Is genetic drift a force?

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Synthese, ISSN: 0039-7857, Vol: 194, Issue: 6, Page: 1967-1988

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Charles H. Pence
Springer Nature, Springer (Springer Science+Business Media B.V.)
Arts and Humanities, Social Sciences
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One hotly debated philosophical question in the analysis of evolutionary theory concerns whether or not evolution and the various factors which constitute it (selection, drift, mutation, and so on) may profitably be considered as analogous to “forces” in the traditional, Newtonian sense. Several compelling arguments assert that the force picture is incoherent, due to the peculiar nature of genetic drift. I consider two of those arguments here—that drift lacks a predictable direction, and that drift is constitutive of evolutionary systems—and show that they both fail to demonstrate that a view of genetic drift as a force is untenable. I go on to diagnose the reasons for the stubborn persistence of this problem, considering two open philosophical issues and offering some preliminary arguments in support of the force metaphor.

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