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My op-ed piece in The Calgary Herald – Albertans right to reject Darwinian evolution

My op-ed piece published in The Calgary Herald, Saturday, August 16, 2008, responding to radio host and commentator Rob Breakenridge, with links to sources:

In rebuttal – Theory needs a paramedic, not more cheerleaders

Denyse O’Leary

Re “What is it about evolution theory that Albertans don’t get?” (August 12, 2008), Rob Breakenridge has cobbled together key talking points of the American Darwin lobby. The resulting column is an excellent illustration of why one should not write about big topics without basic research.

The 2005 Judge Jones decision in Pennsylvania, to which Breakenridge devotes much of his column, has not crimped the worldwide growth of interest in intelligent design. That is no surprise. A judge is not a scientist, and Jones cannot plug gaping holes in Darwin’s theory of evolution. Evolution is—contrary to its (largely) publicly funded zealots— in deep trouble, for a number of reasons.

The history of life has not been the long, slow “survival of the fittest” transition that classical evolution theory requires. Life got started on Earth soon after the planet cooled. All the basic divisions of animal life took shape rather suddenly in the Cambrian seas, about 550 million years ago. Later, there was, for example, the “Big Bang” of flowers and the Big Bang of birds, where many life forms appear quite suddenly.

Modern human consciousness is one of these leaps, judging from the superb cave paintings from recent millenniums. The creationists whom Breakenridge derides may be wrong on their dates, but not on much else.

Breakenridge hopes that we can enlighten backward Albertans by teaching more “evolution” in Alberta schools. But that won’t help. Textbook examples of evolution often evaporate when researchers actually study them (instead of just assuming they are true).

For example, the peacock’s tail did not evolve to please hen birds; hens don’t notice them much. The allegedly yummy Viceroy butterfly did not evolve to look like the bad-tasting Monarch (both insects taste bad). The eye spots on butterflies’ wings did not evolve to scare birds by resembling the eyes of their predators. Birds avoid brightly patterned insects, period. They don’t care whether the patterns resemble eyes. Similarly, the famous “peppered moth” of textbook fame has devolved into a peppered myth, featuring book-length charges and countercharges.

And remember that row of vertebrate embryos in your textbook years ago? It was dubbed in the journal Science one of the “most famous fakes” in biology—because the embryos don’t really look very similar. And Darwin’s majestic Tree of Life? It’s now a tangleweed, or maybe several of them.

We seldom see evolution happening. Michael Behe’s Edge of Evolution (2007) notes that for decades scientists have observed many thousands of generations of bacteria in the lab. And how did they evolve?

Well, they didn’t. Worse, when evolution is occasionally observed (and widely trumpeted), it often heads the wrong way. For example, bacteria evolve antibiotic resistance by junking intricate machinery, not by creating it. Cave fish lose their eyes. But we don’t need a theory for how intricate machinery gets wrecked. We need a theory for how it originates and how it develops quite suddenly. Evolution, as we understand it today, apparently isn’t that theory.

We aren’t going to improve science education by teaching Darwinian fairy tales.

Breakenridge informs us that in a recent Angus Reid poll, “A shockingly low 37 per cent of Albertans supported the position that humans beings evolved from less advanced life forms over millions of years.” Well, good, let’s drive the numbers lower still. That position is an article of atheist dogma. Evidence for it is hailed as a truth we must all embrace; evidence against it is shrugged off as a temporary setback. Try doubting the dogma, and you could end up starring in Ben Stein’s Expelled, Part II.

Breakenridge also frets, “An even greater number of Albertans—40 percent—agreed that humans were created by God within the last 10,000 years.” That’s easy to explain. It was the only other option (barring “don’t know”). The ever-popular “God uses evolution” choice wasn’t offered.

Forced to choose between excluding God and including him, I’d pick option two, even though I accept NASA’s estimate of our Earth’s age (4.5 billion years) and consider common ancestry a reasonable idea.

My guess is, Albertans diverged from the national norm because they considered the question more carefully than some folk. History, anyone?

This summer a meeting of key evolutionists took place at Altenberg, Austria, to revise the theory. So, Albertans, if you haven’t started believing it yet, don’t bother. Right now, the theory needs a paramedic, not more cheerleaders.

Denyse O’Leary is a journalist and blogger who is the author of By Design or by Chance? (Augsburg Fortress 2004), an overview of the intelligent design controversy and co-author, with Montreal neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A neuroscientist’s case for the existence of the soul (Harper 2007).

(Note: I put this opinion piece up because I was beginning to receive correspondence about it, but could not find a link to the Herald, and in any event wanted to link readers to my sources. Thanks to Jane Harris-Zsovan for the scan.)

