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The question refers to a paper by Ernst Mayr, who was an eminent biologist on the field of the modern theory of evolution, Modern Synthesis. Mayr introduced and answered the title question in a short essay. It was published in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society from 1995, see Darwin's impact on modern thought, and also later as Darwin's influence.

  1. Mayr adresses six topics where in each case Darwins theory changed the Zeitgeist. I just list the keywords, for the details of the argumentation I refer to Mayr’s paper from 1995 (9 pages):

    • Against creationism: “Natural selection is the cause of order and harmony in nature. There is no need to invoke divine design.”
    • Against anthropocentrism: Man is not “something entirely different from the rest of creation.” Hence it is not justified “to look at everything from his specialized viewpoint.”
    • Against essentialism: The concept of essences with strict boundaries between the corresponding classes is superseded by thinking in populations, where every individual is different from each other individual.
    • Against physicalism: Darwin “opposed the ideology of classical physics, as it had developed […] under the influence of Newton.”
      According to Mayr Darwin instead stresses “probabilism, the importance of emergence, population thinking, quality, and importance of observation and comparison”.
    • Against cosmic teleology: “The modern analysis of teleology has shown that all evidence seemingly supporting cosmic teleology can be explained quite readily by natural causes.”
    • Concerning free will: The Zeitgeist of Darwin’s time struggled with the question “How could anyone be responsible for his actions if they were dictated by his genetic makeup, his environment, by universal laws, or, worse by God?”
      Mayr ascribes to Darwin the viewpoint: “What we have, then, is a freedom of the will, a capacity of decision making which, however, is rather severly restricted by our biological constitutions, our upbringings, and prevailing circumstances.”
  2. Assume a referee for a peer-review is comissioned by the editor of a philosophical journal: What could the referee mention as his/her summary concerning Mayr’s paper:

    • Importance of the subject,
    • originality of the paper,
    • quality of arguments,
    • possible objections,
    • and eventually making a recommendation of either acceptance, requesting changes, or rejecting the paper?

Note. This question results from an exchange of ideas on this platform with @Marco Ocram. On request I can email Mayr's original paper from 1994.

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  • It's always odd to see someone framing evolution in terms of Darwin (usually it's creationists who do so, although Mayr is an evolutionary biologist). Yes, Darwin played a pivotal role in putting together the theory of evolution, but it was built on earlier work, and a whole lot of subsequent work supports it as well. It was accepted less because of Darwin's influence, and more because of the strength of the evidence supporting it. Not to understate Darwin's work and contribution, but it seems somewhat inevitable that humanity would come up with it eventually.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Mar 20 at 22:21
  • @NotThatGuy The superiority of Darwin's theory is that it explains how species emerge and has much empirical evidence to back it up. But many people considered various versions of evolutionary theory before Darwin, notably his grandfather (Erasmus Darwin). I think the inevitability, as you put it, of Darwin's theory can be said to be a great counterexample to Newton's insistence on non positing hypotheses in empirical science. Newton was, strictly speaking, talking about experimental philosophy, but some philosophers of science extend his results to other fields. Commented Mar 20 at 22:58
  • If someone hadn't speculated, before Darwin, about evolution, even without much empirical evidence (which is very unprobable, exactly because such theory is inevitable), it's hard to imagine anyone coming up with such an explanation. Yet some historians of science who focus only on experimental sciences, like physics, forget about that when criticizing (like ex. Feyerabend does, albeit, I believe, for slightly different reasons) Galileo's, Kepler's etc. cosmological speculations (to show that the great scientists weren't so scientific afterall). I see such speculations as nevertheless Commented Mar 20 at 23:07
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    There is always a "father of..." as being the person in the right place at the right time to get the recognition. But ideas don't pop out of a vacuum: they are themselves an evolution. I read somewhere that Einstein did a deal with his wife: you'll get the money and I'll get the glory. Commented Mar 21 at 0:01
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    Jo, here's something of interest to your question: geneseo.edu/~everett/….
    – TKoL
    Commented Mar 21 at 17:53

3 Answers 3

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It has to have been pretty huge. According to the 2020 Philpapers survey, over 66% of philosophers are atheists - the vast majority of those atheists believe evolution is the driver for diversity of life on earth, and that Humans are the product of evolution from other previously existing species.

I'd be willing to bet that the percent of philosophers identifying as atheists shot up drastically as Evolution gained popularity among scientists.

Understanding humans as evolved creatures would also have been a source for many new papers and ideas on ethics and morality, social behavior, psychology, and probably politics, to name just a few affected topics within Philosophy. Understanding humans as evolved creatures could also have a profound impact on how philosophers view the relationship between humans and other life on Earth, including potentially moral responsibilities to those other creatures.

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Darwinism is similar to Newtonian physics. Seems correct on the surface but breaks down under the electron microscope. The influence of Darwinism is not about right or wrong, God or nature. It is about philosophical views: nature is real vs nature is artificial.

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    How is that anything beyond your own personal opinion, please?
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Mar 21 at 23:10
  • @PhilipKlöcking - The philosophical views of the World that is not God's creation, neither a natural phenomenon, are hard to source from academia-accepted publications. If this is an artificial creation, then both Darwin and theology are correct. You can program a new religion and a new law of physics on the same day. Commented Mar 21 at 23:36
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    To my knowledge, 99.9% of scientists would disagree that the theory of evolution "breaks down under the electron microscope". The theory of evolution accurately models and predicts what we see - how do you define being "about right or wrong", if it excludes that? Also, what does "nature is real" and "nature is artificial" mean? Even theists who reject evolution tend to accept that nature is "real". If you mean "artificial" in the sense of "made by God", then evolution is just one of many fields where we found evidence against some explanation that God did it, but many theists accept evolution.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Mar 22 at 1:59
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    @TheMatrixEquation-balance I expect there are roughly zero reputable biologists who'll say random mutations are the "sole engine of evolution" (though it depends on how you define "engine"). The mathematical problems people run into when trying to model evolution are usually creationists who do indeed try to model evolution as pure randomness, which disregards the other half of the theory of evolution: natural selection. And they ignore that different mutations occur in parallel across a population, that some mutations are more likely than others, that abiogenesis is distinct from evolution.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Mar 22 at 4:41
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    @TheMatrixEquation-balance The beginning of life is abiogenesis, which is distinct from evolution. The evolution of life across billions of years is very well-supported by evidence, regardless of what happened before that, regardless of how that started (although we certainly have some evidence supporting the origination of life). Depending on what you mean by "what drives these molecules together", either the answer is "natural selection", or evolution doesn't try to model that, similar to how a model of traffic doesn't model how car engines work - that wouldn't be a problem with evolution.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Mar 22 at 15:09
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From a biased'(unfortunately) sample of www content, I'd say atheism and Nietzsche (übermenschen) and the so called Darwinian revolution (the world doesn't revolve around "man") and of course, the delusion that all of the above follows from The Theory of Evolution. Having fun? 😁

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