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The article below (from "A Symposium on Creation" Vols. 1-6 @ is used by permission of Pacific Meridian Publishing Co., copyright ©1977.  All rights to these materials are reserved.  Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Pacific Meridian Publishing Co..

Louis Agassiz

by Bolton Davidheiser

From: "A Symposium on Creation" (Vol. VI), pg 117-135
©1977 - Pacific Meridian Publishing Co.


He has been a professor of biology at both Westmont and Biola colleges.  He holds degrees from Swarthmore College (A.B.) and Johns Hopkins University (Ph.D.).  He has held two research fellowships.  Davidheiser contributed a monthly column, "Science and the Bible," to The King's Business for eleven years

He is the author of Evolution and the Christian Faith (1969), Science and the Bible (1971), "The Scopes Trial," an article appearing in volume three of this series, and "gregor Mendel," a biographical essay in volume five of this series.

His Swiss Background

From his very early youth Louis Agassiz showed an unusual interest in living things and kept small animals in the room he shared with his brother Auguste. In a natural aquarium outside he kept as many kinds of fish as he was able to obtain. He was already proficient at fishing, and begged rides with the local fishermen as they went out on the lake near his home, thus adding to his collection the odd specimens they caught.

Born May 28, 1807, Agassiz grew up in a sympathetic and affectionate family. His father was the local Protestant pastor as well as schoolmaster. His mother was the daughter of a prominent physician. He hiked with his younger brother, collecting specimens. His sisters did not share his zeal for bringing wildlife into the house, but they displayed a gracious toleration.
Louis was a scholar from the start and wished to continue his education. His father, who appreciated higher learning, consented, confident that the expenses would be met somehow. There were contributions from relatives, and Louis was happy with his studies. At least he was nearly happy. He was supposedly destined to become a physician but had no enthusiasm for this profession. His overpowering desire was to be a naturalist, though in those days there was no apparent way of making a living through such a course. He had to tell his family tactfully and gently that his heart was not in medicine, but he promised that he would complete his studies and become a practicing physician.

Louis' training was continued at the University of Heidelberg, where the students enjoyed much freedom and sauntered about town in a special sort of costume which distinguished them from the townspeople. They let their hair grow long and smoked pipes with three-foot stems. Ever mindful of saving time, Louis got the idea that one of the students in his group should read to the others while they were doing their dissections or working with the microscopes. The idea worked very well.
One of his closest friends at the university was Alexander Braun, who also had a special interest in natural history. Braun invited Agassiz to his home for summer vacation; there Agassiz enjoyed the happiest summer of his life, collecting specimens with Alexander and having Braun's talented sister Cecile make drawings of them. The residence of this cultured family became a second home for him, and he promptly fell in love with the artistic Cecile.

His First Opportunity to Use His Talent

After recovering from a bout of typhus fever, Louis and Alexander Braun went on to Munich to complete their academic training. Louis had a very heavy schedule, but he still devoted time to the study of local flora. Before his first year was completed there, Louis was called to see Professor von Martius. Louis had listened with rapt attention while the professor had talked at some of the weekly tea parties about his travels in Brazil with Dr. von Spix on which he had collected biological specimens. Now he could hardly believe his ears as the professor announced that he recognized Louis' knowledge of natural history and his gift for classification; he stated further that since the death of Dr. von Spix, he was unable to undertake the task of describing and classifying the huge collection they had brought from Brazil. Would Louis undertake it? He would receive no pay but would gain an opportunity to be widely recognized as a capable taxonomist and naturalist. Louis realized that this would tax his already heavy schedule and that his family would not approve anything that would delay his medical degree. But he accepted the offer.

In addition to his academic studies, he went to work on the collection with his accustomed zeal and painstaking thoroughness. He decided to conceal this from his family until it was completed and published. However, in his letters to his family and to Cecile (now his fiancée), he kept indicating his dissatisfaction with medicine and his desire to be a naturalist. His family was distraught at his attitude, since he was being kept in school at considerable sacrifice and since it was believed that he never could make a living in natural science.

