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Chance in Evolution$
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Grant Ramsey and Charles H. Pence

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780226401744

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226401911.001.0001

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Chance in the Modern Synthesis

Chance in the Modern Synthesis

(p.76) Chapter 3 Chance in the Modern Synthesis
Chance in Evolution

Anya Plutynski

Kenneth Blake Vernon

Lucas John Matthews

Daniel Molter

University of Chicago Press

The “modern synthesis” in evolutionary biology involved agreement upon a core theoretical framework in biology, the collection, integration and popular communication of a variety of different types of empirical data in support of evolution, and rhetorical and institutional transformations in the discipline. This chapter classifies the key senses of “chance” deployed by (selected) major synthesis authors, and discusses whether and why they regard chance as a more or less significant factor in evolution. As illustrated below, the sense of “chance” intended in any particular author’s work is often a matter of context: different authors mean different things by “chance,” and have different contrasts in mind. Nonetheless, we conclude that there is general agreement on core ways in which “chance” is understood, and core ways in which it’s agreed to play a causal role in evolution. Finally, we concur with Gould that there was a “hardening” of the synthesis, and document a pendulum shift from viewing chance as a relatively minor, to rather more significant, and then less significant causal factor in evolution over the course of the period spanning 1920-1950.

Keywords:   modern synthesis, theoretical population genetics, mutation, genetic drift, chance, randomness, probability, contingency, founder effect, speciation

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