From his theories that he claimed were developed during his voyage, Darwin eventually wrote his Origin of Species and Descent of Man, which exploded into the world market over twenty years after his return home. Wallace, King and Sanders wrote in Biosphere, The Realm of Life: In 1859, Charles Darwin published a theory of evolution that implied that humans evolved from apes. . .The Darwinian revolution was the greatest paradigm shift in the history of biology, and it greatly changed the way that ordinary men and women viewed their own place in the world.
The study of the specimens from the voyage of the Beagle convinced Darwin that modern species had evolved from a few earlier ones. He documented the evidence and first presented his theories on evolution to a meeting of scientists in 1858 Darwin’s theories shocked most people of his day, who believed that each species had been created by a separate divine act. His book, which is usually called simply The Origin of Species presented facts that disputed this belief. It caused a revolution in biological science and greatly affected religious thought. (3) Two ideas have been propounded by evolutionists through the years and repeated ad hominem to the general public by Darwin’s followers: That Darwin was the most important figure in the history of evolutionary thought, and that he had established evolution as a fact. But is this indeed the case? Did Charles Darwin actually make some stunning new discovery of human origins, as is popularly believed, or was the concept of the evolution of species nothing new at all, and in fact was it something that had been discussed for centuries prior to his birth? To begin our investigation into the truth of the matter, we may gain some insight from the dean of twentieth century anthropologists, William Howells, formerly of the University of Wisconsin and senior Anthropologist of Harvard University, who had this to say on the subject: Darwin is supposed, by those who have not read him, to be the man who thought of evolution and who said that men were descended from monkeys.
Neither notion is even half true. (4) The authors of Anthropology Today agree: The belief that evolutionary theory began with Charles Darwin is widespread but incorrect.(5) Even Leakey and Isaac, after their monumental tribute to Darwin in Human Ancestors, had to admit: Darwin was not the first to consider the possibility that life, including human life, had originated through a prolonged process of gradual change involving natural rather than supernatural mechanisms.(6) First of all, let us find out what evolution is supposed to be; let us define it. Evolution is the theory that all living organisms supposedly have transformed from one species into another through a gradual process of adaptation to changing environmental conditions, which transformation is said to have taken place through the extremely fortuitous timing of natural selection, hybridization, inbreeding and (more recently) mutation, and that through this process all living species are descended from a common natural ancestor, and fish became amphibians that turned into reptiles that turned into mammals etc. etc. We will deal with the evidence and possibility of this having ever occurred throughout the remaining chapters of this work. For now the definition is adequate for our purposes.
Often it is implied that the theory of evolution is some new, scientific theory that replaced old, primitive ideas of a supernatural creation by an supreme Being. This line of thought is expressed in the Encyclopedia Britannica (7): Evolution provided the first unifying, general principle to all living things, however in legends of creation popular among the peoples of antiquity-Sumerians, Egyptians, Greeks, and Hebrews, whose sacred book, the Torah, known to Christians as the Old Testament, contains two descriptions of the creation of plants and animals. The omnipotence that primitive peoples ascribed to their deities made it natural for them to believe that the gods created everything in existence. For this reason, the origins of the Earth, the heavens, the seas, plants and animals, and men and women were wrapped in unquestioned dogmas, some of which hold true today.
It is only comparatively recently, in societies and civilizations possessed of scientific knowledge and methods of investigation, that such dogmas have come under question. Contrary to this opinion though, we find in fact that evolutionary thought is itself a rather old idea. The editors of Biology Today would agree: Much has been written on whether or not the Darwinian theory was original. Inevitably, historians have concluded that there was little novelty in what Darwin and Wallace were saying. Down through the centuries, from ancient Greek times on, various writers have suggested that new species can arise through the modification of old and that among all the possible organic types, the world contains only those that can survive the struggle for life.
(8) This is indeed interesting, that the concept that Darwin is given so much credit for was not even a very modern idea in his own day. We find that Anaximander of Miletus (611 B.C.-546 B.C.) advanced the traditional evolutionary idea, already quite common in his day, that life first evolved from a type of pre-biotic soup, helped along a bit by the rays of the sun. He believed that the first animals developed from sea slime which had been evaporated by the suns rays. He also believed that men were descended from fish.
(9) It would seem that the premise of evolutionary thinking hasn’t changed much since the ancient Greeks, for William Howells said of Homo sapiens: Man, therefore, is a modified fish. (10) Howells further wrote, (11)’Plato having defined man to be a two-legged animal without feathers, Diogenes plucked a cock and brought it into the Academy, and said, ‘This is Plato’s man.’ Other prominent Greeks advanced the idea of evolution. Aristotle taught the doctrine of evolution in his Ladder of Nature, of which Erik Nordenskoid wrote, Here we find enunciated for the first time a really complete theory of evolution. Democritus, who came up with an early version of the atomic theory, had an evolutionary theory, and Epicurius described the theory plainly in his writings. Paleontologist and curator of the American Museum of Natural history for many years, Henry Fairfield Osborn, considered Empedocles to be the father of evolutionary thought. The Chinese philosopher Chuangtse formulated a close approximation to the evolutionary theory, and some ancient Hindu ideas have an evolutionary outlook in their theory of the soul’s development through re-incarnation.
