Flashcards for Early Theories of Evolution
Topic 1:  Pre-Darwinian Theories
(15 cards)

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Genetic change in a population of organisms that occurs over time. The term is also frequently used to refer to the appearance of a new species derived from an older one.


The largest natural population of organisms that can potentially interbreed to produce fertile offspring.


A 17th century archbishop of Armagh Ireland. By counting the generations of the Bible and adding them to modern history, he fixed the date of creation at Sunday, October 23, 4004 B.C.

Archbishop James Ussher

The theory that living things were divinely created and exist in an infinite and continuous series of forms, each one grading into the next, from simple to complex. This view goes back to the ancient Greeks and was popular from the Middle Ages through the 18th century in Europe.

great chain of being

An 18th century Swedish botanist who developed a system for classifying all living things. This system, which is named after him, is still in use today by the biological sciences.

Carolus Linnaeus

A group of closely related species. In the Linnaean classification system, it is the category immediately above species.

genus (plural genera)

The convention established by Carolus Linnaeus whereby genus and species names are used to classify species. For example, Homo sapiens refers to human beings. (Hint: the term that you are looking for means “two names” in Latin.)

binomial nomenclature (or binomen)

An 18th century French aristocratic scientist who said that living things do change through time and that the earth must be much older than 6000 years. He was careful to hide his views in a 44 volume natural history book series. By doing this, he avoided broad public criticism.

Buffon (Comte de Buffon)

An 18th century English country physician, poet, and amateur scientist. He believed that evolution has occurred in living things including humans. He wrote of this in his poems and other relatively obscure publications. However, he did not know what caused evolution.

Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of Charles Darwin)

A late 18th and early 19th century French aristocratic scientist who believed that microscopic organisms appear spontaneously from inanimate materials and then evolve progressively into more complex forms through a constant striving for perfection. The ultimate product of this goal-oriented evolution was thought by him to be humans.

Lamarck (Chevalier de Lamarck)

A late 18th and early 19th century French scientist who was a leading advocate of catastrophism. He also attacked Lamarck’s idea of evolution and his explanation for what caused it to occur.

George Cuvier

The theory that the gradual 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. From this view, the earth must be very old.


Lamarck's explanation for evolution. The short phrase that you are looking for summarizes the idea that evolution occurs as a result of an organism acquiring a change in body shape due to using or not using particular body parts during its lifetime and then passing the new trait on to its offspring.

Inheritance of acquired characteristics

The theory that the earth’s surface is the result of violent and sudden natural catastrophes such as great floods and the rapid formation of major mountain chains rather than gradual changes. From this view, the earth must be very young.


A leading 19th century British geologist who was a strong advocate of uniformitarianism and an opponent of Cuvier’s idea of catastrophism. His three volume geology textbook was important in helping Charles Darwin develop his ideas about evolution during his round the world expedition.

Charles Lyell