The more he worked on the Brazilian fishes the greater grew his desire to become a traveling naturalist and collect new species himself. While still working hard on the fishes from Brazil, he earned the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at Erlangen, but as yet lacked the medical degree. Presently he finished the first part of the work on the Brazilian collection, which was written in Latin and dedicated to Georges Cuvier, the originator of the science of paleontology. Cuvier read it carefully and wrote to Agassiz, "The importance and the rarity of the species therein described, as well as the beauty of the figures, will make the work an important one in ichthyology, and nothing can heighten its value more than the accuracy of your descriptions."

Highly gratified with the approval of the great Cuvier, Louis desired also the approval of his father and received it with these words: "I hasten, my dear son, to announce the arrival of your beautiful work....I have no terms in which to express the pleasure it has given me." Louis was truly appreciative of the generous attitude of his parents, and he promised them he would have his medical degree by the following spring.

Besides finishing the description of the Brazilian collection, Louis was planning a publication on the fresh water fishes of Europe and another on fossil fishes. He began his research on the living fish, then proceeded to study all the fossil fish he could find in museums within his reach. He also fulfilled the promise to his father by earning his medical degree at Munich in the spring of 1830, at the age of 23.

One of the "theses" submitted for his medical degree proposed the theory that "the human female is hardier than the male." He offered some evidence for this proposition, but the idea was ridiculed. It was not until modern death rate statistics were compiled that he was shown to be correct.

Agassiz and Darwin

Agassiz and Darwin differed in age by only a few years, and as young men each was supposedly destined to be a doctor. Upon first witnessing an operation in those days before anesthesia, Darwin ran out of the room and Agassiz fainted. But here the similarity ends. Darwin was the son of a wealthy father and knew he would never have to work for a living. Agassiz was always impoverished, and though his interest was elsewhere he did complete his medical studies.

Agassiz had an enormous capacity for hard work, but the expected income from his books did not materialize. They were too technical and expensive to be popular. He saw it would be necessary to enter medical practice. Returning home, he brought with him an artist he had employed to make his illustrations, together with boxes and jars of specimens, all of which were crowded into an upstairs room. His heart was with the specimens, and he attracted only about a half dozen medical patients, who paid him very little. His family was unable to advance him any more money. The situation looked desperate to everyone except the ever-optimistic Louis.

He Goes to Paris

One day a family friend, Charles Christinat, another Protestant pastor, paid a visit and talked privately to Louis. Agassiz expressed the expectation that when his book on fossil fishes was published, there would be sufficient proceeds for him to marry Cecile. In response Christinat asked him what he would most like to do if he were financially independent. The reply was, as the pastor expected, that he would like to go to Paris, then the center of scientific learning, and study at the museum there and with the great men Cuvier and Humboldt. Pastor Christinat handed him a small donation and bade him go.

In Paris Agassiz and his illustrator lived near the places where their interest centered—the museum, the botanical garden, the medical school, and the hospital—all close together. Agassiz made every moment count, knowing the money would soon run out. On his second day in Paris he was invited to the home of the great Cuvier. Agassiz had fears that the famous man might not tolerate a young rival preparing a publication on fossil fish. But upon seeing Agassiz's work and illustrations, Cuvier immediately abandoned a similar project which he was planning. Not only that, but he gave Agassiz a portfolio of fossil fish together with the notes he had spent fifteen years collecting.
Alexander Humboldt also paid a visit. He was a very gruff man who frightened many, but Agassiz was devoted to him as an explorer and naturalist. Just as his money was running out, Louis received a package which proved to be a monetary contribution from Humboldt. He could hardly find words to express his deep appreciation.

It was shortly after this that Agassiz made his first visit to the seashore, where he was able to stay a few days, collecting specimens. Not long after this an epidemic of cholera took Cuvier among its victims. He collapsed while making a speech and died.

Agassiz Returns to Switzerland

Agassiz was offered tempting positions in Paris but decided instead to accept a more modest teaching position in Switzerland, which would give him more time to complete his books. Before leaving Paris he had identified 500 species of extinct fossil fish.

A born teacher, his lectures and field trips were even attended by many of the townspeople. His method was to arouse their curiosity about living things and to stimulate them to observe for themselves.

Cecile's family was uneasy about Louis' lack of practicality in money matters, but he persuaded her that he would be able to sell his collection to a museum and have ample money as a result.

