Evolution by Natural Selection: Confidence, Evidence and the Gap, 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Evolution by Natural Selection

Confidence, Evidence and the Gap, 1st Edition

By Michaelis Michael

CRC Press

159 pages | 6 B/W Illus.

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pub: 2015-12-09
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A persistent argument among evolutionary biologists and philosophers revolves around the nature of natural selection. Evolution by Natural Selection: Confidence, Evidence and the Gap explores this argument by using a theory of persistence as an intentional foil to examine ways in which similar theories can be misunderstood. It discusses Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection, including what the theory says, what it aims to explain, and how it manages to explain natural selection.

Darwin’s theory is so familiar today that it feels universally understood. However, the fact that there are so divergent views about the theory means that not everyone who thinks he or she understands it can be right. This book describes the history of evolutionary theory as a sequence of theoretical developments, not all of which can be considered improvements. In particular, it suggests that some attempts to use the theory of natural selection end up reshaping the concepts involved so that they can be applied more easily to the world. As a result, the theory is stripped of some of its explanatory power and becomes detached from the empiricism that good scientific examination requires.

With these issues in mind, Evolution by Natural Selection shows there are aspects of the theory of natural selection that are not totally understood. These misunderstandings create problems in uses of the theory. At a time when selectionist explanations are being brought forward to explain an ever-widening range of phenomena, this book analyzes the explanatory structure of Darwin’s theory. It takes a much-needed thoughtful look into the working parts of the theory of natural selection to provide better understanding of the theory and its role in contemporary science and life.

Table of Contents


What Is Evolution?

What Was Darwin Trying to Explain?


The Circularity Argument

The Simple Circularity Argument

Modified Versions of the Circularity Argument

Bad Reasons to Dismiss the Circularity Argument

The Real Problem Raised by the Arguments: No Explanations


Resolving the Problem of Circularity

What Is Fitness?

Fitness and Adaptation: The Key Concepts

Fitness and Probability

Rejecting the Idea of Fitness as a Probability

Tendency to Survive—Fitness as a Disposition

Defining Natural Selection



Darwin’s Key Argument for Evolution by Natural Selection

The Argument Darwin Uses

A Proto-Theory of Natural Selection


Explanation, Causation, and Counterfactuals

Natural Selection as Explanation of Evolution

Natural Selection, Causation, and Counterfactual Dependence

Natural Selection and Functional Explanation

Optimal Creation

Functional Explanation and Counterfactual Dependence

Does Chance Play a Role in Darwin’s Theory?

Extensionalist Reductionism, Causation, and Explanation: The Case of the Identity Theory of Mind

Arguing against the Identity Thesis

Skeptical Reactions

Reducing "Being Unlocked": A Parallel Case?

Functionalism and the Denial of the Identity Thesis

Explanations and Reductions

Genetic Determinism and Genetic Reductionism


Philip Henry Gosse and the Geological Knot

Expertise and the Openness of Scientific Knowledge

Religion and Science

Popper’s Doubts about Darwinism

Reconciliation by Displacement

Is Evolutionary Theory Scientific?

The Positivist Story: Inductive Logic and Confirmation

The Paradox of Confirmation

The Bayesian Response

Karl Popper’s Demarcation of Science

Is Evolutionary Theory Falsifiable?

Lessons about Falsification and Science

Science and Evolution: What the Science Guy Could Have Said


Heritability of Characteristics: The Role of Genetics and Epigenetics

Genotypes and Phenotypes

The Functional Relationship between Genotype and Phenotype

Insulation: The Contrast between "Genetic" and "Environmental" Traits

Genetics as a Mechanism of Heredity

Heritability: Different Notions

Genes as a Mechanism, not the Meaning of Heredity

What Heritability Tells Us about the Genetic Perspective on Evolution

What Does Epigenetics Do to the Theory of Natural Selection?

The Nature/Nurture Debate

English Is Biologically Heritable


Concluding Remarks

About the Author

Michaelis Michael studied zoology and philosophy at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, before receiving his PhD in philosophy from Princeton University. He works across a number of areas in philosophy, from human rights to formal logic. He has recently published articles and contributed chapters on the role of noncognitive factors in religious conversion, on the metaphysics of the mind, and against the idea of adopting deviant logics to deal with inconsistent theories in science.

About the Series

Species and Systematics

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
NATURE / Animals / General
SCIENCE / Life Sciences / Botany
SCIENCE / Life Sciences / Evolution
SCIENCE / Life Sciences / General