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Toward a New Picture of the Causalist/Statisticalist Debate in Evolution

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posted on 27.01.2020, 20:19 by Charles Pence
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For almost two decades now, debate on the foundations of evolutionary theory has centered around the question of whether the processes described by evolution (paradigmatically including, but importantly not limited to, natural selection and genetic drift) are causal, or are merely statistical summaries of causal events which occur in the lives and deaths of individual organisms. Surprisingly, however, there is little agreement even about what is truly at issue in this debate. Is it the definitions of selection and drift? The scope of evolutionary theory or population genetics? The definition of a causal process? The empirical characteristics of selection or drift? The historical models at play in the Modern Synthesis? In this talk, I’ll try to offer a novel reconstruction of the problem that can do justice to a number of positions in the debate, neither trivializing them nor rendering them separate beyond constructive debate with one another. I hope this will constitute a first step toward moving forward on an otherwise stalled debate.