George-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon was a French naturalist during the period of the French Enlightenment. He studied at a Jesuit school where he showed a proficiency for mathematics. He is also considered one of the founders of Paleontology.
Buffon was skeptical of the classification system of Linnaeus, the famous naturalist. He particularly disagreed with the idea of grouping animal species into families. Buffon believed that the earth was formed from a piece of the sun that was torn off, and that the moon was torn off from the earth by centrifugal force. The age of the earth was estimated to be around 75,000 years which was a considerable figure since the prevailing theory of the creation of the world ranged from about 4000 to 6000 BC. He changed his estimation to 3,000,000 years but he retraced it for fear of being misunderstood.
He thought that all animals sprung from common ancestors over great periods of time. The quadrupeds, Buffon said, sprang from 13 original species that were present from nearly the beginning. These 13 all sprang spontaneously as soon as organic molecules appeared. According to Buffon, most of these species disappeared, adapting and changing in accordance to the change in their environment. He explained that the reason large creatures have little variation is because they reproduce slowly. Likewise, the reason that small mammals and birds have so many types is because they are reproduce prolifically.
Buffon also studied the human species, determining that the distinguishing characteristic of man is reason. According to Buffon, reason stemmed from language, and language stemmed from society. Society, he said, was necessary because, unlike other species, man requires a great deal of nurturing and upbringing. Elephants, the most intelligent of the animals, are as such because they have a form of society. He also said that the very first humans had black skin, and that humans and animals have the same origins.
Theology and religion were completely absent from his studies, even though three of his brothers went into the Church and two of whom became distinguished. Buffon was an interesting if not extremely important scientist of the French enlightenment, and it is interesting to read his theories and to follow his reasoning, even if it was false.