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Survival of the fittest: Is there really a battle raging among evolutionists over fitness?

At Telic Thoughts, Techne tells us that on “Fitness: A Battle is Raging” (November 5, 2011):

In an earlier post it was pointed out that John O. Reiss argues that the fitness landscape metaphor has teleological implications. If evolution is anything close to the metaphor then the process is fundamentally teleological.

The rigor of this approach, however, is lessened because there is as yet no universally agreed upon measure of fitness; fitness is either defined metaphorically, or defined only relative to the particular model or system used. It is fair to say that due to this lack, there is still no real agreement on what exactly the process of natural selection is. This is clearly a problem.

We’re not sure whether any battle really is raging.

The obvious reason that there is “still no real agreement on what exactly the process of natural selection is” is that the case for Darwinism would then fall apart in the face of disconfirming evidence.

Here’s what would go wrong: Let’s say a Darwinist forthrightly declares that he sees no evidence for Dawkins’s “selfish gene.” Very well, he cannot then invoke selfish gene arguments in his own defense of Darwinism. It’s better to avoid specifics, bellow that “evolution is fact, Fact, FACT,” and refuse to debate the subject. That way his defenses can go in all directions at once, like a bee gathering nectar.

What possible fact base can dislodge such a strategy, given that it is accepted as legitimate?

But we’d love to be wrong.

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61 Responses to Survival of the fittest: Is there really a battle raging among evolutionists over fitness?

  1. Biological fitness is an after-the-fact assessment.

  2. Darwinists will deny this up and down. But when pointing out historical “transitions” they attribute the changes to natural selection – fitness. Even if they could reduce the transitional changes to individual genetic changes, they cannot begin to explain why selection favored one over the other. At best they can make up a post-hoc explanation.

    That is why, despite protests, natural selection is tautological, at least when applied to evolutionary history. Whatever exists or existed was, by definition, selected. There are no other specifics or details to supplement that definition.

  3. Assorted Notes:

    I got a new copy of ReMine’s The Biotic Message and re-read his chapters on Natural Seleciton and I get to see it all in action. (Mung)
    Summary
    Inventive natural selection is the distinctive evolutionary mechanism – essential to Darwinian theory. Evolutionists presume it creates new adaptations by somehow traversing the hills and valleys of the fitness terrain. But they do not attempt to defend it as testable science. Rather, for the defense they shift back to the naive version – survival of the fittest. Then they might offer some tautology to help expunge all doubt.
    When challenged, they shift between various formulations They use naive natural selection to convince the public that evolution is simple, testable, and virtually inevitable.
    When opponents point out that such continually uphill evolution is refuted by the data, evolutionists effortlessly shift away from naive natural selection. Then they charge that the opponent has a poor understanding of evolutionary theory.
    In short, evolutionists merely shifted away from criticism, then focused their arguments (and your attention) in a direction that seemed to overcome the criticism. This phenomenon occurs at several levels.
    Biological adaptation by natural selection is not inevitable, nor is the theory scientific. It had merely lent support to the philosophy of naturalism.
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-384066

    Inconsistent Nature: The Enigma of Life’s Stupendous Prodigality – James Le Fanu – September 2011
    Excerpt: Many species that might seem exceptionally well adapted for “the survival of the fittest” are surprisingly uncommon. The scarce African hunting dog has the highest kill rate of any predator on the savannah, while cheetahs may have no difficulty in feeding themselves thanks to their astonishing speediness — but are a hundred times less common than lions.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....51281.html

    Hopeful Monsters and Other Tales: Evolutionists Challenge Darwin – Feb. 2010
    Excerpt: Jerry Fodor, a (atheistic) philosopher at Rutgers, is angry at the dogmatic Darwinists who see natural selection as the be-all and end-all of evolutionary change.,,, Fodor’s beef with natural selection appears to stem from its storytelling propensity. Why do people have traits like hair on their heads and dark hair with dark eyes? “You can make up a story that explains why it was good to have those properties in the original environment of selection,” he said. “Do we have any reason to think that story is true? No.”
    Fodor co-authored the book “What Darwin Got Wrong”
    http://www.creationsafaris.com.....#20100224a

    Survival of the fittest theory: Darwinism’s limits – Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini – Feb 2010
    Excerpt: Much of the vast neo-Darwinian literature is distressingly uncritical. The possibility that anything is seriously amiss with Darwin’s account of evolution is hardly (ever) considered.,,, Natural Selection has shown insidious imperialistic tendencies.
    http://www.newscientist.com/ar.....imits.html

    “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.”
    The Origin of Theoretical Population Genetics, 2001 (pp. 199-200) William Provine – Professor of Evolutionary Biology – Cornell University

  4. ScottAndrews2

    Darwinists will deny this up and down. But when pointing out historical “transitions” they attribute the changes to natural selection – fitness.

    Of course they don’t. Evolutionary transitions are caused by the process of genetic variation filtered by selection of creatures that retain heritable variation for subsequent generations. Why do keep repeating the same dumb claim that it’s *just* natural selection after you’ve been corrected at least half a dozen times?

    Even if they could reduce the transitional changes to individual genetic changes, they cannot begin to explain why selection favored one over the other.

    Yes, we can. Selection favors one over the other because all animals in a population aren’t identical. The differences give rise to differential reproductive success, where certain characteristics (either physical or behavioral) give a better chance for their owners to survive/mate/pass on their genes than their neighbors. That is Biology 101. Why don’t you understand it?

