Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Darwin-Wallace explanation of evolution: "Darwinism"

Richard C. Lewontin, "Why Darwin?," The New York Times Review of Books 56.9 (28 May 2009).

The Darwin-Wallace explanation of evolution, the theory of natural selection, is based on three principles:

1) Individuals in a population differ from each other in the form of particular characteristics (the principle of variation).

2) Offspring resemble their parents more than they resemble unrelated individuals (the principle of heritability).

3) The resources necessary for life and reproduction are limited. Individuals with different characteristics differ in their ability to acquire those resources and thus to survive and leave offspring in the next generations (the principle of natural selection).

One can hardly imagine anything that would have better justified the established social and economic theories of the Industrial Revolution than the claim that our very biological natures are examples of basic laws of political economy [thus, "Darwinism" = "Biological Competitive Capitalism"].


The theory of competitive socioeconomic success is a theory about the rise of individuals and individual enterprises as a consequence of their superior fitness [the few over the many].


The theory of evolution by natural selection, in contrast, is meant to explain the adaptation and biological success of an entire species as a consequence of the disappearance of the less fit [the many over the few].


If we seek a true originality in the understanding of Darwin and Wallace, it is to be found in their ability to adapt a theory meant to explain the success of a few to produce a theory of the success of the many [i.e. "Darwinism" is socialist—or, historically speaking, Utilitarian].

What it lacked is an understanding of heredity. Mendel saved the theory: his experiments on peas demonstrated that inheritance was not based on the blending of some fluid-like material, but by the passage of particles that maintained their individual properties even when mixed together in a hybrid [thus, DNA].

In full historical justice, if we are to personalize our modern explanation of evolution we should call it not "Darwinism," nor even "Darwin-Wallacism," but "Darwin-Wallace-Mendelism."

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