Foundations of Evolutionary Theory

Project leaders: Tom Dickins, Jonathan Birch

This project addresses core issues in evolutionary theory. Jonathan Birch works on the foundational concepts introduced in the 1960s by W. D. Hamilton that changed the way we think about how social behaviour evolved. He introduced three key innovations –  Hamilton's rule, kin selection, and inclusive fitness – and his pioneering work kick-started a research program now known as social evolution theory.  Tom Dickins is concerned with recent discussion about whether or not the Modern Synthesis - the marriage of Darwinian evolution and genetics, via population genetics - is in need of an extension in order to incorporate recent findings in epigenetics and evolutionary developmental biology.


Core questions

  • What is the scope of the Modern Synthesis?  What should it address and what can it not address?
  • What, if any, is the causal relationship between ontogeny and phylogeny?
  • How is fitness used and are those uses supported?
  • What are the varieties of kin selection theory and do they hold?



  • Thomas E. Dickins, Benjamin J.A. Dickins (2023). Evolutionary Biology: Contemporary and Historical Reflections Upon Core Theory. Springer
  • Dickins, T. E. (2021). The Modern Synthesis: Evolution and the Organization of Information. Springer.
  • Birch, J. (forthcoming). Kin Selection, Group Selection, and the Varieties of Population Structure. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science.

  • Birch, J. (2017). The Inclusive Fitness Controversy: Finding a Way Forward. Royal Society Open Science 4.

  • Birch, J. (2016). Hamilton’s Two Conceptions of Social Fitness. Philosophy of Science 83 (5):848-860.

  • Birch, J. (2016). Natural Selection and the Maximization of Fitness. Biological Reviews 91 (3):712-727.

  • Birch, J. & Okasha, S. (2015). Kin Selection and Its Critics. BioScience 65 (1):22-32.

  • Dickins, T.E. & Dickins, B.J.A. (2018.) The Extent of the Modern Synthesis: The Foundational Framework for Evolutionary Biology. In: W. Burggren & B. Dubanksy [Eds.] Development and Environment. Springer. Pp. 155-176. 2017

  • Coall, D.A., Callan, A., Dickins, T.E., & Chisholm, J.S. (2015.) Prenatal Development: An Evolutionary Perspective. In: M. Lamb [Ed.] Handbook of Child Psychology and Developmental Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pp. 57-105

  • Scott-Phillips, T.C., Laland, K.N., Shuker, D.M., Dickins, T.E., & West, S.A. (2014.) The niche construction perspective: A critical appraisal. Evolution; doi: 10.1111/evo.12332

  • Dickins, T.E. & Barton, R.A. (2013.) Reciprocal causation and the proximate-ultimate distinction. Biology and Philosophy, 28 (5), 747-756

  • Dickins, T.E. & Rahman, Q. (2013.) Epigenetic adaptations: A reply to Suter, Boffelli and Martin. Proceedings of the Royal Society, B.; doi: 10:1098/rspb.2013.1820

  • Dickins, T.E. & Rahman, Q. (2012.) The Extended Evolutionary Synthesis and the role of soft inheritance in evolution. Proceedings of the Royal Society, B., 279, 2913-2921; doi: 10.1098/rspb.2012.0273 

  • Scott-Phillips, T., Dickins, T.E., & West, S.A. (2011.) Evolutionary theory and the ultimate/proximate distinction in the human behavioural sciences. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 6 (1), 38-47 

  • Dickins, T.E. & Dickins, B.J.A. (2008.) Mother Nature’s Tolerant Ways: Why non-genetic inheritance has nothing to do with evolution. New Ideas in Psychology, 26, 41-54