Before Darwin

It seems that presently, you’re either a creationist or you accept evolution. I’m wondering, though, about competing theories. Surely Darwin wasn’t the first and only to tackle the question, but I’ve never seen anything about what alternate thoughts on the subject of the origin of the species might have been wrestled through before evolution came to the fore. When I consider the evolution of other disciplines, it seems quite likely others were on a non-biblical track and would likely have proposed some other scheme.


I wish I could remember the name of this individual … he proposed something I call “giraffe neck stretching” as the way in which species evolved. That is, instead of natural selection, creatures just got slightly better at what ever it is, over the course of their lives, and passed on their learned/trained/developed advantages to their young’ns. So, if a giraffe spent its whole life stretching its neck to get the most succulent leaves, its offspring would be born with slightly longer necks.

You can apply it to any number of evolution cases with surprising results. A monkey tried to use its tail to hang onto a limb with limited success, so it kept at it? Plausible. Some poor proto-bat had to leap out of a lot of trees and flap its arms? Less plausible. A proto-rattlesnake bit somebody, trying really hard to poison its victim, and finally poison evolved? Uhh, back to the drawing board.

It’s an interesting theory, totally wrong, but quite reasonable given what this fella knew. I’m going to ask a friend of mine what his name was. Anyway, this theory is somewhere on a sort of “intellectual continuum” between “God created everything” and “creatures develop differences, and the best ones reproduces more successfully”.

An interesting thing about this theory is, when it is applied to purely technological and/or cultural practices, it is true. If you try really hard to understand math, you’ll probably learn something, and you can pass that onto your kids who will have a head start. And a misapplication of this theory causes a lot of macho dads to be really disappointed when their scrawny intellecutal sons are terrible at football. “I practiced five hours a day when I was your age to play football. Why can’t you do it?” Uhh, Dad, read Origin of Species.

Nothing I write about any person or group should be applied to a larger group.

  • Boris Badenov

“The giraffe stretching guy” was Lamarck.

BobT and Boris,

Your posts did trigger one memory, of Lysenko, the Russian who was much later than Darwin, IIRC, and whose idea, once again, IIRC, was that learning could be passed on.

But that’s a sideshow, not really what I was trying to get at. Darwin likely didn’t just spring up out of nowhere with a totally rad new idea that it wasn’t as per literal bible creation. It seems likely that others were working on ideas. Lamarck was a little before Darwin and he posited the inheritance of acquired characteristics as being one of his evolutionary mechanisms. While wrong (and it strikes me now how that was essentially the basis of Lysenko’s gist), he was nevertheless on the track of an evolutionary mechanism.

Since everyone else seems to like the site, may I present for your approval:

We use “Long Live LaMarck” as a battle cry when someone insists on an insupportable idea like the people in TSD who insist on the literal bible or 4000 year old week long creation.

Almost all scientists had already accepted evolution long before Darwin published. Darwin’s significant theoretical creation was Natural Selection. (And it had a big hole in it until mutations were discovered and Mendelian genetics were rediscovered by Hugo De Vries, Erich Tschermak and Carl Erich Correns, answering the “What good is half a leg?” and “Why doesn’t it all blur out?” objections.)

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

The funny thing is that most people STILL believe in Lamarckian evolution. How many times have you heard that people will eventually evolve to lose their little toes and hair?

LaMarck! Thank you. I was afraid I was going to blank on his name forever, and be reduced to referring to him as “the giraffe neck-stretching guy”. A terrible fate averted.

And yes, Konrad, I think a lot of people unconsciously arrive at some sort of LaMarckian conclusion. People talk about how such-and-such a cultural thing is “in their blood”. “I love pasta it’s in my blood!” Whaddaya mean? In your genes, or in your memory?

Nothing I write about any person or group should be applied to a larger group.

  • Boris Badenov

For a recent look at surprising evidence for a Larmarck-like theory: .

(Its proponent, Steele, has no intention of “overthrowing” Darwin’s Natural Selection, but he may have found a special case for one unique variety of inherited characteristics.)

The central site at which this is found is pretty interesting, offering critical analyses of criticisms of Darwinian Evolution, from both within and without the scientific debates. It is a good source site for the players in the various discussions.


Aren’t some people evolving to innovate and live off innovations. . .while others are evolving to be the fodder that uses these innovations and makes possible their survival?

Ray (I post; therefore you are.)

Lamarck has been very unfortunate in the judgement of history. He was a very good scientist who has become known for his one bad idea. And it wasn’t all that bad an idea. He realized species evolve and proposed a theory about the mechanism of the evolution. He admitted he had no idea how acquired characteristics could be passed on the future generations, which was the main flaw in this theory.

As others have written, Darwin’s theory of evolution also had some holes in it when it was first proposed. Fortunately for Darwin, his theory was correct and scientists who followed him were able to fill in the gaps (the discovery of genes being the main one).