Intelligent Design

Global Warming Effect and Evolution

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New research shows that in the span of just fifty years songbirds have become slightly smaller, probably as a consequence of global warming. This is no big surprise as it has long been understood that size is inversely correlated with temperature. The Darwin contemporary Christian Bergmann first observed this trend, in terms of a correlation with latitude, and the trend became known as Bergmann’s Rule. But how did the change come about?  Read more

60 Replies to “Global Warming Effect and Evolution

  1. 1
    scordova says:

    Yup. Fast changes in phenotype that has nothing to do with selection or even mutation.

    It should be obvious that the environment affects development of an organism, and thus major characteristics of the organims.

    Selection and mutation are not the proper paradigms to describe the population changes but rather developmental plasticity.

    Evolutionary theory gets it wrong, developmental plasticity gets it right!

    Mary Jane West-Eberhard in Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences:

    Contrary to common belief, environmentally initiated novelties may have greater evolutionary potential than mutationally induced ones

    She unfotunately has to give credit to Darwinian mechanisms creating the capacity for developmental plasticity. That is pure speculation. What is in evidence from direct empirical observation is developmental plasticity is a better paradigm to describe certain population changes than mutation and selection!!!!!

    Maybe even Darwin’s finches are examples of developmental plasticity than Darwinian evolution!

  2. 2
    Heinrich says:

    Sorry, but this post just reveals Dr. Hunter’s ignorance.

    Birds vary in size: if you capture 100 birds of the same species and weight them, or measure the length of their tarsus, you’ll see variation. I hope Cornelius is aware of this. He might then wonder how much of this is due to genes, and how much is the environment. The answer is that it is a bit of both: we know that there is genetic variation for size, and this is persistent (genetic variation like this is known as ‘standing variation’). So, if the changes are genetic it is this standing variation that is evolving.

    Also, if Dr. Hunter had read the paper, he would have read this:

    Although our data cannot demonstrate that body size is evolving under climate change, they do show that the response is correlated with natural selection and may therefore be adaptive.

    and a careful reading of the BBC piece shows that they do not mention evolution. So he’s attacking a target of his own making.

    One other point is worth making: the authors talk about there being natural selection. This is the process that leads to differential survival. but it does not necessarily lead to evolution: if there is no (additive) genetic variation, there is no genetic change, and hence no response to selection. IIRC, there was a paper on flycatchers in Nature a few years ago that showed this happening.

    There is also evidence that phenotypic changes in body size can occur without genetic changes (this is part of the specialist literature, so I wouldn’t expect Dr. Hunter to be aware of it).

  3. 3
    scordova says:

    Sorry, but this post just reveals Dr. Hunter’s ignorance

    On the contrary, Heinrich, it reveals your misinterpretation of the issues.

    Developmental plasticity has been ignored as a mechanism of change on the presumption that populations are transformed primarily by mutation and selection.

    For example, we might find the mean weight of an adult bird population (say 1000 birds) to be say 4 pounds with a standard deviation of 1 in a given environment.

    Say we have an enviromental change, and the very next generation of 1000 birds has a mean weight of 2 pounds and standard deviation of half a pound.

    That is too short a time to account for the population change to be attributable to mutation followed by selection.

    The proper mechanical description is one of developmental plasticity, not mutation and selection!!!

    West-Eberhard documents such cases, and unfortunately she has to impose Darwinian perversions (err, interpretations) to describe what is empirically evident, namely, mutation and selection are not necessarily principle mechanisms of population transformations, but rather developmental plasticity in response to the environment. Exactly as Dr. Hunter desribes!

    What this demonstrates is the evolutionary propensity to mis-interpret obvious data even in real time, present day observations. It casts serious doubts that the community is qualified to make grand claims about the anything in the deep past.

  4. 4
    anonym says:

    Pop quiz! Here is a quotation:

    In X a number of biologists have advocated what may be called Y views of evolution, especially the conception that in certain cases rapid evolution can occur.

    The questions are:

    a) What is the value of Y?
    b) Where is the quotation from?

    Too-facile use of search is forbidden; I’ve made some trivial changes to discourage this. I’ll provide the full original quote and source with the answers, of course.

  5. 5
    scordova says:

    Heinrich:

    There is also evidence that phenotypic changes in body size can occur without genetic changes

    So much worse then for the case that changes are due to natural selection acting on random mutation!

    Plain old developmental plasticity is a better explanation.

    Example, undernourish a population, the population on the whole might weigh less in the very next generation.

    This has nothing to do with selection and mutation. Sheesh!

    But how many times has comparably simple observations of developmental plasticity been force-fitted into a mutation-selection model?

    Do the Grants really know that what they observed was mutation and selection versus developmental plasticity? Where is the experimental control that even asks the question!!!!!!

  6. 6
    scordova says:

    Consider that from 1990 to 2005 the average weight of infants decreased about 1.6% in the USA according to this article:

    Change in Birth Weight

    Was the change due to selection acting on the entire population?

    It would be hard to argue natural selection and muation adequately describe the change because we aren’t even dealing with an entire generational cycle to even allow competition for that trait!

    Similar observations might be made in the rise in obesity. The mutation selection paradigm are inappropriate mechanisms to describe the fundamental causes of the change.

    Science Daily suggest the reason is increased food intake. Duh! This is not the result of natural selection acting on random variation to favor overweight individuals.

    Now consider the Grant’s study of Darwin’s finches. The variation in beak depth was on the order of a few percent change. The also pointed out changes in body weight.
    They speculate natural selection. Maybe so, but how much of it was developmental plasticity?

    Again I point out the Grants also studied body weight. How much change in mean body weight is due to eating habits and not natural selection?

    Natural selection fails as an explanation for changes in the mean of human body weight in the current generation. Why rush to it as a primary explanation for changes in the mean weight of Darwin’s finches?

    The Grants conceded regarding the finches:

    The phenotypic states of both species at the end of the 30-year study could not have been predicted at the beginning.

  7. 7
    Heinrich says:

    Sal if you had bothered to read the PNAS paper I’ve referred you to, you would see an example where it was demonstrated that decadal changes weren’t genetic.

    I haven’t looked at the finch studies in detail, so I can’t answer you there.

    Natural selection fails as an explanation for changes in the mean of human body weight in the current generation. Why rush to it as a primary explanation for changes in the mean weight of Darwin’s finches?

    (a) life span is much shorter in finches than humans. So there is more time to see inter-generational changes, (b) I’m guessing there is evidence for heritability for body size and beak shape. If there is directional selection, there will be a response. (c) it’s possible that the Grants have some more data: I’m not that familiar with their work.

    The Grants conceded regarding the finches:

    The phenotypic states of both species at the end of the 30-year study could not have been predicted at the beginning.

    What does this unsourced quotemine have to do with whether the changes were due to selection? At the start of the period, they would not have known what the environment would have been like over those 30 years.

