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Outside of evolution, what were the leading scientific schools of thought that Charles Darwin contented with when he published his evolution theory as way of natural selection in 1859?

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closed as too broad by Remi.b, L.B., Nandor Poka, WYSIWYG, rg255 Apr 13 '15 at 19:23

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ Hello. I think you'll get the answer to your question on this wiki page. There is probably too much to say in a post. I vote to close because it is too broad. Please let me know if you think the wiki post can't answer your question. $\endgroup$ – Remi.b Apr 12 '15 at 22:27
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    $\begingroup$ Saltationism maybe? $\endgroup$ – Ro Siv Apr 12 '15 at 22:30
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    $\begingroup$ Darwin stood on the shoulders of giants, most notably Alfred Russel Wallace $\endgroup$ – AliceD Apr 13 '15 at 0:15
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    $\begingroup$ @GabrielFair absolutely. And it makes total intuitional sense - you take a piece of meat, put it outside, and within a relatively short period of time it has maggots on it. Same thing with hay - cut and dry it in the field, put it on the wagon and bring it back to the barn, and before you know it there are mice in it, which certainly weren't in there before. It feels completely logical. Besides, fresh hay doesn't produce maggots, and rotting meat doesn't produce mice, so the "seeds" of those animals must be within the originating substance. $\endgroup$ – MattDMo Apr 13 '15 at 0:47
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    $\begingroup$ Voted to re-open as it is a valid question with an interesting answer. Broad yes, but philosophical questions such as this one are fundamental to science. Darwin is seen as the founding father of evolution, but some major players pre-dating him set the stage for his appraised evolution theory. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Apr 16 '15 at 2:18
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There were many (more or less) non-theological theories of how life had developed before Darwin, starting at the ancient greeks. Many theories included spontaneous generation but also aspects of modification by descent of existing species (i.e. evolutionary change), but most were not that well developed and complete thought. However, one of the more complete evolutionary theories that pre-dated Darwin was Lamarckism, which claimed that individuals pass on traits that they have acquired during their life time. So the basic idea was that individuals respond and adapt to the environmental conditions they experience, and that these traits are then transferred to their offspring. This is one example of a non-theological theory that pre-dated Darwin, but I cannot really say if it was the leading one. I do know that Lamarck's ideas were relatively ignored during his own lifetime.

Darwin included some aspects of these ideas in his "Origin of Species", but challanged Lamarckism when it came to the main processes of evolution. A weak interpretation of Lamarckism has actually seen a revival after the discovery that epigenetics can be transferred from parents to offspring, see e.g. Heard & Martienssen (2014) and Szyf (2014).

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  • $\begingroup$ Wow this was really fascinating, I did not know this. $\endgroup$ – Gabriel Fair Apr 13 '15 at 0:21
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    $\begingroup$ @fileunderwater - shouldn't this question be re-opened? It is a valid question and your answer is great (+1'd fyi) $\endgroup$ – AliceD Apr 16 '15 at 2:16
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    $\begingroup$ @AliceD I think the close reason is somewhat valid. You could write a book on this topic. On the other hand, a couple of answers that highlight different theories could probably provide a nice overview for somebody new to evolution. $\endgroup$ – fileunderwater Apr 16 '15 at 11:52
  • $\begingroup$ Autochthonous generation proposed that different species were formed independently and through natural processes, "by chance". Scottish philosopher David Hume believed that if the universe had no beginning, then it became likely that somewhere (e.g. Earth) the unlikely event of particles accidentally arranging into orderly entities (e.g. life) could happen. $\endgroup$ – Jagoe Nov 28 '18 at 11:13
  • $\begingroup$ Deism was also invoked to explain biology during the Enlightenment. Deists believed in a god, but largely rejected religion and worship. So it was a kind of "secular theism", where intelligent design is inferred, but the identity of the creator is left unexplained. Much before that, some Greek philosophers ascribed to a "demiurge", a god-like being who arose from primordial chaos and then proceeded to order what was around it to create the world. $\endgroup$ – Jagoe Nov 28 '18 at 11:16

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