Evolution is defined as the change in frequency of genetically determined characteristics within a population over time. There are three key points to consider when referring to this definition. First, evolution only occurs in populations, which are defined as groups os organisms of the same species that are able to interbreed and are genetically similar. Second, genes determine the characteristics displayed by organisms. Third, the mix of genes within a population can change and evolution involves changes in the genes that are already present in a population. One additional piece of information to keep in mind when discussing evolution is that individual organisms do not evolve, only populations can evolve. Evolution occurs by a mechanism called natural selection, a process that encourages the passage of beneficial genes to future generations and discourages the passages of harmful or less valuable genes through sexual reproduction.
In order to better understand the theories, controversy, and misconceptions that surround evolution, it is beneficial to reflect back on the history of evolution’s great thinkers and their theories. Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon was a French naturalist, mathematician, cosmologist and encyclopedic author born in 1707. He had an influential effect on other great thinkers like Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Georges Cuvier and is best remembered for his 35 quarto volumes of his Histoire naturalle. Buffon is also noted for Buffon’s law, which states that despite similar environments, different regions have distinct plants and animals. He argued that species may have both “improved” and “degenerated” after dispersing from the center of creation and that climate change may have facilitated the worldwide spread of species from their centers of origin. More importantly, Buffon noted the similarity between humans and apes but ultimately rejected the possibility of common ancestry. Something that would later become a parallel to another scientific discovery. Furthermore, Buffon speculated that planets had been created by a comet’s collision with the sun. He also suggested that the earth originated much earlier than 4004 BC, the date famously determined by Archbishop James Ussher.
William Paley was an English Christian apologist, philosopher and utilitarian born in 1743 who is known for his teleological argument for the existence of God in his work Natural Theology, published in 1802. Natural Theology argues that God’s design of the whole creation could be seen in the general happiness, or well-being, that was evident in the physical and social order of things. His argument is primarily built around anatomy and natural history. Paley had this to say in regard to human anatomy, “The necessity, in each particular case, of an intelligent designing mind for the contriving and determining of the forms which organized bodies bear.” Paley is also known for his famous “watchmaker analogy”, a teleological argument that states that design implies a designer. The analogy has played a prominent role in natural theology and the "argument from design," where it was used to support arguments for the existence of God and for the intelligent design of the universe.
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was a French naturalist and biologist born in 1744. Lamarck is known for his work on the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Lamarck’s biological work is characterized by two main principles, environment gives rise to changes in animals and that life is structured in an orderly manner where many different parts of all bodies made it possible for the organic movements if animals. He cited examples of blindness in moles, the presence of teeth in mammals and the absence of teeth in birds as evidence of his first principle. Lamarck also believed that there were two forces that comprised evolution, the complexing force or the tendency for organisms to become more...