ESS Talk: The Extent of the Modern Synthesis in Evolutionary Biology

Tom Dickins, Department of Psychology, Middlesex University London

Dr. Dickins will be speaking as part of the Evolution and Social Sciences lecture series. See link below for more details.

The Extent of the Modern Synthesis in Evolutionary Biology

Over the last two decades several scholars have made calls to extend the Modern Synthesis in evolutionary biology. In doing this they have characterized a form of Standard Evolutionary Theory (SET) derived from key sources including Mayr and Provine. A core claim is that SET has no role for developmental processes in evolution. In part this is seen as a deliberate move during the formation of SET, but it is also attributed to a model of causation that is seen as inadequate. In this talk I will question both criticisms. Central to my argument will be the claim that those seeking extension and those who are not, are operating under different task demands, and this brings with it different modelling practices. I will refer to recent work on the nature of scientific understanding, which relies on a much more pragmatic and pluralist view of science. Pluralism does not commit us to a full-throated relativism, and I hope to make clear real errors in this debate. One key error is the idea that the Modern Synthesis is a standard theory. Most historians of science, and many evolutionary biologists, see it simply as an extended period of rapid theoretical development with much in contention. None the less, that historical period established a style of theorizing, and it is perhaps this that advocates of extension are opposed to.

This talk can be accessed through the following zoom link: