About Natural History

Lamarckism and the scala naturæ

This is something that I have happened to notice a few times: how the ideas of lamarckism and the great chain of beings (scala naturæ) are still present in the minds of many people.

It seems a bit outdated, but these are two ideas that are quite popular among those who do believe in Evolution. As far as lamarckism is concerned, very often it is confused with the principles of natural selection. Indeed, it is believed that mutations happen and that they are the ones  that produce changes within species. But the mechanisms of how the mutations work and how they intervene are not well known. Here lies the global difference between Lamarck’s evolution and Darwin’s evolution (where the mutations occur in the germinal cells). Also, there is the belief that characters appear because there is a need for them by the organisms. The fact that characters appear hazardously and are retained or rejected by natural selection is not well grasped, which brings us to the same confusion of how mutations function.

Now, about the “Great Chain of Being” or scala naturæ. This is another type of misunderstanding of the diversity of life and man’s place in it. Humans often believe that they are superior to all of the other animals, and to plants as well (the french botanist Francis Hallé has described how plants are very complex organisms, proving that such an idea is simply false). Therefore, the scala naturæ makes sense, since it  describes the succession of organisms that lead to the complexity and the perfection of humans. Other concepts accompany this idea: lower/superior animals, lower/superior plants… These ideas only make sense in the larger frame of the chain of being.

The true understanding of the science of Evolution, needs the general understanding of genetics, biochemistry and some knowledge of the diversity of living organisms on Earth. Perhaps this is the cause for these misunderstandings and misinterpretations that lead to the persistence of these ideas in today’s popular evolutionist belief.


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