Although he had tempting offers to go elsewhere, Agassiz remained 14 years in the little town of Neuchatel, teaching natural history. During this time he married Cecile, had three children, and brought into his private residence a staff of young men who helped with his research and illustrations. One of these young men was Karl Vogt, "a big, clumsy, but brilliant young fellow his friends referred to as the Bernese bear."1  It was Vogt who translated into German The Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation by Robert Chambers. This was an evolutionary work which greatly influenced the English people, reducing the antagonism toward evolutionary theory and paving the way for the acceptance of Darwin's natural selection theory. At that time Vogt himself did not accept evolution. Recognizing the book as an attack upon orthodox Christianity, he made the translation. Later he was converted to belief in evolution by the writing of Charles Darwin. As one of the permanent guests in the Agassiz home, Vogt made anti-religious remarks before the children during mealtimes, much to Cecile's displeasure.2

The financial situation was always tenuous. Besides, there was bickering and quarreling among the staff members residing in the home. The greatly expanded household put many physical demands upon the physically weak Cecile. Altogether it was nearly too much.

But Agassiz found the time and the means to visit the British Isles to study and discuss the evidence of glaciation there in times past. His ideas were at first not well received, but later influential scholars went along with his glacial theory.

Before he returned home, Agassiz classified more than 300 fossil fish in London. He had originated the concept of using the type of scale of a fish as the basis of classification. Placoid scales have enamel covering dentine, as in teeth. They are generally small and are characteristic of the shark group. Genoid scales are flat and bony and covered with an enamel-like substance called ganoin, as represented in the gars. Cycloid scales, found in the carp family, are thin and overlap like shingles on a roof. Ctenoid scales are the most common type in bony fish and differ from the cycloid in having fine toothlike notches on the outer edge.

Journey to America

Agassiz had a strong desire to go to America. He asked Humboldt to request the king of Prussia for a grant for this purpose. Humboldt was pleased to acquiesce, and the grant was approved.3  Cecile's health was deteriorating, and she was too weak to go along. Louis made promises about returning, but he never saw her again.
Agassiz came to America in 1846. His purpose was to study the natural history and geology of the American continent. However, he became involved in lecturing. His first American lecture was entitled, "Plan of the Universe." The nebular hypothesis was in vogue, and Agassiz naively tried to support it by citing the example of a ball of oil spinning in a solution and throwing off a ring resembling the ring around the planet Saturn. When the next summer came, instead of returning home as he had intended, he led an extended expedition to the wilds of Lake Superior, observing the land and collecting specimens. When he returned to Boston, he received the news that Cecile had died.

Soon Agassiz had again accumulated a household of permanent guests; research assistants and illustrators were all fed and paid from Agassiz's meager income. Furthermore, they had too free access to whatever extra funds might be on hand at any particular time.

His Second Marriage

He wished to send for his children from Europe, but a household such as he kept was no place for children. Meanwhile, he had met Elizabeth Cary, an intelligent, refined, and gracious lady from a prominent family. One branch of the family had wealth, but she did not, contrary to statements by some biographers. It was really a perfect match. The children took to her immediately, and she was a real mother to them. She pampered Agassiz, the ever impractical optimist, and when the financial situation became impossible she opened a highly successful and financially rewarding school for girls.

An anecdote of their home life is characteristic of the absent-minded professor engrossed in natural history. One Sunday morning as his wife was getting ready for church, she put on a boot, only to find a snake snugly coiled within it. In answer to her screams, Agassiz replied he had brought in five of them the previous evening. His concern was, where could the other four be?

Among Agassiz's personal friends at this time were Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, James Russell Lowell, John Greenleaf Whittier, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Edward Everett Hale.

At Harvard

Agassiz's name is most closely associated with Harvard and its museum of comparative anatomy, which he founded. Besides his own vast collections, he purchased other collections for the museum. Although money was always a pressing problem for him personally, he had a remarkable talent for raising funds for his projects. Among minor contributions to the museum were some fish and turtles and a snake from the famous Walden Pond, contributed by Henry Thoreau, sometimes called "the first hippie."
For several years, Agassiz went with his family to lecture at Charleston during the summer recess, but he had to discontinue these visits due to ill health. While there the family resided on Sullivan's Island, the place selected by Edgar Allan Poe as the setting for his story of the Gold Bug.

