Natural Selection Redux

PaV’s recent post Darwinn Step Aside – Survival of the ‘Quickest’ got me thinking again about natural selection and the role it supposedly played in evolution. The conventional wisdom among Darwinists, including Darwin himself, is that NS is a mechanism. The very title of Darwin’s famous tome suggests as much – On The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection . The clear implication is that NS is some sort of mechanism. A mechanism by definition is something that does something. Consider the simple dictionary definition of the term “mechanism”

1
a : a piece of machinery b : a process, technique, or system for achieving a result
2
: mechanical operation or action : working 2
3
: a doctrine that holds natural processes (as of life) to be mechanically determined and capable of complete explanation by the laws of physics and chemistry
4
: the fundamental processes involved in or responsible for an action, reaction, or other natural phenomenon


Note how every use of the term implies a process or operation….some thing doing something. So, how does NS fare as a mechanism? What does it do? What is the process of NS that achieves a certain result? Looked at this way, it seems pretty difficult to describe exactly what this process called NS is, let alone how it operates to achieve some result. Worse, unlike most mechanisms with which we’re familiar, we can’t even say with any certainty when we’re seeing this process actually working. Rather, it is after the fact we say “Oh, look what NS did!” (what was that masked mechanism?)

So the point for discussion on this is this: Is NS really a mechanism, or is it merely a descriptive term applied to certain observations after the fact? If it is a mechanism, then what does it actually do…what is the process of NS that achieves a result?

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3 Responses to Natural Selection Redux

  1. This was discussed at TT a while back.

    My view is that it is merely a descriptive label to describe what happens when you have individuals in a population that have some kind of variation (e.g. genetic) and fitness differences and are able to pass on their traits. It is not a cause or a force or a causal mechanism of biological change aka biological evolution..

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

    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)

  3. If one is thinking of natural selection as a kind of cause or ‘mechanism’ for evolution, and if one is thinking of evolution in terms of changes in the distribution of heritable traits in populations, then surely natural selection must simply be ‘causal interactions between organisms and the environment’. What else could determine differential survival and reproduction in populations? But then surely the problem with the theory of natural selection is that it has nothing to say about causal interactions between organisms and the environment…

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