Lamarckism vs Darwinism: Differences & Explanation Video

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  • 0:04 What is Evolution?
  • 1:03 What is Lamarckism?
  • 2:30 What is Darwinism?
  • 3:54 Darwinism Vs Lamarckism
  • 4:41 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Betsy Chesnutt

Betsy teaches college physics, biology, and engineering and has a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering

Charles Darwin and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck were both pioneering scientists in the field of evolution, but they had different ideas about exactly HOW organisms were able to change over time. In this lesson, learn more about the ideas of both Darwin and Lamarck!

What Is Evolution?

Have you ever seen a giraffe stretch out its long neck to reach some leaves on a high tree branch and wondered how its neck got to be so long? Many years ago, most people believed that traits, like the giraffe's long neck, just existed and did not change over time.

Lamarck and Darwin had very different ideas about how certain traits, like the long necks of these giraffes, evolved

Then, in the 1800s, two important scientists, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Charles Darwin, changed the world when they proposed the radical idea that all animals and plants we see on Earth today are the result of a long, slow process of change that we call evolution.

In terms of how they defined evolution, both Lamarck and Darwin believed that, over time, living things like animals and plants change to become more suited to their environments. How exactly does this process happen? Although Lamarck and Darwin agreed on the basic ideas about evolution, they disagreed about the specific mechanisms that allowed living things to change. That's what we'll be looking at in this lesson today.

What Is Lamarckism?

Although Charles Darwin is often credited as the father of evolution, it was actually Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, born in 1744 in France, who was the first scientist to develop and present a logical, coherent explanation for the process of evolution. Although some of his ideas were later proven to be incorrect, his work is still really important because it laid the foundation for our modern understanding of evolutionary biology.

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck proposed the theory of inheritance of acquired characteristics, in which he said that traits acquired during the lifetime of an organism could be passed down to future generations
portrait of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck

To understand what Lamarck believed about evolution, let's think back to the giraffe with its very long neck. Lamarck believed that as a giraffe repeatedly stretched its neck to try to reach leaves that were higher and higher, its neck would get a little bit longer. Lamarck thought that animals, like the giraffe, actually changed as they used parts of their body in different ways. According to Lamarck, a giraffe's neck would get longer the more it stretched it out. Other species would do the same: a polar bear would develop thicker fur if the climate suddenly got much colder, or a duck could develop webbed feet to swim more efficiently.

He also believed that these changes would be passed on to subsequent generations. A giraffe whose neck had gotten longer from stretching would have a baby giraffe whose neck was already longer than that of the other giraffes who hadn't stretched their necks as much. Lamarck's theory, known as Lamarckism, is also commonly known as the theory of inheritance of acquired characteristics because he believed that traits that were acquired during an animal's life would be passed down to the next generation.

What Is Darwinism?

A few decades later, an English scientist named Charles Darwin completely changed our ideas about how evolution really worked. Like Lamarck, Darwin believed that living things were able to change over time; however, his ideas about how this process actually worked were very different from Lamarck's. In his famous book, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Darwin first introduced his revolutionary ideas about evolution.

Charles Darwin introduced the idea of evolution by means of natural selection
portrait of Charles Darwin

Darwin noticed that within any population of organisms, there were always individuals with different traits. Let's think about the giraffes again. Even now, some giraffes are larger, and some are smaller. Some are more spotted than others, and some have longer or shorter necks. Unlike Lamarck, who said that traits could develop and change during an animal's lifetime, Darwin believed that individuals were simply born with different traits and that these differences were mostly random.

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