|Evolution is generally thought of as a modern theory, though it can be traced back to around 611 B.C.||Evolution is generally thought of as a modern
theory, though the idea of life changing over time can be traced to
around 600 B.C.
A particular school of Greek philosophy developed a theory of “atomics” as well as an evolutionary theory, both of which can be closely compared to our modern day theories. These theories went largely unnoticed through many of the great scientific discoveries of the 18th and 19th centuries. During this period, modern biology was beginning to form.
The French scientist Georges-Louis Leclerc de Buffon (1707-1788) suggested that an “ideal” creation had been formed, and, over time, descendants had deteriorated to a variety of forms. Though vague, the theory attempted to explain the vast array of creatures in the modern world.
Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), Charles Darwin’s grandfather, began to contribute to the theory of evolution by suggesting that animals could respond to their environment. An example of his idea was that a polar bear was a normal brown bear, adapted the Arctic environment of snow and ice and tundra.
Around the same time geologists were laying important stones on the path to modern evolutionary theory. James Hutton’s (1726-1797) proposal was that the earth had been moulded over time by weather, water and wind. Such suggestions began to let science think in terms of millions, not just thousands of years as the age of the earth. Hutton’s Theory is now known as “Uniformitarianism” and at the time provided an alternative to the ‘6,000 years’ suggested in the Bible before the 18th Century.
George Cuvier (1769-1832) was the founder of Vertebrate Palaeontology and was also the first to recognise that the extinction of species could occur. He concluded that a series of catastrophes had killed many species, though, after each catastrophe, new species emerged to replace in the gaps.
The first European scientist to propose systematic evolution was Jean Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829). In 1801 he proposed that all species were descendants of other, less complex, species. His conclusion was also in two parts - the idea that animals’ attributes varied through use and disuse therefore changing along generations, and that each species was striving for greater complexity. Lamarck however, did not receive much support meaning his theory was generally unaccepted.
The Geologist Charles Lyell (1797-1875) published a book shortly after Lamarck’s downfall. He proposed that Hutton’s Uniformitarianism, over many, many years, had caused changes in the earth’s landscape – mountains had slowly grown, coastlines had gradually shifted. Such ideas were, at the time, against the teaching of the church that stated only cataclysmic acts of God could change the landscape. A young naturalist by the name of Charles Darwin took Lyell’s book on a boat voyage around the world, and was greatly influenced by the fact that what he saw allied closely with Lyell’s theory, despite the fact Lyell rejected the evolution of plants or animals totally.
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|A look at plant and animal life especially adapted to its surroundings.|