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39 Responses to My op-ed piece in The Calgary Herald – Albertans right to reject Darwinian evolution

  1. Wow. That was a great piece, Denyse. A very nice summary of the issue. Thank you.

  2. Thanks, Russ.

    What I would like to know is why Angus Reid (polls), Inc., decided to DUMP the “theistic evolution” option, forcing a divide between theism and non-theism.

    I have – as you may know – written critically about certain bastardized types of theistic evolutionism. But I am reasonably sure that most Canadians don’t follow any of that stuff. If they were given the option of saying “God works through evolution” we would have seen a spread closer to 3-3-3-1, breaking out as follows: (= nat evo/God + evo/just God/just don’t know).

    I am not sure if this is a push poll aimed against Christians/theists/traditionalists – but one way of doing a push poll is to eliminate middle-of-the-road options.

  3. What is it about evolution theory that Albertans don’t get? Maybe it’s what Albertans do get about evolution theory that is causing them to be skeptical.

    I really get tired of these guys writing anti-ID opinion pieces when they obviously know next to nothing about the subject.

  4. I thought I’d share this, since it seems appropriate.

    On another forum (Unnamed, not an ID/evolution forum, but very popular) I frequent, I saw a thread in the science forum with a post titled ‘Tell me what I really need to know about evolution.’ The responses poured in immediately – and the first and most important lesson was ‘Evolution is purposeless and unguided! It doesn’t produce anything for any reason at all, it’s all meaningless! That is the most important lesson to learn!’

    Putting aside how tirades like that aren’t science, but philosophy in a cheap suit… if darwinism gets associated with a process that is absolutely unguided, without purpose, and spawned purely from unintelligent causes… I would not be surprised to find more and more people who doubt darwinism (or evolution, if it’s unfortunately mislabeled as such) after learning about the processes and mechanisms.

    At whatever level they are examined, it seems vastly more plausible to ascribe what’s seen to design rather than the lack of it. People may grouse and debate about whether it’s perfect design, or pleasant design, but it’s hard to get around the appearance of design itself.

    Darwinists insisting that one cannot believe in both design and darwinism should not be surprised if the result is people rejecting darwinism.

  5. nullasalus, that is a very good point.

    Many people will accept Darwinism as a subset of design (accurately or otherwise), and I presume that is why they check off the “God works through evolution” view.

    But the average person who says “God works through evolution” has no intention of saying “evolution works without God.”

    Forced into that, many who have read the question carefully will simply default to a view that offers a more hands-on role for God – hence the Alberta results.

    Historically, the province of Alberta has often been in conflict with Ottawa (our national capital) because Albertans realized that the implications of national policies were often unfavourable to them. They learned to read the question carefully.

  6. “The creationists whom Breakenridge derides may be wrong on their dates, but not on much else.”
    —————–

    Just give us time…….. :)

  7. —–nullasalus: “….if darwinism gets associated with a process that is absolutely unguided, without purpose, and spawned purely from unintelligent causes… I would not be surprised to find more and more people who doubt darwinism (or evolution, if it’s unfortunately mislabeled as such) after learning about the processes and mechanisms”

    Exactly right. Most Darwinists agree that evolution is a purposeless, mindless procss. In other words, it doesn’t know where it is going. Some of its heaviest hitters are up front with that.

    On the other hand, some of the leaders of the movement, while agreeing, try to fool the public by smuggling in an artificial notion of purpose by insisting that natural selection “is not random.” Since it is a law, one gathers, it has the power to direct in the name of the environment.

    What they don’t mention is the fact that the environment is as purposeless as the organism, meaning that it too doesn’t know where it is going and it hardly in a position to direct anything. So, it is still a purposeless, meaningless process.

  8. —–O’Leary: “But the average person who says “God works through evolution” has no intention of saying “evolution works without God.”

    Of course, the Christian Darwinists can console them by insisting that both propositions are true at the same time.

  9. Breakinridge laments the fact that Albertans embarrassingly trail the rest of the country in belief in evolution and thinks we need better science teaching to offset our, presumptively, religious leanings.

    http://www.gov.ab.ca/home/News.....93636.html

    June 15, 2005

    Alberta Students Score Number One in National Science Test

    “These results show that Alberta has the highest percentage of students in Canada achieving higher than expected standards of knowledge and skills in science,” said Gene Zwozdesky, Minister of Education. “Alberta students continue to lead the nation, which is a credit to our educational system.”

  10. There are a couple of issues here that I’d like to discuss.

    Stephen writes,

    On the other hand, some of the leaders of the movement, while agreeing, try to fool the public by smuggling in an artificial notion of purpose by insisting that natural selection “is not random.” Since it is a law, one gathers, it has the power to direct in the name of the environment.