  8. 8

    Unlike Sal, I have read most of the Grants’ research reports, review articles, and monographs. As part of their research Peter and Rosemary Grant and their student assistants tagged, measured, and recorded every single bird that hatched, fledged, matured, and reproduced on Daphne Minor over the past three decades. They couldn’t record every bird that died because they couldn’t find them all. However, once a bird disappeared and did not reappear for a specific period of time, it was logged as dead.

    What they found was that there has been a statistically significant correlation between the beak lengths of specific individual birds and their reproductive success over time. Because of the massive amount of demographic data they gathered, they were able to distinguish between changes that resulted from developmental plasticity (as reflected in mean individual phenotypic differences) and changes that were correlated purely with changes in heritable (i.e. genetic) traits. Their research indicates that the latter were overwhelmingly correlated with the observed pattern of changes in beak and body size over the period of time that such changes were observed.

    Furthermore, by meticulously recording the environmental conditions that prevailed in their study area during the same period of time, they were able to correlate the observed changes in phenotype of the birds (and the corresponding changes in genotype) with changes in the environment, showing that the phenotypic changes were driven by changes in the environment, with a lag time precisely predicted by evolutionary theory.

    Additionally, research into the underlying developmental genetics regulating beak morphology (carried out by other researchers) has shown that the observed changes in beak morphology were paralleled by slight changes in the hox gene (BMP4) that regulates the development of jaw bones in finches and other vertebrates, and that these changes fully explain the patterns of evolutionary change and adaptation observed.

    And finally, not only does the empirical research carried out by the Grants provide overwhelming support for natural selection as the explanation for the changes in beak morphology, it also has provided strong evidence for the divergence of a new (i.e. incipient) species among the finches on Daphne Minor during the period in which the observations were carried out. This means that the Grants have, through diligence and extraordinary effort, provided confirmatory evidence for both of Darwin’s theories of evolution: natural selection (as the explanation for the evolution of adaptations) and descent with modification (resulting from dramatically increased reproductive isolation among subgroups of the finch population).

    So, Sal, you are plainly, simply, and completely wrong. As someone who aspires to be a scholar, I would recommend that before you fabricate unsupported speculations concerning things about which you know little or nothing that you first read and ponder the research reports, review articles, and monographs of people who have actually done the hard work of observing nature, and try to do so with something resembling objectivity. Indeed, I recommend that you follow T. H. Huxley’s advice:

    “Surely it must be plain that an ingenious man could speculate without end on both sides, and find analogies for all his dreams. Nor does it help me to tell me that the aspirations of mankind–that my own highest aspirations even–lead me towards [a particular doctrine]. I doubt the fact, to begin with, but if it be so even, what is this but in grand words asking me to believe a thing because I like it.

    Science has taught to me the opposite lesson. She warns me to be careful how I adopt a view which jumps with my preconceptions, and to require stronger evidence for such belief than for one to which I was previously hostile.

    My business is to teach my aspirations to conform themselves to fact, not to try and make facts harmonise with my aspirations. [http://aleph0.clarku.edu/huxley/letters/60.html]

    Rather than post a long list of references to the primary literature on the Grants’ research, I recommend that anyone interested in this topic paste the following key terms into Google Scholar, and then start reading:

    peter rosemary grant galapagos finches

  9. 9
    scordova says:

    Evolutionary biologists are actually doing the work to see if these changes are due to selection, or something else

    What, they actually don’t know the mechanism of global population changes? Say it ain’t so.

    High time they started to get their act together.

    Do you have any evidence of a change that large? Please, argue from the evidence, not from made up numbers.

    See: The Dollar Hen on evironments affecting chicken weight.

    the individual changes of weight ran from 2 1/2 lbs gain to 3/4 lb loss

    Clearly natural selection and mutation were not in play! It was common sense environmentally induced effects.

    Such common sense analysis should cast deep suspicion on claims of mutation and selection as the principle basis of change in average weight and size of populations. (roll eyes)

    Who is to say heretible epigentic developmental mechanisms as well as non-heritable mechanisms aren’t in play in other population transformations.

    Other specific examples that go far beyond environmentally induced weight and size changes and can be found through West-Ebberhard’s book on developmental plasticity. There are some pretty astonishing changes which one would have naively assumed to be the result of random mutation, but are in fact the natural range of existing plasticity.

    She lists actual examples of developmental plasticty if you can read through the Darwinian misperceptions which you point out are pervasive among the evolutionary community.

  10. 10
    scordova says:

    Allen:

    Additionally, research into the underlying developmental genetics regulating beak morphology (carried out by other researchers) has shown that the observed changes in beak morphology were paralleled by slight changes in the hox gene (BMP4) that regulates the development of jaw bones in finches and other vertebrates, and that these changes fully explain the patterns of evolutionary change and adaptation observed.

    Actually from Abzhanov and Grant 2004:
    Bmp4 and Morphological Variation of Beaks in Darwin’s Finches it parallels the expression of BMP4 not necessarily the mutation of BMP4:

    We found that expression of Bmp4 in the mesenchyme of the upper beaks strongly correlated with deep and broad beak morphology. When misexpressed in chicken embryos

    But one should not hasten to say the changes in BMP4 expression are due to “random mutation” versus environmentally induced factors.

    This paper by Young and Badyaev suggsest that BMP4 is not toally “random” but could be modulated by environmental factors.

    Evolution of ontogeny: linking epigenetic remodeling and genetic adaptation in skeletal structures

    Changes in patterns of BMP [bone morphogenic protein] expression typical of skeletal adaptations (Table 1) are frequently hypothesized to result from mutations in regulatory regions of BMP pathways (Terai et al. 2002; Albertson and Kocher 2006). However, this hypothesis overlooks the crucial role of environmental and other non-genetic inputs into skeletal development despite overwhelming evidence of the close relationship between external stimuli (e.g., muscle loading and diet) and the development of cartilage and bone
    ….

    The effects of mechanically induced expression of BMPs (especially BMP-2 and 4) on growth and development also varied with intensity and duration of mechanical stimulation

    Granting there is selection at work in the Darwin’s finches, is this really phyletic transformation most of the time? Ebberhard argues that the plasticity is retained, not lost.

    But loss of the plasticity would be the case if this were real Phyletic transformation in the Darwinian sense. Reversion to previous forms via random back mutation seems a bit suspicious. Reversion via environmentally induced changes (even environmentally induced genetic changes) is possible, as well as through introgression.

    Grant conceded in 1999 in his book Ecology and Evolution of Darwin’s Finches

    From factors tending to deplete genetic variation, I now turn to factors tending to restore and increase it. The two source of allelic novelty are mutation and introgression.

    It is conceivable that mutation rates are unusually high in Darwin finches, and higher in some species than in others, but nothing is acutally known about mutation in Darwin finches.

