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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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Weak Randomness at the Origin of Biological Variation: The Case of Genetic Mutations

Weak Randomness at the Origin of Biological Variation: The Case of Genetic Mutations

(p.176) Chapter 7 Weak Randomness at the Origin of Biological Variation: The Case of Genetic Mutations
Chance in Evolution

Francesca Merlin

University of Chicago Press

The concept of chance, when used to characterize genetic mutation, has often been analyzed and defined from the evolutionary point of view, i.e., looking at the relationship between mutation, selection, and adaptation. More precisely, chance mutation in this sense means that the mutation is not specifically provoked with a view to the adaptation of the organism concerned. However, genetic mutations, as other sources of biological variation (e.g., recombination), are said to be “chancy” or “random” events from the molecular point of view as well, and no philosophical analysis of this discourse has been developed until now. Which notion of chance is invoked in this context? The present chapter provides an answer to this question by introducing and defining two notions of randomness: “strong randomness” and “weak randomness”. On the basis of recent research advances on the mutational process and its biased character, I show that all genetic mutations are “weakly random” molecular events. I conclude the chapter by replying to three possible objections that might be raised against my view.

Keywords:   chance, randomness, stochasticity, mutation, mutational biases, biological variation, molecular level

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