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Abstract

For Élie Bertrand (1713–1797) and his like-minded contemporaries, God's design and providence set the stage for understanding the workings of the Earth. Bertrand used various methods, including field observations, to accumulate considerable geological knowledge, which he published in his Dictionnaire universel des fossiles (1763) and Recueil de divers traités sur l'histoire naturelle (1766). By examining Bertrand's life and writings, we may come to appreciate the strengths and shortcomings of his visions of the natural world. His focus on collecting, cataloguing, and classifying natural objects and phenomena fitted the classic concept of natural history in his era. On the basis of his observations, he dared to systematize and theorize. His work provides a window on his time and on attempts of natural theologians then to understand the products and operation of the world. Once a counsellor to the King of Poland, a correspondent of Voltaire, and a contributor to the Encyclopédie, Bertrand's name has largely vanished from view. His hope to observe the world of nature so as to comprehend the word of God yielded constructive results but did not succeed in fulfilling natural theology's boldest aspirations.

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