History of Evolutionary Theory

History of Evolutionary Theory - History of Evolutionary...

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History of Evolutionary Theory (1 hour) The setting - 18 th and 19 th Century Europe. Keep the context in mind, some of these things may not seem revolutionary, but it is not too far removed from the world being flat and the sun revolving around the earth. People believed in stasis, that all aspects of nature are fixed and unchanging. The bible was taken quite literally, all life on earth was created by God, and has not changed ( fixity of species ). Also, people believed that the earth was full and that nothing new could be added, no new species have appeared or disappeared since the creation event. Change was inconceivable, challenging it was challenging God and his master plan. The Great Chain of Being – Life exists in a hierarchy and humans are at the top. Archbishop James Usher in 1650 counted backwards in the bible and figured that the earth was formed in 4004 BC. This was later made more accurate by John Lightfoot, who said humans were created on Oct 23, 9:00 PM, 4004 BC. It was a time of social unrest in Europe. There was a fixed class system, the Christian upper class did not want to accept evolutionary theory; it was associated with political subversion and anti-Christian sentiment. Evolutionary theory had a lot to overcome. We’ll start with Charles Darwin ( 1809-1882), who isn’t quite the beginning of the story, but is certainly recognized as the founder, or the person who put it all together. The earlier players will be filled in along the way as people who influenced Darwin. Darwin came from an affluent family, his father was a physician, and his mother came from the Wedgewood family, who owned a rich pottery firm. Father’s father was Erasmus Darwin , who wrote about evolution, even human evolution, in his work. It is known that Charles Darwin read and was fond of his grandfather’s writings, but the extent of its influence on his own ideas is unknown. At the very least, Erasmus Darwin foretold what his grandson would write about.
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Charles Darwin was not an extraordinary kid. He went to medical school at Edinburgh University, but hated medicine and dropped out after two years. However, at medical school he was exposed to the writings of Lamark. Jean-Baptiste Lamark was a French scholar, and the first European scientist to try to explain the evolutionary process. He developed the inheritance of acquired characteristics, or use-disuse theory . He believed that as the environment changes, an animal’s activity would change, leading to an increased use or disuse of a certain body part. This would alter the body and these alterations would be passed onto offspring. Anyway, back to Darwin . . .
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History of Evolutionary Theory - History of Evolutionary...

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