    What they don’t mention is the fact that the environment is as purposeless as the organism, meaning that it too doesn’t know where it is going and it hardly in a position to direct anything. So, it is still a purposeless, meaningless process.

    Well, first of all I think it is inaccurate to say that evolutionary scientists are trying to “fool the public.” They have good reasons within the context of evolutionary science (some of which I will try to explain) for saying what they do. You disagree with their entire perspective, and they with yours, but I don’t think it’s reasonable to accuse them of trying to fool people. They are just trying to explain what they see as misconceptions about the concept of “randomness” as it applies to science.

    I think one of the confusions here involves the idea of purpose, and especially the distinction between ultimate purpose, which is a metaphysical idea, and what we might call functional purpose, which has to do with the ways that parts of the physical world interact. For instance, from a scientific point of view, natural selection is not random in this sense: living organisms strive to live and reproduce – the functional purpose of many of their activities is to accomplish these goals. The fact that some activities are more successful than others in accomplishing this in respect to a given environment is called “natural selection,” which is just a name for this process. Organisms don’t just randomly live or die – they live or die based in part on whether their behaviors and properties are ones that work well, in the sense of fostering life and reproduction.

    None of this is directly related to the idea of ultimate purpose. One person may believe that all of life, and the environment in which it lives, is imbued with an ultimate purpose that is part of a divine plan and another may believe that no such ultimate purpose exists, and yet both can agree that from the limited perspective of a scientific description of the organism, different behaviors of the organism have the purpose of furthering the goal of staying alive and reproducing. It is not within the capabilities of science to address those issues of ultimate purpose, though – science can only address the more limited notion of functional purpose.

  11. This has been the case as of tests in 1993, 1996, 2005, and 2008, as I find through a little more Googling.

  12. For instance, from a scientific point of view, natural selection is not random in this sense: living organisms strive to live and reproduce – the functional purpose of many of their activities is to accomplish these goals.

    Living organisms strive to live and reproduce? Nonsense.

    There are ants in a colony which cannot reproduce. There are bees in a hive which cannot reproduce. There are termites in the mound which cannot reproduce.

    And natural selection can best be summed up as those who survive and reproduce, survive and reproduce.

    IOW whatever survives, survives. And those who reproduce, reproduce.

    Organisms don’t just randomly live or die – they live or die based in part on whether their behaviors and properties are ones that work well, in the sense of fostering life and reproduction.

    More nonsense. Random effects take lives on a daily basis.

  13. It is not within the capabilities of science to address those issues of ultimate purpose, though – science can only address the more limited notion of functional purpose.

    Says who?

    Scientists can take the available data and make an informed inference- just read “The Privileged Planet”- their inference is based on the available scientific data.

    And even if you are correct about sience & purpose that does not make the question of purpose an uninteresting or invalid one.

  14. Joseph,

    you said

    “And natural selection can best be summed up as those who survive and reproduce, survive and reproduce.”

    I have to part company with you here because with natural selection I see an amazing mechanism that represents great design. What survives is affected dramatically by the environment and while it may be extremely difficult to explain specific changes in the gene pool over time changes happen and they are not random. it is not a random process if some aspects of the genome are more suited for particular environment than others. And there are certainly lots of different environments and new ones arising all the time.

    If a particular gene or gene configuration has no advantage in a particular environment then it is possible for random processes to fix certain genomic elements. But if something has an advantage for survival then it will be selected for over time and the process is not random. This is a great design mechanism and as you say genomes are designed to evolve. Without such a process it would be a very sterile world and life would probably not survive.

  15. jerry (and joseph),

    I think the issue with “Natural Selection” and why IDers attack it is because of the way it is because 1) it is used incorrectly by the Darwinist community as a magic wand of sorts that can overcome any boundary and 2) there are real problems associated with it doing anything but extremely trivial things.

    First, there is the signal-to-noise issue with selection. As others have explained, almost all mutations (variants) are either nuetral or near-neutral. In other words, there is low signal-to-noise. Generally, random effects (accidents, famine, etc) overpower the effect of any minimal increase in productivity that a mutation affords.

    Secondly, it is more “self-selection” than “Natural Selection”, meaning that organisms will replicate and those that replicate more pass on more heritable material into the next generation. (This part is not a tautology, since there is no logical requirement that replicators produce offspring that inherit anything from them – the offspring can be completely different.) Over time the pool of replicators will contain a proportionally greater amount of heritable information from the successful replicators, exactly proportional to the cumulative amount of their success. Notice here, it is the replicator doing all the work – Nature does nothing but provide the backdrop of “rules” and occasional “props” that the replicators must navigate. The replicators themselves, however, must do the hard work of finding the right variations and out-replicating their peers; there is nothing magical about this formula. Hence why its powers are extremely limited and why it only becomes relevant when a variant greatly out-reproduces his peers, which isn’t a normal situation.

