DNA is not an ontologically distinctive developmental cause
Em: Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
In this article I critically evaluate the thesis that DNA is an ontologically distinctive developmental cause. I shall critically analyse different versions of the latter thesis by taking into consideration concrete developmental cases. I shall argue that DNA is neither a developmental determinant nor an ontologically distinctive developmental cause. Instead, I shall argue that mechanistic analysis shows that DNA’s causal role in development depends on the higher robustness of the developmental processes in which it exerts its causal capacities. The focus on process and developmental system implies a metaphysical shift: rather than attributing to DNA molecules biochemically unique properties, I suggest that it might be better to think about DNA’s causal role in development in terms of the causal capacities that DNA molecules manifest in a rich developmental milieu. I shall also suggest that my position is distinct both from the view advocating the instrumental primacy of DNA-centric biology and developmental constructionism. It is different from the former because it provides a substantial answer to the question of what makes DNA causally central in developmental processes. Finally, I argue that evolutionary considerations pose an important challenge to developmental constructionism.