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
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
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
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.