It still isn't random

This is apparently some confusion over my post about why natural selection is not random. It’s a fairly elementary issue at hand, but it evidently needs to be addressed. One reader mentions,

Natural selection is a product of selective pressures. Those selective pressures are random in that they do not try to produce anything specific (ie: original appendages, limbs, organs, organ systems, body plans, etc… or the DNA that codes for them).

This user is right so far, even if the language is a bit dicey. A particular environment produces conditions to which a population then responds. A research job from a biology professor of mine will do fine here: there are two species of fish in a stream, one small, one large. This stream is divided into two sections: an upper area and a lower area. The division is due to a small waterfall. Now, the small fish in the top section of the stream tend to be vibrant in color while the lower small fish are a more gray color. The hypothesis is that the large species of fish is unable to traverse the waterfall so thus unable to eat the upper small fish, hence their vibrancy. So the research team takes some large fish and introduces them into the area with the vibrant fish. Sure enough, the fish lose their vibrancy pretty quickly. Conclusion: The hypothesis was not falsified because a correlation between color vibrancy and survival was shown upon introduction of the large fish species to the upper stream.

So now here’s where the user goes awry.

Hence, natural selection is random.

He concludes that because the selective pressures happen without regard to a particular species that the reaction of the species is thus random. Do you see the inane logic? This is like saying that because what particular rocks, gas, and space junk goes into the making of a planet can be called random that the force behind the accretion process – gravity – is random.

It’s all very simple. Natural selection is the process of differential survival of organisms based upon how they respond to a given environment. That means that natural selection happens with regard to adaptability. And maybe this is the kicker for this silly creationists. That’s really all “non random” means – with regard to adaptability. That’s why any aspect of genetic drift or mutation is considered random. It happens regardless of whether an organism will do better, worse, or the same in its survival. Were natural selection random then we should expect to see a number of vibrant fish swimming around the upper stream which is in comparable proportion to the number swimming around prior to the introduction of the large fish species. Of course we do not see anything like that. What we do see is differential survival based upon the response of the organism to a particular environment – the fish which survived were less vibrant, on average, than the fish which were quickly eaten.

It still isn’t random

This is apparently some confusion over my post about why natural selection is not random. It’s a fairly elementary issue at hand, but it evidently needs to be addressed. One reader mentions,

Natural selection is a product of selective pressures. Those selective pressures are random in that they do not try to produce anything specific (ie: original appendages, limbs, organs, organ systems, body plans, etc… or the DNA that codes for them).

This user is right so far, even if the language is a bit dicey. A particular environment produces conditions to which a population then responds. A research job from a biology professor of mine will do fine here: there are two species of fish in a stream, one small, one large. This stream is divided into two sections: an upper area and a lower area. The division is due to a small waterfall. Now, the small fish in the top section of the stream tend to be vibrant in color while the lower small fish are a more gray color. The hypothesis is that the large species of fish is unable to traverse the waterfall so thus unable to eat the upper small fish, hence their vibrancy. So the research team takes some large fish and introduces them into the area with the vibrant fish. Sure enough, the fish lose their vibrancy pretty quickly. Conclusion: The hypothesis was not falsified because a correlation between color vibrancy and survival was shown upon introduction of the large fish species to the upper stream.

So now here’s where the user goes awry.

Hence, natural selection is random.

He concludes that because the selective pressures happen without regard to a particular species that the reaction of the species is thus random. Do you see the inane logic? This is like saying that because what particular rocks, gas, and space junk goes into the making of a planet can be called random that the force behind the accretion process – gravity – is random.

It’s all very simple. Natural selection is the process of differential survival of organisms based upon how they respond to a given environment. That means that natural selection happens with regard to adaptability. And maybe this is the kicker for this silly creationist. That’s really all “non random” means – with regard to adaptability. That’s why any aspect of genetic drift or mutation is considered random. It happens regardless of whether an organism will do better, worse, or the same in its survival. Were natural selection random then we should expect to see a number of vibrant fish swimming around the upper stream which is in comparable proportion to the number swimming around prior to the introduction of the large fish species. Of course we do not see anything like that. What we do see is differential survival based upon the response of the organism to a particular environment – the fish which survived were less vibrant, on average, than the fish which were quickly eaten.

What is a Theory and What is Not a Theory

Ever since the media (apparently not McCain) decided it would be a good idea to finally vet Sarah Palin, much has come to light. I’ll leave discussion of tax plans and foreign policy to the political boards, but there is one thing which really needs to be noted. Palin has said in the past that she thinks both evolution and creationism should be taught, referring to them as theories. She later backed off that statement. In the past couple of months, she further clarified her position:

Couric: Should creationism be allowed to be taught anywhere in public schools?

Palin: Don’t have a problem at all with kids debating all sides of theories, all sides of ideas that they ever – kids do it today whether … it’s on paper, in a curriculum or not. Curriculums also are best left to the local school districts. Instead of Big Brother, federal government telling a district what they can and can’t teach, I would like to see more control taken over by our school boards, by our local schools, and then state government at the most. But federal government, you know, kind of get out of some of this curriculum and let the locals decide what is best for their students.

To any person remotely familiar with science, there should be a glaring initial error in that statement. It doesn’t have to do with the merits of debating evolution, but with this notion that there are alternative theories to evolution. Given the context of what Palin has said in the past in addition to her beliefs, it’s overwhelmingly clear she has it in her head that creationism is somehow a theory. Insofar as my theory that ice cream is great can be considered a theory, yes, creationism is a theory. But it is not in any way a scientific theory. The requirements to reach this high level are rigorous. For starters, what predictions does creationism make? What experiments can be carried out to falsify the hypothesis? Can others repeat these experiments? Are there other plausible explanations? Are there better explanations?

In the case of evolution, we see predictions a-plenty being made. We could easily falsify the hypothesis by finding a rabbit in the pre-Cambrian. And we can culture any number of species and see how they adapt to their environments. In truth, the evidence is far more overwhelming, far more testable, far more falsifiable, and far more concrete than I’ve just touched on here. But that’s a question for later. The question here is, why doesn’t the daughter of a science teacher know the difference between a layman theory and a scientific theory? Hell, why doesn’t an educated adult know this?

The truth is evolution is the backbone to every field of biology. It is what creates a coherent picture. From nucleic acids to substrates fitting active sites to differential survival of members of a population, evolution provides the only sensical view of life from its beginnings – and it has yet to be falsified to any point that isn’t merely a shaping and strengthening of the theory. Sarah Palin should know better.

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