Probability, Indeterminism and Biological Processes

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Werndl, Charlotte
preprint description
Probability and indeterminism have always been core philosophical themes. This paper aims to contribute to understanding probability and indeterminism in biology. To provide the background for the paper, it will first be argued that an omniscient being would not need the probabilities of evolutionary theory to make predictions about biological processes. However, despite this, one can still be a realist about evolutionary theory, and then the probabilities in evolutionary theory refer to real features of the world. This prompts the question of how to interpret biological probabilities which correspond to real features of the world but are in principle dispensable for predictive purposes. This paper will suggest three possible interpretations. The first interpretation is a propensity interpretation of kinds of systems. It will be argued that backward probabilities in biology do not present a problem for this propensity interpretation. The second interpretation is the frequency interpretation. Third, I will suggest Humean chances are a new interpretation of probability in evolutionary theory. Finally, this paper discusses Sansom’s argument that biological processes are indeterministic because probabilities in evolutionary theory refer to real features of the world. It will be argued that Sansom’s argument is not conclusive, and that the question whether biological processes are deterministic or indeterministic is still with us.