ARTICLES: Disciplining and Popularizing: Evolution and its Publics from the Modern Synthesis to the Present

The journal Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences has a set of articles in its March 2014 issue that all stem from a conference session for the History of Science Society in 2012:

Disciplining and popularizing: Evolution and its publics from the modern synthesis to the present (Introduction)
Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis

Darwin’s foil: The evolving uses of William Paley’s Natural Theology 1802–2005
Adam R. Shapiro

Making the case for orthogenesis: The popularization of definitely directed evolution (1890–1926)
Mark A. Ulett

Paleontology at the “high table”? Popularization and disciplinary status in recent paleontology
David Sepkoski

Claiming Darwin: Stephen Jay Gould in contests over evolutionary orthodoxy and public perception, 1977–2002
Myrna Perez Sheldon

BOOK: Evolving: The Human Effect and Why It Matters

A new title from Prometheus Books might be of interest to readers of this blog:

Evolving: The Human Effect and Why It Matters

by Douglas J. Fairbanks

Prometheus Books, 2012, ISBN 978-1-61614-565-1

In this persuasive, elegantly written book, research geneticist Daniel J. Fairbanks argues that understanding evolution has never mattered more in human history. Fairbanks not only uses evidence from archaeology, geography, anatomy, biochemistry, radiometric dating, cell biology, chromosomes, and DNA to establish the inescapable conclusion that we evolved and are still evolving, he also explains in detail how health, food production, and human impact on the environment are dependent on our knowledge of evolution. Evolving is essential reading for gaining a fuller appreciation of who we are, our place in the great expanse of life, and the importance of our actions.

“With so many excellent books on evolution available, it’s hard to imagine another one with anything new in it. Fairbanks succeeds with a whole array of original examples that demonstrate not only the truth of evolution, but also its impact on human life and society.” – Victor J. Stenger, New York Times bestselling author of God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion

“This book provides a compact overview of the results of many lines of research, especially in genetics, which continue to deepen our knowledge of evolution. Anyone who wonders about the practical value and importance of understanding the processes of evolution will benefit from reading it.” – Eric Meikle, National Center for Science Education

“This is an important book. Fairbanks presents an overwhelming case for the correctness of evolutionary theory. It is engagingly written, with many personal glimpses, and the technical material is clearly presented and understandable. Evolving should be essential reading for anyone who wishes to be an informed citizen.” – Allan Franklin, Professor of physics, University of Colorado, and coauthor of Ending the Mendel-Fisher Controversy

ARTICLE: Did Darwin read Mendel?

This was from 2009 in the QJM: An International Journal of Medicine, but I just came across it:

Did Darwin read Mendel?

David Galton

Read no further if you want a definite answer to this question. It is a sort of detective story with clues scattered around. The circumstances surrounding the question however are so interesting since they involve two of the most important scientific publications of the 19th century.

Read the rest here.

ARTICLES: “Darwin’s “Beloved Barnacles” & “What Would Have Happened if Darwin Had Known Mendel”

Two Darwin articles from Vol. 33, no. 1 (2011) of the journal History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences:

Darwin’s “Beloved Barnacles”: Tough Lessons in Variation

 

Costas Mannouris

 

Abstract In 1846, burdened by insecurity and self-doubt, and having been convinced that he needed to study some group of organisms closely, Darwin embarked on an eight-year odyssey in the protean and perplexing world of barnacles. At the time, he was searching for evidence in support of his theory of evolution by natural selection. In the course of his long study of barnacles, however, he was not just validating his preexisting theoretical system, but was also modifying his views on such fundamental aspects as the universality of individual variation, which is the focus of this paper. According to this notion, the members of any population of living things are expected to exhibit sufficient differences from one another for natural selection to operate. By emphasizing the theoretical value of the barnacle project, my analysis contributes to the historiographic tradition which highlights the significance of the period between the first comprehensive formulation of the theory of evolution by natural selection in 1844 and its urgent publication in the late 1850s. In the course of these years, Darwin’s theory was not just accumulating empirical laurels, but was also expected to adapt to a changing conceptual landscape.

and:

What Would Have Happened if Darwin Had Known Mendel (or Mendel’s Work)?

