Transmutation of Species

This page is about the discredited precursor to modern evolutionary theory. For information on the School of Magic, see Transmutation Magic.

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Basic Information

Also known as Transmutationism or Transformationism, Transmutation of Species is an antiquated term for Evolution. Long before Darwin, naturalists and scientists had noticed that the fossil record included many creatures that no longer exist.

Transmutationism was coined by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck in his 1809 book Philosophie Zoologique. Other students of Transmutationism include Charles Babbage, Robert Knox, Robert Grant, and Robert Chambers.

The most glaring difference between this and evolution as described by Charles Darwin is essentially one of causality. Modern evolutionary theory says random mutations to genes result in variation, and natural selection kicks in to gradually eliminate variations that are harmful. Transmutationism instead puts an active conscious will at the controls. It's related to Lamarckism, though most mentions of such Lamarckian Evolution refer to his notion that learned traits could be passed on to offspring. Transmutationism also has connections to Orthogenesis.

Transformationism posits that simple lifeforms are continually being created via Spontaneous Generation. Further, some guiding force or inherent quality to life causes simple forms to actively and intentionally try to become more complicated. In other words, evolution is an act of will which all life attempts. As Babbage described it, God created laws which all life forms followed, laws that govern when and how they become a new species. In this way, if changes to the environment created a new niche for life (or a new demand on existing life), a species would transform to fill it, without God having to trouble himself with an individual miracle each time this happened. Chambers as well pointed to the fossil record as evidence that God's plan was unfolding on earth, with man as the pinnacle accomplishment, and mammals in general as higher lifeforms than birds, fish and the rest.



Game and Story Use

  • What a wonderfully pragmatic view. This could provide some interesting characterization in a high-fantasy game where the PCs interact with (or are) the gods or Intelligent Designer.
    • If Evolution doesn't exist in the setting, there could be some over-worked Mythological Character who has to shape clay into new species after every cataclysm and disaster.
      • If they go on strike, the world sits empty and barren. The PCs must coax them back to the job.
        • Perhaps there's a feud between this god and the one who keeps causing disasters.
      • Someone gives them a Potter's Wheel, or hires an apprentice for them, and *poof!* evolution or transmutation of species is born!
    • The gods must be lazy. They've got the power to create a species by snapping their fingers, but they build an automatic finger-snapping machine instead?
      • Perhaps the god who came up with that is a bit of an antihero or slacker. All the other gods are depicted as master artisans, going to great pains to carefully carve the species to which they are patron. Meanwhile, that scoundrel Loki cuts corners by making a scientific law that'll churn out all kinds of crazy chimera for him.
        • This could justify why there's always more evil races than good in your typical fantasy world.
  • Robert Grant, Robert Knox, Robert Chambers. Is it a case of Julius Beethoven Da Vinci, or a League of Transmutational Roberts?
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