Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 22, Issue 4, pp 565–578 | Cite as

Is convergence more than an analogy? Homoplasy and its implications for macroevolutionary predictability

  • Russell Powell
Original Paper


A number of authors have pointed to “convergent evolution” as evidence for the central role of natural selection in shaping predictable trajectories of macroevolution. However, there are numerous conceptual and empirical difficulties that arise in broadly appealing to the frequency of homoplasy as evidence for a non-contingently constrained adaptational design space. Most important is the need to distinguish between convergent (externally constrained) and parallel (internally constrained) evolution, and to consider how the respective frequencies of these significantly different sources of homoplasy affect a strong adaptationist view of life. In this paper, I critically evaluate Simon Conway Morris’s use of the homoplasy literature to support his argument for a non-contingent, counterfactually stable account of macroevolutionary pattern. In so doing, I offer a conception of parallelism which avoids the charge that it differs from convergence merely in degree and not in kind. I argue that although organisms sharing a homoplastic trait will also share varying degrees of homology, it is the underlying developmental homology with respect to the generators directly causally responsible for the homoplastic event that defines parallel evolution and non-arbitrarily distinguishes it from convergence. The notion of “screening-off” is used to distinguish the proximal generators of a homoplastic trait from its more distal genetic causes (such as a master control gene).


Constraint Contingency Convergence Homoplasy Macroevolution Parallelism Screening-off 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyDuke UniversityDurhamUSA

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