  16. Atom writes,

    The replicators themselves, however, must do the hard work of finding the right variations and out-replicating their peers; there is nothing magical about this formula. Hence why its powers are extremely limited and why it only becomes relevant when a variant greatly out-reproduces his peers, which isn’t a normal situation.

    This is mostly true, I think. However just because a variant doesn’t normally “out-reproduce its peers” doesn’t mean it never does, and it is those exceptions to normality that drive evolutionary change.

    It is also important to remember that the environment changes, so what is normal can become abnormal not because of any change in the pool of variation itself but rather because of a change in the environment.

  17. Jack Krebs,

    Thank you for your reply. As I mentioned, most animals do not greatly (and consistently) out-reproduce their peers, in the normal situation, therefore any slight “advantage” in replication numbers aren’t strong enough to be indistinguishable from random fluctuations of “channel noise” – in other words, the signal (selection advantage) gets lost in the noise (random factors, such as accidents, etc.) For example, pretend I am a walrus and I have a mutation that gives me 0.01% better vision than my peers…I also happen to be shy, so I get out-reproduced in my generation, and my “advantage” serves no advatage (as far as selection goes.) Or maybe by the luck of the draw I just have two offspring rather than the normal three. Again, the signal is lost due to noise. (I’m making up numbers here – I have no clue how many offsping walruses usually have.)

    When selection advantage is weak, it can’t overcome the random noise and it is near-neutral – which most mutations have been shown to be. Only when the effects on replication and survival are extremely strong can we rise above the noise level of random factors – but this usually isn’t the case. Again, most replicators do not greatly out-reproduce their peers. So Natural Selection (self-selection) can’t do much. As much as replicators can consistently and/or greatly out-reproduce their fellow replicators, to that extent is self-selection relevant. And it usually isn’t that relevant.

  18. Also,

    If the exceptional “out-reproducing” you mentioned is not consistent in the replicator line, it is an interesting quirk, but cannot drive anything in a directional manner, being itself an blip of noise. It would just serve as another instance of channel noise (i.e. sometimes this line has more offspring, others times it has less; this would just be fluctuations of the type I mentioned earlier.)

    Furthermore, if the exceptions are too exceptional/rare, then selection works far too slowly, running into the limit posed by the Haldane-ReMine Dilemma. It wouldn’t be able to be used as an explanation of how complex organisms developed within earthly time scales.

  19. I have to part company with you here because with natural selection I see an amazing mechanism that represents great design.

    Natural selection is a result, not a mechanism. It doesn’t design anything.

    Sexuality has brought joy to the world, to the world of the wild beasts, and to the world of flowers, but it has brought an end to evolution. In the lineages of living beings, whenever absent-minded Venus has taken the upper hand, forms have forgotten to make progress. It is only the husbandman that has improved strains, and he has done so by bullying, enslaving, and segregating. All these methods, of course, have made for sad, alienated animals, but they have not resulted in new species. Left to themselves, domesticated breeds would either die out or revert to the wild state—scarcely a commendable model for nature’s progress.

    (snip a few paragraphs on peppered moths)

    Natural Selection, which indeed occurs in nature (as Bishop Wilberforce, too, was perfectly aware), mainly has the effect of maintaining equilibrium and stability. It eliminates all those that dare depart from the type—the eccentrics and the adventurers and the marginal sort. It is ever adjusting populations, but it does so in each case by bringing them back to the norm. We read in the textbooks that, when environmental conditions change, the selection process may produce a shift in a population’s mean values, by a process known as adaptation. If the climate turns very cold, the cold-adapted beings are favored relative to others.; if it becomes windy, the wind blows away those that are most exposed; if an illness breaks out, those in questionable health will be lost. But all these artful guiles serve their purpose only until the clouds blow away. The species, in fact, is an organic entity, a typical form, which may deviate only to return to the furrow of its destiny; it may wander from the band only to find its proper place by returning to the gang.

    Everything that disassembles, upsets proportions or becomes distorted in any way is sooner or later brought back to the type. There has been a tendency to confuse fleeting adjustments with grand destinies, minor shrewdness with signs of the times.

    It is true that species may lose something on the way—the mole its eyes, say, and the succulent plant its leaves, never to recover them again. But here we are dealing with unhappy, mutilated species, at the margins of their area of distribution—the extreme and the specialized. These are species with no future; they are not pioneers, but prisoners in nature’s penitentiary.—geneticist Giuseppe Sermonti in “Why is a Fly Not a Horse?”

    Please see:

    The Strength of Natural Selection in the Wild

    IMHO ID would rely more on artificial selection than natural selection…

  20. “Natural selection is a result, not a mechanism. It doesn’t design anything.”

