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Darwin-L Message Log 1:216 (September 1993)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.


<1:216>From HOLSINGE@UCONNVM.BITNET  Mon Sep 27 06:41:25 1993

Date: Mon, 27 Sep 1993 07:32:03 -0500 (EST)
From: "Kent E. Holsinger" <HOLSINGE%UCONNVM.BITNET@KUHUB.CC.UKANS.EDU>
Subject: Re: Heritability and cultural evolution
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu

True, natural selection is by no means the *only* cause of evolution.  My only
point is that we don't need to know *why* offspring resemble their parents in
order to make inferences about an evolutionary process, only *that* they do.

As an aside, it's not quite accurate to say, as Gerson does, that "there was
very little acceptance of Darwin's natural selection model until some
understanding of the material causes of heredity began to develop early in
the 20th century."  In fact, the immediate reaction of many biologists to the
rediscovery of Mendel's work was the complete rejection of any significant role
for natural selection.  DeVries' _Die Mutationstheorie_, for example, asserted
that species differences arose saltationally through mutations.  Bateson
followed much the same line.  In Britain, at least, there is a strong natural
history tradition that stretches back through Poulson and Bates that always
gave a prominent role to natural selection.

As Mayr has pointed out repeatedly, many of the evolutionists who were
convinced of the importance of natural selection in the 'teens and '20s did
not accept Mendelism as the explanation for the differences among individuals
that they saw.  Rensch, Mayr himself, and others took for granted some form
of blending inheritance and the inheritance of acquired traits (not unlike
Darwin minus pangenesis).  Still, they argued forcefully for the importance of
natural selection.  It wasn't until the 1930s that the fusion of Mendelian
genetics and natural selection, through population genetics, became widely
accepted as the best explanation for organismal adaptation.

Rediscovery of Mendel's work and analysis of the material basis of heredity
had little to do with the spreading acceptance of natural selection in the
early part of the century, in spite of the important role it now plays in our
evolutionary thinking.

-- Kent

+--------------------------------------------------------------------+
|  Kent E. Holsinger    Internet: Holsinge@UConnVM.UConn.edu |
|  Dept. of Ecology &     BITNET: Holsinge@UConnVM     |
|  Evolutionary Biology, U-43              |
|  University of Connecticut               |
|  Storrs, CT 06269-3043               |
+--------------------------------------------------------------------+

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