Evolutionary and Newtonian Forces
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A number of recent papers have criticized what they call the dynamical interpretation of evolutionary theory found in Elliott Sober’s The Nature of Selection. Sober argues that we can think of evolutionary theory as a theory of forces analogous to Newtonian mechanics. These critics argue that there are several important disanalogies between evolutionary and Newtonian forces: Unlike evolutionary forces, Newtonian forces can be considered in isolation, they have source laws, they compose causally in a straightforward way, and they are intermediate causes in causal chains. Here we defend and extend the forces analogy by arguing that each of these criticisms is based on a misunderstanding of Newtonian forces. Our discussion also has the interesting consequence that natural selection turns out to be more similar to forces such as friction and elastic forces rather than the more canonical gravitation.