Pre-Darwinian Evolutionary Theory - P3
Scottish Lawyer and Geologist
Page last updated: 11/2015
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Throughout time the planet has continually undergone processes that change and shape the land, including erosion, earthquakes, glacial movements, volcanoes, and even the decomposition of dead plants and animals. The theory that resulted from Lyell’s observations was called uniformitarianism.
Learn About Lamarck!
(1797 - 1875)
Charles Lyell, an English lawyer and geologist had carefully examined European geological deposits and concluded that catastrophism theory was wrong. Although such catastrophic events may rarely occur, Lyell believed that there was more commonly an accumulation of progressive changes over long periods of geologic time.
Lyell documented the fact that the earth must be extremely old.
The theory of uniformitarianism had originally been developed by the Scottish geologist, James Hutton, who also proposed that the natural forces currently changing the shape of the earth's surface had been operating throughout time in much the same way.
Paving the Path to Darwinism
An understanding of uniformitarianism was instrumental in leading Charles Darwin to his astute observations on biological evolution in the 1830's.
The frontispiece from Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology (second American edition, 1857), showing the origins of different rock types.
Charles Darwin ,1881,
72 years old.
In 1858, Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace released a joint scientific paper which introduced the concept of evolution by means of natural selection. This paper, along with Darwin’s subsequent publication, “The Origin of Species”, changed the way science and society explained events in our natural world.
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Sources & Resources
- Brown, Bryson (2007) Evolution: A Historical Perspective. Greenwood Press.
- Campbell & Reece (2005) Biology, 7th Edition. Pearson.