[Marxism] Scopes redux

Mike Friedman mikedf at mail.amnh.org
Tue Dec 28 22:29:36 MST 2004

I'd be the first to admit that I'm not really up on the Gould-Dawkins 
debate. It is most probable that the debate reflects earlier antagonism 
over Gould's rejection of Dawkins' "Selfish Gene" theory. This is, in a 
way, ironic, because Dawkins actually abstracted from the individual as the 
basiuc unit of natural selection, arguing that individual genes were the 
units of selection, to the extreme degree of manipulating individuals to 
gain selective advantage. That is, sequences of DNA -- genotypes -- could 
be seen and acted on by natural selection. Gould rejected this as an absurd 
degree of reductionism and bad science. Recall that reductionism, 
biological determinism and essentialism have all been recurring themes for 
critique in Gould's writings. In the case of Dawkins' Selfish Gene theory, 
Gould argued for a more pluralistic view. Although he initially rejected 
Dawkins construct, he later accepted that some form of selection may indeed 
occur at the genomic level, as well as at the individual and even higher 

 From a quick search on the internet, the debate over natural selection 
also seemed to involve the notion of plural modes of speciation or 
macroevolution versus a more traditional, gradualistic view. You might want 
to read Gould and Eldridge's "Punctuated Equilibrium." There's also a New 
York Review of Books article by Gould on this debate at 
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1151. Most evolutionary biologists seem to 
accept that both p-e and gradualism have been at work.

At 12:54 PM 12/28/2004, you wrote:
>Message: 17
>Date: Tue, 28 Dec 2004 09:53:47 -0800
>From: "David McDonald" <dbmcdonald at comcast.net>
>Subject: RE: [Marxism] Scopes redux
>To: "Activists and scholars in Marxist tradition"
>         <marxism at lists.econ.utah.edu>
>Message-ID: <HJEJJAMOLHFLEOBCAHIJOECFDDAA.dbmcdonald at comcast.net>
>Content-Type: text/plain;       charset="us-ascii"
>I think that "The Growth of Biological Thought" by Ernst Mayr (98 years old
>and still writing) is the best serious introduction to these questions.
>I have been unable to understand the broader issues that led Dawkins and
>Gould to be on opposite sides of the pole politically, or what relation
>their politics bear to their views of science.. What emerges from Dawkins
>work to me is a serious, even fanatical attempt to maintain "strict"
>Darwinism, by which I think he means natural selection at only the
>organismic level, that is, selection operating only on individual organisms.
>This was Darwin's point of view, for sure. Gould on the other hand is known
>for promoting evidence of other and longer trends that he has insisted have
>to be incorporated into Darwinism to keep it from becoming outdated and just
>plain wrong. Two such departures from strict Darwinism are his elaboration
>of the idea of punctuated equilibrium and selection at the non-organismic

The latter would seem to me to be unproven, since "evolutionary clocks" 
(measuring rates of divergence) are notoriously unreliable and variable, 
from gene to gene and species to species. And how would you measure the 
rate of evolution of the species that gave rise to, say, the chordates? 
Since much of speciation seems to depend on vicariance -- or geographic 
isolation of populations -- geological and ecological factors affect the 
rate of speciation. Part of the problem rests with how you define species 
(and Mayr's Biological Species Concept is fraught with problems and VERY 
subject to debate). In fact, keep in mind that the taxa are all 
intellectual constructs: kingdom, phylum, class, etc., are all organizing 
concepts devised by humans. The only reality rests with concrete living 
organisms, which is why they are the units of natural selection.

>level. If, as Gould argues, there really is an arc of speed of development
>of new species, much faster at the beginning of the existence of a phylum
>and far slower later, then something other than gradual accretions of minute
>successful characters to form new species must be operant. I haven ot delved
>far enough into the daunting "The Structure of Evolutionary Theory" (1300+
>pages with very challenging vocabulary) to figure out his argument about
>selection at the species level. I find myself wishing Gould had penned
>something like The Origin of Species, i.e. short
>written-for-the-educated-layman presentation of his theory overall.
>David McDonald

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