The June 2010 issue (Vol. 41, No. 1) of the Journal for General Philosophy of Science focuses on Darwin:
Ute Deichmann & Anthony Travis, Special Section: Darwinism and Scientific Practice in Historical Perspective: Guest Editors’ Introduction
Abstract This paper discusses some philosophical and historical connections between, and within, nineteenth century evolutionism and microscopical research. The principal actors are mainly Darwin, Schleiden, Whewell and the “London Doctors,” Arthur Henfrey and Edwin Lankester. I demonstrate that the apparent alliances—particularly Darwin/Schleiden (through evolutionism) and Schleiden/Whewell (through Kantian philosophy of science)—obscure the deep methodological differences between evolutionist and microscopical biology that lingered on until the mid-twentieth century. Through an understanding of the little known significance of Schleiden’s programme of microscopical research and by comparing certain features of his methodology to the activities of the “London Doctors,” we can identify the origin of this state of affairs. In addition, the outcome provides an insight into a critique of Buchdahl’s view on Schleiden’s philosophical conception.
Abstract Inheritance and variation were a major focus of Charles Darwin’s studies. Small inherited variations were at the core of his theory of organic evolution by means of natural selection. He put forward a developmental theory of heredity (pangenesis) based on the assumption of the existence of material hereditary particles. However, unlike his proposition of natural selection as a new mechanism for evolutionary change, Darwin’s highly speculative and contradictory hypotheses on heredity were unfruitful for further research. They attempted to explain many complex biological phenomena at the same time, disregarded the then modern developments in cell theory, and were, moreover, faithful to the widespread conceptions of blending and so-called Lamarckian inheritance. In contrast, Mendel’s approaches, despite the fact that features of his ideas were later not found to be tenable, proved successful as the basis for the development of modern genetics. Mendel took the study of the transmission of traits and its causes (genetics) out of natural history; by reducing complexity to simple particulate models, he transformed it into a scientific field of research. His scientific approach and concept of discrete elements (which later gave rise to the notion of discrete genes) also contributed crucially to the explanation of the existence of stable variations as the basis for natural selection.
Abstract The increasing place of evolutionary scenarios in functional biology is one of the major indicators of the present encounter between evolutionary biology and functional biology (such as physiology, biochemistry and molecular biology), the two branches of biology which remained separated throughout the twentieth century. Evolutionary scenarios were not absent from functional biology, but their places were limited, and they did not generate research programs. I compare two examples of these past scenarios with two present-day ones. At least three characteristics distinguish present and past efforts: An excellent description of the systems under study, a rigorous use of the evolutionary models, and the possibility to experimentally test the evolutionary scenarios. These three criteria allow us to distinguish the domains in which the encounter is likely to be fruitful, and those where the obstacles to be overcome are high and in which the proposed scenarios have to be considered with considerable circumspection.
Anthony Travis, Raphael Meldola and the Nineteenth-Century Neo-Darwinians
Abstract Raphael Meldola (1849-1915), an industrial chemist and keen naturalist, under the influence of Darwin, brought new German studies on evolution by natural selection that appeared in the 1870s to the attention of the British scientific community. Meldola’s special interest was in mimicry among butterflies; through this he became a prominent neo-Darwinian. His wide-ranging achievements in science led to appointments as president of important professional scientific societies, and of a local club of like-minded amateurs, particularly field naturalists. This is an account of Meldola’s early scientific connections and studies related to entomology and natural selection, his contributions to the study of mimicry, and his promotion in the mid-1890s of a more theory driven approach among entomologists.
Abstract During the 1920s and 1930s, many biologists questioned the viability of Darwin’s theory as a mechanism of evolutionary change. In the early 1940s, and only after a number of alternatives were suggested, Darwinists succeeded to establish natural selection and gene mutation as the main evolutionary mechanisms. While that move, today known as the neo-Darwinian synthesis, is taken as signalling a triumph of evolutionary theory, certain critical problems in evolution—in particular the evolution of animal function—could not be addressed with this approach. Here I demonstrate this through reconstruction of the evolutionary theory of Joseph Needham (1900-1995), who pioneered the biochemical study of evolution and development. In order to address such problems, Needham employed Herbert Spencer’s principles of emergence and Ernst Haeckel’s theory of recapitulation. While Needham did not reject Darwinian theory, Spencerian and Haeckelian frameworks happened to better fit his findings and their evolutionary relevance. He believed selectionist and genetic approaches to be important but far from sufficient for explaining how evolutionary transformations occur.