    Natural selection is most definitely a process or sub process of the larger over all process or mechanism of micro evolution. I never said it designed anything but is part of a magnificent design that allows new variants and species to appear that are more compatible to changes in an environment.

  21. The Origin of Theoretical Population Genetics (University of Chicago Press, 1971), reissued in 2001 by William Provine:

    Natural selection does not act on anything, nor does it select (for or against), force, maximize, create, modify, shape, operate, drive, favor, maintain, push, or adjust. Natural selection does nothing….Having natural selection select is nifty because it excuses the necessity of talking about the actual causation of natural selection. Such talk was excusable for Charles Darwin, but inexcusable for evolutionists now. Creationists have discovered our empty “natural selection” language, and the “actions” of natural selection make huge, vulnerable targets. (pp. 199-200)

    Natural selection is therefore a result of three processes, as first described by Darwin:

    Variation
    Inheritance
    Fecundity

    which together result in non-random, unequal survival and reproduction of individuals, which results in changes in the phenotypes present in populations of organisms over time.”- Allen McNeil

    However each of those processes have random elements which in turn means the result would depend on those elements. But anyway…

    “Natural selection is the result of differences in survival and reproduction among individuals of a population that vary in one or more heritable traits.” (bold added) Page 11 “Biology: Concepts and Applications” Starr fifth edition

    A goal-driven process- for example Feb 2003 SciAm article “Evolving Inventions” is a prime example of what I call “designed to evolve”. The artificial selection is built-in.

  22. Joseph,

    There is really nothing in Provine or MacNeill that contradicts anything I have said. In some ways it is just semantics. Changes happen and the changes are not random (though there are some random elements) so call it what you wish but there is a process that results in a more fit/appropriate/better adapted organism for a changing environment.

    I use “designed to evolve” differently so I will be careful to make the distinction in the future. I view micro evolution as a magnificently designed process that also includes design of the genome structure that results in changes in organisms over time or it is a process and structure designed to force evolution or changes of an organism to make it more likely to survive in a given environment.

    There is no artificial selection in anything I am describing since artificial selection requires an intelligent input guiding the changes and this is strictly a natural process.

  23. —–” Jack: “Well, first of all I think it is inaccurate to say that evolutionary scientists are trying to “fool the public.”

    Eugenie Scott has asked atheist evolutiolnists to keep quiet about their anti-religious sensibilities.

  24. BTW: There was also the big bang of grasses about 50 million years ago.

  25. 25

    Denyse O’Leary said in the original post,
    The 2005 Judge Jones decision in Pennsylvania, to which Breakenridge devotes much of his column, has not crimped the worldwide growth of interest in intelligent design.

    There is no good reason to ever give so much weight to the opinion of just a single person, but there are especially good reasons to not give Judge Jones’ opinion any weight at all. For example, in a Dickinson College commencement speech, he showed extreme prejudice against Intelligent Design and the Dover defendants — regardless of whether or not ID is a religious concept — by saying that his Dover decision was based on his cockamamie notion that the Founders based the establishment clause upon a belief that organized religions are not “true” religions. He said,

    . . . . this much is very clear. The Founders believed that true religion was not something handed down by a church or contained in a Bible, but was to be found through free, rational inquiry. At bottom then, this core set of beliefs led the Founders, who constantly engaged and questioned things, to secure their idea of religious freedom by barring any alliance between church and state.

    – from http://www.dickinson.edu/comme.....dress.html

    Also, a Discovery Institute report showed that the ~6000 word ID-as-science section of the opinion was copied nearly verbatim from the plaintiffs’ opening post-trial brief while ignoring the defendants’ opening post-trial brief and the plaintiffs’ and defendants’ answering post-trial briefs. There is no evidence that Judge Jones read the ID-as-science section of any post-trial brief other than the one that he copied from. If the defendants’ arguments were bad, all the more reason to address them in order to refute them. Judge Jones figured that he could get away with extreme one-sidedness because he knew that the case was not likely to be appealed because of the changeover in the Dover school board. This Discovery Institute report is at —

    http://www.discovery.org/scrip.....38;id=1186

    (The important thing in the above report is the side-by-side comparison of the two texts in Table D, not the percentage figure)

    DI’s defense of the above report is at –

    http://www.discovery.org/scrip.....38;id=1209

    There are plenty of other reasons to automatically reject Judge Jones’ opinion (which — in the ID-as-science section at least — wasn’t even his but was the ACLU’s), but the above two reasons suffice.

    As for the statement that “Judge Jones decision . . . has not crimped the worldwide growth of interest in intelligent design”: on the contrary, the decision has greatly increased worldwide interest in ID. The Dover decision was a pyrrhic victory for the Darwinists.

