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CSS colloquium: Charles Pence, Université catholique de Louvain, Belgien

The Development of Darwin’s Views of Chance

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Wednesday 10 October 2018,  at 14:15 - 15:45


Koll G4 (1532-222)

The theory of evolution by natural selection, as it was originally developed by Darwin, reads in a surprisingly familiar manner for students of contemporary biology in a number of ways. One area, however, in which it is dramatically different from today’s biology is Darwin’s complete neglect of statistics and minimal use of notions of chance. Scholars interested in investigating Darwin’s use of chance have, by and large, focused only on a few statements in the Origin and, in rare cases (such as John Beatty’s work) the discussion in a few other isolated locations such as his book on orchids. In this talk, I will attempt to reconstruct the broad historical trajectory of Darwin’s thought on chance, beginning with his early notebooks, proceeding through the drafts of the Origin, its final version, and ending with several of his later books. Darwin remains throughout his career very wary of the introduction of chance into the evolutionary process, and his initial general reluctance to use chance at all develops into a dedicated effort to carefully contain and minimize the importance of chancy processes for his picture of the evolution of life on earth.