Intelligent Design

Missing the Point at The “Skeptical” Zone

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Over at The “Skeptical” Zone they continue to be skeptical about literally everything; everything that is except the unquestioned verities of the scientific and cultural establishment. As I periodically do, I made a run though their last few months’ of postings. The denizens of the Zone are if nothing else impressive in their consistency. As usual, I was unable to find a single word in a single post that would make the occupants of the average faculty lounge mildly uncomfortable. Far less did I find anything even remotely “skeptical” of or a challenge to conventional wisdom or established ideas.

Could it be that the folks over at the Zone don’t know what the word “skeptical” actually means? A perusal of their writings certainly leads to that conclusion. Maybe they have an esoteric definition of “skeptical.” If so, I hope they will share it with the rest of us. That would help us by eliminating the confusion that comes when we observe them saying they are doing one thing (i.e., being “skeptical” as that word is ordinarily understood) and what they actually do (i.e., accept established ideas without question and fight like hell against anyone who would challenge those established ideas).

All of that as prelude to my response to “kieths” Barry Arrington digs up the ‘tautology’ argument, which kieths wrote in response to my Engineering Tradeoffs and the Vacuity of “Fitness”.

Before I get into the specifics of kieths’ post, I would like to offer some free and unsolicited advice to all of our dear friends over at the Zone: Scoffing is a very poor substitute for argument.

Now, to keith’s post. It ain’t much. Here it is in its entirety.

Barry Arrington should stick to what he’s good at — banning blasphemers. [link to where I banned someone for blasphemy]

Instead, he has disinterred the corpse of the “natural selection is a tautology” argument, propped it up in a chair, and is now attempting to engage it in conversation. [link to my Engineering Trade Offs post]

Trust me, Barry – that corpse is dead, dead, dead. Among the coroner’s findings:

1. Even the dimmest of IDers and creationists accepts that “microevolution” occurs. Insects become pesticide-resistant. Finch beaks change in response to drought conditions. Microbes acquire antibiotic resistance. How does this happen? Through natural selection. It ain’t a tautology.

2. The tautology mongers miss a basic point about fitness. Fitness is not defined in terms of the reproductive success of an individual. An unfit individual who gets lucky and reproduces successfully does not get reclassified as fit. A fit individual who gets hit by a meteorite isn’t reclassified as unfit. To claim that “the fittest” are “those who survive”, as the tautology mongers claim, is ridiculous.

Back to hunting down blasphemers, Barry. Leave the science to those who understand

Let’s fisk this post:

[I.] Barry Arrington should stick to what he’s good at — banning blasphemers. [link to where I banned someone for blasphemy]

Not an auspicious start. Irrelevancy coated with ad hominem. Yes, the secular echo chamber at the Zone probably goes into paroxysms of giggles at the very concept of “blasphemy,” or that anyone would be banned for blaspheming. Here’s a clue keiths since you obviously need one. Graham2 was a guest on our site. Guests have duties to their hosts. One of those duties is to refrain from outrageous, intentionally inflammatory and offensive behavior. Graham2 violated that duty. He was banned. That he and his friends at the Zone scoff at the very idea of blasphemy does not justify his behavior. His comment was beyond the bounds of civil discourse and decency.

[II.]Trust me, Barry – that corpse is dead, dead, dead.

Red faced insistence does not strengthen an argument. Also, an idea is not dead merely because those who oppose it insist upon it. Sorry.

[III.]1. Even the dimmest of IDers and creationists accepts that “microevolution” occurs. Insects become pesticide-resistant. Finch beaks change in response to drought conditions. Microbes acquire antibiotic resistance. How does this happen? Through natural selection. It ain’t a tautology.

We finally get to an argument of sorts. Indeed, I do accept the examples of microevolution you mention. But the issue is not whether in some instances we are in fact able objectively to identify engineering criteria that resulted in differential survival rates, such as those you mention. The issue is very different. Please read the following Talbott quotation carefully:

However, the appeal to engineering criteria in the abstract does not by itself get us very far. As philosopher Ronald Brady reminded us when discussing this dispute in an essay entitled “Dogma and Doubt,” what matters for judging a proposed scientific explanation is not only the specification of non-tautological criteria for testing it, but also our ability to apply the test meaningfully. If we have no practical way to sum up and assess the fitness or adaptive value of the traits of an organism apart from measurements of survival rates (evolutionary success), then on what basis can we use the idea of survival of the fittest (natural selection) to explain evolutionary success — as opposed to using it merely as a blank check for freely inventing explanations of the sort commonly derided as “just-so stories.”

You have appealed to concrete examples of engineering criteria to counter a criticism of appealing to engineering criteria in the abstract. Do you see how that just doesn’t work? If not, I will explain it for you.

No one disputes that in certain situations mutations have been observed that have resulted in differential survival rates. But what about the situations where we have had no opportunity to observe the animal in the wild (which category includes all extinct species)? That is what Talbott is getting at. For those animals it is all but impossible to isolate with any confidence a specific engineering trait that caused them to be more “fit.” Consequently, we are forced to fall back on: “they survived so long as they were fit and they ceased to survive when they were no longer fit, and by ‘fit” we mean ‘they survived.’”

Here is the key concept: With respect to an animal that existed in the deep and unobservable past, it is all but impossible to isolate a specific trait as “the” trait that lead to survival (i.e., fitness). A necessary corollary to that observation is that the only way to measure fitness of for that animal is the rate of survival itself. And to that extent we are stuck with “survival of the fittest” means “fit animals – by which we mean animals that survive – survive.” A second corollary to the initial observation is that any attempt to do the un-doable – i.e., isolate a specific trait as “the” trait that lead to survival for animals in the deep and unobservable past – is an exercise in the must-derided “just so” story making so beloved among Darwinists.

[IV.]2. The tautology mongers miss a basic point about fitness. Fitness is not defined in terms of the reproductive success of an individual. An unfit individual who gets lucky and reproduces successfully does not get reclassified as fit. A fit individual who gets hit by a meteorite isn’t reclassified as unfit. To claim that “the fittest” are “those who survive”, as the tautology mongers claim, is ridiculous.

kieths, perhaps you did not notice, but there is a large gaping hole in your argument. Let me explain. Consider the following two sentences:

An unfit individual who gets lucky and reproduces successfully does not get reclassified as fit.

A fit individual who gets hit by a meteorite isn’t reclassified as unfit.

In both of these sentences there is an unspoken assumption. That unspoken assumption is that the term “fit” has a meaning that is independent of survival rate. But that is the very issue we are debating. Simply saying that “fit” means something other than “survival rate” is a mere assertion. A mere assertion is not an argument. For your argument to work you need to show us why the term “fit” has a meaning that is independent of survival rate for animals in the deep and unobservable past.

Here’s a hint: Falling back on paragraph 1 to support paragraph 2 does not work. Yes, Darwinists always want to extrapolate and say that the same process that causes finch beaks to get larger in times of drought is sufficient to account for the existence of finches in the first place. That argument is, to say the least, unimpressive.

[V.]Back to hunting down blasphemers, Barry. Leave the science to those who understand

If you think that ad hominem adds to the strength of your argument, keep doing it. I have a pretty thick hide. But can you imagine an Einstein or a Godel writing a similar sentence at the end of one of their papers? I can’t. And from that I conclude that someone who is really confident in their position sees little need to launch personal attacks on their opponent.

Update:

[I had to do some actual work and was unable to finish.] Allow me to summarize keiths’ argument:

I. Irrelevancy and ad hominem. Fail
II. Bluster and mere assertion. Fail.
III. Misses the point of (and therefore fails to address) the argument he is criticizing. Fail.
IV. Relies on unspoken implied assertion that has not been established. Fail.
V. More ad hominem. Fail.

In summary, keiths’ is a terrible argument. I admit that there might be some good arguments that the Darwinists could bring to bear on this issue, but keiths’ post most certainly contains none of them. It fails at every turn.

