Evidence and Evolution: The Logic Behind the Science

Jessica Pfeifer reviews Elliott Sober’s Evidence and Evolution: The Logic Behind the Science in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews:

Elliott Sober’s excellent book, Evidence and Evolution, builds on views about evidence that Sober has been developing over the years and shows how these views bear on issues relevant to evolutionary biology. The book is divided into four main chapters, with a fifth chapter as a conclusion. The first chapter develops Sober’s views about evidence, while Chapters 2-4 apply this discussion to three issues of importance to evolutionary biology: the argument for intelligent design (Chapter 2), the evidence for natural selection (Chapter 3), and the evidence for common ancestry (Chapter 4). One advantage of this organization is that it is possible, without too much loss, to read Chapter 1 and then skip to whichever later chapters are of interest. While there are points made in the intervening chapters that might be relevant for later conclusions, Sober very helpfully makes note of where these topics have previously been discussed.

In Chapter 1, Sober not only forcefully defends his particular views about evidence, but in the process also provides an excellent introduction to many of the issues at stake between Bayesian, likelihood, and frequentist accounts. Sober argues that versions of each approach have their place. However, his view is not pluralistic. Which view one ought to adopt depends on the goals one has, the information at hand, and the hypotheses of interest. Bayesian methods can tell us what our degree of belief in a hypothesis ought to be, likelihoodism has the more modest aim of telling us whether and to what degree the evidence favors one hypothesis over another, and the version of frequentism Sober endorses (model-selection theory, and in particular the Akaike Information Criterion) estimates how accurate a model will be at predicting new data when fitted to old data.