    I could post dozens of papers and references on the topic but you’d refuse to read them, like you always do.

    That is why, despite protests, natural selection is tautological, at least when applied to evolutionary history. Whatever exists or existed was, by definition, selected. There are no other specifics or details to supplement that definition.

    LOL! ScottAndrew2 and Joseph, co-presidents of the “THAR AIN’T NO DARN EVIDENCE!!” club.

    Scott, why don’t you explain to us why artificial selection as used in animal husbandry works? Here’s a hint: humans in this case are part of the selection pressure that removes from the population the ‘less fit’ animals with the undesirable traits.

  5. GinoB,

    That apparently went over your head in its entirety.
    It’s not just natural selection. But selection is a critical component, and when applied historically it is just assumed that whatever existed or lived was selected.

    That’s circular and tautological.

    As I said before, I’m not wasting any more of my time reading anything you link to unless you can explain it in your own words first. You’ve shown repeatedly that you don’t read or understand what you link to.

  6. Further notes:

    Natural Selection Falsified – Dr. John Sanford – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4587204/

    Oxford University Admits Darwinism’s Shaky Math Foundation – May 2011
    Excerpt: However, mathematical population geneticists mainly deny that natural selection leads to optimization of any useful kind. This fifty-year old schism is intellectually damaging in itself, and has prevented improvements in our concept of what fitness is. – On a 2011 Job Description for a Mathematician, at Oxford, to ‘fix’ the persistent mathematical problems with neo-Darwinism within two years.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....46351.html

    Metamorphosis Video Exclusive: Dr. Ann Gauger Discusses Limits of Natural Selection – October 2011
    http://intelligentdesign.podom.....0_42-07_00

    Natural Selection Reduces Genetic Information – No Beneficial Mutations – Spetner – Denton – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4036816

    EXPELLED – Natural Selection And Genetic Mutations – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4036840

    “…but Natural Selection reduces genetic information and we know this from all the Genetic Population studies that we have…”
    Maciej Marian Giertych – Population Geneticist – member of the European Parliament – EXPELLED

    Using Computer Simulation to Understand Mutation Accumulation Dynamics and Genetic Load:
    Excerpt: We apply a biologically realistic forward-time population genetics program to study human mutation accumulation under a wide-range of circumstances.,, Our numerical simulations consistently show that deleterious mutations accumulate linearly across a large portion of the relevant parameter space.
    http://bioinformatics.cau.edu......aproof.pdf
    MENDEL’S ACCOUNTANT: J. SANFORD†, J. BAUMGARDNER‡, W. BREWER§, P. GIBSON¶, AND W. REMINE
    http://www.scpe.org/vols/vol08/no2/SCPE_8_2_02.pdf

  7. GinoB:

    Selection favors one over the other because all animals in a population aren’t identical.

    What an imbecile- natural selection doesn’t select, act nor favor.

    It- natural selection- is a result- another after-the-fact assessment.

  8. Scott, you forgot to explain why artificial selection works.

    Do you really not understand that either?

  9. 9

    But selection is a critical component, and when applied historically it is just assumed that whatever existed or lived was selected.

    Really? Google “founder effect”.

  10. 10

    Care to elaborate more on your bald assertion? Or rather two assertions – that both natural selection and fitness are after the fact assessments.

  11. 11

    GinoB,

    I’m not claiming that natural selection does not exist or does not work. Artificial selection works as well. And to the extent that the one is observed and the other is performed, we see very similar results. From the former, multicolored cichlid fishes. From the latter, great danes and chihuahuas.

    If the brief sentences I type in plain English are beyond your comprehension, it’s no surprise that you post links to research papers without understanding those either.

  12. Are you really that obtuse?

    Natural selection is the result of three processes- it is differential reproduction due to heritable random variation.

    All results are after-the-fact assessments.

    Fitness is about reproductive success- and who outreproduces who is an after-the-fact assessment.

    Look here:

    Fitter or less fit are concepts we assign a posteriori.

    Do you not understand the theory of evolution?

  13. LOL!

    ScottAndrews2, one post

    That is why, despite protests, natural selection is tautological, at least when applied to evolutionary history. Whatever exists or existed was, by definition, selected. There are no other specifics or details to supplement that definition.

    ScottAndrews2, 30 minutes later

    I’m not claiming that natural selection does not exist or does not work. Artificial selection works as well.

    You’d make a great stand-up comedian.

  14. GinoB-

    You are the joke you moron. Natural selection can be a tautology and still exist.

    And ID does not say NS doesn’t exist ID says it doesn’t do anything and taht is what the evidence says.

  15. Founder effect- see Noah’s Ark…. ;)

  16. Joseph

    And ID does not say NS doesn’t exist ID says it doesn’t do anything and taht is what the evidence says.

    ScottAndrews2 says NS works. You say it doesn’t do anything.

    You guys ever going to agree on any point about ID ‘theory’?

  17. Yes GinoB, I understand taht you are a mental midget that cannot figure anything out on his own-

    AGAIN- natural selection is a result of 3 processes- NS is differential reproduction due to heritable random variation.

    There isn’t any selecting going on- so what do you think it does?

  18. 18

    GinoB,

    Trolling is easy. It’s easy to point out seeming inconsistencies between two statements when you don’t understand either.

    Natural selection is real. A change in temperature may kill most of a population of bacteria. The result is a population of bacteria that can survive in a different temperature.