Now I invite our readers to click on the link to keiths’ argument and examine the so-called “skeptics” responses. A lot of clucking and head nodding. No one takes keiths to task for his shoddy work.

Kantian Naturalist is especially reprehensible, because he is smart enough to know that keiths’ work is shoddy and gives him a pass. Also, his “Arrington steals this thought from Talbott” is beyond outrageous. I gave full attribution to Talbott; linked to his article; and included lengthy quotes from the original. In what sense is this “stealing”? KN should be ashamed. I doubt that he is.

80 Replies to “Missing the Point at The “Skeptical” Zone

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    stenosemella,

    as to who is the most guilty of ‘scoffing’ it is not even a contest. ,, Although man has not the faintest hope of ever creating life, or turning one species into a new species, (save for in the fertile and undisciplined imagination of Darwinists), the Darwinists main line of argument against design is to ‘scoff’ at the idea that God created life since they imagine they can do better than God did.,,,

    Take away ‘scoffing’ and the entire foundation of Darwinian science, (i.e. theology), collapses,,,

    Darwin’s Use of Theology in the Origin of Species – May 2011
    Excerpt: The Origin supplies abundant evidence of theology in action; as Dilley observes:
    I have argued that, in the first edition of the Origin, Darwin drew upon at least the following positiva theological claims in his case for descent with modification (and against special creation):

    1. Human beings are not justified in believing that God creates in ways analogous to the intellectual powers of the human mind.
    2. A God who is free to create as He wishes would create new biological limbs de novo rather than from a common pattern.
    3. A respectable deity would create biological structures in accord with a human conception of the ‘simplest mode’ to accomplish the functions of these structures.
    4. God would only create the minimum structure required for a given part’s function.
    5. God does not provide false empirical information about the origins of organisms.
    6. God impressed the laws of nature on matter.
    7. God directly created the first ‘primordial’ life.
    8. God did not perform miracles within organic history subsequent to the creation of the first life.
    9. A ‘distant’ God is not morally culpable for natural pain and suffering.
    10. The God of special creation, who allegedly performed miracles in organic history, is not plausible given the presence of natural pain and suffering.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....46391.html

    Nothing in biology makes sense except in light of theology? – Dilley S. – 2013
    Abstract
    This essay analyzes Theodosius Dobzhansky’s famous article, “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution,” in which he presents some of his best arguments for evolution. I contend that all of Dobzhansky’s arguments hinge upon sectarian claims about God’s nature, actions, purposes, or duties. Moreover, Dobzhansky’s theology manifests several tensions, both in the epistemic justification of his theological claims and in their collective coherence. I note that other prominent biologists–such as Mayr, Dawkins, Eldredge, Ayala, de Beer, Futuyma, and Gould–also use theology-laden arguments. I recommend increased analysis of the justification, complexity, and coherence of this theology.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23890740

  2. 2
    Percival says:

    Agree about the label ‘Sceptic’ which seems to be a badge of pride worn by some of the most predictable and orthodox people I know.

    The self styled sceptics I engage with seem to have uncritically swallowed the Richard Dawkins canon entire and whole. Their views are as peas in a pod and they are united in their condemnation of my most dastardly and heretickal criticism of ye olde Darwinian orthodoxy as agreed by 99.999999% of ye men of science and decreed to be read out in schools on pain of excommunication.

    For an example of the orthodox persecuting a heretic, look up the Michael Reiss affair. A biologically qualified scientist who was also an ordained Anglican minister was howled out of his post at the Royal Society in London after suggesting that if a child questioned evolution in school they should be engaged with rather than silenced. Reiss was fully accepting of evolution and opposed ID, but that wasn’t enough to save him from the wrath of Dawkins, Kroto et al. Zero tolerance of dissent.

  3. 3
    Barb says:

    Even if the fittest creatures survive, evolution still does not explain how they arrive.

  4. 4
    Barry Arrington says:

    Barb, that’s the point in a nutshell, and that point seems to allude the denizens of the Zone.

  5. 5
    Barry Arrington says:

    Percival:

    The self styled sceptics I engage with seem to have uncritically swallowed the Richard Dawkins canon entire and whole. Their views are as peas in a pod and they are united in their condemnation of my most dastardly and heretickal criticism of ye olde Darwinian orthodoxy as agreed by 99.999999% of ye men of science and decreed to be read out in schools on pain of excommunication.

    People who call themselves “skeptics” act with a rigid orthodoxy and intolerance of dissent that would have made a medieval churchman blush. Either the needle on the irony meter is pressing against the stop or the meaning of “skeptic” somehow morphed 180 degrees without anyone noticing. Some words do in fact mean the opposite of what they once did, e.g., “egregious.”

  6. 6
    Mapou says:

    Darwinist:

    1. Even the dimmest of IDers and creationists accepts that “microevolution” occurs. Insects become pesticide-resistant. Finch beaks change in response to drought conditions. Microbes acquire antibiotic resistance. How does this happen? Through natural selection. It ain’t a tautology.

    Not only is it a tautology, natural selection had nothing to do with it. I won’t even mention the silliness of random mutations. Living organisms become fitter (adaptation) simply because they are genetically programmed to do so. Epigenetics comes to mind.

    Skeptic: Science teaches us that it is impossible to be 100% sure of anything.

    Yoda: Ahem. So certain of this you are.

  7. 7
    Barry Arrington says:

    I have deleted all of the troll stenosemella’s comments, as they were nothing more than trollish distractions. If anyone has something to say about the actual topic of the OP, please feel free. I have also deleted all responses to the troll’s distractions (including my own).

  8. 8
    Joe says:

    Natural selection is differential reproduction due to heritable random (as in happenstance) variation. That is the first clue that fitness is directly related to reproductive success. That is a miss for keiths.

    However he does bring up a couple of very good points- random effects can prevent the physically fit from producing offspring and they can also help the physically weak to be able produce. Mayr goes over this in “What Evolution Is” as the caveat in the statistical non-randomness of natural selection. Spetner discusses it also.

    It just goes to show that it isn’t as defining a process as it is made out to be

  9. 9
    Mung says:

    Ah, a little well-poisoning over at TSZ. From such humble beginnings. Elizabeth would be proud. Or not.

  10. 10
    Mung says:

    Missing the Point of The “Skeptical” Zone

    There, fixed it fer ya!

  11. 11
    DavidD says:

    Mung

    “Ah, a little well-poisoning over at TSZ. From such humble beginnings. Elizabeth would be proud. Or not.”

    She started out creating Frankenstein by proclaiming

    And she ended up getting

    Wonder how proud that self-promoting intellect is now with her accomplishments ? She’s attracted every cream of the crop scholastic dropouts

  12. 12
    Joe says:

    Natural selection doesn’t do anything so it doesn’t matter if it is a tautology or not- it’s useless regardless.

    Larry Moran has pointed out that drift accounts for 99% of the variation in populations. That doesn’t leave much for natural selection.

    There is a thread over on TSZ in which natural selection is discussed and there isn’t any evidence in it for NS actually doing something. Go figure…

  13. 13
    Axel says:

    Just found this little conspectus of evolution’s vacuity, posted by someone with the username, nword, to a Messianic Christian site called: Israel Today. I hope you find something here to add to your much larger conspectus of scientific verifications of theism (and Christianity, truth to tell):

    The Mental Universe – Richard Conn Henry – Professor of Physics John Hopkins University

    Excerpt: The only reality is mind and observations, but observations are not of things. To see the Universe as it really is, we must abandon our tendency to conceptualize observations as things.,,, Physicists shy away from the truth because the truth is so alien to everyday physics. A common way to evade the mental universe is to invoke “decoherence” – the notion that “the physical environment” is sufficient to create reality, independent of the human mind. Yet the idea that any irreversible act of amplification is necessary to collapse the wave function is known to be wrong: in “Renninger-type” experiments, the wave function is collapsed simply by your human mind seeing nothing. The universe is entirely mental,,,, The Universe is immaterial — mental and spiritual. Live, and enjoy.