    Grant then suggests Introgression rather than random mutation as a source of “novelty”! If so, this is hardly natural selection acting on random mutation! At the very least the issue of “random mutation” as the most important source of novelty is still open.

    PS
    Ebberhard suggest the possility of environmentally induced genetic changes. This is heretical, but it seems to be true in some instances.

  11. 11
    David Kellogg says:

    Dr. Hunter seems to create a straw opponent. Toward the end of this article he states:

    Not surprisingly, findings such as this one have scientists increasingly questioning evolutionary theory.

    That’s a strong claim, but one for which he provides no evidence. None. Zip. Zero. Zilch.

    It’s a claim made out of thin air. But it would have to be, since it depends on such “scientists” believing his earlier claim that these findings challenge evolutionary theory in the first place. And that claim, as Heinrich and Allen MacNeill show, also has little evidentiary support.

  12. 12
    Charlie says:

    So, Sal, you are plainly, simply, and completely wrong.

    I’m glad this didn’t come with the standard MacNeill civility lecture.

    As someone who aspires to be a scholar, I would recommend that before you fabricate unsupported speculations concerning things about which you know little or nothing that you first read and ponder the research reports, review articles, and monographs of people who have actually done the hard work of observing nature, and try to do so with something resembling objectivity.

    Good advice.
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-240816

    “Thank you, Sal: your have always been, in all of your interactions with me, a gentleman and a scholar.”
    A. MacNeill

  13. 13
    Clive Hayden says:

    Allen_MacNeill,

    This means that the Grants have, through diligence and extraordinary effort, provided confirmatory evidence for both of Darwin’s theories of evolution: natural selection (as the explanation for the evolution of adaptations) and descent with modification (resulting from dramatically increased reproductive isolation among subgroups of the finch population).

    If that Darwinian evolution then it certainly isn’t Darwinian common descent. I liked David Berlinski’s response to this when he said, I’m paraphrasing, that the beaks change with the wet and dry season and regress back to the mean. Maybe one day we’ll have Galapagos elephants evolved from the finches, maybe, but we need a lot more evidence than beak variation. To me, this strikes as saying that since your children’s hair is usually a different color they’ll eventually evolve into a new creature. Do you believe that Allen? Do you believe that your children’s offspring, way down the lineage, will be entirely new creatures? Do you think they will be better or worse than humans?

  14. 14
    scordova says:

    This means that the Grants have, through diligence and extraordinary effort, provided confirmatory evidence for both of Darwin’s theories of evolution: natural selection (as the explanation for the evolution of adaptations)

    The Grants have through diligence provided observations. Although hard work is a necessary condition to making good science, it’s not a sufficient condition.

    At best their fine work demonstrates that natural selection provides a mechanism to select among better adapted phenotypes, but that notion of selection was one articulated by creationists like Blyth, years before Darwin.

    In contrast, Darwin argued Natural selection acting on random variation was the means of creating sufficient novelty to evolve things like flight, hearing, sight, etc. Darwin’s view of Natural selection has not been demonstrated, only Blyths view.

    That nature will favor the survival of one phenotype over another does not in any way constitute how the spectrum of phenotypes came to exist in the first place. The notion of “adaptation” is equivocated. There are at least two meanings of “adaptation”

    1. adaptation as in selecting from existing phenotypes

    2. adaptation as in creating viable phenotypes

    Natural Selection as observed by the Grants and others only adapts from existing phenotypes. Evolutionary literature, upon demonstrating adaptations of the #1 sort, argues via equivocation that it demonstrated adaptation of the #2 sort. This is not science, this is equivocation. This sort of “proof” is logically and scientifically illegitimate.

    Allen:

    and descent with modification (resulting from dramatically increased reproductive isolation among subgroups of the finch population).

    Again, more equivocations. The observation that descendants are different from parents hardly constitutes a mechanism for the emergence of novel integrated capabilities.

    Throwing rocks at cars constitutes “modification” to a car, it would be wrong to argue that such “modifications” are the same sort of mechanisms that originated the car.

    So with respect to “modification” there is equivocation going on. We have:

    1. modifications that are no more than selecting from existing phenotypes (which is really no modification at all)

    2. modifications that are the result of mutation

    3. modifications that are the result of developmental plasticity

    4. modifications that create integrated novelties (such as new complex proteins and capabilities)

    The Grants showed #1-type of modification, it is improper and essentially equivocation to suggest #1-type modifications are #4-type modifications. That would be about as bad as saying selecting a Honda over a Toyota is the process that created automobiles!

    As someone who aspires to be a scholar, I would recommend that before you fabricate unsupported speculations concerning things about which you know little or nothing that you first read and ponder the research reports, review articles, and monographs of people who have actually done the hard work of observing nature, and try to do so with something resembling objectivity.

    The work by you and your colleagues for sure has been hard, but I’ve tried to point out where the evolutionary inferences go completely awry.

    My regrets for getting snippy. But when Heinrich demanded I give examples of birds getting heavier or lighter through mechanisms other than mutation and selection, I lost my patience for dealing with such sophistry.

    Finally, I pointed out that the BMP4 expression might not necessarily be due to mutation. There are other forms of environmentally induced heritable and non-heritable changes that are not mutational in nature. I cited research specifically regarding BMP4.

    The range of plasticity in Finches could be epigenetic in nature and not necessarily due to genetic mutation. Mary Jane West-Ebberhard alluded to this because of the reversion to previous phenotypes. If the finch variations in question were due purely to random mutation and if selection purged out the weaker variants from purely random mutation, we might not expect to see reversion to some mean, but rather total disappearance. Instead we see reversion to a mean, which is more suggestive of natural plasticity (plenty of non-genetic plasticity with respect to weight, shape, and size).

    Finally, it appears Grant himself questions how much of the observed diversity is attributable to mutations that occurred during the 30 years of his work. He suspect these were previously existing variants introduced through introgression with sister “species”.

    Even creationists believe allelic novelty came about through mutations, but those mutations don’t necessarily have to be the sort of mutations that we see in operation today. Creationists speculate that the first forms were special creations, followed by modest amounts of mutation. But that is a speculation by creationists and not necessarily the view of other proponents of ID. And it goes without saying, speculations are not necessarily science, they are speculations. So there is no argument that mutations happen, it is the nature of mutations that is in question.

  15. 15
    O'Leary says:

    Change in size would be among the easiest to occur, precisely because all the parts are there, but now they are just smaller. Or bigger.

    Surely there is no comparison between overall size reduction and adding features and functions.

    If I look at the human population of Toronto, the city in which I live, what do I see? Women hardly more than a metre tall (homo Flo, anyone? and women who are much closer to two metres tall.) But they have all the same body parts, all functioning in the same way.

    So, it strikes me that the information change is probably a minor one, compared to the vast claims made for Darwinism.

