Edward Drinker Cope studied fossils and anatomy in the US in the late nineteenth century. Based on his observations of skeletal morphology, Cope developed a novel mechanism to explain the law of parallelism, the idea that developing organisms successively pass through stages resembling their ancestors. Others had proposed the addition of new body forms at the end of an individual organism's developed as a mechanism through which new species arose, but those proposals relied on changes in the lengths of gestation or incubation. Cope proposed that a change in the growth rate of an embryo or fetus would allow the formation of new body forms while gestation or incubation periods remained constant. Thus, the growth of an embryo or fetus must become faster or slower to alter the number of stages during growth. Many paleontologists and geologists of the time, including Henry Fairfield Osborn and Louis Agassiz, accepted Cope's mechanisms of evolution as alternatives to natural selection as the causes generating new species, yet Cope proposed his mechanism solely as a way by which new genera arise. He advocated the neo-Lamarckian theory that new species evolve through the inheritance of acquired characteristics.

The Law of Acceleration of Growth is a theory proposed by Edward Drinker Cope in the US during the nineteenth century. Cope developed it in an attempt to explain the evolution of genera by appealing to changes in the developmental timelines of organisms. Cope proposed this law as an additional theory to natural selection. He argued that the evolution of genera, the more general groups within which biologists group species, occurs when the individual in a species move through developmental stages faster than did their ancestors, but within the same fixed period of gestation, and thus can undergo new developmental stages and develop new traits. The Law of Acceleration compliments Cope's Law of Retardation of Growth. He described the later law as the process by which organisms revert to an ancestral stage. In these cases, forces suppress the most recent traits or stages common to the development of individuals from different species within the same genus. Cope described evolution as progressive, following a predetermined path, a perspective about evolution sometimes called orthogenetic. Cope's was one among many orthogenic theories in the second half of the nineteenth century. Furthermore, the theory was part of a trend in nineteenth century in which some biologists claimed that the changes in developmental timing of organisms could explain large changes in biological forms throughout natural history.

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