Evolutionary chance and contingency: in search for systematics
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Although Darwin has been celebrated for uncovering the role of chance in evolution, he was no chance aficionado. Darwin did not like the term; echoing the intellectual consensus of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, he often relegated chance to ignorance. Over the course of Darwin’s lifetime, this consensus was beginning to unravel. A great enthusiasm for using statistical methods developed, especially in the social sciences, but Darwin was not infected by it. The potential to utilize statistical methods to study evolution became apparent only later through the contributions of biometricians and population geneticists.
Nonetheless, Darwin didchampion the role of chance in evolution, albeit in a different sense. Darwin pioneered a use of the term that would become specific to evolutionary theory: natural variations are the result of chance, in the sense that they are not occasioned by their adaptive benefits. Put differently, variations arise independently of their fitness...