Lamarck’s Influence on The Development of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution
There have been many ideas on the theory of evolution. Some simply take our existence for granted, others prefer to explain all evolution in terms of the bible and the presence of a God. However, there are those who have researched the topic of evolution and have offered an explanation as to where a species comes from and how they evolved in the manner that they did. This type of science has been studied for a very, very long time, and one of the most famous minds in the field of evolution was a man named Charles
Darwin. Darwin was not the first one to offer theories on evolution. There have been many scientists who preceded him. These earlier evolutionists came up with models of evolution that were unfortunately unworkable. One of these early pioneers was Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. Lamarck believed in deism and advocated natural religion based on human reason. He believed in the harmony and rationality of the world. And although flawed, the work of Lamarck did not go unnoticed, however. Darwin also believed in the harmony of the world, and it was Darwin himself who said that Lamarck was the first man whose conclusions on evolution brought about excitement and attention. He was the one who showed law in organic and inorganic species evolution. As it turned out, the work of Lamarck was quite influential on Darwin. Lamarck's views on inheritance of characteristics can be seen in Darwin's accounts of natural selection. When Lamarck wrote of transmutation, Darwin followed with his beliefs of the mutability of species. As well, Darwin had used Lamarck's ideas on use and disuse of organs. Lamarck was not the greatest of influences on Darwin, but he was an important one.
One of the most important arguments in Darwin's theories was the idea of natural selection. It is generally thought that the world first heard of this idea in the form of Lamarck's inheritance of acquired traits theory. Lamarck's work showed that organisms improve themselves on their own. Then these new advantages for the environment would be passed on to the species offspring on the genetic level. This idea of self improvement detailed how, through hard work of the organism, the path of evolution was continuous, always improving to the point of perfection. Lamarck had said that organisms must first be faced with a different mode of environment that would trigger some sort of pressure for an altered gene, to be inherited in the next generation. This process has come to be known as Lamarckism. (Gould, 1980) Darwin did not deny any of this. He regarded it as support for natural selection as an evolutionary mechanism. Darwin's theory was more complex then Lamarck's, but the basic structure was there. Darwin had rooted his theory on the concept of adaptation, just as Lamarck had previously done. Adaptation is the notion of organisms responding to a changing environments by evolving either a form or function of the body that would better suite it in the environment. Lamarck had explained that the method of transfer of information was directly to the organism, the animal would perceive the change and simply respond in the necessary way so that their offspring can be better adapted. Darwin's answer to what the mechanism is was much different. Darwin spoke of there being two components, variation and direction.(Gould, 1980) Darwin had taken into account that the species did indeed create offspring that were better suited for the environment, just as Lamarck had said. Darwin proposed that instead of direct transfer of environmental change, those that vary by good fortune are better suited for the environment and leave more surviving offspring. A species would have this beneficial trait through random variation. Then, the characteristic would help the animal survive, while the others died off. This ensured that the beneficial trait would get passed on. This explanation is similar to Lamarkism, with obvious adjustments. Darwin simply showed that natural selection is, above all, a theory about the struggle of individual survival and reproduction. Lamarck's theory on inheritance of acquired characteristics is not that much different, infact, Lamarckism has occasionally been mistaken for Darwinism. Darwin did indeed take Lamarck's inheritance of characteristics theory and modify it so that he improved upon it. This shows how Lamarck influenced Darwin to create the natural selection theory. It did not stop there, though. Lamarck also influenced Darwin with the idea of transmutation, and prompted Darwin to theorize on that aspect of evolution as well.
Transmutation was an idea resulting in the problem that Lamarck faced when dealing with the apparent extinction of a species. To Lamarck, extinction was not a possibility. Lamarck believed that extinction could not occur because then it would mean that God created an imperfect being, which was not a possibility for Lamarck. One purpose for the theory of transmutation was to offer an explanation for the apparent 'disappearance' of a species. The theory was that out of inherited characteristics, a species would undergo change. Each generation would continue to change because inheritance of traits would always occur. Eventually, over a very gradual amount of time, the species would evolve so dramatically, that the new adaptations would bear little or no resemblance to the original species.(Ospovat, 1981) Darwin, who incorporated this idea, modified it slightly. To Darwin, extinction was very much a reality. He had stated in his «Origin of Species»
That only few species in a particular genus would ever undergo a change. The other species of the same genus would go extinct and leave no modified offspring, only the ones that have apparently gone through some sort of mutation would produce offspring. This theory shows a direct link to Lamarck's because Darwin believed in transmutation also. On his voyage to the Galapagos Islands, Darwin found birds that seemed to be similar, but were each distinct. These birds came to be known as Darwin's finches, and Darwin discovered that each variety shared a common ancestry that grew out of the mainland. Although his method for scientific analysis was poor, Darwin concluded that when the same species of birds had migrated to the different islands of the Galapagos, they found that their competition for survival had decimated. The finches would then evolve to fit the new feeding environment, and take over the roles of the previous birds. (Gould, 1980) This idea was influenced by Lamarck's principal that each newly established evolutionary line would gradually move up the ladder. In Lamarckism, transmutation and inherited characteristics went hand in hand. Transmutation occurred out of the willingness of the organism to adapt to the environment. Although Darwin's theory of mutated animals is a bit different, again the influence of Lamarck is apparent. To Darwin, transmutation was not the achievement of higher levels of organization, but rather the production of new forms better suited for life in the external environment. Although this seems the opposite to Lamarck, Darwin merely tried to show the scientific fact behind transmutation, he needed to involve extinction, Lamarck did not, it was necessary to prove the notion of mutation and transmutation because it was not regarded at the time due to the fact that the steps in-between were not visible. Darwin saw the difficulty in Lamarck's view, and was influenced by the evolutionist to come up with an idea that supported the topic as a whole, not necessarily Lamarck's view. Darwin proceeded to try and improve upon Lamarck's theory when the idea of use and disuse became of interest to him.
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