The NCBI talks about "Evolution beyond neo-Darwinism: a new conceptual framework." (source).

What is the difference between the Modern Synthesis and the Extended Synthesis?


1 Answer 1


The term Extended Synthesis has been invented very recently and the concept was defended in these two papers

I read each paper when it came out and haven't reread them since. Here is a short summary of what I remember.

Those who want to use term Extended Synthesis

In short, they are arguing new findings have extended our understanding of evolutionary biology so much so that we should rename our theory of evolution. The main findings they are talking about concern the field of evo-devo (merging Evolutionary biology and Developmental biology). The subjects that they consider having radically advanced our understanding of evolutionary biology include niche construction and inheritance of niche, developmental bias, plasticity, cultural evolution and epigenetics.

Those who do not want to use term Extended Synthesis

We have discussed both papers in groups in my department and in short, we pretty much all ended up saying that:

It is true that our understanding of evolutionary processes have advanced a lot since the time of Wright, Fisher, Muller, Kimura, and others. However...

  1. There is no important enough rethinking that deserves a renaming of our Theory of Evolution
  2. Most arguments are based on rephrasing of old concept without bringing anything new. This is especially obvious when reading the 2015 paper.
  3. Do we really care about this debate anyway? It is just a name!


I recommend reading the 2014 paper as 1) offer both point of views and 2) is pretty short.


I do not know your level of knowledge in evolutionary biology but it might be a pretty bad idea to start with complicated subjects such as evo-devo, niche construction, epigenetics, developmental bias, etc...

  • $\begingroup$ As far as I know, Neo-Darwinian mechanisms rely heavily on Darwin's proposed evolutionary mechanisms plus the Mendellian genetics but both were insufficient and even contrary to scientific data. On the other hand, the Extended Synthesis is supported by scientific data. In fact, those who hold onto the Extended Synthesis can explain how organisms evolve (empirically than theoretically) than either Darwin or Neo-Darwinists can. $\endgroup$
    – R. Brown
    Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 4:40
  • $\begingroup$ Yes the basis of what we called neo-darwinism or the Modern synthesis of Evolution is pretty much merging the work of Darwin and Mendel. This work of the early 21th century was heavily supported by evidence (where di you read the opposite?). A lot of work has been done since then and our knowledge have gradually improved. When referring to the Modern synthesis we usually include today's knowledge and not only the knowledge we had in the 1940s. $\endgroup$
    – Remi.b
    Commented Dec 4, 2015 at 21:36

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