Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 303–324

Complexity and evolution: What everybody knows

  • Daniel W. McShea

DOI: 10.1007/BF00132234

Cite this article as:
McShea, D.W. Biol Philos (1991) 6: 303. doi:10.1007/BF00132234


The consensus among evolutionists seems to be (and has been for at least a century) that the morphological complexity of organisms increases in evolution, although almost no empirical evidence for such a trend exists. Most studies of complexity have been theoretical, and the few empirical studies have not, with the exception of certain recent ones, been especially rigorous; reviews are presented of both the theoretical and empirical literature. The paucity of evidence raises the question of what sustains the consensus, and a number of suggestions are offered, including the possibility that certain cultural and/or perceptual biases are at work. In addition, a shift in emphasis from theoretical to empirical inquiry is recommended for the study of complexity, and guidelines for future empirical studies are proposed.

Key words

Complexity entropy evolution evolutionary trends Herbert Spencer progress 

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Daniel W. McShea
    • 1
  1. 1.Committee on Evolutionary BiologyUniversity of ChicagoChicagoU.S.A.

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