    But the observed accumulations of such selections are always quite limited, comparable to the results of artificial selection. They are always the same type of bacteria, always dogs.

    Natural selection is also applied tautologically. When someone says that an organism evolved to its present state by means of variation and selection, they have no idea what the history of that selection might have been. They assume that because it exists in its current form, that form and the intermediate genetic increments that preceded it must have been selected. At this point selection is not an observation of differential reproduction for any particular reason. Selection is attributed to whatever exists or existed because it exists or existed. That is tautological and circular.

    I realize that to apply two differing assessments to one concept in two contexts is quite a strain for you. Or it simply provides a convenient target for yet another trollish, argumentative response.

    But that’s okay. Everyone else gets it, even if they don’t agree.

  19. ScottAndrews2

    Trolling is easy.

    Is that why you keep doing it?

    Natural selection is real. A change in temperature may kill most of a population of bacteria. The result is a population of bacteria that can survive in a different temperature.

    But the observed accumulations of such selections are always quite limited, comparable to the results of artificial selection. They are always the same type of bacteria, always dogs.

    ZOOM!! go Scott’s rocket powered goalposts!

    Natural selection is also applied tautologically. When someone says that an organism evolved to its present state by means of variation and selection, they have no idea what the history of that selection might have been

    ..and again with the standard evasion: “THAR AIN’T NO DARN EVIDENCE!!!!

    Want to discuss that paper on treehopper evolution yet? The one with evidence showing how the insects evolved a completely new body part?

    At this point selection is not an observation of differential reproduction for any particular reason.

    Now we get the channeling of Ken Ham: “were you there??? Did you see it???

    Tell us Scott – who observed your Intelligent Designer creating life forms?

    Maybe you wouldn’t make a good comedian, you keep using old stale material.

  20. 20

    Are you really that obtuse?

    Ah, the famed IDist civility which is in stark contrast to the oh-so-rude atheist materialist evolutionists.

    Yes, the results of natural selection are assessed after the fact, as you state in 3.2.1.1. Natural selection itself is not a result as you state in 3.2. That’s why I asked for elaboration. NS is the process whereby those organisms with traits that are more advantageous in a given environment reproduce more than those without.

    Yes, fitness used as you define in 3.2.1.1 – the population genetics sense – is an a posteriori assessment. However, fitness used in the ecological sense, as in “survival of the fittest” is slightly different. In this sense “fitness” is a composite or proxy for all the traits that permit differential reproduction. In this sense, “fitness” is the cause, and the catchphrase isn’t a tautology. The linked papers in the OP deal with the different uses of the term.

    Do you not understand the theory of evolution?

    Not as well as some, but better than most here I think.

  21. I googled “founder effect.” Relevance? Documented effects have been deafness and Huntington’s disease.

    It’s long been evident that separated populations of a species eventually vary from each other. That this would lead to some novel evolution is wishful.

    What bearing does that have on the tautological trio of fitness, survival, and selection? All three are real factors, but become instances of circular logic when applied historically. Everything demonstrates selection, and selection explains everything. Each is obviously true because the other is obviously true.

  22. PFXGumby:

    Natural selection itself is not a result as you state in 3.2.

    Yes. it is. It is the result of three processes:

    “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 3 processes are fecundity, heritability and random variation.

    “Natural selection is the simple result of variation, differential reproduction, and heredity—it is mindless and mechanistic.” UBerkley

    “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)

    PFX

    In this sense “fitness” is a composite or proxy for all the traits that permit differential reproduction.

    But even sheer dumb luck can result in an increase in “fitness”- as I said differential reproduction is an after-the-fact assessment.

    Survival of the fittest- who are the fittest? those who survive and reproduce. Who survives and reproduces? The fittest!

    The “filter” is very lax- whatever is “good enough” usually survives and reproduces.

  23. ScottAndrews2

    It’s long been evident that separated populations of a species eventually vary from each other. That this would lead to some novel evolution is wishful.

    LOL! Let me guess – you get to define ‘novel’ just like you defined ‘significant’, right?

    Can you please explain why the evolutionary changes documented in this paper about leafhopper evolution don’t qualify as ‘novel’?

    What bearing does that have on the tautological trio of fitness, survival, and selection? All three are real factors, but become instances of circular logic when applied historically. Everything demonstrates selection, and selection explains everything. Each is obviously true because the other is obviously true.

    You have already agreed that all three combined into one process are real, and empirically observable, and work to create observable evolutionary changes.

    What factors would make the identical process not work the same way in the past? Please be specific and provide your evidence that such factors actually existed.

    Your “you didn’t see it in real time so it didn’t happen” argument is as silly as they come. Tell us, who in real time observed wolves evolving into Chihuahuas and Great Danes? Is that circular reasoning too or is it supported by the genetic evidence?

  24. Actually, silver foxes evolved into household pets having many physical similarities to dogs in the course of one lifetime.

    Artificial selection, but no games played with the source of variation.

    The speed of evolution seems to vary depending on the type of regulatory networks. Canids seem to be very plastic. Cockroaches not so much.

  25. PetrushkaNovember 7, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    Actually, silver foxes evolved into household pets having many physical similarities to dogs in the course of one lifetime.

    That’s one human lifetime, not one fox lifetime. :)

    I assume you’re referring to this long term experiment to breed ‘tame’ foxes. Interesting thing is that as the foxes were being selected/bred for a tame disposition, they also experienced physical changes like raised tails and mottled fur. Just as many genes can affect one trait, one gene can affect many traits.

