Recent Darwin/evolution articles from the Journal of the History of Biology

The following articles have been published in the Journal of the History of Biology in the last year or so, and one from 2013:

Radim Kočandrle, Karel Kleisner, “Evolution Born of Moisture: Analogies and Parallels Between Anaximander’s Ideas on Origin of Life and Man and Later Pre-Darwinian and Darwinian Evolutionary Concepts”

Abstract This study focuses on the origin of life as presented in the thought of Anaximander of Miletus but also points to some parallel motifs found in much later conceptions of both the pre-Darwinian German romantic science and post-Darwinian biology. According to Anaximander, life originated in the moisture associated with earth (mud). This moist environment hosted the first living creatures that later populated the dry land. In these descriptions, one can trace the earliest hints of the notion of environmental adaptation. The origin of humans was seen as connected in some way with fish: ancient humans were supposed to have developed inside fish-like animals. Anaximander took into account changes in the development of living creatures (adaptations) and speculated on the origins of humans. Similar ideas are found also in the writings of much later, eighteenth and nineteenth century authors who were close to the tradition of German romantic science. We do not argue that these later concepts are in any way directly linked with those of the pre-Socratics, but they show surprising parallels in, e.g., the hypothesis that life originated in a moist environment or the supposition that human developed from fish-like ancestors. These transformations are seen as a consequence of timeless logic rather than as evolution in historical terms. Despite the accent on the origin of living things, both Anaximander and the later Naturphilosophen lack in their notions the element most characteristic of Darwin’s thought, that is, the emphasis on historicity and uniqueness of all that comes into being.

Dominic Klyve, “Darwin, Malthus, Süssmilch, and Euler: The Ultimate Origin of the Motivation for the Theory of Natural Selection”

Abstract It is fairly well known that Darwin was inspired to formulate his theory of natural selection by reading Thomas Malthus’s Essay on the Principle of Population. In fact, by reading Darwin’s notebooks, we can even locate one particular sentence which started Darwin thinking about population and selection. What has not been done before is to explain exactly where this sentence – essentially Malthus’s ideas about geometric population growth – came from. In this essay we show that eighteenth century mathematician Leonhard Euler is responsible for this sentence, and in fact forms the beginning of the logical chain which leads to the creation of the theory of natural selection. We shall examine the fascinating path taken by a mathematical calculation, the many different lenses through which it was viewed, and the path through which it eventually influenced Darwin.

Matthew Morris, “We Know in Part: James McCosh on Evolution and Christian Faith”

Abstract James McCosh (1811–1894), president of Princeton College from 1868 to 1888, played a significant role in the American reception of evolution in the late 1800s – he was one of the more prominent clergyman to assuage the public’s fears of evolution while incorporating evolution into a conservative Christian worldview. McCosh was a prolific writer, whose books document his intellectual journey from hostility to acceptance of evolution. Three things will stand out in this overview that have not been emphasized in detail in other works: (1) James McCosh’s perspective on evolution dramatically changed over time; (2) McCosh’s motivations for engaging in the evolution-religion debate serve to clear up confusion regarding McCosh’s final position on evolution; and (3) the theological and philosophical basis for McCosh’s acceptance of evolution was established while McCosh was still hostile to evolution. His theological background therefore ‘pre-adapted’ him for evolution, and he was able to preach theology and evolution without substantially altering his theology.

Kate Holterhoff, “The History and Reception of Charles Darwin’s Hypothesis of Pangenesis”

Abstract This paper explores Charles Darwin’s hypothesis of pangenesis through a popular and professional reception history. First published in The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication (1868), pangenesis stated that inheritance can be explained by sub-cellular “gemmules” which aggregated in the sexual organs during intercourse. Pangenesis thereby accounted for the seemingly arbitrary absence and presence of traits in offspring while also clarifying some botanical and invertebrates’ limb regeneration abilities. I argue that critics largely interpreted Variation as an extension of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859), while pangenesis was an extension of natural selection. Contrary to claims that pangenesis was divorced from natural selection by its reliance on the inheritance of acquired characters, pangenesis’s mid nineteenth-century reception suggests that Darwin’s hypothesis responded directly to selection’s critics. Using Variation’s several editions, periodical reviews, and personal correspondence I assess pangenesis popularly, professionally, and biographically to better understand Variation’s impact on 1860s and 70s British evolutionism and inheritance.

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.


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.