A pioneering evolutionary biologist turns 269

| 66 Comments

Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck, would have been 269 today (August 1), were it not for his untimely death at 85. But he did accomplish a few things – he was one of the greatest pioneers of invertebrate biology (and he coined the words “invertebrate” and “biology”). And he put forward one of the very earliest theories of evolution, one that had proposed mechanisms. A major mechanism he proposed, to explain adaptation in place of natural selection, was that effects of use and disuse of organs would be passed on to the next generation by inheritance of acquired characters. Although that inheritance has come to be called “Lamarckian inheritance”, he did not invent it – it was commonly known to be true in those days.

LamarckStatue512px.jpg

He was wrong about inheritance, but he got another important fact right …

He argued that humans are most closely related to “the orang of Angola (Simia troglodytes Lin.)” which can easily be recognized as referring to the chimpanzee, or perhaps the bonobo.

Which has to be one of the better guesses he made. Much of Lamarck’s theory sounds impossibly mystical to us today, with mysterious complexifying forces. But science of the era (around 1800) often sounds that way today, and we have to remember that scientists felt that all these mysterious tendencies would be documented by science and made part of the body of knowledge.

So let us raise a glass of excellent Picardy calvados to Lamarck. the greatest evolutionary biologist until Darwin, born on August 1, 1744.

66 Comments

Picardy calvados? You blaspheme! Calvados comes only from Basse-Normandie. By law.

John Harshman said:

Picardy calvados? You blaspheme! Calvados comes only from Basse-Normandie. By law.

Well, let’s be uncouth Americans and use some applejack instead.

I don’t know, John — check out this pic:

http://www.metsdelestran.fr/remotem[…]d=1375413035

Its ACC, Pays du Bray, which is historically Picardie and certainly not Basse-Normandie. Must be some exceptions.

Why toast error? The important thing about him is that he guessed about mechanisms to explain biological origins. Thats what is needed today. Evolutionists do not strive to question if their could be other natural mechanisms that drive biology! In the future present evolutionism most likely will be seen like his inheritance stuff. Not saying their dumb but they were wrong. Nice try.

His ideas of our relatedness to Orangatans is just as much a guess as the other stuff. Just as wrong. Its just looking at the form of the body and quickly concluding relationship. Its just a line of reasoning or guessing.

Who’s to say inheritance of changes is not a little true. If the DNA can be changed by a creature then it would be sent to the offspring. Who says its impossible that there is not mechanisms in the body.. I’ve been reading Einstein s book on his idea and he stresses about the corrections of wrong ideas in physics was not anticipated until the next discovery. Biology is more difficult then physics and so its more likely first ideas can be corrected. I see modern evolutionism just stuck in their position because of complete lack of scepticism because they couldn’t even imagine other mechanisms. Of coarse also they are afraid of creationism. If evolutionists are on the wrong side it will just put them in that group in science who got it wrong and without excuse.

There is some evidence that Lamarckian mechanisms do work. They seem to help newborn mammals to adapt their immune system to challenges their mothers experienced. Of course they don’t change the germ line sequences and thus don’t contribute to evolution directly. But they may have contributed to the evolution of mammalian v-gene repertoires.

Robert Byers said: Biology is more difficult then physics …

Booby! You finally said something we both agree on!

Actually, surprisingly, the gist of what Byers said this time is mostly correct. In the future, modern evolutionary theory could be shown to have been in error, just like after 200 years we have shown that many things that Lamarck believed were in error, just like after 150 years we have shown that many things that Darwin believed were in error.

The problem is one of degree. Today, we have 200 or 150 more years of evidence. Whatever theory might replace the modern theory of evolution would have 150 to 200 years more evidence to explain than Darwin or Lamarck had to deal with. Also, there were much larger gaps in what Darwin or Lamarck knew, and they both recognized those gaps at the time. Today, even though we’re just starting to open the box of Evo-Devo, there are far fewer gaps in our knowledge than there used to be. Sure, there’s the whole abiogenesis question that we haven’t been able to crack yet. But even though we may not know what the gap is filled with, we still have a pretty well defined shape to that hole.

