Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Evolution and Evolvability: A New Kind of Science

The basic idea behind evolution is rather simple: in times of difficulty not everyone survives, or at least not everyone reproduces. Those who are faster, bigger, taller, stronger, smarter, or whatever it is that makes for successful reproduction, will do just that. And those who lack the requisite capabilities will not reproduce, or not reproduce as prolifically. One way or another, the result is that, in those difficult times, future generations are more representative of the winners. The traits of the successful reproducers are passed on more often. This means the population undergoes a change—it evolves.

Just this sort of change has been demonstrated by the breeders and Darwin surmised that nature could do the same thing, except to a greater degree given long time periods and the ruthless, unending battle for survival. In all of this there is, however, the basic assumption that populations just naturally have significant variation.

Evolution relies on the fact that populations consist of individuals of various sizes, shapes and skills. For a given environment some individuals are going to be better reproducers than others. It is a simple fact that seems so obvious no one ever much questioned it.

But in the twentieth century a great deal was learned about genetics and how such biological variations arise in populations. It isn't simple.

Biological variation arises as a consequence of a profoundly complex Mendelian machine consisting of genes and their interactions, molecular machines that replicate and copy the DNA, other machines that translate the copied DNA into proteins according to the genetic code, and so forth. If the resulting biological variation is the fuel of evolution, then how did the variation, and its underlying machines, arise in the first place?

With evolution we must believe that evolution just so happened to create elaborate machinery which just so happened to enable further evolution to occur. Evolvability must have evolved.

I say "just so happened" not in derision, but rather to describe evolutionary theory. Remember, the idea behind evolution is that a population will change because the winners are better represented in future generation. In other words, we can expect the future generations to be better at reproducing. That does not mean we should expect more biological variation via incredibly complex molecular machines acting in coordinated fashion. As one evolutionist admitted in a recent paper:

If evolvability represents the long-term evolutionary potential of a population, there is no reason why individual selection will necessarily maximize it. On the contrary, logically, individual selection could have the effect of destroying evolvability. … one can imagine that fixation of the fittest genotype from those presently available might have detrimental effects on the population’s evolvability—its ability to adapt in the future. … It could be that individual species show a tendency to evolve towards an inability to respond adaptively to subsequent environmental changes—at the level of individual selection, non-evolvability could, in principle, be favoured.

This reveals a profound serendipity in evolutionary theory. Evolution relies on a biological variation machine which did not need to be present. It just so happened that evolvability evolved so evolution could occur.

But this is not all. This problem of complex biological variation, which has been known for many years, is now being amplified by new research showing that biological variation is not only awfully convenient, but that this variation in populations actually responds to environmental challenges.

When there is an environmental shift species amazingly, in direct contradiction to evolutionary theory, respond rapidly and effectively to the new challenge. Sometimes the response is an invisible molecular adjustment that alters the metabolism; in other instances the organism's entire body plan is modified. From molecular to morphological change, biological adaptations are rapid and effective.

As if evolution was not silly enough already, science increasingly reveals its absurdities. Only religious convictions can find such mythology to be fact. Evolutionists now speak of adaptive mutations and adaptive substitutions. And they wonder how their blind process could design such intelligence. How could differential reproductive success lead to organisms that amazingly adapt to change? How could evolution produce machines tuned and ready to adjust to the environment? Like physiological changes that adjust an individual to environmental changes, adaptive changes adjust a population to environmental changes. In both cases biology relies on profoundly complex mechanisms.

Since evolutionists are convinced their idea must be a fact, they must believe this all makes perfect sense. Somehow, in this mockery of science, evolvability evolves. For instance:

For Kirshner & Gerhart (1998), the developmental process, in animals in particular, is such as to enhance the probability that new mutations changing phenotype will be adaptive, and the adaptive substitutions occurring serve to reinforce the ability of the developmental process to subsequently change adaptively. Draghi & Wagner (2007) have argued on theoretical grounds that adaptive substitutions will tend to increase future adaptability.

