Neo-Darwinism is the "modern synthesis" of Darwinian evolution through natural selection with Mendelian genetics, the latter being a set of primary tenets specifying that evolution involves the transmission of characteristics from parent to child through the mechanism of genetic transfer, rather than the "blending process" of pre-Mendelian evolutionary science. Neo-Darwinism can also designate Charles Darwin's ideas of natural selection separated from his hypothesis of Pangenesis as a Lamarckian source of variation involving blending inheritance.
As part of the disagreement about whether natural selection alone was sufficient to explain speciation, George Romanes coined the term neo-Darwinism to refer to the version of evolution advocated by Alfred Russel Wallace and August Weismann with its heavy dependence on natural selection. Weismann and Wallace rejected the Lamarckian idea of inheritance of acquired characteristics, something that Darwin had not ruled out. The term was first used in 1895 to explain that evolution occurs solely through natural selection, in other words, without any mechanism involving the inheritance of acquired characteristics resulting from use or disuse. These two scientists' complete rejection of Lamarckism came from Weismann's germ plasm theory. Weismann realised that the cells that produce the germ plasm, or gametes (such as sperm and egg in animals), separate from the somatic cells that go on to make other body tissues at an early stage in development. Since he could see no obvious means of communication between the two, he asserted that the inheritance of acquired characteristics was therefore impossible; a conclusion now known as Weismann's barrier.
From the 1880s to the 1930s, the term continued to be applied to the panselectionist school of thought, which argued that natural selection was the main and perhaps sole cause of all evolution. From then until around 1947, the term was used for the panselectionist followers of R. A. Fisher.
Modern evolutionary synthesis
Following the development, from about 1937 to 1950, of the modern evolutionary synthesis, now generally referred to as the synthetic view of evolution or the modern synthesis, the term neo-Darwinian is often used to refer to contemporary evolutionary theory. However, such usage has been described by some as incorrect; with Ernst Mayr writing in 1984 that "the term neo-Darwinism for the synthetic theory is wrong, because the term neo-Darwinism was coined by Romanes in 1895 as a designation of Weismann's theory."
Despite such objections, publications such as Encyclopædia Britannica use this term to refer to current evolutionary theory. This term is also used in the scientific literature, with the academic publisher Blackwell Publishing referring to "neo-Darwinism as practised today", and some figures in the study of evolution like Richard Dawkins and Stephen Jay Gould using the term in their writings and lectures.
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- "Lecture on Neo-Darwinism". RichardDawkins.net : The Official Richard Dawkins Website. Retrieved 2007-09-19. Note: On or before Jan 2013, the original Dawkins lecture referenced became inaccessible online at this url or any other cite that linked to this url.
- "Challenges to Neo-Darwinism and Their Meaning for a Revised View of Human Consciousness". Cambridge University: The Tanner Lectures on Human Values. Retrieved 2009-03-05.
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- Neodarwinism - Richard Dawkins Note: On or before Jan 2013, the video referenced became inaccessible online.