  14. 14
    Axel says:

    Sorry. Wrong copied post. Here it is:

    Dont try to mix up genuine science using intelligent design with a ridiculous theory which has no evidence – you cannot give me one example as I predicted.

    Richard Dawkins can give no evidence at all on the theory – he just bashes the bible.

    “I fully agree with your comments on the lack of direct illustration of evolutionary transitions in my book. If I knew of any, fossil or living, I would certainly have included them. . .I will lay it on the line, There is not one such fossil for which one might make a watertight argument.”

    Dr. Colin Patterson, senior paleontologist at the British Museum of Natural History. The quote is from a personal letter dated 10th April 1979 from Dr. Patterson to creationist Luther D. Sunderland and is referring to Dr. Patterson’s book “Evolution” (1978, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.).

    “We are told dogmatically that Evolution is an established fact; but we are never told who has established it, and by what means. We are told, often enough, that the doctrine is founded upon evidence, and that indeed this evidence ‘is henceforward above all verification, as well as being immune from any subsequent contradiction by experience;’ but we are left entirely in the dark on the crucial question wherein, precisely, this evidence consists.”

    Smith, Wolfgang (1988) Teilhardism and the New Religion: A Thorough Analysis of The Teachings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books & Publishers Inc., p.2

    “I think we need to go further than this and admit that the only acceptable explanation is creation. I know this is an anathema to physicists, as indeed it is to me, but we must not reject a theory that we do not like if the experimental evidence supports it.”

    H. S. Lipson; Prof of Physics, University of Manchester, A paper published by The Institute of Physics, IOP Publishing Ltd., 1980

    STEPHEN GOULD, Harvard, “…one outstanding fact of the fossil record that many of you may not be aware of; that since the so called Cambrian explosion…during which essentially all the anatomical designs of modern multicellular life made their first appearance in the fossil record, no new Phyla of animals have entered the fossil record.”, Speech at SMU, Oct.2, 1990

    “TREES” NOT FROM FOSSILS, S. J. GOULD, Harvard, “The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have dta only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of the fossils.”, Nat. His., V.86, p.13

    STORY TIME, COLIN PATTERSON, Senior Paleontologist, British Museum of Nat. History, “You say I should at least ‘show a photo of the fossil from which each type or organism was derived.’ I will lay it on the line-there is not one such fossil for which one could make a watertight argument.” “It is easy enough to make up stories of how one form gave rise to another. … But such stories are not part of science, for there is no way of putting them to the test. … I don’t think we shall ever have any access to any form of tree which we can call factual.” HARPER’S, Feb. 1984, p.56

    You will need to throw away your school textbooks and Dawkins fantasy series and do proper science rather than a faith based religion like the “theory” of evolution.

    Still waiting for ONE example out of the trillions – no one else has found one – have you informed the scientific community of your ” evidence” that bears became whale ….lol

  15. 15
    Mapou says:

    Joe @12:

    Natural selection doesn’t do anything so it doesn’t matter if it is a tautology or not- it’s useless regardless.

    Larry Moran has pointed out that drift accounts for 99% of the variation in populations. That doesn’t leave much for natural selection.

    Yes and the same can be said about random mutations. All the sacred and wonderful mechanisms of evolution essentially do nothing. Amazing. Truth is, genomes change simply because they were programmed to change in response to environmental pressure. There is no escaping it. It’s intelligent design all around. It’s not easy being a Darwinist.

  16. 16
    Axel says:

    It’s not easy being a Darwinist!

    Sometimes, the briefer the comment, the more hilarious!

  17. 17
    Eric Anderson says:

    Joe @8:

    However he does bring up a couple of very good points- random effects can prevent the physically fit from producing offspring and they can also help the physically weak to be able produce. Mayr goes over this in “What Evolution Is” as the caveat in the statistical non-randomness of natural selection. Spetner discusses it also.

    Exactly.

    And this should be the first clue to any objective observer that, unlike all other forces of nature, in natural selection we aren’t dealing with an actual force that provides any known directionality.

    Sometimes we have an organism that we think is more “fit” but doesn’t survive due the vagaries and hazards of nature. Sometimes we have an organism that we think is less “fit” but that survives due to happenstance avoidance of the vagaries and hazards of nature.

    So we are left with two logical possibilities:

    1. Natural selection is not particularly capable of ensuring that the fit will in fact survive; sometimes they do; sometimes they don’t. Natural selection works in nature. Except when it doesn’t. Stuff Happens.

    or

    2. We can limit the definition of the term “natural selection” to those cases in which the fit actually do survive. In other cases — like the vagaries and hazards of nature several prominent evolutionists have discussed — we say it isn’t really natural selection that did it. Gould also made this point in trying to save natural selection from seeming arbitrary. This is actually quite well-worn ground by evolutionary thinkers and is, I believe, certainly the dominant thinking.

    This second approach makes some sense. After all, we see lots of processes happening in the real world, and perhaps it doesn’t make sense to lump them all into the concept of “natural selection.”

    However, and this is a critical “however”, by limiting natural selection to those instances in which the fit actually survive, we end up tying the definition of natural selection intimately back to the concept of survival, defining the result in terms of the antecedent. This of course was how Darwin and other early thinkers thought of it. But we know that this approach has been soundly thrashed by students of logic (evolutionary thinkers and critics alike) precisely due to the tautological problem we have been discussing on other threads.

    —–

    The upshot of all this is that the evolutionary proponent is in an unenviable position:

    A. Tie the concept of natural selection to survival and put the whole concept on a slippery slope of tautological meaninglessness.

    or

    B. Open up the concept to situations in which the fittest don’t survive and the less fit do survive, in which case natural selection loses its sense of inevitability and directionality and the picture of life’s history looks more random, something evolutionists are loathe to acknowledge.

    or

    C. Refuse to address the issue by either:
    (i) denying the importance of natural selection to evolutionary theory generally (“Oh, that was Darwin 150 years ago; evolutionary biology has moved on now.”); or
    (ii) arguing that the criticisms have been dealt with, because the criticisms are very old and have already been discussed a lot (Yes, the criticisms have been discussed ad nauseum since day one. No, the criticisms have never been adequately dealt with.).

    or (and this seems to be quite common)

    D. Obfuscate and try to have the cake and eat it too. This typically involves a combination of all of the above. Acknowledge that natural selection only applies sometimes, but say it is still a useful concept. Flatly deny any tautological problem, without really addressing the criticism. State that biology has moved on. And finally, “We don’t want to talk about this natural selection thing anymore because this is something evolutionists have already talked about a lot”.

  18. 18
    phoodoo says:

    Excellent post Eric. You summarized the problem perfectly.

    Humans can use their subjective judgement to look at a living being and see what they believe are more fit or less fit individuals. We think of “fit” as being, strong, fast, athletic, attractive, agile. But Darwinism can not use these descriptions for a fitter allele, because then every time you have an allele which is not the stronger, or the faster or the most attractive, but still reproduces just fine, the description of fitness no longer makes sense. What do you do with every case when the slower one is better, or the unattractive one; the unathletic jellyfish, or the awkward koalas. What does a description of strong mean to an oyster?

  19. 19
    vjtorley says:

    Hi Barry Arrington,

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post. The quote you cite from Steve Talbott gets right to the heart of the matter:

    If we have no practical way to sum up and assess the fitness or adaptive value of the traits of an organism apart from measurements of survival rates (evolutionary success), then on what basis can we use the idea of survival of the fittest (natural selection) to explain evolutionary success…

    In your previous post, you concluded: “The only way to measure ‘fitness’ is by reproductive success, which is obviously tautological if ‘fitness’ is defined as ‘reproductively successful.'”

    In response, KeithS has recently made an interesting suggestion in a comment on his latest post at http://theskepticalzone.com/wp.....ment-54786 (October 12, 6:19 a.m.). He suggests that we can “define fitness in terms of the average success of a genotype in a given environment,” adding that “You don’t need to exclude any cases.”

    I think KeithS’s proposal merits serious consideration, as it is non-tautological.

