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David Steffes

David Steffes

Post Doctorate Fellow, School of Life Sciences, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

School of Life Scieences
Arizona State University
PO Box 874501
Tempe, AZ 85287-4501


  • Post Doctorate Fellow, School of Life Sciences, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences


Dr. Steffes studies the history and philosophy of biology (late 19th and 20th centuries), and the interface of biology with society. His historical interests concern the foundation and development of genetics, population genetics, ecology, population ecology, ecological genetics, and the relationship of these fields with the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis of the 40s and 50s (as indicated through their leading figures, forums, and theoretical contributions). In the past year, the weight of his attention has been on the complex relationship between population ecology and evolutionary biology during the Synthesis period.

A common thread throughout his research is an emphasis on the role that philosophy has played in the conceptualization and construction of biological theory and corresponding methods, particularly as found in the pioneering works of population theory and systems theory. In the 20th century, and especially during the limelight of positivism and behaviorism, many biologists played down their philosophical predispositions. However, a handful of the biologists whom he has researched were systematic philosophers (as opposed to analytic philosophers), and were strongly attracted to the work of Alfred North Whitehead, Charles Hartshorne, and the process philosophy tradition they helped found. He am looking at how "process thinking" might have shaped the intellectual development of programs in genetics, ecology, and evolutionary biology.

The other half of his research is focused on the interface of biology and society. He is specifically interested in how biologists' understanding of environmental problems informed and shaped public perceptions of "environmental crisis" during the Post-WWII period. Professional ecologists achieved unprecedented status within the environmentalist milieu of the 1960s and 70s, as the public placed high demands on ecologists for addressing the world's ills (famously, TIME Magazine hailed 1969 "the year of ecology" and in 1970, Newsweek proclaimed the rise of the "Age of Ecology" wherein ecologists would take stage as both religious prophets and educators). In his work he looks at the increasing role of ecology and "ecological thinking" in the agenda of the World Council of Churches during the 1960s and 70s, as the leading Protestant ecumenical body strove to assimilate environmental ethics and environmental advocacy into its global missions. The central figure in his research is Charles Birch, professional ecologist at the University of Sydney (1948-1984) and longtime member of the Student Christian Movement, who in 1970 joined the WCC and served as its Vice-Moderator on Church and Society affairs for 13 years. Birch synthesized philosophical and theological principles with his scientific concern for population growth, resource depletion, pollution, and biodiversity loss, assisting the WCC in acquiring a vision for "ecologically sustainable society" (helping to invent the phrase in 1972).


  • PhD, History of Science, University of Oklahoma, 2008