Persell, Stuart M.
About the author: Dr. Persell received his PhD from Stanford University. He is currently Professor of History at California State University, San Bernardino. Earlier publications include his book The French Colonial Lobby, 1889-1938 (Hoover Institution Press, 1983), and many articles and reviews.1999 0-7734-8275-X
This historical monograph details for the first time the work of several prominent French biologists who were involved in the controversy over the implications of Darwin's theory of natural selection. The book addresses the need for a discussion of their non-selectionist theories of evolution, primarily their adaptation of Jean-Baptiste Lamarcke's early 19th-century theory of the inheritance of acquired characters. That revival of Lamarck has been regarded by present-day historians as a curiosity and dismissed as an impediment to the triumph of the modern neo-Darwinian theory. This study challenges this as an overly simplistic view. It argues that the Lamarckian and Darwinian concepts were all part of a series of overlapping ideas as they emerged during the late 19th century. A discussion of alternate theories of evolution necessarily alters a presentist version of how any scientific theory emerges, especially the modern theory of evolution. The eventual confrontation of these two views demonstrates how a new scientific theory can result in a broad cultural crisis. The controversy in France demonstrates how science turned easily into polemics when the pseudo-science of Neo-Lamarckism was founded in the service of political ideology.