I argue that Darwinian evolutionary theory has a rhetorical dimension and that rhetorical criticism plays a role in how evolutionary science acquires knowledge. I define what I mean by rhetoric by considering Darwin’s Origin. I use the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis to show how rhetoric conceived as situated and addressed argumentation enters into evolutionary theorizing. Finally, I argue that rhetorical criticism helps judge the success, limits, and failures of these theories.
We trace the history of the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis, and of genetic Darwinism generally, with a view to showing why, even in its current versions, it can no longer serve as a general framework for evolutionary theory. The main reason is empirical. Genetical Darwinism cannot accommodate the role of development (and of genes in development) in many evolutionary processes. We go on to discuss two conceptual issues: whether natural selection can be the “creative factor” in a new, more general framework (...) for evolutionary theorizing; and whether in such a framework organisms must be conceived as self-organizing systems embedded in self-organizing ecological systems. (shrink)
John Reiss is a practicing evolutionary biologist (herpetology) who by his own account happened to be in the right place (Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology) at the right time (the 1980s) to hear echoes of the debate about sociobiology that had been raging there between E. O. Wilson and, on the other side, Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Lewontin (xiv). Reiss is not concerned with sociobiology, at least in this book, but with the adaptationism that Gould and Lewontin saw in (...) the sociobiologists’ approach to cooperative behavior. At Harvard, Reiss was guided by Pere Alberch, in whose laboratory Gould’s stress on developmental constraints was being transformed into a now influential version of the Evo-devo movement (xiv, 327). On Alberch’s view, which Reiss accepts, variation in the rate, timing, placement, and intensity of gene products during the ontogenetic process, rather than mutation in structural genes, constitutes the proximate source of the phenotypic variation on which natural election works (327-29). Reiss does not think that Evo-devo, at least as he construes it, does away with natural selection. Rather, he seeks to identify the role played by selection in retaining or eliminating the variation generated in the developmental process. Selection, he argues, enables organisms, populations, species, and other lineages to maintain the presumptively adapted conditions of existence to which their very persistence already testifies. “Adaptedness,” Reiss writes, “is not a product of evolution; it is a condition for evolution” (22). He thinks that this fact, as he takes it to be, belies the adaptationist assumption that organisms are collections of independently optimal adaptations that arise by way of concerted spurts of directional selection. “It is a mistake,” he writes, “to atomize organisms and to explain each part as the solution of a problem raised by the environment” (295). (shrink)
The Darwinian concept of natural selection was conceived within a set of Newtonian background assumptions about systems dynamics. Mendelian genetics at first did not sit well with the gradualist assumptions of the Darwinian theory. Eventually, however, Mendelism and Darwinism were fused by reformulating natural selection in statistical terms. This reflected a shift to a more probabilistic set of background assumptions based upon Boltzmannian systems dynamics. Recent developments in molecular genetics and paleontology have put pressure on Darwinism once again. Current work (...) on self-organizing systems may provide a stimulus not only for increased problem solving within the Darwinian tradition, especially with respect to origins of life, developmental genetics, phylogenetic pattern, and energy-flow ecology, but for deeper understanding of the very phenomenon of natural selection itself. Since self-organizational phenomena depend deeply on stochastic processes, self-organizational systems dynamics advance the probability revolution. In our view, natural selection is an emergent phenomenon of physical and chemical selection. These developments suggest that natural selection may be grounded in physical law more deeply than is allowed by advocates of the autonomy of biology, while still making it possible to deny, with autonomists, that evolutionary explanations can be modeled in terms of a deductive relationship between laws and cases. We explore the relationship between, chance, self-organization, and selection as sources of order in biological systems in order to make these points. (shrink)
Recognition that biological systems are stabilized far from equilibrium by self-organizing, informed, autocatalytic cycles and structures that dissipate unusable energy and matter has led to recent attempts to reformulate evolutionary theory. We hold that such insights are consistent with the broad development of the Darwinian Tradition and with the concept of natural selection. Biological systems are selected that re not only more efficient than competitors but also enhance the integrity of the web of energetic relations in which they are embedded. (...) But the expansion of the informational phase space, upon which selection acts, is also guaranteed by the properties of open informational-energetic systems. This provides a directionality and irreversibility to evolutionary processes that are not reflected in current theory.For this thermodynamically-based program to progress, we believe that biological information should not be treated in isolation from energy flows, and that the ecological perspective must be given descriptive and explanatory primacy. Levels of the ecological hierarchy are relational parts of ecological systems in which there are stable, informed patterns of energy flow and entropic dissipation. Isomorphies between developmental patterns and ecological succession are revealing because they suggest that much of the encoded metabolic information in biological systems is internalized ecological information. The geneological hierarchy, to the extent that its information content reflects internalized ecological information, can therefore be redescribed as an ecological hierarchy. (shrink)