David Bourget (Western Ontario)
David Chalmers (ANU, NYU)
Rafael De Clercq
Jack Alan Reynolds
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Philosophy of Science 70 (5):1317-1328 (2003)
Evolutionary theory (ET) is teeming with probabilities. Probabilities exist at all levels: the level of mutation, the level of microevolution, and the level of macroevolution. This uncontroversial claim raises a number of contentious issues. For example, is the evolutionary process (as opposed to the theory) indeterministic, or is it deterministic? Philosophers of biology have taken different sides on this issue. Millstein (1997) has argued that we are not currently able answer this question, and that even scientific realists ought to remain agnostic concerning the determinism or indeterminism of evolutionary processes. If this argument is correct, it suggests that, whatever we take probabilities in ET to be, they must be consistent with either determinism or indeterminism. This raises some interesting philosophical questions: How should we understand the probabilities used in ET? In other words, what is meant by saying that a certain evolutionary change is more or less probable? Which interpretation of probability is the most appropriate for ET? I argue that the probabilities used in ET are objective in a realist sense, if not in an indeterministic sense. Furthermore, there are a number of interpretations of probability that are objective and would be consistent with ET under determinism or indeterminism. However, I argue that evolutionary probabilities are best understood as propensities of population-level kinds.
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Lane DesAutels (2015). Toward a Propensity Interpretation of Stochastic Mechanism for the Life Sciences. Synthese 192 (9):2921-2953.
Marshall Abrams (2007). How Do Natural Selection and Random Drift Interact? Philosophy of Science 74 (5):666-679.
Marshall Abrams (2007). Fitness and Propensity's Annulment? Biology and Philosophy 22 (1):115-130.
Peter Gildenhuys (2009). An Explication of the Causal Dimension of Drift. British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 60 (3):521-555.
Joseph Berkovitz & Philippe Huneman (2015). On Probabilities in Biology and Physics. Erkenntnis 80 (3):433-456.
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