    First, he is saying that fitness is primarily a property of genotypes rather then individuals. Second, he specifically defines fitness in terms of the average success of a genotype “in a given environment,” meaning that one and the same genotype may be advantageous in one environment but disadvantageous in another. Those are non-trivial points,

    To be sure, Talbott has a ready response: he argues that “we cannot isolate traits — or the mutations producing them — as if they were independent causal elements,” since “[o]rganism-environment relations present us with so much complexity, so many possible parameters to track…” But it seems Talbott is simply making an epistemological point here. The fact that we cannot identify which genotypes are fit does not entail that fit genotypes don’t exist. (For that matter, we cannot currently identify most of the genes responsible for variations in intelligence, but scientific research shows that about half of the variation currently existing in IQ scores in the human population is genetic in origin.)

    So, what do readers think of KeithS’s suggestion?

  20. 20
    Joe says:

    keiths is so confused:

    Exactly, which is why fitness isn’t defined in terms of an individual’s survival and reproduction.

    Yes, it is and I have provided a reference that supports that fitness = reproductive success. And it always refers to individuals.

    Even Mayr said that natural selection is about the phenotype- keiths sez is pertains to the genotype. The genotype gets reproduced but its the phenotype that allowed for that to happen. Phenotype is often determined by epigenetic factors.

  21. 21
    Joe says:

    If we “define fitness in terms of the average success of a genotype in a given environment,” then how do we define “success” if not by reproductive success (or failure)?

  22. 22
    phoodoo says:

    I think, furthermore, Keith’s idea is worthless, because what is the definition of a given environment? Today its hot, tomorrow its cold. Today there is fruit to eat, tomorrow, there is only pine cones. Today there are five predators ready to eat that gazelle, tomorrow they have moved to a different watering hole. Today there is a virus going around….

    There is no such thing as a given environment. What is the environment that makes bacteria learn to digest lactose? What if tomorrow we take away the lactose?

    VJ, as a very safe rule of thumb, if it is something Keith at TSZ has thought of, it almost certainly, positively, has no merit. That is much more constant truth than any NOW environment.

  23. 23
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Very often, nothing at all evolved to cause one species to survive and another to go extinct. So even the survivors cannot be said to be the most fit. They survived as a random effect. Species go extinct in the world today and others survive. Very often there is virtually no difference between the two – it wasn’t a competition for resources that caused one to survive and the other to become extinct. There is no way to trace that effect in deep history.

    Newly evolved species do not emerge either but there are all sorts of evolutionist games to make excuses for that.

  24. 24
    Eric Anderson says:

    vjtorley @19:

    He suggests that we can “define fitness in terms of the average success of a genotype in a given environment,” adding that “You don’t need to exclude any cases.”

    I think KeithS’s proposal merits serious consideration, as it is non-tautological.

    No. It makes no difference whether we define natural selection as acting with precision in all cases on every organism or whether we define it as some kind of statistical/stochastic average. That is not the issue.

    The issue is defining the resultant in terms of the antecedent.

    At the risk of linking to myself again, I addressed this in detail in my essay here (see in particular the beginning 4 pages):

    http://web.archive.org/web/200.....tsonNS.pdf

  25. 25
    Eric Anderson says:

    I should add that Joe is also correct that it makes not one whit of difference whether we are referring to a genotype or a phenotype. Ultimately, it all comes down to the phenotype — that is all that can be “seen” by natural selection.

    But it doesn’t make any difference for our analysis of whether natural selection runs the risk of being a tautology whether we are talking about genotype or phenotype or any other characteristic of the organism, or whether we are talking about absolutes or averages, definitives or stochastic results, and on and on.

    The only question — the only logical issue on the table in this particular case — is whether the resultant is defined in terms of the antecedent. Most people realize that you can’t do this logically; they realize the concept becomes meaningless in that case. So they understandably make valiant efforts to avoid the self-referential.

    However, what trips up a lot of people is that they think by substituting in various traits or characteristics or different words they can rescue the logical formulation from the precipice of tautology. But on closer inspection, nearly all efforts to do so inadvertently incorporate the concept of “survival” in through the back door, so we are still left with a tautology. (I discuss this in detail in the last half of my essay linked @24 above.)

  26. 26
    Vishnu says:

    Here’s the thing:

    They will eventually die like every dog.

    Who will care?

    I won’t.

  27. 27
    bornagain77 says:

    Let’s Loosen Up Biological Thinking! – Stephen L. Talbott – Sept. 2014
    Excerpt: a common line of thought (among molecular biologists) runs this way: “Yes, there is an appearance of mindfulness in all organisms, but this is a mere appearance, or an illusion. And the explanation for the illusion is natural selection”. The idea is that variation plus selection results in adaptation, and adapted behavior possesses a functional effectiveness that looks as if it were mindfully guided.
    Not all those who say such things would be willing to describe their own minds and intentions as illusions. But, in any case, we are left to wonder how an organism’s apparently purposeful activity is explained by similar activity in previous generations. Selection, after all, requires organisms that grow, develop, compete, prepare an inheritance, produce offspring, and otherwise pursue their seemingly intentional and well-directed lives, judiciously improvising all the way. These are the very activities that raise the question of mindfulness. So how does weaving the lives of many such organisms into the infinitely complex narratives of natural selection explain this mindfulness?
    Many biologists are content to dismiss the problem with hand-waving: “When we wield the language of agency, we are speaking metaphorically, and we could just as well, if less conveniently, abandon the metaphors”.
    Yet no scientist or philosopher has shown how this shift of language could be effected. And the fact of the matter is just obvious: the biologist who is not investigating how the organism achieves something in a well-directed way is not yet doing biology, as opposed to physics or chemistry. Is this in turn just hand-waving? Let the reader inclined to think so take up a challenge: pose a single topic for biological research, doing so in language that avoids all implication of agency, cognition, and purposiveness1.
    One reason this cannot be done is clear enough: molecular biology — the discipline that was finally going to reduce life unreservedly to mindless mechanism — is now posing its own severe challenges. In this era of Big Data, the message from every side concerns previously unimagined complexity, incessant cross-talk and intertwining pathways, wildly unexpected genomic performances, dynamic conformational changes involving proteins and their cooperative or antagonistic binding partners, pervasive multifunctionality, intricately directed behavior somehow arising from the interaction of countless players in interpenetrating networks, and opposite effects by the same molecules in slightly different contexts. The picture at the molecular level begins to look as lively and organic — and thoughtful — as life itself.,,,
    http://natureinstitute.org/txt.....ell_23.htm

  28. 28
    Joe says:

    Thanks Eric- From the University of Illinois Chicago- Natural Selection:

    Natural selection is the differential survival and reproduction of individuals with certain traits. It acts on phenotypes. Because most phenotypes are, in part, determined by genotypes, natural selection causes a change in the frequency of alleles over time. Thus, natural selection operates whenever individuals in a population differ in their ability to survive and reproduce, and natural selection causes evolution whenever there is genetic variation for traits that affect fitness

    What is fitness? Fitness is the ability of an organism to survive, and make copies of its alleles that are represented in the next generation. Organisms that produce more surviving offspring are more fit, those that produce fewer are less fit, regardless of how beautiful, strong, or interesting they are. Differences in fitness may be due to differences in survivorship, differences in fecundity, or both. Any allele that affects either or both of these will be subject to natural selection. Note, however, that there are alleles that decrease survivorship, but increase fecundity, and vice versa. An extreme example of this is the Japanese earwig, which incubates a brood of eggs that later hatch and devour her. Over millions of years, evolution has favored alleles that increased her net number of surviving offspring, even if that meant a shortened lifespan due to cannibalism. (bold added)

  29. 29
    Mung says:

    …define fitness in terms of the average success of a genotype in a given environment…

    First, he is saying that fitness is primarily a property of genotypes rather then individuals. Second, he specifically defines fitness in terms of the average success of a genotype “in a given environment,” meaning that one and the same genotype may be advantageous in one environment but disadvantageous in another. Those are non-trivial points,

    So there is no such ting as individual fitness?

