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Chance in Evolution$
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Grant Ramsey and Charles H. Pence

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780226401744

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226401911.001.0001

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Wonderful Life Revisited: Chance and Contingency in the Ediacaran-Cambrian Radiation

Wonderful Life Revisited: Chance and Contingency in the Ediacaran-Cambrian Radiation

Chapter:
(p.277) Chapter 12 Wonderful Life Revisited: Chance and Contingency in the Ediacaran-Cambrian Radiation
Source:
Chance in Evolution
Author(s):

Douglas H. Erwin

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226401911.003.0013

In his 1989 book Wonderful Life, Stephen Jay Gould employed the fossils of the middle Cambrian Burgess Shale to argue for a pervasive role of contingency in the history of life. But Gould wrote at the advent of an explosion of research in the Ediacaran-Cambrian diversification of animals, before ‘tree-thinking’ had made great inroads into the reconstruction of phylogeny, and with just the first glimmer of data on the remarkable conservation of developmental genes across major animal clades. More than twenty years on, not only have views of the Burgess Shale fossils undergone considerable change, but the role of contingency has become more widely accepted among paleobiologists. Yet much of Gould’s argument that if one ‘played the tape again’ the outcome would differ is difficult to accept. In this contribution I review new views of the Ediacaran-Cambrian explosion relevant to the role of chance in evolution as an example of a larger tension between historicity and laws in evolution.

Keywords:   Burgess Shale, Cambrian, Ediacaran, contingency, macroevolution

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