Agassiz was addicted to cigars (Darwin smoked cigarettes), which he smoked even in the classroom. In fact, it is said that sometimes when he had his hands full of fish he would have a student take a cigar from his pocket and light it for him. His doctor warned him about the health hazards of his smoking habit, but without effect.

In teaching Agassiz laid emphasis upon direct observation. One day when he gave an assignment to a student, the student got sidetracked onto a different project and expected a reprimand. Instead, Agassiz was pleased and full of praise.

Some students once glued together parts of various insects and enthusiastically took their specimen to Agassiz as a new species. He pretended to go along with their story, asking questions about the creature, to which they responded with plausible answers. Finally, he identified the specimen as a "humbug"!

Turtle Eggs

There is an interesting story about Agassiz's studies in embryology. To complete a project he needed turtle eggs less than three hours old, and to obtain them was a problem. A schoolteacher named Jenks offered to help. It was known that turtles lay their eggs early in the morning in spring, so each morning for weeks he sat by a pond waiting for fresh eggs for Agassiz.

Finally one morning a big female turtle left the water and lumbered slowly up the muddy bank that lined the pond. On and on she went, under a fence, into a corn field, with Mr. Jenks in close pursuit. Finally she halted, and digging into the moist earth, she proceeded to deposit the eggs. As soon as he could put them in a little tin bucket, the school teacher was off to catch the morning train for Boston, with just enough time to reach Cambridge and the professor within the three-hour limit. But then a shocking thought struck him. It was Sunday and there would be no train. Then he heard a whistle. A freight train was coming down the track! Hastily he drove his horse onto the tracks to halt the train and quickly climbed aboard the cab of the engine.

The engineer and brakeman were surprised indeed to see this crazy passenger, all wet and muddy, brandishing a little tin bucket filled with dirt. They concluded that the best procedure would be to turn him over to the authorities when they got to Boston. But while they were busy with their engine as they entered the city, Jenks disembarked unnoticed and took a cab for Cambridge.

Announcing with emotion at Agassiz's door that he had turtle eggs for the professor, Jenks was told by the maid to go away. But the professor still in his robes descended the stairs and accepted the eggs with delight. They were just in time, within the three-hour limit. The great Agassiz had his fresh turtle eggs and the first two volumes of his work on natural history could be published.

Agassiz's Son

Agassiz was disappointed when his brilliant son, Alexander, decided to study engineering instead of biology, and also when he went to work for a copper mine instead of for the museum. But Alexander returned to the study of natural history and became a famous biologist in his own right. He amassed a considerable fortune, in contrast to his impecunious and debt-driven father, and donated more than a million dollars to Harvard for the advancement of the study of biology.

The Civil War

Professor Agassiz paid practically no attention to politics, and he was dismayed when students proudly joined the armies for the Civil War. "Our best young men are the first to enlist," he complained. He contended that war destroys the best of a nation's population, just the opposite of the assertion of Friederich von Bernhardi, the German Darwinian, who later helped inflame Germany for the First World War. He referred to war as a "biological necessity" which "gives a biologically just decision." But a nation which, motivated by this doctrine, prepares for war changes its views after the war is over, that is, if it loses.

His Trip to Brazil

Agassiz's health in general had been robust, but he pushed himself too hard. At one time it seemed he might become blind through too arduous use of the microscope. He suffered a paralysis but recovered. In 1865 it was decided that he and his wife would take a trip to Brazil for his health. But a wealthy friend offered to finance an expedition, and a steamboat company gave them free passage, so it turned out to be another collecting trip. One of the five students who went along was William James, later to become "the father of American pragmatic philosophy." According to pragmatists, the criterion of truth is whether or not it "works." This philosophy denies absolute values and leads to situation ethics, anarchy, riots, violence. John Dewey, the great architect of educational policy in this country, was an early pragmatist and carried the philosophy further than James did.

On the Brazil trip, Agassiz the lecturer could not stop lecturing. Not only his students but passengers on the ship were thrilled by his daily talks, illustrated with chalk sketches on an improvised blackboard. In Brazil both men and women attended his lectures. This was the first time in the history of that country that women sat with men in a lecture hall.

