If philosophers, mathematicians, etc. had been clever enough, could they have figured out that natural selection was the right explanation for life a priori, without input from naturalists like Darwin? If life exists on other planets, should we expect that it, too, arose by Darwinian natural selection—or rather, that if the life was “intelligently designed,” then natural selection was ultimately needed to bring the intelligent designer(s) themselves into existence? Is there any conceivable mechanism other than natural selection that’s capable, in principle, of doing the same sort of explanatory work (i.e., that would qualify as a “good explanation” in David Deutsch’s sense)?
Consider a “brute-force search algorithm,” which cycles through all possible DNA sequences until it finds some that lead to interesting and complex organisms. Many people would say that this algorithm does not do the same sort of explanatory work as natural selection—but if so, why not? Is it because brute-force search takes exponential time? Or because the goal of “interesting and complex organisms” is too vague? Or both reasons, or something else entirely?
Likewise, what are the similarities and differences between Darwinian natural selection and the anthropic explanation for the apparent “fine-tuning” of physical constants? If the former explanation satisfies us while the latter doesn’t, then why?
Is there a puzzle about the speed of evolution? Is it reasonable to want an explanation for why evolution on Earth took roughly 4 billion years, rather than a much longer (or shorter) time? If so, what could such an explanation look like? Can Valiant’s “Evolvability” model shed any light on these questions?
What are the differences between genetic and memetic evolution?
What are the differences between natural selection and genetic algorithms, as applied (for example) to find approximate solutions to NP-hard optimization problems?