Pre-Darwinian Evolution Timeline

  • Jan 1, 1581

    James Ussher

    James Ussher
    The traditional Judeo-Christian version of creationism was strongly reinforced by James Ussher , a 17th century Anglican archbishop of Armagh in Northern Ireland. By counting the generations of the Bible and adding them to modern history, he fixed the date of creation at October 23, 4004 B.C. During Ussher's lifetime, debate focused only on the details of his calculations rather than on the approach. Dr. Charles Lightfoot of Cambridge University in England had the last word. He proclaimed
  • John Ray

    John Ray
    The concept of genus and species was actually developed in the late 1600's by John Ray, an English naturalist and ordained minister. However, it was Linnaeus who used this system to name us Homo sapiens (literally, "wise men"). He also placed us in the order Primates (a larger, more inclusive category than our genus) along with all of the apes, monkeys, and prosimians. This was very controversial at the time since it implied that people were part of nature, along with other animals and plan
  • Carolus Linnaeus

    Carolus Linnaeus
    The leading biological scientist of the mid 18th century was the Swedish botanist Karl von Linné (Carolus Linnaeus in Latin). His 180 books are filled with precise descriptions of nature, but he did little analysis or interpretation. This is to be expected since Linnaeus apparently believed that he was just revealing the unchanging order of life created by God. The goal of documenting change in nature would not have made sense to him. Late in his life, however, he was troubled by the fact t
  • Comte de Buffon

    Comte de Buffon
    Late in the 18th century, a small number of European scientists began to quietly suggest that life forms are not fixed. The French mathematician and naturalist, George Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon , actually said that living things do change through time. He speculated that this was somehow a result of influences from the environment or even chance. He believed that the earth must be much older than 6000 years. In 1774, in fact, he speculated that the earth must be at least 75,000 years o
  • James Hutton

    James Hutton
    Lyell provided conclusive evidence for the theory of uniformitarianism , which had been developed originally by the late 18th century Scottish geologist, James Hutton. This held that the natural forces now changing the shape of the earth's surface have been operating in the past much the same way. In other words, the present is the key to understanding the past.
  • Erasmus Darwin

    Erasmus Darwin
    Another late 18th century closet-evolutionist was Erasmus Darwin , the grandfather of the well known 19th century naturalist, Charles Darwin. Erasmus was an English country physician, poet, and amateur scientist. He believed that evolution has occurred in living things, including humans, but he only had rather fuzzy ideas about what might be responsible for this change. He wrote of his ideas about evolution in poems and a relatively obscure two volume scientific publication entitled Zoonomia
  • George Cuvier

    George Cuvier
    Lamarck did not invent the idea of inheritance of acquired characteristics but stated it clearly and publicly in an 1809 publication entitled Philosophie Zoologique. It was relatively easy for the French scientist, George Cuvier , and other critics of Lamarck to discredit his theory. If it was correct, the children of cowboys who have developed bowed legs as a result of a lifetime of riding horses would be born with bowed legs as well. That, of course, does not occur. Likewise, the childre
  • Thomas Malthus

    Thomas Malthus
    In 1798, Thomas Malthus , an English clergyman and pioneer economist, published Essay on the Principles of Population. In it he observed that human populations will double every 25 years unless they are kept in check by limits in food supply. In 1838, Darwin read Malthus' essay and came to realize that all plant and animal populations have this same potential to rapidly increase their numbers unless they are constantly kept in check by predators, diseases, and limitations in food, water, and
  • Third Eyelid: Darwin

    Third Eyelid: Darwin
    If you watch a cat blink, you will see a white membrane cross its eye – that is called its third eyelid. It is quite a rare thing in mammals, but common in birds, reptiles, and fish. Humans have a remnant (but non-working) third eyelid (you can see it in the picture above). It has become quite small in humans, but some populations have more visible portions than others. There is only one known species of primate that still has a functioning third eyelid, and that is the Calabar angwantibo (close
  • Darwin's Finches

