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Evolutionary Biology
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Book description

Evolution - both the fact that it occurred and the theory describing the mechanisms by which it occurred - is an intrinsic and central component in modern biology. Theodosius Dobzhansky captures this well in the much-quoted title of his 1973 paper 'Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution'. The correctness of this assertion is even more obvious today: philosophers of biology and biologists agree that the fact of evolution is undeniable and that the theory of evolution explains that fact. Such a theory has far-reaching implications. In this volume, eleven distinguished scholars address the conceptual, metaphysical and epistemological richness of the theory and its ethical and religious impact, exploring topics including DNA barcoding, three grand challenges of human evolution, functionalism, historicity, design, evolution and development, and religion and secular humanism. The volume will be of great interest to those studying philosophy of biology and evolutionary biology.

Reviews

'This volume is not just an homage to Ruse, it contains provocative and creative essays by an impressive list of all-stars in the philosophy of biology.'

Richard A. Richards Source: The Quarterly Review of Biology

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Contents

  • Chapter 8 - Exploring development and evolution on the tangled bank
    pp 151-172
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    Summary

    Molecular biology has recently provided genetic evidence indicating that some interbreeding between Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis likely occurred. Erect posture and large brain are the two most conspicuous human anatomical traits. The advent of culture has brought with it cultural evolution, a superorganic mode of evolution superimposed on the organic mode, which has, in the last few millennia, become the dominant mode of human evolution. Ethics and ethical behavior may serve as a model case of how we may seek the evolutionary explanation of a distinctively human trait. Humans evaluate their behavior as either right or wrong, moral or immoral, as a consequence of their eminent intellectual capacities, which include self-awareness and abstract thinking. Ethical behavior is an attribute of the biological make-up of humans and is, in that sense, a product of biological evolution. One major contribution of sociobiology to evolutionary theory is the notion of inclusive fitness.
  • Chapter 10 - Function and teleology
    pp 193-216
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    Summary

    Evolutionary theory, in its application to finite populations of organisms, is a probabilistic theory. To understand more precisely what is involved in the biological claim that mutations are unguided, this chapter considers a simple experiment. The experiment involves a large number of blue organisms so that one gets mutation frequencies different from zero. If the existence of guided mutations doesn't show that God exists, then the nonexistence of guided mutations doesn't show that God does not exist. Atheists and theists should agree that the biological question is separate from the theological question. The chapter suggests that Pierre Duhem's thesis provides a good model for how biological findings about mutation are related to theistic claims about divine intervention in the mutation process. Some versions of interventionist theism, like Young Earth Creationism, are logically inconsistent with evolutionary theory. The idea that God sometimes intervenes in the mutation process is different.
  • Chapter 11 - How physics fakes design
    pp 217-238
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    Summary

    Contemporary atheism usually conceives religion as centered on a core of statements, each of them designed to correspond to the cosmic facts. Classic anthropological and sociological studies of religion often start in a different place with practices attending to the multi-dimensional character of religious life. Worlds change when people revise their ideas about the boundaries of objects or about how to classify things together or what is the normal course of a process. The chapter introduces notions of fictional truth that might be extended directly to notions of mythical and religious truth. It presents the idea of the permanent progressiveness underlying strong ethical truth, suggests introducing more stringent demands on a notion of mythical truth. Religious truth includes mythical truth, but isn't exhausted by it. There are many dimensions of religious practice, and statements play other roles besides the telling of stories or the recounting of lore.

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