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Charles Darwin

The Evolution of Evolutionary Theory

Massimo Pigliucci recounts the history of the theories of evolution, and asks whether evolutionary biology has ever shifted paradigms.

Evolution is arguably one of the most profound and controversial ideas ever to hit a human mind. On the Origin of Species flew off the bookshelves when it was published 150 years ago, and it remains one of the most crucial books in the history of science. However, despite the fact that the Darwinian view of the world was swiftly embraced by scientists, as much as half of the population in the United States still today doesn’t buy it, because it seems to undermine their view of who we are, where we came from, and what we are here for.

But the theory of evolution currently accepted by scientists is no more straightforwardly ‘Darwinian’ than modern physics is ‘Newtonian’ – and indeed the entire field of evolutionary biology is still undergoing a revision and expansion of its views on the history and connectedness of life. Unbeknownst to the majority of the public, evolutionary theory has already passed through three major modifications since Darwin, and is in the midst of a fourth stage of its evolution.