Extending and expanding the Darwinian synthesis: the role of complex systems dynamics
Bruce H. Webera
Abstract Darwinism is defined here as an evolving research tradition based upon the concepts of natural selection acting upon heritable variation articulated via background assumptions about systems dynamics. Darwin’s theory of evolution was developed within a context of the background assumptions of Newtonian systems dynamics. The Modern Evolutionary Synthesis, or neo-Darwinism, successfully joined Darwinian selection and Mendelian genetics by developing population genetics informed by background assumptions of Boltzmannian systems dynamics. Currently the Darwinian Research Tradition is changing as it incorporates new information and ideas from molecular biology, paleontology, developmental biology, and systems ecology. This putative expanded and extended synthesis is most perspicuously deployed using background assumptions from complex systems dynamics. Such attempts seek to not only broaden the range of phenomena encompassed by the Darwinian Research Tradition, such as neutral molecular evolution, punctuated equilibrium, as well as developmental biology, and systems ecology more generally, but to also address issues of the emergence of evolutionary novelties as well as of life itself.
Foreword: Celebrating Charles Darwin in disagreement
Richard G. Delislea
David L. Hull
Abstract Evolutionary theory seems to lend itself to all sorts of misunderstanding. In this paper I strive to decrease such confusions, for example, between Darwinism and Darwinians, propositions and people, organisms and individuals, species as individuals versus species as classes, homologies and homoplasies, and finally essences versus histories.
Utopianism in the British evolutionary synthesis
Abstract In this paper I propose a new interpretation of the British evolutionary synthesis. The synthetic work of J. B. S. Haldane, R. A. Fisher and J. S. Huxley was characterized by both an integration of Mendelism and Darwinism and the unification of different biological subdisciplines within a coherent framework. But it must also be seen as a bold and synthetic Darwinian program in which the biosciences served as a utopian blueprint for the progress of civilization. Describing the futuristic visions of these three scientists in their synthetic heydays, I show that, despite a number of important divergences, their biopolitical ideals could be biased toward a controlled and regimented utopian society. Their common ideals entailed a social order where liberal and democratic principles were partially or totally suspended in favor of bioscientific control and planning for the future. Finally, I will argue that the original redefinition of Darwinism that modern synthesizers proposed is a significant historical example of how Darwinism has been used and adapted in different contexts. The lesson I draw from this account is a venerable one: that, whenever we wish to define Darwinism, we need to recognize not only its scientific content and achievements but expose the other traditions and ideologies it may have supported.
Ethics in Darwin’s melancholy vision
Abstract There seems to me too much misery in the world. Charles Darwin, 22 May 1860, letter to Asa Gray. Darwinian natural selection draws on Malthus’ harsh vision of human society to explain how organisms come to be adapted to their environments. Natural selection produces the appearance of teleology, but requires only efficient causal processes: undirected, heritable variation combined with effects of the variations on survival and reproduction. This paper draws a sharp distinction between the resulting form of backwards-directed teleology and the future-directed teleology we ascribe to intentional human activity. Rather than dismiss teleology as mere illusion, the paper concludes with an account of how future-directed teleology came to be a justifiable part of how we understand ourselves.
Social Darwinism: from reality to myth and from myth to reality
Abstract Considering the variety of contradictory definitions which have been attributed to the term in the course of more than a century, one may be tempted to admit that ‘Social Darwinism’ can be reduced to a social myth. But it seems nevertheless necessary to answer the question: what has been called ‘Social Darwinism’ for more than one century and why was the expression used in a negative way to express contradictory opinions which sometimes have nothing to do with Darwin’s theory. What we still call ‘Social Darwinism’ is the result of a misunderstanding: the theories expressed under that phrase have little to do with the Darwinian concepts of natural selection or descent with modification. They have their origin in a pre-darwinian conception of the struggle for existence, which Darwin used in a metaphorical sense. This confusion will then appear to refer clearly to the relationship we establish between biology and society, whether biological laws are directly prolonged in society, or more or less intermingle in a close network. The issue of the definition of Social Darwinism depends obviously on the possible answers to this question, and so does the issue of redefining Darwinism at large.
Darwinism without populations: a more inclusive understanding of the “Survival of the Fittest”
Abstract Following Wallace’s suggestion, Darwin framed his theory using Spencer’s expression “survival of the fittest”. Since then, fitness occupies a significant place in the conventional understanding of Darwinism, even though the explicit meaning of the term ‘fitness’ is rarely stated. In this paper I examine some of the different roles that fitness has played in the development of the theory. Whereas the meaning of fitness was originally understood in ecological terms, it took a statistical turn in terms of reproductive success throughout the 20th Century. This has lead to the ever-increasing importance of sexually reproducing organisms and the populations they compose in evolutionary explanations. I will argue that, moving forward, evolutionary theory should look back at its ecological roots in order to be more inclusive in the type of systems it examines. Many biological systems (e.g. clonal species, colonial species, multi-species communities) can only be satisfactorily accounted for by offering a non-reproductive account of fitness. This argument will be made by examining biological systems with very small or transient population structures. I argue this has significant consequences for how we define Darwinism, increasing the significance of survival (or persistence) over that of reproduction.