Precursors to the Theory of Evolution

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“In the eighteenth century, Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus (1707-78) had brought order to the explosion of knowledge in the organic realm… by arranging plants and animals in the ‘binomial’ system of classification still in use today.” (McClellan, 2006, p. 325.) It was another 60 years before the birth of Charles Darwin, and more still before he began his own research into the theory of evolution. A vast amount of research had been done in the century before Darwin’s birth in the areas of botany, natural history, and geology, mostly as a result of the reconciliation of science and religion and the newfound interest in the study of natural theology. There was so much new information to enter into the scientific record, and research might not have advanced as far as it did or as quickly had it not been for the contribution of Linnaeus. His binomial system of classifying species gave stability to the dissemination of all of this new knowledge and did so with an ease and clarity that enabled its widespread use and adoption by the scientific world. Linnaean classification put new focus on all the world’s different species and the variation within them.

Charles Robert Darwin (1809-1882) has often been heralded as the “father of evolution” and certainly no less so today in the 200th year after his birth. If one looks back into the history evolutionary theory, however, and not just Darwin’s role in it, a rich history emerges involving numerous scientists and the confluence of their scientific discoveries. Just as the evolution of a species describes how it came to be through a process of natural selection occurring over time, scientific breakthroughs are the result of a process developed over time as scientific thought always has some basis on the observed and recorded scientific studies of the past. Scientific innovation is never the result of just one event or the sole work of one scientist. Darwin’s seminal work, The Origin of Species, is the culmination...
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