Not by Design

Not by Design: Retiring Darwin’s Watchmaker

John O. Reiss
Copyright Date: 2009
Edition: 1
Pages: 440
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  • Book Info
    Not by Design
    Book Description:

    More than two centuries ago, William Paley introduced his famous metaphor of the universe as a watch made by the Creator. For Paley, the exquisite structure of the universe necessitated a designer. Today, some 150 years since Darwin'sOn the Origin of Specieswas published, the argument of design is seeing a revival. This provocative work tells how Darwin left the door open for this revival--and at the same time argues for a new conceptual framework that avoids the problematic teleology inherent in Darwin's formulation of natural selection. In a wide-ranging discussion of the historical and philosophical dimensions of evolutionary theory from the ancient Greeks to today, John Reiss argues that we should look to the principle of theconditions for existence,first formulated beforeOn the Origin of Speciesby the French paleontologist Georges Cuvier, to clarify the relation of adaptation to evolution. Reiss suggests that Cuvier's principle can help resolve persistent issues in evolutionary biology, including the proper definition of natural selection, the distinction between natural selection and genetic drift, and the meaning of genetic load. Moreover, he shows how this principle can help unite diverse areas of biology, ranging from quantitative genetics and the theory of the levels of selection to evo-devo, ecology, physiology, and conservation biology.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-94440-4
    Subjects: Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
    • 1 The Problem
      (pp. 3-8)

      Adaptation, natural selection, andfitnessare the trinity of terms that form the core of the explanatory framework of modern evolutionary biology. However, unlike fundamental terms in physics, such asmass, energy, orvelocity, these terms currently have no generally agreed-on meaning, either empirical or theoretical (see Ridley 2004; Futuyma 2005; Freeman and Herron 2007). This is obviously a problem; it is by no means a new one.

      In 1866, seven years after the publication of theOrigin of Species, Alfred R. Wallace wrote to Charles Darwin, proposing that Darwin eliminate the termnatural selectionfrom his work, replacing it...

    • 2 Philosophical Background
      (pp. 9-28)

      This book is about how evolutionary biology can rid itself of illegitimate teleological thinking. Such teleological thinking—rooted in the metaphor of natural selection as the designer of biological systems—is widespread, perhaps even more so among philosophers of biology than biologists. In this chapter, I provide the necessary philosophical background by defining just what I mean by teleological thinking and why I think it is a problem.

      Human intentional action is perhaps the psychological source of teleological thinking in general. We commonly say, for example, “I went to the store to buy bread” and consider this an explanation of...

    • 3 Design versus the Epicurean Hypothesis: Two Thousand Years of Debate
      (pp. 31-56)

      Having examined some of the basic distinctions in teleological thought and met the principle of the conditions for existence, we need to go back a bit and examine some of the forms that teleological and antiteleological thinking has taken in Western thought from the Greeks through the Enlightenment. This review is by no means intended to be a definitive history; Ruse (2003), Grene and Depew (2004), and Barrow and Tipler (1986) provide much fuller treatments, the former two giving a good survey of teleology in its biological context, the latter in a much broader one. Sedley (2007) provides an excellent...

    • 4 Materialism, Teleology, and Evolution in the Enlightenment
      (pp. 57-84)

      The Enlightenment has traditionally been seen as the age of reason, when time honored traditions of belief and social structure fell under the withering assault of the free-thinkingphilosophes. The reality was, of course, far more complex than this caricature would indicate. Nevertheless, what is most important for us here is that with the rise of free thought and free expression, Lucretius could once again have his say. Not only did the design argument now come under increasing attack, as in the writings of Holbach and Hume, but heretical alternatives could be more or less openly considered, as witnessed by...

    • 5 Cuvier and the Principle of the Conditions for Existence
      (pp. 85-120)

      In traditional accounts of the history of evolutionary theory, Cuvier appears as the villain, the fixist, creationist conservative, who used his immense power and prestige to ridicule the forward-looking—if misguided—evolutionary theories of his rivals Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, and thereby held back the development of science for fifty years. And, of course, there is some truth to this perspective. But what is lost in such presentations is any sense of the evidence as it stood at the time, and of who in fact had the more scientific approach to that evidence. As we will see, Cuvier...

    • 6 Darwin, Natural Theology, and the Principle of Natural Selection
      (pp. 121-150)

      Although teleological explanations based on a deterministic extrinsic teleology had long since been discredited on the Continent, at least in science, this mode of explanation persisted well into the nineteenth century in Britain. In fact, the argument to design underwent a revival in early nineteenth-century Britain, largely as a conservative response to the perceived dangers inherent in Enlightenment thought, as exemplified in the horrors of the French Revolution (Brooke 1989; Grene and Depew 2004, 184–191). This theme was found not only in such overtly religious writers as William Paley (1809) but also in scientific works, most notably in the...

