Happy 268th birthday to Lamarck

| 121 Comments

It’s time for the annual birthday greeting to Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck, born 1 August 1744. Born into the impoverished nobility, he distinguished himself in the army, then had to leave military life because of a peacetime injury. In Paris, he started writing books on plants and ended up as Professor in the Natural History Museum. He was the great pioneer of invertebrate biology (he coined the terms “invertebrate” and “biology”). But of course he is best known as the first major evolutionary biologist, who propounded a theory of evolution which had an explanation for adaptation. (A wrong explanation, but nevertheless an explanation).

This time let’s use an image of the tree of animals, from his Philosophie Zoologique (1809):

LamarckTree.jpg

This is not entirely a tree of history: it is also paths up which evolution proceeds (actually, on this diagram, down which evolution proceeds). So it is not quite the same as the trees we use now. Note that not all animals are connected on this tree.

Of course, it goes without saying that Lamarck was not responsible for inventing or popularizing “Lamarckian inheritance”. He invoked it but everyone already believed it. And to add one last jibe: epigenetics is not in any way an example of the use-and-disuse mechanisms that Lamarck invoked.

121 Comments

“he is best known as the first major evolutionary biologist, who propounded a theory of evolution”

http://www.victorianweb.org/science/lamarck1.html

David Clifford, Ph.D., Cambridge University:

“In 1809 he published his most famous work, Philosophie Zoologique. This volume describes his theory of transmutation. The theory that Lamarck published consisted of several components. Underlying the whole was a ‘tendency to progression’, a principle that Creation is in a constant state of advancement. It was an innate quality of nature that organisms constantly ‘improved’ by successive generation, too slowly to be perceived but observable in the fossil record. Mankind sat at the top of this chain of progression, having passed through all the previous stages in prehistory. However, this necessitated the principle of spontaneous generation, for as a species transformed into a more advanced one, it left a gap: when the simple, single-celled organisms advanced to the next stage of life, new protozoans would be created (by the Creator) to fill their place.”

One only distinguishes oneself in the army if one is on the morally right side since its about killing people. Anyways. You say its not his fault about Lamarck ism and ideas that acquired traits can be passed on to offspring. As a YEC creationist I think something like this does happen and is the reason for much of diversity in biology.

I know darwin thought this was possible because he brought it up when trying to explain how women could raise their intelligence , that being biological as he said, by carefully teaching the girls prior to reproduction. (The descent of man).

Biology is so glorious and strange their is no reason to deny the option that creatures can acquire traits in life and pass them on to their kids. it just requires the acquired traits to be triggered by innate mechanisms within the bodies.

Robert Byers said:

[snip a lot of wrong stuff]

Since our usual troll Byers is well-known not to be willing to discuss any issue in science even semi-seriously, any answer to these mostly-irrelevant thoughts will take place on the Bathroom Wall, and so will any replies by him.

Joe Felsenstein said:

Robert Byers said:

[snip a lot of wrong stuff]

Since our usual troll Byers is well-known not to be willing to discuss any issue in science even semi-seriously, any answer to these mostly-irrelevant thoughts will take place on the Bathroom Wall, and so will any replies by him.

Will this apply to the troll Ray Martinez, too, please?

apokryltaros said:

Joe Felsenstein said:

… [snip]

Since our usual troll Byers is well-known not to be willing to discuss any issue in science even semi-seriously, any answer to these mostly-irrelevant thoughts will take place on the Bathroom Wall, and so will any replies by him.

Will this apply to the troll Ray Martinez, too, please?

The moment he goes off-topic, sure. But he hasn’t yet thus time.

(In my view the problem here is as much the extensive troll-chasing as the trolling. The “well, I know this is off-topic but I just had to answer that one …”).

Booby Byers has also been posting comments on Larry Moran’s blog of late. Several other commentors there have suggested that he is a Poe. What is the consensus here as to whether he is a Poe?

I’ve always been confused by that diagram. Are amphibious mammals directly descended from fish or from reptiles? (I’m assuming that “M.” stands for “mammals”; if not, what does it stand for?) Why are fish and reptiles in the same spot at all? And just how do Ongules differ from Onguicules?

–John H., not a masked panda at all.

SLC said:

Booby Byers has also been posting comments on Larry Moran’s blog of late. Several other commentors there have suggested that he is a Poe. What is the consensus here as to whether he is a Poe?

Not a Poe: no one here is imaginative enough to invent him. Any further discussion of Byers will take place on the Bathroom Wall.

John H. said:

I’ve always been confused by that diagram. Are amphibious mammals directly descended from fish or from reptiles? (I’m assuming that “M.” stands for “mammals”; if not, what does it stand for?) Why are fish and reptiles in the same spot at all? And just how do Ongules differ from Onguicules?

–John H., not a masked panda at all.

Well, it is 200 years old, so maybe not totally up to date. I think fish and reptiles are perhaps not exactly in the same place but one after another, just close by. Lamarck had originally a scale which was a Great Chain of Being, but being a good biologist he had to start branching it. There is a good essay by Stephen Jay Gould “A Tree Grows In Paris” which describes when and why he started branching his diagram. You will find it in his essay collection The Lying Stones of Marrakech.

You are right that “M.” is mammals. I gather that Ungiculates is an obsolete name for clawed (rather than hoofed) mammals. The Ungulates are the hoofed ones. His ideas about mammals are a bit weird – he was an expert on invertebrates.

On the other hand, Lamarck was very accurate about the closest relative of humans. He said it was “the orang of Angola (Simia troglodytes, Lin.)” which he distinguished from “the orang of the Indies … called the orang-outang”. So he was identifying as our closest relative the chimpanzee.

Robert Byers said:

[snip]

This comment has been moved to The Bathroom Wall. I meant it, folks. JF

What did Darwin think of Lamarck’s theory?

“it appeared to me extremely poor; I got not a fact or idea from it” (“The Life And Letters Of Charles Darwin” 1887:215, Vol.2; F. Darwin editor; London: Murray).

Ray Martinez said:

What did Darwin think of Lamarck’s theory?

“it appeared to me extremely poor; I got not a fact or idea from it” (“The Life And Letters Of Charles Darwin” 1887:215, Vol.2; F. Darwin editor; London: Murray).

He may have felt that way, but Lamarck’s views influenced many people. There is an excellent book by Adrian Desmond, The Politics of Evolution: Morphology, Medicine, and Reform in Radical London, which outlines the great influence that Lamarck and other “transmutationists” of the early 1800s had on political, social and religious controversies of the time. Lamarck may have had little influence on Darwin’s ideas about evolutionary mechanisms, but he certainly was had an important effect on the willingness of scientists to accept common descent. By the time Darwin published the Origin, the evidence from fossils, development, biogeography and systematics had prepared the way for the rapid acceptance of common descent. Even opponents of Lamarck like Cuvier and opponents of Darwin like Owen had compromised their views in that direction and moved away from the notion of fixity of species.

As I understand it, in later editions of his book, in response to criticisms of natural selection, Darwin allowed as how the theory of inheritance of acquired traits might contribute to evolution. This is why it is recommended that anyone interested in reading, On the Origin of Species read the first edition.

Joe Felsenstein said:

Ray Martinez said:

What did Darwin think of Lamarck’s theory?

“it appeared to me extremely poor; I got not a fact or idea from it” (“The Life And Letters Of Charles Darwin” 1887:215, Vol.2; F. Darwin editor; London: Murray).

He may have felt that way, but Lamarck’s views influenced many people. There is an excellent book by Adrian Desmond, The Politics of Evolution: Morphology, Medicine, and Reform in Radical London, which outlines the great influence that Lamarck and other “transmutationists” of the early 1800s had on political, social and religious controversies of the time. Lamarck may have had little influence on Darwin’s ideas about evolutionary mechanisms, but he certainly was had an important effect on the willingness of scientists to accept common descent. By the time Darwin published the Origin, the evidence from fossils, development, biogeography and systematics had prepared the way for the rapid acceptance of common descent. Even opponents of Lamarck like Cuvier and opponents of Darwin like Owen had compromised their views in that direction and moved away from the notion of fixity of species.

SLC said:

As I understand it, in later editions of his book, in response to criticisms of natural selection, Darwin allowed as how the theory of inheritance of acquired traits might contribute to evolution. This is why it is recommended that anyone interested in reading, On the Origin of Species read the first edition.