Amazing. I guess we're just living in the right universe. Religion drives science, and it matters.

18 comments:

  1. 人類最大的悲劇不是死亡,而是沒有掌握有意義的人生..................................................

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  2. Hi there,



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    DIARY NOTE



    38th TEMPLETON PRIZE WINNER TO BE ANNOUNCED



    Event: News conference

    Date: 25 March 2010, 15.00 GMT

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    Live webcast: www.templetonprize.org



    The world’s largest annual award, the £1,000,000 Templeton prize, will be announced on Thursday 25 March at 15.00 GMT at a press conference in Washington DC and broadcast live online.



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  3. To Peter,

    Whats the point of posting a youtube video "Can a Christian accept Evolution?" We are not talking about salvation here are we? A Christian can accept a flat Earth if he/she wants to. It still does not mean that a flat Earth is true.

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  4. Cornelius Hunter: This means the population undergoes a change—it evolves.

    Good.

    Cornelius Hunter: With evolution we must believe that evolution just so happened to create elaborate machinery which just so happened to enable further evolution to occur.

    Evolution does require replication, but replication necessarily entails the introduction of variation. We can often trace the origin of particular mutations in animal husbandry, for instance.

    Cornelius Hunter: If evolvability represents the long-term evolutionary potential of a population, there is no reason why individual selection will necessarily maximize it. On the contrary, logically, individual selection could have the effect of destroying evolvability.

    And we often see that in nature, when an organism becomes highly specialized for its niche. When the niche disappears, the organisms will often go extinct. Other organisms are generalists, and are more likely to survive changing environments.

    Cornelius Hunter: As one evolutionist admitted in a recent paper:

    It's always worth a giggle when you use the word "admit." In a changeable environment, we can show that generalists will be more likely to leave descendents over the long run.

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  5. On the contrary, logically, individual selection could have the effect of destroying evolvability. … one can imagine that fixation of the fittest genotype from those presently available might have detrimental effects on the population’s evolvability—its ability to adapt in the future. … It could be that individual species show a tendency to evolve towards an inability to respond adaptively to subsequent environmental changes—at the level of individual selection, non-evolvability could, in principle, be favoured.

    The problem with "evolution" like that is that it was never a scientific theory to begin with, despite a lot of peer reviewed literature being devoted to it. In this case, of course evolution can create or destroy evolvability based on imaginary events in the past.

    And?

    Stated another way:
    With principles such as these, anything can be explained, and so can its contrary.
    [...]
    All this is certainly somewhat tautological, but on balance it leads us to believe that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds. With the success of superior beings assured, humanity can march forward to the superman. But this would be a mistake…. It turns out that the best are not always the best; often it is the worst that win out…

    (The Pure Society: from Darwin to Hitler by Andre Pichot :12-13)

    This is why opponents of evolution, whatever it is, often find themselves stuck in hypothetical goo. If they say that evolution is falsified based on empirical evidence then it turns out that it has not been because another set of imaginary events can be created to explain the exact opposite.

    Even biologists, who are for the most part imbeciles in my experience, sometimes notice that imagining things about the past is not a scientific theory or scientia/knowledge of any sort. Unfortunately in my experience they're usually too busy arguing that they're just like physicists or pretending that they have a "theory" of evolution to notice the distinction.

    There is no theory of evolution.

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  6. It's always worth a giggle when you use the word "admit."

    The irony being that there is virtually nothing there to admit to or adhere to in the first place.

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  7. mynym: Even biologists, who are for the most part imbeciles in my experience, sometimes notice that imagining things about the past is not a scientific theory or scientia/knowledge of any sort.

    Quite a persuasive "argument."

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  8. If some organisms have evolved the capability to evolve some more, how does science account for the animals that have hardly evolved at all?

    How did the process of natural selection determine that those animals were "perfect" and did not need to evolve any further?

    Surely, random genetic changes were still occurring in those animals, or were they? Either random genetic changes had to stop altogether or all the genetic changes that did occur somehow were not the right ones.

