EVOLUTION: Process and Product

There are fashions in science as in all other things, and the study of evolution is at present highly fashionable among biologists. This is reflected not only by the immense number of technical papers on various aspects of evolution which are published annually but also by the fact that courses in evolution are presented in many colleges and universities, while most courses in biological departments deal with evolution to some extent. Our generation has witnessed a complete reversal of the character of evolutionary thinking. During the early decades of the present century, after the great enthusiasm of the immediate post-Darwinian era had spent itself, widespread pessimism prevailed regarding the very possibility of gaining any real insight into the mechanics of evolution.

This pessimism was based upon many things, including a psychological reaction against the unbridled and uncritical enthusiasm of post-Darwinian biologists; a misconstruction of the significance of the new science of genetics; the disrepute into which taxonomy had fallen; and the mutation theory of the DeVries, which seemed to make Darwinian variation and selection unnecessary. Even while this pessimism prevailed, however, its bases were being destroyed by research in many apparently unrelated fields.

In 1937, Dobzhansky published Genetics and the Origin of Species, in which he brought together many lines of research, and demonstrated that the prospects were bright indeed for understanding the mechanics of evolution in terms of the genetics of natural populations. This stimulated a reassessment of the relationship of many biological sciences (and some of the physical sciences) to evolution, and the result has been a modern synthesis in which all biological sciences seem to converge fruitfully upon evolution. This modern synthesis has been formalized in a series of books of such importance that any one of them would have required the revision of existing texts and justified the publications of new ones. Dobzhansky’s book, which is now in its third edition, was the first of these. It was followed in 1940 by Goldschmidt’s Material Basis of Evolution, in 1943 by Mayr’s Systematics and the Origin of Species, in 1945 by Simpson’s Tempo and Mode in Evolution, in 1950 by Stebbins’ Variation and Evolution in Plants, in 1953 by Simpson’s Major Features of Evolution, and in 1957 by Darlington’s Zoogeography. In addition to these books, an enormous amount of valuable evolutionary research has been published in a host of technical

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Title: EVOLUTION: Process and Product

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