email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
A Companion to GenethicsA Companion to GenethicsA Cooperative SpeciesA Mind So RareA Natural History of RapeAcquiring GenomesAdapting MindsAgeing, Health and CareAlas, Poor DarwinAn Introduction to Evolutionary EthicsAncient Bodies, Modern LivesAnimal ArchitectsAping MankindAre We Hardwired?Bang!BehavingBeyond EvolutionBeyond GeneticsBlood MattersBody BazaarBoneBrain Evolution and CognitionBrain StormBrave New BrainBrave New WorldsChoosing ChildrenCloneCloningConceptual Issues in Evolutionary BiologyConsciousness EvolvingContemporary Debates in Philosophy of BiologyControlling Our DestiniesCooperation and Its EvolutionCreatures of AccidentDarwin Loves YouDarwin's Brave New WorldDarwin's Gift to Science and ReligionDarwin's UniverseDarwin's WormsDarwinian ConservatismDarwinian PsychiatryDarwinism and its DiscontentsDarwinism as ReligionDebating DesignDecoding DarknessDefenders of the TruthDo We Still Need Doctors?Doubting Darwin?Early WarningEngineering the Human GermlineEnhancing EvolutionEnoughEntwined LivesEthical Issues in Human CloningEthical Issues in the New GeneticsEvil GenesEvolutionEvolutionEvolution and Human BehaviorEvolution and Human BehaviorEvolution and Human Sexual BehaviorEvolution and LearningEvolution and ReligionEvolution and the Human MindEvolution in MindEvolution, Gender, and RapeEvolution: The Modern SynthesisEvolutionary Ethics and Contemporary BiologyEvolutionary Origins of MoralityEvolutionary PsychiatryEvolutionary PsychologyEvolutionary Psychology and ViolenceEvolutionary Psychology as Maladapted PsychologyExploding the Gene MythFaces of Huntington'sFlesh of My FleshFrom Chance to ChoiceFrom Darwin to HitlerGenesGenes in ConflictGenes on the CouchGenes, Environment, and PsychopathologyGenes, Environment, and PsychopathologyGenes, Women, EqualityGenetic Nature/CultureGenetic PoliticsGenetic ProspectsGenetic ProspectsGenetic SecretsGenetics in the MadhouseGenetics of Criminal and Antisocial BehaviourGenetics of Mental DisordersGenetics of Original SinGenetics of Original SinGenomeGenomeGenome: Updated EditionGenomes and What to Make of ThemGlowing GenesHow Women Got Their Curves and Other Just-So StoriesHuman CloningHuman Evolution, Reproduction, and MoralityImproving Nature?In Our Own ImageIn Pursuit of the GeneIn the Name of GodIngenious GenesInheritanceInside the Human GenomeInside the O'BriensIntegrating Evolution and DevelopmentIntelligence, Race, and GeneticsIs Human Nature Obsolete?Language OriginsLess Than HumanLiberal EugenicsLiving with Our GenesMaking Genes, Making WavesMaking Sense of EvolutionMan As The PrayerMean GenesMenMood GenesMoral OriginsMothers and OthersNature Via NurtureNever Let Me GoNot By Genes AloneOf Flies, Mice, and MenOn the Origin of StoriesOrigin of MindOrigins of Human NatureOrigins of PsychopathologyOur Posthuman FuturePhilosophy of BiologyPlaying God?Playing God?Portraits of Huntington'sPrimates and PhilosophersPromiscuityPsychiatric Genetics and GenomicsPsychologyQuality of Life and Human DifferenceRe-creating MedicineRedesigning HumansResearch Advances in Genetics and GenomicsResponsible GeneticsResponsible GeneticsScience, Seeds and CyborgsSex and WarSociological Perspectives on the New GeneticsStrange BedfellowsStrange BehaviorSubjects of the WorldSubordination and DefeatThe Age of EmpathyThe Agile GeneThe Ape and the Sushi MasterThe Biotech CenturyThe Blank SlateThe Book of LifeThe Boy Who Loved Too MuchThe Bridge to HumanityThe Case Against PerfectionThe Case for PerfectionThe Case of the Female OrgasmThe Century of the GeneThe Common ThreadThe Concept of the Gene in Development