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.

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Citations of this work

The Creativity of Natural Selection? Part II: The Synthesis and Since.John Beatty - 2019 - Journal of the History of Biology 52 (4):705-731.
Selection Explanations of Token Traits.Brian McLoone - 2013 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 44 (3):342-346.
Population and Organismal Perspectives on Trait Origins.Brian McLoone - 2020 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 83:101288.
Natural Selection's Explanatory Scope.Brian McLoone - forthcoming - Philosophy Compass.

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