Intelligent Design

One Nobel Reason for Believing that Artificial Selection is more Powerful than Natural Selection

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There’s been quite a lot of conversation about our three newest recepients of the Nobel Prize in chemistry, partially, if not principally, because one of the three was a woman, Dr. Francis Arnold.

We’ve also read that Dr. Arnold, having gotten nowhere using “rational design” then turned to “evolution,” and with this switch in methodology went on to win the Nobel.

Here’s the NYT’s article where we read such things. Let me quote a section which illustrates what is being implied:

At first, Dr. Arnold attempted “rational design,” employing logic and knowledge of how proteins function to try to build new enzymes — proteins that act as catalysts for chemical reactions. But enzymes are large, complicated molecules — some consisting of thousands of amino acids — and it is hard to figure out how a shift in one twist of the molecule affects how it works.

In desperation, she said, she turned to evolution.

Then we read more:

I copied nature’s inventions, this wonderful process of evolution, to breed molecules like you breed cats and dogs,” she said.

For this “directed evolution” research, she inserted the gene that produced the enzyme she wanted to study into fast-reproducing bacteria. With mutations of the gene, she could then examine how well variations of the enzyme worked. She chose the one that worked best and repeated the process — just like evolution chooses the survival of the fittest over succeeding generations.

When we take the two “bolded” sections together we see that, in fact, Dr. Arnold is consciously equating what she’s doing to artifical selection; i.e., “like . . . [breeding] cats and dogs.”

Doesn’t this work contradict one of the basic tenets of Charles Darwin by indicating that an intelligent observer of nature can modify nature in a way that nature itself cannot accomplish? IOW, that contrary to Darwin’s writings, ‘Artificial Selection’ is actually more powerful in practice than is ‘Natural Selection’.

If Darwinism is to be taken seriously, then, IMO, it is important that biologists demonstrate how the barrier separating lower taxa from higher taxa can be breached in a natural, and not a ‘lab,’ setting.

We don’t find ‘breeds’ of dogs produced in natural settings; we don’t find the enzymes manufactured by Dr. Arnold in naturally living organisms. Isn’t this not confirmation that intelligence at work in nature is more powerful than what nature, left unaided, can bring about by itself?

51 Replies to “One Nobel Reason for Believing that Artificial Selection is more Powerful than Natural Selection

  1. 1
    Amblyrhynchus says:

    This is giving News a run for her money in getting things wrong…

    FWIW, there is no Nobel prize in biology, “Physiology or Medicine” is the closest but Arnold won hers in chemistry. Six women have won science Nobels in the last decade and Darwin never claimed that natural selection would be more rapid than artificial selection. In fact, when comparing natural selection to artificial selection Darwin pointed out how slow the former is “We see nothing of these slow changes in progress, until the hand of time has marked the long lapses of ages…”. (Turns out Darwin was wrong here, as we no know natural selection can act more rapidly than he thought was possible).

  2. 2
  3. 3
    Bob O'H says:

    FWIW, there is no Nobel prize in biology, “Physiology or Medicine” is the closest but Arnold won hers in chemistry.

    There is a running joke amongst chemists that their prize is in fact for biology.

  4. 4
    AaronS1978 says:

    I read the article, it seems more like an advertisement for evolution and then you get a prize for performing evolution. This article stinks of bias.
    Kudos for Dr. Arnold getting the Nobel prize in chemistry. But the whole “she turned to evolution” and evolution saved the day and won her the Nobel prize just seems more of an advertisement to prove evolution is for realisies. I don’t oppose evolution but this certainly seems fishy.

    Secondly, it’s not natural selection if you were selecting what you want which from my understanding is not evolution. She pretty much had the bacteria do the dirty work for her and then she selected what she wanted from it. I guess bacteria do a better job at what she was trying to do with her “rational design” possibly because we don’t really understand what’s going on in the first place.

