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Catastrophic ThinkingExtinction and the Value of Diversity from Darwin to the Anthropocene$
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David Sepkoski

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226348612

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226354613.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2022. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 28 May 2022

The Meaning of Extinction: Catastrophe, Equilibrium, and Diversity

The Meaning of Extinction: Catastrophe, Equilibrium, and Diversity

Chapter:
(p.17) 1 The Meaning of Extinction: Catastrophe, Equilibrium, and Diversity
Source:
Catastrophic Thinking
Author(s):

David Sepkoski

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226354613.003.0002

This chapter begins the story by exploring how the idea of extinction emerged as a biological concept in the nineteenth century. Despite the current ubiquity of the term, extinction challenged earlier notions of the stability of nature and the benevolence of a creator god. When naturalists first determined that the geological record revealed that a great many species which had formerly existed have become extinct, new ideas about the "balance of nature" had to be developed that could account for extinction as a process contributing to overall natural stability. Two of the central characters in this chapter are Georges Cuvier, who was responsible for confirming the empirical fact of extinction and who developed a "catastrophic" model of geo-historical change, and Charles Lyell, whose view that extinction is an ordinary feature of natural history had an enormous influence on later understandings of the relationship between extinction and biological diversity.

Keywords:   Georges Cuvier, catastrophism, Charles Lyell, uniformitarianism, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Giambattista Brocchi, balance of nature, paleontology

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