Intelligent Design

EA on Random Turtles

Spread the love

We’ve all laughed at the naive “turtles all the way down” story. What follows is all Eric Anderson’s “randomness all the way down” story:

[WD writes:] I’m saying the non-random survival . . .

It is pretty much randomness all the way down. How did the particular particle interact with the copying mechanism to cause a mutation? How did that particular mutation end up interacting in the organism to produce an effect? What result did that have in that particular organism, as opposed to another? How did that particular mutation get spread in the population? What environmental factor happened to come along after the mutation that resulted in it making a difference? Which organism happened to be on a high rock when the flood came, or under protection when the hail fell, or hidden from sight when the predator arrived? And on and on. Everything that goes on within a lineage to get an organism to where it is today; everything that went on in the predator’s lineage to get them where they are today; all the vagaries and hazards of nature. It is essentially randomness all the way down.

Natural selection is not any kind of force. It is simply an after the fact label attached to the results of processes that are seldom understood, rarely identified, and that (as a practical matter) are essentially random. Natural selection doesn’t impart any “non-random” directionality to evolution. It is simply a label attached to the outcome, and attaching a label to the result of what is essentially a random process does not make the process non-random.

[WD writes:] “It’s not simply that survivors survive, but those individuals that are best adapted to their environment survive, and so over time lineages become better adapted.”

And how, pray tell, do we know that a particular organism was “best adapted to its environment”? Because it survived.

Look, if someone wants to use the two words “natural selection” as a shorthand way to avoid having to say: “Organisms are more likely to survive if they happen to be in a lineage that happens to have conferred a (generally unidentified) mutation that (in some typically unknown way) happened to provide a characteristic that happened to be helpful in the particular environment in which they happened to be living at the time, as compared to other organisms that were less lucky.” — If someone wants to use “natural selection” as ashorthand expression so that they don’t have to say all that, then fine.

The problem arises, as it does so frequently, when natural selection is put forward as an explanation for an organism’s survival. In that case it almost always falls back on survivability as the (often unspoken) definition. In that case it is a useless tautology. Worse, it gives people the false impression that some kind of “scientific” explanation has been proffered, when it is really just a confession of ignorance about the real underlying processes.

Think of it this way:

If we can identify, with particularity, what actually caused an organism to survive — the specific trait, particular molecular machines, identifiable proteins and DNA sequences, the particular environmental factors, predation, weather, flood, drought, and so on — if we can identify precisely what caused the “differential survival” in the population, then we can talk about the real, physical, concrete, underlying, specific cause just fine, thank you very much, without ever invoking the label of “natural selection”.

It is only when we don’t know what the actual forces and causes were at work that “natural selection” need be invoked. Unfortunately, in that case, it functions as little more than an observation that those that survived, survived.

43 Replies to “EA on Random Turtles

  1. 1
    ppolish says:

    And its not only the “best adapted” that survive. Plenty of stuff survives. “Average Joe” adapted far outnumber “Best” adapted when it comes to survival. “Best” is “Master Race” talk.

  2. 2
    wd400 says:

    Do you have some examples of where Evolutionary biologists go around invoking natural selection to explain this or that trait wihout evidence for selection?

    I hear idiots doing this all this time, evo psychs with almost anything, molecular biologists with the idea that junk dna must be there for some resaons. I don’t see evolutionary biologists making the same mistake.

    As Neil said in another thread, the point about identifying fitness as a key idea in evolution is that it helps evolutionary biologists get passed all the waffle in the post above, and actually do some science. Since fitness is that thing that matters in evolution, that’s something to measure. Since heritbale traits are the only ones that can evolve we estimate heritability, since selection requires fitness to be non-random with respecet to hertiable traits we can compare the fitness of different phenotypes knowing their heritability. In short, we can measure fitness in the wild.

    At the same time, the concept of fitness is crucial to the model of pop gen and quant gen that allow us to detect selection in genes (an absolutely crucial step to understanding genomics) and predict the effects of selection.

  3. 3
    Joe says:

    wd400:

    Do you have some examples of where Evolutionary biologists go around invoking natural selection to explain this or that trait wihout evidence for selection?

    That is all they do and Futuyma is the best example.

    The Strength of Natural Selection in the Wild

  4. 4
    wd400 says:

    Joe. Did you read the link. It’s specifically about papers that measure a trait’s influence on fitness.

    (Berlinksi seems to have a problem with the paper, but, typically, provides no cogent explanation as to what his problem is. )

  5. 5
    Eric Anderson says:

    wd400:

    Thanks for your good comments.

    Do you have some examples of where Evolutionary biologists go around invoking natural selection to explain this or that trait without evidence for selection?

    When do biologists invoke natural selection without evidence for selection? Setting aside the circularity of that wording for a moment, I presume you mean “when do biologists invoke natural selection without evidence for the actual physical cause of the differential survival?”

    Unfortunately, it happens all the time. We scarcely have to look at a biology textbook or a news article about this or that organism to find natural selection being trotted out as the reason for organism X’s continued existence. If you and your colleagues are more careful, then kudos to you. But it is an exceedingly slippery slope and very easy to fall into. Particularly because the very word “selection” lulls us into thinking that natural selection is an actual force, that it is actually doing something. Even those who recognize that Darwin’s personification of natural selection as a near-benevolent force roaming about the globe “preserving all that is good” smacks of artistic license still regularly fall into the same trap.

    Since fitness is that thing that matters in evolution, that’s something to measure.

    And what is “fitness”? Please point to the specific, concrete, physical mechanism that is exerting a force on the organism. What is the definition of fitness? It is, I believe, theoretically possible to provide a non-tautological definition of fitness. But it is exceedingly difficult in practice, and even more rarely accomplished.

    At the same time, the concept of fitness is crucial to the model of pop gen and quant gen that allow us to detect selection in genes (an absolutely crucial step to understanding genomics) and predict the effects of selection.

    There is an important nuance here to my criticism. I have little quibble with population genetics, which is generally good science and is on a pretty solid foundation, in contrast to so much of the storytelling and hypothesizing that unfortunately also comes under the heading of “evolution.”

