David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Journal of Philosophy 104 (10):489-516 (2007)
Both biologists and philosophers often make use of simple verbal formulations of necessary and sufficient conditions for evolution by natural selection (ENS). Such summaries go back to Darwin's Origin of Species (especially the "Recapitulation"), but recent ones are more compact.1 Perhaps the most commonly cited formulation is due to Lewontin.2 These summaries tend to have three or four conditions, where the core requirement is a combination of variation, heredity, and fitness differences. The summaries are employed in several ways. First, they are often used in pedagogical contexts, and in showing the coherence of evolutionary theory in response to attacks from outside biology. Second, they are important in discussions of extensions of evolutionary principles to new domains, such as cultural change. The summaries also have intrinsic scientific and philosophical interest as attempts to capture some core principles of evolutionary theory in a highly concise way. Despite their prominence, both the proper formulation and status of these summaries are unclear. Standard formulations are subject to counterexamples, and their relations to formal models of evolutionary change are not straightforward. Here I look closely at these verbal summaries, and at how they relate to formal models. Are the summaries merely rough approximations that have no theoretical role of their own? Perhaps they could operate as theoretical statements in Darwin's time, but have now been superseded by more exact treatments.
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