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History and evolution. Edited by Matthew H. Nitecki and Doris V. Nitecki. Albany State University of New York Press. 1992. VIII + 269 pp. $16.95 (paper)

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Book Reviews
Edited by Matthew
H. Nitecki and Doris V. Nitecki. Albany:
State University of New York Press. 1992.
viii + 269 pp. $16.95 (paper).
This is a book about whether and to what
extent the study of evolution, usually considered a science, can be likened to history,
usually considered particularistic and nongeneralizing. The 13 contributors are
weakly dominated by biologists of various
kinds (ecologists, zoologists, botanists, paleontologists); five historians/philosophers of
science are represented. There are no physical anthropologists. The book consists of ten
rather disparate essays, and a n introduction
by Matthew Nitecki, loosely organized into
three sections that proceed from the most
general issues to the most specific. Nitecki’s
introduction is, to say the least, peculiar; I
return to it below.
The first section (“Methodologies of Historical Explanations”) comprises papers by
Richards, Laudan, Hull, and Ereshefsky.
Robert Richards argues that science in general, and the life sciences in particular, are
“narratives,” that the contrast between history and science is overdrawn, and that history is, in effect, “scientific” because, like
science, it explains things. Rachel Laudan
takes almost exactly the opposite view. Although both evolution (paleontology) and
history deal with past events and processes,
this superficial similarity masks significant
differences in scale and process, resolution,
and rates of change that preclude any real
methodological parallels. Both these essays
are rather naive. Not so the last two, by science historians David Hull and Marc
Ereshefsky. Hull rejects outright any significant parallels between evolution and history, and suggests that Hempel’s covering
law model cannot be reconciled with explanation in history, which he regards as a
chronicle of particular events. He proposes
what he calls the “perpendicular-circumstance model” to accommodate historical explanation. Ereshefsky draws a distinction
t3 1993 WILEY-LISS. INC.
between experimental and non-experimental
science, with the former being characterized
by universal and ahistorical generalizing explanations, and the latter by a temporal ordering of events and by reliance upon particular circumstance explanations. Evolutionary
biology is neither “scientific” nor “historical,” although there are elements of each in
its methodologies.
The second section (“Historical Explanations and Evolutionary Biology”) has to do
with models of the processes that are taken
to underlie paleontology and history. Douglas Futuyma is concerned with the reconstruction of phylogenies, and the effects of
differences between the paradigms of evolutionary biology (as crystallized in the “modern synthesis”) and population biology
(where all the “action” is). Evolutionary biology is seen as underaxiomatized; there are
no operational definitions of many key concepts and terms, and consequently no empirical “ t e e t h in tests of selectionist hypotheses, adaptive radiations, irreversibility,
etc. David Kitts wants to “confirm” evolutionary theory using paleontological datano mean feat, in my opinion, because of the
near-total absence of the kinds of operational definitions that might eventually allow adoption of a confirmationist research
The last section (“Historical Science and
the Philosophy of History”) deals with aspects of the philosophy of history (e.g.,
whether history, science “progress,” what
criteria measure scientific progress) and,
more specifically, with various similarities
in Marxist and Darwinian evolutionary theory. In a tightly argued paper, Michael Ruse
compares social history, the history of science, and the development of evolutionary
paradigms, to argue that progressive development in society, science, and biology
means three very different things-the parallels are so superficial a s to be meaningless. While there is overlap at the level of the
metaphysic (these ideas are, after all, almost exclusively the products of mid-19thcentury European thought), scientific
change outstrips social change, and is more
clearly goal directed. The notion of progressive development in evolutionary biology is
universally rejected-at least in the anglophone research traditions (Brace, 1988). In
what is, unfortunately, the only anthropological essay in the book, Robert Boyd and
Peter Richardson try to identify and fail to
understand parallels between cultural and
biological evolution. Garland Allen compares the works of Marx and Darwin and
identifies a number of striking parallels in
respect of their biases and preconceptions
about the nature of process in the social and
natural worlds. Among these are shared realist ontologies and (dialectical) materialist
biases, the conviction that material conditions determine perceptions of reality, what
would today be called a “systems perspective,” and the idea that change arises from
inherent contradictions in the system,
rather than from external forces. However,
while Marx was sympathetic to a Darwinist
view of social evolution as a n outgrowth of
biological evolution, he clearly recognized
that history operated according to its own
laws and could not be reduced to biological
principles. The last paper, by Lawrence Slobodkin, shows how evolution can be used to
explain the ontogeny of science, and to make
a case for the evolution of scientific principles. Thus, while there is admittedly a generalizable “history” to science (or, more accurately, to individual sciences), this
“history” is more of a n extended metaphor
than anything else.
In sum, the book examines the philosophical underpinnings of historical and evolutionary studies, the meanings attached to
human and evolutionary histories, evolutionary approaches to the analysis of his-
tory, historical approaches to the analysis of
evolutionary paradigms, and the logic of explanation in historical and life science fields.
It does not, however, make a strong case for
Nitecki’s assertion that evolutionary biology
and history face the same kinds of problems,
raise the same kinds of questions, and deal
with the same processes in basically similar
ways. In fact, the introduction is so much at
variance with the books contents that I
came to wonder whether Nitecki and I were
reading the same text.
History and Evolution is a contribution to
the emerging field of evolutionary epistemology. A more sophisticated treatment of
this interesting topic is to be found in Issues
in Evolutionary Epistemology (Hahlweg and
Hooker, 19891, also published by SUNY
Press as part of their Philosophy and Biology Series. Physical anthropologists (especially human paleontologists) should read
books like these. If they did, then maybe
they wouldn’t be so na’ive about the inferential basis for their knowledge claims. This is
not just a problem with physical anthropology, of course. It applies to any field defined
by its subject matter, rather than by its intellectual competence to deal with it.
Edited by Akiyoshi
Ehara, Tasuku Kimura, Osamu Takenaka, and Mitsuo Iwamoto. New York:
Elsevier. 1991. xxiii + 732 pp. $217.25
ety in Nagoya and Kyoto, July 1990. It is a
brick of a book, the denser for the fact that it
consists of longish (2+ pp.) abstracts of 224
separate pieces of scholarly work spanning
the breadth of primatology. As one would
expect, there is some unevenness in the
quality of the chapters; a few might have
benefitted from a vetting by a native English speaker. These are rather minor de-
Primatology Today consists of the abstracts of research presented at the 13th
meeting of the International Primate Soci-
Department of Anthropology
Arizona State University
Tempe, Arizona
Brace CL (1988) Punctuationism, cladistics and the legacy of Medieval Neoplatonism. Hum. Evol. 3:121-138.
Hahlweg K, Hooker CA (eds.) (1989) Issues in Evolutionary Epistemology. Albany: State University of
New York Press.
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paper, 269, 1992, evolution, university, history, matthew, state, doris, new, nitecki, viii, albany, york, edited, pres
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