The idea of organic evolution was proposed by some ancient Greek thinkers but was long rejected in Europe as contrary to the literal interpretation of the Bible. Lamarck proposed a theory that organisms became transformed by their efforts to respond to the demands of their environment. Lyell demonstrated that geological deposits were the cumulative product of slow processes over vast ages. This helped Darwin towards a theory of gradual evolution over a long period by the natural selection of those varieties of an organism slightly better adapted to the environment and hence more likely to produce descendants. Combined with the later discoveries of the cellular and molecular basis of genetics, Darwin’s theory of evolution has, with some modification, become the dominant unifying concept of modern biology
early 17th century: from Latin evolutio(n-) 'unrolling', from the verb evolvere (see evolve). Early senses related to movement, first recorded in describing a ‘wheeling’ manoeuvre in the realignment of troops or ships. Current senses stem from a notion of ‘opening out’, giving rise to the sense 'development'