    The term “fitness” is of course used in population genetics, and indeed, is often assigned a specific numerical value, based on observations, which can be calculated and, in a number of circumstances, even be used to come up with useful predictions. (You’re of course more versed in all this than most of us, so I’m not mentioning this for you, just for the drive-by reader.)

    I don’t have a problem with observing that a particular phenotype has a fitness ratio of X, and another phenotype has a fitness ratio of Y, and then running an analysis based on that. That is all good science as far as it goes.

    My point (in this context) is more nuanced. Specifically, if I assign a particular “fitness” ratio to organism A, what does that mean? Ultimately, it means that the organism has such-and-such a likelihood of survival, presumably based on observations that have been made. And so we can use that to make calculations and predictions going forward. Great.

    But where did that concept of “fitness” come from? Whence the ratio? Well, we look at a population at some starting point, look at the population later in time, count up the survivors, and pronounce them more “fit.” Why are they more fit? Because they are the survivors. That is the sum and substance of it, and it matters not whether we are dealing with a binary life-death scenario or a stochastic scenario with ratios and probabilities. In either case we end up defining the fitness in terms of survivability.

    Again, this is not a problem as long as it is based on actual observations and as long as we understand the proper parameters and limitations. It gives us useful data to use in making predictions going forward. But we have to be careful not to think that by assigning a label to the survivability ratio that we have somehow explained anything about what caused the survival or that any other force (such as some vague concept of natural selection) is at work. (To make the circularity of the definition more explicit, we could call the ratio the “survivability ratio,” rather than the “fitness ratio” and then everyone would be clear that we are really talking about survivability.)

    —–

    Then, as I noted above, there are many other instances (you and your colleagues being notable exceptions, we presume) in which biologists, books, news stories, popularizers of evolutionary theory, and so on, flat out tie the concept of “natural selection” to survivability. That is useless on its face and, worse, typically serves to provide a veneer of authoritative explanation when it is actually just masking our ignorance of the real underlying causes.

  6. 6
    wd400 says:

    My point (in this context) is more nuanced. Specifically, if I assign a particular “fitness” ratio to organism A, what does that mean?

    Almost nothing. Which is why evolutionary biologists seldom do this. Instead, fitness apllies to a genotype or phenotype. That can be measure in the wild, (“genotype x has twice the chance of leaving descendants as genotype y”, so I really don’t see this “tautology” thing as a problem).

    You might assign fitness to an individual (a) after the fact or (b) base on some model using existing fitness data and triats of that individual, but that’s not the normal way to go.

    You seem to be saying something else in your more general statements. Effectively that “Because natural selection” isn’t a complete explanatin. No evolutionary biologist would disagree with that. But it’s still true that general answer to the question “why are organisms so well adapted to their environments” is natural selection, a process by which variatiants that fit an environment come to dominate populations and by which population-lineages get the advantage of past rounds of that adaptation.

  7. 7
    Barry Arrington says:

    wd400,

    fitness applies to a genotype or phenotype. That can be measure in the wild

    George Gaylord Simpson opined that ‘the fallibility of personal judgment as to the adaptive value of particular characters, most especially when these occur in animals quite unlike any now living, is notorious.’

    Do you believe this statement to be untrue? If so, why?

    And on what basis would you measure the fitness of animals unlike any now living “in the wild” other than their persistence in the fossil record over a long period of time (i.e., while they were surviving they were fit; when they no longer survived they were no longer fit).

  8. 8
    wd400 says:

    I don’t know about “notorius” but it’s certainly true that personal judgement can be fallible when it comes to how fit a variant would turn out to be.

    And on what basis would you measure the fitness of animals unlike any now living “in the wild”

    I wouldn’t. Again, I’ll ask you to explain why you think this is a problem.

  9. 9
    Joe says:

    wd400- yes I read the article and the paper it was based on. Natural selection seems to be nothing more than a statistical artifact.

    And BTW it is only natural selection if the heritable variations arose via accidents, errors and mistakes.

    Lest we forget- many different variations could fit an environment- Cheetahs and lions live in the same environment. Both seem rather well adapted to it. The same goes for their prey. And behavioral changes are much easier to implement than waiting for some happenstance variation to save the day.

    Lee Spetner’s non-random evolutionary hypothesis is a much better explanation of how organisms come to be adapted to their environment.

  10. 10
    Barry Arrington says:

    WD @ 8.

    I’ll ask you to explain why you think this is a problem.

    I have, repeatedly. I am sorry if you did not understand my explanation.

  11. 11
    Mung says:

    The importance of Darwinian theory does not lie in its predictive strength, for, as we have seen, the nature of its key explanatory concept, fitness, precludes such strength. The importance of the theory lies in the freedom it provides biologists to view natural phenomena as just that, as natural, and not as the creation of an artificer with designs for natural phenomena.

    – Rosenberg, A. The Structure of Biological Science

  12. 12
    Mung says:

    wd400:

    Do you have some examples of where Evolutionary biologists go around invoking natural selection to explain this or that trait wihout evidence for selection?

    Are you serious? Have you never read Stephen Jay Gould?

    p.s. Does Darwin count?

  13. 13
    wd400 says:

    Barry,

    All you’ve claimed is that “survival of fittest”, where the fittest just means “those that survive” is at the core of evolutionary biology. It’s not. Now you’ve “forced” me, with your clever lawerly traps, to admit that it would be hard to predict the fitness of a non existent creature.

    I’m still waiting for the bit where any of this matters.

  14. 14
    Barry Arrington says:

    WD,

    See Mung’s quote at 11. Mere contradiction is not argument. You seem to have nothing but contradiction. When you find an argument, you should post it. Until then, it is pointless to engage with you.

  15. 15
    wd400 says:

    Lol.

    I have expressed as clearly as I can the role that fitness actually plays in evolutionary biology, and how that helps us do science instead of play silly semantic games.

    On the other hand, you have offered nothing but assertion.

