XXVIII HISTORY OF EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGY
The history of any field of science as presented in textbooks has the character of an accumulation of information, hypotheses and theories that gradually expand and refine our knowledge about the subject of the particular field.Individual scientists base their work on the results of their predecessors and their own results gradually form the basis for the work of their successors.In actual fact, the history of a field of science has a somewhat different appearance.A decisive role is played here by the very best scientists who progress, at every moment, as if independently, each at a somewhat different pace and each in a somewhat different direction. The opinions of the individual scientists and their supporters about important aspects of the particular field frequently differ quite substantially – in fact, this is what differentiates the important aspects of the field from trivial aspects.It very rarely happens that an unambiguous answer can be found to a fundamental question, a scientific argument that would convince the proponents of different theories.As a rule, the individual alternative theories die out only with the death of their proponents where the theory that will be further elaborated in the future does not depend so much on its material correctness as on sociological factors, for example, the number of disciples that the particular scientist taught, and how well he was capable of “selling” his opinions to the members of other fields of science or the lay public.Of course, chance is another important factor, specifically the preferences and knowledge, prejudices and experience of the individual top scientists that gradually enter the particular field.Scientific progress is possible even under these conditions; however, this tends to be driven rather by a cumulative increase in the technical capabilities of science than by a cumulative increase in the amount of scientific knowledge. .
The real history of a field of science is certainly very interesting from the viewpoint of a historian of science; however, it is very complicated and its inclusion in a textbook on the particular field would tend to be rather gratuitous.This would be attractive reading, but would not fulfill its main purpose – it would be of little assistance in helping students and scientists to understand the particular field.The textbook version of the history of the field is far more useful for this purpose.This is always a more-or-less subjective view of the proponents of a certain scientific school about the emergence and development of their own theory.The authors of the relevant chapters do, of course, not lie directly, or at least generally not consciously, but only omit facts that they find unsuitable or unimportant for their “story” and emphasize and stress those that support their version of history.This frequently leads to quite a clear, logically ordered story of how the particular science progressed, thanks to gradual accumulation of knowledge and ideas, from the originally imperfect or even erroneous hypotheses to hypotheses and theories that were increasingly correct, until they quite logically ended up at the single absolutely correct theory, i.e. the theory whose proponent just happens to be the author of the historical survey.In this chapter, I will attempt to very briefly outline a scheme of the history of evolutionary biology as it appears from my certainly subjective point of view.