    Also, please note, these patterns can be easily reversed. I have seen it in my own lifetime. My daughters attended school with many Philippine-born girls. In some cases, after the family moved to Canada, the height of the children was significantly greater than that of their mothers – and greater than mine or my girls’. 🙂

    The best explanation, in my view, is a higher protein diet, typical for this region. People then reach whatever height they can, depending on long bone formation.

    At any rate, I know that size can change between single generations.

    Apparently, something similar happened in Japan in the last century.

    Whatever that is, it is not Darwinism.

  16. 16

    In comment #13 Clive Hayden asked:

    “Do you believe that your children’s offspring, way down the lineage, will be entirely new creatures?”

    Personally, I think “believe” is not the word I would choose. Given the patterns of emergence and extinction that phylogeneticists have observed in phylogenetic lineages, I suspect that, like most lineages, mine will die out after not too many generations. As a parent, I fervently hope that none of my children will pre-decease me, and since I love my children (indeed, I really love babies and toddlers very much), I hope they will have children of their own, but it seems to me that hoping is very different from expecting or believing.

    As for how different they will be (assuming there are any), I can only project, based on my current experience. My children (I have six) are both remarkably different from each other and remarkably similar in some ways. Ergo, I suspect that they will not be “entirely new creatures”, but will be some blend of the familiar and the unfamiliar, the former giving their ancestors comfort in the known and the latter piquing their curiosity in the unknown. But I think it’s clear that, no matter how different they will be (and I suspect they will be very different indeed, at least in some ways), they will not really be “entirely new creatures”. No phylogenetic lineage has members that are “entirely new creatures”. Rather, each new individual, like each of my children, represents a blend of the known and the unknown. It’s part of what makes life interesting, to me anyway.

    Clive also asked:

    “Do you think they will be better or worse than humans?”

    There are several loaded terms in this question as well. Once again, the word “think” isn’t one that I would have chosen. As I wrote above, I suspect that my descendants (assuming there are any after a surprisingly few generations) will be different from me (my children already are), yet familiar in some ways as well.

    However, “better or worse” are value judgments, and therefore cannot be predicted, only hoped for. Like almost any parent, I hope that my children will be “better” than me: more humble, less envious, more tolerant, less prone to anger, more generous, less lazy, more loving, less selfish, more resilient, less self-doubting, more…well, you get the picture. I hope that all of my descendants (and all of yours) will be all of those things, and will work hard to help them become all of those things.

    But whether our evolutionary descendants are “better” or “worse” than us…are we “better” than our ancestors, or “worse”? I honestly can’t say one way or the other, can you?

  17. 17
    Seversky says:

    The key point is that the Grant’s observed and documented a process that had to be there if evolution occurs. Their work does not provide evidence of speciation but if it were not there then the foundations of the theory would be weakened and critics could and almost certainly would argue, with some justification, that evolutionists can’t even find the smallest amount of evidence to support their theory.

  18. 18
    David Kellogg says:

    Allen, I was surprised that Clive would offer the “better or worse” question, as he should know enough by now to realize its misleading character.

    Some things may improve over time, but not necessarily Clive’s understanding of evolution.

  19. 19
    Mung says:

    However, once a bird disappeared and did not reappear for a specific period of time, it was logged as dead.

    Did they track this through insurance claims?

  20. 20
    Mung says:

    Allen:

    …indeed, I really love babies and toddlers very much…

    Even those which are not your own?

  21. 21
    Heinrich says:

    What, they actually don’t know the mechanism of global population changes? Say it ain’t so.

    High time they started to get their act together.

    Are you aware of how much work is needed to do this? I’m aware of several systems where there is enough data, but it needs pedigrees over several generations, so we’re talking 10-20 years of work, not just catching and ringing on migration, but during breeding (to get parent/offspring relationships). This is a bit easier now, as parentage can be assigned through DNA, but that needs lab work to develop the markers (for this sort of work markers may or may not work across species). Then the analyses have to be done: the animal model was only introduced a few years ago, so before that there was less reason to collect this sort of data.

    See: The Dollar Hen on evironments affecting chicken weight.

    the individual changes of weight ran from 2 1/2 lbs gain to 3/4 lb loss

    Clearly natural selection and mutation were not in play!

    Of course not – these were farmed chickens. They also gained weight because they were fed. The Oikos paper that the BBC report was describing looked at changes in the wild, and your description also seemed to be about wild birds.

    Another point, not one I would expect you to have picked up, TBH, is that the authors of the paper deliberately measured size in a way that excluded, or at least minimised, the short-term effects of feeding (i.e. they corrected for condition). So, again, the comparison you make is misleading.

    She lists actual examples of developmental plasticty if you can read through the Darwinian misperceptions which you point out are pervasive among the evolutionary community.

    I’m sorry? (a) I was making the point that phenotypic plasticity is well known amongst people who actually study short-term evolution in birds. It’s poor Cornelius who doesn’t understand this, so would you kindly aim your fire at your fellow creationist.

  22. 22

    Yes. I have always been drawn to babies and toddlers, every since I was a little kid. It has never really mattered much if they were “mine”, and indeed I have more than once seriously contemplated adopting children. My wife and I have not done so…yet.

  23. 23
    scordova says:

    Allen:

    No phylogenetic lineage has members that are “entirely new creatures”.

    My understanding is the real implication of evoluitonary theory is that in a sense, there are really no species since there are no species barriers given all creatures are from one family. We only have phylogenies, not real species. I seem to recall you made that very observation on your blog.

    For the sake of argument let us say there are not really any species barriers, all living things descended by common descent, and theat there is no intellignet design.

    The issue remains whether the mechanisms we see in operation today: natural selection, genetic drift, random mutation, developmental plasticity, etc. are sufficient to create the features of biological systems today.

    I’d have to say the answer is no, or undecided at best. The hopeful monster theories, the resurgence of some mutationist schools of thought (articulated by Nei), suggest dissatisfaction with accepted mechanisms. I would argue that even granting common descent and no intelligent design, a believable mechanism for change has yet to be discovered. The state of affairs is not far from the state of affairs facing the OOL community.

    With respect to rapid change in populations due to developmental plasticity (not natural selection acting on random mutation), it would appear there is a lot of pre-existing capacity for adaptation (and maladaptation), and that capacity is environmentally stimulated.

    The question is whether developmental plasticity invalidates evolutionary theory. I’d say it casts doubts on the proportion of change in a population attributable to natural selection acting on random variation. Most certainly, the mean features of an entire population can be transfored without involving random mutation at all. Ebberhard-West gives examples that go far beyond changes in mere size and weight to include things like sex characteristics etc. John Davison noted examples where the gender of creatures can even be modulated by temperature!

  24. 24

    While we’re on the subject, my close friend (and sometimes intellectual opponent) Hannah Maxson (currently in rural Mongolia) has recently contacted me with the news that she has gotten married and that she and her husband have adopted two of the orphans that they were raising. It was good to hear from her and to find out that she was all right, and even more fun to see the photos of her two new sons.

