Darwinism and Developmentalism: Prospects for Convergence

Depew, David J. “Darwinism and developmentalism: prospects for convergence.” In Evolutionary Systems , pp. 21-32. Springer, Dordrecht, 1998.

The Darwinian tradition in evolutionary biology, whose most distinctive feature is the idea of natural selection, contrasts with an alternative approach that, for lack of a better phrase, I will call “evolutionary developmentalism.” Developmentalists treat biological phenomena at various levels of scale by analogy to individual ontogeny, a view that Darwinism abandoned fairly early in its career. In Darwinism Evolving , Bruce Weber and I were unable to say as much as we might have about how the admittedly non-canonical view of Darwinism we espouse (sometimes dubbed “ecological Darwinism”) is related to recent statements of evolutionary developmentalism (Depew & Weber, 1995). I will try to redress that omission in this essay by arguing that there are several strands in contemporary (genetical) Darwinism; that developmentalism (which has its own diversity) is flatly inconsistent with one prominent strand of Darwinism; but that developmental evolutionists (such as Stanley Salthe or Rod Swenson) need not on that account despair of Darwinism altogether, since other strands in the Darwinian tradition are showing signs of increasing integration with some forms of evolutionary developmentalism. In particular, many of the core insights of Theodosius Dobzhansky, a central figure in what Weber and I call the American wing of the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis, have been developed, whether wittingly or not, by authors as diverse as William Wimsatt, Michael Conrad, and Stuart Kauffman. They might well be developed further if evolutionary phenomena are placed more deeply within the ecological, and hence thermodynamical, context in which self-organization and natural selection can most perspicuously be seen to work together.

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