Evolving Thoughts

Evolution, culture, philosophy and chocolate! John Wilkins' continuing struggle to come to terms with impermanence... "Humanus sum, nihil humanum a me alienum puto" - Terence

Friday, June 02, 2006

The Synthesis and historiography

In an execrable display of taste, Rob Skipper at hpb etc. has linked to this blog, and discussed the Michael Ghiselin quote I put up a few days ago. He rightly notes the standard story is a bit harsh, and suggests some extra reading (to which I would add the series of papers from a special issue of Journal of the History of Biology last year, in particular Jon Hodge's article).

I would like to add, though, that the Synthesists themselves were pretty good at mythmaking when it came to history. In particular, but not restricted to, Ernst Mayr's history of biology. Although this may sound harsh, Mayr has referred to his “precursors” as “prophetic spirits” (Mayr 1996: 269), noting “how tantalizingly close to a biological species concept some of the earlier authors had come” (Mayr 1982: 271), and claimed that “Buffon understood the gist of it” and the early Darwin also (Mayr 1997: 130), thus claiming authoritative precursors. Mayr spends considerable ink defending himself from the charge of reinterpreting history in a whiggist manner in chapter 1 of his 1982 (pp11-13) and yet he is still perhaps the best example of this kind of progressivist triumphalism.

And that is why I quoted Ghiselin.

Smocovitis, Vassiliki Betty (2005), "'It Ain't Over 'til it's Over': Rethinking the Darwinian Revolution", Journal of the History of Biology 38 (1):33.
Ruse, Michael (2005), "The Darwinian Revolution, as seen in 1979 and as seen Twenty-Five Years Later in 2004", Journal of the History of Biology 38 (1):3.
Hodge, Jonathan (2005), "Against "Revolution" and "Evolution"", Journal of the History of Biology 38 (1):101.
Herbert, Sandra (2005), "The Darwinian Revolution Revisited", Journal of the History of Biology 38 (1):51.
Ghiselin, Michael T. (2005), "The Darwinian Revolution as Viewed by a Philosophical Biologist", Journal of the History of Biology 38 (1):123.
Mayr, Ernst (1982), The growth of biological thought: diversity, evolution, and inheritance. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press.
——— (1996), "What is a species, and what is not?" Philosophy of Science 2:262–277.
——— (1997), This is biology: the science of the living world. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.