Lamarck\'s Influence on the Development of Darwin\'s Theory of Evolution

Dec. 4 1996
Marc Weinstein

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

Transmutation was an idea resulting in the problem that Lamarck faced when
dealing with the