Chronology of Events in Evolutionary Theory

Skeletons showing human evolution
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The development and events surrounding the theory of evolution can be as interesting as the progress of evolution itself. From the life of Charles Darwin to the various legal battles in America over teaching evolution in public schools, few scientific theories have been associated with as much controversy as the theory of evolution and the idea of common descent. Understanding the timeline of background events is important to understanding evolutionary theory itself.

1744

August 01: Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was born. Lamark advocated a theory of evolution which included the idea that traits could be acquired and then passed along to offspring.

1797

November 14: Geologist Sir Charles Lyell was born.

1809

February 12: Charles Darwin was born in Shrewsbury, England.

1823

January 08: Alfred Russel Wallace was born.

1829

December 28: Jean-Baptiste Lamarck died. Lamark advocated a theory of evolution which included the idea that traits could be acquired and then passed along to offspring.

1831

April 26: Charles Darwin graduated from Christ's College, Cambridge with a B.A. degree.

August 30: Charles Darwin was asked to travel on the HMS Beagle.

September 01: Charles Darwin's father finally gave permission for him to sail on the Beagle.

September 05: Charles Darwin had his first interview with Fitzroy, Captain of the HMS Beagle, in hopes of becoming the ship's naturalist. Fitzroy very nearly rejected Darwin because of the shape of his nose.

December 27: Employed as ship's naturalist, Charles Darwin left England aboard The Beagle.

1834

February 16: Ernst Haeckel was born in Potsdam, Germany. Haeckel was an influential zoologist whose work on evolution served to inspire some of the racist theories of the Nazis.

1835

September 15: The HMS Beagle, with Charles Darwin aboard, finally reaches Galapagos Islands.

1836

October 02: Darwin returned to England after a five-year voyage on the Beagle.

1857

April 18: Clarence Darrow was born.

1858

June 18: Charles Darwin received a monograph from Alfred Russel Wallace which essentially summarized Darwin's own theories on evolution, thus inspiring him to publish his work sooner than he planned.

July 20: Charles Darwin began writing his seminal book, The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection.

1859

November 24: Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection was first published. All 1,250 copies of the first printing were sold out on the very first day.

1860

January 07: Charles Darwin's The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection went into its second edition, 3,000 copies.

June 30: Thomas Henry Huxley and Bishop Samuel Wilberforce of the Church of England engaged in their famous debate on Darwin's theory of evolution.

1875

February 22: Geologist Sir Charles Lyell died.

1879

November 19: Charles Darwin published a book about his grandfather, entitled Life of Erasmus Darwin.

1882

April 19: Charles Darwin died at Down House.

April 26: Charles Darwin was buried in Westminster Abbey.

1895

June 29: Thomas Henry Huxley died.

1900

January 25: Theodosius Dobzhansky was born.

August 03: John T. Scopes was born. Scopes became famous in a trial which challenged Tennessee's law against teaching evolution.

1919

August 09: Ernst Haeckel died in Jena, Germany. Haeckel was an influential zoologist whose work on evolution served to inspire some of the racist theories of the Nazis.

1925

March 13: Tennessee Governor Austin Peay signed into law a prohibition against the teaching of evolution in public schools. Later that year John Scopes would violate the law, leading to the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial.

July 10: The infamous Scopes Monkey Trial began in Dayton, Tennessee.

July 26: American politician and fundamentalist religious leader William Jennings Bryan died.

1938

March 13: Clarence Darrow died.

1942

September 10: Stephen Jay Gould, American paleontologist, was born.

1950

August 12: Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Humani Generis, condemning ideologies which threatened Roman Catholic faith but allowing that evolution did not necessarily conflict with Christianity.

1968

November 12: Decided: Epperson v. Arkansas
The Supreme Court found that Arkansas' law prohibiting the teaching of evolution was unconstitutional because the motivation was based on a literal reading of Genesis, not science.

1970

October 21: John T. Scopes died at the age of 70.

1975

December 18: Evolutionary biologist and neo-Darwinian Theodosius Dobzhansky died.

1982

January 05: Decided: McClean v. Arkansas
A federal judge found that Arkansas' "balanced treatment" law mandating equal treatment of creation science with evolution was unconstitutional.

1987

June 19: Decided: Edwards v. Aguillard
In a 7-2 decision, the Supreme Court invalidated Louisiana's "Creationism Act" because it violated the Establishment Clause.

1990

November 06: Decided: Webster v. New Lenox
Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that school boards have the right to prohibit teaching creationism because such lessons would constitute religious advocacy.