Agassiz's wife wrote an account of their adventures in Brazil. She also wrote a book on natural history called Seaside Studies. At that time there was prejudice against women writers, but Agassiz was pleased with his wife's literary works. Dr. Samuel Gridley had been deeply mortified when his wife published a volume of poetry, anonymously. Nathaniel Hawthorne, when he caught his daughter Rose attempting to write a story, forbade her to ever do it again.4


A wealthy New York businessman offered Penikese Island in Buzzards Bay to Agassiz as a campus for a school of natural history. The island was uninhabited but had an old barn which was to be remodeled into a classroom and dormitory. All was planned for the summer of 1873, but when Agassiz arrived a few days before the first session was to begin, he found the living facilities incomplete. The ever-optimistic professor refused to delay the opening of the school and persuaded the carpenters to work on Sunday to get the place in a usable condition. This school did not continue after the first season, but its successor was the Marine Biological Laboratory on the mainland at Woods Hole. Here for many years students came from all over to take advanced biological courses, with field trips to the various Elizabeth Islands.

His Study of Glaciers

Besides his interest in living things, Agassiz became interested in glaciers. He did some original research on the Aar glacier in Switzerland, looked for evidence of glaciation everywhere he went, and popularized the glacial theories of others.

In 1836 Agassiz with his young family had been invited to the town of Bix in Switzerland to collect fossils. While there he was shown some erratic boulders, that is, boulders different in composition from the native rock. The explanation given was that they had been brought there from a distance by a glacier. According to this theory, the glacier had transported the boulders to this place and then deposited them there as it melted a long time ago.

At first Agassiz was reluctant to accept this explanation, but he began to study existing glaciers and became convinced that in times past glaciation was very extensive and did a great deal of work in sculpturing valleys and leaving striations on the rocks as evidence of its former presence. He built a shack on the Aar glacier and studied its movement. On one occasion he placed a tripod over a crevasse and had his companions lower him into it on a wooden seat attached to a rope. It was arranged that when he called, the men would pull him up. At a depth of 125 feet he came to flowing water and called to be pulled up. His fellow workers did not hear his cry, and he got a cold and dangerous dunking. Then as he was being pulled up, he saw something he had not noticed before. There were huge icicles among which the rope could become entangled. The rope could be cut by the ice or could dislodge large chunks of icicle above him. After he reached the surface he acknowledged that it was a very hazardous thing to have done.

When Agassiz started teaching his glacial theory he met opposition at first, but soon other scientists were convinced. Charles Darwin wrote to him, "I have enjoyed reading your work on glaciers, which has filled me with admiration."5  Most important, his theory was accepted by Charles Lyell, the eminent geologist. William Buckland, professor of geology at Oxford, wrote to Agassiz in 1840, "Lyell has adopted your theory in toto!!!"6  Lyell is considered the founder of modern geology. He popularized uniformitarianism, the view that the present is the key to the past. The idea is that geological phenomena are not to be explained through great catastrophes in the past but only through phenomena still going on, as local floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, and the like. Lyell did not originate these views just as Charles Darwin did not originate his evolutionary views. But like Darwin, he collected data and succeeded in getting his ideas accepted. Lyell was Darwin's chief inspiration, as Darwin admitted, "I always feel as if my books came half out of Lyell's brain, and that I never acknowledge this sufficiently."7

As the glacial theory became popular, three other men contended for priority and claimed they had not received the recognition they deserved.

It may come as a surprise to many that Agassiz believed the whole Earth was once covered with ice and that the ice killed the animal and plant life which existed before that time. He wrote to Professor Buckland, "Since I saw the glaciers I am quite of a snowy humor and will have the whole surface of the earth covered with Ice, and the whole prior creation dead by cold."8

In 1848 Agassiz announced his theory of glaciation to the Royal Society of London. He told them that there had been a period of intense cold when the whole surface of the Earth had been covered with a crust of ice, destroying the greater portion (if not all) of animal and plant life.9

Scientific writer Dr. Vander Weyde asked Agassiz "if he still adhered to his opinion about the existence of a great glacial era once extending over the whole earth." Agassiz answered promptly, "Plus que jamais" (more than ever).10  Agassiz even found evidence of the great glacier in the Brazilian jungle of the Amazon Valley.

