Home » speciation, Uncommon Descent Contest » Uncommon Descent Contest Question 21: What if Darwin’s theory only works 6 percent of the time?

Uncommon Descent Contest Question 21: What if Darwin’s theory only works 6 percent of the time?

(Note: There was a problem posting entry comments here, so this contest has been reposted: Go here to enter. All previous entries will be judged, so no need to repost.)

Here’s an interesting article in New Scientist by Bob Holmes on a new approach to how animals become separate species (“Accidental origins: Where species come from”, March 10, 2010):

Everywhere you look in nature, you can see evidence of natural selection at work in the adaptation of species to their environment. Surprisingly though, natural selection may have little role to play in one of the key steps of evolution – the origin of new species. Instead it would appear that speciation is merely an accident of fate.

So, at least, says Mark Pagel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading, UK. If his controversial claim proves correct, then the broad canvas of life – the profusion of beetles and rodents, the dearth of primates, and so on – may have less to do with the guiding hand of natural selection and more to do with evolutionary accident-proneness.

[ ... ]

“When it works, it works remarkably well,” he says. “But it only works in about 6 per cent of cases. It doesn’t seem to be a general way that groups of species fill out their niches.”

Then Darwin’s theory just barely makes it to statistical significance, conventionally given as 4 per cent.

The otherwise most informative article is marred by the constant need to claim that Darwin was not wrong – but obviously, if Pagels is right, Darwin was indeed wrong, and so are all the people fronting his cause. Natural selection acting on random mutation was, precisely, Darwin’s proposed mechanism.

No one supposes that natural selection doesn’t occur. But is it the main driver of new species, as Darwin thought, and Pagels doubts?

Pagels dances very nervously indeed around that point (presumably from fear of joining the Expelled, given that his genome research has failed to back Darwin up.

So, for a free copy of Expelled, which details what happened to a variety of people who questioned establishment Darwinism, based on its failures of evidence, read the article and provide the best answer to this question: What do you think of Pagels’ evidence? Is it critical? Is he just blowing smoke? Will he be forced to recant?

Here are the contest rules, not many or difficult. The main thing is 400 words or less. Winners receive a certificate verifying their win as well as the prize. Winners must provide me with a valid postal address, though it need not be theirs. A winner’s name is never added to a mailing list. There is no mailing list. Have fun!

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20 Responses to Uncommon Descent Contest Question 21: What if Darwin’s theory only works 6 percent of the time?

  1. Pagel’s hypothesis would seem completely consistent with other evolutionary literature!

    All one really needs is sufficient amounts of accumulated mutation, and voila, one essentially gets a new set of modified creatures with defining characteristics.

    Given that 95%+ molecular evolution was demonstrated by Kimura to not be subject to selection, it would not be surprising if 95% of the supposed speciation events occured without any meaningful amounts of “natural” selection.

    Mutation followed by “random” selection would be just as adequate to create reproductive isolation. That should be a straight forward deduction from the principles of mathematicl population biology.

    The only thing that is really amazing is that it’s taking so long for people to accept that large scale population transformation and “speciation” events occur more often without natural selection than with. That inference proceed directly from Kimura’s work.

    This is a victory for the mutationist and neutralist schools of evolution (the mutationists are not Darwinists in the strict sense). It is indirectly a victory for ID.

  2. Everywhere you look in nature, you can see evidence of natural selection at work in the adaptation of species to their environment

    And you can see more evidence for its absence. That proceed directly from the math.

    To give an extreme illustration consider a population of 10 individuals, each with 4 Billion traits (that figure is consistent with the number of nucleotides in a human). It’s futile to say that natural selection can possibly police the behavior of all 4 billion traits in a population of 10 individuals with any degree of specificity.

    The problem is less obvious in large populations, but it still exists, and in some respects, large population carry other problems for selection, not the least of which is whether it can work on large populations that are geographically dispersed!

    The ineffectiveness of selection in theory is borne out in practice. It doesn’t exist in large amounts, nor can it exist. The question has nothing to do with ID specifically, it is a matter of mathematics when one is deal with large numbers of traits and complexity.

    Kimura made the first crack in the Dam, the floodgates should have opened by now if his work was better understood and received.

  3. This isn’t Richard Dawkin’s understanding of evolution. After all, this is what he said in interview:

    JM: But the argument was constantly leveled about the, um, the imperceptible changes which might in fact, as they were developed and recurred, would have culminated in something as useful as a feather. They constantly emphasise the fact, what was it about that early novelty before it had accumulated to the point where it was recognisably doing an adaptive job… where could natural selection get it’s purchase upon something which was no more than a pimple?

    RD: Yes. Um… well it’s a fair point. It’s one that I’ve talked about quite a lot. Um… there… we… there cannot have been intermediate stages that were not beneficial. It’s… there’s no room in natural selection for the sort of foresight argument that says, “Well, if we’re going to persist for the next million years it’ll start becoming useful.” That doesn’t work, there’s got to be a selection pressure all the way.