  5. 5
    jawa says:

    Biology is the queen of science these days.
    Other basic scientific disciplines (physics, chemistry, math) serve biology.

  6. 6
    jawa says:

    Amblyrhynchus,
    Glad to see you back after you quit another discussion.
    Did you get your new book published yet?
    What is it about? conspiracy theories?
    🙂

  7. 7
    R J Sawyer says:

    We don’t find ‘breeds’ of dogs produced in natural settings;

    Wolves, coyotes, hyenas, dingoes.

  8. 8
    ET says:

    Natural selection is impotent. What it can do is undo what artificial selection did once humans have been removed from the equation.

  9. 9
    ET says:

    RJ Sawyer:

    Wolves, coyotes, hyenas, dingoes.

    Not one is a breed of dog and no one can demonstrate natural selection produced any of them.

  10. 10
    ET says:

    FWIW- physiology is a branch of biology.

  11. 11
    PaV says:

    Amblyrhynchus:

    FWIW, there is no Nobel prize in biology, “Physiology or Medicine” is the closest but Arnold won hers in chemistry.

    Actually, she won the Nobel Prize in Physics and NOT in Chemistry, and was the first woman in 55 years to do so.

    If you think it’s important enough to correct, it would be best if you got it right yourself, right?

    Darwin never claimed that natural selection would be more rapid than artificial selection.

    I said nothing about ‘fast’ or ‘slow.’ I said this, . . . contrary to Darwin’s writings, ‘Artificial Selection’ is actually more powerful in practice than is ‘Natural Selection’.”

    In fact, when comparing natural selection to artificial selection Darwin pointed out how slow the former is “We see nothing of these slow changes in progress, until the hand of time has marked the long lapses of ages…”. (Turns out Darwin was wrong here, as we no know natural selection can act more rapidly than he thought was possible).

    Did you point out the incidental errors in the OP because you reason this way: “If wrong in one thing, then wrong in all things”? Should we apply this same reasoning to Darwin’s writings?

    As to ‘fast’ and ‘slow,’ both are problems for Darwinism. Lizards without cecal valves in their guts, when transplanted to a different island in Adriatic where no lizard species are present, develop said valves within 30 generations. wd400, a population geneticist who blogs here, when asked how this happened, said he didn’t have an answer. And, after millions and millions of years, we find wolves in the wild, but not Chichuahuas.

    Again, it is clear, and Dr. Arnold’s experimental procedures (and language) make even more clear that Artificial Selection is more powerful a force in nature than is Natural Selection.

    And, of course, the problem then is that using Artificial Selection, no one can turn a cat into anything else other than a cat. The breeds become more and more feeble.

    So, what should we make of this all?

  12. 12
    PaV says:

    AaronS1978:

    Bingo! You nailed it!

  13. 13
    PaV says:

    I presume that everyone looking at this OP has also read this also.

    You might also want to look here.

  14. 14
    R J Sawyer says:

    PaV

    Actually, she won the Nobel Prize in Physics and NOT in Chemistry, and was the first woman in 55 years to do so.

    Actually, she won the Nobel for Chemistry and NOT physics. It was Dr. Strickland from the University of Waterloo who was the third woman to ever win the Nobel for Physics.

  15. 15
    Amblyrhynchus says:

    I pointed out all of the mistakes in the OP because it was remarkable how error-dense the post was. As RJ points out, you still have the Nobel Prize category wrong! I do think it’s hard to take someone how fails so completely seriously.

    On the “substance” of the OP, I find it very hard to make a distinction between power and speed when it comes to describing the effects of selection. Perhaps you can come with some difference, but it would hardly matter in this case, since speed of change is the reason protein engineers bump up the mutation rates and select so strongly.

    I don’t quite know what to make of this statement

    Again, it is clear, and Dr. Arnold’s experimental procedures (and language) make even more clear that Artificial Selection is more powerful a force in nature than is Natural Selection.

    Artificial selection is not a force in nature, that’s sort of the point of the name.

