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Title: Natural selection and natural processes : a philosophical examination of the processes of evolution
Author: Beckley, Colin
Awarding Body: Oxford Brookes University
Current Institution: Oxford Brookes University
Date of Award: 2012
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This thesis concerns evolution and how it is explained. The ambition here is to identify clearly the many aspects of evolution, and to evaluate past and present explanations of evolution for their coherence and validity. Historically natural selection has been taken to be the central and main explanans, with other explanations playing lesser roles. Here it will be argued that the sheer complexity and diversity within nature cannot be accounted for by any single explanatory mechanism and that a plurality of explanatory mechanisms is required. Loading natural selection with the main weight of explanation is an overburden which, far from strengthening its explanatory powers, actually renders it vacuous. A critical historical and philosophical examination of the concept of natural selection reveals that it has never received a formal scientific definition that commands universal respect. This has created a problem of demarcation between that which natural selection can legitimately be said to explain and that which it cannot. In fact, the ontology of natural selection is equivocal, giving rise to the many controversies that have plagued evolutionary biology. The disambiguation of the concept of natural selection is the principle aim of this thesis and guidelines on how this should be accomplished are provided. However, should these reforming guidelines fail to achieve a consensus then a more radical alternative is proposed. It is recommended that the selective terminology is replaced with the less anomalous and demanding principle of ‘meeting the conditions of existence’. Moreover, talk of the evolution and origins by means of natural selection is to be replaced by talk of evolution and origins by means of natural processes. Finally, drawing from a ‘Structuralist’ alternative, it will be demonstrated that biological evolution should not be divorced from general or cosmological evolution. Rather, elucidation should be drawn more deeply from the fields of physics, chemistry, mathematics and topology, without the use of selection-tinted spectacles.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral