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Darwin joined in the early nineteenth century ridicule of Lamarck but Darwin also quietly admired the Frenchman’s genius and at one point made considerable use of Lamarckian ideas, particularly toward the end of his first and into his second Transmutation Notebook where Darwin found Lamarck’s ideas on habits fruitful in dealing with William Kirby’s challenge on instincts. (For a good treatment of the Darwin-Lamarck relationship see George James Grinnell’s 1985 paper, The Rise and Fall of Darwin’s Second Theory).
It is often the case that Darwin’s personal journey presages evolutionary thought in general, and Darwin’s relationship with Lamarck, in many ways, is no exception. Darwin’s ridicule at times turned into harsh opposition. In an 1844 letter to friend J. D. Hooker, Darwin castigated Lamarckism as absurd and “veritable rubbish.” In later years Darwin deplored comments, even by supporters of his theory, that linked his new theory of evolution with Lamarckism in any way.
And yet, in the end, Darwin had no idea how biological variation occurred, and how it could provide the necessary material for natural selection. For such thorny problems the Sage of Kent could refer to Lamarck’s ideas as a rear guard. Ultimately, Lamarck was needed by Darwin, as he is today, a century and a half later, by evolutionists.
But in making that journey, evolutionists first went through the ridicule and violent opposition stages that Darwin had traversed. Darwin would have been delighted to see the early twentieth century’s merger of Mendelian genetics with Darwinian evolution, bringing with it the death knell for Lamarckism. This new form of Darwinism (neoDarwinism) or Modern Synthesis, required that Lamarck’s inheritance of acquired characteristics be false. Evolutionists spent that century in unbridled opposition to Lamarck (see here, here and here for just a few examples).
Vestiges of that hatred remain quite evident today even though the science has overwhelmingly proved them wrong (by the way, all the other major tenets of neoDarwinism have also turned out to be false). Inheritance of acquired characteristics has been observed for most of a century and in recent years progressive evolutionists changed direction and began acknowledging those Lamarckian ideas.
This brings us to yesterday’s new paper entitled “The Lamarckian chicken and the Darwinian egg” which now suggests the inheritance of acquired characteristics as a legitimate mechanism of evolution. First, the authors explained what went wrong:
Evolution according to Lamarck, as described 50 years before the publication of Darwin’s work, is driven by the inheritance of acquired characteristics. According to Lamarck, organisms adapt by developing new variations in response to changing environments, and these new adaptive traits become heritable. Because of the apparent teleological nature of his theory, since it appears to clash with Mendelian genetics, and because no mechanism that enables inheritance of acquired traits was known, Lamarck’s theory was considered, for 200 years, to be completely wrong.
And not just considered completely wrong, but vilified as well. But now evolutionists begin to consider Lamarck’s ideas as legitimate:
We suggest that the original “Chicken or Egg” dilemma (how did chicken come to be?) is not a paradox, it is explained by evolution, and that each evolutionary change could map to either a pure Darwinian world (or “Weissmanian” really), in which the metaphorical “Egg” must have preceded the “Chicken,” or to a “Lamarckian” world in which the metaphorical chicken “comes first.”
Soon Lamarckian mechanisms will be self-evident. Evolutionists have already begun to prepare the way for this tectonic shift in their thinking. First, their venerable prophet must be rescued and protected from the fallout. The founders of neoDarwinism will have to take the hit—Darwin must be protected at all costs. Here is how Denis Noble laid out the strategy two years ago:
I will use the term ‘Modern Synthesis’ rather than ‘Neo-Darwinism’. Darwin was far from being a Neo-Darwinist (Dover, 2000; Midgley, 2010), so I think it would be better to drop his name for that idea. As Mayr (1964) points out, there are as many as 12 references to the inheritance of acquired characteristics in The Origin of Species (Darwin, 1859) and in the first edition he explicitly states ‘I am convinced that natural selection has been the main, but not the exclusive means of modification’, a statement he reiterated with increased force in the 1872, 6th edition.
This is, of course, a classic example of whig history. Darwin’s statement about natural selection comes at the end of his introduction to Origins and has nothing to do with Lamarckism. Darwin was softly promoting his theory to a skeptical reader and leaving himself wiggle room, not referring to the inheritance of acquired characteristics. For instance, Darwin would refer to sexual selection, as an addendum to natural selection. Darwin would have liked nothing more than rid his theory of anything linking it to Lamarck. He expressed that many times in no uncertain terms. Darwin’s rare employment of Lamarck’s ideas was strictly a rear guard action.
And for good reason. As with today, Darwin employed Lamarck only because he had to. Darwin needed at least some idea for how the plethora of biological variation would come about. Otherwise Lamarck was not welcome for, as yesterday’s paper explains above, Lamarckism smacked too much of teleology. Biological change arising in response to the needs of the organism? That was biology’s answer to Aristotelian, not Newtonian physics.
What Darwin needed, and what he posthumously got in neo Darwinism, was blind change. As Nobel Laureate Jacques Monod put it in 1971:
chance alone is at the source of every innovation, of all creation in the biosphere. Pure chance, absolutely free but blind, at the very root of the stupendous edifice of evolution: this central concept of modern biology is no longer one among other possible or even conceivable hypotheses. It is today the sole conceivable hypothesis, the only one that squares with observed and tested fact. And nothing warrants the supposition—or the hope—that on this score our position is likely ever to be revised.
To suggest that Darwin would have been opposed to this neo Darwinism is, like the Warfare Thesis, more photoshopping of history. The problem, then and now, is that the inheritance of acquired characteristics demolishes evolutionary thinking. That is why evolutionists have resisted and opposed Lamarckism so strenuously. But like it or not, that is the scientific evidence. So evolutionary theory will become even more ridiculous, if that were possible, as evolutionists spin tall tales of how the inheritance of acquired characteristics is, after all, simply another wonder of evolution. The abuse of science will continue. Rather than dealing with the evidence evolutionists will engage in yet more fairy tales.