 

Pablo Lorenzano

 

Abstract The question posed by the title is usually answered by saying that the “synthesis” between the theory of evolution by natural selection and classical genetics, which took place in 1930s-40s, would have taken place much earlier if Darwin had been aware of Mendel and his work. What is more, it nearly happened: it would have been enough if Darwin had cut the pages of the offprint of Mendel’s work that was in his library and read them! Or, if Mendel had come across Darwin in London or paid him a visit at his house in the outskirts! (on occasion of Mendel’s trip in 1862 to that city). The aim of the present paper is to provide elements for quite a different answer, based on further historical evidence, especially on Mendel’s works, some of which mention Darwins’s studies.

ARTICLES: Darwin in Denmark, Shakespeare and Darwin, and Dobzhansky

In the Journal of the History of Ideas:

Protestant Responses to Darwinism in Denmark, 1859–1914

Hans Henrik Hjermitslev

Preview From the 1870s onwards, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, published in On the Origin of Species (1859) and Descent of Man (1871), was an important topic among the followers of the influential Danish theologian N.F.S. Grundtvig (1783–1872). The Grundtvigians constituted a major faction within the Danish Evangelical-Lutheran Established Church, which included more than ninety percent of the population in the period 1859–1914. This article demonstrates the influence of local contexts on the reception of scientific ideas by analyzing how specific aspects of Danish intellectual culture made the Grundtvigian reactions to Darwin’s theory different from Protestant denominations in America and Britain. Firstly, Grundtvig’s critique of Lutheran scriptural theology and his preference for the living word to the letters of the Bible legitimized liberal interpretations of Scripture. Secondly the philosophy of the Søren Kierkegaard protagonist, Rasmus Nielsen, made it possible for Grundtvigians to draw radical distinctions between science and faith. This specific “Danish Protestantism,” as the clergyman Frederik Jungersen phrased it in 1873, led the way for liberal Grundtvigians in coming to terms with Darwinism in the first decades of the twentieth century.

From Configurations:

Shakespeare’s Origin of Species and Darwin’s Tempest

Glen A. Love

Abstract Ecocriticism provides a natural meeting-point of the humanities and the life sciences. Shakespeare’s last great play, The Tempest, is rich in its anticipation of Darwinian evolutionary ideas, thus providing the stage for a rare two-cultures dialogue between, arguably, the world’s greatest literary artist and its greatest scientist on the most abiding and profound of subjects: nature, and especially human nature. If Caliban is the most noticeable of The Tempest‘s subjects of evolutionary and cultural significance, he is accompanied by other matters of interest in today’s expanding field of biocultural and cognitive research and thought.

From Configurations:

Evolutionary Works and Texts: Reading Dobzhansky in an Age of Genomics

Michael P. Cohen

Abstract Scientific writing is the most powerful and pervasive nature writing of our era. Instead of using science to interpret literary texts, ecocritics should read classic scientific “works” as “texts” (as Roland Barthes defines these terms), uncovering grounds for stories about nature and premises of modern environmental narratives. This essay examines a classic text of the modern evolutionary synthesis, Theodosius Dobzhansky’s Genetics and the Origin of Species (1937), where the conservative force of heredity battles the random change of mutation in an “adaptive landscape,” yielding resultant “species.” Tensions between metaphors and maps structure his exposition and reveal a still-influential master-narrative.

Even more evolution articles in “Studies in History and Philosophy of Science”

More forthcoming articles about Darwin and evolution in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences:

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

no abstract

Defining Darwinism

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

Maurizio Espositoa

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

Bryson Brown

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

Daniel Becquemont

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”

Frédéric Bouchard

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.

Evolution articles in “Studies in History and Philosophy of Science”

Several forthcoming articles about Darwin and evolution in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences:

The Mastodon in the room: how Darwinian is neo-Darwinism?

Daniel R. Brooks

Abstract Failing to acknowledge substantial differences between Darwinism and neo-Darwinism impedes evolutionary biology. Darwin described evolution as the outcome of interactions between the nature of the organism and the nature of the conditions, each relatively autonomous but both historically and spatially intertwined. Furthermore, he postulated that the nature of the organism was more important than the nature of the conditions, leading to natural selection as an inevitable emergent product of biological systems. The neo-Darwinian tradition assumed a creative rather than selective view of natural selection, with the nature of the organism determined by the nature of the conditions, rendering the nature of the organism and temporal contingency unnecessary. Contemporary advances in biology, specifically the phylogenetics revolution and evo-devo, underscore the significance of history and the nature of the organism in biology. Darwinism explains more biology better, and better resolves apparent anomalies between living systems and more general natural laws, than does neo-Darwinism. The “extended” or “expanded” synthesis currently called for by neo-Darwinians is Darwinism.