and EvolutionThe Debated MindThe Double-Edged HelixThe Epidemiology of SchizophreniaThe Ethics of Choosing ChildrenThe Ethics of Human CloningThe Evolution of CooperationThe Evolution of MindThe Evolution of MindThe Evolved ApprenticeThe Evolving WorldThe Extended Selfish GeneThe Fact of EvolutionThe Folly of FoolsThe Future of Human NatureThe God GeneThe Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Impact of the GeneThe Innate MindThe Innate MindThe Innate Mind: Volume 3The Limits and Lies of Human Genetic ResearchThe Lives of the BrainThe Maladapted MindThe Meme MachineThe Misunderstood GeneThe Moral, Social, and Commercial Imperatives of Genetic Testing and ScreeningThe Most Dangerous AnimalThe New Genetic MedicineThe Nurture AssumptionThe Origin and Evolution of CulturesThe Origins of FairnessThe Paradoxical PrimateThe Perfect BabyThe Robot's RebellionThe Selfish GeneThe Shape of ThoughtThe Shattered SelfThe Stem Cell ControversyThe Story WithinThe Stuff of LifeThe Talking ApeThe Temperamental ThreadThe Terrible GiftThe Theory of OptionsThe Top 10 Myths About EvolutionThe Triple HelixThe Triumph of SociobiologyThe Woman Who Walked into the SeaTwinsUnderstanding CloningUnderstanding the GenomeUnnatural SelectionUnto OthersUp From DragonsVoracious Science and Vulnerable AnimalsWar Against the WeakWhat Genes Can't DoWhat It Means to Be 98 Percent ChimpanzeeWho Owns YouWhose View of Life?Why Evolution Is TrueWhy Think? WondergenesWrestling with Behavioral GeneticsYour Genetic Destiny
Michael Ruse, the prolific philosopher of biology, has his name attached to a dazzling number of monographs and anthologies on Darwin and evolution. In Evolution: The First Four Billion Years, Ruse has teamed up with evolutionary biologist Joseph Travis to produce what is sure to become an important reference work for anyone working on topics related to evolution. The disciplinary backgrounds of the two editors reflect the diversity of topics covered, which will be of interest to humanities scholars and scientists alike.
The book is comprised of two major sections. The first contains sixteen essays from prominent scholars on overarching themes in evolution. These surveys generally strike a careful balance between introducing complex topics to the uninitiated and the nuanced presentation of large bodies of research. The second section contains concise (roughly two page) encyclopedic entries on people, ideas, objects, and publications that have been central to evolutionary thought. Together the two parts constitute nearly a thousand pages of text and make for the most comprehensive single volume on evolutionary studies.
This book fills a useful niche among the other reference works on evolution. Keller and Lloyd's excellent (1992) Keywords in Evolutionary Biology focused on specific theoretical terms and their scientific import, but did not strive for such synoptic coverage of the topic of evolution. Other encyclopedias of evolution typically lack the depth of Evolution's longer essays, or might exclusively focus on empirical details to the neglect of evolution's social significance. (Also, in their attempts to be exhaustive, other encyclopedias contain entries on such sundry topics as coronary disease and bigfoot.) In Evolution we get a single bound volume, informed by an impressive list of contributors, covering the major issues of historical significance and contemporary research, all without excessive reach. The focus on evolution gives the book a more circumscribed field of view than other new anthologies in philosophy of biology, a growing field that increasingly deals with topics outside of evolutionary theory.
