Darwin-L Message Log 5:191 (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.

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<5:191>From ronald@uhunix.uhcc.Hawaii.Edu  Fri Jan 28 01:26:39 1994

Date: Thu, 27 Jan 94 21:35:07 HST
From: Ron Amundson <ronald@uhunix.uhcc.Hawaii.Edu>
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Subject: Re: what evolution is...

> In reading a recent post to the sci.bio.evolution newsgroup I came
> across an introductory essay by Chris Colby (colby@bio.bu.edu).  It
> included the following:
> >
> >Evolution is a change in the gene pool of a population over time. A
> >


>         My question to the good members of the Darwin list is; when did
> this identification of evolution with changes in gene frequencies become
> entrenched/started/is it changing?
>         My sense in reading of Darwin and other 19th century writers is
> that evolution is precisely concerned with changing morphology and the
> notion of a "tree of life."
>         I am not as happy about the triumphant move that makes evolution
> coextensive with gene frequency changes as the current story seems to be.
> I wonder if this is another move in the hegemonic accretion of terms by
> molecular biology/genetics or if this idea has a different historical
> origination.
>         Was the identification of evolution with gene frequencies the key
> insight (or trade) that made the new synthesis possible and the one that
> left the developmental view out (Ron Amundson?).
>         Thanks,
>                 Jeremy

Jeremy --

Ron Amundson says yes to the final two questions, but we all know what
a crank he is.

The classical dating of the gene-frequency "definition" of evolution
is Dobzhansky's 1937 _Genetics and the Origin of Species_, p. 11:

"Since evolution is a change in the genetic composition of
populations, the mechanisms of evolution constitute problems of
population genetics."

I've pestered some wiser heads than I about this dating.  Lindley
Darden suggested that some pre-Synthesis geneticists might have said
something along similar lines, T.H. Morgan for example.  Frankly I
haven't yet chased down her hints.  (Provine's book on the history of
population genetics is literally hanging over my head as I type, but I
haven't reread it for that purpose.)

For a refreshingly (to me) divergent approach, consider the following:

Van Valen, Leigh, (1974), "A natural mode for the origin of some
higher taxa," Journal of Herpetology 8: 109-121.

     "It is useful to regard evolution as the control of
development by ecology.  Genes are sufficiently flexible that,
for the most part what is selected for will occur.  We can
therefore ignore genes (although  not the general existence of
heritability) and see if we are appreciably the worse.  Function,
via adaptation, is involved in details, but although other areas
like causal physiology and paleontology may suggest mechanisms
they don't provide them.  The emphasis is therefore on the
phenotype, on the level where adaptation occurs.  And the
phenotype is development."  (p. 115)

Colby's summary is actually quite a nice, but very mainstream, account
of evolutionary theory for (say) undergraduates and readers of
alt.talk.origins.  (The Usenet evolution/creation discussion group.)
Hell, some of my best friends are mainstream.  Wouldn't want my kid to
marry one, though.


Ron Amundson

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