Historically Influential Publications
(listed in chronological order)

James Ussher  (1581-1656)

Annales Veteris Testamenti, A Prima Mundi Origine Deducti  (1650)
(English translation: Annals of the Old Testament, Deduced from the First Origins of the World)

In this book, Ussher presented the evidence for his claim that the earth and life were created at midday on Sunday, October 23, 4004 B.C.

Carolus Linnaeus  (1707-78)                              (Karl von Linné)

Systema Naturae (1735)

In this book, Linnaeus classified all known organisms according to the greater or lesser extent of their similarities (i.e., he defined morphospecies).  Each form was designated by 2 Latin names--genus and species.   The framework of this Linnaean system of classification is still used in the biological sciences to designate newly discovered species and to indicate relative evolutionary distances.  The first edition of Systema Naturae was only 12 pages long.  Subsequent editions grew longer and longer as Linnaeus named more species.  By the 12th and final edition, he realized that his goal of naming all species was not going to be completed.

Buffon, George Louis Leclerc, Comte de  (1707-88)

Histoire Naturelle (1749-1804)

This was an expensive encyclopedia of natural history written in collaboration with other leading 18th century European naturalists.    It took more than ˝ century for all 44 volumes to be published.  In this extensive publication, Buffon cautiously presented his view that the Earth must be very old and that evolution has occurred.

Epochs of Nature (1774)

In this work, Buffon speculated about the origin of the Earth.  He assumed that the core was predominantly molten iron.  Based on his estimate of the cooling rate of iron spheres, he concluded that the Earth must be at least 75,000 years old.

James Hutton

Theory of the Earth or an Investigation of the laws Observable in the Composition, Dissolution and Restoration of Land upon the Globe (1788)

In this work, he presented the idea of uniformitarianism.   He argued that the Earth is extremely old and that its surface has been continuously reshaped by slow natural processes rather than major catastrophes.   Hutton is credited with inventing this theory but convincing evidence of it was not available until the following generation when Lyell published his findings.

Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802)

            Zoonomia; or, the Laws of Organic Life (volume 1 published in1794; volume 2 in 1796) 
            (go to this publication)

A pioneering scientific publication in which he presented the idea of a very ancient earth and the evolution of living things going back "perhaps millions of ages before the commencement of the history of mankind."  His views about the causes of evolution foreshadowed Lamarck's idea of the inheritance of acquired characteristics.  This can be seen in Erasmus Darwin's statement that "all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament, which the great First Cause endued with animality, with the power of acquiring new parts, attended with new propensities, directed by irritations, sensations, volitions and associations, and thus possessing the faculty of continuing to improve by its own inherent activity, and of delivering down these improvements by generation to its posterity, world without end!"

Thomas R. Malthus  (1766-1834)

Essay on the Principles of Population (1798)  (go to this publication)

In this extensive essay, Malthus pointed out that human populations can double in 25 years if not kept in check by limited food supplies.  By extension, the population growth of all species is limited by resource availability.  This was a key idea used by Darwin in explaining evolution by natural selection.

Lamarck, Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de  (1744-1829)

Pilosophie Zoologique (1809)

In this seminal work, Lamarck advocated the incorrect theory that evolution is the result of a constant striving toward perfection through adaptation to local environmental conditions.  In other words, he believed that evolution occurs as organisms acquire characteristics by either using or not using different body parts during their lifetime which alters the shape of their bodies.  This change is then passed on to their offspring.  This is the inheritance of acquired characteristics.

Charles Lyell   (1797-1875)

Principles of Geology (1830-33)  (go to this publication)

This 3 volume geology text presented conclusive evidence for uniformitarianism--i.e, the theory that the Earth is very ancient and has been changing constantly but slowly by natural processes (e.g., erosion, volcanoes, earthquakes).  This implicitly challenged the biblical chronology of Archbishop Ussher.  Lyell also pointed out gradual changes in fossil forms from strata to strata in sedimentary rock deposits.  Charles Darwin was strongly influenced by these ideas.

Charles Darwin  (1809-1882)

Journal of Researches Into the Natural History and Geology of the Countries Visited During the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle Round the World, Under the Command of Capt. Fitz Roy, R.N.  (1845)  (go to this publication)

Charles Darwin's very popular book based on his journal of the 5 year expedition of H.M.S. Beagle.  This work was originally volume 3 of the more comprehensive 1838 publication entitled Narrative of the Surveying Voyages of His Majesty's Ships Adventure and Beagle.  The other volumes of that work were written by Robert Fitzroy, captain of the Beagle during its 1831-1836 voyage.

On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life  (1859)   (go to this publication)

In this popular but controversial 490 page book, Darwin proposed that morphological changes in a population of animals or plants through time are the result of natural selection.  He said that all species in nature show variability in physical features.  These variations determine who survives and reproduces.  The individuals whose variations let them adapt better to their environment have a greater chance of surviving, maturing, and reproducing--i.e., survival of the fittest.  As a result, they pass on their superior traits to more offspring and descent with modification, or evolution, is the result.  (Click here to see the title page of the first edition.)

Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex  (1871)   (go to publication)

In this important sequel publication, Darwin proposed that humans evolved from earlier life forms as a result of natural selection.  This implied that people are not separate from nature but clearly part of it.  While this was inferred by many from his earlier book, On the Origin of Species, he did not publish this view until 12 years later in the Descent of Man.  In this latter book, he also speculated that our pre-human ancestors would be found in Africa since our nearest living relatives (chimpanzees and gorillas) only live on that continent.


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