    ScottAndrews2, are dogs and foxes the same created ‘kind’? How can you tell?

  26. 26

    GinoB,

    Every post begins with “LOL!” No one actually believes that you are LOL. I suspect GMT is more accurate (grinding my teeth.) High blood pressure is the silent killer. (I, on the other hand, am developing powerful eye-rolling muscles.)

    As I have said, I will not read another link you post until you describe what it says in its own words to indicate that you have read and understood it, because that hasn’t been the case once so far.

    As for the answers to your other questions, they can be found by carefully re-reading my previous posts.

  27. ScottAndrews2

    As I have said, I will not read another link you post until you describe what it says in its own words to indicate that you have read and understood it, because that hasn’t been the case once so far.

    But I already did so Scott, right here. Here’s the description again:

    “a reconstruction of the evolution of the treehopper’s helmet (including genetic pathways involving Dll and hth genes, and nubbin protein) showing it is a modified T1 dorsal appendage with a bilateral origin. The primary use (and selection force) of the helmet is predator defense through mimicry.”

    You ran away and refused to comment on it, remember? It’s awfully hard to have a discussion when I’m here and you keep fleeing like your pants are on fire.

    As for the answers to your other questions, they can be found by carefully re-reading my previous posts.

    Really? That’s interesting because I just asked you for the first time if dogs and foxes the same created ‘kind’.

    Well, are they? It’s a simple question. Please answer it for the lurkers if not for me.

  28. 28

    GinoB,

    I’ll give you partial credit for a few of your own words. You did copy and paste some of it, which isn’t shameful except when you’re pretending they are your own words.

    From the author of the paper:

    “We don’t know the function of the helmet,” Prud’homme told LiveScience. “To human eyes, they look like they mimic the environment in which the animal lives.”

    There goes your natural selection. Rather than observing any selection at all, the author assumes it and comes up with a post-hoc explanation. At least he has the honesty to admit he doesn’t know. Odd that you’re more certain than he is.

    You therefore fail on demonstrating natural selection at work. A post-hoc guess at a selective cause cannot also be evidence of selection.

    The author explains that the “helmets” are simply expressions of a third set of wings which had not been used for millions of years. The “escape” of the wings from repression is considered a defect.

    How many tries is this, GinoB? Your latest and greatest evidence of the mechanisms of evolution is bugs with extra wings fused together. Even the author cannot say whether selection is at work. He admittedly makes a guess.

    He also states that it could be something more similar to the head of a horn beetle. In other words, after all this, he admits that it’s only a hypothetical explanation and that there are others.

    Most importantly, he plainly states that these are expressions of existing genes. Nothing new has been generated!

    “We understand how things can be removed, but don’t understand how novel features can be added,” Prud’homme said. “This is much more gray area of our understanding.”

    Curious that he describes what he doesn’t understand as “gray area.” That’s one way of putting it.

    What’s really amazing is that with all your Googling to find support for the cornerstone of all biology, this is all you can find. Do they keep the really good stuff in a secret vault somewhere?

    As usual, I haven’t said a thing you couldn’t have found out for yourself. Bugs with what might be helmets that might be fused-together wings or might not be. Please, stop overwhelming me with evidence.

    LOL, really!

  29. Big fat ROFL @ ScottAndrews2 the quote-miner! You still didn’t read the paper, only quote-mined sections from an MSNBC article!

    Why did you leave out this part?

    “We think this is an example of how evolution can work at a morphological level, by recycling a genetic program by expressing it in a new location on the body,” said study researcher Benjamin Prud’homme of the Institut de Biologie du Développement de Marseille-Luminy in France. “It was the raw material for evolution to play with, to evolve into new shapes.”

    You said there’s no evidence of a mechanism for forming new body parts at all The paper directly refutes you. But you’re way too immature to admit it.

    Curious that he describes what he doesn’t understand as “gray area.” That’s one way of putting it.

    That is a description of what his work is investigating and discovering, as the paper shows. The exact thing you keep claiming is impossible!

    I’ll note you ran away from yet another set of questions.

    Are dogs and foxes the same created ‘kind’? How can you tell?

    Please please please for once quit avoiding and answer the simple questions.

  30. 30

    GinoB,

    You still didn’t read the paper, only quote-mined sections from an MSNBC article!

    Of the two of us I’m the only one who did read it. Where did I get the part where he acknowledges the competing hypothesis?

    If you had read the article you’d have been able to tell that I’d read it.

    We think this is an example of how evolution can work at a morphological level, by recycling a genetic program by expressing it in a new location on the body

    If you wish to define evolution as moving around what was already there and putting it in weird places for no known reason, that works for me.

    Are dogs and foxes the same created ‘kind’? How can you tell?

    Don’t know, don’t care.

    I’m answering you for the sake of any onlookers who’ve been told for years about the mythical ‘mountain of evidence.’ You’re looking as hard as you can, I’ve lost count of how much you’ve dug up, and every paper is as substantive as dust on a scale. There is a mountain – a mountain of that stuff.

    Next time I’ll require a more thorough explanation in your own words, no cutting and pasting, before I reply. Two paragraphs minimum. If you want to waste my time you at least have to work for it.

  31. geez, Gino, Scott, do stop scrapping! I like you both dammit.