    Withdraw if you want, but don’t pretend you do so for lack of an argument.

  16. 16
    Joe says:

    wd400:

    I have expressed as clearly as I can the role that fitness actually plays in evolutionary biology, and how that helps us do science instead of play silly semantic games.

    The arrival of the fittest is the question that needs to be addressed. Was it the by the statistically non-random elimination of the deficient and deformed? Or was it via built-in responses to environmental cues? (Spetner 1997)

  17. 17
    Eric Anderson says:

    wd400:

    Thanks.

    Instead, fitness apllies to a genotype or phenotype. That can be measure in the wild, (“genotype x has twice the chance of leaving descendants as genotype y”, so I really don’t see this “tautology” thing as a problem).

    Are you just hung up on the difference between referring to a single organism as opposed to a population of organisms (whether genotype or phenotype)? That is not the point and it makes no difference whether we are talking about an individual or a population. Natural selection is supposed to apply across the board, whether we are examining a single individual’s genotype or referring to a genotype in a population.

    You say “genotype x has twice the chance of leaving descendants as genotype y.” Fine. How was that ratio determined? It was by looking at a population and noting that a particular allele contributed to survival. (In fact, it is not even that. In 99% of the cases it is simply noting that a particular allele is statistically associated with survival.)

    So we can predict that genotype has x% chance of survival because we know (from observations and study) that genotype has x% chance of survival. Again, that is OK. And we can make our prediction without ever once invoking the term natural selection. Furthermore, if we know why genotype x has twice the chance of survival over genotype y, then we can explain it completely and fully without ever referring to some outside force or process.

    Again, as I have said before, my nuanced criticism of the term “natural selection” is not focused on the concept of fitness as used in population genetics calculations, and no doubt you and your colleagues are careful to use terminology in a way that makes things clear.

    The problem comes, not when natural selection is used as a shorthand descriptor for the stochastic result of what is, yes, essentially a random process, but as an explanation for why a particular genotype survived. Again, if you have never made this mistaken application of the term, congratulations. But it happens all too often.

    Furthermore, the assertion that natural selection somehow makes non-random would otherwise be essentially a random process is an unwholesome and unsupported assertion that deserves to be countered at every turn.

  18. 18
    Mung says:

    Mayr wrote that the phrase survival of the fittest is “rather unfortunate, because now the objection was raised that the entire theory of natural selection rested on a tautology.” Apparently, to avoid a tautology, he defines natural selection as:

    “…the differential reproduction of individuals that differ uniquely in their adaptive superiority.”

    Survival of the fittest was replaced with differential survival of the differentially fit. That can still be a tautology, depending on the definition of the fit. If the fit are determined by their survival, then there is a tautology (T).

    Nonetheless, this formulation is always lame (L) because it fails to identify the survivors. The formulation says that one will survive better than the other, but it does not say which of the two will survive better. Without identifying the survivors it cannot explain adaptation.

    – ReMine. The Biotic Message

  19. 19
    Eric Anderson says:

    By the way, wd400, this is hardly an issue that has first been raised by an unknown (me) on an obscure blog (UD). More than one prominent evolutionist has noted the essentially tautological formulation in the way natural selection is so often used. The thoughtful ones have encouraged more care in the use of terminology; the less thoughtful have asserted that it doesn’t matter because, hey, it’s true isn’t it?

    I am well aware that the discussion of natural selection is a sleeping pill to many. This is due to: (i) the fact that it focuses on precise nuances of how language is used, including the logical structure of statements that employ natural selection as an explanation, (ii) for supporters of evolutionary theory the idea that natural selection is so obviously true that there is no point in discussing it; and (iii) for some critics of evolutionary theory the fact that even if natural selection is true in all forms it still doesn’t address any of the interesting questions about complex functionality, information content and so on.

    Nevertheless, it is a useful issue to occasionally highlight and discuss — if for no other reason than to make sure we are being more careful with terminology.

  20. 20
    Mung says:

    Tautologies are fine as definitions, but not as testable scientific statements – there can be nothing to test in a statement that is true by definition.

    – Stephen Jay Gould

  21. 21
    Mung says:

    Natural selection is the central concept of Darwinian theory – the fittest survive and spread their favored traits through populations.

    – Stephen Jay Gould. Ever Since Darwin.

  22. 22
    bornagain77 says:

    Here is an interesting quote from a Darwinist:

    “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

    And to reiterate what I said elsewhere yesterday, to the extent that Natural Selection can be said (observed) to do anything, Natural Selection is found to be a eliminative force not a generative force:

    “…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 – Natural Selection And Genetic Mutations – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6z5-15wk1Zk

    From a Frog to a Prince – video (17:00 minute mark Natural Selection Reduces Genetic Information) – No Beneficial Mutations – Gitt – Spetner – Denton – video
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ClleN8ysimg&feature=player_detailpage#t=1031

    “A Dutch zoologist, J.J. Duyvene de Wit, clearly demonstrated that the process of speciation (such as the appearance of many varieties of dogs and cats) is inevitably bound up with genetic depletion as a result of natural selection. When this scientifically established fact is applied to the question of whether man could have evolved from ape-like animals,’.. the transformist concept of progressive evolution is pierced in its very vitals.’ The reason for this, J.J. Duyvene de Wit went on to explain, is that the whole process of evolution from animal to man ” ‘ . . would have to run against the gradient of genetic depletion. That is to say, . . man )should possess] a smaller gene-potential than his animal ancestors! [I] Here, the impressive absurdity becomes clear in which the transformist doctrine [the theory of evolution] entangles itself when, in flat contradiction to the factual scientific evidence, it dogmatically asserts that man has evolved from the animal kingdom!” —Op. cit., pp. 129-130. [Italics his; quotations from *J.J. Duyvene de Wit, A New Critique of the Transformist Principle in Evolutionary Biology (1965), p. 56,57.]
    http://www.godrules.net/evolut.....vlch15.htm