Following the tradition of George Cuvier, whom he admired greatly, Agassiz believed there had been a series of creations, each following a catastrophe of some sort which had destroyed the former creation. According to Dr. Vander Weyde, "he added that this glacial period was perhaps the greatest of them all, and took place a short time (geologically speaking) before the appearance of the human race." 11

Some Problems with the Glacial Theory Following Agassiz's popularization of the glacial theory, there were some reactions among scientists, particularly by geologist Henry Howorth, who wrote numerous articles and several books refuting it. He argued that many of the assumptions of the glaciologists are, as Douglas Cox says, contrary to physical laws and known facts about the properties of ice.12

The glacial theory was preferred by the uniformitarian geologists over the former explanation that the observed phenomena were largely due to the Flood at the time of Noah; the glacial theory was in accord with their uniformitarian presuppositions. As a consequence, the idea of great glaciations has become firmly fixed in the textbooks. However, there are problems even with some of the modern concepts of past glaciations.

The so-called drift, consisting of gravels and other unconsoli-dated materials formerly attributed to actions of the Flood, is now considered the chief evidence of glaciers. One problem is the lack of drift in northern areas where it is to be expected, and its presence in the tropics where it is not. It is found in the jungles of Amazonian South America, British Guiana, Equatorial Africa, Madagascar and India. Cox says that the theory of continental drift is "partly an attempt to explain how these areas could have been glaciated."13

Another very serious problem is that in order to explain some of the drift phenomena, the glaciers would have had to flow for hundreds of miles, up and down hilly terrain. Glaciers move slowly downhill under the influence of gravity, but there is no evidence that sheets of ice can move uphill. Also there is a limit to the force which can push ice without causing it to break and crumble. These and other problems still face the uniformitarian glaciologists.

Religious Views

We do not know precisely what Agassiz's religious convictions were. He seems to have had a broad view of the Deity as Creator and Sustainer. As regards revelation, he seems to have held a view which later became known as "the double revelation theory," promoted in 1885 by the popular and liberal clergyman, Henry Ward Beecher. The concept is that there are two revelations given to man, one in the Word of God, the Bible, and the other in the works of God, as seen in nature. The tendency in our day among those who espouse this doctrine is always to give preference to the "current scientific" view on any point related to Creation rather than to the revelation in Scripture. As one of Agassiz's biographers says, "For Agassiz and his followers...the essence of the Creative Power has to be discovered in the book of nature itself, not in the Bible."14

Opposition to Evolution

Louis Agassiz not only did not accept Charles Darwin's theory of evolution, he actively opposed it. He attacked it at a vital point, namely, its inability to show evidence of the transformation of one kind of living or fossil animal or plant into another. This is still a basic problem. Some evolutionists try to by-pass the issue by citing the case of the light and dark moths in England as an outstanding example of evolution, which in fact represents no evolution at all.

In the days before the industrial revolution the light moths blended with the trunks of the trees, where they rested during the daytime. In contrast, the dark moths of the same species stood out against the background and were easily seen. As a result, the birds ate the dark moths first, and they were always rare. But with the coming of the industrial revolution, the trees in the industrialized areas were darkened by soot from the factories, and the reverse situation arose. The dark moths blended with the background, and the light moths stood out in contrast. Consequently the birds ate the light moths first, giving the dark moths an opportunity to live longer and reproduce more, and they became the predominant type. But this was merely a change in the ratio of light and dark types and not evolution at all. Evolutionary gaps within the larger categories of animals and plants are still an unsolved problem for the evolutionists.

A contemporary pointed out another problem raised by Professor Agassiz: "The leading objection of Mr. Agassiz is likewise of a philosophical character. It is that species exist only 'as categories of thought'—that, having no material existence, they can have had no material variation, and no material community of origin."15  It is true that species cannot be distinguished by means of a definition and frequently it is a matter of opinion whether several types of creatures belong to one or more species.16 However, this is not considered embarrassing by the evolutionists, for they say that if all living things that existed in the past could be observed, there would be a gradual change from one form to another in the whole series from primordial life to the presently existing species.

