Darwin-L Message Log 5:83 (January 1994)

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.

<5:83>From ronald@uhunix.uhcc.Hawaii.Edu  Sat Jan 15 21:07:50 1994

Date: Sat, 15 Jan 94 17:11:08 HST
From: Ron Amundson <ronald@uhunix.uhcc.Hawaii.Edu>
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Preface to Biblio on development and evolution



This message is a sort of preface to the annotated bibliography
on developmental critiques of mainstream "neoDarwinian"
evolutionary theory.  A few orienting comments.

In my earlier post, disagreeing with Bob O'Hara's views on how
seriously neoDarwinism was being attacked, I did not mean to
suggest that Bob was likely to be thin-skinned on disagreements
like this, and I apologize for giving that appearance.  My feeble
attempt at humor in referring to our "fearless leader" or some
such was meant in the context of the entirely well-deserved high
regard which he has from the members of Darwin-L, and also to the
unusual civility of the list.  (Gosh, people, we could have just
a _little_ flame warfare once in a while -- it seems almost a
misuse of the Internet to be so congenial.  <smileyface,

Anyhow, a couple of comments on the Bibliography.  It is
primarily oriented towards criticisms of neoDarwinism which come
from embryologists and developmental biologists.  There is some
mention of Brooks and Wiley kinds of approaches, but it is
limited.  The approach I'm interested in comes primarily from
people who work with real nuts and bolts of organic development
-- developmental mechanical issues things like tissue
interactions, centers of ossification, etc.

It is very plausibly argued (citations in the Bibliography) that
the post-Modern Synthesis evolutionary tradition (herein called
neoDarwinism) has systematically ignored embryological issues.
This may be partly the fault of the embryologists themselves, and
their disinterest in the Synthesis.  Whoever is to blame, the
current state of neoDarwinism 1) doesn't require embryological
details for any noticable pressing problems, and 2) has no "gaps"
within its theoretical apparatus into which embryology would fit.

The way I tell the story, neoDarwinism has developed (beginning
with Darwin, but gaining steam after the Synthesis) a toolbox of
quasi-rhetorical methods of depicting developmental details as
irrelevant to evolution.  These "dismissive tactics" do not deny
any specific developmentalist claims; they rather depict
(virtually) _any_ developmental facts as irrelevant to evolution.
To some extent, developmentalists  have done similar things --
they have rhetorical ploys, too.  But since they are trying to
gain entry to a scientific domain now ruled by another "party,"
their devices don't appeal to the mainstream of evolutionary

As has already been discussed in Darwin-L, neoDarwinians
acknowledgement lots of imperfections.  Claims are typically of
the form "Of course adaptation isn't perfect: here's the list of
15 reasons why.  We already accept them.  What's to argue about?"
While these defenses are successful against most generic "anti-
adaptationist" critics, they do nothing to make embryology
relevant to evolution.  I consider the important issue not as
whether or not adaptation is perfect -- all agree it is not.  The
important issue (to the people being discussed) is whether the
theoretical content of developmental biology is taken as relevant
to the evolutionary process.

In a (currently under-review) paper called "Two Concepts of
Constraint:..." I have argued that developmentalists and
neoDarwinians actually mean completely different things by
"constraint."  In this way, I try to account for the phenomenon
so frustrating to neoDarwinians -- no matter how much adaptive
imperfection the neoDarwinians accept, the developmentalists
still keep attacking them.  Because of this, the two sides seem
not even to understand what they are disagreeing about.  It is
especially inadequate to conceive of the debate as between
perfectionists and imperfectionists.

The Bibliography follows.


Ron Amundson
Univerisity of Hawaii at Hilo
Hilo, HI    96720-4091


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