Evolution for Everyone

One of the most stimulating workshops that I attended during 2009, the year of Darwin, was titled “Evolution–the Extended Synthesis” and held at the Konrad Lorenz Institute in Altenberg, Austria. Sixteen evolutionists met to discuss how our field has changed since Julian Huxley’s Evolution: The Modern Synthesis, which was published in 1942 and represented a consensus view formulated by major figures such as Ernst Mayr, Theodosius Dobzhansky, and George Gaylord Simpson.

The workshop, which was organized by Massimo Pigliucci and Gerd Muller, created quite a bit of buzz at the time. We became known as “The Altenberg 16” as if we were a cabal meeting in secret to reformulate evolutionary theory. That was silly, but one certainly hopes that the field of evolutionary biology has changed over the last six decades. We were meeting to discuss some of the most profound changes that the architects of the modern synthesis had no way of anticipating.

An edited volume based on the workshop has just been published by MIT Press. Titled Evolution–The Extended Synthesis, I recommend it as one of the best single sources for learning about contemporary evolutionary science. Here is the publisher’s description:

In the six decades since the publication of Julian Huxley’s Evolution: The Modern Synthesis, spectacular empirical advances in the biological sciences have been accompanied by equally significant developments within the core theoretical framework of the discipline. As a result, evolutionary theory today includes concepts and even entire new fields that were not part of the foundational structure of the Modern Synthesis. In this volume, sixteen leading evolutionary biologists and philosophers of science survey the conceptual changes that have emerged since Huxley’s landmark publication, not only in such traditional domains of evolutionary biology as quantitative genetics and paleontology but also in such new fields of research as genomics and EvoDevo. Most of the contributors to Evolution – the Extended Synthesis accept many of the tenets of the classical framework but want to relax some of its assumptions and introduce significant conceptual augmentations of the basic Modern Synthesis structure–just as the architects of the Modern Synthesis themselves expanded and modulated previous versions of Darwinism. This continuing revision of a theoretical edifice the foundations of which were laid in the middle of the nineteenth century–the reexamination of old ideas, proposals of new ones, and the synthesis of the most suitable–shows us how science works, and how scientists have painstakingly built a solid set of explanations for what Darwin called the “grandeur” of life.


  1. #1 Kevin
    April 26, 2010

    Just be prepared for the IDiots and creationist loonies to POUNCE.

    “Darwinism is DEAD!!” they’ll declare. “Evolutionism is WRONG!”

    And in its place, instead of refinements to the ToE, they’ll propose magic and woo.

    I predict you will soon understand in full measure the meaning of the phrase “no good deed goes unpunished.”

    Expect Ben Stein to start making the rounds again.

  2. #2 Julia
    July 3, 2010

    Really looking forward to reading Evolution-the Extended Synthesis.

    Just the other day, I blogged about The Modern Synthesis and how genetics and paleontology gracefully meet.


  3. #3 ranggaw0636
    July 19, 2010

    It’s look like a very good book, maybe i will give it a shot and try reading it

  4. #4 Samantha Allen
    September 8, 2010

    It looks interesting, maybe I’ll get a copy for myself. ­čÖé

  5. #5 Another Kevin
    October 8, 2010

    Should one be afraid to explore the deficiencies of a theory simply because those who do not hold it will gloat over the acknowledgment of its having weaknesses? A scientist is willing to deal with the evidence as it is found; a denialist only defends his or her turf.

  6. #6 Benny Vallejo
    January 12, 2011

    I wonder what assumption of the current synthesis they want to relax, and how do you tell the public after the Dover fiasco judicially confirmed that the Darwinian synthesis was true blue and unquestionable.

    Like Ricky Ricardo once said…..Lucy, you got some splainig to do. Got to love it. Am I upsetting anyone?……Good!!

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