Timothy Shanahan
Loyola Marymount University
Darwinian evolutionary biology has often been criticized for appealing to the notion of 'chance' in its explanations. According to some critics, such appeals exhibit the explanatory poverty of evolutionary theory. In response, defenders of Darwinism sometimes downplay the importance of 'chance' in evolution. I believe that both of these approaches are mistaken. The main thesis of this paper is that the term 'chance' encompasses a number of distinct concepts, and that at least some of these concepts serve essential explanatory functions in evolutionary biology. This claim is defended by way of an historical survey of the major concepts of 'chance' in the history of evolutionary biology, especially the concepts used by Jean Baptiste Lamarck, Charles Darwin, and Sewall Wright. An examination of their biologies shows how the concepts of 'chance' used cohere with their major scientific objectives and methods. These concepts survive and continue to function as important explanatory factors in contemporary evolutionary biology. Examples of such usage are given, and the explanatory status of 'chance' assessed
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