  16. 16
    Amblyrhynchus says:

    Jawa/PeterA/Dionisio etc,

    You may not think I’m being genuine when I say this, but I really do mean it. I don’t think it is possible that running 4 or 5 (or more) accounts on this website and pretending that they talk (and even argue) among themselves is the best way that you could be spending your time. I’m not going engage with your accounts because, frankly, this seems like a very unhealthy obsession for you and I don’t want to encourage it.

  17. 17
    Nonlin.org says:

    Wasn’t the whole point of “evolution” to separate creation from creator? And now they let the intelligent agent back in? I would not be a happy evolutionist with this interpretation.

    If “evolution” needs “directions”, then IDsts and neo-Darwinists are all a big, happy, continuously quarreling family 🙂

  18. 18
    ET says:

    Ambly:

    Artificial selection is not a force in nature, that’s sort of the point of the name.

    What? So the different dog breeds do not live and did not occur in nature? Really?

    Wow.

  19. 19
    ET says:

    Nonlin:

    Wasn’t the whole point of “evolution” to separate creation from creator?

    No, that was the purpose of natural selection-> design without a designer.

  20. 20
    ET says:

    From PaV’s link to ENV:

    The two words, “directed” and “evolution,” are together an oxymoron, …

    Wrong. Directed and natural selection together are an oxymoron but directed evolution are exactly what we observe with genetic algorithms. In Dr. Spetner’s “Not By Chance” he talks about, guess what, directed evolution via “built-in responses to environmental cues”.

  21. 21
    Jammer says:

    Almost all 21st century biology revolves around engineering. Strange, huh?

    That darn pesky blind watchmaker was a lot smarter than we realized. *wink, wink* *nudge, nudge*

  22. 22
    Bob O'H says:

    Nonlin.org @ 17 –

    Wasn’t the whole point of “evolution” to separate creation from creator?

    No, it was to explain how the world’s biodiversity came about. Darwin explicitly put the Creator into his account:

    There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.

  23. 23
    gpuccio says:

    Amblyrhynchus:

    Just a comment on what you say.

    I do believe that there is a huge distinction between power and speed when it comes to describing the effects of selection.

    The whole point of ID is that complex functional information cannot be generated by NS. Of course, complex functional information can be generated by directed, intelligent selection. Dawkin’s Weasel is good proof of that.

    So yes, there is a lot of difference. It’s all about power, not speed. The idea that time can give unlimited power is one of the big lies of neo-darwinist thought.

    Just for completeness, I will reference again my OP about this issue, that has been already referenced by PeterA at #2.

    What are the limits of Natural Selection? An interesting open discussion with Gordon Davisson

    https://uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/what-are-the-limits-of-natural-selection-an-interesting-open-discussion-with-gordon-davisson/

    And this even older OP is about the difference between NS and Artificial Selection:

    Natural Selection vs Artificial Selection

    https://uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/natural-selection-vs-artificial-selection/

  24. 24
    mc says:

    Bob O’H @ 22
    1. “Darwin explicitly put the Creator into his account:”

    “There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed by the Creator into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone circling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”
    —–
    However, Darwin rejected the Judaeo-Christian God! “Dear Sir, I am sorry to have to inform you that I do not believe in the Bible as a divine revelation & therefore not in Jesus Christ as the son of God. Yours faithfully, Ch. Darwin.” https://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/letter/DCP-LETT-12851.xml.
    Two years before his death Darwin wrote the letter in reply to a barrister.

  25. 25
    Bob O'H says:

    So yes, there is a lot of difference. It’s all about power, not speed. The idea that time can give unlimited power is one of the big lies of neo-darwinist thought.

    I don’t know of any neo-Darwinist who has claimed that, though. We’re well aware that there are constraints on evolution.

