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Important Evolutionists Before Darwin

Important predecessors of Darwin included his own grandfather Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802) and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829). Lamarck’s scheme in particular was very influential (not least on Darwin), but he failed to perceive:

  1. the importance of extinction. In his scheme species sometimes became transformed into other species on an (inevitable) ladder of progress, but Lamarck rejected the notion of widespread extinction.

  2. that heritable characteristics are not, typically, acquired during an individual’s organism’s life. The son of a bad-tempered tennis star might possibly inherit a predisposition to bad temper, but would not inherit the expanded racket-forearm a tennis pro develops after years of play.

Strangely, evolutionary ideas were more popular with the lay public than with the scientific establishment. ‘Those who were best informed about biology, and especially about classification and morphology, upheld most strongly...the constancy of species.’Mayr, E, (1964) Introduction to Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species: A facsimile of the First Edition (Cambridge, Ma.:Harvard University Press, 1964) ixThe furthest most scientists would go towards evolution was Richard Owen’s view that closely related creatures were different implementations of a single divinely-given archetype. The conventional belief remained that plant and animal species were more or less fixed in the form in which they had been created.

Email link | Feedback | Contributed by: Dr. Christopher Southgate and Dr. Michael Robert Negus
Source: God, Humanity and the Cosmos  (T&T Clark, 1999)

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