, Volume 58, Issue 1, pp 65-79
Date: 21 Nov 2009

Multiple Explanations in Darwinian Evolutionary Theory

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Abstract

Variational evolutionary theory as advocated by Darwin is not a single theory, but a bundle of related but independent theories, namely: (a) variational evolution; (b) gradualism rather than large leaps; (c) processes of phyletic evolution and of speciation; (d) causes for the formation of varying individuals in populations and for the action of selective agents; and (e) all organisms evolved from a common ancestor. The first four are nomological-deductive explanations and the fifth is historical-narrative. Therefore evolutionary theory must be divided into nomological and historical theories which are both testable against objective empirical observations. To be scientific, historical evolutionary theories must be based on well corroborated nomological theories, both evolutionary and functional. Nomological and general historical evolutionary theories are well tested and must be considered as strongly corroborated scientific theories. Opponents of evolutionary theory are concerned only with historical evolutionary theories, having little interest in nomological theory. Yet given a well corroborated nomological evolutionary theory, historical evolutionary theories follow automatically. If understood correctly, both forms of evolutionary theories stand on their own as corroborated scientific theories and should not be labeled as facts.

This paper is based on a lecture presented on 21 September 2009 in a series of seminars organized by the Columbia University’s Departments of Biological Sciences and of Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology in celebration of the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the origin of Species.