Centre for Philosophy of Science Applied Evolutionary Epistemology Lab

Derek Turner

Issues in Macroevolutionary Theory

Course Description

This course will survey some of the major concepts and issues in macroevolutionary theory, including evolutionary contingency, punctuated equilibria, species sorting, the major transitions in evolution, phylogenetic inertia, and the study of evolutionary trends. Special attention will be given to attempts to think about evolutionary change in terms of natural state models and/or zero force laws. Another major focus of the course will be the unity of macroevolutionary theory.

For additional background reading, students may wish to look at D. Turner, Paleontology: A Philosophical Introduction (Cambridge U. Press, 2011).

Day-by-Day Program

Lecture 1: Evolutionary Contingency

  1. Selection from S.J. Gould, Wonderful Life (W.W. Norton, 1989).
  2. Yemima Ben-Menahem. 1997. Historical Contingency. Ratio 10: 99-10.
  3. John Beatty (1995), “The Evolutionary Contingency Thesis,” in G. Wolters and J.G. Lennox (eds.) Concepts, Theories, and Rationality in the Biological Sciences.  University of Pittsburgh, Press, pp. 45-81.
  4. John Beatty (2006), “Replaying Life’s Tape,” The Journal of Philosophy 103(7): 336-362.
  5. Simon Conway Morris (2008), “Evolution and Convergence: Some Wider Considerations” in S. Conway Morris (ed.) The Deep Structure of Biology. West Conshohocken, PA: Templeton Foundation Press, pp. 46-67.


Lecture 2: Punctuated Equilibria and Species Sorting

  1. N. Eldredge and S.J. Gould (1972), “Punctuated Equilibria: an Alternative to Phyletic Gradualism,” in T.J.M. Schopf (ed.) Models in Paleobiology. San Francisco, CA: Freeman, Cooper, & Co., pp. 85-115.
  2. Steven Stanley (1975), “A Theory of Evolution above the Species Level,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 72(2): 646-650.
  3. D. Turner (2010), “Punctuated Equilibrium and Species Selection:  What Does it Mean for one Theory to Suggest Another?” Theory in Biosciences 129: 113-123.


Lecture 3: Evolutionary Trends and Tendencies

  1. D.W. McShea (1994), “Mechanisms of Large-scale Evolutionary Trends,” Evolution 48: 1747-1763.
  2. S.J. Gould (1997), “Cope’s Rule as Psychological Artefact,” Nature 385(6613): 199-200.
  3. J. Alroy (1998), “Cope’s Rule and the Dynamics of Body Mass Evolution in North American Fossil Mammals,” Science 280: 731-734.
  4. D. Turner (2009), “How Much Can We Know About the Causes of Evolutionary Trends?” Biology and Philosophy 24: 341-357.


Lecture 4: Two Cases of Natural State Thinking in Evolutionary Biology: Phylogenetic Inertia and the ZFEL

  1. Timothy Shanahan (2011), “Phylogenetic Inertia and Darwin’s Higher Law,” Studies in History and Philosophy of Biology and Biomedical Sciences 42: 60-68.
  2. Selections from D.W. McShea and R.N. Brandon (2010), Biology’s First Law.  University of Chicago Press : here and here.
  3. D.W. McShea and R.N. Brandon (2012), “Four Solutions to Four Puzzles,” Biology and Philosophy 27: 737-744.
  4. M. Barrett, et al. (2012), “Puzzles for ZFEL: McShea and Brandon’s Zero-force Evolutionary Law,” Biology and Philosophy 27: 723-735.


Lecture 5 (1st half): The Major Transitions in Evolution

  1. E. Szathmary and J. Maynard Smith (1995), “The Major Evolutionary Transitions,” Nature 374: 227-232.
  2. D.W. McShea and C. Simpson (2011), “The Miscellaneous Transitions in Evolution,” in K. Sterelny and B. Calcott, eds., The Major Transitions in Evolution Revisited, MIT Press.


Lecture 5: (2nd half) | How Unified is Macroevolutionary Theory?