historical figures in evolution

Evolution Before Darwin: Jean-Baptiste Lamarck


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Jean Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829)

Lamarck was a French naturalist who proposed a theory of evolution based on inheritance of acquired characteristics. As an example, he claimed that giraffes have long necks because their ancestors had stretched their necks to reach the upper leaves of trees. Hence, their descendants had long necks. We now know that giraffes have long necks because natural selection acted upon them through generations. Long-necked giraffes had a reproductive advantage over short -necked giraffes. Darwin was the first to refute Lamarck’s theory and explain how evolution works.

According to Lamarck, a bodybuilder’s child will be born with stronger muscles than children of someone who does not exercise. Offspring of an amputee will be born with a missing arm or leg.  We know today that this does not happen, however, Lamarck’s assumptions were popular until the early twentieth century.

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