Does the extended evolutionary synthesis entail extended explanatory power?

Biology and Philosophy 35 (1):1-22 (2020)

Abstract

Biologists and philosophers of science have recently called for an extension of evolutionary theory. This so-called ‘extended evolutionary synthesis’ seeks to integrate developmental processes, extra-genetic forms of inheritance, and niche construction into evolutionary theory in a central way. While there is often agreement in evolutionary biology over the existence of these phenomena, their explanatory relevance is questioned. Advocates of EES posit that their perspective offers better explanations than those provided by ‘standard evolutionary theory’. Still, why this would be the case is unclear. Usually, such claims assume that EES’s superior explanatory status arises from the pluralist structure of EES, its different problem agenda, and a growing body of evidence for the evolutionary relevance of developmental phenomena. However, what is usually neglected in this debate is a discussion of what the explanatory standards of EES actually are, and how they differ from prevailing standards in SET. In other words, what is considered to be a good explanation in EES versus SET? To answer this question, we present a theoretical framework that evaluates the explanatory power of different evolutionary explanations of the same phenomena. This account is able to identify criteria for why and when evolutionary explanations of EES are better than those of SET. Such evaluations will enable evolutionary biology to find potential grounds for theoretical integration.

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Author Profiles

Alejandro Fábregas-Tejeda
Ruhr-Universität Bochum
Jan Baedke
Ruhr-Universität Bochum