A Pluralist Framework to Address Challenges to the Modern Synthesis in Evolutionary Theory

Biological Theory 9 (2):163-177 (2014)
Philippe Huneman
Université paris 1
This paper uses formal Darwinism as elaborated by Alan Grafen to articulate an explanatory pluralism that casts light upon two strands of controversies running across evolutionary biology, viz., the place of organisms versus genes, and the role of adaptation. Formal Darwinism shows that natural selection can be viewed either physics-style, as a dynamics of alleles, or in the style of economics as an optimizing process. After presenting such pluralism, I argue first that whereas population genetics does not support optimization, optimality can still be taken as a default hypothesis when modeling evolutionary processes; and second, that organisms have an explanatory role in evolutionary theory, since they are involved in the economic perspective of optimization. Finally, in order to ask whether the Modern Synthesis can indeed provide a theory of organisms, I apply a Kantian-inspired theoretical view of organisms (underlying much developmental modeling), according to which they are both designed entities and subjects of intrinsic circular processes involving the whole organism and its parts. I first show that the design aspect is accountable for in terms of the Modern Synthesis understood in the formal Darwinism framework. I then question whether the latter aspect of organisms can also be ultimately captured in the same framework, and to this purpose devise an empirical test relying on an assessment of the relative weight of genetic elements in developmental and functional gene regulatory networks.
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DOI 10.1007/s13752-014-0174-y
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