George Romanes (1848-1894). "The Philosopher" who became Darwin's close research associate and, after Darwin's death, was a forceful advocate of the importance of reproductive isolation, rather than classical Darwinian natural selection, in the origin of species.


The Origin of Species, Revisited

A Victorian who Anticipated Modern Developments in Darwin's Theory

Thomas Henry Huxley (1825-1895), who thought that George Romanes had got it all "so hopelessly wrong." Ethel Mary Romanes (1856-1927). Author, mother of six, and wife of George Romanes. William Bateson (1861-1926), who shared Huxley's disparagment of "paper philosophers" and their "imaginary selection," but ended up adopting and extending Romanes' viewpoint.

Donald R. Forsdyke

McGill-Queen's University Press (2001)


At the turn of the 20th century Donald Forsdyke's The Origin of Species, Revisited (Sept. 2001), and Steven Jay Gould's The Structure of Evolutionary Thought (March 2002), reminded us of the hierarchy of levels at which evolutionary forces have acted to produce biological species. 

    This idea, which could be traced back to Joseph Hooker, George Romanes, William Bateson, Richard Goldschmidt, Gregory Bateson and Michael White, contrasted sharply with the classical Darwinism so prominently expounded by John Maynard Smith, and Richard Dawkins (Click Here).

     Forsdyke and Gould were in the same ideological camp, but whereas Gould's encyclopaedic book ran to 1400 pages, Forsdyke's was a mere 300. One reviewer of the former (Michael Ruse; Globe & Mail 23rd March 2002) hoped that Gould, having completed this "brontosaurus of a book, ... will now relax and write us a sparkling 300-page work, in which he condenses what he has to say." The reason for the lack of editing became evident several weeks later when the death of Gould was reported.

    In some respects the two books were complementary:

  •  Gould, a biohistorian with a "paleontological focus" lamented his "relative ignorance" of "the nature of genomes" and the "realm of the smallest," and regretted not giving "an appropriate volume of attention" to the potential neutrality of some mutations. 

  •  Forsdyke, a theoretical biologist and "laboratory scientist" admitted many historical "stones remain unturned" and craved "the indulgence of Darwin scholars."


The Origin of Species, Revisited


Prologue  1

Part 1 


1 Evolution of Languages and Species        9
2 Variation, Heredity, Phenotypic
 and Reproductive Selection
3 Darwin's Difficulties                              27
4 Hybrid Sterility                                     39
5 Physiological Selection                          47
6 Failure of Meiotic Pairing                     64
7 Conjugation of the Chromosomes         72
8 Why Sex?                                              80

Part 2 


9 Molecular Biology                                89
10 Primary and Secondary Levels 
of Information                                      
11 The Dominance of the Genome  
12 Initiation of Speciation                     117
13 Relationship to Physiological

Part 3 


14 Selfish Genes and Selfish Groups       137
15 Slow Fine-Tuning of Sequences          150
16 Fine-Tuning of RNAs                         157
17 RNAs Driving on the Wrong Side     164
18 Protein Concentration and Genetic Dominance                                            173
19 Sex Chromosomes                             183

Part 4 


20 The Philosopher                                203
21 Huxley and the Philosopher's Wife  217
22 "We Commend this State of Mind"    234
Epilogue                                                 241
References                                              243
Index                                                     265

29 Illustrations, 14 Photographs, 3 Tables.   $33 US.   $50 Can. 

ISBN 0-7735-2259-X.  Published September 2001.

For ordering information:  McGill-Queen's University Press (Click Here)

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Read the Reviews

Kortof's Review (Click Here)

"Forsdyke's book has a dual nature: historical ... and molecular genetics. This combination of historical research and modern molecular genetics is rare."

Schwartz's Review in Choice (Click Here)

"The book's key idea is that while Darwin viewed natural selection as the "prime moving force" in evolution with reproductive selection following, Romanes and John Thomas Gulick -- the American missionary and naturalists -- held that physiological or reproductive selection occurred first and then natural selection acted on variations."

Lewis's Review in The Biologist (Click Here)

"The mix of history and science, although common in popular science writing, is attempted here for a more serious readership and at a price to match. Some will congratulate the author for attempting such a feat; others will not. This leaves one a little unsure of the books potential reception. This is a pity as there is much to commend such an approach, and this book in particular."

Hall's Review in The Quarterly Review of Biology (Click Here)

"Romanes's thesis that reproductive or physiological selection occurs before selection on the rest of the phenotype is well laid out. ...What Forsdyke does is remind us that individuals other than Darwin were seeking alternate mechanisms of speciation."

Emory's Review in The J. Royal Society of Medicine (Click Here)

"This is a scholarly and very well referenced work. It will certainly appeal to all those with an interest in the thinking of Victorian philosophers and scientists as they struggled to understand how new species could arise and evolve."

Porter's Review in Heredity (Click Here)

"Neither historians of science, geneticists, molecular biologists, nor systematists may like this book, but they should read it. I have long believed that you can learn a great deal about your field by reading a publication with which you do not agree. It helps you to hone your arguments, and, if it makes you think, it was worth reading."

Charlesworth's Review in Genetical Research (Click Here)

"This book has two purposes. One is to portray the largely forgotten ideas of George Romanes on 'physiological selection' as a major contribution to our understanding of speciation. The other is to present Donald Forsdyke's own ideas on a variety of evolutionary topics, with an emphasis on speciation, but also including such questions as the evolution of dominance and dosage compensation."

Lynch's Review in Journal of the History of Biology (Click Here)

"In the years following the publication of Origin of Species, George Romanes developed his theory of physiological selection. There he posited the idea that "physiological peculiarities" lead to hybrid sterility between individuals, causing isolation that would allow natural selection to "promote diversity of character, and thus to evolve species in ramifying branches instead of linear series" (Romanes, 1886, on p. 46). He felt that these physiological peculiarities may involve the reproductive system... . Over one hundred years later, Donald Forsdyke feels that he has managed, in some degree, to finish Romanes's work."

England's Review in University of Toronto Quarterly ( Click Here)

"Revisiting the Origin of Species, Donald Forsdyke attempts to answer biological questions that have lingered since the nineteenth century, and to restore the memory of a forgotten Victorian evolutionist, George Romanes. Forsdyke, a lab scientist, explains how dna's having different levels of information leads to hybrid sterility and the creation of reproductively isolated subgroups in natural populations - or incipient species. His hunt for Victorian precursors turns up Romanes's very similar theory of 'physiological selection,' which was rejected in its day. The result is an intriguing hybrid in its own right. It blends recent science and Victorian history, scientific text with popular book, and Whig history of science with a hint of the sociology of knowledge. While it is more successful in some of these crosses than others, overall it proves an original, if somewhat challenging, work."

Badger's Review (Click Here)

"This brings us up to Forsdyke himself. Basically he seems fascinated with GC-ratios as the answer to hybrid infertility. He certainly drives the point home that different species have different GC ratios, and that GC-ratios are correlated with features of secondary structure (such as stemloops) which can interfere with DNA hybridization and thus cause infertility. "

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Last edited on 28 April, 2016 by Donald Forsdyke