    JM: So there isn’t a process as it were going on in the cell saying, “Look, be patient. It’s going to be a feather, believe me.

    RD: Um no. Yes.

    JM: Sydney Bremner satirised that beautifully when he said he imagined some protein arising in the Cambrian which was kept because, “It might come in handy in the Cretaceous”.

    RD: Um… it’s… it doesn’t happen like that. Um, there’s got to be a series of advantages all the way in the feather. If you can’t think of one then that’s your problem, not natural selection’s problem. Natural selection, um, well, I suppose that is a sort of matter of faith on my, on my part since the theory is so coherent and so powerful. You mentioned feathers. I mean it’s perfectly possible that feathers began as fluffy, um, extensions of reptilian scales to act as heat insulators. And so the final perfection of the sort of, wing feathers that we see in flying birds might have come very much later. And the earliest feathers might have been a different approach to hairiness among reptiles keeping them warm. Over and over again we come across, um cases where an organ starts out doing one thing and then gets modified to doing another thing.

    source http://triablogue.blogspot.com.....faith.html

  4. This post really reminds me of what I was thinking when I first read Genetic Entropy. It appears that most of the changes that occur in a given genome aren’t significant enough to even be selected for or against.

    By the time there are numerous “neutral” changes, they eventually have a huge potential of becoming negative. By the time another point mutation occurs that might make the neutral changes manifest themselves as deleterious, it’s too late. There are already too many changes that sneaked past selection so there’s no realistic chance of repair.

    But as this site has had to point out before, this only applies to higher level living organisms with larger genomes. Such circumstances makes it easier for point mutations to have little effect at all until they start to pile up on each other.

  5. Then Darwin’s theory just barely makes it to statistical significance, conventionally given as 4 per cent.

    Denyse – either you referring to some unusual definition of statistical significance or you are suffering from a total misunderstanding.

    In its usual meaning statistical significance is measured by the probability of the observed outcome happening through chance as opposed to a proposed hypothesis. The lower the probability the greater the significance. There isn’t even a hypothesis to be tested here. It is accepted that natural selection accounts for 6% of the cases. Even if there were a hypothesis the measure would not be the percentage of some outcome in the sample – it would a probability. A common measure of significance is a probability of less than 5% that the outcome was due to chance.

  6. wow this means my hypothesis of restricted evolution has some hope. The idea simple any change with out natural section will be limited by the 2nd law which means traits lack orderliness. Only natural can over come 2nd law limitation if it is 100 percent efficient. also creates may go through incomplete changes because as they change selective pressure drops. unrestricted evolution only works to my knowledge when natural selection works 100% of the time.
    All we have to do is show what happens when natural selection does not work and we win.

  7. Mark Frank, 4% is a conventional +- significance number in opinion polling – not always just reading entrails.

    If Darwinism performs no better than 6%, I would sell the investment.

  8. It seems that Mark Frank specifically explained the term significance in biological experiments. It seems that his whole explanation is wholeheartedly ignored.

  9. Mrs. O’Leary (OP) -

    No one supposes that natural selection doesn’t occur.

    I wish I could be confident of that, but Sal has falsified it: “The ineffectiveness of selection in theory is borne out in practice. It doesn’t exist in large amounts, nor can it exist”.

    Teach the controversy? :-)

    Mark Frank, 4% is a conventional +- significance number in opinion polling – not always just reading entrails.

    I’m more used to a 3% margin of error: the usual sample size used is about 1000, and this gives the 3% margin of error based on sampling theory.

    What this has to do with Pagel’s point estimate of 6% I have no idea. Can you explain? Do you have an estimate of his uncertainty?

  10. 10

    hrun0815, I agree. To use ideas from opinion polling to describe the “statistical significance” of a scientific theory is just bizarre, especially after having been soundly corrected by Mark Frank.

  11. Mark Frank, 4% is a conventional +- significance number in opinion polling – not always just reading entrails.

    Denyse – I guess you are talking about the margin of error in an opinion poll. This depends on the size of the sample and the acceptable confidence level (plus things like the quality of the sampling). There is no “conventional percentage” – although I believe that in practice a lot do have a margin of 3-4% with 95% confidence.

    Most importantly this margin of error is utterly irrelevant to the study above. Margin of error of what? There is nothing being estimated!

    Or maybe you mean something other than margin of error?

  12. scordova,

    It is amusing to see you pushing Kimura’s theory of neutral mutations and drift here, while on Mr Johnnyb’s “Academic Freedom” thread you’re claiming it doesn’t work. Nachman’s deleterious mutation rate of three mutations per genome per generation is calculated using Kimura’s assumptions.

    You can’t have it both ways.