It is quite true that Darwin made more room for inheritance of environmentally induced variation in his later editions. This was because the engineering professor Fleeming Jenkin had in 1867 pointed out that “blending” of hereditary material would erode genetic variation and cause natural selection to stall. Jenkin’s argument was quite correct – if you accepted that blending was how heredity worked. We now know that heredity is particulate (Mendelian) so Jenkin’s argument loses force. The work of Hardy and Weinberg in 1908 showed that the variability in a population is not averaged away by random mating of individuals with different phenotypes. Nevertheless Jenkin’s was a very clever argument, and caused Darwin a lot of worry.

Notice too that nongenetic effects that then get inherited was not invented by Lamarck, though he made them an important part of his theory. It is historically incorrect to call this “Lamarckian inheritance” (and SLC did not call it that).

I don’t think that this is why people prefer the first edition, though. Mostly people like it because it is shorter.

Agreed. Think that the job of history of science is to undo the myths, legends, and Whig histories that accumulate in science over time. There’s another good post on Lamarck and Lamarckism in this respect by The Renaissance Mathematicus [http://thonyc.wordpress.com/2012/08[…]-and-demons/].

Joe Felsenstein said:

Notice too that nongenetic effects that then get inherited was not invented by Lamarck, though he made them an important part of his theory. It is historically incorrect to call this “Lamarckian inheritance” (and SLC did not call it that).

Joe Felsenstein said (in the opening post):

[…] And to add one last jibe: epigenetics is not in any way an example of the use-and-disuse mechanisms that Lamarck invoked.

I am not sure, whether the above two quotes address the same thing or not.

I have a set of questions. Not only on epigenetics, but also on Lamarcian approach in general.

1) The epigenetic effects do not mediate over many generations. Is this true or false ?

2) Both the Lamarck’s and Darwin’s proposals rested heavily on inheritance of traits, but neither of them could propose a mechanism, how the traits are mediated from one generation to the next. Both of them just postulated it. Is this true or false ?

3) Lamarck’s proposal has not been abandoned because it was silly, but because Darwin’s proposal (especially supplemented by modern synthesis) appears to work better in the nature that we can observe. Is this true or false ?

4) There is no way to supplement the Lamarckian approach by means of a “modern synthesis” to fit it to our observations, not even if we are allowed to invoke mechanisms yet unknown. Is this true or false ?

On 2) Darwin observed inheritance as a fact of nature, in 1859, and stood quiet about its mechanism. When he eventually did explicate a theory concerning the mechanism, it was as false as whatever you may conceive as Lamarckism. He speculated about hereditary particles that he called gemmules, which swim around in the body and can be transmitted from parent to offspring thus communicating acquired traits somehow.

Keywords: pangenesis, Darwin, gemmules.

On the rest: Why do you need to judge Lamarck and Darwin in modern terms and apportion truth and falsity between them? If they were wrong about things that they could not possibly have known better, why not cut both of them some slack?

Joachim said:

On the rest: Why do you need to judge Lamarck and Darwin in modern terms and apportion truth and falsity between them? If they were wrong about things that they could not possibly have known better, why not cut both of them some slack?

I did not intend to judge them. Quite the contrary.

My questions should be read in the context of the present time understanding.

My questions are open ones. If there is something that they might reflect, it is the gap in my education.

Eric Finn said:

I have a set of questions. Not only on epigenetics, but also on Lamarcian approach in general.

1) The epigenetic effects do not mediate over many generations. Is this true or false ?

I am not sure what “mediate” means (carry out a negotiation between two people?). Epigenetic effects seem to revert after a few generations.

2) Both the Lamarck’s and Darwin’s proposals rested heavily on inheritance of traits, but neither of them could propose a mechanism, how the traits are mediated from one generation to the next. Both of them just postulated it. Is this true or false ?

True. Of course even Mendel’s factors were hypothetical, and their molecular basis only began to be worked out by molecular biology about 65 years ago.

3) Lamarck’s proposal has not been abandoned because it was silly, but because Darwin’s proposal (especially supplemented by modern synthesis) appears to work better in the nature that we can observe. Is this true or false ?

