Eclipse of Darwinism

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The eclipse of Darwinism is a phrase to describe the state of affairs prior to the modern synthesis when evolution was widely accepted in scientific circles but relatively few biologists believed that natural selection was its primary mechanism. From the 1880s through to the first couple of decades of the 20th century a number of non-Darwinian alternatives to natural selection were developed and explored, as many biologists considered natural selection to have been a wrong or only of a minor importance to evolution.

Some of the alternatives to natural selection include:

These mechanisms were rejected by the neo-Darwinian synthesis theorists in the 1940's as evidence had proven the role of natural selection in evolution; however there has been a recent interest in Lamarckism due to epigenetics and in saltational evolution. Spiritual, theistic and vitalist evolution have largely disappeared from the scientific literature at the beginning of the 20th century as direct appeals to supernatural causes came to be seen as unscientific.

Henri Bergson, a philosopher and proponent of élan vital, was awarded the Nobel prize in literature in 1927.

Ironically, the name Social Darwinism was chosen for a political and social movement that arose during the period of the eclipse of Darwinism.


  • Bowler, Peter J. (2003). Evolution:The History of an Idea. University of California Press.
  • Bowler, Peter J. (1983). The Eclipse of Darwinism: anti-Darwinian evolutionary theories in the decades around 1900. Johns Hopkins University Press.