Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Evolution: Not Darwin’s Original Idea?

Even though it is oft linked with the famed naturalist, but did you know that evolution is not Charles Darwin’s original idea? 

By: Ringo Bones 

Believe it or not, “Darwinism” or "Darwinian Evolution" is not synonymous with the principle of evolution, as is sometimes incorrectly stated. Charles Darwin was the first to put forward a really detailed analysis of the evidence of evolution based on his data of comparative anatomy, embryology, the common finding of rudimentary or vestigial structures in many animals, the geographical distribution of different types and – to some extent – on his observations of the fossil records of different types. He developed the hypothesis of natural selection as a mechanism to explain not only how the process of evolution could have occurred, but how it must have occurred, from the observed fact that all living organisms are subject to heritable variations. 

The general idea of evolution or “transformism” as it was commonly termed has been put forward by a number of writers long before Charles Darwin’s time. Even the Classical Greek thinker Aristotle and the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius presented vague conceptions of a “ladder of nature” which might be interpreted to suggest the idea that lower forms of life passed by a gradational series into higher forms. It has been claimed that Darwin’s own ideas developed more directly from his immediate predecessors such as Jean Baptiste de Lamarck and Robert Chambers, the author of The Vestiges of Creation (1844) that Darwin himself recognized. 

It has even been suggested that Charles Darwin lacked the historical sense in not giving due credit to his predecessors. But the theory of transformism at the time was clouded with perplexities and apparent contradictions. The pioneering attempts to formulate an evolutionary hypothesis were not acceptable to professional biologists of the first half of the 19th Century. This was partly because the scientific evidence was so freely intermingled with ill-founded and rather fanciful speculations and partly because it could provide no reasonable explanation of the mechanism for an evolutionary process. Since these earlier essays on transformism were not accepted by the biological scientists in general, they aroused no serious opposition from theologians and others who hold the conviction that the different species of living things were separate and distinct entities whose origin was determined by a creative process – either a single act of creation as described in Genesis or successive acts of creation. It is true however that before Darwin’s time, geologists had already recognized the existence in the past of extinct creatures and various attempts had been made to explain this evidence so long as to bring it into conformity with contemporary – as in 19th Century – ideas based on the Biblical record.  

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