    Can’t we just get on and discuss the cichlids and the treehoppers? You’re welcome at my place, except you’d have to play nice.

  32. 32

    Elizabeth,

    I’d welcome a second opinion that I haven’t discussed the cichlids and the treehoppers, or that I haven’t ‘played nice.’

    The proper response is not to feed a troll. I’ve fallen short there, but I’ve otherwise shown restraint in the face of childlike insults and addressed the facts head on.

    I choose not to be offended, so let’s say I’m disappointed that you would imply otherwise.

  33. Well, I don’t think Gino’s a troll! He’s just a bit rude.

    Anyway, glad you aren’t [too] offended.

    I have to say, I think the treehoppers are awesome, and nice example, I would say, of a “new body part” that has good genetic underpinnings.

  34. 34

    Elizabeth,

    I’ve never been called so many foul, juvenile names in years of posting here as I have in several days, all with a very low signal-to-noise ratio. But enough about that.

    There’s no indication that the “helmet” is anything trulyh new. The current hypothesis is that at some point insects repressed their third set of wings, and at some point that repression failed, causing them to reappear fused together.

    What’s interesting is that even the author can’t determine with any certainty what the development is good for. (I appreciate his honesty as he expresses the tentative nature of his conclusions.)

    He suggests camouflage, and that’s what they look like to me, too. But it’s difficult to even imagine an evolutionary narrative that resurrects an unused body part which has no apparent use until it adapts into not one, but over a dozen unique camouflage designs.

    Either way, selection for camouflage is a post-hoc guess, which renders them useless as evidence of what selection can accomplish. It could be some bizarre epigenetic effect. It’s equally valid to say that it looks like someone had fun making bugs for someone else to find one day. There’s almost a sense of humor in some of them. It’s there if we just don’t tune it out. And in bugs, of all places!

    But for obvious reasons, explaining evolution as the recycling of what evolved previously doesn’t do much good.

  35. Well, I shouldn’t have said anything, Scott. I apologise. I just rather like treehoppers!

    OK, that’s interesting to hear your take. And I guess I could agree that they could be an argument for a designer with a sense of humour!

  36. Those organisms that leave more offspring than others within a population are called the “fit” or “fittest”. It doesn’t matter why they’re the fit, because natural selection is not a theory of “who’s fit” (unfortunately “survival of the fittest” can give that impression) – it’s a theory of evolution.

    If it was a theory of “who’s the fittest”, than yeah, it would be tautological.

  37. 37

    goodusername,

    Evolution posits that certain variations result in differential reproduction. That’s natural selection. I’ve heard discussions over whether it’s a cause or an effect, but I don’t think it makes any difference.

    Natural selection is critical to the evolutionary narrative, even though that narrative is ultimately insufficient. If we say that some variations became fixed because they conferred an advantage (fitness) then it’s at least something, although it doesn’t add up to explain very much.

    But if we take fitness and differential reproduction as one and the same rather than cause and effect, where does that leave us? Some variations flourished because they just did? Why? You’ve got to put differential reproduction resulting from increased fitness (using the term broadly) back into the equation.

    The problem is that you can’t separate the two. When one attempts to trace any evolutionary change, survival is always the observation (even an extinct species was around long enough to leave fossils) and selection is always the assumption.

  38. Elizabeth Liddle

    geez, Gino, Scott, do stop scrapping! I like you both dammit.

    I know Lizzie, you’re right. I guess after years of dealing with Creationists liars and quote-miners my skin has gotten thin. It still amazes me you can tolerate the abuse that is tossed at you by the ‘civil’ UD posters here.

    Can’t we just get on and discuss the cichlids and the treehoppers? You’re welcome at my place, except you’d have to play nice.

    I’d love to, if I could find someone who wouldn’t hand wave away the evidence with “but they’re still just FISH! they’re still just BUGS!!”. You know anyone like that at UD?

  39. ScottAndrews2

    He suggests camouflage, and that’s what they look like to me, too. But it’s difficult to even imagine an evolutionary narrative that resurrects an unused body part which has no apparent use until it adapts into not one, but over a dozen unique camouflage designs.

    Nature isn’t limited by your inability to imagine it Scott. Defensive mimicry including camouflage is a well known and well researched topic in evolutionary theory. It’s been identified in hundreds of species with dozens of different types of mimicry strategies. Mimicry in treehoppers has also been studied and confirmed, exactly as I said earlier.


    Phylogenetic patterns of mimicry strategies in Darnini (Hemiptera: Membracidae)

    If you’d stop being such an arrogant ass for one second there’s lots here you could learn.

  40. 40

    GinoB,

    It’s been identified in hundreds of species with dozens of different types of mimicry strategies. Mimicry in treehoppers has also been studied and confirmed, exactly as I said earlier.

    Studied and confirmed? That takes the wind out my sails. It’s tough being a 21st century mimicry-denier.

    Dozens of mimicry strategies? As in 24 or more? Let’s see – take the shape of something else, take the color of something else, sound like something else, smell like something else, taste like something else (last resort)… I’m out. You’ll have to fill me in on the other 18.

  41. ScottAndrews2

    The problem is that you can’t separate the two. When one attempts to trace any evolutionary change, survival is always the observation (even an extinct species was around long enough to leave fossils) and selection is always the assumption.

    The question you need to answer is why shouldn’t it be an assumption? You have already admitted the process has been empirically observed, is known to work in real world cases (i.e artificial selection) that are short enough to be recorded, and leaves trace evidence (clear transitional sequences) identical to that found in the fossil records. What would make the process not work in the past?

