Evidence and evolution

I have received the book Evidence and Evolution: The Logic Behind the Science by Elliott Sober to review. The book is written by a philosopher of science who has worked on the notion of evidence, in the statistical meaning of the word. I am currently reading the first chapter which is fairly well written and which presents a reasonable picture on the different perspectives (Bayesian, likelihood, frequentist) used for hypothesis testing and model choice. Akaike’s information criterion is a wee too much promoted but that’s the author’s choice after all. However I just came yesterday upon a section where Sober reproduces the error central to Templeton’s thesis and discussed on the Og a few days ago. He indeed states that “the simpler model cannot have the higher prior probability—a point that Popper (1959) emphasized.” And he insists further that there is no reason for thinking that

$P(\theta=0) > P(\theta>0)$

is true (page 84). (The measure-theoretic objections raised earlier obviously apply there as well.) It must thus be more of a common misconception among philosophers of science than I previously thought….

As described on the backcover, the purpose of the book is

“How should the concept of evidence be understood? And how does the concept of evidence apply to the controversy about creationism as well as to work in evolutionary biology about natural selection and common ancestry? In this rich and wide-ranging book, Elliott Sober investigates general questions about probability and evidence and shows how the answers he develops to those questions apply to the specifics of evolutionary biology. Drawing on a set of fascinating examples, he analyzes whether claims about intelligent design are untestable; whether they are discredited by the fact that many adaptations are imperfect; how evidence bears on whether present species trace back to common ancestors; how hypotheses about natural selection can be tested, and many other issues. His book will interest all readers who want to understand philosophical questions about evidence and evolution, as they arise both in Darwin’s work and in contemporary biological research.”

Sober applies these concepts of evidence to some versions of creationism… I am obviously reluctant to go through this second chapter about creationism as there is no use in arguing about the existence of gods in a book about science, but I am still curious to see how Sober analyses this issue.

3 Responses to “Evidence and evolution”

1. […] chapter on evolution versus intelligent design made valuable points, albeit I had already seen them before. Nothing wrong with repeating those, in particular that evolution has little to do with chance, but […]

2. […] included a paper on the consequences of epigenetics on the Darwinian theory of evolution and… intelligent design. Indeed, I do not see why the inclusion of different vectors in the hereditary process would […]

3. […] by Elliott Sober. The very chapter which title is “Intelligent design”… As posted earlier, I was loth to get into this chapter for fear of being dragged into a nonsensical debate. In fact, […]

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