The excellent (and somewhat technical) essay on the origin of life introduces a topic too often overlooked by evolutionary theorists. From Jeffrey Bada and Antonio Lazcano we learn some of the fascinating history of this field of study, as well as the up-to-date experimental results in the attempt to piece together the circumstances of life's genesis, with particular attention to the abiotic synthesis of biochemical monomers. Interestingly, the relationship between origins of life research and this volume's ostensible topic, evolution, is not immediately clear. We learn about how "chemical transformations" could lead to the "emergence" of new functions, but are those transformations themselves instances of evolution? If life is defined as that which is capable of evolving, and if the origin of life is, as supposed by the authors (p. 63), synonymous with the origin of evolution, then it remains to be seen what explains the chemical transformations prior to life. Indeed this complicates the notion of "prebiotic evolution," (p. 64), a term the authors rely on but leave unexplained. Perhaps the authors have in mind here some non-selective evolutionary account, such as neutral drift. Other theorists have suggested that random drift could play a central role in the origin of life (see Kimura, 1992 and Dyson, 1999), but there is no indication if that is the intention here. On the other hand, maybe "prebiotic evolution" refers to energetically favorable chemical changes, although it would be unusual to refer to other such chemical reactions as evolution of any sort. Perhaps we will eventually learn that the units of evolution need not have the complex properties of extant life; that would be a significant theoretical advance from current replicator theories of units of selection, which presuppose the existence of complexities that must have been absent at some earlier time. Such boundary questions dealing with the units of selection and of life itself are part of what makes origin of life research exciting, even (or especially) if it might also appear conceptually uncertain.
Evolution's inclusion of amino acid synthesis studies, statistical appraisals of molecular evolution, specificities of self-organizing systems, and other details from active scientific efforts does not come at the expense of a broader examination of the social impact of evolution. For example, in the encyclopedic section, together with entries on Archaeopteryx and Aristotle, we find a careful entry on Natural Theology, a topic closely intertwined with the history of evolutionary thought. Among the longer essays is an entry on "Evolution and Society" from Manfred Laubichler and Jane Maienschein that cogently presents as many facets of that broad title as is possible in just 15 pages. The reciprocal ties between society and evolutionary theory are illustrated with perspicuous examples from European and American eugenics, Stalinist support for Lysenko's theories, and more recent debates on sociobiology, showing how "[s]ocial needs shaped science, which then played out in society" (334). Other essays on evolution and religion and on American anti-evolutionism give a breadth of scope to this impressive book.
Given its historical consequence, the reader might be surprised to find so little explicit treatment of the evolutionary synthesis in this volume. Ruse's chapter on the history of evolutionary thought dedicates just two paragraphs to the synthetic theory before we are told that "By the 1950s Darwin's dream of a mature, professional science of evolutionary biology was realized" (p. 32). What were the conceptual foundations of this change? In what ways did the synthesis figure into professionalization? What of the author's tantalizing suggestion about the need to purge any "extrascientific" (metaphysical and moral) aspects from this new biology? Although the synthesis is revisited later on in Kim Sterelny's incisive essay on philosophy of evolutionary thought, the answer to those questions will need to be found elsewhere. Fortunately, the generous bibliographies appended to each article are one of the book's great virtues, ensuring that the interested reader will be pointed in the right direction for future research.
However, in a tome such as this, one can hardly criticize for omitting material; few stones have been left unturned. The editors successfully present a voluminous breadth of material showing evolution for what it is: not an ossified 19th century idea, but a cultural touchstone and a wellspring of creative thought and flourishing scientific investigation.
Dyson, F. (1999). Origins of Life. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Keller, E.F. and Lloyd, E.A. (1992). Keywords in Evolutionary Biology. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Kimura, M. (1992). "Neutralism" in Keller, E.F. and Lloyd, E.A. Keywords in Evolutionary Biology. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
© 2009 Eric Martin
Eric Martin is pursuing a Ph.D. in the philosophy and history of biology within the Science Studies Program at University of California, San Diego.