  25. 25
    Seversky says:

    Clive Hayden @ 13

    To me, this strikes as saying that since your children’s hair is usually a different color they’ll eventually evolve into a new creature. Do you believe that Allen? Do you believe that your children’s offspring, way down the lineage, will be entirely new creatures? Do you think they will be better or worse than humans?

    This is actually a fascinating question. How different are we from our ancestral hominids of, say, one million years ago? How different will our descendants be a million years further down the line. That’s assuming a super-volcano or passing comet hasn’t wiped the slate clean and us off the face of the Earth.

    As Sal Cordova points out at #14:

    Even creationists believe allelic novelty came about through mutations, but those mutations don’t necessarily have to be the sort of mutations that we see in operation today. Creationists speculate that the first forms were special creations, followed by modest amounts of mutation.

    So even YECs have been forced to concede that a certain amount of mutation takes place, although they want to limit it as much as possible. But even that small concession raises a serious problem. For them, not much change has happened over the few thousand years since The Creation but what about after a million years or even longer? Once you allow change can happen – and it’s pretty hard to pretend it doesn’t – you’re going to have to find a really good reason why things won’t change out of all recognition given enough time – and that includes us.

    As for whether the changes are better or worse, the question is, by what standard? Are we better than the tribal societies of the Middle East two thousand years ago or worse?

  26. 26
    Charlie says:

    Hi Allen,
    Thanks for the good news about Hannah Maxon. Through your updates I feel like I almost know your good friend myself.

  27. 27
    scordova says:

    Allen wrote:

    While we’re on the subject, my close friend (and sometimes intellectual opponent) Hannah Maxson (currently in rural Mongolia) has recently contacted me with the news that she has gotten married and that she and her husband have adopted two of the orphans that they were raising. It was good to hear from her and to find out that she was all right, and even more fun to see the photos of her two new sons.

    Thank you for posting the news about one of my former IDEA colleagues and your student Hannah. I will be forever indebted to you for your kindness and defense of my IDEA colleagues at Cornell like Hannah, Seth, and Rabia. You extended this kindness to them with some peril to yourself, and most amazingly you did so so despite your disagreement with their views.

    And with that, I think an apology on my part to you and your colleagues is in order. I have a hot temper and I certainly have episodes not consistent with being a gentleman. Although it is no excuse, it does get difficult for me to see I and my colleagues labeled on a daily basis as anti-science, enemies of society, and other unflattering titles. Although that does not excuse my conduct, I hope it will help you to not look so unfavorably on me.

    I do not intend to disrespect the character and hard work of you and your colleagues. For sure, one of the most beloved names in the ID movement is an evolutionary biologist by the name of Richard Sternberg. And there is always the perennial prodigal son of ID, an evolutionary biologist and physiologist by the name of John Davison.

    In addition to that, the work of Kimura, Haldane, Wright, Crow, Felsenstein, Ewens, Ohta, Jukes, King, and many others are the staple of ID literature pioneered by Sanford and ReMine. And it goes without saying Bill Dembski draws heavility on the work of Ronald Fisher.

    And Will Provine is known to be a friend of the father of ID Phil Johnson.

    All this to say, I hope we can cooperate in the dialog and exchange of information. You’re presence here has always made me behave a little better than I would otherwise.

    Thank you, sincerely, Allen for being a part of our humble forum at UD.

    regards,
    Sal

  28. 28
    Cornelius Hunter says:

    David (11):

    Dr. Hunter seems to create a straw opponent. Toward the end of this article he states:

    Yes, hasty writing is bad writing.

  29. 29
    Clive Hayden says:

    David Kellog,

    Some things may improve over time, but not necessarily Clive’s understanding of evolution.

    I’ve missed you and your misnomers. If I can’t understand evolution, it’s because of evolution 🙂 Of course, that is only your point of view, not mine, I don’t believe in evolution, so I don’t hold it to any truth about anything, i.e. cognitive abilities etc., but you must, so you have to blame a process for the process being wrong. Evolution accounts for everything in your scheme. Luckily I don’t have that self-defeating paradigm.

  30. 30
    Clive Hayden says:

    Allen_MacNeill,

    But I think it’s clear that, no matter how different they will be (and I suspect they will be very different indeed, at least in some ways), they will not really be “entirely new creatures”. No phylogenetic lineage has members that are “entirely new creatures”. Rather, each new individual, like each of my children, represents a blend of the known and the unknown. It’s part of what makes life interesting, to me anyway.

    Can you speculate, just for fun, on what new features your lineage will have? Maybe webbed toes, wings, maybe horns, or be hairless? Or do you think your children’s evolution won’t be that severe no matter how much longer the lineage has to evolve?

  31. 31
    Collin says:

    Seversky,

    The creationist’s answer, not surprisingly, is theological. The mutations are a result of the fall of man and when Jesus comes again, he will overcome the effects of that fall and human bodies will be perfected.

    I once heard that when purebred dogs become ferral they generally become more “wolf-like.” Has anyone else heard that and if so can you give me a source?

  32. 32
    computerist says:

    I too am very interested in the predictions (because afterall science makes predictions) of how we humans will “look like” in the distant future. Hollywood seems to have figured it out already, one movie that comes to mind is “The Time Machine”. According to this Darwinian fantasy, (if I can accurately recall) the humans who survived underground devolved into evolved apes while the humans who survived above ground remained unchanged.

  33. 33
    anonym says:

    Aww, does nobody want to play my game? What view of evolution is above all “the conception that in certain cases rapid evolution can occur” , according to the author? I promise that the answer is interesting and poignant.

  34. 34
    Collin says:

    You should all read Niven’s “Ringworld Engineers.” (ACtually it sucks, don’t read it). In that book people inhabited a world with no other animal life (only plant). humans quickly evolve into various ecological niches. There are cow-like people with flat teeth, vampire-like people, seal-type people etc. I think it’s creative but kind of ridiculous too.

  35. 35

    In comment #30, Clive Hayden asked:

    “Can you speculate, just for fun, on what new features your lineage will have? Maybe webbed toes, wings, maybe horns, or be hairless? Or do you think your children’s evolution won’t be that severe no matter how much longer the lineage has to evolve?”

    Speculation is fun (as long as one keeps in mind that it is merely speculation), so here goes:

    One of the evolutionary trends that has characterized the hominid phylogeny over the past ten million years is neoteny: the retention of juvenile features into physical (and especially sexual) maturity. This is why other primate babies strike many people as more “human-like” than adult non-human primates. The juvenile forms of all primates (including humans) are more similar to each other than the adult forms. This is most noticeable in the gross morphology of the human skull, which looks extraordinarily “juvenile” when compared with the skulls of other adult primates. Juvenile primates are also less “hairy” than adults (as Clive hinted at), and have less distinct gender differences (both morphological and behavioral).

