Agassiz: Anti-Darwin

on June 9, 2007

Harvard University Gazette: “A tale of two scholars: The Darwin debate at Harvard

This interesting story, from Harvard University’s news office, reviews a talk given by Aramont Professor of the History of Science Janet Browne of Harvard University. The talk, at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, reviewed the life of Louis Agassiz, a 19th-century “ambitious institution-builder and fundraiser as well as one of the most renowned scientists of his generation” who is viewed with strange curiosity now because of the fact that he did not accept Darwin’s theory of evolution:

He did not accept Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Agassiz was unimpressed with Darwin’s book, which he called “a scientific mistake, untrue in its facts, unscientific in its methods, and mischievous in its tendency.”

In a revealing look at the current mentality of scientists, the University Gazette described the talk as “a reminder of Agassiz’s stature and achievement despite his rejection of Darwin’s challenging theory.”

Indeed, the view nowadays from the scientific mainstream is not merely that accepting creation precludes one from contributing to natural history and the like, but rather that accepting creation precludes one from contributing to any body of science. On the contrary, while creation-believing scientists are definitely in the minority, there are thousands of successful, doctored scientists (including some listed on our creation scientists page) who accept the Genesis account of creation, and thousands more who reject Darwinian evolution (though not necessarily accepting the Bible’s account of creation).

Sadly, Louis Agassiz’ story is not entirely commendable:

Agassiz’s idea of nature was an essentially static one: God had placed the various species of plants and animals in specific places around the globe, and there they had remained, in the same forms and quantities as when they were first created.

(We’ll interject at this point that this view fails to account for natural selection, which does not contradict, but rather complements, the biblical view; in addition, this view ignores the catastrophic effects of the Flood.)

There was a hierarchy to organisms, but not an evolutionary one. Some were more complicated and advanced, but he did not believe as Darwin did that more complicated organisms evolved out of simpler ones.

(On this point, we agree—but not, as you will read, with Agassiz’ next conclusion.)

Agassiz had similar ideas about humans. The five races of man were indigenous to specific sections of the earth. Highest in development were white Europeans. Lowest were black Africans. Agassiz took a very dim view of racial mixing.

Belief in creation is held by enough people—from all academic and intellectual backgrounds—to merit more than scoffing and instant dismissal.

Sadly, and again, Agassiz’ view fails to account for the Bible’s clear teaching that we are all of one blood, and instead his belief on this point more closely resembles the Darwinian view toward humanity. Read more about that topic in our Racism Q&A.

At the very least, we hope that some of the bright minds at Harvard were reminded that belief in creation is held by enough people—from all academic and intellectual backgrounds—to merit more than scoffing and instant dismissal.


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Answers in Genesis is an apologetics ministry, dedicated to helping Christians defend their faith and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ effectively. We focus on providing answers to questions about the Bible—particularly the book of Genesis—regarding key issues such as creation, evolution, science, and the age of the earth.