    We know empirically what the mechanisms that makes footprints are. We can empirically observe the process at work today. Yet when we find fossilized footprints I don’t hear anyone screaming “We don’t know those track were cause by an animal walking, they could be carved by little feet fairies!!”

  42. ScottAndrews2

    Studied and confirmed? That takes the wind out my sails. It’s tough being a 21st century mimicry-denier.

    Yes, studied and confirmed. You seem to have no problems denying almost all scientific evidence that threatens your religious views.

    Dozens of mimicry strategies? As in 24 or more? Let’s see – take the shape of something else, take the color of something else, sound like something else, smell like something else, taste like something else (last resort)… I’m out. You’ll have to fill me in on the other 18

    There were at least a dozen major strategies listed in the Wiki article I linked to, with each having multiple variations.

    2.1 Defensive
    2.1.1 Batesian
    2.1.2 Müllerian
    2.1.3 Emsleyan/Mertensian
    2.1.4 Wasmannian
    2.1.5 Mimetic weeds
    2.1.6 Protective egg decoys
    2.1.7 Protective mimicry within a species
    2.2 Aggressive
    2.2.1 Parasites
    2.3 Reproductive
    2.3.1 Mimicry of flowers
    2.3.2 Pseudocopulation
    2.3.3 Inter-sexual mimicry
    2.4 Automimicry
    2.5 Other

    But I know you were too lazy to read the article. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anyone embrace willful ignorance like you do.

  43. And what is the evidence that these strategies arose via blind, undirected chemical processes?

    How can we even test such a claim?

  44. 44

    I googled “founder effect.” Relevance?

    The founder effect is a well known case of genetic drift and has long been acknowledged as a driver of evolution. As such, this directly refutes your assertion that:

    when applied historically it is just assumed that whatever existed or lived was selected.

  45. 45

    If you can’t or won’t understand my point on natural selection as a process, I’m not going to get into semantic arguments.

    But even sheer dumb luck can result in an increase in “fitness”- as I said differential reproduction is an after-the-fact assessment.

    And I said that you were correct. I also said that there are other ways in which the term “fitness” is used and pointed out the papers linked in the post referred to in the OP. You obviously ignored these.

    Regarding your Provine quote, it’s plain that this refers to the usage of natural selection “language”. This is a call for greater precision in identifying the particular traits and pressures that drive natural selection. It is not a refutation of the basic concept of natural selection. If you disagree, you might provide more context for that quote and show me where I’m wrong. Or did you just get this from Morris’s creationist quote-mine bible?

  46. PFXG:

    If you can’t or won’t understand my point on natural selection as a process, I’m not going to get into semantic arguments.

    You don’t have a point.

    OTOH I have supported my claim.

    It is not a refutation of the basic concept of natural selection.

    I never said it was a refutation.

    However it is clear that NS doesn’t “do” anything- it just is- meaning if you have differential reproduction due to heriotable random variation then you have natural selection- and THAT is what makes it an after-the-fact assessment.

    See also:

    The Strength of Natural Selection in the Wild:

    Natural selection disappears as a biological force and reappears as a statistical artifact. The change is not trivial. It is one thing to say that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution; it is quite another thing to say that nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of various regression correlations between quantitative characteristics. It hardly appears obvious that if natural selection is simply a matter of correlations established between quantitative traits, that Darwin’s theory has any content beyond the phenomenological, and in the most obvious sense, is no theory at all.

    Be that as it may, the real burden of Kingsolver’s study lies in the quantitative conclusions it reaches. Two correlations are at issue. The first is linear, and corresponds to what in population genetics is called directional selection; and the second quadratic, and corresponds either to stabilizing or disruptive selection. These are the cornerstones of the modern hill and valley model of much of mathematical population genetics. Kingsolver reported a median absolute value of 0.16 for linear selection, and a median absolute value of 0.10 for quadratic selection. Thus an increase of one standard deviation in, say, beak finch length, could be expected to change fitness by only 16 percent in the case of linear selection, and 10 percent in the case of quadratic selection. These figures are commonly understood to represent a very weak correlation. Thus if a change in the length of a beak’s finch by one standard deviation explains 16 percent of the change in the population’s fitness, 84 percent of the change is not explained by selection at all.

  47. 47

    Prof. X Gumby.

    Yes, the results of natural selection are assessed after the fact, as you state in 3.2.1.1. Natural selection itself is not a result as you state in 3.2.

    I understand that you have a definition of natural selection which is not meant to be tautological. Natural selection is a process, and biological diversity is the result. You are describing two different things.

    The apparent tautology is that the one thing is always the other thing. Whatever was selected was the fittest, whatever was fittest was selected, and whatever we see around as was evidently both the fittest and was selected, at least up until this point. What makes this circular is that the only actual observation is the presence of a living thing. Selection and fitness are assumed. You can make up a post-hoc explanation later or not.

    I’m not saying that natural selection is made up. It’s obviously not. But look back at any historical transition, the ones that make up the ‘mountains of evidence,’ and you’ll see that selection is either missing entirely from the explanation or added as a rather vague narrative after the fact. It is always applied to broad phenotypic changes rather than incremental genetic ones.