  13. Nak, If you find it amusing that Sal is using Kimura’s,,,

    Evolution Vs Genetic Entropy – video
    http://www.gvsmedia.com/1/vide.....28086.html

    ,,,Why don’t you find it amusing that here you are on a site, discussing the sheer discontinuity found from the in-depth analysis of DNA trees, trying to salvage a slight hope for Neo-Darwinian gradualism?

  14. Nak,
    or to quote the paper being discussed:

    Accidental origins: Where species come from – March 2010
    Excerpt: If speciation results from natural selection via many small changes, you would expect the branch lengths to fit a bell-shaped curve.,,, Instead, Pagel’s team found that in 78 per cent of the trees, the best fit for the branch length distribution was another familiar curve, known as the exponential distribution. Like the bell curve, the exponential has a straightforward explanation – but it is a disquieting one for evolutionary biologists. The exponential is the pattern you get when you are waiting for some single, infrequent event to happen.,,,To Pagel, the implications for speciation are clear: “It isn’t the accumulation of events that causes a speciation, it’s single, rare events falling out of the sky, so to speak.”
    http://www.newscientist.com/ar.....tml?page=2

  15. 15

    Mark Frank [11], I think you’re right that Denyse is probably referring to acceptable margins of error in opinion surveys. But maybe she’s talking about financial return (“If Darwinism performs no better than 6%, I would sell the investment.”) For my part, I’d love an investment that regularly returned 6%.

  16. Actually, you’re quoting the New Scientist report of Pagel’s paper, which also says:

    This has implications for one of the most contentious aspects of evolution: whether it is predictable or not. If Pagel is correct, natural selection shapes existing species in a gradual and somewhat predictable way,> but the accidental nature of speciation means that the grand sweep of evolutionary change is unpredictable. In that sense his findings seem to fit with the famous metaphor of the late Stephen Jay Gould, who argued that if you were able to rewind history and replay the evolution of life on Earth, it would turn out differently every time.

    So selection, neutral theory, punctuated equilibria are all still on the board. Pagel’s paper just suggests that environmental accidents play a greater role. Still no sign of God or a designer, though

  17. If Pagel is correct, natural selection shapes existing species in a gradual and somewhat predictable way

    Of course natural selection shapes species! That idea was published by creationist Blyth before it was plagiarized by Darwin.

    What Darwin got wrong is the Origin of Species by means of natural selection. And in Darwin’s sense, that mean the origination of eyes, proteins, lungs wings. That’s never been proven. And Pagels has helped disprove Darwin’s claims of the adequacy of Natural Selection.

    Blyth’s conception was accurate and even described “radiations” from ancestral forms.

    Creation of complex features via Darwinian evolution has only been speculated, not proven.

    As I’ve said, it’s been known and experimentally established the vast majority of molecular evolution is non-Darwinian.

    Kimrua’s reasoning is articulated here:

    Molecular evolution and Neutral Theory. The link provides some anemic and misplaced criticisms of Kimura, but it lays out arguments in favor of non-Darwinian evolution quite well.

    The problem of inadequate population resources relative to the number of traits is something that can’t be hand waved away by the selectionist camp. If the vast majority of molecular evolution is non-Darwinian, it stands to reason the vast majority of speciation is non-Darwinian.

  18. It is amusing to see you pushing Kimura’s theory of neutral mutations and drift here, while on Mr Johnnyb’s “Academic Freedom” thread you’re claiming it doesn’t work. Nachman’s deleterious mutation rate of three mutations per genome per generation is calculated using Kimura’s assumptions.

    You can’t have it both ways.

    Unfortunately this isn’t the place for me waste readers time with your misrepresentations and distortions of what I said.

    I didn’t say Kimura’s theory doesn’t work in Johnnyb’s thread. That’s your fabrication, and one which readers can verify for themseleves by reading the thread here:

    Modest Proposal for Academic Freedom. The readers are invited to search for the phrase “Kimura” in that thread and see if I said anything resembling Nakashima’s claim.

    Gee Nakashima, if you want to fabricate something about what I said, wouldn’t it be better to make sure it isn’t in a venue where readers can be independently verify the claims by going to the actual threads themselves. (rolls eyes)

  19. Well, actually sev,
    The details, which aren’t fully elucidated in the article, are “somewhat” gradual within kind, and dramatically discontinuous with new kind,,,but wait seversky isn’t that the biblical model?
    Should we dig out that old Darwin Was Wrong article so we can get a little more resolution on the matter?,,,

    What is that phrase??? Oh yeah “We’ve just annihilated Darwin’s Tree Of Life”,,, Dang thing is that evolutionists don’t ever listen to the evidence… Why is this Sev? Did you somehow rationalize that whole annihilation thing away?

  20. scordova,

    Your repeated flogging of the Nachman U-Paradox and claim that 100 deleterious mutations is a better number than 3 is an attack on Kimura’s methods as you’d know if you read the paper. You don’t have to mention Kimura by name, since you are advocating a position in that thread that cannot be reconciled with Kimura.

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