Lamarck the Mythical Precursor
A Study of the Relations between Science and Ideology
This book presents a highly readable account of Lamarck's theories and the debates they generated.
This book presents a highly readable account of Lamarck's theories and the debates they generated. A child of the Enlightenment and supporter of the French Revolution, Lamarck emerges in this study as a bold and intellectually adventurous pioneer whose early work centered on meteorology and botany and who became the leading authority on invertebrates of his period. It strips away the myth of Lamarck as precursor to Darwin, making the case that the only way to see him, or any figure in the history of science, is within the scientific, religious, philosophical, and political context of his time, rather than in the light of what we know now. Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) was elected to the French Academy of Sciences, yet he had to contend with scientific conservatism ("Do not meddle with my Bible!" Napoleon is said to have commanded the biologists): he eventually died penniless and blind, his work condemned. Despite its shaky status Lamarckism, which holds that traits acquired during a creature's lifetime can be passed on to its offspring, is currently enjoying a resurgence of interest and has been the subject of several scientific papers and a host of experiments. "Wrong" theories tend to be avoided in discussions of the history of science and the true value of Lamarck's work is only now beginning to be appreciated. This book does not attempt to rehabilitate Lamarck but instead places him in his milieu showing that his theories are relevant to a problem still under discussion - the debate on innate versus acquired characteristics - providing a rich contribution to the history of ideas.