  26. 26
    gpuccio says:

    Bob O’H:

    Well, Bob, thank you for the correction. Of course, I did not mean literally “unlimited”: I suppose that nobody has ever believed or claimed that time can allow neo-darwinist evolution to materialize whole new galaxies, for example, or change the fundamental laws of physics.

    I should have said:

    The idea that time can give enough power to do all that neo-darwinist evolution is supposed to have done is one of the big lies of neo-darwinist thought.

    The real point is that the neo-darwinist algorithm cannot generate new complex functional information, whatever the time available (at least in the context of our universe).

    The idea that it can do that is certainly a claim that all neo-darwinists make, I suppose. And it is a big lie.

    Yes, there is a big contraint on unguided evolution: it cannot generate complex functional information.

  27. 27
    ET says:

    Bob O’H:

    We’re well aware that there are constraints on evolution.

    Right- given starting populations of eukaryotes unguided evolution doesn’t have a mechanism capable of producing eukaryotes.

  28. 28
    PaV says:

    UPDATE:

    I’ve updated the OP to reflect the fact that I had confused Dr. Francis Arnold with Dr. Donna Strickland, who did, as a woman, win a Nobel Prize in Physics for the first time in 55 years. Sorry for the confusion.

  29. 29
    PaV says:

    Ambry:

    On the “substance” of the OP, I find it very hard to make a distinction between power and speed when it comes to describing the effects of selection. Perhaps you can come with some difference, but it would hardly matter in this case, since speed of change is the reason protein engineers bump up the mutation rates and select so strongly.

    In my twenties—some time ago, I realized that when you argue with liberals, and you tear down their “facts”, the only resort they have left is to question your definition of common words. “What do you mean by ‘society’?”

    I think ‘power’ is straightforward enough. And so is “speed.” And, of course, if something happens faster than expected given certain hypotheses, it is called “fast” evolution. So, there’s wiggle-room even there.

    Artificial selection is not a force in nature, that’s sort of the point of the name.

    I see. Does this then mean that ‘breeding’ doesn’t occur in ‘nature’?

    And what makes NS a “force”? Isn’t it simply the description of an ‘outcome’?

    Artificial Selection is a ‘force’ exerted by intelligent beings; NS is passive: nature acted upon by many forces–but not actually exerting a ‘force’ itself.

  30. 30
    R J Sawyer says:

    PaV

    UPDATE:

    I’ve updated the OP to reflect the fact that I had confused Dr. Francis Arnold with Dr. Donna Strickland, who did, as a woman, win a Nobel Prize in Physics. Sorry for the confusion.

    Not a problem. We all make mistakes from time to time. Well, everyone but ET of course. 🙂

  31. 31
    Nonlin.org says:

    ET @19
    Could there be “evolution” without “natural selection”? They go together… nowhere.

    Bob O’H @22
    Don’t remember that from the first edition. Regardless, limiting the Creator to just “breathing in life” still counts as an attempt to separate creation from Creator. Unsuccessful in this case… again.

  32. 32
    ET says:

    Non lin:

    Could there be “evolution” without “natural selection”?

    Yes

  33. 33
    Amblyrhynchus says:

    I’m still not sure what power means if not the degree of change over time, if you want to spell it out then please do.

    I guess we should also ask you what makes natural selection a force, since that’s how you described it in comment 11.

  34. 34
    gpuccio says:

    Amblyrhynchus:

    I will spell it out. Again.

    Power means: something can do something else. Or not.

    If it cannot do it, it is not a question of time or speed. It just cannot do it. It has not the power.

    Artificial selection can do things that NS cannot do. Again, it is not a question of speed, but of power.

    Is that clear?

  35. 35
    R J Sawyer says:

    GP

    Artificial selection can do things that NS cannot do. Again, it is not a question of speed, but of power.

    Yes. Artificial selection is great at producing things that can’t survive without human support.

    Sorry for the sarcasm. But there is a basis of truth in it. We can produce breeds of dogs and cattle that could not survive in the wild. Natural selection, on the other hand…

  36. 36
    ET says:

    RJ Sawyer:

    Artificial selection is great at producing things that can’t survive without human support.

