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Tuesday, November 9, 2010


Thirty years before the publication of Origin of Species, Patrick Matthew (1790-1874) publishes a theory of natural selection that not only predates Darwin's, but is now considered to be more accurate.

In a little-known 1831 book, Naval Timber and Arboriculture, Matthew concludes that catastrophic events such as mass extinctions are the prime factor in the process of evolution; an idea that Darwin rejects in his works in favor of "gradual changes in the characteristics of surviving organisms."

New York University Geologist Michael Rampino, in an essay recently published in the journal Historical Biology writes that the now commonly held view of evolution is that it is driven by major ecological changes that occur both episodically and rapidly, casting doubt on Darwin’s theory.

Rampino notes that Darwin and his colleague Alfred Russel Wallace acknowledged that Matthew was the first to put forth the theory of natural selection; but despite this Matthew has gone uncredited and unsung for what is possibly the greatest scientific leap in human history.

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