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On-line version ISSN 2304-8557
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Koers (Online) vol.74 n.3 Pretoria  2009


A perspective on (neo-)Darwinism (2010)


'n Perspektief op die (neo-)Darwinisme (2010)



D.F.M. Strauss

Faculty of the Humanities, University of Free State, Bloemfontein. E-mail:




A perspective on (neo-)Darwinism first of all has to account for those assumptions derived from the humanities, causing neo-Darwinism not to be a purely special scientific or natural scientific theory. A discussion of the many-sidedness of living entities highlights the difficulties surrounding a definition of biology. Attention is briefly given to the physicalism of Darwin's 1859 work before the quest for origins is discussed. These considerations pave the way for an assessment of striking shortcomings in the thought of Darwin and his followers. In particular, modern nominalism is identified as an important source for neo-Darwinism, especially manifest in the idea that organisms are not types and do not have types (Simpson). Darwin's idea of incremental (continuous) change both in respect of the genesis of a complex organ (or the origination of the first living entity) and of successive fossil forms contradict the current state of affairs - and the same applies to his own radical idea that "injurious" variations will be eliminated immediately by natural selection, for it cannot be reconciled to the role of mutations in neo-Darwinian theory. In addition neo-Darwinian paleontologists pointed out that evolution requires intermediate forms and paleontology does not provide them (Kitts) and explicitly confessed that they have paid lip-service to the idea of change while they knew all the time that it was not true (Eldredge): the dominant theme of the paleontological record is stasis, constancy - a type appears and remains constant for millions of years before it disappears (Gould). The supposition of incremental continuity received a further blow from the "Cambrian explosion", the "nasty fact" that most "major animal groups appeared simultaneously" about 530 million years ago. A few aspects of the uniqueness of humankind are treated as well as the confused picture found in an attempt to synthesise neo-Darwinism and Christianity. In an appendix a brief assessment is added concerning the pretentions of neo-Darwinism.

Key concepts: attempted synthesis:Christianity and evolution; continuity and discontinuity; Neo-Darwinism; origin of life; paleontology; schools of thought


'n Perspektief op die neo-Darwinisme moet allereers rekenskap gee van daardie geesteswetenskaplike aannames wat daartoe gelei het dat die neo-Darwinisme nie 'n suiwer vakweten-skaplike teorie en ook nie 'n suiwer natuurwetenskaplike teorie is nie. 'n Bespreking van die veelsydigheid van lewende dinge belig die probleme verbonde aan 'n definisie van die biologie. Aandag is vlugtig gegee aan die fisikalisme van Darwin se 1859-werk alvorens die sug na oorspronge bespreek is. Hierdie oorwegings het die weg gebaan vir 'n beoordeling van die treffende tekortkomings in die denke van Darwin en sy volgelinge. In die besonder is die moderne nominalisme geïdentifiseer as 'n belangrike bron vir die neo-Darwinisme, veral gemanifesteer in die idee dat organismes nie tipes is of tipes kan hê nie (Simpson). Darwin se idee van geleidelik (kontinue) verandering ten opsigte van die ontstaan van 'n komplekse orgaan (of die ontstaan van die eerste lewende entiteit) asook van opeenvolgende fossielvorms is in stryd met die huidige stand van sake - en dieselfde geld vir sy eie radikale siening dat "nadelige" variasies onmiddellik deur natuurlike seleksie geëlimineer sal word, want dit kan nie versoen word met die rol van mutasies in die neo-Darwinistiese teorie nie. Bykomend het neo-Darwinistiese paleontoloë daarop gewys dat evolusie tussenvorms vereis en dat die paleontologie dit nie lewer nie (Kitts). Hulle het openlik bely dat hulle lippediens gelewer het aan die vermeende verandering in the paleontologie terwyl hulle al die tyd geweet het dit is nie waar nie (Eldredge): die dominante tema van die paleontologie is stasis, konstantheid - 'n tipe verskyn en bly konstant vir miljoene jare alvorens dit verdwyn (Gould). Die aanname van geleidelik-kontinue verandering het 'n verdere terugslag ontvang van die "Cambrian explosion", die "nasty fact" dat die meeste "major animal groups appeared simultaneously" omtrent 530 miljoen jaar gelede. Enkele fasette van die uniekheid van die mens is aan die orde gestel asook die verwarde prentjie wat aangetref word in 'n poging om die neo-Darwinisme met die Christendom te versoen. In 'n aanhangsel word 'n oorsigtelike beoordeling van die pretensies van die neo-Darwinisme behandel.

Kernbegrippe: denkskole; gepoogde sintese: Christendom en evolusie; kontinuïteit en diskontinuïteit; Neo-Darwinisme; ontstaan van lewe; paleontologie



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1 This article was first presented as a Stoker Lecture in Potchefstroom on 22 October 2009.

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