EXPLABIO aims at investigating modes of explanations in evolutionary biology, in order to assess current attempts to extend or revise the classical framework (elaborated in 1930-1950) called “Modern Synthesis,” that was centered on the crucial explanatory role of population genetics as the science of the process of evolution by natural selection. We assume that recent advances in ecology, molecular biology and evolutionary theory of development ("Evo-Devo") are characterized by novel explanatory structures and features, that call for a new account of the explanatory nature of evolutionary biology. EXPLABIO will elaborate such account.
For evolutionary biologists, the space of explanations is structured along two axes, namely the two questions: “How does selection proceed?”, and “why is there selection; then a third axis concerns the mechanistic or topological character of explanations – « topological » meaning here the explanatory character of a set of properties of an abstract structure (like the a phase space, or a fitness landscape) associated to the system under study. EXPLABIO will build this space in details, achieving four interconnected tasks : investigating the explananda of natural selection as population-level explanation; exploring the modes of topological explanation at different levels and their articulation with mechanistic explanation; questioning the status of neutral processes and neutral networks as pervasive explanatory tools in ecology (i.e. Hubbell’s “neutral theory of ecology”) and evolution (i.e. Kimura’s neutralist theory of molecular evolution), and thereby the explanatory status of neutrality and randomness; and finally, addressing the role of time- and space-scale decoupling and coupling in the definition of explananda and the choice of models.
For biology, the overall outcome will consist in indications about which complementarities and antagonisms exist between rival theories and their methodologies; for philosophy, we aim at a clearer understanding of what respective roles stochasticity and determinism, population level and individual level, as well as scale separation, play in overall biology.
Les explications dans la biologie de l’évolution