    • 7 Existence and the Mathematics of Selection: The Adaptive Landscape versus the Fundamental Theorem
      (pp. 153-190)

      In considering the fallout arising from Darwin’s acceptance of the premise of the argument to design, the key issue is the relation between overall adaptedness and existence. In the previous chapter, I pointed out that Darwin’s theory of environmentally induced variability depended on the same separation of these concepts implicit in natural theological views, because in his theory a species experiencing a new environment begins to vary precisely because of its lack of adaptedness to the new environment, and natural selection then acts on this variation to improve overall adaptedness to the new environment. Yet whatever conceptual or verbal issues...

    • 8 Population Growth, Genetic Load, and the Limits of Selection
      (pp. 191-224)

      One of the main contentions of this book is that by separating overall adaptedness from existence, and linking this separation to a teleologically conceived natural selection, Darwin’s formulation of his theory has obscured—or at least needlessly hindered understanding of—the real relationships between organisms and their environment. In the previous chapter, I showed how this separation led to the teleological metaphor of the adaptive landscape popularized by Sewall Wright, tied to the confusion between absolute and relative fitness. In this chapter, I turn to another aspect of the relation between absolute and relative fitness: the relation of overall population...

    • 9 Natural Selection and Genetic Drift: Their Role in Evolutionary Change
      (pp. 225-254)

      If we turn to any modern textbook of evolutionary biology (e.g., Ridley 2004; Futuyma 2005; Freeman and Herron 2007), we find agreement on some of the basics of evolutionary theory. In particular, the general view of evolution is that it is a process that involves three main “forces” or processes: mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift. Unlike mutation, both natural selection and genetic drift involve differential survival and reproduction among classes of lineages. Nevertheless, “adaptive evolution” and “adaptations” are ascribed exclusively (or almost so) to natural selection, not to genetic drift (or mutation), much as Fisher, Wright, and Haldane did...

    • 10 Adaptedness, Natural Selection, and the Conditions for Existence
      (pp. 257-278)

      The rather long and convoluted path we have taken from the Greeks through Cuvier and Darwin and on to Fisher, Wright, Haldane, Muller, and Kimura has now finally put us in a position to better consider the meaning of the termadaptationas used in evolutionary biology. After all,adaptationis both a key term in natural theology, expressing the relation between means and ends taken as evidence for a designer, and a key term in Darwin’s theory of evolution. And of course, the association between natural selection and adaptation is axiomatic for many evolutionary biologists.

      To begin with, I...

    • 11 How to Talk about Macroevolution
      (pp. 279-312)

      All of the discussion up to this point has really just been preamble to the question that is the historical source of my own interest in the problem of adaptation: how should natural selection enter into explanations of macroevolutionary changes? What I have in mind here are such traditional issues in my own field of evolutionary morphology as the evolution of the eye and the diversification of vertebrate forelimb structure. Ever since Darwin, most people supporting natural selection as the major agent of evolutionary change have felt that it should, and does, provide an explanation of such evolutionary transformations. But...

    • 12 The Conditions for Existence as a Unifying Concept in Evolutionary Biology
      (pp. 313-352)

      Most of this book has been rather backward looking. I began with the presumption that there is something slightly twisted about the way we evolutionary biologists typically view the relation of natural selection to adaptation. To see what this might be, I have sought to follow Fisher’s injunction that we should “attempt to understand the thoughts of the great masters of the past, to see in what circumstances or intellectualmilieutheir ideas were formed, where they took the wrong turning or stopped short on the right track” (1959 [1974], 449). In this chapter, I would like to look not...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 353-354)

    The story I’ve traced in this book, though long and convoluted, is at root a simple one. It is the story of the legacy of the conflict between the perspective of the atomists, Leucippus, Democritus, Epicurus, and Lucretius, who insisted that all order in the universe existed only because it was a condition for existence, and that of Socrates and his follower Plato (not to mention the Stoics and Christians), who argued for intelligent design as an explanation for the order and adaptedness of the world. Putting Darwin in this picture has always been a bit problematic: did Darwin do...

  9. Epilogue: Evolutionary Biology and Intelligent Design
    (pp. 355-356)

    When I planned this book, I had thought to leave “intelligent design” out of it. After all, this is a book about science, not about politics, and the intelligent design debate is a political debate. Yet the issues touched on in this book are indeed central to the debate over intelligent design, and some explicit comments are in order, if only so there should be no chance of misunderstanding my position. Rather than attempting to debunk the arguments used in favor of intelligent design, a simple and yet necessary exercise already well executed by numerous authors (Forrest and Gross 2003;...

    (pp. 357-360)
    (pp. 361-400)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 401-422)