    Yes and it can also produce things that can survive without our support. It all depends.

    Natural selection, on the other hand…

    Merely eliminates the less fit over time.

  37. 37
    PaV says:

    Amblyrynchus:

    You continue to focus on definitions of words instead of engaging the facts being presented: namely, that intelligent agency can bring about changes that are not found in nature unaided.

    How, then, do you explain Darwin’s contention that NS is more powerful than Artificial Selection?

    As to “power,” here’s what Darwin wrote:

    Slow though the process of selection may be, if feeble man can do much by his powers of artificial selection, I can see no limit to the amount of change, to the beauty and infinite complexity of the coadaptations between all organic beings, one with another and with their physical conditions of life, which may be effected in the long course of time by nature’s power of selection.

    [Origins of Species, Chapter 4]

  38. 38
    R J Sawyer says:

    PaV

    How, then, do you explain Darwin’s contention that NS is more powerful than Artificial Selection?

    As ET would say, ‘context is important’. Darwin was comparing the power of natural selection over millions of years against artificial selection acting over a few thousand years. Given similar time frames, I don’t think that anyone would argue that natural selection could perform better than artificial selection, assuming that humans were capable of always making the right choices. Which is far from being a given.

  39. 39
    jawa says:

    Amblyrhynchus,

    Do you understand what gpuccio wrote @23?

    Do you agree?

    If no, why?

    You may ignore my comments, but some anonymous readers won’t.

  40. 40
    jawa says:

    Amblyrhynchus,

    Do you understand what gpuccio wrote @33?

    Do you agree?

    If you don’t, then why?

    You may ignore my comments, but some anonymous readers won’t.

    🙂

  41. 41
    Amblyrhynchus says:

    Anyone how wants to read the chapter in context can, Darwin’s main points are (a) Natural selection is much slower than artificial selection (b) By focusing on one or a few traits breeder often make odd creatures that would struggle to survive in the wild (c) Natural selection has had a long time to act on organism’s entire phenotype. All part of his argument for gradual change driven by selection.

    So you can decide artificial selection is powerful as it can rapidly change a population toward a goal. Or you can say natural selection is powerful because it’s had aeons to work.

    But, more importantly, what has any of this to do with evolutionary biology today? What “basic tenets” of evolution are broken by noting artificial selection is powerful?

  42. 42
    ET says:

    From Ernst Mayr in “What Evolution Is” page 117:

    What Darwin called natural selection is actually a process of elimination.

    Page 118:

    Do selection and elimination differ in their evolutionary consequences? This question never seems to have been raised in the evolutionary literature. A process of selection would have a concrete objective, the determination of the “best” or “fittest” phenotype. Only a relatively few individuals in a given generation would qualify and survive the selection procedure. That small sample would be only to be able to preserve only a small amount of the whole variance of the parent population. Such survival selection would be highly restrained.

    By contrast, mere elimination of the less fit might permit the survival of a rather large number of individuals because they have no obvious deficiencies in fitness. Such a large sample would provide, for instance, the needed material for the exercise of sexual selection. This also explains why survival is so uneven from season to season. The percentage of the less fit would depend on the severity of each year’s environmental conditions.

    Artificial selection = the selection definition whereas natural selection = the elimination definition.

    With natural selection whatever is good enough gets the chance to add to the gene pool. It could be the fastest, the slowest or anything and everything in between. There isn’t anything with the process that drives the population towards any adaptation. It is all just contingent serendipity.

    Throwing aeons of time at it is hardly the stuff of science and it isn’t even of any help. Time is not on your side as nature tends to take the path of least resistance whereas living organisms occupy the opposite category

  43. 43
    jawa says:

    RV+NS has the power to make bacteria from bacteria, and to convert birds into birds. Amazingly it can produce people from people.
    Now that’s power, isn’t it?

