Selection does not operate primarily on genes

In Francisco José Ayala & Robert Arp (eds.), Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Biology. Wiley-Blackwell (2010)
This chapter offers a review of standard views about the requirements for natural selection to shape evolution and for the sorts of ‘units’ on which selection might operate. It then summarizes traditional arguments for genic selectionism, i.e., the view that selection operates primarily on genes (e.g., those of G. C. Williams, Richard Dawkins, and David Hull) and traditional counterarguments (e.g., those of William Wimsatt, Richard Lewontin, and Elliott Sober, and a diffuse group based on life history strategies). It then offers a series of responses to the arguments, based on more contemporary considerations from molecular genetics, offered by Carmen Sapienza. A key issue raised by Sapienza concerns the degree to which a small number of genes might be able to control much of the variation relevant to selection operating on such selectively critical organs as hearts. The response to these arguments suggests that selection acts on many levels at once and that sporadic selection, acting with strong effects, can act successively on different key traits (and genes) while maintaining a balance among many potentially conflicting demands faced by organisms within an evolving lineage.
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