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Keywords:

  • blending inheritance;
  • Charles Darwin;
  • R.A. Fisher;
  • Thomas Malthus;
  • natural selection;
  • struggle for existence

One often reads the following claims: (1) The modern conception of natural selection differs from Darwin's own conception only with respect to incidental features; (2) Natural selection is a very simple idea with enormous explanatory power. Both claims are problematic. R.A. Fisher famously argued that given a particulate view of inheritance, selection could proceed in a powerful manner even with frequent crossing, small fitness advantages and a low mutation rate. This is quite different from Darwin's view, which (roughly translated into a modern idiom) insists on infrequent crossing, large fitness advantages and a high mutation rate. The modern conception of natural selection is not the same as Darwin's, unless we describe natural selection in the most abstract manner. When so described, the ability of natural selection to account for adaptation is questionable.