In 1751, Pierre Louis Maupertuis wrote of natural modifications occurring during reproduction and accumulating over many generations to produce new species.Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon suggested that species could degenerate into different organisms, and Erasmus Darwin proposed that all warm-blooded animals could have descended from a single microorganism (or "filament").It sought explanations of natural phenomena in terms of physical laws that were the same for all visible things and that did not require the existence of any fixed natural categories or divine cosmic order.
Variations of this idea became the standard understanding of the Middle Ages and were integrated into Christian learning, but Aristotle did not demand that real types of organisms always correspond one-for-one with exact metaphysical forms and specifically gave examples of how new types of living things could come to be.
In the 17th century, the new method of modern science rejected the Aristotelian approach.
The importance of natural selection as a cause of evolution was accepted into other branches of biology.
Moreover, previously held notions about evolution, such as orthogenesis, evolutionism, and other beliefs about innate "progress" within the largest-scale trends in evolution, became obsolete.
which envisaged spontaneous generation continually producing simple forms of life that developed greater complexity in parallel lineages with an inherent progressive tendency, and postulated that on a local level these lineages adapted to the environment by inheriting changes caused by their use or disuse in parents.
These ideas were condemned by established naturalists as speculation lacking empirical support.
Mendel's laws of inheritance eventually supplanted most of Darwin's pangenesis theory.
August Weismann made the important distinction between germ cells that give rise to gametes (such as sperm and egg cells) and the somatic cells of the body, demonstrating that heredity passes through the germ line only.
In particular, Georges Cuvier insisted that species were unrelated and fixed, their similarities reflecting divine design for functional needs.
In the meantime, Ray's ideas of benevolent design had been developed by William Paley into the Natural Theology or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity (1802), which proposed complex adaptations as evidence of divine design and which was admired by Charles Darwin.
John Ray applied one of the previously more general terms for fixed natural types, "species," to plant and animal types, but he strictly identified each type of living thing as a species and proposed that each species could be defined by the features that perpetuated themselves generation after generation.