  26. There is really nothing in Provine or MacNeill that contradicts anything I have said.

    MacNeil says that NS is a result of three processes.

    Provine says that NS is nothing at all.

    You said it is a process or sub-process.

    I see the contradiction. Oh well.

    Changes happen and the changes are not random (though there are some random elements) so call it what you wish but there is a process that results in a more fit/appropriate/better adapted organism for a changing environment.

    According to the theory of evolution all the changes are random. Variation is random. What will be inherited is also random. And who will be more fertile is also random.

    Any random inputs would mean the output (result) is also random.

    I use “designed to evolve” differently so I will be careful to make the distinction in the future. I view micro evolution as a magnificently designed process that also includes design of the genome structure that results in changes in organisms over time or it is a process and structure designed to force evolution or changes of an organism to make it more likely to survive in a given environment.

    That works. (IOW that fits in with how I use it also)

    There is no artificial selection in anything I am describing since artificial selection requires an intelligent input guiding the changes and this is strictly a natural process.

    If it is a designed process then the artificial selection would be built-in. IE it would be part of the design.

    IOW that which one wouldn’t think that nature would keep would be kept because of the program.

  27. “According to the theory of evolution all the changes are random. Variation is random. What will be inherited is also random. And who will be more fertile is also random.”

    There are initial and boundary conditions which constrain the random fluctuations. Not all random inputs will be equally accepted and some may not be accepted at all. Thus, the overall process is not random but contains random elements which can rarely if ever over ride the initial and boundary conditions. There may be a myriad of results but the nature of these results is highly constrained.

    I also do not agree with the “who will be more fertile is also random.” I can think of all sorts of things that can affect fertility that is not random. There could be many built in obstacles to the rate of fertility for some outcomes versus others.

    And there are some instances when variation is not random but as far as I can see, it has not yet been determined that this is important overall for evolution.

    “I see the contradiction. Oh well.”

    I doubt Provine thinks that natural selection doesn’t happen. From what I have gathered he thinks it is not as important for evolution as made out to be. With that I agree.

    If MacNeill says that natural selection is the result of three processes, how does that contradict anything I have said. I never said it was a simple process.

    By saying it is a sub process all I am saying there is more than natural selection that affects evolution. So how does anything that Provine, Mac Neill have said in conflict with what I have said. Oh well.

    “Any random inputs would mean the output (result) is also random.”

    Not necessarily. Initial conditions and boundary conditions constrain outputs so just what do you mean by random. It is possible to constrain something so the output comes out the same each time no matter what the input, random or not. Similarly you can constrain the output to a few outcomes or ones that have specific characteristics no matter how random the input. You will have to be more specific if you want to say this and I doubt that you disagree with my understanding on this anyway.

    “If it is a designed process then the artificial selection would be built-in. IE it would be part of the design.”

    This is not how artificial selection is used in terms of breeding or evolution or my understanding of it. Artificial selection means that at each step the initial and boundary conditions are changed by some intelligence to lead to a desirable/desired result. What I am describing is a process that has no pre determined output or new initial conditions at each step. The process is constrained by the initial intelligent input but the intelligence does not operate again to change the initial conditions at the next stage (gene pool) as the boundary condition (environment) change over time.

  28. 28

    That article was amazing. There’s no question of evolution, just dumb idiots who oppose it.

    Very scientific.

  29. —-Jerry: “By saying it is a sub process all I am saying there is more than natural selection that affects evolution. So how does anything that Provine, Mac Neill have said in conflict with what I have said. Oh well.”

    and

    —–Joseph:

    —–”MacNeil says that NS is a result of three processes.

    —–”Provine says that NS is nothing at all.

    —–to Jerry, “You said it is a process or sub-process.

    What I understand Joseph, Provine and MacNeill to be saying is that natural selection is simply a description if a phenomenon that in no way rises to the level of a cause. What I understand Jerry to be saying is that NS is a cause but is not the only cause. Am I misreading one side?

    For my part, the term “process” normally refers to a series of KNOWN events that has a beginning, proceeds through a number of steps, and has an end. I don’t think we know enough about natural selection to say that.

  30. Jerry,

    If you do not understand that a result is not a process then we can just agree to disagree.

    To StephenB,

    Can NS be a cause if it is a result?

    From “The Deniable Darwin” by David Berlinski:

    CHANCE ALONE,” the Nobel Prize-winning chemist Jacques Monod once wrote, “is at the source of every innovation, of all creation in the biosphere. Pure chance, absolutely free but blind, is at the very root of the stupendous edifice of creation.”

