Was Buffon Forced to Recant an Old Earth?

Continuing the discussion from YEC and Historical-Grammatical Interpretation:

But then the reference @John_Harshman himself gives says the opposite:

Later on, in the late 19th century, the story of Buffon and the Sorbonne was used by Dickinson White in his ‘History of the Conflict between Religion and Science’ ( and as a favourite anecdote in the introductions of biology textbooks) ; although as we have seen, the Buffon retraction of 1751 was prompted by the rabble rousing Jansensists. The Sorbonne was far from hostile and actually worked to protect Buffon from criticism. Eventually in 1779 the Sorbonne and Buffon became involved in a petty squabble but there was no formal condemnation and the faculty’s low-key protest fell on deaf ears. Rather than some sinister suppression of science by religion, the activities of Buffon and the religious groups in 18th century France merely displayed the factionalism, squabbling and double dealing we are all familiar with. When history is co-opted for other agendas, these subtleties tend to be lost.

A little more about him:

In the eighteenth century Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon published the first volumes of his ‘Histoire Naturelle’, a work which anticipated some of the ideas of Charles Darwin. Buffon was an eccentric, especially when he was at his most creative. In order to begin writing he had to dress up in his finest regalia, from braided wig to silk waistcoat, to a lacy high-collard shirt. He was also fond of saying that there were only five truly great men: Newton, Bacon, Leibniz, Montesquieu…and himself. The ‘Histoire’, which would eventually reach 36 volumes, was a work of stunning ambition, which aimed to include everything known about the natural world up until that date. In it Buffon considered the similarities between humans and apes, and the possibility of a common ancestry.

Upon publication of ‘Histoire Naturelle’ in 1750, which was paid for by the King of France, the work became an astonishing success, the first printing selling out in around six weeks to be followed speedily by German, Dutch and English editions. Eventually ‘Histoire Naturelle’ was to become the most widespread work of the eighteenth century, outselling even the Philosophes ‘Encylopedie’ and the works of Voltaire and Rousseau. This inspired jealousy amongst some in the salons of Paris, including the Abbe Raynal who remarked that the work ‘did not succeed particularly well with educated people’ but that ‘women, to the contrary, attach importance to it’. Amongst Buffon’s greatest admirers were the Jesuits, who dedicated four articles (a total of 100 pages) in their journal ‘Journal de Savants’ to praising him. During October 1749 the Journal published a glowing analysis of the first volume of ‘Histoire Naturelle’, but then fell silent as a controversy erupted. Buffon had caught the attention of the Jansenists.

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It’s notable that he was considering an eternal earth, which is quite different than an ancient earth…

It doesn’t say the opposite at all, though it’s a little more complicated. The Sorbonne got him to retract because the Jansenists were (wait for it) YECs who objected to contradictions of their interpretation of Genesis. That the Sorbonne’s action was defensive in nature doesn’t change the point. He had to retract because YECs objected.

Actually, he estimated the age of the earth at 75,000 years. That was way too much for the Jansenists.