Since the beginning of the Renaissance in the late fourteenth century evolutionary ideas began to take shape in the minds of many philosophers. More than one author has said that by the time of the eighteenth century the entire intellectual atmosphere of England and Europe was actually saturated with the idea of evolution. Many of these ideas came out of the schools of the French, German and Spanish naturalists, who contended that all species of life were derived from purely natural consequences of adaption to various environmental conditions. The terminology was somewhat different then, the phrase transformation of species was used instead of the present Darwinian version, evolution of species, thus these precursors of Darwin were called transformists or transformationists, much as a modern believer in evolution would be called an evolutionist. The renowned political philosopher Rousseau (1712-1778) clearly demonstrated in his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, written in 1754, that evolutionary ideas of man’s descent from an animal form were very well known in his day, and that these ideas went all the way back to the time of the ancient Greeks. He began the first part of that essay with this statement: Important as it may be, in order to judge rightly of the natural state of man, to consider him from his origin, and to examine him, as it were in the embryo of his species; I shall not follow his organization through its successive developments, nor shall I stay to inquire what his animal system must have been at the beginning, in order to become at length what it actually is.
I shall not ask whether his long nails were at first, as Aristotle supposes, only crooked talons; whether his whole body, like that of a bear, was not covered with hair; or whether the fact that he walked upon all fours, with his looks directed toward the earth, confined to a horizon of a few paces, did not at once point out the nature and limits of his ideas. Rousseau himself wisely declined to affirm any of these evolutionary views, stating that there was insufficient evidence for any of them to be proven: On this subject, I could form none but vague and almost imaginary conjectures. Comparative anatomy has as yet made too little progress, and the observations of naturalists are too uncertain to afford an adequate basis for any solid reasoning. He then stated that ordinary common sense, even apart from any religious conviction, would lead one to believe that man had not evolved from an animal, but had always existed in his present form: So that, without having recourse to the supernatural information given us on this head [the Bible], or paying any regard to the changes which must have taken place in the internal, as well as the external, conformation of man, as he applied his limbs to new uses, and fed himself on new kinds of food, I shall suppose his conformation to have been at all times what it appears to us at this day; that he always walked on two legs, made use of his hands as we do, directed his looks over all nature, and measured with his eyes the vast expanse of Heaven. (Rousseau, On the Origins of Inequality) (12) In the third epistle of Alexander Popes Essay on Man ( 1733-1734) there is a hint of the evolutionary theory, along with man’s common origin with the animal world, although it is extremely difficult to determine whether he is endorsing the idea of man’s descent from animals, or merely affirming that all beings were created from like, humble elements.
The French Philosopher Montesquieu described his belief that all present species had descended from a relatively few number of ancient species. Maillet (1656-1738), the French Consul and philosopher of note, preceded Darwin by well over a century with his theory that the land animals developed from creatures that formerly lived in the ocean depths. In his Telliamed he wrote that life first began with aquatic beings that had to terrestrialise themselves as the land appeared out of the water. He believed that there were two kinds of ocean animals, those that swam near the surface and those that lived on the ocean bottom. Maillet claimed that those that lived near the bottom became the walking animals. He proposed that those marine animals that swam near the surface turned into birds since, during the course of time, they were thrown up on the land by the waves of the sea, consequently they had to learn to fly since the tall grass on the beach prevented them from returning to the water, thus their fins split into wings and feet.
One of the main premises of his theory is that descent occurs with slight modification over the span of many generations, nearly identical with Darwin’s ideas a century later. The philosopher Maurpertius (1698-1759) definitely elucidated the very essentials of the Darwinian theory of evolution many years before Darwin was even born, proposing that it took place by the same process of survival of the fittest through chance favorable variations, which he called errors (and which modern evolutionists call mutations), that occur during the foetal stage of development. Maurpertuis wrote: May we not thus explain how, from only two individuals, the multiplication of the most dissimilar species might have followed? They might have owed their first appearance merely to accidental occurrences. Perhaps the elementary parts did not maintain the arrangement which had existed in the animal ancestors: each degree of error could have created a new species, and, thanks to repeated deviations, the infinite diversity of animals manifest today might have resulted.
This diversity developed with time, but perhaps grew imperceptibly in the course of the centuries. He wrote in 1750, Chance has produced a countless number of individuals; a small number of these were constructed in such a way that the parts of the animal could satisfy his needs; in an infinitely greater number, there was neither fitness nor order, and they all disappeared [became extinct]; the only ones which survived were those in which order and fitness prevailed. These species in existence today are only the smallest part of what a blind fate had produced. (Maupertius, Essai de Cosmologie.) Some of Darwin’s ideas sound as though they could have been taken line for line from Maupertius writings. Compare this with the Origin, where Darwin wrote: Natural Selection acts exclusively by the preservation and accumulation of variations, which are beneficial under the organic and inorganic conditions to which each creature is exposed at all periods of life.
The ultimate result is that each creature tends to become more and more improved in relation to its conditions. . .If under changing conditions of life organic beings present individual differences in almost every part of their structure . . .then, considering the infinite complexity of the relations of all organic beings to each other and to their conditions of life [environment], causing an infinite diversity in structure, constitution, and habits, to be advantageous to them, it would be a most extraordinary fact of no variations had ever occurred useful to each being’s own welfare.
But if variations useful to any being ever do occur, assuredly individuals thus characterized will have the best chance of being preserved in the struggle for life . . .this principle of preservation [preservation is actually the opposite of diversification of many varieties from one species] I have called Natural Selection. It leads to the improvement of each creature in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life, and consequently, in most cases, to what must be regarded as an advance in organization. (Darwin, Origin, pp.60-63, Benton Pub., 1952) In another place Darwin wrote: The fact, as we have seen, that all past and present organic beings can be arranged within a few great classes, in groups subordinate to groups .
The real affinities of all organic beings, in contradistinction to their adaptive resemblances, are due to inheritance or community of descent. I believe that animals are descended from at most only four or five progenitors, and plants from an equal or lesser number.