Neither Lamarck’s nor Darwin’s mechanism of heredity was correct. Darwin’s mechanism for evolution of adaptations works.

4) There is no way to supplement the Lamarckian approach by means of a “modern synthesis” to fit it to our observations, not even if we are allowed to invoke mechanisms yet unknown. Is this true or false ?

Lamarck’s mechanism of use-and-disuse does not work because it proposes that phenomena like change of size of muscles when they are heavily used apply to all organs. This is not true: “pumping iron” does not work for your eyes or your kidneys. Furthermore your bigger muscles are not inherited.

I will add that epigenetic changes may be induced by environmental causes, but as far as we know they are random in direction, as are mutational changes in genes.

It is my understanding that Darwin actually had in his position a copy of Mendel’s paper, either as a separate document or a journal in which it was published.

Joe Felsenstein said:

Eric Finn said:

I have a set of questions. Not only on epigenetics, but also on Lamarcian approach in general.

1) The epigenetic effects do not mediate over many generations. Is this true or false ?

I am not sure what “mediate” means (carry out a negotiation between two people?). Epigenetic effects seem to revert after a few generations.

2) Both the Lamarck’s and Darwin’s proposals rested heavily on inheritance of traits, but neither of them could propose a mechanism, how the traits are mediated from one generation to the next. Both of them just postulated it. Is this true or false ?

True. Of course even Mendel’s factors were hypothetical, and their molecular basis only began to be worked out by molecular biology about 65 years ago.

3) Lamarck’s proposal has not been abandoned because it was silly, but because Darwin’s proposal (especially supplemented by modern synthesis) appears to work better in the nature that we can observe. Is this true or false ?

Neither Lamarck’s nor Darwin’s mechanism of heredity was correct. Darwin’s mechanism for evolution of adaptations works.

4) There is no way to supplement the Lamarckian approach by means of a “modern synthesis” to fit it to our observations, not even if we are allowed to invoke mechanisms yet unknown. Is this true or false ?

Lamarck’s mechanism of use-and-disuse does not work because it proposes that phenomena like change of size of muscles when they are heavily used apply to all organs. This is not true: “pumping iron” does not work for your eyes or your kidneys. Furthermore your bigger muscles are not inherited.

I will add that epigenetic changes may be induced by environmental causes, but as far as we know they are random in direction, as are mutational changes in genes.

SLC said:

It is my understanding that Darwin actually had in his position a copy of Mendel’s paper, either as a separate document or a journal in which it was published.

That is apparently an urban myth. He had a book by someone else that mentioned (inaccurately) Mendel’s paper, but he made no marginal annotations on that part of that book. Here is a web post of fairly definitive statements by the people who curate Darwin’s papers:

http://members.shaw.ca/mcfetridge/darwin.html

I think that the chance that Darwin would have understood what Mendel had achieved would be remote. Some unknown high school teacher in Moravia writing in German did some plant crosses and thought he had found interesting ratios, and had some rather arbitrary theory involving “factors”. If you were Darwin, would you be electrified by hearing that?

Mendel did visit London in 1862 as part of a group from Brno going to the Crystal Palace Exposition. People have suggested that if only Mendel had also gone to Down House to visit Darwin, biology would have benefited greatly. I doubt it. Mendel did not speak English, and again, he was some unknown high school teacher with a dubious-sounding theory … Darwin would have received Mendel (maybe), would have been polite, but then would have immediately forgotten this off-the-wall stuff. There were lots of horticulturalists crossing plants, and lots of them thought they had found interesting patterns.

Agreed, it took folks with a much stronger quantitative background than Darwin or Mendel or many of the other naturalists of the time to recognize the significance of Mendel’s work with respect to the problem of “blending inheritance”… thus the unholy marriage of mathematics and biology began

Hitler and Fisher were born less than a year apart, coincidence?

I THINK NOT muahahahahahahahaa

https://me.yahoo.com/a/8kVPqs1vt4iV[…]z7tX8k#224b2 said:

Hitler and Fisher were born less than a year apart, coincidence?

I THINK NOT muahahahahahahahaa

Sinister! More to the point, the three great figures of theoretical population genetics, Fisher, Wright, and Haldane, were all born within 3 years of each other. Coincidence? I don’t think so: they all encountered the problem of genetics and evolution at about the same time, in the mid 1910s, and all were then of an age where they were deciding what to work on. Someone coming along 5 years earlier or later would probably have gone into a different field.