    The sentiment expressed by these words has come to vex evolutionary biologists. “This belief,” Richard Dawkins writes, “that Darwinian evolution is ‘random,’ is not merely false. It is the exact opposite of the truth.” But Monod is right and Dawkins wrong. Chance lies at the beating heart of evolutionary theory, just as it lies at the beating heart of thermodynamics.

    It is the second law of thermodynamics that holds dominion over the temporal organization of the universe, and what the law has to say we find verified by ordinary experience at every turn. Things fall apart. Energy, like talent, tends to squander itself. Liquids go from hot to lukewarm. And so does love. Disorder and despair overwhelm the human enterprise, filling our rooms and our lives with clutter. Decay is unyielding. Things go from bad to worse. And overall, they go only from bad to worse.

    These grim certainties the second law abbreviates in the solemn and awful declaration that the entropy of the universe is tending toward a maximum. The final state in which entropy is maximized is simply more likely than any other state. The disintegration of my face reflects nothing more compelling than the odds. Sheer dumb luck.

    But if things fall apart, they also come together. Life appears to offer at least a temporary rebuke to the second law of thermodynamics. Although biologists are unanimous in arguing that evolution has no goal, fixed from the first, it remains true nonetheless that living creatures have organized themselves into ever more elaborate and flexible structures. If their complexity is increasing, the entropy that surrounds them is decreasing. Whatever the universe-as-a-whole may be doing–time fusing incomprehensibly with space, the great stars exploding indignantly–biologically things have gone from bad to better, the show organized, or so it would seem, as a counterexample to the prevailing winds of fate.

    How so? The question has historically been the pivot on which the assumption of religious belief has turned. How so? “God said: ‘Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let fowl fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.”‘ That is how so. And who on the basis of experience would be inclined to disagree? The structures of life are complex, and complex structures get made in this, the purely human world, only by a process of deliberate design. An act of intelligence is required to bring even a thimble into being; why should the artifacts of life be different?

    Darwin’s theory of evolution rejects this counsel of experience and intuition. Instead, the theory forges, at least in spirit, a perverse connection with the second law itself, arguing that precisely the same force that explains one turn of the cosmic wheel explains another: sheer dumb luck.

    If the universe is for reasons of sheer dumb luck committed ultimately to a state of cosmic listlessness, it is also by sheer dumb luck that life first emerged on earth, the chemicals in the pre-biotic seas or soup illuminated and then invigorated by a fateful flash of lightning. It is again by sheer dumb luck that the first self-reproducing systems were created. The dense and ropy chains of RNA–they were created by sheer dumb luck, and sheer dumb luck drove the primitive chemicals of life to form a living cell. It is sheer dumb luck that alters the genetic message so that, from infernal nonsense, meaning for a moment emerges; and sheer dumb luck again that endows life with its opportunities, the space of possibilities over which natural selection plays, sheer dumb luck creating the mammalian eye and the marsupial pouch, sheer dumb luck again endowing the elephant’s sensitive nose with nerves and the orchid’s translucent petal with blush.

    Amazing. Sheer dumb luck.

    And again I am talking about the evolutionary scenario.

  31. Joseph,

    you said

    “If you do not understand that a result is not a process then we can just agree to disagree.”

    What makes you think I don’t know the difference.

    And by the way it is possible that a result could be a process. You could have initial processes, intermediate processes and final processes and anything after the first could be a result or the whole thing could be just one big process. Take your pick as to the best semantic explanation.

    Now if you want to argue that natural selection does not exist (not just improperly defined) then we can agree to disagree. To me it is a no brainer even though there has been much misunderstanding about what it is exactly. All I know is that population allele frequencies change over time and they often do so as a result of environment changes and the outcomes are not random in the sense that any frequency is just as likely as another.

    And the modern view would substitute genomic elements for alleles but nothing has really changed. Somehow one has to explain the millions of species/variants that exist in the world and resort to some design event for each will get ID nowhere except confirmation that ID is really creationism in disguise, just not necessarily the 7 day variety.

  32. Jerry,

    A result can/ may be part of a process but that does not make the result a process in and of itself.

    Now if you want to argue that natural selection does not exist (not just improperly defined) then we can agree to disagree.

    The following is right in line with my way of looking at NS (see comment 19):

    Natural Selection, which indeed occurs in nature (as Bishop Wilberforce, too, was perfectly aware), mainly has the effect of maintaining equilibrium and stability. It eliminates all those that dare depart from the type—the eccentrics and the adventurers and the marginal sort. It is ever adjusting populations, but it does so in each case by bringing them back to the norm. We read in the textbooks that, when environmental conditions change, the selection process may produce a shift in a population’s mean values, by a process known as adaptation. If the climate turns very cold, the cold-adapted beings are favored relative to others.; if it becomes windy, the wind blows away those that are most exposed; if an illness breaks out, those in questionable health will be lost. But all these artful guiles serve their purpose only until the clouds blow away. The species, in fact, is an organic entity, a typical form, which may deviate only to return to the furrow of its destiny; it may wander from the band only to find its proper place by returning to the gang.