    Selection is one of the legs of the stool, and it’s almost always missing. Whenever the actual selection of a genetic change is included, the change is far too small to extrapolate to large-scale evolution. The accumulated evidence indicates that selection changes the color of cichlid fishes, the shapes of bird beaks (perhaps), and accumulates situationally beneficial loss-of-function mutations. That’s all you can get from the evidence.

  48. What makes this circular is that the only actual observation is the presence of a living thing. Selection and fitness are assumed. You can make up a post-hoc explanation later or not.

    What makes it not circular is thousands of years of experimental evidence in plant and animal breeding — evidence explored in the first sections of Origin of Species and confirmed by countless formal experiments.

    Or perhaps you disagree with Newton’s rules of reasoning, and think that things obey different laws in experimental situations.

  49. 49

    GinoB,

    The question you need to answer is why shouldn’t it be an assumption?

    I think everyone already knows that answer to that.

    You have already admitted the process has been empirically observed, is known to work in real world cases (i.e artificial selection) that are short enough to be recorded, and leaves trace evidence (clear transitional sequences) identical to that found in the fossil records.

    If variation identical to that in the fossil record has been observed, even through artificial selection, then your position would get even weaker. If the best fossil transition you have is from a small dog to a big dog, so be it.

    There is a degree of diversification that evolution seeks to explain, and it’s far greater than a transition from a wolf to a poodle.

    What would make the process not work in the past?

    I’m certain that everything we have ever observed in the present was at work in the past. Creatures are getting bigger, smaller, changing colors, etc. Looking at the variations among dogs alone makes one wonder what sort of interesting diversification might have taken place.

    But you’re looking for something in the past that no one has seen in the present, cannot be extrapolated from any evidence, and faces so many insurmountable obstacles that even respected scientists resort to making up outlandish stories or at least glossing over the details.

  50. 50

    Petrushka,

    Those thousands of years of evidence are quite real, but they have yet to show a trace of producing any of the diversity attributed to selection.

    Read my last paragraph again. I don’t think that selection obeys different rules in experimental situations. I’m sure it follows about the same rules. You are claiming that it obeys different rules in non-experimental, historical situations.

  51. Those thousands of years of evidence are quite real, but they have yet to show a trace of producing any of the diversity attributed to selection.

    I’ve read your paragraph.

    The morphological changes brought about by selection in Maize are broader than those separating species in the fossil record. Same for dogs. One could cite hundreds of such examples.

    Michael Behe accepts the fossil evidence for common descent and the capability of selection to produce diversity via incremental changes in regulatory networks.

    There’s a reason why Behe limits his arguments to a few isolated cases like the flagellum. He knows that his arguments regarding protein evolution don’t apply to the diversification of vertebrates.

  52. ScottAndrews2

    But you’re looking for something in the past that no one has seen in the present, cannot be extrapolated from any evidence, and faces so many insurmountable obstacles that even respected scientists resort to making up outlandish stories or at least glossing over the details.

    There’s where your scientific ignorance betrays you. We *have* seen the process work in the present. We *can* extrapolate based not only on the observed process but also on the evidence the process left behind, in the matching fossil and genetic records. The ‘insurmountable obstacles’ exist only in your head. You can’t demonstrate even one despite being asked multiple times.

    No one’s seen a mountain form from the collision of two tectonic plates. However, we can measure the plate movement now and measure the growth in elevation of still rising mountains. Do you think science should assume all mountains formed in the past were pushed up by pixies because no one was there to observe them?

    You seem to fond of using dogs in your examples. I asked you before if you though dogs and foxes were the same ‘kind’ (i.e. related through a common ancestor) and you replied “don’t know, don’t care.” Well, you should care.

    Here’s a genetic study of the canid genome showing the interrelatedness of all extant canid species, including foxes, wolves, dingoes, jackals.

    Genome sequence, comparative analysis and haplotype structure of the domestic dog

    Phylogeny of canid species.

    I’d love to hear your explanation for this genetic evidence. And please, no insulting everyone’s intelligence with the worthless evasion “common designer!”

  53. 53

    Here’s another way of looking at it. Dogs are an excellent example of artificial selection, but we could use any other example.

    Is there any reason to suspect that, given sufficient time, even hundreds or thousands of human generations, that one could breed dogs to the point that they were something novel and new (as opposed to loss of function – creepy things come to mind.)

    I’m not using these examples to be facetious. I’m just trying to understand what you think might actually be possible, and why. Could we breed dogs that stayed underwater for hours? Could we get them to grow skin between their limbs and glide between trees? To repurpose their tails, or learn to dextrously maneuver their paws? Could we instill the behavior as well so they would engage in such behaviors in our absence and pass them on to offspring?

    I’m illustrating the vast gulf between the observed reality of the changes produced by selection, artificial or otherwise, and the degrees of change that are attributed to it beyond any such evidence.

  54. Has anyone ever done a complete side-by-side comparison of all those genomes?

    The reason I am asking- and BTW even YEC is OK with all canids evolving from the original population of the canid kind- is that phylogenies are based on functional sequences and as far as anyone knows those have to do mostly with day-to-day operations of the cell, which in similar organisms we would expect them to be similar.

    But anyway if it is untestable- that is the common ancestry- then why should anyone care about theoretical musings of untestable past events?

    As for common design (not designer) being worthless, well that is just plain ignorance. We actually have experience with common designs and we can then apply that experience to these.

    IOW YOU insult everyone’s intelligence with your ignorant spewage and evidence-free rants.

  55. 55

    GinoB,

    Have you forgotten what process we’re even talking about?