Joe, on the Darwin-Mendel stuff I agree with you about 80%. I think the language barrier would’ve stopped any face-to-face meeting or even journal review from going anywhere.

But I do not think that Darwin and his peers would’ve discounted the work of a HS teacher just because it came from a HS teacher, if it had been presented well (and in English). After all, only 50 years after Darwin, the scientific community had no problem recognizing the genius of the work of a patent clerk. Yeah, the scientific establisment was classist in the 1860s. But they were classist in the 1900s too. Didn’t stop them from recognizing good work when they saw it. The trick was getting them to see it.

eric said:

Joe, on the Darwin-Mendel stuff I agree with you about 80%. I think the language barrier would’ve stopped any face-to-face meeting or even journal review from going anywhere.

But I do not think that Darwin and his peers would’ve discounted the work of a HS teacher just because it came from a HS teacher,

I think the main barrier would not have been language or class, but that this was some guy who said he had a pattern and a theory. But it would have been hard to understand, so I doubt anyone like Darwin would have paid attention.

Mendel’s work was finally appreciated after the 1890s. a decade in which the problem of heredity came under more intensive study and was recognized as a major unsolved problem. The rediscoverers carried out experiments to check it, and it was confirmed. I suspect there were a lot of other people who thought they saw patterns in plant crosses and had their own theories – the problem was to see that Mendel’s theories actually worked.

As for the historical what-ifs, we can settle this if we can get out the time machine and do a few experiments back then …

Kudos to Felsentein, this thread is, as far as it goes now, an excellent example of what the history of science should be (IMGHO).

For those intrigued by the Mendel-Darwin-connection, do click on the link Felsenstein provides! (And do read the e-mails of the curators of the Darwin heritage!!!)

I think it is a good source for debunking an urban legend born from the Whiggish idea that the re-discorveres of Mendel should have been in the know of the Modern Synthesis, whereas they themselves saw Mendelism as a patent contradictiont o Darwinism.

Joachim said:

Kudos to Felsentein, this thread is, as far as it goes now, an excellent example of what the history of science should be (IMGHO).

For those intrigued by the Mendel-Darwin-connection, do click on the link Felsenstein provides! (And do read the e-mails of the curators of the Darwin heritage!!!)

I think it is a good source for debunking an urban legend born from the Whiggish idea that the re-discorveres of Mendel should have been in the know of the Modern Synthesis, whereas they themselves saw Mendelism as a patent contradictiont o[f?] Darwinism.

I suspect Joachim misspoke and meant to say something else, for it was the Modern Synthesis itself that brought Mendelian mechanisms into evolutionary biology. The Mutationists of 1900-1920 were the ones who saw Mendelism as contradicting the role of natural selection. On behalf of my clients Wright, Fisher, Haldane, Mulller, Dobzhansky, Mayr, Simpson, Huxley, and Stebbins I enter a plea of innocent.

Joe Felsenstein said:

Joachim said:

I think it is a good source for debunking an urban legend born from the Whiggish idea that the re-discorveres of Mendel should have been in the know of the Modern Synthesis, whereas they themselves saw Mendelism as a patent contradictiont o[f?] Darwinism.

I suspect Joachim misspoke and meant to say something else, for it was the Modern Synthesis itself that brought Mendelian mechanisms into evolutionary biology. The Mutationists of 1900-1920 were the ones who saw Mendelism as contradicting the role of natural selection. On behalf of my clients Wright, Fisher, Haldane, Mulller, Dobzhansky, Mayr, Simpson, Huxley, and Stebbins I enter a plea of innocent.

I see I misread Joachim’s comment. He is saying that the Whiggish idea is that the rediscoverers of Mendel should have instantly realized that Mendelism allowed natural selection to explain adaptation. He is right that mostly they did not see that and felt that the discrete differences between genotypes showed that the sort of change that Darwin had talked about did not happen, and a kind of saltationism was correct.

I got it backwards and read Joachim as saying that the founders of the Modern Synthesis saw Mendelism as contradicting Darwin.

