Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
Chance in Evolution$
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content.

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

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2019. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 23 October 2019

The Reference Class Problem in Evolutionary Biology: Distinguishing Selection from Drift

The Reference Class Problem in Evolutionary Biology: Distinguishing Selection from Drift

Chapter:
(p.145) Chapter 6 The Reference Class Problem in Evolutionary Biology: Distinguishing Selection from Drift
Source:
Chance in Evolution
Author(s):

Michael Strevens

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226401911.003.0007

Evolutionary biology distinguishes differences in survival and reproduction rates due to selection from those due to drift. The distinction is usually thought to be founded in probabilistic facts: a difference in outcomes that is due to selection is explained by differences in the probabilities relevant to survival; in drift, the probabilities are equal and the difference in lifespans is “a matter of chance”. In both cases, there is a difference in causal histories, but in drift, this differences make no contribution to the relevant probabilities. What is the rationale for ignoring these differences in a probabilistic description of evolutionary change? This is evolutionary biology’s version of philosophy of probability’s reference class problem. Skeptical answers beckon – perhaps it is something cultural or epistemological that decides what gets counted and what gets ignored. This paper uses the author’s recent work on biological probabilities (Strevens, Bigger than Chaos, 2003) and probabilistic explanation (Strevens, Depth, 2008) to argue for a more objectivist answer: the causal factors that are counted are those that make a difference to the frequencies of outcomes that determine evolutionary change. Causal factors are ignored, then, just when they are explanatorily irrelevant to the episode of evolution to be explained.

Keywords:   genetic drift, evolutionary theory, physical probability, explanation, statistical explanation, problem of reference class, method of arbitrary functions, reference class

Chicago Scholarship Online requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books within the service. Public users can however freely search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter.

Please, subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you think you should have access to this title, please contact your librarian.

To troubleshoot, please check our FAQs, and if you can't find the answer there, please contact us.