The Mutationism Myth (3): Foundations of evolutionary genetics

This is the third in a series of 2010 blogs entitled “The Mutationism Myth” (a more scholarly version of this material ended being published in J. Hist. Biol. by Stoltzfus and Cable, 2014)

In this oft-told story (see part 1), the discovery of genetics in 1900 leads to rejection of Darwin’s theory and the rise of “mutationism”, a laughable1 theory that imagines evolution by mutation alone, without selection. “Mutationism” prevails for a generation, until Fisher, Haldane and Wright show that genetics is the missing key to Darwinism. In the conclusion to the story, the world is set right again when the “Modern Synthesis”, combining selection with Mendelian genetics, shoulders aside the mutationist heresy, which ends up in the dustbin of history with the other “doomed rivals” of Darwin’s great theory.2

Thats the story, at least. In reality— as we found out in part 2—, the Mendelians rejected Darwin’s errant principles of heredity, not his principle of selection. What kind of view did the Mendelians develop? Addressing this question is our next challenge.  Today, in part 3, we’ll consider aspects of the Mendelian view that became the foundations of mainstream 20th-century thinking. In part 4, we’ll delve into some “non-Darwinian” or “anti-Darwinian” aspects that were rejected, or merely ignored. (more…)