The Theory of Evolution since Darwin


THE most recent development of the doctrine of -I evolution is the revival of Lamarckism-that is, the belief in the inheritable nature of the effects of use and disuse. Just as Bateson in 1894 enunciated the doctrine of the origin of species by sports long before this view was consecrated by the experimental labours of De Vries and given the name of the “mutation theory,” so Eimer (1887) and Cope (1888) rebelled against the Weismannian conception of an unalterable germ plasm totally independent of the effects of the experiences of the body. Eimer put forward the doctrine of orthogenesis. This theory states that variations are the results of the effects of the environment on the complex constitution of the living organism, but that this constitution determines the character of these variations; they are not indefinite, but take place in a few definite directions. Eimer, who chose for his special subject of observation the wall-lizard Lacerta muralis, and later the swallow-tailed butterflies, pointed out that new variations make their first appearance in the later stages of growth and become inherited earlier in life as the generations succeed one another. A beautiful example, he explains, is afforded by the Ammonites, in which new features are first distinguishable in the outer coil of the shell, which is, of course, the youngest and latest to appear, whereas in succeeding strata the new feature is found affecting the more central coils. Thus it will be observed that Eimer draws the most decisive support for his theory from palaeontology. Eimer seems to suppose that he is an opponent of Lamarck, but the only difference between them that I can discover is that Eimer seems to regard external conditions as altering the hereditary tendencies by direct action as sulphuric acid acts on metal, whereas Lamarck considers that external conditions stimulate an \ organism to make a response, and that it is this tendency to response that is inherited.

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MACBRIDE, E. The Theory of Evolution since Darwin. Nature 115, 89–92 (1925) doi:10.1038/115089a0

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