    There’s where your scientific ignorance betrays you. We *have* seen the process work in the present. We *can* extrapolate based not only on the observed process but also on the evidence the process left behind, in the matching fossil and genetic records.

    How do you observe natural selection in fossil records? You cannot, for two reasons. One, selection operates at the genetic level, on increments that could not be distinguished within fossils. Second, if the aforementioned were not true, you still could not demonstrate that any such variation resulted in differential reproduction. It would be a post-hoc explanation. (Even in the case of living things such as treehoppers that live under our noses, selective causes are still guessed at.)

    Perhaps I elaborate too much. Just explain how you observe natural selection operating on incremental genetic variations in the fossil record.

    Even if you could map the entire genome of every creature that lived in the past 100 million years and you could arrange them in a perfect phylogenetic tree that no one could question, how would you explain it using natural selection?

  56. ScottAndrews2

    How do you observe natural selection in fossil records?

    You can’t *directly* observe it. You directly observe the evidence it left behind in both the fossil and genetic records.

    Scott, your argument is as silly as demanding we observe gravity in the results of a million year old rock slide. Nothing short of a time machine will satisfy that sort of ridiculous demand.

    Science don’t have to demonstrate that the process of natural selection was there. It’s a well substantiated assumption based on every last thing we know about biological processes. If your hypothesis is the process wasn’t there, you need to give a reason why it would be missing, along with your evidence.

    There is ample evidence in the fossil record of selection happening, violent competition between animals – bitten through bones, claw/teeth makes on them too. We’ve even got fossilized animals with other smaller animals in their stomachs. Why do you think the smaller animals ended up there – crawled in for a warm place to sleep?

  57. ScottAndrews2

    Is there any reason to suspect that, given sufficient time, even hundreds or thousands of human generations, that one could breed dogs to the point that they were something novel and new (as opposed to loss of function – creepy things come to mind.)

    There is every reason to believe it is possible given what we know about evolutionary processes, and nothing that suggests it is impossible.

    I’m not using these examples to be facetious. I’m just trying to understand what you think might actually be possible, and why. Could we breed dogs that stayed underwater for hours?

    Like their fellow mammals whales do now?

    Could we get them to grow skin between their limbs and glide between trees?

    Like flying squirrels did when they evolved differences from ground squirrels?

    To repurpose their tails, or learn to dextrously maneuver their paws?

    Like their fellow mammals otters do now?

    Could we instill the behavior as well so they would engage in such behaviors in our absence and pass them on to offspring?

    Like the behavior of the tame silver foxes, behavior they evolved to possess in only 50 years?

    Yes to all, unless you’d like to present evidence that it’s impossible. “We haven’t seen it in real time!” won’t cut it as an excuse anymore Scott.

  58. 58

    GinoB,

    You directly observe the evidence it left behind in both the fossil and genetic records.

    No, you don’t. That’s exactly what I just explained. How can you possibly attribute any change in the fossil record to natural selection?

    Science don’t have to demonstrate that the process of natural selection was there. It’s a well substantiated assumption based on every last thing we know about biological processes.

    I agree with that assumption. I can’t imagine any reason to think that natural selection has not always been at work just as it is now. Things have always gotten bigger, smaller, changed shape some, changed colors, etc. You seem to think that it has worked differently than it does now. Why?

    There is ample evidence in the fossil record of selection happening, violent competition between animals – bitten through bones, claw/teeth makes on them too.

    This is where I must ask you to formulate the entire thought in your own words, and then perhaps you will realize how absurd this reasoning is.

    “There was once a species. A particular gene varied, resulting in [insert your phenotypic or behavioral change resulting from the variation] and for [insert a specific reason] resulted in differential reproduction. This is evidenced by a skeleton with claw marks or bite marks, or one skeleton found within another.”

    Do you see that even if you could fill in the blanks with factual information (which you cannot) it still wouldn’t make any sense at all?

    Again, I ask, how do you observe natural selection operating on genetic variations within the fossil records?

    As I said earlier, even if you could map the genomes of every single creature that ever lived and arrange them in a perfect, undeniable phylogenetic tree, and if you could lay out beside it every single corresponding fossil, you still could not derive selection from it. You would have no choice but to tautologically define selection as the exact state of the tree at any given point in time.

  59. Petrushka:

    What makes it not circular is thousands of years of experimental evidence in plant and animal breeding — evidence explored in the first sections of Origin of Species and confirmed by countless formal experiments.

    Everything we know about natural selection says it leads to a wobbling stability and no net evolution- no progress, no new complexity, nothing but a wobbling stability- meaning populations ocsillate around a mean.

    That is what observations and experiments say.

  60. goodusername:

    Those organisms that leave more offspring than others within a population are called the “fit” or “fittest”. It doesn’t matter why they’re the fit, because natural selection is not a theory of “who’s fit” (unfortunately “survival of the fittest” can give that impression) – it’s a theory of evolution.

    How then do you respond to this argument:

    If “fitness” means that an organism leaves more offspring than others, then why does death exist?

    IOW, if I lived to be a healthy 100,000 years old, able to procreate the whole time, then I certainly would have left behind many, many more offspring than someone who lived for only 75 years. Therefore, living an extended life is more “fit” than living a life of shorter duration.

    If you extend this argument outward in similar fashion, then death shouldn’t even exist. The fittest race would be those who didn’t die (or, at least approximate it).

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