    There is also a trend toward increasing dominance of females (and a corresponding decrease in intra-group male-male conflict in the context of hierarchical maintenance) among the hominids, especially in those clades most closely related to humans.

    These same trends are noticeable in cultural evolution as well. As the decades-long ethological research into the behavior of macaques in the Koshima archipelago in Japan has shown, much of the cultural innovation among the various macaque groups has been initiated by juveniles, especially juvenile females. Adults seem much less flexible in their behavior, a pattern also exhibited in the acquisition and evolution of human language.

    Finally, there has been a gradual trend toward increasing body size and increasing longevity among the hominids, coupled with delayed sexual maturation (again, a neotenous trait).

    Ergo, I would expect that further evolution among the hominid line (which may or may not include my own phylogenetic descendants) would reflect these trends:

    1) increasingly delayed maturation, coupled with retention of juvenile characteristics later into adulthood, especially in the morphology of the skull (including the eventual loss of “wisdom teeth” molars), hands, and (to a lesser extent) feet;

    2) increasing importance of female behavior among social groups, up to and including positions of dominance in somewhat less rigidly defined dominance hierarchies;

    3) delayed behavioral maturation, including delayed language acquisition, followed by increasingly elaborated behavioral and linguistic adaptation; and

    4) increasing overall body size and longevity.

    In other words, if these trends continue, our distant evolutionary descendants would appear to us to be very tall (but not necessarily very fat), highly verbal, somewhat oddly proportioned (big-headed”) children among whom females and males are difficult to tell apart and whose social behavior is much more verbally complex and significantly less gender delineated than ours, and who live to surprisingly old ages (easily into their hundreds). Not the usual picture one finds in most science fiction, but quite consistent with past trends in hominid evolution.

    That was fun! I really do wish time travel were possible, so that we could see if these trends continue, or if unforeseen environmental changes (such as the ice ages or changes in solar luminosity) alter the trends in unexpected ways.

  36. 36

    All this assumes relatively little alteration of the human genome via genetic engineering. If this is thrown into the mix, all bets are off. See Dougal Dixon’s Man After Man: An Anthopology of the Future [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Man_After_Man:_An_Anthropology_of_the_Future] for one person’s speculations as to the future of genetically engineered (dare one call it “intelligently designed”?) humanity.

    Another science fiction look into possible human futures is Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_and_First_Men]. Stapledon’s work had a profound effect on other writers [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_and_First_Men#Influences_on_other_writers], including C. S. Lewis, who wrote his “space trilogy” partly in response to Stapledon.

  37. 37

    One other science fiction recommendation:

    M. A. Foster’s “Ler trilogy” [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M._A._Foster] is an extended look at a possible human future in which a genetically engineered “post-human” species – the Ler – set in motion a series of events that eventually result in the “forced evolution” of several subspecies of humans, collectively referred to as the Klesh.

    The three books of the Ler trilogy (in chronological, but not publication order) are:
    The Gameplayers of Zan (1977)
    The Warriors of Dawn (1975)
    The Day of the Klesh (1979)
    Foster also has a website in which he and others expand on the language and culture of the Ler:
    http://www.ai-institute.org/

  38. 38
    David Kellogg says:

    Clive,

    Let me put it another way: evolution does not say that species become objectively “better” over time. It just doesn’t. It’s not my fault that you’re wrong.

    What if I made a equivalent blunder about ID — let’s say I said that ID says that all biological design is optimal design? If I made such a claim, you would rightly accuse me of gross misunderstanding. And yet you continue to justify your error.

  39. 39
    scordova says:

    One way to interpret the data:

    1. if the changes due to developmental plasticity were adaptive (such as with the birds and temperature), then that is an example of adaptation independent of natural selection.

    2. if the changes due to developmental plasticity were maladaptive, then that shows the ineffectiveness of natural selection

    Thus in either case selection is mostly irrelevant to these biological features.

  40. 40
    Heinrich says:

    No, Sal. In the first case selection is acting, but there is no genetic response to selection.

  41. 41
    Clive Hayden says:

    David Kellog,

    Allen’s response was full of “better” in what he expects to see as far as better fitted in various ways in his evolved children. Some things are better suited to an environment in the mythology of evolution than others, that was my point, and that was (partly) the point of my question. So Allen believes we’ll retain basically the same features (taller, bigger heads, etc.) as we have currently. What do you think? I happen to think that on this mythology our children will be a sort of brilliant wombat/sea-lion given enough time. Or we might evolve directly into fig trees, you never know. 😉

  42. 42
    David Kellogg says:

    Clive, one hopes our descendants will be better in some sense, but evolution only says that successful creatures will be well adapted to the conditions in which they find themselves. There is no absolute or objective “better” in evolution. And. You. Know. This. Or should.

  43. 43

    Clive, you seem utterly unable to understand the difference between descriptive and prescriptive statements. The word “better” is inherently a value judgment, in the same way that a moral/ethical prescription is. Nowhere in my speculations about the possible future direction(s) of human evolution did I either state nor imply that our evolutionary descendants would be either “better” or “worse” than us, nor did I state or imply that they would be more or less “fit” than we are. On the contrary, what is likely (although not necessarily guaranteed) is that they will be different from us, and that their overall phenotypes will represent a blend of adaptive and non-adaptive characteristics.

    This is not the first time (nor will it probably be the last) that Clive has demonstrated his inability to distinguish between descriptive (i.e. “is”) statements and evaluative (i.e. “ought”) statements. This is a distinction that is made in the very first lecture of any elementary course in ethical philosophy. Ergo, most reasonable people would conclude either that 1) Clive has no understanding of the basic principles of philosophical ethics, or 2) Clive does have such an understanding, but deliberately misrepresents this fundamental distinction for covert reasons of his own.

  44. 44
    scordova says:

    Heinrich:

    No, Sal. In the first case selection is acting, but there is no genetic response to selection.

    No Heinrich, developmental changes can occur with or without selection acting on them. I gave examples, and so does West-Ebberhard.

    Furthermore the fact selection acts does not imply it is a good explanation. Gravity acts on all biological systems, we don’t use gravity as universal explanation for the complexity in biology.

    The proven existence of selection does not guarantee it creates complexity any more than the proven existence of gravity guarantees the emergence of complexity. You seem to be continuing with oft repeated non-sequiturs.

  45. 45

    Natural selection doesn’t create complexity; indeed, it doesn’t “create” anything. It preserves those characteristics that arise as the result of the “engines of variation”, about fifty of which I have listed here:

    http://evolutionlist.blogspot......awman.html

    These mechanisms create all kinds of things, from new codons to entirely new multicellular organisms. Natural selection (defined as unequal, non-random survival and reproduction) simply preserves some of the new variants produced by these mechanisms. This “natural preservation” (Darwin’s preferred term for what he originally called “natural selection”) acts as a “funnel” for new variations, limited the number of new combinations of traits to a generally small subset of all of the possible combinations of variable traits. In so doing, natural preservation/selection continuously changes the probability of production of new variations, increasing the probability of some and decreasing the probability of others.

