Who do you think of when a person says “evolution”? Charles Darwin probably came into your mind first, didn’t he? Surprisingly, Darwin is not the only evolutionary theorist, as there are two others with similarly different ideas. Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Alfred Russel Wallace, and Charles Darwin all investigated this field of science. Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was the first to have extended theories of evolution. In 1794, Lamarck started working in the natural history museum, Jardin des Plantes, and was in charge of studying insects and worms. He saw this as an opportunity, as scientists then did not focus near as much on insects and worms.
Lamarck studied them, and classified them, eventually writing a series of books explaining the different variations of invertebrates (Bowman, 2015, para. 4). Lamarck noticed how much the different invertebrates varied from each other, and spent many years at that natural history museum, studying the insects there, and eventually came up with his own theory of evolution. He looked very precisely at the fossil records and noticed that some species changed physical features as time went by, eventually looking different from their ancestors.
Many scientists had discussed evolution, but no one had a concrete theory such as Lamarck’s. He insisted that animals underwent physical changes in their lifetime, and then passed on those physical changes to their offspring. The reason for the physical changes being that when the animals did not use a certain part of their body, it eventually evolves off them, or disappears (Bowman, 2015, para. 7). According to him, a ladder of complexity could be set in place, containing people at the top, of all species. Lamarck’s theories were criticized, as people and scientists did not know how to react to a theory such as this.
In that time period, everyone believed in creationism, and thought the entire theory of evolution was impossible. His studies of the insects at the museum for all those years helped him prove his ideas, and form the first concrete theory of evolution. In addition to Lamarck, Alfred Russel Wallace also believed in evolution, rather than creationism. Wallace became a surveyor, but in 1845, he read one of Charles Darwin’s works about evolution, and made the decision to become a naturalist and planned a trip to the Amazon to study the environment there (Mazzeno, 2015, para. ).
In South America, he looked at and collected some of the specimens there, and kept journals of his experience. Wallace began writing about his travels, upon losing all his evidence and collections when his ship sank as he was on his way home from South America in 1852. He came up with two works that were a hit among scientists, and these scientists saw potential in the work he was doing, so Alfred journeyed to another land to study specimens, Malay Archipelago, where he gained recognition as a great natural scientist with his studies.
Alfred Russel Wallace was convinced that evolution was the most logical way to explain varying species traits after years of study. He published a paper in 1855 that established his stance on the issue of evolution vs creationism. A couple years later, he discovered natural selection, which helped him support his stance. He discovered that natural selection is a process, which established that how well animals adapt to their environment depended on their survival (Mazzeno, 2015, para. 4).
In 1858, Wallace wrote an essay to Charles Darwin explaining his works and theories, and Darwin arranged for a dual reading of their theories. He even wrote a series of essays in support of Charles Darwin, entitled Darwinism. Wallace continued his work with Malay Archipelago and produced two works praised by the scientific community and became a “standard for zoogeography for nearly a century” (Mazzeno, 2015, para. 5). The works he produced, The Malay Archipelago, and The Geographical Distribution of Animals that he wrote generated his recognition as “the father of zoogeography” (Mazzeno, 2015, para. ).
His work, even accepted by Charles Darwin, was beneficial to deepening the theory of evolution. While Alfred Russel Wallace was not widely recognized, Charles Darwin is the man that gets all the credit for evolutionary thought. In the early 1830’s, Darwin met a botany professor whose name was John Stevens. Professor Stevens wanted Darwin to explore natural sciences, and also helped him get a spot on the HMS Beagle that went around the world for five years (Angyal, 2016, para. 3). This trip is what sparked his interest in natural sciences and evolution.
The voyage took him to South America where he explored the Andes, keeping precise notes on the differences between species of specimens in relation to the same species found in different areas. He gradually started to question his belief in creationism based on his evidence of the species. These notes and studies on the Beagle became the foundation for his theory of evolution. By the time he came back to England, he was a renowned naturalist with revised theories of natural history life (Angyal, 2016, para. 4).
Darwin collected and put together his findings from the Beagle trip to support his natural selection and evolutionary theories for twenty years. Darwin read a work by Thomas Robert Malthus, which in his mind sparked the idea of struggling to survive. After many unanswered questions, he formed a theory of mutability and ancestor descent, although, he did not know what caused these factors or how the species adapted (Angyal, 2016, para. 7). Darwin started sketches to exhibit his evolutionary theory in the form of a drawing or diagram.
He started looking at the artificial selection of domesticated species, but was interrupted when Alfred Russel Wallace sent him an essay explaining a theory he had that was similar to his. Darwin stopped everything and wrote to his friends, letting them know about this breakthrough, and eventually set up a dual reading of their theories on July 1, 1858, at a meeting of the Linnean Society in Dublin (Angyal, 2016, para. 8). Darwin eventually came up with an abstract work, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.
It was very popular as it sold out on the first day it was released. It described his theory of natural selection, in which he thought that species that were not fit for the environment would have died because they could not adapt. He acknowledged that if the species that do adapt reproduce, they will pass on their adapted traits to their offspring, giving them an evolutionary advantage (Angyal, 2016, para. 9). Darwin’s theories helped shape modern biology and most other fields of science. Charles Darwin was very successful in his theories and works, and all of his ideas hold up to this day.
Whether it be Lamarck’s theory of evolution, Wallace’s idea of natural selection, or Darwin’s thoughts about artificial selection, they all provide thoughtful concepts and conclusions about evolution and its components. The three theorists have similar ideas, but took different paths of their own to achieve the same conclusion. All of these paths they followed, however, contributed to the idea of evolution and its factors as a whole. Maybe next time you will think of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck or Alfred Russel Wallace when you hear the word evolution.