Skip to main content
Social Sci LibreTexts

2.8: Key Developments in Evolutionary Thought

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)

    Key Developments in Evolutionary Thought

    4th century BCE


    (384–322 BCE)

    “Founder of Biology.” Publishes History of Animals, a biological classification system of over 500 animals based on structure, physiology, reproduction, and behavior. Also creates the “Great Chain of Being,” ranking species and placing humans closest to God.
    8th–9th century CE


    (776–868 CE)

    Writes seven-volume Book of Animals, which includes animal classifications and food chains. Introduces concept of biological evolution and its mechanisms.

    Ibn al-Haythem

    (965–1040 CE)

    “Father of Modern Optics.” Uses experimental science to catalog how vision works and discovers laws of reflection and refraction. Publishes Book of Optics and invents camera obscura, the foundation for modern photography.

    Francis Bacon


    “Father of Empiricism.” Publishes The Novum Annum, formulating the scientific method based on observation and inductive reasoning.

    John Ray


    First to publish a biological definition of species in History of Plants.

    Comte de Buffon


    Publishes Histoire Naturelle, comparing anatomical structures across species using methods still in use today. Inspires Lamarck and Cuvier.

    Carl von Linne

    (Carolus Linnaeus)


    Introduces system of binomial nomenclature. Publishes Systema Naturae, the tenth edition of which introduces the designation Homo sapiens for humans.

    James Hutton


    “Father of Geology.” Publishes Theory of the Earth; introduces idea of Deep Time; explains how features of the earth were formed through the actions of rain, wind, rivers, and volcanic eruptions.

    Thomas Malthus


    Economist and “Father of Statistics.” Publishes An Essay on Population; introduces concept of carrying capacity; explains how populations outstrip the food supply, leaving some individuals to die off; inspires Darwin’s idea of “natural selection.”

    Jean-Baptiste Lamarck


    Publishes theory of the Inheritance of acquired characteristics; is the first Western scientist to propose a mechanism explaining how traits change in species over time and to recognize the importance of the physical environment in acting on species and their survival.

    Georges Cuvier


    Paleontologist/comparative anatomist; proved species went extinct; proposed the Theory of Catastrophism.

    Charles Lyell


    Establishes geology as a science. Publishes first edition of The Principles of Geology (1830–33); issuing 12 total editions in his lifetime, each updated according to new scientific data.

    Alfred Russel Wallace


    Sends scientific paper to Darwin titled “On the Tendency of Varieties to Depart Indefinitely from the Original Type,” essentially espousing the concept of natural selection; a reading of the papers by both Wallace and Darwin to the Linnaean Society is conducted by Lyell.

    Charles Darwin


    Publishes On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859).

    Gregor Mendel


    Publishes Experiments in Plant Hybridization (1865), outlining the fundamentals of genetic inheritance.

    August Weismann


    Publishes Essays Upon Heredity (1889), disproving the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Publishes The Germ Plasm (1892), postulating an early idea of inheritance through sexual reproduction.

    Theodosius Dobzhansky


    One of the founders of the Modern Synthesis of biology and genetics. Publishes Genetics and the Origin of Species (1937). Documents a genetic model of speciation through reproductive isolation.

    Review Questions

    • Summarize the major scientific developments that led to the formulation of the theory of natural selection.
    • Explain how natural selection operates and how it leads to evolution in populations.
    • Explain the importance of genetics to an understanding of human evolution.
    • Have you observed current examples of evolution taking place where you live? In which species? Which forces of evolution are involved?

    This page titled 2.8: Key Developments in Evolutionary Thought is shared under a CC BY-NC 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Joylin Namie (Society for Anthropology in Community Colleges) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.