Friday, June 04, 2004


Two Explanations

I want to explain two things about this blog: The title, and the epigraph.

The title, "If Darwin Were Alive Today...", comes from discussions on ARN (see the previous entry). There is much talk on both sides about "Darwinism". But Darwin wrote almost 150 years ago. Some of his ideas are still valid, some aren't. In particular, Darwin didn't know the source of variation. His basic theory was that organisms vary in heritable ways, and that those variations that promote survival will be passed on to the next generation. (It's more subtle than that, but that's for another time.) My main (but not necessarily exclusive) topic in this series of essays will be the ongoing disoveries in individual development, and the ways in which development can vary.

This leads to a distinction between "narrow-sense" Darwinism and "wide-sense" Darwinism. Narrow-sense Darwinism is the explanations in Darwin's writings. This includes the six versions of On the Origin of Species, but also the rest of his works. In the Origin Darwin claimed that the book was "one long argument"; Stephen Jay Gould argued that Darwin continued the argument in the rest of his writing.

Getting now to the title: I suggest that, given the depth and breadth of Darwin's interests, if he were alive today, he would be intensely interested in the developments I'll be talking about. So wide-sense Darwinism includes all the discoveries of modern biology and paleontology, including things that Darwin couldn't have dreamt of.

Of course he might get into the specialization trap; see the previous post. This kind of breadth, I suspect, is for someone who already has tenure.

The second explanandum, the epigraph, is "Nothing in evolution makes sense except in the light of biology". This is a play on an the title of an essay by Theodosius Dobzhansky, one of the founders of evolutionary genetics. His title was Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution, arguing that biology as we see it is the result of its history, and has features that can be understood only if we understand where the features came from.

My epigraph comes from the conviction (not mine alone) that the variations that provide the raw material for evolution can be understood only in the light of the processes of developmental biology.


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