    As I have suggested many times in the past, if ID supporters are genuinely interested in the origin of biological novelty, the place to look is in the 50+ “engines of variation”. If there is any empirical evidence of the intervention into nature of an “intelligent designer”, it will be found here, and not in the preservation of variations already produced by these mechanisms.

  46. 46
    scordova says:

    Allen,

    Thank you for the list. If I may articulate the objection of my pro-ID peers, the issue is not that there are no sources of variation, it is looking for sources that mediate and coordinate variation.

    Most certainly there are ways to mechanically alter written English language text and as well as computer software.

    The software engineers among us, who are quick to acknowlege the existence of variation mechanisms, are reluctant to accept that COORDINATED variation can take place without some mediation. For sure we use lots of cut-and-paste in writing software. Things that are not too far removed in concept from the mechanism you list….these are par for various engineering disciplines.

    At issue is whether natural selection can provide coordination to a host of variational changes.

    Some segment of creationsts have argued the homologous recombination is an imporant mechanism of variation. Many creationists believe in adaptive mutations and that the mechanisms you describe could be some of the mechanisms which enable adaptation.

    Personally, I think it is too difficult a question to determine if a mutation was adaptive (as in had foresight, and response to the environment) versus random. Arguments could go both ways regarding that question whether a mutation is random or “premeditated”. Lynn Helena Caporale argues for some premeditation, but she says selection was the engine via which premeditation was infused in the genome. Needless to say, I agree the mutations could show “premeditation” but I’m skeptical natural selection synthesized mutational premeditation in the first place.

    Caporale wrote a layman’s book:Darwin in the Genome where she articulates her views.

  47. 47
    scordova says:

    Allen,

    If I may add, here is the middle ground between many creationists, ID propoents, and some non-ID biologists: the work of James Shapiro.

    Shapiro co-authored works with Richard Sternberg. Here is an example on non-Darwinian evolution employing various mechanisms of change. See: Who are the Multiple Designers?.

    Shapiro offers mechanisms for coordianted change that I find reasonable and correct. These are mechanisms which ID proponents and EBers can stand behind. The disgareement would be the origin of such mechanisms, however as proximal causes, I would expect broad agreement. The disagreement would come regarding ultimate causes, all the way back to the OOL issue.

    I emphasize, a lot of creationists would feel comfortable agreeing with Shapiro even though they are at sharp odds with Darwin.

  48. 48
    osteonectin says:

    If I may articulate the objection of my pro-ID peers, the issue is not that there are no sources of variation, it is looking for sources that mediate and coordinate variation.

    Most certainly there are ways to mechanically alter written English language text and as well as computer software.

    Like in “cdesign proponentsists”?

  49. 49
    Oramus says:

    Mr. MacNeill,

    I don’t think any ID supporter will dispute variation being preserved by NS. But variation is not novelty.

    Back to the drawing board, I guess.

    So how to find the source of novelty from a design perspective? Here’s a hypothesis for searching out the foundation of biological development/novelty:

    I hypothesize (as did Behe probably in jest, but unwittingly getting closer to home) that God did in fact design a mother cell.

    The Mother(think Bragg’s organic apple cider vinegar ‘with the mother’), which activated (the colloquial term used in a stawmanish way in many blog posts is intervened)several times, when optimum conditions reached a critical threshold for each phase of biological development – bacteria, plants, animal life, Man.

    I propose that The Mother’s signature is somewhere in our genome. But like all good riddles, it is hiding in plain sight.

    Now that would make a nice scientific research project, no?

    I’m serious. As a research/educational professional, could you suggest a way to formulate a research program geared to searching out some sort of ancient, root interactive library or something like that?

    As I have suggested many times in the past, if ID supporters are genuinely interested in the origin of biological novelty, the place to look is in the 50+ “engines of variation”. If there is any empirical evidence of the intervention into nature of an “intelligent designer”, it will be found here, and not in the preservation of variations already produced by these mechanisms.

  50. 50
    Heinrich says:

    No Heinrich, developmental changes can occur with or without selection acting on them. I gave examples, and so does West-Ebberhard.

    I’m not disputing that. But if there is differential survival, there is selection. If the changes are adaptive – your first way of interpreting the data – then there is differential survival (by definition). Hence there would be selection.

    It doesn’t matter if variation is genetic or not: selection can still act. For evolution, there has to be a response to selection too, which means an inherited response.

  51. 51
    Clive Hayden says:

    Allen_MacNeill,

    Clive, you seem utterly unable to understand the difference between descriptive and prescriptive statements. The word “better” is inherently a value judgment, in the same way that a moral/ethical prescription is. Nowhere in my speculations about the possible future direction(s) of human evolution did I either state nor imply that our evolutionary descendants would be either “better” or “worse” than us, nor did I state or imply that they would be more or less “fit” than we are. On the contrary, what is likely (although not necessarily guaranteed) is that they will be different from us, and that their overall phenotypes will represent a blend of adaptive and non-adaptive characteristics.

    “Just different” is your mantra, nothing is ever better than anything else in the respect of being “better” suited to an environment than anything else, do I understand you right? So all animals are “just different” with respect to their environment, even animals in the same environment, and you have no concept of any animal being better or worse suited by comparison to other animals and their environment, do I understand you right? So, if you were to say anything in the way of comparison between animals and their (either same or different) environments, all you could say is that they are different or the same, which seems pretty obvious, and wouldn’t be giving much information now would it? not especially anything useful.

  52. 52
    Clive Hayden says:

    Allen_MacNeill,

    You have no concept of anything like “This bullet fits this gun better” of a .45 round actually going into a .45 gun instead of a shotgun, or “This round peg goes into a round hole ‘better’ than this square peg”? Would you just claim that they are equally fitted in their own way, just different? If so, that’s perfectly fine, I was just wondering. 8) Seems a bit off to me, but that’s just me.

  53. 53

    In comment #52 Clive asked:

    “You have no concept of anything like “This bullet fits this gun better” of a .45 round actually going into a .45 gun instead of a shotgun, or “This round peg goes into a round hole ‘better’ than this square peg”?

    That is correct. The concept of “better” doesn’t apply to evolutionary fitness, which is essentially a mathematical concept, not a value-based assessment. How would one measure or count “betterness” (i.e. in what units would one quantify “being better”)?

    Would you just claim that they are equally fitted in their own way, just different?”

    In current evolutionary theory (i.e. evolutionary biology as it has been practiced for the past eighty years or so), fitness is defined very precisely: in most cases it consists of differential reproduction. Individuals that have more surviving offspring have a higher fitness than individuals that have fewer offspring. Fitness so defined can be either “absolute” (measured in raw numbers) or “relative” (measured in frequency/percentage/per capita). In general, evolutionary biologists use relative fitness for comparison purposes (i.e. comparing between individuals in a population), rather than absolute fitness.