    What does it even mean to speak of an “average” fitness?

    Average of what?

  30. 30
    Joe says:

    vjtorley:

    Second, he specifically defines fitness in terms of the average success of a genotype “in a given environment,” meaning that one and the same genotype may be advantageous in one environment but disadvantageous in another

    It’s called contingency. 😉 That is also why being average is good as environmental shifts wouldn’t effect the average as much as the extremists.

  31. 31
    Eric Anderson says:

    Thanks, Joe.

    Fitness is the ability of an organism to survive, and make copies of its alleles that are represented in the next generation. Organisms that produce more surviving offspring are more fit, those that produce fewer are less fit, regardless of how beautiful, strong, or interesting they are.

    In other words, fitness is defined in terms of survival (meaning reproduction into the next generation).

    Differences in fitness may be due to differences in survivorship, differences in fecundity, or both.

    Joe, what is your take on what they mean by “survivorship”? In the prior quote they define fitness in terms of survival (which in turn means reproducing into the next generation). Then they try to draw a distinction between “survivorship” and “fecundity.” However, fecundity is clearly relevant only to the extent it means ability to survive and reproduce into the next generation. Indeed, the subsequent example they give about the Japanese earwig make it clear that merely producing lots of offspring is not the issue; having those offspring reproduce and pass on those genes (defined previously as “survival”) is the key.

    Thus, the concept of fecundity seems to be completely swallowed up in the concept of survival.

    What is your take? Is there some meaningful distinction they are trying to draw?

  32. 32
    phoodoo says:

    Eric,

    I would say they are just trying to differentiate between the length of survival and the amount of offspring they can produce. I think they are just calling survorship the duration of survival.

    Irregardless, I would say that whatever way the University of Illinois wants to write how they are defining fitness, the next guy who is writing for the University of Minnesota or for Tulane University is going to write it a different way, so that one guy is going to call it a description of genotype, one guy is going to call it a description of phenotype, and Joe Felsenstein is probably going to call it both, and then another guy is going to say its a trait related to an existing organism, another is going to say its a trait of what we can predict in the future, and once again Joe Felsenstein is going to say its both.

    All the while, they will simply be clouding the fact that the bottom line is, the only way to measure what is fit is by seeing what survives and what doesn’t. So we are right back to saying “We measure what survives by measuring what survives. ” Or we measure what reproduces best (or we predict what reproduces best) by seeing what reproduces best.

    They still haven’t come up with any other way to measure what is fit.

  33. 33
    Joe says:

    Eric I think phoodoo is close. Survivorship would just be the ability of the organism to survive and fecundity would be the ability to reproduce. Some organisms only have one brood while others can have more than one and some can have many.

  34. 34
    Joe says:

    keiths is clueless:

    Do you think we can scientifically test the fitness of genotypes?

    It depends on how “fitness” is defined. If it is defined as the University of Illinois Chicago defines it, then no, we cannot.

    I look forward to your explanation of how tests of a drug’s effectiveness are fundamentally different from tests of a genotype’s fitness, when everyone else can clearly see that they are based on the same, non-tautological principle.

    Umm that is using two different definitions of fitness. The drug tests an individual’s physical fitness and physical fitness is not what biological fitness is based on.

    As we have been saying keiths is ignorant and obviously proud of it.

  35. 35
    bb says:

    This whole business of shifting definitions is another manifestation of Barry’s “Darwinian Debating Devices #5: Moving Goalposts”.

  36. 36
    Evolve says:

    Barry is so exuberant because he thinks he has nailed it. But, a simple Wikipedia article is sufficient to dismantle Barry’s claim that “survival of the fittest” is a tautology:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/S.....he_fittest

    Is there any wonder that ID is forever limited to a few people attacking evolution within the confines of a couple of websites?

  37. 37
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Evolve #36

    I wouldn’t say that Wikipedia article “dismantled” the criticism that survival of the fittest is a tautology. Fitness, heritable or not, cannot be tested for all future contingencies. Given that, it remains true that the survivors are necessarily the fittest for survival. The reproducers are necessarily the fittest for reproduction.
    If not, then the unfit survive and and unfit are more successful in reproducting.
    And the question would remain “unfit for what”?
    Not for survival, since they survived. Not for having heritable traits that allowed reproduction since they had those traits and reproduced.
    So, that doesn’t work. The unfit didn’t survive or reproduce as successfully.
    It all remains a tautology.

  38. 38
    Barry Arrington says:

    Evolve @ 36:

    How would you go about testing whether natural selection occurred in the deep and unobservable past?

  39. 39
    Eric Anderson says:

    Evolve, thanks for the Wikipedia link.

    Even if Wikipedia were a credible source on anything relating to the evolution-design debate, we still need to look at what it actually says.

    Furthermore, the expression does become a tautology if one uses the most widely accepted definition of “fitness” in modern biology, namely reproductive success itself (rather than any set of characters conducive to this reproductive success).

    They acknowledge the issue and admit that it is a tautology in the “most widely accepted definition of fitness in modern biology.”

    That is a pretty strong indictment of the “most widely accepted definition” of natural selection. That would lead us to suspect — in line with what thoughtful observers have noted and contrary to what wd400 and some others has been claiming — that many people, including many biologists, do tend to use a tautological definition when speaking of natural selection.

    The Wikipedia article then goes on to attempt to apply some other definition to natural selection to save it from being a tautology. With, I should add, dubious success.

  40. 40
    Eric Anderson says:

    Joe @33:

    Survivorship would just be the ability of the organism to survive and fecundity would be the ability to reproduce. Some organisms only have one brood while others can have more than one and some can have many.

    All of which is captured, is it not, in the concept of “differential reproductive success”? In other words, natural selection doesn’t give a hoot whether an organism survives any particular length of time, as long as it leaves successors. And it doesn’t give a hoot whether an organism leaves a ton of successors unless those successors, in turn, survive long enough to leave successors.

  41. 41
    Evolve says:

    You’re still confusing things. Fittest does not mean survivors here.

    Survival of the fittest = Survival of the best adapted.
    Individuals that are best fitted (i.e best adapted) to a given environment survives.
    There’s no tautology.

    Barry says:

    “For your argument to work you need to show us why the term “fit” has a meaning that is independent of survival rate for animals in the deep and unobservable past.”

    Let’s take the 375 million year old Tiktaalik, the seminal fossil unequivocally showing the transition from water to land. It was found in an erstwhile swampy, marshy environment. Now look at some its adaptations – a flattened head with eyes and spiracles on top, special bone anatomy in its fins allowing it to lift its body off the surface. These are features that improves the fit of the organism to its marshy environment. It is better fitted (adapted) than some of its peers to the environment under question. Therefore it survives in that environment. If these adaptations have a heritable basis, then they are passed on to subsequent generations – bingo natural selection!

    It’s amazing how you people can take simple concepts and build a confusing mountain out of it!

  42. 42
    Barry Arrington says:

    Eric, maybe you know the answer.

    How would you go about testing whether natural selection occurred in the deep and unobservable past?

  43. 43
    wd400 says:

    How would you go about testing whether natural selection occurred in the deep and unobservable past?

    Positive selection for a genotype leads to descreased gentic diversity in genomic sites either site of those selected sites. There are a whole suite of tests that take advantage of this observation, and related ones, to detect ancient natural selection.

    As I’ve already said, we can even use such tests to infer how adaptation has occured in the past (from standing diversity or from new mutations), how selection is likely to operate in populations of different effective population size and thus to predict how populations will react to future environmental stressors.

    Not bad for a ‘vacuous tautology’…

  44. 44
    Eric Anderson says:

    Everybody pay attention:

    @28 above, Joe quoted a definition of “natural selection” from a University of Illinois Chicago course. In addition to being largely tautological (the main point of this thread), due to their confusion about the relevance of “survivorship” to “fecundity”, the definition also includes a real-world example of how natural selection has acted to shape a particular organism.