What was really synthesized during the evolutionary synthesis? a historiographic proposal

Richard G. Delislea

Abstract The 1920-1960 period saw the creation of the conditions for a unification of disciplines in the area of evolutionary biology under a limited number of theoretical prescriptions: the evolutionary synthesis. Whereas the sociological dimension of this synthesis was fairly successful, it was surprisingly loose when it came to the interpretation of the evolutionary mechanisms per se, and completely lacking at the level of the foundational epistemological and metaphysical commitments. Key figures such as Huxley, Simpson, Dobzhansky, and Rensch only paid lip service to the conceptual dimension of the evolutionary synthesis, as they eventually realized that a number of evolutionary phenomena could not be explained by its narrow theoretical corpus. Apparently, the evolutionary synthesis constituted a premature event in the development of evolutionary biology. Not only are the real achievements of the evolutionary synthesis in need of reevaluation, but this reassessment also has important implications for the historiography of Darwinism and the current debates about the darwinian movement.

Adaptation as process: The future of Darwinism and the legacy of Theodosius Dobzhansky

David J. Depewa

Abstract Conceptions of adaptation have varied in the history of genetic Darwinism depending on whether what is taken to be focal is the process of adaptation, adapted states of populations, or discrete adaptations in individual organisms. I argue that Theodosius Dobzhansky’s view of adaptation as a dynamical process contrasts with so-called “adaptationist” views of natural selection figured as “design-without-a-designer” of relatively discrete, enumerable adaptations. Correlated with these respectively process and product oriented approaches to adaptive natural selection are divergent pictures of organisms themselves as developmental wholes or as “bundles” of adaptations. While even process versions of genetical Darwinism are insufficiently sensitive to the fact much of the variation on which adaptive selection works consists of changes in the timing, rate, or location of ontogenetic events, I argue that articulations of the Modern Synthesis influenced by Dobzhansky are more easily reconciled with the recent shift to evolutionary developmentalism than are versions that make discrete adaptations central.

Darwinism after Mendelism: The case of Sewall Wright’s intellectual synthesis in his shifting balance theory of evolution (1931)

Jonathan Hodge

Abstract Historians of science have long been agreeing: what many textbooks of evolutionary biology say, about the histories of Darwinism and the New Synthesis, is just too simple to do justice to the complexities revealed to critical scholarship and historiography. There is no current consensus, however, on what grand narratives should replace those textbook histories. The present paper does not offer to contribute directly to any grand, consensual, narrational goals; but it does seek to do so indirectly by showing how, in just one individual case, details of intellectual biography connect with big picture issues. To this end, I examine here how very diverse scientific and metaphysical commitments were integrated in Sewall Wright’s own personal synthesis of biology and philosophy. Taking as the decisive text the short final section of Wright’s long 1931 paper on ‘Evolution in Mendelian populations,’ I examine how his shifting balance theory (SBT) related to his optimum breeding strategy research, his physiological genetics, his general theory of homogenising and heterogenesing causation and his panpsychist view of mind and matter; and I discuss how understanding these relations can clarify Wright’s place in the longue durée of evolutionary thought.

Is Darwinism past its “sell-by” date? The Origin of Species at 150

Michael Ruse

Abstract Many people worry that the theory of evolution that Charles Darwin gave in his Origin of Species is now dated and no longer part of modern science. This essay challenges this claim, arguing that the central core of the Origin is as vital today as it ever was, although naturally the science keeps moving on. Darwin provided the foundation not the finished product.

Phylogenetic inertia and Darwin’s higher law

Timothy Shanahana

Abstract The concept of ‘phylogenetic inertia’ is routinely deployed in evolutionary biology as an alternative to natural selection for explaining the persistence of characteristics that appear sub-optimal from an adaptationist perspective. However, in many of these contexts the precise meaning of ‘phylogenetic inertia’ and its relationship to selection are far from clear. After tracing the history of the concept of ‘inertia’ in evolutionary biology, I argue that treating phylogenetic inertia and natural selection as alternative explanations is mistaken because phylogenetic inertia is, from a Darwinian point of view, simply an expected effect of selection. Although Darwin did not discuss ‘phylogenetic inertia,’ he did assert the explanatory priority of selection over descent. An analysis of ‘phylogenetic inertia’ provides a perspective from which to assess Darwin’s view.