    “We found an enormous amount of diversity within and between the African populations, and we found much less diversity in non-African populations,” Tishkoff told attendees today (Jan. 22) at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Anaheim. “Only a small subset of the diversity in Africa is found in Europe and the Middle East, and an even narrower set is found in American Indians.”
    Tishkoff; Andrew Clark, Penn State; Kenneth Kidd, Yale University; Giovanni Destro-Bisol, University “La Sapienza,” Rome, and Himla Soodyall and Trefor Jenkins, WITS University, South Africa, looked at three locations on DNA samples from 13 to 18 populations in Africa and 30 to 45 populations in the remainder of the world.-

    As well, Natural Selection, to the extent it does do anything, is grossly inadequate to do the work required of it because of what is termed ‘the princess and the pea’ paradox. The devastating ‘princess and the pea’ paradox is clearly elucidated by Dr. John Sanford, at the 8:14 minute mark, of this following video,,,

    Genetic Entropy – Dr. John Sanford – Evolution vs. Reality – video
    http://vimeo.com/35088933

    Dr. Sanford points out, in the preceding video, that Natural Selection acts at the coarse level of the entire organism (phenotype) and yet the vast majority of mutations have effects that are only ‘slightly detrimental’, and have no noticeable effect on phenotypes, and are thus far below the power of Natural Selection to remove from genomes before they spread throughout the population. Here is a peer-reviewed paper by Dr. Sanford on the subject:

    “Selection Threshold Severely Constrains Capture of Beneficial Mutations” – John Sanford – September 6, 2013
    Excerpt of concluding comments: Our findings raise a very interesting theoretical problem — in a large genome, how do the millions of low-impact (yet functional) nucleotides arise? It is universally agreed that selection works very well for high-impact mutations. However, unless some new and as yet undiscovered process is operating in nature, there should be selection breakdown for the great majority of mutations that have small impact on fitness.,,,
    We show that selection breakdown is not just a simple function of population size, but is seriously impacted by other factors, especially selection interference. We are convinced that our formulation and methodology (i.e., genetic accounting) provide the most biologically-realistic analysis of selection breakdown to date.
    http://www.worldscientific.com.....08728_0011

    Basically, trying to build the highly integrated molecular complexity in life by ‘selecting’ at the coarse level of the entire organism with ‘Natural Selection’ is similar to trying build integrated circuits with a sledge hammer. i.e. It is simply the wrong tool for the job!
    Moreover, as if the princess and the pea paradox were not devastating enough as to undermining any credibility Natural Selection might have had as to having the causal adequacy to explain the highly integrated levels of overlapping functional information found in life, dimensionally speaking, Natural Selection is now known to not even be on the right playing field in the first place:

    “Although living things occupy a three-dimensional space, their internal physiology and anatomy operate as if they were four-dimensional. Quarter-power scaling laws are perhaps as universal and as uniquely biological as the biochemical pathways of metabolism, the structure and function of the genetic code and the process of natural selection.,,, The conclusion here is inescapable, that the driving force for these invariant scaling laws cannot have been natural selection.”
    Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piatelli-Palmarini, What Darwin Got Wrong (London: Profile Books, 2010), p. 78-79

    The predominance of quarter-power (4-D) scaling in biology
    Excerpt: Many fundamental characteristics of organisms scale
    with body size as power laws of the form:

    Y = Yo M^b,

    where Y is some characteristic such as metabolic rate, stride length or life span, Yo is a normalization constant, M is body mass and b is the allometric scaling exponent.
    A longstanding puzzle in biology is why the exponent b is usually some simple multiple of 1/4 (4-Dimensional scaling) rather than a multiple of 1/3, as would be expected from Euclidean (3-Dimensional) scaling.
    http://www.nceas.ucsb.edu/~dre.....18_257.pdf

    Here is, what a Darwinist termed, a ‘horrendously complex’ metabolic pathway (which operates as if it were ’4-Dimensional):

    ExPASy – Biochemical Pathways – interactive schematic
    http://web.expasy.org/cgi-bin/.....mbnails.pl

    And remember, neo-Darwinian evolution has yet to demonstrate how a single gene/protein of those ‘horrendously complex’ metabolic pathways came about.

    “Charles Darwin said (paraphrase), ‘If anyone could find anything that could not be had through a number of slight, successive, modifications, my theory would absolutely break down.’ Well that condition has been met time and time again. Basically every gene, every protein fold. There is nothing of significance that we can show that can be had in a gradualist way. It’s a mirage. None of it happens that way.
    – Doug Axe PhD. – Nothing In Molecular Biology Is Gradual – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/5347797/

    I personally hold that the reason why internal physiology and anatomy operate as if they were four-dimensional instead of three dimensional is because of exactly what Darwinian evolution has consistently failed to explain the origination of. i.e. functional information. ‘Higher dimensional’ information, which is bursting at the seams in life, simply cannot be reduced to any 3-dimensional energy-matter basis:

    John Lennox – Is There Evidence of Something Beyond Nature? (Semiotic Information) – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F6rd4HEdffw

    “One of the things I do in my classes, to get this idea across to students, is I hold up two computer disks. One is loaded with software, and the other one is blank. And I ask them, ‘what is the difference in mass between these two computer disks, as a result of the difference in the information content that they posses’? And of course the answer is, ‘Zero! None! There is no difference as a result of the information. And that’s because information is a mass-less quantity. Now, if information is not a material entity, then how can any materialistic explanation account for its origin? How can any material cause explain it’s origin?
    And this is the real and fundamental problem that the presence of information in biology has posed. It creates a fundamental challenge to the materialistic, evolutionary scenarios because information is a different kind of entity that matter and energy cannot produce.
    In the nineteenth century we thought that there were two fundamental entities in science; matter, and energy. At the beginning of the twenty first century, we now recognize that there’s a third fundamental entity; and its ‘information’. It’s not reducible to matter. It’s not reducible to energy. But it’s still a very important thing that is real; we buy it, we sell it, we send it down wires.
    Now, what do we make of the fact, that information is present at the very root of all biological function? In biology, we have matter, we have energy, but we also have this third, very important entity; information. I think the biology of the information age, poses a fundamental challenge to any materialistic approach to the origin of life.”
    -Dr. Stephen C. Meyer earned his Ph.D. in the History and Philosophy of science from Cambridge University for a dissertation on the history of origin-of-life biology and the methodology of the historical sciences.

