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Evolution Revolution

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1802: Natural Theology
(Evolution Challenged)

Natural Theology views God through nature. Archdeacon William Paley's Natural Theology holds that not only God's existence but also his attributes are manifest in the intricate forms of nature. Paley singles out the eye as an organ of such complexity that, like a pocket watch, it must have been designed by an intelligent designer. Charles Darwin, as a young clerical student, will study the ideas of Natural Theology.

1809: Lamarck
(Rise of Evolution)

Lamarck champions evolution. French naturalist Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck proposes that living things evolve to become more complex through time. In his Philosophie zoologique, Lamarck claims that "vital forces" within creatures help them adapt to their environments. Acquired traits -- developed through use or disuse -- are then passed on to future generations. Lamarck thinks that wading birds, for instance, evolved long legs as they stretched to keep high and dry. Lamarck is the most renowned -- but by no means the only -- proponent of evolution in this era.

1809: Darwin Born
(Rise of Evolution)

Darwin born in a conservative era. While born to a family of "freethinkers," Charles Darwin's birth comes at a time of social conservatism in Britain. Britain is at war with France, and evolution is an idea linked to French radicals and revolutionaries. Darwin is one of six children in an affluent English family. In the early 19th century there is no such thing as a professional scientist; the teenaged Darwin, a passionate hunter and beetle collector, plans to become a country parson and quietly pursue his interest in nature.

1817: Cuvier
(Rise of Evolution) (Evolution Challenged)

Cuvier sees catastrophes in fossil record. The construction of canals and mines in the early 19th century unearths fossils of bizarre and extinct creatures. French naturalist Georges Cuvier attempts to explain them. He argues that a series of catastrophes -- great floods and earthquakes -- wiped out certain life in the distant past. But Cuvier rails against the notion that past life evolved into present forms. He argues that modern creatures are far too complex to have evolved naturally, and insists that life "stood still" between catastrophes. While Cuvier loathes the idea of evolution, his work on the fossil record helps fuel the rise of evolutionary science.

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Intro | 1635 | 1700 | 1800 | 1825 | 1850 | 1860 | 1875 | 1900
1910 | 1925 | 1930 | 1950 | 1960 | 1970 | 1980 | 1990 | 2000

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