    An extreme example of this is the Japanese earwig, which incubates a brood of eggs that later hatch and devour her. Over millions of years, evolution [meaning, natural selection acting on “fitness”] has favored alleles that increased her net number of surviving offspring, even if that meant a shortened lifespan due to cannibalism.

    This jumped out at me because on the parallel thread (http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-518945) wd400 has been valiantly claiming that no real scientist would use natural selection as a circular explanation of a biological feature. (The topic of that thread.)

    Notwithstanding the fact that those of us who have been around this debate have seen this happen time and time again; and notwithstanding the fact that prominent evolutionists such as Provine have also noticed the tautological problem when natural selection is invoked in evolutionary just-so stories; notwithstanding all this, some people just keep digging in their heels and claiming the whole issue is just some Creationist talking point and that no real scientist would ever make such a mistake.

    Yet here we are, dear reader, with a University of Chicago course example. What is the explanation for this strange cannibalistic behavior of the Japanese earwig? Well, that is what natural selection favored. Bizarre as it may seem, having offspring that eat you in an act of cannibalism is a form of “fitness”. And how do we know that, we might ask? Well, because that is what the Japanese earwig does, so it must have been selected for by natural selection; and that, boys and girls, is why the earwig is as it is today.

    In sum, the “explanation” for the earwig’s bizarre behavior is that the bizarre behavior was more fit (and, therefore, was selected). And how do we know it was more fit? Well, because that is what was selected.

    Nothing but an unsupported, tautological, scientifically-meaningless, speculative just-so story.

    Worse, the unsuspecting students are being fed a line by being led to believe that some kind of scientific explanation for the Japanese earwig has been offered. As is so often the case, the evolutionary “explanation”, based as it is in this case on a tautological just-so story, is worse than wrong. It is anti-knowledge. It gives the false impression of having imparted scientific knowledge, when it is just masquerading as science.

    A modern, recent, live example of the kind of unwholesome evolutionary thinking that happens all too often.

  45. 45
    bornagain77 says:

    Thank you Eric for clarifying that. I was so impressed, I posted your post to a facebook link,,, (which means maybe two more people might read it) 🙂

  46. 46
    wd400 says:

    n sum, the “explanation” for the earwig’s bizarre behavior is that the bizarre behavior was more fit (and, therefore, was selected). And how do we know it was more fit? Well, because that is what was selected.

    Well, actually, no. People have been studying the fitness benifits of so called “filial cannibalism” for a long time. That’s something you can measure.

    The couple of line description of surival v fecunduty doesn’t unpack the logic by which we can conclude the behavious is very likely the result of selection (roughly: the behaviour has a measurable fitness benifit, related species go in for lots of maternal care but never this extreme, thus the behaviour arose from a switch in behaviour, and that switch once it arose in a population was likely to fix due to the fitness consequence) does not mean the logic is not there.

  47. 47
    Joe says:

    Let’s take the 375 million year old Tiktaalik, the seminal fossil unequivocally showing the transition from water to land.

    No, it shows an organism well adapted to its environment.

  48. 48
    bornagain77 says:

    wd400, you state,,,

    “the behaviour has a measurable fitness benefit”

    Now wd400, I worked in a chemical factory at one time calibrating instruments that measured all sorts of things to extreme accuracy. Can you please tell me exactly what physical units you are using to measure fitness with? i.e. What is the exact ‘standard’ for ‘units of fitness’ that we would use so as to calibrate an instrument to measure fitness with?

  49. 49
    wd400 says:

    There are also plenty of times where it reasonable to conclude that this or that trait is the result of selection. Not because of some recursive loop, but because other explantions are unlikely.

    If you knew nothing abut peacocks, and happened across one, it would be reasonable to assume this giant tail was the result of selection. It safe to say it’s pretty costly to make such a tail, and carry it around with you. All else being equal, a peacock that didn’t make such a tail would be better off for not spending the energy and so would be at a selective advantge (or, to put it another, any peacock allele contributing to such a tail would be at a disadvantage and thus the tail would be very unlikely to arise).

    So, it’s reasonable to presume, even if we don’t know all the details that his is a triat maintained by selection. As it happens, in peacocks we know where that selection is coming from (female preference),so we can experiment learn a lot more (though not yet everything) about way selection has operated to create and maintain the trait.

    I’m sure you’ll find plenty of cases were people, even evolutionary biologists, haven’t fully unpacked these kinds of arguments, but it doesn’t invalidate natural selection or make it a tautology

  50. 50
    bornagain77 says:

    and wd now goes into full blown ‘just so’ mode!

  51. 51
    wd400 says:

    BA,

    Fitness is dimensionless, since it’s a ratio of whatever units are being counted (genotypes, phenotypes or organisms). There is no name for a unit of fitness, but it’s usually denoted by a “w”.

  52. 52
    bornagain77 says:

    “In reality, however, this passage illustrates my point. The efforts mentioned there are not experimental biology; they are attempts to explain already authenticated phenomena in Darwinian terms, things like human nature. Further, Darwinian explanations for such things are often too supple: Natural selection makes humans self-centered and aggressive – except when it makes them altruistic and peaceable. Or natural selection produces virile men who eagerly spread their seed – except when it prefers men who are faithful protectors and providers. When an explanation is so supple that it can explain any behavior, it is difficult to test it experimentally, much less use it as a catalyst for scientific discovery.

    Darwinian evolution – whatever its other virtues – does not provide a fruitful heuristic in experimental biology. This becomes especially clear when we compare it with a heuristic framework such as the atomic model, which opens up structural chemistry and leads to advances in the synthesis of a multitude of new molecules of practical benefit.”
    http://www.discovery.org/a/2816

  53. 53
    wd400 says:

    BA, “just so” stories usually means neat little adaptive stories that either falsifiable or no well supported. My post in 49 could be falsified (you could find our that tails had not fitness cost relative to tailless birds, or that they presented no substantial energetic cost).

  54. 54
    bornagain77 says:

    Actually wd400, I believe you and I have completely different views as to how to accurately measure ‘fitness’:

    Seeing the Natural World With a Physicist’s Lens – November 2010
    Excerpt: Scientists have identified and mathematically anatomized an array of cases where optimization has left its fastidious mark, among them;,, the precision response in a fruit fly embryo to contouring molecules that help distinguish tail from head;,,, In each instance, biophysicists have calculated, the system couldn’t get faster, more sensitive or more efficient without first relocating to an alternate universe with alternate physical constants.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11.....038;st=cse

  55. 55
    wd400 says:

    Perhaps, which would make you definition completely irrelevant to this discussion…

  56. 56
    bornagain77 says:

    I beg to differ, If you can’t explain how the molecules themselves achieved such efficiency (i.e. optimal ‘fitness’) then natural selection is completely useless as explanation in science as to how such things came to be!

    Study demonstrates evolutionary ‘fitness’ not the most important determinant of success – February 7, 2014 – with illustration
    Excerpt: An illustration of the possible mutations available to an RNA molecule. The blue lines represent mutations that will not change its function (phenotype), the grey are mutations to an alternative phenotype with slightly higher fitness and the red are the ‘fittest’ mutations. As there are so few possible mutations resulting in the fittest phenotype in red, the odds of this mutation are a mere 0.15%. The odds for the slightly fitter mutation in grey are 6.7% and so this is far more likely to fix, and thus to be found and survive, even though it is much less fit than the red phenotype.,,,
    By modelling populations over long timescales, the study showed that the ‘fitness’ of their traits was not the most important determinant of success. Instead, the most genetically available mutations dominated the changes in traits. The researchers found that the ‘fittest’ simply did not have time to be found, or to fix in the population over evolutionary timescales.
    http://phys.org/news/2014-02-e.....ccess.html

    This following headline sums it up very nicely:

    Fittest Can’t Survive If They Never Arrive – February 7, 2014
    http://crev.info/2014/02/fitte.....er-arrive/

    further note as to ‘optimality’:

    Optimal Design of Metabolism – Dr. Fazale Rana – July 2012
    Excerpt: A new study further highlights the optimality of the cell’s metabolic systems. Using the multi-dimension optimization theory, researchers evaluated the performance of the metabolic systems of several different bacteria. The data generated by monitoring the flux (movement) of compounds through metabolic pathways (like the movement of cars along the roadways) allowed researchers to assess the behavior of cellular metabolism. They determined that metabolism functions optimally for a system that seeks to accomplish multiple objectives. It looks as if the cell’s metabolism is optimized to operate under a single set of conditions. At the same time, it can perform optimally with relatively small adjustments to the metabolic operations when the cell experiences a change in condition.
    http://www.reasons.org/article.....metabolism

    Natural selection is simply completely blind at the molecular level so as to explain such optimal ‘fitness’!

