18th Century Geology and Science: Leclerc and Nicholson
In the eighteenth century Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788), in Natural History of the Globe, of Man, of Beasts, Birds, Fishes, Reptiles, Insects and Plants (1831), challenged Archbishop Ussher’s date of the earth’s origin. Ussher calculated the earth to be 74,832 years old, and that fossils are extinct species that existed at different times during the cooling periods of the earth; each period closed with a catastrophe. In antiquated knowledge, the universe was regarded as unstable and temporary, where there were cycles of destruction and repair, with long periods of unbroken tranquility, broken by catastrophes.
Henry Alleyne Nicholson (1980:3) writes, “it has been maintained, as a metaphysical hypothesis, that there exists in the mind of man an inherent principle, in virtue of which he believes and expects that what has been will be; and that the course of nature will be a continuous and uninterrupted one.” Once the catastrophe ended, the land was populated once again, and species returned to populate the earth. Geologists in the nineteenth century argued that there were much more catastrophes in ancient times than today because the earth was much more violent. The sun and earth are cooling now, having been much hotter in the past.