This is the 4th 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 laughable 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. As we found out in part 2, the Mendelians rejected Darwin’s errant principles of heredity, not his principle of selection. In part 3, we considered aspects of the Mendelian view that became the foundations of mainstream 20th-century thinking.
But this begs another question: if the Mendelians invented the 20th-century consensus, and just left it to others to work out the math, why aren’t they lauded as “founders” of modern neo-Darwinism, instead of being derided as fools? We’ll find out in part 4 (below), and part 5. (more…)