Selection, drift, and the “forces” of evolution

Philosophy of Science 71 (4):550-570 (2004)
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Recently, several philosophers have challenged the view that evolutionary theory is usefully understood by way of an analogy with Newtonian mechanics. Instead, they argue that evolutionary theory is merely a statistical theory. According to this alternate approach, natural selection and random genetic drift are not even causes, much less forces. I argue that, properly understood, the Newtonian analogy is unproblematic and illuminating. I defend the view that selection and drift are causes in part by attending to a pair of important distinctions—that between process and product and that between natural selection and fitness.



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Christopher Stephens
University of British Columbia

Citations of this work

Natural selection as a population-level causal process.Roberta L. Millstein - 2006 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 57 (4):627-653.
Four Pillars of Statisticalism.Denis M. Walsh, André Ariew & Mohan Matthen - 2017 - Philosophy, Theory, and Practice in Biology 9 (1):1-18.
Trait fitness is not a propensity, but fitness variation is.Elliott Sober - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (3):336-341.
Not a sure thing: Fitness, probability, and causation.Denis M. Walsh - 2010 - Philosophy of Science 77 (2):147-171.

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References found in this work

Philosophy of Biology.Elliott Sober - 1993 - Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press.
Philosophy of Biology.Sergio Sismondo - 1995 - Philosophical Review 104 (1):164.

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