It’s like Newtonian physics versus relativity. Newton’s physics was revolutionary, but it had a much large gap to fill. Several hundred years later, Relativity had a much smaller gap to fill, and it was relatively (pardon the pun) a well defined gap at the time. True, it opened up whole other areas of scientific endeavor that hadn’t been considered, but it was more a case of adding to or amending Newtonian physics, rather than replacing it.

Even if the modern theory of evolution is a theory in crisis, as the Creationists would want us to believe, it is a very successful theory in explaining a lot of things. Any theory that replaces it will have to do at least as well.

Robert Byers said:

Why toast error?

You misunderstand. We aren’t toasting error. We are toasting the courage to look at the evidence available at the time, and to make predictions about how the world might work, and to propose experiments to show if those predictions were correct or not.

Modern Creationists and IDiots don’t have the courage to make predictions about how the world works, or to propose experiments, and they ignore all evidence. Making stuff up doesn’t take courage. Sitting in your office composing press releases doesn’t take courage. Sticking your fingers in your ears and your head in the sand doesn’t lead to a brighter future.

To be “Lamarckian” in the sense of Lamarck’s theory of adaptation, we would have to have an inherited effect of use and disuse. The paper cited talks of lifelong (but not inherited) effects of mother’s immunoglobins.

That does not qualify as Lamarckian, since as you note there is no subsequent genetic inheritance.

Robert Byers said:

Why toast error?

Almost any occasion is a good reason to drink Picardy calvados, or Spanish champagne, or …

But I would draw the line at toasting YEC views such as Byers’s. Lamarck was way ahead of Byers.

John Harshman said:

Picardy calvados? You blaspheme! Calvados comes only from Basse-Normandie. By law.

Another Calvados lover? Cheers!

Robert Byers said:

Why toast error?

Because his errors were far less wrong than the errors made before him, so he advanced the state of human knowledge.

Boy, you creos are grumps.

Robert Byers said:

Why toast error?

Being wrong still teaches us things.

We know now that “Lamarckian inheritance” is wrong in many ways, but the knowledge we gained in order to demonstrate this helps us to better understand the world we live in.

The problem with creationism is that it doesn’t even try. It contributes nothing that helps us to understand how the world works.

“God did it.” is the ultimate debate ender.

Robert Byers said:

I see modern evolutionism just stuck in their position because of complete lack of scepticism because they couldn’t even imagine other mechanisms.

Many other mechanisms can be and have been imagined, but none have produced any supporting evidence.

Robert Byers said: Biology is more difficult then physics …

The corrent word is “than”. “Then” is temporal, “than” is a comparison.

Bobsie said:

Robert Byers said: Biology is more difficult then physics …

The corrent word is “than”. “Then” is temporal, “than” is a comparison.

It is typical of Byers’ word usage style [consistently wrong]. I suppose I could have marked ‘sic’ on it, but after all these years it seems rather pointless. I simply went with the essence of the statement.

eric said:

Robert Byers said:

Why toast error?

Because his errors were far less wrong than the errors made before him, so he advanced the state of human knowledge.

Boy, you creos are grumps.

Actually, I don’t think it’s an “error” to advance a testable hypothesis which is later tested and found to be wrong.

Lamarck didn’t know about, and unjustifiably deny, a better explanation. He advanced an early hypothesis about something that was unexplained at the time.

Granted, people do sometimes call early hypotheses that don’t pan out “errors”. But even if we do that, we can note the difference between proposing a testable explanation for something which is not yet explained, versus unjustifiably denying what is known in an asinine manner, creationist style. The latter is “error” by any standard.

(Also, Lamarck could be toasted for his many correct observations.)

jwramseyjr said: Being wrong still teaches us things.

Being wrong CAN still teach us things…except that the IDiots and creotards refuse to learn from being wrong.