  23. 23
    bornagain77 says:

    Moreover, Dr. Andy C. McIntosh, who is the Professor of Thermodynamics Combustion Theory at the University of Leeds (the highest teaching/research rank in U.K. university hierarchy), has written a peer-reviewed paper in which he holds that it is ‘non-material information’ which is constraining the local thermodynamics of a cell to be in such a extremely high non-equilibrium state:

    Information and Thermodynamics in Living Systems – Andy C. McIntosh – May 2013
    Excerpt: The third view then that we have proposed in this paper is the top down approach. In this paradigm, the information is non-material and constrains the local thermodynamics to be in a non-equilibrium state of raised free energy. It is the information which is the active ingredient, and the matter and energy are passive to the laws of thermodynamics within the system.
    As a consequence of this approach, we have developed in this paper some suggested principles of information exchange which have some parallels with the laws of thermodynamics which undergird this approach.,,,
    http://www.worldscientific.com.....08728_0008

    Dr. McIntosh’s contention that ‘non-material information’ must be constraining life to be so far out of thermodynamic equilibrium has been borne out empirically. i.e. It is now found that ‘non-local’, beyond space-time matter-energy, Quantum entanglement/information ‘holds’ DNA (and proteins) together:

    Quantum entanglement holds together life’s blueprint – 2010
    Excerpt: When the researchers analysed the DNA without its helical structure, they found that the electron clouds were not entangled. But when they incorporated DNA’s helical structure into the model, they saw that the electron clouds of each base pair became entangled with those of its neighbours. “If you didn’t have entanglement, then DNA would have a simple flat structure, and you would never get the twist that seems to be important to the functioning of DNA,” says team member Vlatko Vedral of the University of Oxford.
    http://neshealthblog.wordpress.....blueprint/

    Coherent Intrachain energy migration at room temperature – Elisabetta Collini and Gregory Scholes – University of Toronto – Science, 323, (2009), pp. 369-73
    Excerpt: The authors conducted an experiment to observe quantum coherence dynamics in relation to energy transfer. The experiment, conducted at room temperature, examined chain conformations, such as those found in the proteins of living cells. Neighbouring molecules along the backbone of a protein chain were seen to have coherent energy transfer. Where this happens quantum decoherence (the underlying tendency to loss of coherence due to interaction with the environment) is able to be resisted, and the evolution of the system remains entangled as a single quantum state.
    http://www.scimednet.org/quant.....d-protein/

  24. 24
    ppolish says:

    “Natural selection is the central concept of Darwinian theory – the fittest survive and spread their favored traits through populations.”
    – Stephen Jay Gould. Ever Since Darwin.

    “Go forth and multiply”
    ~ God

    Occam was a minister. Occam would go with God:)

  25. 25
    Barry Arrington says:

    Barry:

    In summary, because all engineering decisions involve tradeoffs, there is no way to tell whether a particular engineering trait, in isolation, caused an organism to be more fit. And this drives us back to where we started. The only way to measure “fitness” is by reproductive success, which is obviously tautological if “fitness” is defined as “reproductively successful.”

    wd400:

    Why do you think this is a problem?

    Barry:

    The more interesting question, WD, is why you think it is not a problem. The defining idea of the Darwinism in which you believe so fervently is a mere tautology. Here is a principle of tautologies that you should ponder. All tautologies are analytic propositions. They are necessarily true. [They] cannot not be true. It follows that they cannot in principle be falsified. Hence, they are not scientific propositions.

    wd400:

    Well, it’s staggering to me that anyone could spend years arguing about evolution and end up thinking “Survival of the fittest” was a central idea in “Darwinism”, rather than a slightly silly slogan.

    So, dear readers, we have wd400 denying that “survival of the fittest” is a central idea in Darwinism. Interesting, because Stephen Jay Gould, one of the leading proponents of evolutionary theory in the last 50 years says this:

    Natural selection is the central concept of Darwinian theory – the fittest survive and spread their favored traits through populations. Natural selection is defined by Spencer’s phrase, “survival of the fittest” . . .”

    Whom shall we believe about whether “survival of the fittest” is a central concept in Darwinian theory? And here’s another interesting question. Why would wd400 think he could get away with such an egregious falsehood?

  26. 26
    REC says:

    Ha…wow. Hey Barry, care to produce the rest of the context of that Gould quote?

    Hint” Gould, in the very same article says: “I believe that Darwin was right and that Bethell and his colleagues are mistaken: criteria of fitness independent of survival can be applied to nature and have been used consistently by evolutionists.”

    “Thus, it is not true, as Bethell claims, that any traits possessed by survivors must be designed as fitter. “Survival of the fittest” is not a tautology. It is also not the only imaginable or reasonable reading of the evolutionary record. It as testable. It had rivals that failed under the weight of contrary evidence and changing attitudes about the nature of life. It has rivals that may succeed, at least in limiting its scope.”

    A charitable reading would say you’ve missed this argument from before many of your followers were born.

    A cynic might argue you’ve resurrected this ancient argument, and ignored Gould’s response in the very same article you quote….

  27. 27
    wd400 says:

    Barry, I’ll credit you that this little trip to the quote mine was sloppy, rather than a deliberate misrepresentation.

    In case it’s not now abundantly clear: if “fittest” means “those that survive”then “survival of the fittest”is not the core idea in Darwinism. For that phrase to adequately describe evolutionary biology “fittest” must mean something else. Most importantly, the theory of natural selection let’s us do science, test ideas svc develop new models (and has been very successful at that ).

    Really, the only interfering question that remains is how Barry can be so ignorant of evolutionary biology, but so sure he is right.

  28. 28
    Eric Anderson says:

    BA77 @22:

    Great quote from Provine. As I said, some ardent evolutionists get it.

