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This programme shows some of the ways in which fossils were interpreted and fitted into a broader 'world view', from the early 17th century to the early 19th century. It is written and presented by... Dr. Martin Rudwick, Lecturer in the History of Science, University of Cambridge, who is a leading authority on the history of paleontology, and author of The Meaning of Fossils (London, Macdonald 1972). The programme is illustrated with a wide variety of specimens, photographs and early drawings of fossils, and with works of art showing how they have been interpreted since the time of Galileo. It deals with the implications of fossil discoveries for belief in the Biblical accounts of creation and of The Flood. The ideas of Burnet are explained, and the programme then treats in some detail the work of Georges Cuvier about 1800. Television techniques help show how he reconstructed whole extinct maramals from separate fossils bones, and how his ideas differed from those of Lamarck on the question of discontinuities between species. The programme then discusses Cuvier's English follower Buckland, and shows how fossil discoveries led to a growing belief in extinction and in the aggressiveness of animal nature, which prepared the way for Darwin's later theories and for Victorian beliefs in the 'naturalness' of a struggle for survival. The specimens were supplied by courtesy of the Curator of the Sedgwick Museum, Cambridge and the illustrations by the University Library, Cambridge.
Metadata describing this Open University video programme
Module code and title: AMST283, Science and belief: from Copernicus to Darwin
Item code: AMST283; 08
First transmission date: 24-07-1974
Published: 1974
Rights Statement:
Restrictions on use:
Duration: 00:23:03
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Producer: Alasdair Clayre
Contributor: Martin Rudwick
Publisher: BBC Open University
Keyword(s): Fossils; Georges Cuvier; Lamarck
Footage description: Studio programme with Martin Rudwick speaking to the camera. His lecture is illustrated with stills, and some actual fossils. Opening shows him with his hand on a large ammonite. He explains what fossils are, and describes some early finds. An engraving of the flood illustrates the common sense idea that it was responsible for the deposition of fossil shells on mountain sides. Close-ups of the seven stages of the world depicted on the title page of Bumet's "Telluris theoria sacra" discussed in TV07. Rudwick raises the question that fossil remains posed: was it possible that some species had become extinct? Shots of sliced ammonites and sliced nautilus shell for comparison. Naturalists proposed that unknown species had migrated to distant seas. But the discovery of huge fossil bones in the 18th century began to throw doubt on this. Drawings of Mammoth bones. Discussion of the work of Georges Cuvier, of the Natural History Museum in Paris, and his 'Researches on the fossil bones of quadrupeds' published in 1812, in which he firmly establishes the theory of extinction. Shots of Rudwick with this multi-volume work, and diagrams of mastodons etc. (See script for complete list of stills in this programme). Cuvier's chief opponent was Lamarck. Rudwick summarises his ideas. Portrait. Scallops and rhinos. Portrait of Cuvier. William Buckland was Cuvier's main follower in England. Rudwick describes his work in caves, on fossils sealed beneath layers of stalagmite, and therefore older than the flood. Buckland's explanation was that fossil animals had been wiped out by the flood. Diagrams showing his subterranean excavations. Drawings of ichthyosaurs. Prints of Buckland lecturing. Buckland's work reinforced his belief in the 'Argument from design' seeing in fossils evidence of divine craftsmanship. Shots of the strata chart he devised in the 1830s to summarise the current state of geology. His contemporaries brought out a darker implication: shots of reconstructions by De la Beche and Hawkins of prehistoric scenes, showing "nature red in tooth and claw". Rudwick leads into discussion of Darwin's work, to be followed in TV10.
Master spool number: 6HT/71264
Production number: 00525_3115
Videofinder number: 3356
Available to public: no