In Charles Pence & Grant Ramsey (eds.), Chance in Evolution (forthcoming)

Michael Strevens
New York University
Evolutionary biology distinguishes differences in survival and reproduction rates due to selection from those due to drift. The distinction is usually thought to be founded in probabilistic facts: a difference in (say) two variants' average lifespans over some period of time that is due to selection is explained by differences in the probabilities relevant to survival; in the purest cases of drift, by contrast, the survival probabilities are equal and the difference in lifespans is a matter of chance. When there is a difference in actual average lifespans there is always a difference in causal histories, but in drift, the causal differences make no contribution to the relevant probabilities. Some writers have claimed that the framework that determines which causes contribute to the probabilities, and so the framework that determines when the relevant probabilities differ and when they are equal, is imposed by modelers rather than being an objective fact of nature, and so that the distinction between selection and drift, however practically useful, is unreal. This paper uses my work on biological probabilities (Bigger than Chaos) and probabilistic explanation (Depth) to argue for the objectivity of, and the importance of the objectivity of, the distinction between selection and drift.
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