By shortly after 1910 some of the early Mendelians began to consider Mendelian inheritance as consistent with natural selection. This included Morgan, who converted to that view early.

Lamarck is a very important figure. He certainly holds a strong claim to being the first scientist to fully recognize the fact of evolution and articulate a testable hypothesis about the mechanism of evolution, in a rigorous, modern way.

It is a bit sad that his name is currently associated with a widespread misunderstanding of evolution, in the English speaking world (in French-influenced areas he’s simply remembered as a great scientist). On the other hand, it’s also a good thing.

It’s not really surprising that the first articulated testable mechanism proposed for evolution was also exactly the most common biased human misinterpretation of how evolution works. Note - that’s misinterpretation of how it works, as opposed to biased denial that it happens at all.

If teachers didn’t specifically discuss Lamarckism and explain why it doesn’t explain observations as well as the contemporary theory of evolution, a substantial proportion of students would assume Lamarckism.

I personally saw the advantage of the modern/”Darwinian” synthesis when I learned about it - it doesn’t require any magic. I happened to have a non-hostile but bemusedly skeptical attitude toward magic, the supernatural, miracles, etc, as a student.

Nevertheless, I can easily see why the idea of nature “striving” for “improvement” and “perfection” is highly palatable to human minds.

Lamarck came up with what can legitimately be termed a first idea, based on his long years of pioneering work with invertebrates. It was precisely the not quite correct idea that a human brain would be expected to come up with, especially in the social context of Lamarck’s time, but before Lamarck there was no modern, testable proposed mechanism for evolution. Lamarck was an innovator whose ideas were expanded and superseded, not a denialist.

Joe Felsenstein said:

Ray Martinez said:

What did Darwin think of Lamarck’s theory?

“it appeared to me extremely poor; I got not a fact or idea from it” (“The Life And Letters Of Charles Darwin” 1887:215, Vol.2; F. Darwin editor; London: Murray).

He may have felt that way, but Lamarck’s views influenced many people. There is an excellent book by Adrian Desmond, The Politics of Evolution: Morphology, Medicine, and Reform in Radical London, which outlines the great influence that Lamarck and other “transmutationists” of the early 1800s had on political, social and religious controversies of the time. Lamarck may have had little influence on Darwin’s ideas about evolutionary mechanisms,

The implication here is that evolution enjoyed acceptance. Said implication is completely false: evolution enjoyed no scientific acceptance before 1859; science held species immutable (see Darwin “On The Origin” 1859:6; London: Murray).

but he certainly had an important effect on the willingness of scientists to accept common descent.

Challenged.

Please produce two or three scholarly references in support or retract?

By the time Darwin published the Origin, the evidence from fossils, development, biogeography and systematics had prepared the way for the rapid acceptance of common descent.

Challenged.

Please produce two or three scholarly references in support or retract?

Even opponents of Lamarck like Cuvier and opponents of Darwin like Owen had compromised their views in that direction and moved away from the notion of fixity of species.

Concerning Cuvier: produce two scholarly references in support or retract?

Concerning Owen: he claimed, after Darwin published in 1859, to have advocated evolution around 1850. Then in response to the reception of “The Origin” he blistered Darwin with several reviews. Then he remained a bitter enemy of Darwin and evolution the remainder of his life. What he propagated circa 1850 was “providential evolution” (= Creationism).

Eric Finn said:

Eric Finn said:

[…] I fail to see, why epigenetic changes can not be perceived as an example of a mechanism in both the “Lamarckian” and “modern Darwinian” evolution.

I have changed my mind on this matter. Epigenetic changes can not be deemed to represent examples of the Lamarckian mechanisms (a general complexifying force, and the effects of use and disuse).

The use and disuse should always affect the organs that are used or disused. Epigenetic changes can affect any organ.

Moreover, the effects of the changes appear to be random in the sense that sometimes the changes help and sometimes they make it more difficult for the offspring to reach maturity.

Maybe I now understand your statement in the opening post(?)

Yes, you have given a good and succinct summary of my argument.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Joe Felsenstein published on August 1, 2012 11:53 AM.

Photography contest, IV was the previous entry in this blog.

Investors of the lost Ark is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Categories

Archives

Author Archives

Powered by Movable Type 4.381

Site Meter