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Veeger, H.

Author: Hugo Veeger
Graduation Year: 2011
Department: Theoretical philosophy
Title: Evolution, Natural Selection, Confusion
Summary:

The theory of evolution by natural selection is without question one of the most famous landmarks of science. It is widely supported by scientists and philosophers alike, and it is – in particular since the modern evolutionary synthesis that united Darwinism and Mendelian genetics – usually regarded as being the single most important biological theory.
Nevertheless there appears to be an ever-present conception among some scientists and philosophers that there is something wrong with the theory of evolution. As a consequence, the theory of evolution is regularly criticized by philosophers of science. Most of this criticism is related to the theory’s scientific merits. Evolutionary explanations have been questioned and criticized for being teleological. Natural selection has been said to be a redescription of events rather than an explanation of those events. The theory of evolution has been called pseudo-scientific because it does not generate any falsifiable predictions. The essential concept of ‘fitness’ is often regarded to be problematic because its most commonly used definition appears to be circular. This has lead to claims that the theory of evolution by natural selection itself is circular, or tautological, and thus not scientific.
I will argue that much of the controversies surrounding the theory of evolution by natural selection are caused by confusion of the theory’s scope and structure, and that this confusion can be prevented by adopting a new interpretation of the theory of evolution, proposed in this thesis.
Following this interpretation, it becomes clear that the theory of evolution by natural selection is a refutable theory that makes testable predictions. These predictions are comparable to the prediction of the neutrino and Higgs particles; analogously the discovery of DNA, genes, random mutations, and their influences on organisms should be regarded as a powerful corroboration.
Claims that the theory of evolution is tautological are ill-informed and based on the presumption that the theory of evolution and the principle of natural selection are identical. I will show that natural selection should be regarded as a principle that can apply to a certain kind of system, and that one of the claims of the theory of evolution is that it applies to life on earth.
Previously proposed solutions to these tautology challenges have instead focussed on reinterpreting the concept of ‘fitness’. I will show that the most widely accepted of these solutions – the propensity interpretation – suffers from the infamous reference class problem, which allows us to define an organism’s environment in a way that restores the tautological character of fitness.
Laatst gewijzigd:01 november 2013 14:11