held that each level of fossilised remains represented a separate act of creation. In other words, there was no question of descent or transition from one stage to another. Each form represented a rung on the Great Chain of Being - an imaginary ladder that ran from inanimate matter to the peak of the divine being and encompassed the various ranks of living things. Man was conveniently positioned halfway up this flight of stairs, as Alexander Pope put it in his Essay on Man 'Placed on this isthmus of a middle state... In doubt to deem himself a god, or beast... Created half to rise, and half to fall.' Such a Great Chain of Being was also convenient for those who sought to uphold the traditional hierarchical structure of human society. Later the concepts of Darwinism would both help to undermine this traditional structure as well as be misinterpreted in attempts to bolster it.

Far from opposition to evolutionary theories being purely religious or political dogma, the evidence of science seemed to give strong clues to the truth of Creationism - principally the notion of intelligent design. The world was full of organisms so efficiently and perfectly adapted to their environments, with features so perfectly adapted to their functions that this alone was seen as evidence of design. This was most famously encapsulated by Bishop William Paley (1743-1805), with his argument that Nature was the living record of intelligent design and thus the existence of God. His metaphor was that if one had never seen a watch but had stumbled across one, the only way to account for its complexity and efficiency of mechanism was that it had to have been deliberately designed, and this automatically implied the existence of an intelligent designer. Applying this argument to natural complex structures such as the eye, the only conclusion that could be reached was that it had been created by an intelligent designer. Richard Dawkins brilliantly subverts this metaphor in his book The Blind Watchmaker in arguing for the evidence of evolution by natural selection, and the argument that 'you can't have an eighth of an eye' has become a favourite challenge to evolutionists in explaining biological complexity. (See Objecting to the Evidence and Further Reading). However, before the formulating of his own theory, Charles Darwin was fully persuaded by Paley's logic, thinking it the most plausible explanation for the efficiency of nature. Another hurdle that evolutionary thought was forced to negotiate was the Platonic notion of Essentialism. According to Plato, the physical world was a reflection of changeless ideal forms - permanent stereotypes that outlasted change and transcended variation. Essentialism had long been countered by the theory of Nominalism which held that abstractions or 'universals' were without essential or substantive reality, and that only individual objects had real existence. The universals - woodpecker, goat, snake - were held to be merely names, hence Nominalism. The conflict between Essentialism and Nominalism that became prominent in the eleventh and twelfth century was one of theology and philosophy, but Essentialism was later picked up by biologist seeking an explanation for the development of organisms from sperm and egg: a 'finished' organism was perceived as the expression of the 'idea' or 'model' of that organism contained in the sperm (or the egg, or both, depending on who you listened to.) Rarefied and unscientific though this sounds, there remained shadows of the debate between Essentialism and Nominalism in Darwin's discussion in Origin as to what constituted a species. His conclusion that in many cases 'species' becomes an arbitrary distinction and sometimes indistinguishable from 'variety' owed much to the Nominalist camp: an individual organism can be said to belong to one or other named species, but the constant action of natural selection ensures that there is constant potential to transcend the 'ideal type' of that species. (Again the notion of selection at a genetic level paints Darwin's views in a slightly different light.)

Discussion of ideas that were losing favour even before Darwin published Origin may seem a little irrelevant, but throughout Origin he not only seeks to prove his own theory but also shows why matters in nature could not be so if the various theories of special creation were to be true. But it was not nearly enough to say that creatures had evolved. Indeed this was not in itself a revolutionary theory. The most famous of pre-Darwinian evolutionists was the French biologist Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chavalier de Lamarck (1744 - 1829). He had outlined a system of evolution some fifty years before Darwin's, based on the idea of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. This 'just-so' approach to evolution in which animal pass on traits they acquire during their life was based on the principle of an inherent drive towards increasing complexity and the shaping power of the environment. A giraffe that spent its life stretching to reach the highest branches would pass to the next generation the longer neck it had spent its life developing. Such a mechanism has been comprehensively disproved, first by the German biologist August

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