Agassiz had a concept of evolution very different from what is held today. He conceived the evolutionary sequence of the vertebrates as being from the lowest fish to the highest fish, and from the highest fish to the lowest reptile. (At that time the amphibians were included with the reptiles.) The sequence continued from the lowest reptile to the highest reptile, to the lowest bird, and on from the highest bird to the lowest mammal, and thus on to its culmination in man. How the gaps between these major groups could possibly be bridged is difficult even to imagine. For example, the "highest" of the birds are the birds of prey, as eagles and hawks, while whales were considered the "lowest" mammals. To evolve an eagle into a whale might make an anti-evolutionist out of anyone! But modern evolutionists, although they postulate more plausible gaps, have the same problem in trying to bridge them. The gaps are still there in the fossil record. Even in cases where assumed sequences are generally accepted, they are based upon suppositions and are subject to change without notice.

Agassiz accepted long periods of geologic time. This apparently pleased young people in America, just as the same generation of youth in England cheered Thomas Henry Huxley when he outwitted Bishop Wilberforce in what was to have been a debate on evolution. Agassiz got into trouble with the clergy by stating that the different races of men did not all come from Adam and Eve but originated at different places on the globe.17  But he also contended that "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."18

As already mentioned, Agassiz thought, like Cuvier, that there had been a series of creations interspersed with catastrophes, each of which killed off the living things of the previous creation. However, he also saw a progression from lower to higher types.

In 1859 he published a famous work promoting the idea of fixity of species, and summarizing the knowledge of classification to that year. It was in that same year that Darwin published his much more famous Origin of Species. This taught, contrary to the view of Agassiz, that varieties in animals and plants represent a model for species formation.

In a lecture Agassiz said, "There is then a complete break between the present creation and those which preceded it. If the living species of our times resemble those buried in the levels of the earth, so as to be mistaken for them, it cannot be said that they have descended in direct line of progeniture, or what is the same thing, that they are identical species."19

That some fossil forms are little changed through successive geologic periods he considered as evidence against Darwin's theory. Near the end of his life he was hopeful of getting more evidence against the evolutionary concept on his trip to California by way of the Horn aboard the Hassler, as deep-sea dredgings were to be made. His expectation was to obtain living creatures resembling fossil forms from ages past. He was much disappointed that the mechanism of the dredges was faulty and he could not obtain a sampling of the life on the floor of the sea. He would have been fascinated by discoveries such as that of the coelacanth—a fish believed to have been extinct for some 70 million years—in Madagascan waters in 1938.

He believed there was a sequence of different forms of life in the fossil record. He thought the bony fish changed much more than the sharks and rays during long geological time. He thought there was a time when there were no vertebrates higher than fish. One of his illustrators, Dinkel by name, is said to have remarked, "It seems strange to think that fishes were once masters of creation."20  Agassiz thought that human beings did not come upon the scene until after the ice age.

Agassiz's Graham Lectures were delivered in January and February of 1862, somewhat more than two years after the publication of Darwin's Origin of Species. The subject matter of the lectures was to be, "On the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God as Manifest in His Works." Agassiz did not mention Darwin by name, but he alluded to "a certain theory which is very well received at this time."21  In contrast to the view "proposed by some very learned but...rather fanciful scientific men" that the forms of life presently inhabiting the earth "had grown out of a comparative simple and small beginning," he maintained that evidence of a greater population in times past refuted evolutionary theory. He considered this "a most powerful blow at that theory which would make us believe that all the animals have been derived from a few original beings, which have become diversified in course of time."22

Agassiz noticed a similarity in the embryonic development of individual fish and the geologic succession of fish. He said, "I have shown that there is a correspondence between the succession of fishes in geological times and the different stages of growth in their eggs."23   One of his biographers, Aylesa Forsee, says, "In April of  1858  the first two volumes of Contributions to the Natural History of the United States were published. Beautifully illustrated, these embryological studies...proved that animals in earlier stages of growth resemble ancient representatives of the same type."24  This was just a year and a half before Darwin published his Origin of Species. Johann Meckel in 1811 and Karl von Baer in 1828 had made some similar observations, no doubt unknown to Agassiz. Ernst Haeckel, a quick convert to Darwinism in Germany, picked up the idea of the "recapitulation theory," that developing embryos go through stages representing the evolutionary history of the species. Starting in 1866, Haeckel propagated this theory for all it was worth. In fact, more than it was worth, for he created a scandal through  faked drawings. Darwin himself considered this evidence from  embryology the best evidence in favor of evolution. In contrast, Agassiz saw in it only evidence of the Creator's work, and  wrote in the introductory   essay of his embryology books,  "All the  facts proclaim aloud the one God, whom we know, adore, and love." Modern evolutionary embryologists consider   recapitulation so poor as an evidence of evolution that they are giving it up and plan not even to refer to it in the new texts on embryology.25