  29. 29
    Eric Anderson says:

    REC, are you saying that Gould did not say that natural selection does not mean survival of the fittest? At least in the part of the article Barry quoted, it seemed he did.

    Interestingly, in the part you quote, Gould then goes on to contradict the very claim. So Gould seems to be arguing that:

    1. Natural selection is the central concept of Darwinian theory – the fittest survive and spread their favored traits through populations. Natural selection is defined by Spencer’s phrase, “survival of the fittest” . . .

    and

    2. “. . . it is not true, as Bethell claims, that any traits possessed by survivors must be designed [designated?] as fitter.”

    So which is it? Does natural selection mean that those traits that lead to survival constitute fitness (per the first quote), or does it not mean that (per the second quote)?

    One might be forgiven for thinking that Gould was trying to play both sides of the fence. Or maybe he was, as he was certainly capable of doing as a skilled rhetorician, playing games with the word “any” in the second quote, hiding the pea under the thimble as it were in the process.

  30. 30
    Eric Anderson says:

    wd400 @27:

    . . . if “fittest” means “those that survive” then “survival of the fittest” is not the core idea in Darwinism. For that phrase to adequately describe evolutionary biology “fittest” must mean something else.

    Agreed (at least to the extent we are talking about modern evolutionary biology, such as pop gen, rather than “Darwinism,” although I’m curious why you would identify the two as equivalent). At any rate, you are quite right that for the phrase to adequately describe anything meaningful at all, it must mean something else. (And what might that something else be, one could ask? But anyway.)

    Again, if you and your colleagues scrupulously avoid defining natural selection in a self-referential way, kudos to you, and you can stop feeling like the criticisms (mine or Barry’s or Remine’s or Provine’s) are pointed your way. But there are plenty of folks who do make that mistake. The criticisms are directed at them.

    Most importantly, the theory of natural selection let’s us do science, test ideas svc develop new models (and has been very successful at that).

    And yet, here we go again. It is so easy to fall back into the self-referential circularity of it all . . .

    No, the theory of natural selection doesn’t help you do good science. The concept of a “fitness” ratio as used in population genetics, based on real-world observations and data, let’s us do science and has been very successful at that. The label “natural selection” doesn’t bring anything else of substance to the table. There is not one observation or piece of data or prediction flowing from population genetics that you could not discover or collate or put forth with the same exact validity that you do now, without ever invoking the term “natural selection”.

    Again, let me be clear. The criticism I raised is not a criticism of the concept of fitness ratios as used in population genetics. It is not a criticism of any work you may be doing in that area. It is not something you need to take personally. Instead of circling the wagons and digging in your heels over any criticism of natural selection, perhaps you should recognize the nuance of the criticism, take Provine’s and others’ observations at face value, and say something like the following:

    “Yes, as Provine and others have pointed out, too often “natural selection” has been treated loosely by supporters of evolutionary theory, particularly by those who are not directly involved in the work of population genetics. Sometimes people tend to define natural selection as “survival of the fittest” and then declare that the fittest survive, which is an unfortunate tautology.

    However, my colleagues and I who are working in the field of population genetics try to be more careful. We have a concept of “fitness ratios” in population genetics that is based on real-world data and observations of correlation with survival, which allows us to create meaningful and quite useful models or predictions of what may happen over time in a particular population. That is what we are really interested in for purposes of population genetics.

    Furthermore, we typically try to refer to the specific allele that is associated with the fitness ratio so that we have an identifiable cause of (or at least a statistical correlation with) the anticipated survival of that genotype. As a result, we typically don’t — and don’t need to — refer to “natural selection” in the abstract or to define it in a self-referential way in terms of fitness. So I would argue that the particular criticism Provine and others have made is less applicable to the good work we are doing in population genetics.”

    The above hypothetical quote is, perhaps, not too far from reality. And it is a position I could, and I trust everyone else would, certainly respect.

  31. 31
    HeKS says:

    Regarding the article by Gould that has been referenced, I’m about to go to bed and I’m going purely off of memory here, but wasn’t this article in response to an article by Tom Bethell where he declared Darwinism dead? And wasn’t Gould’s response basically framed as an attempt to salvage some valuable kernel of it by adding to Natural Selection a reference to the supposedly independent factor of the environment to save it from wallowing as a simple tautology, even while admitting that much of what Bethell said was true and that the concept of Natural Selection was widely applied in a tautological form among evolutionary biologists?

    And wasn’t this response from Gould in around 1976, just about 4 years before he wrote another article in which he himself declared Darwinism to be effectively dead in spite of its persistence as textbook orthodoxy and called for a new theory of Evolution?

  32. 32
    kairosfocus says:

    Folks, Can we say some magic words?

    1: Reification of a label into a force

    2: Totalising metanarrative . . .

    (The po-mo folks have a point or two.)

    KF

  33. 33
    bornagain77 says:

    A few points of evidence that may be of related interest:

    Donald Prothero: In evolution, stasis was general, gradualism rare, and that’s the consensus 40 years on – February 2012
    Excerpt: In four of the biggest climatic-vegetational events of the last 50 million years, the mammals and birds show no noticeable change in response to changing climates. No matter how many presentations I give where I show these data, no one (including myself) has a good explanation yet for such widespread stasis despite the obvious selective pressures of changing climate. Rather than answers, we have more questions—
    Donald Prothero – American paleontologist, geologist, and author who specializes in mammalian paleontology.
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ars-later/

    As well, the adaptation of polar bears to the extreme cold of the arctic region came at a loss of genetic information

    Genetics – Polar Bear
    Excerpt: microsatellite data that can be compared suggest there may be less genetic variation among populations of polar bears than among populations of black bears and brown bears (Paetkau et al. 1995, 1999). Paetkau et al. (1999) also found genetic distances among polar bear populations were at the lower extreme of the distances reported for the gray wolf (Canus lupus), another widely distributed carnivore.

    Evidence from patterns in mtDNA also may hint at somewhat less genetic variation among polar bear populations than among populations of other bears. Cronin et al. (1991) reported only one basic polar bear mtDNA lineage, whereas black and brown bears each have two very divergent lineages. The older species (black and brown bears) appear to have more genetic variation across their ranges than the more recently derived polar bears.

