testified to an intelligent plan. The conclusions of his studies lead him to believe that whichever region each animal was found in, was created there “animals are naturally autochthones wherever they are found”. After further research he later extended this idea to humans, which became to be known as his theory of polygenism.

According to Agassiz’s theory of polygenism animals, plants and humans were all created in “special provinces” each having distinct populations of species created in and for that province. Agassiz claimed plants, animals and humans did not originate in pairs but were created in large numbers. According to Agassiz, the different races were created in different provinces, each race was indigenous to the province it was created in, he cited evidence from Egyptian monuments to prove that fixity of racial types had existed for at least five millennia. According to Agassiz’s theory of polygenism all species are fixed, including all the races of humans and species do not evolve into other species.

Agassiz like other polygenists believed the Book of Genesis recounted the origin of the white race only and that the animals and plants in the Bible refer only to those species proximate and familiar to Adam and Eve. Agassiz, Josiah Clark Nott, and other polygenists such as George Gliddon, believed that the original Hebrew form of the name Adam came from a Biblical Hebrew consonantal root referring to redness, so that the name can be interpreted to mean "to show red in the face" or "blusher"; since only light skinned people can blush, then the biblical Adam must be the Caucasian race.Scott Mandelbrote, Nature and Scripture in the Abrahamic Religions: 1700–Present, Volume 2, 2009, pp. 151–154 Agassiz believed that the writers of the Bible only knew of local events, for example Noah’s flood was a local event only known to the regions that were populated by ancient Hebrews, Agassiz claimed the writers of the Bible did not know about any events other than what was going on in their own region and their intermediate neighbors.

According to Agassiz the provinces that the different races were created in included Western American Temperate (the indigenous peoples west of the Rockies); Eastern American Temperate (east of the Rockies); Tropical Asiatic (south of the Himalayas); Temperate Asiatic (east of the Urals and north of the Himalayas); South American Temperate (South America); New Holland (Australia); Arctic (Alaska and Arctic Canada); Cape of Good Hope (South Africa); and American Tropical (Central America and the West Indies).

Stephen Jay Gould said that Agassiz’s theories sprang from an initial revulsion in his encounters with African-Americans upon moving to the United States.Stephen Jay Gould, "Flaws in a Victorian Veil," Chapter 16 in The Panda’s Thumb. Even though Agassiz was a believer in polygenism he rejected racism and supported the notion of a spiritualized human unity. He claimed human polygenism did not undermine the spiritual commonality of all people, even though each race was physically diverse. The physical descent was irrelevant to the spiritual descent of humanity according to Agassiz. Agassiz believed God had made all men equal:

Those intellectual and moral qualities which are so eminently developed in civilized society, but which equally exist in the natural dispositions of all human races, constituting the higher unity among men, making them all equal before God.

Agassiz also opposed monogenism and evolution, he claimed that the theory of evolution reduced the wisdom of God to an impersonal materialism. Species, in their natures and geographical distribution, are direct expressions of the intelligence and will of God, not the results of blind chance. Agassiz believed evolution was an insult to the wisdom and will of God. Agassiz’s polygenism theory was accepted by a number of Protestants and scientists. For example Nathaniel Shaler who had studied under Agassiz at Harvard was a believer in Agassiz’s polygenism.Cohen, Nancy, The reconstruction of American liberalism, 1865–1914, UNC Press Books, 2002, p. 77