Classification, Evolution, and the Nature of Biology

Classification, Evolution, and the Nature of Biology

Historically, naturalists who propose theories of evolution, including Darwin and Wallace, have done so in order to explain the apparent relationship of natural classification. This book begins by exploring the intimate historical relationship between patterns of classification and patterns of phylogeny. It is a circular argument, however, to use the data for classification and the concept of homology as evidence for evolution, when evolution is the theory explaining the phenomenon of natural classification. Alec Panchen presents other evidence for evolution in the form of a historically-based but rigorously logical argument. This is then followed by a history of methods of classification and phylogeny reconstruction including current mathematical and molecular techniques. The author makes the important claim that if the hierarchical pattern of classification is a real phenomenon, then biology is unique as a science in making taxonomic statements. This conclusion is reached by way of historical reviews of theories of evolutionary mechanism and the philosophy of science as applied to biology.


"...should be read by everybody who seeks an up-to-date introduction to the theory and practice of comparative biology and its significance for evolutionary theory. It shows that the science of comparative biology is alive and well." Olivier Rieppel, Nature

"Panchen's argument, that a hierarchical structure resulting from evolutionary history is the basis of the special features that make up the science of biology, is not new, but it is necessary. Panchen presents the argument and related philosophical questions clearly." Samuel B. McDowell, BioScience

"Finally, for those who are acutely interested in the history and philosophy of taxonomy, this book is probably one of the more current and comprehensive treatments of this subject." Anne D. Yoder

"The book's greatest strength lies in its telling of the tale--the history and diversity of thought that underlies modern taxonomic, systematic and evolutionary theory. The breadth of material upon which Panchen draws is remarkable (his reference section totals 37 pages). If nothing else, this book will provide ready access to commentary and citations for many of the most influential works in the history of evolutionary systematics." Thomas J. Rossbach, American Scientist

"Panchen's synthesis of the historical development of classification and evolution, richly interwoven with his own critical comments and personal reflections as a vertebrate paleontologist and systematist, is provocative and stimulating...Panchen's book succeeds where other of its kind fail because he is refreshingly honest, because he maintains a healthy respect for skepticism without lapsing into the usual condescending rhetoric..." Terry Harrison, International Journal of Primatology

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