Typology Reconsidered: Two Doctrines on the History of Evolutionary Biology

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Recent historiography of 19th century biology supports the revision of two traditional doctrines about the history of biology. First, the most important and widespread biological debate around the time of Darwin was not evolution versus creation, but biological functionalism versus structuralism. Second, the “idealist” and “typological” structuralist theories of the time were not particularly anti-evolutionary. Typological theories provided argumentation and evidence that was crucial to the refutation of Natural Theological creationism. The contrast between functionalist and structuralist approaches to biology continues today, and the historical misunderstanding of 19th century typological biology may be one of its effects. This historical case can shed light on current controversies regarding the relevance of developmental biology to evolution.

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