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The Modern Synthesis

Plutynski, A (2009) The Modern Synthesis. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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Abstract

Huxley coined the phrase, the “evolutionary synthesis” to refer to the acceptance by a vast majority of biologists in the mid-20th Century of a “synthetic” view of evolution. According to this view, natural selection acting on minor hereditary variation was the primary cause of both adaptive change within populations and major changes, such as
speciation and the evolution of higher taxa, such as families and genera. This was, roughly, a synthesis of Mendelian genetics and Darwinian evolutionary theory; it was a demonstration that prior barriers to understanding between various subdisciplines in the life sciences could be removed. The relevance of different domains in biology to one another was established under a common research program. The evolutionary synthesis may be broken down into two periods, the “early” synthesis from 1918 through 1932, and what is more often called the “modern synthesis” from 1936-1947. The authors most commonly associated with the early synthesis are J.B.S. Haldane, R.A. Fisher, and S. Wright. These three figures authored a number of important synthetic advances; first, they demonstrated the compatibility of a Mendelian, particulate theory of inheritance with the results of Biometry, a study of the correlations of measures of traits between relatives. Second, they developed the theoretical framework for evolutionary biology, classical population genetics. This is a family of mathematical models representing evolution as change in genotype frequencies, from one generation to the next, as a product of selection, mutation, migration, and drift, or chance. Third, there was a broader synthesis of population genetics with cytology (cell biology), genetics, and biochemistry, as well as both empirical and mathematical demonstrations to the effect that very small selective forces acting over a relatively long time were able to generate substantial evolutionary change, a novel and surprising result to many skeptics of Darwinian gradualist views. The later “modern” synthesis is most often identified with the work of Mayr, Dobzhansky and Simpson. There was a major institutional change in biology at this stage, insofar as different subdisciplines formerly housed in different departments, and with different methodologies were united under the same institutional umbrella of “evolutionary biology.” Mayr played an important role as a community architect, in founding the Society for the Study of Evolution, and the journal Evolution, which drew together work in systematics, biogeography, paleontology, and theoretical population
genetics.


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Item Type: Published Article or Volume
Creators:
CreatorsEmailORCID
Plutynski, Aaplutyns@wustl.edu
Keywords: modern synthetic theory, evolutionary theory, modeling, mathematical population genetics
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Evolutionary Theory
General Issues > Theory Change
Depositing User: A Plutynski
Date Deposited: 15 Nov 2018 00:25
Last Modified: 14 Dec 2018 16:26
Item ID: 15335
Journal or Publication Title: Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Publisher: Routledge
Official URL: https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/mo...
DOI or Unique Handle: 10.4324/9780415249126-Q132-1
Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology > Evolutionary Theory
General Issues > Theory Change
Date: 2009
URI: http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/id/eprint/15335

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