  57. 57
    Silver Asiatic says:

    wd400 #49

    As it happens, in peacocks we know where that selection is coming from (female preference),so we can experiment learn a lot more (though not yet everything) about way selection has operated to create and maintain the trait.

    Research shows …

    Peahens do not prefer peacocks with more elaborate trains

    Mariko Takahashi, Hiroyuki Arita, Mariko Hiraiwa-Hasegawa and Toshikazu Hasegawa
    Animal Behaviour, 75(4), April 2008, 1209-1219 | doi:10.1016/j.anbehav.2007.10.004

    Abstract: The elaborate train of male Indian peafowl, Pavo cristatus, is thought to have evolved in response to female mate choice and may be an indicator of good genes. The aim of this study was to investigate the role of the male train in mate choice using male- and female-centred observations in a feral population of Indian peafowl in Japan over 7 years. We found no evidence that peahens expressed any preference for peacocks with more elaborate trains (i.e. trains having more ocelli, a more symmetrical arrangement or a greater length), similar to other studies of galliforms showing that females disregard male plumage. Combined with previous results, our findings indicate that the peacock’s train (1) is not the universal target of female choice, (2) shows small variance among males across populations and (3) based on current physiological knowledge, does not appear to reliably reflect the male condition. We also found that some behavioural characteristics of peacocks during displays were largely affected by female behaviours and were spuriously correlated with male mating success. Although the male train and its direct display towards females seem necessary for successful reproduction, we conclude that peahens in this population are likely to exercise active choice based on cues other than the peacock’s train.

    This indicates no real measure of fitness and the claim that the peacock’s tail evolved due to sex selection was falsified.

  58. 58
    Joe says:

    I call upon the Berlinski:

    Swimming in the soundless sea, the shark has survived for millions of years, sleek as a knife blade and twice as dull. The shark is an organism wonderfully adapted to its environment. Pause. And then the bright brittle voice of logical folly intrudes: after all, it has survived for millions of years.

    This exchange should be deeply embarrassing to evolutionary biologists. And yet, time and again, biologists do explain the survival of an organism by reference to its fitness and the fitness of an organism by reference to its survival, the friction between concepts kindling nothing more illuminating than the observation that some creatures have been around for a very long time. “Those individuals that have the most offspring,” writes Ernst Mayr, the distinguished zoologist, “are by definition . . . the fittest ones.” And in Evolution and the Myth of Creationism, Tim Berra states that “[f]itness in the Darwinian sense means reproductive fitness-leaving at least enough offspring to spread or sustain the species in nature.”

    This is not a parody of evolutionary thinking; it is evolutionary thinking. Que sera, sera.

    From The Deniable Darwin

  59. 59
    Joe says:

    wd400:

    If you knew nothing abut peacocks, and happened across one, it would be reasonable to assume this giant tail was the result of selection.

    Knowing something of natural selection the obvious inference would be that of artificial selection from an extraordinarily large set of a very wide variety of intelligently designed birds.

  60. 60
    wd400 says:

    This indicates no real measure of fitness and the claim that the peacock’s tail evolved due to sex selection was falsified.

    A tautology falsified! That really is something…

    (in fact, birds experimentally manipulated to have fewer eye-spots do less well that those that have a number of eye spots that falls within natural variation. So, there still seems to be a fitness effect. A more recent paper puts this particular case in contect: dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2011.03.016)

  61. 61
    bornagain77 says:

    So your explanation for how peacocks got their feathers in the first place is because???,,,,

    (your cite)

    Peahens prefer peacocks displaying more eyespots, but rarely – 2011
    Excerpt:,,, the considerable variation in the mating success of feral peacocks cannot be explained by natural variation in the number of eyespots visible in the train. Peafowl mate choice is clearly more complex than previously thought: females may reject a few males with substantially reduced eyespot number, while using some other cue to choose among males with typical trains.
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/s.....7211001163

    You seem to be (purposely) missing the point wd400!

    FLIGHT: The Genius of Birds – Feathers – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y2yeNoDCcBg

    Where did such well designed feathers come from is the question wd400! I don’t want a ‘just so’ story as to how the leopard got its spots, I want you to get down into the molecular details and tell me how exactly natural selection did it!

  62. 62
    Silver Asiatic says:

    A tautology falsified! That really is something…

    It was a “just so” story falsified. The tautology remains – we know peacock tails were selected because they exist in the survivors.

  63. 63
    wd400 says:

    It was a “just so” story falsified

    Lol. You mean the linked concepts of selection and fitness allow scientists to form and test hypotheses?

    And I didn’t say “peacock tails were selected because they exist in the survivors” — I laid out some reasons why that’s a reasonable deduction to make.

  64. 64
    GW says:

    Great link Eric.

    Since the concept of natural selection is tautology and thus useless, we should be able to explain the theory of evolution without it, and this seems simple enough to do.

    Darwinian evolution is the theory that unguided environmental factors, both inside and outside the organism, are entirely responsible for the diversity and complexity of life in the universe.

    These factors work by altering the genetic and epigenetic material of creatures which lead to changes that, when multiplied, have a noticeable effect on the biosphere as a whole. Specifically, these factors are things like heat, cold, light, darkness, pressure, water, chemicals, etc. and are caused by solar activity, floods, droughts, volcanic activity, ice ages, landslides, plate tectonics, etc.

    If this is how the species originated, there isn’t any need to explain the process in terms of agency, which ‘natural selection’ serves as proxy for. By relying on such a concept, the naturalist unwittingly grants an epistemological point to the theist.

  65. 65
  66. 66
    bornagain77 says:

    Even though wd400’s claim of sexual selection of peacock feathers was found severely wanting,,,

    “the considerable variation in the mating success of feral peacocks cannot be explained by natural variation in the number of eyespots visible in the train.”

    as to what wd400 originally intended to convey by it,,,

    If you knew nothing abut peacocks, and happened across one, it would be reasonable to assume this giant tail was the result of selection.

    None-the-less wd400 digs his heals and claims peacock feathers,,,

    “Lol. You mean the linked concepts of selection and fitness allow scientists to form and test hypotheses?

    But when some rigor is applied ‘the linked concepts of selection and fitness’, as cited before, wd400’s fantasy world collapses in on itself

    Study demonstrates evolutionary ‘fitness’ not the most important determinant of success – February 7, 2014 – with illustration
    Excerpt: An illustration of the possible mutations available to an RNA molecule. The blue lines represent mutations that will not change its function (phenotype), the grey are mutations to an alternative phenotype with slightly higher fitness and the red are the ‘fittest’ mutations. As there are so few possible mutations resulting in the fittest phenotype in red, the odds of this mutation are a mere 0.15%. The odds for the slightly fitter mutation in grey are 6.7% and so this is far more likely to fix, and thus to be found and survive, even though it is much less fit than the red phenotype.,,,
    By modelling populations over long timescales, the study showed that the ‘fitness’ of their traits was not the most important determinant of success. Instead, the most genetically available mutations dominated the changes in traits. The researchers found that the ‘fittest’ simply did not have time to be found, or to fix in the population over evolutionary timescales.
    http://phys.org/news/2014-02-e.....ccess.html

    i.e. the fittest cannot survive if they cannot arrive!