    Darwin's Finches
    The seed-crushing bills of little songbirds called finches, which were adapted to various niches throughout the Galapagos Islands, proved integral to the formulation of Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection. And the birds haven't stopped evolving.
  • The process whereby organisms better adapted to their environment tend to survive and produce more offspring. The theory of its action was first fully expounded by Charles Darwin and is now believed to be the main process that brings about evolution

    The process whereby organisms better adapted to their environment tend to survive and produce more offspring. The theory of its action was first fully expounded by Charles Darwin and is now believed to be the main process that brings about evolution
    The process whereby organisms better adapted to their environment tend to survive and produce more offspring. The theory of its action was first fully expounded by Charles Darwin and is now believed to be the main process that brings about evolution.
  • Extra Ear Muscles

    Extra Ear Muscles
    Also known as the extrinsic ear muscles, the auriculares muscles are used by animals to swivel and manipulate their ears (independently of their head) in order to focus their hearing on particular sounds. Humans still have the muscles that we would once have used for the very same reason – but our muscles are now so feeble that all they can do is give our ears a little wiggle
  • Gregor Mendel

    Gregor Mendel
    Darwin was aware of this fact, but he did not understand what caused the variation. The first person to begin to grasp why this happens was an obscure Central European monk named Gregor Mendel . Through plant breeding experiments carried out between 1856 and 1863, he discovered that there is a recombination of parental traits in offspring. Sadly, Darwin and most other 19th century biologists never knew of Mendel and his research.
  • Alfred Wallace

    Alfred Wallace
    What finally convinced Darwin that he should publish his theory in a book for the general educated public was the draft of an essay that he received in the summer of 1858 from a younger British naturalist named Alfred Wallace , who was then hard at work collecting biological specimens in Southeast Asia for sale to museums and private collectors.
  • Goosebumps

    Humans get goose bumps when they are cold, frightened, angry, or in awe. Many other creatures get goose bumps for the same reason, for example this is why a cat or dog’s hair stands on end and the cause behind a porcupine’s quills raising. In cold situations, the rising hair traps air between the hairs and skin, creating insulation and warmth. In response to fear, goose bumps make an animal appear larger – hopefully scaring away the enemy
  • Jacobson's Organ

    Jacobson's Organ
    Jacobson’s organ is a fascinating part of animal anatomy and it tells us a lot about our own sexual history. The organ is in the nose and it is a special “smell” organ which detects pheromones (the chemical that triggers sexual desire, alarm, or information about food trails). It is this organ that allows some animals to track others for sex and to know of potential dangers. Humans are born with the Jacobson’s organ, but in early development its abilities dwindle to a point that it is useless. O
  • Coccyx

    The coccyx is the remnant of what was once a human tail. Over time we lost the need for a tail (as tree swinging was replaced by hanging out at the local water hole grunting neanderthal gossip), but we did not lose the need for the coccyx: it now functions as a support structure for various muscles and a support for a person when he sits down and leans back. The coccyx also supports the position of the anus.
  • Bacteria Evolution

    Bacteria Evolution
    Natural selection is most evident in life forms that have extremely rapid life cycles, such as bacteria. Bacteria can reproduce and span an entire generation in only a few short weeks. Many types of bacteria are helpful to human and animal health, but others cause infectious diseases. The quick evolution of disease-causing bacteria has been well documented and involves some of the most important medical research in the world.
  • Darwin's Point

    Darwin's Point
    Darwin’s point is found in the majority of mammals, and humans are no exception. It is most likely used to help focus sounds in animals, but it no longer has a function in humans. Only 10.4% of the human population still has this visible left-over mark of our past, but it is possible that a much larger number of people carry the gene that produces it as it does not always cause the ear tubercle to appear. The point (shown in the picture above) is a small thick nodule at the junction of the upper
  • Appendix

    The appendix has no known use in modern humans and is often removed when it becomes infected. While its original use is still speculated on, most scientists agree with Darwin’s suggestion that it once helped to process the cellulose found in the leaf-rich diet that we once had. Over the course of evolution, as our diet has changed, the appendix became less useful.