I may have posted this comment previously on this site and posted it a few days ago on Larry Moran’s blog but since the issue of being wrong has come up, I will repeat it.

Enrico Fermi was quoted as once opining that a scientist who has never been wrong probably hasn’t contributed much to advancing the state of scientific knowledge (a paraphrase). The three most important scientists, at least in the Common Era, who ever lived were occasionally wrong. Thus Isaac Newton was wrong about the ability of chemical processes to change lead into gold and about a strictly particulate theory of light being able to explain diffraction and interference. Darwin was wrong about inheritance being an analog process; it is a digital process. Einstein was wrong about the existence of black holes and almost certainly wrong about quantum mechanics. However, they were right far more ofter then they were wrong.

James Watson’s book The Double Helix contains entertaining stories of how both Watson and Linus Pauling made embarrassing mistakes in the course of their scientific research. They learned from their errors, made the necessary corrections, and went on to make great discoveries. They both have Nobel Prizes now.

SLC said:

However, they were right far more ofter then they were wrong.

I’m not sure I’d even go that far. No matter how much they were wrong, they were right in some big, important ways. And that’s what they’re justifiably famous for. How many times did Edison fail at making a practical light bulb?

Actually, I don’t think it’s an “error” to advance a testable hypothesis which is later tested and found to be wrong.

Just look at all those models of atoms and how those changed over the years.

We have at least one commenter here who is way ahead of all those famous scientists – he’s wrong about almost everything!

Bobsie said:

Robert Byers said: Biology is more difficult then physics …

The corrent word is “than”. “Then” is temporal, “than” is a comparison.

DS said:

Bobsie said:

Robert Byers said: Biology is more difficult then physics …

The corrent word is “than”. “Then” is temporal, “than” is a comparison.

Of coarse your write.

Bobsie said:

Robert Byers said: Biology is more difficult then physics …

The corrent word is “than”. “Then” is temporal, “than” is a comparison.

Give Robert Byers a break. The fact that he used a correctly spelled word at all is a step in the right direction, even if it wasn’t the word he meant.

Give us all a break, all of you.

Anyone with comments about Lamarck? Remember him?

Scott F said:

Actually, surprisingly, the gist of what Byers said this time is mostly correct. In the future, modern evolutionary theory could be shown to have been in error, just like after 200 years we have shown that many things that Lamarck believed were in error, just like after 150 years we have shown that many things that Darwin believed were in error.

The problem is one of degree. Today, we have 200 or 150 more years of evidence. Whatever theory might replace the modern theory of evolution would have 150 to 200 years more evidence to explain than Darwin or Lamarck had to deal with. Also, there were much larger gaps in what Darwin or Lamarck knew, and they both recognized those gaps at the time. Today, even though we’re just starting to open the box of Evo-Devo, there are far fewer gaps in our knowledge than there used to be. Sure, there’s the whole abiogenesis question that we haven’t been able to crack yet. But even though we may not know what the gap is filled with, we still have a pretty well defined shape to that hole.

It’s like Newtonian physics versus relativity. Newton’s physics was revolutionary, but it had a much large gap to fill. Several hundred years later, Relativity had a much smaller gap to fill, and it was relatively (pardon the pun) a well defined gap at the time. True, it opened up whole other areas of scientific endeavor that hadn’t been considered, but it was more a case of adding to or amending Newtonian physics, rather than replacing it.

Even if the modern theory of evolution is a theory in crisis, as the Creationists would want us to believe, it is a very successful theory in explaining a lot of things. Any theory that replaces it will have to do at least as well.

Obligatory linky …

The Relativity of Wrong By Isaac Asimov

Joe Felsenstein said:

Give us all a break, all of you.

Anyone with comments about Lamarck? Remember him?

I’ll be good now.