Agassiz was a great man. Particularly, he was a great teacher. He had a genius for making natural history interesting to his students. He was meticulous for detail in his great works of description and classification. In this was his strength, rather than in interpretation. His opposition to Darwinian evolution was from both the scientific and the religious point of view.

Agassiz may not have understood all the problems in evolutionary theory, but the fact remains that he did oppose it and was the chief opponent among the men of science. He recognized some of the spiritual implications of the theory, which the great American botanist, Asa Gray, did not. Gray had a reputation for being an evangelical Christian, but was a convert to Darwinism through his correspondence with Darwin before the publication of the Origin of Species. Gray was useful to the evolutionists, and indeed still is. They use him as an illustration that anyone can at the same time be an evolutionist and also an evangelical Christian.

In his old age Charles Darwin wrote his autobiography, which he said was only for his children. In it he tells how he lost his faith in the Bible and never regretted it for a single second. There is a widespread story that he was converted before he died, but the evidence is all against it; to the very end of his long life he espoused evolution, as his correspondence shows.26

Both Agassiz and Darwin studied medicine. Darwin failed, but Agassiz completed his training and earned his medical degree. Darwin obtained a degree in theology, the only degree he ever earned. But through his espousal of evolution he lost what faith he formerly thought he had.

Agassiz kept his faith in the Creator and frequently referred to the evidence in nature related to the purpose and will of God. At his summer school of natural history on Penikese Island he spontaneously started his first lecture with a verbal prayer of thanksgiving. A few months later he died, December 12, 1873. A bounder from the Aar glacier was sent to mark his grave.


1. Aylesa Forsee, Louis Agassiz: Pied Piper of Science (New York:  Viking Press, 1958), p. 87.

2. Louise Hall Tharp, Adventurous Alliance, The Story of the Agassiz Family of Boston (Boston:  Little Brown & Co., 1959), p. 79.

3. Catherine Owens Peare, A Scientist of Two Worlds:  Louis Agassiz  Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott, 1958), pp. 90-91.

4. Tharp, Adventurous Alliance, p. 125.

5. Edward Lurie, Louis Agassiz, A Life in Science  (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), p. 100.

6. Ibid.

7. More Letters of Charles Darwin, ed. Francis Darwin (New York: Appleton & Co., 1903), Vol. 2, p. 115.

8. Lurie, Louis Agassiz, p. 98.

9. Dr. VanderWeyde,  "Personal Reminiscences of Eminent Men,"  Scientific American, September 10, 1892 (67:11), p. 168.

10. Ibid.

11. Ibid.

12. Douglas Cox,  "Problems of Glacial Theory," Creation Research Society Quarterly, June 1976 (13:1), p. 25.

13. Ibid., p. 27.

14. Lurie, Louis Agassiz, p. 100.

15. "Darwin and His Reviewers," The Atlantic Monthly, October 1860 (6:36), p. 419.

16. Bolton Davidheiser, Evolution and Christian Faith (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1969), pp. 255-67.

17. Tharp, Adventurous Alliance, p. 87.

18. Forsee, Louis Agassiz, p. 176.

19. Lurie, Louis Agassiz, p. 65.

20. Forsee, Louis Agassiz, p. 65.

21. Louis Agassiz, The Structure of Animal Life (New York: Scribner, Armstrong & Co., 1874), p. 92.

22. Ibid., p. 95.

23. Lurie, Louis Agassiz, p. 286.

24. Forsee, Louis Agassiz, p. 165.

25. For documentation, see Davidheiser, Evolution and Christian Faith,  pp. 241-43.

26. For details, see Davidheiser, Evolution and Christian Faith, pp. 66-67.


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