    Of related note:

    The Fairyland of Evolutionary Modeling – May 7, 2013
    Excerpt: Salazar-Ciudad and Marín-Riera have shown that not only are suboptimal dead ends an evolutionary possibility, but they are also exceedingly likely to occur in real, developmentally complex structures when fitness is determined by the exact form of the phenotype.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....71901.html

    “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

    Researchers Ran a Massive Yearlong Experiment to Get Bacteria to Evolve. Guess What Happened? – August 22, 2014
    Excerpt: (the problem the researchers tried to address???)
    “the general inability to connect phenotype to genotype in the context of environmental adaptation has been a major failing in the field of evolution.,,,”
    (Their results in addressing this major failing???)
    ‘In short, it was hard to find anything beyond a “suggestion” or a “scenario” that these bacteria improved their fitness in any way by genetic mutations, other than the gross observation that some of the clones managed to survive at 45 °C. But even the ancestor could do that sometimes through the “Lazarus effect.”‘
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....89231.html

    Moreover, if all that was not bad enough for natural selection, there is a profound disconnect between the morphological form of an organism, where natural selection is suppose to work, and molecular variations in DNA and Proteins where ‘random’ mutations are said to occur,,,

    Neo-Darwinian evolution cannot explain form of any type
    http://www.uncommondescent.com.....ent-515498

    will wd400 ever address any of these crushing concerns and admit that his theory is grossly inadequate as to the claims he puts upon it?,,, Actually, though many people on UD doubt that wd400 will ever be honest, I have a theory as to when wd400 might do become honest to the evidence!

    http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix.....64x531.jpg

    Verse and Music:

    John 1:3
    All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made.

    He Knows My Name – Francesca Battistelli
    http://myktis.com/songs/knows-name/

  67. 67
    Mung says:

    Over millions of years, evolution has favored alleles that increased her net number of surviving offspring, even if that meant a shortened lifespan due to cannibalism.

    Apparently leaving fewer offspring led to only partial cannibalism and natural selection, not wanting to let a perfectly good partially eaten earwig go to waste, found a way to make up the difference.

  68. 68
    Eric Anderson says:

    wd400:

    Thanks for your further comments and thoughts.

    Presumably we could say that the reason other earwig populations do not engage in parental cannibalism is because natural selection did not favor it in those cases?

  69. 69
    Silver Asiatic says:

    You mean the linked concepts of selection and fitness allow scientists to form and test hypotheses?

    LOL No I mean the claim that females were attracted to the tails was proven false. This said nothing about fitness or selection except that peacocks with tails were more fit because they survived. Nothing more than a tautology.

  70. 70
    wd400 says:

    EA,

    I know very near to nothing about ear wigs in particular. I imagine the evolution of cannabilism is only favoured under some environmental conditions (availability of other food, density of other earwigs on same and differing species) and as an “add-on” to some life histories (i.e. the parents need to be brooders before they can be a first meal.

    If I was researching the topic I’d design experiments that test the fitness benefits under different scenarios, and study the distribution of maternal investment across the phylogeny of related species (and how that corrleates with local ecological conditions). That, really, is the point I’m trying to make. Thinking about natural selection and fitness drives real science, and thus they are important concepts.

  71. 71
    wd400 says:

    SA,

    You keep claiming that (a) pea hens don’t choose males based on their tails and (b) that I said we know the tails are aresult of selection simply because survivors have them.

    Neither of these claims are true.

  72. 72
    DavidD says:

    “I imagine the evolution of cannabilism”

    The key point here of course is the word “imagine”. In one’s imagination anything is possible. Now if you could just convince others your imagination holds the key to “Truth”, you could start yet another religious denomination by gaining followers.

  73. 73
    DavidD says:

    Is there any way to delete a double post ?

  74. 74
    Silver Asiatic says:

    #71 wd400

    Ok, you offered a study that conflicted with the 2008 paper and I haven’t read that so I can’t go further. It’s really not the main point of contention and I shouldn’t have even offered it. The fact that females are either attracted or not to the peacock tail is not a test of selection or fitness.

    that I said we know the tails are a result of selection simply because survivors have them.

    Ok, you didn’t say that explicitly but that’s the way I read it. To revisit:

    If you knew nothing abut peacocks, and happened across one, it would be reasonable to assume this giant tail was the result of selection. It safe to say it’s pretty costly to make such a tail, and carry it around with you. All else being equal, a peacock that didn’t make such a tail would be better off for not spending the energy and so would be at a selective advantge (or, to put it another, any peacock allele contributing to such a tail would be at a disadvantage and thus the tail would be very unlikely to arise).

    I found that explanation very difficult – it’s exactly the opposite of what I’d expect. We find a peacock with a tail that is costly to make and carry. We’d predict (?) that the tail would be a disadvantage to fitness. The tail is unlikely to arise. Therefore … we conclude that the tail was selected for fitness? Why? Because we found a peacock and saw its tail, and in spite of the huge problems, we conclude it was selected for some reason.

    So, it’s reasonable to presume, even if we don’t know all the details that his is a triat maintained by selection.

    This is a tautology. The only reason you give for believing that the tail is a result of selection is the fact that the tail exists. In fact, all of the features of the tail argue against selection for fitness.

    As it happens, in peacocks we know where that selection is coming from (female preference),so we can experiment learn a lot more (though not yet everything) about way selection has operated to create and maintain the trait.

    You say that “selection has operated to create” the tail but nothing even close to that has been shown. Females could have started to be attracted to the tail centuries after the tail already existed. We simply don’t know if there’s a correlation between the emergence of the tail and the female interest in it. What real fitness did the tail confer versus the unfit peacocks? Why, precisely, was the tail required especially considering all of the cost-to-fitness it brought with it?

  75. 75
    wd400 says:

    DavidD, you appear to have focused on one word, and expense of entire rest of the post. Almost as if you were more interesting scoring points than engaging in the topic…

    SA,

    You are mainly making my point for me. As you say

    .
    In fact, all of the features of the tail argue against selection for fitness

    Yes. taken alone the tail would appear to be selective disadvantage. If no-tail peacock alleles entered the population you might expect them to take over. Despite the opportunity for this to happen (such null alleles are very common products of mutation), it hasn’t. Thus, there might be some reason that tail-having birds are not in fact less fit that those with reduced or absent tails. Selection is maintaining the tail.

    That’s not the whole answer, of course. But, and I repeat myself because no one has yet engaged with this point, it enables to do some science. We can now go and test ideas like “do females prefer males with impressive tails”, do males with particular impressive tails live shorter lives, is the tail in fact an outward marker of some inward trait like parasite resitance…

    If the concepts of fitness and natural selection are just tautologies, how are they so helpful?

  76. 76
    Joe says:

    The peacock’s tail has nothing to do with natural selection.

  77. 77
    Mapou says:

    The peacock tail refutes Darwinist evolution. It hits it hard between the eyes with a two-by-four. But then again, so do blue and brown eyes, our love of music, beauty and the arts, and many other things.

  78. 78
    Vishnu says:

    Mapou: It’s not easy being a Darwinist.

    That’s like saying is not easy being an ostrich. Of course, it is. You just bury your head in the sand and hope nobody notices.

  79. 79
    Joe says:

    Over on TSZ Alan Fox chimed in with his equivocation of natural selection:

    It’s the name* for a process that can be described simply as differential survival of alleles.

    No Alan, that differential reproduction must be due to heritable random, as in happenstance, variation(s). If the differential survival of alleles is due to luck then it isn’t natural selection. If it is due to non-random changes to the genome (Spetner 1997, 2014), then it isn’t natural selection.

    This is what’s wrong with evolutionists- they don’t understand the concepts they are defending.

  80. 80
    Eric Anderson says:

    Joe @79:

    You are of course right to point out the possibility of directed changes per Spetner et al.

    In the case of non-directed variations, at least Alan Fox is getting closer and recognizing that natural selection is not a force itself, but is rather simply a label that is attached to the stochastic results of a process.

    With that important realization in mind, hopefully Alan and company can take the next step and realize that (i) the label is attached in nearly all cases after the fact, and (ii) the underlying process he refers to is essentially random.

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