    Greater morphological variation among populations of brown bears (e.g., very large individuals, such as those living on Kodiak Island and coastal Alaska, vs. smaller interior or arctic bears) also appears to reflect more genetic variation than is present among polar bears (Stirling and Derocher 1990; Talbot and Shields 1996a, 1996b).
    Morphological variation among polar bears is minimal throughout their range. Paetkau et al. (1999)
    http://www.polarbearsinternati.....e/genetics

    Yet, although the adaptation of polar bears to extreme cold came at a loss of genetic information, it appears that, none-the-less, the adaptation of polar bears to the extreme cold was a ‘designed adaptation’ in that the fur of polar bears provides extremely efficient insulation by ‘backscattering’ infrared light so as to maintain warmth in the extreme cold,,

    (Design of) Fur and Feathers Keep Animals Warm by Scattering Light – Jan. 23, 2014
    Excerpt: Priscilla Simonis,, was intrigued by the ability of polar bears to insulate their bodies to temperatures of 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 F) even during long, cold winters when outside temperatures are a frigid -40 C (-40 F). The feat was especially impressive given that the bears have a layer of fur that is only 5 centimeters thick.,,,
    Most people assume that fur and feathers keep animals warm primarily by trapping a layer of air that slows thermal conduction, says Simonis. But she and her colleagues suspected that radiation might play a bigger role.,,,
    Simonis and her colleagues found that as the reflectivity of the radiative shields increased, the rate of heat transfer between the hot and cold thermostat was dramatically reduced. Adding more shields also dramatically reduced the energy loss. All together, the model suggests that the repeated backscattering of infrared light between radiative shields, like individual hairs and barbed feathers, could be the primary mechanism for the thermal insulation properties of fur and feathers.
    The light scattering properties of animals’ coats can also have dual purposes, Simonis notes. With the right structure, fur and feathers can generate efficient thermal insulation in the far infrared range while also scattering visible light to produce a white appearance in the visible wavelength range. “This is particularly useful to animals, such as mammals and birds, that live in snowy areas,” Simonis says, as it provides them with both warmth and camouflage against the white snow.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/re.....125834.htm

  34. 34
    wd400 says:

    EA,

    I’ve read your nuanced critique, and I’m afriad it’s so nuanced I can’t find any critque in it.

    There is something different about the way evolution proceeds when the fitness values for different variants are very nearly equal (drift) and when they aren’t (selection). I guess we could play a word game and try and describe this pattern without using the phrase selection, but I don’t see what we’d gain from it, and we’d certainly lose a great deal of time and clarity with the circumlocutions required to to do so.

  35. 35
    bornagain77 says:

    as to:

    “I guess we could play a word game and try and describe this pattern without using the phrase selection, but I don’t see what we’d gain from it,”

    But I thought Darwinists were masters at playing ‘word games’???

    I guess it is just clarity of words in your word games that you don’t like,,,, especially when such clarity exposes the rhetorical ploys that Darwinists have employed through the years to hood wink people!

  36. 36
    Barry Arrington says:

    HeKS @ 31. Correct on all counts. And further, Gould failed for the very reasons pointed out in the “Engineering Tradeoffs” post.

  37. 37
    Mung says:

    As I point out @23, the Gould quote currently under discussion can be found in his Ever Since Darwin. Chapter 4 carries the title “Darwin’s Untimely Burial”, and the quote is from that chapter on p. 40.

    The cries of “quote mine” are just so much sour grapes.

    Pathetic, really.

    Here we have Gould quoting Bethell:

    Darwin’s theory of natural selection has been a perennial candidate for burial. Tom Bethell held the most recent wake in a piece called “Darwin’s Mistake” (Harper’s, February 1976): “Darwin’s theory, I believe, is on the verge of collapse…Natural selection was quietly abandoned, even by his most ardent supporters, some years ago.” News to me, and I, although I wear the Darwinian label with some pride, am not among the most ardent defenders of natural selection.

    – SJG, p. 39

    Gould goes on to write:

    …we differ in one fundamental way: for Bethell, Darwinian theory is rotten to the core; I find a pearl of great price at the center.

    And this is immediately followed by the quote Barry and I posted, beginning the next paragraph in the paper:

    Natural selection is the central concept of Darwinian theory – the fittest survive and spread their favored traits through populations.

    And then Gould goes on through the rest of the paper defending his claim that natural selection is “the central concept,” the “pearl of great price at the center.”

    Fortunately it’s a bit too soon for the Darwinists to begin their re-writing of Gould to fit their agenda.

    A quote-mine? Not believable. Gould said what he said and then expanded on it and defended it. What he decidedly did not do was spend the rest of the article backtracking from his claim that:

    Natural selection is the central concept of Darwinian theory – the fittest survive and spread their favored traits through populations.

    It’s fine to disagree that natural selection is the central concept of Darwinian theory. It’s fine to disagree with Gould. But you don’t get to make up your own facts.

    Really, pathetic.

  38. 38
    wd400 says:

    Mung, the question is not whether natural selection is at the heart Darwinism (which of course it is). It’s whether “survival of the fittest”, where fittest simply means those that survive, is at heart.

    Of course it’s not, and that’s the point Gould is making and Barry has given up arguing against.

  39. 39
    Mung says:

    wd400:

    Mung, the question is not whether natural selection is at the heart Darwinism (which of course it is).

    ok, so why was I charged with quote-mining?

    Or why was Barry charged with quote-mining [for quoting the same statement that I quoted]?

    wd400:

    It’s whether “survival of the fittest”, where fittest simply means those that survive, is at heart.

    ok, so why was I charged with quote-mining?

    Or why was Barry charged with quote-mining [for quoting the same statement that I quoted]?

    Gould wrote:

    Natural selection is defined by Spencer’s phrase “survival of the fittest.”

    The question before us now is simply whether you agree or disagree with Gould.