    Under some circumstances, fitness is defined with reference to alleles, rather than to individuals. That is, a particular allele can be said to have a higher relative fitness in a population if it is present in that population at a higher relative frequency than alternative alleles.

    For example, the allele for sickle cell anemia has a higher relative fitness than the allele for normal hemoglobin, but only in populations that are chronically exposed to malaria (e.g. equatorial Africa). Personally, I tend not to equate fitness with relatively high allele frequencies, as I think that selection happens at the level of whole individuals, rather than at the level of genes. This is part of the debate over “multi-level selection” in which many evolutionary biologists are currently engaged.

    The reason that fitness is defined in reference to differential reproduction or relative allele frequencies is that these can be objectively measured, recorded, analyzed, and mathematically compared, and those numbers and comparisons can be plugged into mathematical equations which can statistically tested. Asking whether a particular phenotype is “better” fitted to its environment would require that one be able to count or measure units of “betterness”.

    As I pointed out in my earlier comment, terms like “good”, “bad”, “better”, “worse”, etc. entail value judgments, which cannot be counted or measured using scientific methods. Indeed, to attempt to do so is to commit what is known as the “naturalistic fallacy”. Social darwinism and eugenics are both examples of the commission of the naturalistic fallacy, and most evolutionary biologists for the past fifty years have tried to avoid committing them.

  54. 54
    Clive Hayden says:

    Allen,

    I did not mean moral or valuable, I mean better in respect to any evolutionary arbiter you would like to impose, differential reproduction or the like; it was a purely natural question, and my analogies should show that “better” can most certainly mean “better fitted” or “more fit” or “reproductively successful”. In English we use “better” to mean things other than in a strict moral sense, and with no regard to any value, did you not know that? Some pants I have fit me “better” than others, does this mean I am saying that some of my pants are more moral than others? Of course not.

  55. 55

    In evolutionary terms, the concept of “better” is difficult to measure and can easily lead to the temptation to commit naturalistic fallacies. Furthermore, in the sense you are using, “better” depends completely on context. For example, if you ask me if a particular pair of pants fits “better”, I would immediately have to ask “when”? Pants that I wore twenty years ago don’t fit me “better” now at all, and pants that I wear now wouldn’t have fit me “better” twenty years ago. Furthermore, certain pants fit me “better” for, say, fencing class or a ballet performance, but wouldn’t fit me “better” than other pants that I might wear to go fishing in Fall Creek or to a formal art reception.

    These distinctions would even apply to things like bullets. I recently inherited a WW I vintage Krag/Springfield 30/40 bolt action rifle from my father. A 30/30 cartridge will fit into the chamber of this rifle, with a little bit of “wobble”. In a pinch, even a 30/06 cartridge will chamber in my dad’s rifle, although trying to load a handful of them into the magazine would almost certainly result in a jam.

    So, which is “better” as ammunition for my dad’s rifle: 30/40 cartridges. 303/30 cartridges, or 30/06 cartridges? That depends: if 30/40 cartridges are available, they are less likely to jam in the magazine than either 30/30 or 30/06 cartridges, but one only has 30/06 cartridges, one can load them one at a time and still get by. Indeed, being slightly lighter, the bullets of a typical 30/06 cartridge will carry farther (and with a flatter trajectory) than the bullets of a typical 30/40 cartridge, and therefore might actually be “better” if one’s goal were greater accuracy at longer ranges. However, if one wanted a higher rate of fire over shorter ranges, 30/40 Krags would be “better”.

    Taking this line of reasoning further, my dad also had a Savage .222 rifle. None of the cartridges listed earlier will chamber in the Savage, nor will the .222 cartridges for the Savage chamber in the Krag. And, of course, if one has no loaded cartridges, then size is irrelevant.

    The point? In evolutionary biology, “fitness” is an inherently relative and quantitative concept, neither of which are particularly well-captured by the adjective “better”. Better than what? when? under what conditions? for how long?

    Even more important, not all of the characteristics of living organisms contribute to their fitness. Indeed, according to Kimura’s neutral theory, the vast majority of the genetic (and therefore phenotypic) characteristics of living organisms have no “fitness” at all, either “better” or “worse”. It is a common failing of many evolutionary biologists and virtually all ID supporters to think that the only characteristics of organisms that “matter” are those that are “better” or “worse”. This view – “pan-adaptationism” – is a holdover from the early 20th century, and still distorts the interpretations of a great many research results in evolutionary biology. I believe that it is long past time that we abandon any concept of “better” or “worse” (in the valuational sense) in evolutionary biology, and simply get on with the fascinating business of observing the patterns we can detect in the world around us. Leave the value judgments to the ethicists, or (if you can) keep the two rigorously separated in your mind, lest you commit the “naturalistic fallacy” and fall into error…

  56. 56
    Clive Hayden says:

    Allen,

    Leave the value judgments to the ethicists, or (if you can) keep the two rigorously separated in your mind, lest you commit the “naturalistic fallacy” and fall into error…

    Thank you, I agree with you on this.

  57. 57
    Upright BiPed says:

    This exercise over the word “better” may rank as the most pedantic display ever imposed upon the readers of UD.

    Thank goodness the remaining world can communicate without the need to force this kind of opportunistic lecturing onto each other.

    – – – – – – –

    “Adaptation is one of the basic phenomena of biology, and is the process whereby an organism becomes better suited to its habitat” –Ernst Mayr

  58. 58
    David Kellogg says:

    UB, thank you for posting Mayr’s definition of adaptation. It’s quite correct, and it shows why Clive’s question “Do you think they [our evolutionary descendants] will be better or worse than humans?” is meaningless.

    For Mayr’s definition is relativistic: things do not become “better” in the sense of improving absolutely but only better in the context of an environment. Since Clive knows that, the meaningless question “Do you think they will be better or worse than humans?” was probably offered merely to set people off in a pedantic direction. And it worked. Congratulations Clive!

  59. 59
    Upright BiPed says:

    Yes Mark, lawyers have used that line of reasoning to great effect. Such an impetus, so well placed, can only lead to a calamity among the reasoned.

    Clive “set off people” by the divisive word “better”. It has a colorful and distinct history of dividing people against themselves; creating havoc among otherwise thoughtful people.

    The “people” had no choice. They must react to such a blatantly unreliable and incendiary word. Who could resist such a taunting?

    If this were a rape case, then there could be little doubt among anyone of marginal reasoning ability. She wore that top to be noticed, she wanted it.

    Thanks Clive. You instigator of chaos you!

  60. 60
    Upright BiPed says:

    Opps, I meant David.

    It’s hard to keep up among the shrill of complete communication breakdown. Blame Clive. Blame Dembski, O’Leary, and Behe too. There is no telling how often they’ve used the word “better” to incite their minions and confuse the opposition.

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