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EARLY EVOLUTIONARY THOUGHT

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EARLY EVOLUTIONARY THOUGHT At the most basic level, “evolution” simply means a pattern of change over time. fte concept of biological evolution is forever linked to Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace, but the idea that populations and species change over time actually predates these two biologists. Pre-Socratic philosophers such as Anaximander (610–546 BC) and Empedocles (490–430 BC) viewed animals and plants as products of change or recombination over time. Empedocles specifically introduced the idea of chance into the equation. ftese views contrasted to those of later philosophers such as Plato (ca. 428–348 BC), Aristotle (384–322 BC) and Zeno (334–262 BC), who proposed that species did not change because they were perfectly designed. ftese teleological explanations of design with purpose would become influential in Christian philosophy over a century later. In contrast to Christianity, adherents of eastern philosophies and religions have had an easier time accepting the concept of biological evolution, and incorporating it into their belief systems. Taoism, for example, rejects the concept of biological immutability, and Taoist philosophers such as Zhuang Zhou (c. 369–286 BC) believed that species developed varying characteristics as a result of living in different environments. Later, the Islamic world would also produce forward-thinking individuals who anticipated evolutionary thought. Probably the most advanced of these was the Persian scientist and philosopher Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (1201–1274; Fig. 4.1), who even recognized the unity that humans share with the rest of the biological world. Figure 4.1: Early Persian scientist and philosopher Nasir al-Din al-Tusi (Wikipedia ‘Nasir al-Din al-Tusi;’ source unknown) Other scientists noted patterns in the variation among species and attempted to provide explanations for these patterns. One such notable explanation involved “inheritance of acquired characteristics,” an idea generally associated with the French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744–1829; Fig. 4.2). In this view, physical changes acquired by an organism over the course of its lifetime can be passed on to its offspring. A classic example is that of giraffe evolution; according to the concept of inheritance of acquired characteristics, early giraffes continually stretched their necks to reach higher and higher tree branches. ftis made their necks longer and stronger, and these characteristics were then passed on to their offspring. Inheritance of acquired characteristics was a widely accepted idea for decades, but greater understanding of the mechanisms of inheritance led to rejection of this idea by the early 1900s.

 

Figure 4.2: French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (Wikipedia ‘Jean- Baptiste Lamarck;’ Attribution: 1802–03 painting by Charles Thévenin)

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