Philosophy of Science 76 (2):201-224 (2009)
|Abstract||We have argued elsewhere that: (A) Natural selection is not a cause of evolution. (B) A resolution-of-forces (or vector addition) model does not provide us with a proper understanding of how natural selection combines with other evolutionary influences. These propositions have come in for criticism recently, and here we clarify and defend them. We do so within the broad framework of our own “hierarchical realization model” of how evolutionary influences combine.|
|Keywords||natural selection statistical interpretation of natural selection reification of natural selection|
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Università degli Studi di Roma "La Sapienza"
Received views are an important part of our symbolic order. Once it becomes apparent that they cannot possibly be true, it is sometimes a valuable philosophical task to preserve them, since no rational and educated person could actually believe them. As an example of a critically endangered received view, consider Jerry Coyne's excellent book, Why Evolution Is True:
[T]he process of evolution -- natural selection, the mechanism that drove the first naked, replicating molecule into the diversity of millions of fossil and living forms -- is a mechanism of staggering simplicity and beauty.The received view is that natural selection is a mechanism or process that shapes all living things, and that the study of natural selection explains a lot about the history of life on Earth. Natural selection makes it possible to treat the billion years of organic evolution as a coherent narrative, making biology an endless reserve of wonder, understanding, and enjoyment.
Matthen and Ariew (2002, e ... (read more)
Notwithstanding the arguments of Matthen&Ariew, there is still a simple and banal sense in which "natural selection is a cause of evolution". I presume Matthen & Ariew would not dispute that complex adaptations arise as the cumulative effect of the selection of genes. So the selection of genes causes the evolution of complex adaptations.
As far as I can see, this claim is compatible with seeing the "selection" here as a statistical trend (or "outcome") rather than a causal process (or "force"). Of course, if by "evolution", one merely means "change in gene frequencies", it would be questionable to call selection a cause of evolution for all the reasons Matthen & Ariew give. But if one means "evolution of complex adaptations", selection most certainly is a cause, however one conceives of selection.