New Paradigm in Evolutionary Biology and Palaeontology

"The reductionistic faith has been fruitful in stimulating many detailed investigations, but there is no evidence that it will ever provide convincing explanations for the holistic properties of organisms at any level of complexity."

(from Rupert Sheldrake: "The Presence of the Past: Morphic Resonance and the Habits of Nature")

"The fossil record is the most obvious evidence of the history of life and should be the final arbiter in deciding between opposing phylogenetic as well as evolutionary theories."
(from Vaclav Petr: "Critical Introduction to the Theory of Natural Selection", a Czech textbook)

This site is especially dedicated to non-Darwinian approaches to evolutionary biology and palaeontology and to the research on Lower Palaeozoic echinoderms

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One of the basic problems is that of the functional unity of an organism and transcendental morphology, in other words it is the problem of the concept of history and structure, process and pattern, external behaviour and internal meaning, function and form - of the two distinct explanatory modes in the biological thought, symbolized often by Cuvier and Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire's famous debate (1830).

This historical picture of Richard Owen, flanked by Georges Cuvier and Lorenz Oken (from Owen's "On the Principal Forms of the Skeleton and the Teeth", 1856) symbolizes a synthesis between function and form, process and pattern, or functionalism and transcendentalism in vertebrate palaeontology.
Who was Richard Owen? He was originator of the distinction between homology and analogy, interested in Cuvier's work on functional adaptation as well as German non-materialistic science of form (derived from idealism of the romantic "Naturphilosophie"). The latter, transcendental aspect of the biological form (intrinsic structural order of it), was prime for Owen. He suggested that organismal morphologies are variants on perfect or ideal forms (archetypes or "primal patterns"). He also proposed "secondary causes" (metagenesis) which were the means of "translating the Word into flesh" (paraphrased New Testament, John 1, 14).
Even some of today's post-modern neo-Darwinists are aware of the problem of the principles ruling the body architecture of animal bauplans but generally are unable to understand that the material genes are not the only determinants of living things and that the true essence rather lies in the immaterial factors that govern development (morphogenesis). Convergent evolution, in which very similar animals arise from quite different evolutionary histories, attracts more and more attention. It is extremely important to recognize that in morphogenesis, constraints and regularity themselves cannot be explained in terms of natural selection.

It is generally agreed that August Weismann was fleshing out the essentials of neo-Darwinism and replaced the original Darwin's "mysterious laws of the correlation of growth" (mentioned in the Origin of Species) with a conception of inherited material elements (now genes, themselves immortal to the core). His theory of such a simple material determinant, in other ways fully compatible with the Darwin's Theory of Natural Selection, suggested a surprisingly easy explanation of the form of any organism. It was very useful, because it inspired modern palaeontological research in the fossil record and has given our natural science its lacking historical depth. Neo-Darwinism (Weismannism and the Modern Synthesis) became the governing mode of thought among both biologists and palaeontologists. But its reductionism, understanding the form as a mere "frozen accident" preserved by the action of natural selection, had and has nothing to say about how new forms of organisms arise. Neo-Darwinian morphology changed to a strictly historical science, stressing only the role of genes and genealogies, and elevating historical process to a primary explanatory principle in natural sciences.

Some present leading structuralists, esp. the British biologist Brian C. Goodwin (e.g. in his book entitled like one of the famous Kipling's Just So Stories: "How the Leopard Changed Its Spots", 1994), stress that all cells of a given body contain identical copies of DNA but during morphogenesis develop differently. Further, that proteins have incomplete autonomy in self-bending and self-shaping into the form of a living organism and that there are unicellular organisms that will partially regenerate their complicated surfaces even if the nucleus itself is removed. The new "generative paradigm" (as opposed to "evolutionary paradigm") would turn scientists from looking for the historical "just so stories" to search for Aristotle's "formal cause" or archetypes of form, establishing a "supra-molecular" causal principle (some scientists, esp. the British biologist Rupert Sheldrake, go further, suggesting not only the existence of morphogenetic fields themselves but also of a Spirit that is both the goal and the ground of the entire Universe, a creative consciousness that transcends the Universe, that is the source of its existence and of the laws that govern it).

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