  40. 40
    Eric Anderson says:

    BA77 @33:

    No matter how many presentations I give where I show these data, no one (including myself) has a good explanation yet for such widespread stasis despite the obvious selective pressures of changing climate.

    A good example of the blindness that the materialist creation myth causes.

    I think anyone who has ever done any meaningful engineering work on real systems in the real world understands very well why random changes in environmental conditions aren’t necessarily going to translate into functional developmental changes in the system. In almost all cases the system is either going to continue functioning just as it is, thank you very much, despite changes in outside conditions. Or the system is going to fail and go extinct. The idea of the near-limitless “plasticity” of organisms is a 1800’s level supposition that has never been widely observed nor supported by the evidence. Stasis is the real defining characteristic of organisms, with only occasional, minor, limited exceptions.

    It is only in the wild world of evolutionary theory that changes in an environment are supposedly able to give rise to whole new creatures. Purely hypothetical, never observed, wildly improbable. And, most importantly of all for the theory, with the details of what would actually be required never stated, while the idea is instead supported mostly by vague references to some unseen force.

  41. 41
    Eric Anderson says:

    wd400 @34:

    There is something different about the way evolution proceeds when the fitness values for different variants are very nearly equal (drift) and when they aren’t (selection).

    Agreed. I have neither disputed nor even discussed this distinction.

    I guess we could play a word game and try and describe this pattern without using the phrase selection, but I don’t see what we’d gain from it, and we’d certainly lose a great deal of time and clarity with the circumlocutions required to to do so.

    I don’t have a problem with using “selection” as a description in population genetics in the context of legitimately-observed fitness ratios. And I’ve already said I don’t have a beef with population genetics generally.

    —–

    Look, this is all pretty basic. When a causative proposition is put forth (e.g., “such-and-such happened as a result of natural selection”), and when the result is defined in terms of the antecedent, then we have a tautology. Pure and simple. Logic 101. I think you’ve even acknowledged and agreed as much in your posts above, so I think we’re on the same page there.

    If you and your colleagues are careful to not use “natural selection” in a self-referential way in the great work you are doing in population genetics, then congratulations are in order.*

    But there are lots of people who do use natural selection that way, as even many ardent evolutionists have criticized. It is those individuals and those usages of the term that I am opposed to.

    What is less clear to me is why you don’t just acknowledge that your evolutionary colleagues’ criticisms are valid that that some people should be more careful when they use the term natural selection. It is unclear why you would dig in your heels and then make strange statements about natural selection not being central to Darwinism in spite of clear statements to the contrary and so on.

    In any event, I think you understand the criticisms well enough. You just seem to be denying that any real scientist would ever engage in terminology that is worthy of such criticism. Unfortunately, it happens all the time.

    —–

    * I do think you have been somewhat unclear in your use of “Darwinism,” “natural selection,” “fitness,” “selection,” and “evolutionary biology” and how each of those concepts interact, but no big deal, we needn’t belabor it. I’ll take you at your word if you say you never use natural selection in a tautological way and if you never describe natural selection as some kind of force imparting a directionality to otherwise random processes.

  42. 42
    bornagain77 says:

    Eric Anderson this may be of related interest,,,, part of the Darwinian fable I was taught as child was that some ape like creature achieved upright walking when the forest/jungles of Africa turned to savannas. Yet,,,

    Another Difficulty with Darwinian Accounts of How Human Bipedalism Developed – David Klinghoffer – February 21, 2013
    Excerpt: A Darwinian evolutionary bedtime story tells of how proto-man achieved his upright walking status when the forests of his native East Africa turned to savannas. That was 4 to 6 million years ago, and the theory was that our ancestors stood up in order to be able to look around themselves over the sea of grasslands, which would have been irrelevant in the forests of old.
    A team of researchers led by USC’s Sarah J. Feakins, writing in the journal Geology, detonate that tidy explanation with their finding that the savannas, going back 12 million years, had already been there more than 6 million years when the wonderful transition to bipedalism took place (“Northeast African vegetation change over 12 m.y.”).
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....69411.html

    As well, about half way down in the following article, Casey Luskin reveals that many supposed human ancestors are found in wooded areas, which questions the ‘savanna hypothesis’ from yet another angle.

    For Neil Tyson and Cosmos, Serious Scientific Controversies Are All a Thing of the Past – Casey Luskin May 6, 2014
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....85291.html

    Moreover, the argument that upright walking was more ‘efficient’ doesn’t wash either,,,

    Energy Efficiency Doesn’t Explain Human Walking? Sept. 17, 2012
    Excerpt: Why hominids evolved upright walking is one of the biggest questions in human evolution. One school of thought suggests that bipedalism was the most energetically efficient way for our ancestors to travel as grasslands expanded and forests shrank across Africa some five million to seven million years ago. A new study in the Journal of Human Evolution challenges that claim, concluding that the efficiency of human walking and running is not so different from other mammals.
    Physiologists Lewis Halsey of the University of Roehampton in England and Craig White of the University of Queensland in Australia compared the efficiency of human locomotion to that of 80 species of mammals, including monkeys, rodents, horses, bears and elephants.,,,
    To evaluate whether energy efficiency played a role in the evolution of upright walking, Halsey and White note that hominids should be compared to their closest relatives. For example, if human walking is more efficient than chimpanzee walking than you would expect based on chance alone, then it lends support to the energy-efficiency explanation. But that’s not what the researchers found. In fact, the energetic differences between humans and chimpanzees are smaller than the differences between very closely related species that share the same type of locomotion, such as red deer versus reindeer or African dogs versus Arctic foxes. In some cases, even different species within the same genus, such as different types of chipmunks, have greater variation in their walking efficiencies than humans and chimps do.
    http://blogs.smithsonianmag.co.....n-walking/

  43. 43
    Eric Anderson says:

    The question was asked about examples of the tautological use of natural selection by real evolutionists. Several commenters have given examples above (as well as quotes from prominent evolutionists acknowledging the problem).

    I am also crosslinking to the other thread for a recent example:

    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-519162

Leave a Reply