It is not enough to discover and prove a useful truth previously unknown, but that it is necessary also to be able to propagate it and get it recognized. — Jean-Baptiste Lamarck

Philosophie Zoologique (1809), Vol. 2, 450, trans. Hugh Elliot (1914), 404

Sure, Joe. I believe we’ve discussed this before, but can you establish that Lamarck believed in common descent from one (or a few) ancestors, as Darwin did? What is commonly thought to be his view is of many parallel lineages, each developing along a (somewhat branching) scala naturae, with the current biota being a snapshot of different age-cohorts caught at different points.

John Harshman said:

Movement of the escalator depends on the availability of new ecological niches, not extinction frequency. After all, your parents do not need to automatically die in order to make room for you.

Let’s recall that there is in fact no escalator. We’re talking about Lamarck’s faulty ideas, not the real world. And in Lamarck’s world, the availability of a new ecological niche results from extinction of the previous incumbent.

I don’t think anyone here believes there is an escalator. The discussion seems to be figuring out what Lamarck was thinking, not figuring out what we should be thinking.

If this statement is accurate:

“…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.”

then it implies to me that the new ecological niche results, not from the previous incumbent going extinct, but from the previous incumbent leaving that niche by “improving” itself to fill another niche.

Joe Felsenstein said:

gnome de net said:

The flaw/error occurs here: “…as a species transformed into a more advanced one, it left a gap…” which needed to be filled by the Creator.

Is this flaw/error in Lamarck’s theory or in Clifford’s interpretation of Lamarck’s theory?

My (limited) understanding is that after a gap appears, the species below it evolves upwards to fill it. I do not see why Clifford attributes that to intervention by a Creator. Can anyone find where this is in Lamarck? Given that Lamarck assumed a complexifying force, wouldn’t he just assume that this natural force would do the job?

My (limited) interpretation of what Clifford was saying is that, while the upper levels can be filled by evolution of lower-level species, the species at the bottom have to be filled by some other process - spontaneous generation and/or creation. That seems to make sense, but whether Lamarck explicitly said that or whether Clifford is saying that he did, I don’t claim any special knowledge.

But did he really think that the entire species had to change in order for a change to occur, rather than a subset of it changing, and leaving the other subset where it was?

then it implies to me that the new ecological niche results, not from the previous incumbent going extinct, but from the previous incumbent leaving that niche by “improving” itself to fill another niche.

My understanding is that there is a top to the escalator, so that when every step is filled, everything stops; there can be no evolution at the top, only extinction. So, once the escalator has run for sufficient time such that a species has reached the top, further vacancies are driven only by extinction, though any given vacancy does propagate downward as the species on the step below the vacancy moves up, creating a vacancy on its old step.

And a better metaphor than an escalator might be a large set of linked escalators, one per lineage, with only one step occupied per escalator but with bars reaching sideways from each occupied step preventing species on other escalators from occupying the corresponding step. But that gets hard to visualize.

Joe Felsenstein said:

Ray Martinez said:

In our times, when a person advocates God to have any role IN the production of species, the same means, automatically, that the entire process is teleological; so the answer is no: Lamarck cannot be viewed to be two contradictory things at the same time (Creationist and Evolutionist).

Funny thing is, Ray is terribly picky about who, other than him, is a real creationist. He has been heard many times to say that people like Michael Behe, Stephen Meyer, or William Dembski don’t qualify, as they admit the possibility of some evolution. In Ray’s book, almost everyone other than him are not true creationists.

Except, apparently, Lamarck.

Joe definitely has a valid point. I’ve argued Behe, Meyer, and Dembski not real Creationists based on acceptance (not possibility) of species mutability. Of course such argument pleases the aforementioned. They don’t want to be viewed as Creationists; seems they are ashamed of the Creator, the Father of their alleged Savior.

I’m willing to retract my identification of Lamarck to have been a Creationist for the time being. Obviously, all things considered, the issue at hand is complex, requiring more thought before conclusions can be made.

Thank you Ray for admitting that you could be wrong.

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This page contains a single entry by Joe Felsenstein published on August 1, 2013 4:37 PM.

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