Skip to main content

How to Rethink Evolutionary Theory: A Plurality of Evolutionary Patterns

Abstract

Nature has recently depicted the empirical advancements of the theory of evolution as a confrontation between “reformists”, that claim for an urgent rethinking of the standard neo-Darwinian approach including so far neglected factors and processes, and “conservatives” who reply “all is well” about the current evolutionary research programme based on genetic variation and natural selection. The fight is mainly around genetic reductionism, but it seems inconclusive. Reformists stress very important factors, but they are still missing a coherent proposal about the architecture of the future extended evolutionary theory. Conservative react defensively, relying just on non-essential add-ons to the old and stable neo-Darwinian core. We analyze the debate and we propose an interpretation. Evolutionary biology is a rapidly expanding field. The bone of contention is how to update and extend the central core of the Darwinian legacy. We propose here the idea that what is happening in the field today is a development of the evolutionary research programme, whose structure is composed of a set of compatible and integrated evolutionary patterns. Evolutionary biology has been extended over its history by the inclusion of more and more patterns, rather than by revision to core theory. Niles Eldredge’s “Hierarchy Theory” is an example of global structure (meta-theory) aiming at incorporating and unifying the currently observed evolutionary patterns.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • Ayala, F. J., & Arp, R. (Eds.). (2010). Contemporary debates in philosophy of biology. New York: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Callaway, E. (2015). Ethiopian jawbone may mark dawn of humankind. Nature,. doi:10.1038/nature.2015.17039.

    Google Scholar 

  • Carroll, S. B. (2005). Endless forms most beautiful. New York: Baror Int.

    Google Scholar 

  • Coyne, J. A., & Orr, A. (2004). Speciation. Sunderland (MA): Sinauer Associates.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eldredge, N. (1985). Unfinished synthesis. Biological hierarchies and modern evolutionary thought. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eldredge, N. (1995). Reinventing Darwin. New York: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eldredge, N. (1999). The pattern of evolution. New York: W.H. Freeman.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eldredge, N. (2008). Hierarchies and the sloshing bucket: Toward the unification of evolutionary biology. Evolution: Education and Outreach, 1, 10–15.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eldredge, N. (2015). Eternal ephemera. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Eldredge, N., & Gould, S. J. (1972). Punctuated equilibria: An alternative to phyletic gradualism. In T. J. M. Schopf (Ed.), Models in paleobiology (pp. 82–115). San Francisco: Freeman.

    Google Scholar 

  • Eldredge, N., & Grene, M. (1992). Interactions. The biological context of social systems. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Gould, S. J. (2002). The structure of evolutionary theory. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Grant, P., & Grant, R. (2008). How and why species multiply. Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Jablonka, E., & Lamb, M. J. (2005). Evolution in four dimensions. Cambridge (MA): The MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Kimura, M. (1983). The neutral theory of molecular evolution. Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Lakatos, I. (1978). The methodology of scientific research programmes. Philosophical papers (Vol. 1). Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Laland, K., Wray, G. A., Hoekstra, H. E., et al. (2014). Does evolutionary theory need a rethink? Nature, 514, 161–164.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Minelli, A., & Pradeu, T. (Eds.). (2014). Towards a theory of development. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Nei, M. (2013). Mutation-driven evolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Odling-Smee, J., Laland, K., & Feldman, M. W. (2003). Niche construction. Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Okasha, S. (2006). Evolution and the levels of selection. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Pagel, M., Venditti, C., & Meade, A. (2006). Large punctuational contribution of speciation to evolutionary divergence at the molecular level. Science, 314, 119–121.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Piacentini, L., Fanti, L., Specchia, V., Bozzetti, M. P., Berloco, M., Palombo, G., & Pimpinelli, S. (2014). Transposons, environmental changes, and heritable induced phenotypic variability. Chromosoma, 123, 345–354.

    Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  • Pievani, T. (2012a). An evolving research programme: The structure of evolutionary theory from a Lakatosian perspective. In A. Fasolo (Ed.), The theory of evolution and its impact (pp. 211–228). New York: Springer.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Pievani, T. (2012b). Geoethics and philosophy of earth sciences: The role of geophysical factors in human evolution. Annals of Geophysics, 55(3), 349–353.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pievani, T. (2013a). Individuals and groups in evolution: Darwinian pluralism and the multilevel selection debate. Journal of Biosciences, 38(4), 1–7.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pievani, T. (2013b). Kinds of pluralism. Stephen J. Gould and the future of evolutionary theory. In G. A. Danieli, A. Minelli, & T. Pievani (Eds.), Stephen J. Gould 2002–2012: The scientific legacy (pp. 37–50). New York: Springer.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Pievani, T. (2015). Between skeptics and adaptationists: New prospects for human language evolution. Ciência & Ambiente, special issue on human evolution, Brasil (in press).

  • Pievani, T., & Parravicini, A. (2015). Multi-level human evolution: Ecological patterns in hominid phylogeny. Journal of Anthropological Sciences (in press).

  • Pievani, T., & Serrelli, E. (2013). Bucket thinking: The future framework for evolutionary explanation. Contrastes Revista Internacional de Filosofía, Suplemento, 18, 389–405.

    Google Scholar 

  • Pigliucci, M., & Müller, G. B. (Eds.). (2010). Evolution: The extended synthesis. Boston: MIT Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Schmitz, R. J. (2014). The secret garden—Epigenetic alleles underlie complex traits. Science, 343, 1082–1083.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Sepkoski, D. (2012). Rereading the fossil record. The growth of paleobiology as an evolutionary discipline. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Somit, A., & Peterson, S. A. (Eds.). (1992). The dynamics of evolution. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  • Standen, E. M., Du, T. Y., & Larsson, H. C. E. (2014). Developmental plasticity and the origin of tetrapods. Nature, 513, 54–58.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Turner, D. (2011). Paleontology. A philosophical introduction. Cambridge (UK): Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  • Vrba, E. S. (Ed.). (1985). Species and speciation (p. 4). Pretoria: Transvaal Museum Monographs.

    Google Scholar 

  • Vrba, E. S. (2015). Role of environmental stimuli in hominid origins. In W. Henke & I. Tattersall (Eds.), Handbook of paleoanthropology (2nd ed., Vol. 3, pp. 1837–1886). Berlin-Heidelberg: Springer.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  • Waddington, C. H. (1959). Canalization of development and genetic assimilation of acquired characters. Nature, 183, 654–655.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Telmo Pievani.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Pievani, T. How to Rethink Evolutionary Theory: A Plurality of Evolutionary Patterns. Evol Biol 43, 446–455 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11692-015-9338-3

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11692-015-9338-3

Keywords

  • Evolutionary patterns
  • Variational patterns
  • Selective patterns
  • Neutralistic patterns
  • Macroevolutionary patterns
  • Evolutionary research programme
  • Hierarchy theory