    Also I don’t care what any explanation leads to. All I am interested in is the reality behind our existence. There is only one…

  33. “That article was amazing. There’s no question of evolution, just dumb idiots who oppose it.”

    “Shut up”, they explained. ;)

  34. —–”Joseph: To StephenB “Can NS be a cause if it is a result?”

    I wouldn’t think so, which is why I characterized the two points of view the way I did. It should be obvious that if a thing merely describes a series of events, then it cannot be the cause of those events.

  35. —Jerry: “I see an amazing mechanism that represents great design.”

    —-Joseph: “Natural selection is a result, not a mechanism. It doesn’t design anything.”

    Here, I think Jerry is simply saying that natural selection is a mechanism that has been designed to do what it does.

  36. StephenB,

    It is not natural selection that is the great design. It is just one of the parts or one of the sub processes of the great design. Now watch everyone jump on me because I described it as a part.

    Micro evolution is the great design and consists of many things including the physical structure of the cell, all the cellular processes for duplication and validation, variation generation within the genome, sexual reproduction and recombination, genetics in all its forms (which includes natural selection), epigenetics and whatever else affects the structure of the gamete and the morphology of the offspring. There are probably a lot of other processes.

    All of these things let organisms adapt to changing environments whether it is the next island, the next ice ace, the next drought, a new predator etc. The end result is often a new variant that is better adapted to the environment. Over time this new variant may not be able to reproduce with the original species if it is still around.

    Sometimes I do not use the precise word to express exactly what I mean so there may be some confusion in what I am trying to say.

  37. Joseph,

    The passage you quoted is not quite correct. The author admits that natural selection is a process (or whatever it is) that produces changes. However, there is no certainty that all will return to the original state or initial gene pool. In the process of adapting, the gene pool might lose valuable information and may not have the ability to return.

    Natural selection tends to cull out alleles from a gene pool and as such the new population will not have the capability to return to where it was before unless another population exists that has the missing information. Then it could return through gene flow. Also if a sub population gets separated then this population the it may not have the ability to produce the original gene pool.

    This continual loss of information through natural selection may eventually produce a population(s) that some day does not have the ability to cope with a new environment and the species may then go extinct.

  38. —–Jerry: It is not natural selection that is the great design. It is just one of the parts or one of the sub processes of the great design. Now watch everyone jump on me because I described it as a part.

    If you read the comment that prompted my response, you will discover that the purpose of my post was to exonerate you from the charge of saying that natural selection can “design anything.”

    The only other point I have made on this thread is to acknowledge that Joseph is right about a point of his own: Provine and MacNeil believe that natural selection has no causal power, and you believe that it does. It’s a perfectly legitimate disagreement and there are plenty of people who will argue either way. That’s one of the things that is so entertaining about evolutionary theory–its fluidity.

  39. StephenB,

    I believe if you probe both Provine and MacNeill, they will both agree with much of what I say. They recognize that evolution is a two faceted theory and only one really counts in the debate.

    Natural selection is very most important in the facet that doesn’t count in the evolution debate but which is important for life on the planet. The natural selection process if given enough time will dig out of a gene pool, variations that are better than the current set of alleles when an environment changes.

    As I said, very important for life but meaningless in the evolution debate. The facet that counts, macro evolution, is not effected by natural selection alone because the new capability is not present in the current gene pool and no process known including natural selection can dig it out or cause it to come into existence. Darwin once thought all the capabilities were present within the organism and could be teased out by natural selection over time. This was based on his experience with artificial selection. Obviously not true but to the uninformed it makes a great argument.

    What is important for macro evolution is new variation and not just any old new variation but massive new variation that causes new systems to arise. That is why Allen MacNeill emphasized his 47 varieties of it. Because without the massive additions to the gene pool, macro evolution is not reachable. That is why many here emphasize that it is variation that is key to the evolution debate and natural selection is not an important factor. So when Provine says that ns is not important for evolution, I will bet he means macro evolution. This is also what the Edge of Evolution is about.

    It doesn’t say that natural selection will not be involved but if ns has no new variation to work on, there will be no macro evolution and if ns does not work then the new variation will wither away. So for the general theory of Darwin, variation is king but ns must still be there. For the special theory of Darwin, ns is king and new variation is unimportant. But the changes are small and not important for the evolution debate.

    Nevertheless, the special theory is important for life on the planet because it allows the millions of variants to thrive. Otherwise when you look out the window, it would be a very sterile world.

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