The Challenges to Evolutionary Theory: an interdisciplinary approach to heredity and development

Coordinateur (s)
WALSH Denis - Canada Research Chair/Associate Prof
Department of Philosophy/ Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology
Informations complémentaires

Problem posed
What role does the process of organismal development play in theoretical biology? What are the properties of organisms that explain their adaptedness? What features of organisms can be inherited? How are the processes of development, inheritance and adaptation related? What are the roles of genes, organisms, ecology in evolution? These questions are thrown into new light by recent advances in the study of organismal development and inheritance. Notably, modern evolutionary theory is predicated upon a strong demarcation between the component processes of evolution: development, inheritance and adaptation. But recent evolutionary biology throws up challenges to this orthodoxy. Scientific understanding of the mechanisms of organismal development and inheritance has burgeoned in the last three decades. Conceptual change, however, has lagged behind. We address the challenges this new knowledge poses to the interpretation of evolutionary theory. 

The two principal investigators will draw together researchers from across disciplinary boundaries under the auspices of the Consortium for the History and Philosophy of Biology, a collaborative research project between Canadian, French and US institutions. We shall organise a series of workshops and seminars in Paris bringing together evolutionary biologists, philosophers and historians of biology. To explore the ways in which the modern advances in evolutionary biology can inform, and be informed by, its philosophy and history. The historical and philosophical perspectives will allow evolutionary biologists to situate their work on these issues in the broader context of the changes in theoretical biology, and the method of science, over time. Philosophers and historians in turn will be drawn into the most recent current research in evolutionary biology. 

Expected results
The collaborative workshops and seminars will promote interdisciplinarity at a time when dialogue between current biology, its philosophy, and its history is much needed. It will result in a book of original essays, edited by the project coordinators. This collaborative project will form part of the Consortium’s ­events of 2009. 2009 is a landmark year for biology. It is the sesquicentennial of Darwin’s Origin of Species and the bicentennial of Lamarck’s Philosophie Zoologique. Lamarck’s work, in particular, and its relation to Darwin’s theory are receiving renewed interest in the light of recent advancers in the study of development and inheritance. 2009 presents biologists, historians and philosophers with a golden opportunity to revisit these early evolutionary works in the light of modern biology. One of the themes of our workshops will be a reappraisal of the relation of Lamarckian thinking to Darwinian thinking in light of recent biology.

The project coordinators are in negotiation with a prominent international academic press concerning the publication of a volume drawn from the proceedings.