  44. 44
    PeterA says:

    jawa,
    Your statements are not quite accurate and could be misleading.
    I’d rather stick to what gpuccio wrote @23, complemented by his comments @25 & @33.
    That should do it.
    No need to add anything else.

  45. 45
    Peer says:

    Natural Selection is nothing but differential reproduction. Nowhere in the Nobel-awarded methods and experiments to evolve/design improved proteins is differential reproduction involved. None of the strains of selected bacteria grow faster. It is utterly and completely intelligence-guided improvement of frontloaded biological function. Also read:

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Darwin-Revisited-understand-biology-century/dp/6202315113

    pb

  46. 46
    Peer says:

    Natural Selection is nothing but differential reproduction. Nowhere in the Nobel-awarded methods and experiments to evolve/design improved proteins is differential reproduction involved. None of the strains of selected bacteria grow faster. It is utterly and completely intelligence-guided improvement of frontloaded biological function. Also read:

    https://www.amazon.co.uk/Darwin-Revisited-understand-biology-century/dp/6202315113

    pb

  47. 47
    ET says:

    Peer- Natural selection is differential reproduction due to heritable chance mutations– the bolded part cannot be ignored as it is central to the thesis.

  48. 48
    PaV says:

    Amblyryhnchus:

    (c) Natural selection has had a long time to act on organism’s entire phenotype. All part of his argument for gradual change driven by selection.

    Well, then, please explain the Cambrian Explosion.

    But, more importantly, what has any of this to do with evolutionary biology today? What “basic tenets” of evolution are broken by noting artificial selection is powerful?

    Well, Darwin’s “Origins” was “one long argument.” If his BASIC thesis—that NS has an analogy with Artificial Selection and that it is, over time, more powerful than Artificial Selection, is wrong, then this “long argument” is wrong. And any theory that uses mathematical apparatus to buttress this “argument” must be capable of forming its own ‘argument,’ independent of Darwin’s, for the “origin of species.”

    Can today’s evolutionary biology do this? I think not. Refer to the Cambrian Explosion.

  49. 49
    Amblyrhynchus says:

    If his BASIC thesis—that NS has an analogy with Artificial Selection and that it is, over time, more powerful than Artificial Selection, is wrong, then this “long argument” is wrong

    If you want to focus on Darwin then his argument was only that natural selection was more powerful then the breeding programs of his own time. Even then, you haven’t explained how Arnold’s work proves artificial selection is, over time, more powerful than natural selection.

    If we can move forward a century and a half or so, what relevance does this have to evolutionary biology now. Artificial experiments like the sort Arnold pioneered are a key way that we study fitness landscapes, and breeding programs are useful models for us to understanding how gene-interactions respond to selection. But I don’t see how acknowledging that artificial selectors can mess with fitness functions and selection pressures to produce results more rapidly than nature (or indeed results that are unlikely to arise in nature) is the big problem for evolutionary biology you seem to think it is.

  50. 50
    ET says:

    Amblyrhynchus- The big problem for evolutionary biology is there isn’t a stochastic mechanism capable of producing the diversity of life observed starting from some given populations of prokaryotes and archaea. And there still isn’t any evidence that natural selection can do anything more than eliminate the less fit over time.

  51. 51
    PaV says:

    Amblyrhynchus:

    If we can move forward a century and a half or so, what relevance does this have to evolutionary biology now.

    It’s simple. Evolution is accepted as a “fact” because of Darwin’s “long argument.” Then everything else is argued assuming this key ingredient is in place. If Darwin was wrong, then evolution as a “fact” is wrong. And this would make ‘evolution’ a meaningless term unless some proof of its effectiveness and ‘power’ were demonstrated in some fashion.

    Moving forward in time only has meaning and substance if it can be shown, in a manner differently than from Darwin, that evolution as a mechanism in nature is responsible for the “many forms” we have with us in our world.

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