Conversations: Clint Whipple

Date(s) - 02/19/2016
12:00 pm - 1:30 pm

3108 JKB


Clint Whipple, from the Biology department will join the Humanities Center for our Conversations meeting on Friday, February 19th at 12:00 PM. Lunch will be served.

His presentation is titled: No Newton of the Blade of Grass: Evolutionary Development and the Return to Form

Please join us for what promises to be an enlivening conversation with Clint Whipple, Associate Professor of Biology at BYU and a specialist in this emerging field.  To orient us, we will read the first chapter of Günter Wagner’s book, Homology, Genes, and Evolutionary Innovation (Princeton UP, 2014).

“From the war of nature, from famine and death,” The Origin of Species famously asserts, “the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows.” For Darwin there is a sublime grandeur in this view of life, where from ceaseless adaptive struggle “endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.” The vast explanatory power of the theory of natural selection—the “Copernican turn” of the life sciences—seems an ironic fulfillment of Kant’s prior assertion  “that we can never adequately come to know the organized beings . . . in accordance with merely mechanical principles of nature, let alone explain them; it would be absurd for humans even to make such an attempt or to hope that there may yet arise a Newton who could make comprehensible even the generation of a blade of grass according to natural laws that no intention has ordered.” Evolutionary theory not only explains the production and variety of living forms without recourse to any higher order of intention, it seemingly does so in observable accordance with the mechanical principles of nature.  Darwin would appear the Newton whom Kant was assured never could arise, and the relative fortunes of idealist and materialist thought since The Origin of Species would seem to have rendered sufficient judgment on the merits of Kantian natural teleology.

Yet in recent years, evolutionary development, or Evo Devo, has taken biological inquiry beyond selection and heredity, toward a reconsideration of developmental causation, the non-adaptive constraints upon the possible evolution of forms, and the structural complexity that inheres in the generation of a single blade of grass.  The scope of Evo Devo breathes new life into old philosophical approaches to nature, teleology, entelechy, and form.”


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