Probabilistic causation and the explanatory role of natural selection

Abstract
The explanatory role of natural selection is one of the long-term debates in evolutionary biology. Nevertheless, the consensus has been slippery because conceptual confusions and the absence of a unified, formal causal model that integrates different explanatory scopes of natural selection. In this study we attempt to examine two questions: (i) What can the theory of natural selection explain? and (ii) Is there a causal or explanatory model that integrates all natural selection explananda? For the first question, we argue that five explananda have been assigned to the theory of natural selection and that four of them may be actually considered explananda of natural selection. For the second question, we claim that a probabilistic conception of causality and the statistical relevance concept of explanation are both good models for understanding the explanatory role of natural selection. We review the biological and philosophical disputes about the explanatory role of natural selection and formalize some explananda in probabilistic terms using classical results from population genetics. Most of these explananda have been discussed in philosophical terms but some of them have been mixed up and confused. We analyze and set the limits of these problems.
Keywords Natural selection  Natural selection explananda  Creativity of natural selection  Complex adaptations  Probabilistic causation  Explanatory relevance  Contrasting context
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsc.2011.03.001
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References found in this work BETA
Natural Theology.William Paley - 2007 - In Elizabeth Schmidt Radcliffe, Richard McCarty, Fritz Allhoff & Anand Vaidya (eds.), Late Modern Philosophy: Essential Readings with Commentary. Blackwell.
Functional Analysis.Robert C. Cummins - 1975 - Journal of Philosophy 72 (November):741-64.
Natural Selection as a Population-Level Causal Process.Roberta L. Millstein - 2006 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57 (4):627-653.

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Citations of this work BETA
Selection Explanations of Token Traits.Brian McLoone - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (3):342-346.
Did Darwin Really Answer Paley’s Question?Björn Brunnander - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (3):309-311.
Complexity, Adaptive Complexity and the Creative View of Natural Selection.Pablo Razeto-Barry - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (3):312-315.

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