'Molecules and monkeys': George Gaylord Simpson and the challenge of molecular evolution.

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Abstract or Description

In this paper, I analyze George Gaylord Simpson's response to the molecularization of evolutionary biology from his unique perspective as a paleontologist. I do so by exploring his views on early attempts to reconstruct phylogenetic relationships among primates using molecular data. Particular attention is paid to Simpson's role in the evolutionary synthesis of the 1930s and 1940s, as well as his concerns about the rise of molecular biology as a powerful discipline and world-view in the 1960s. I argue that Simpson's belief in the supremacy of natural selection as the primary driving force of evolution, as well as his view that biology was a historical science that seeks ultimate causes and highlights contingency, prevented him from acknowledging that the study of molecular evolution was an inherently valuable part of the life sciences.


Published In

History and philosophy of the life sciences, 24, 3-4, 441-465.