Imagine a population of bears. Half have thick white fur. Half have thin black fur. In a particularly harsh winter, the bears with thin black fur all die of the cold.
What caused the bears with thick white fur to be more successful? Was it the thickness of their fur, or the whiteness? Is there a determinate answer?
Yes, there is. It was the thickness. Thickness and whiteness are different physical properties of fur. Thickness protects against cold, whereas whiteness does not.
• There is random variation of phenotypic traits.
• There is some ecological variable that is sensitive to the strength of the correlation of such traits with fitness.
• There is some mechanism that alters the relative frequency of the trait in the population so that, all else equal, it varies with the strength of the correlation between the trait and fitness.
So, we're left with a choice: either argue for massively context-sensitive laws of evolution, deny that the various special sciences are autonomous from physics and be a strong reductionist, posit some other understanding of what the sciences are doing other than describing laws, or admit that 'selection for' claims are like 'what if?' stories in history.
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