When Charles Darwin released his findings on Natural Selection in 1858, he did not do so in a vacuum. Many factors contributed to the formulation of his theories, and many popular misconceptions contradicted his conclusions to the point that he was reluctant to publish them for sixteen years. Despite widely held opposing doctrine, the intellectual environment of the day was already receptive for DarwinOs ideas. Although considered radical at the time, these ideas can be seen in retrospect as an extension of study by DarwinOs predecessors.
The predominant theory to explain the existence of all life on earth in DarwinOs time was Judeo-Christian creationism. In short, God did it. He made everything and He made it perfectly and in that perfection nothing ever changed. Popular Christian views had been successfully refuted in the past. For example, CopernicusO heretical observations of the heliocentric nature of the solar system had been picked up and expanded upon by Kepler and Galileo and by DarwinOs time had become accepted fact.
In the hundred years prior to DarwinOs study, there was a considerable amount of research done in the natural sciences. Buffon theorized that, if separated by migration, groups of one species would eventually be changed by the environment into a new and separate species. He did not attempt to explain what forces were at work to facilitate this change. More importantly, he saw the world as a Osystem of laws, elements and forcesO which could be studied and understood, not as an incomprehensible act of a supreme being.
LamarckOs theory of organic development was very similar to DarwinOs theory of natural selection. Like Darwin, his theory was rooted in the belief of uniformitarian geology. Moreover, Lamarck was the first man to produce a complex and viable theory for the evolution and continued transformation of the species. Lamark simply failed to recognize that the behaviour of an organism does not alter the physiology of the species. Darwin saw more clearly that it is the survival of certain individuals that changes the species as a whole.
Two other men whose work influenced the formation of DarwinOs theories were Thomas Malthus and Charles Lyell. MalthusO Essay on the Principle of Population introduced the concept of the struggle for existence in and among human cultures. Lyell, a friend of Darwin, expanded on HuttonOs ideas of uniformitarian geology in his Principles of Geology . His view allowed for the Odeep timeO necessary for evolution to take place. Although these two men worked in different fields from each other and Darwin, they each influenced his work significantly.
Much attention is paid to the opposition that faced DarwinOs ideas. True, he did not publish them for sixteen years and did so only because Wallace was releasing his similar findings. For the most part however, the intellectual climate was ripe for a more complete evolutionary theory. Looking back, we can see DarwinOs theory as a logical extension of his predecessorsO work; a link in the OGreat ChainO of the sciences.