    Of course, the answer is that the animal found its "niche" and didn't have have to evolve any further to survive.

    I believe it was David Berlinski who said, "Whatever will be, will be."

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  9. Doublee:

    Can you give an example of animal that do not evolve?

    Even if the external appearance remain mostly unchanged for long time period, can you really exclude the possibility that the immune system (or the metabolism, the DNA repair machinery, etc...) evolved?

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  10. Quite a persuasive "argument."

    Pointing out the distinction between imagining things about the past and empirical evidence is not an argument, it is an observation based on logic and evidence.

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  11. Charles:
    Can you give an example of an animal that did not evolve?

    In the sense that you ask the question, no. I was thinking of major morphological transformations.

    The animal that prompted my comment is the horse shoe crab. The coelacanth is another animal that came to mind.

    Animals do reach a stable morphological state as indicated by their longevity in the fossil record, and we do have so-called living fossils such as the horse shoe crab.

    It seems then the theory of evolution has to explain two contrary results; either that or we would need both a theory of evolution and a theory of stability.

    If the theory of evolution relies on the repeated occurrence of random genetic changes to explain the changes in the history of life, upon what does the theory rely to explain the lack of those changes?

    My confusion about the theory that prompted my original post remains:

    Either random genetic changes had to stop altogether or all the genetic changes that did occur somehow were not the right ones.

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  12. One important goal in cross-examination is to have the witness agree to propositions that support the evidence of one's own witness in chief.

    I was quite impressed with Z's ability to cross-examine himself so as to support CH's points.

    As for Charles, one might point to horseshoe crabs or the tuatara, but of course it is not possible to falsify what you claim since you argue from silence. That is, regardless of the genetic state of the present day horseshoe crab, you can speculate that at some point in the past the h. crab had a slightly different genetic make-up. Since we don't have access to ancient h. crab DNA, it's impossible to prove you wrong.

    regards,
    #John

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  13. I'm not familiar with the horseshoe crab, but one way I can think of to demonstrate my point would be to compare it's genomic sequence with other organisms of the same family to retrace the changes since they diverged.

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  14. Another way to see this would be to consider one extreme: the modern horseshoe crab is the exact clone of it's ancestor. Of course, that would most likely be a strawman (I hope). Now, if you say that this specie have accumulated less changes over time than the average specie, which is not impossible, it would be better to be more specific (i.e.: if you are saying that it's size didn't change, you could try to find which genes are influencing it's size and if there is evidence for negative selection).

    Since the fossil record tells us species tend to change over time, and there are plenty of mechanisms that can induce change in a genome (meiotic cross-over, sexual reproduction, imperfect repair of DNA, etc...), it's generally a safer bet to say an organism changed unless specific data don't fit.

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  15. Doublee: If the theory of evolution relies on the repeated occurrence of random genetic changes to explain the changes in the history of life, upon what does the theory rely to explain the lack of those changes?

    You are somewhat confused on how evolution is posited to work. Novel variations are always occurring, but if an organism is well-adapted to its niche, then natural selection will tend to maintain its fit, discarding most novelties. That's called stabilizing selection. If the environment changes, then selection will contingently result in new adaptations.

    Horseshoe crabs have evolved, forming the familiar phylogenetic tree. However, they have maintained their overall array of adaptations, so they are often considered "living fossils."

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  16. Doublee asks: "If some organisms have evolved the capability to evolve some more, how does science account for the animals that have hardly evolved at all?"

    This is a worthwhile question.

    In fact, many animals that have a basal position on broad phylogenetic trees occupy marginal, specialised niches, such as high trophic level positions. As the flow of energy between trophic levels is relatively inefficient, only small populations are generally sustained (despite our anthropocentric view that high order predators are successful species). In small populations, genetic drift is relatively prevalent, and so such a species will either evolve a lower mutation rate or will become extinct. Those that are extant are the former species.

    A good example in the literature is Hackett et al.'s (2008) molecular phylogeny of avian taxa. http://www1.it.luc.edu/biology/reddy/hackett2008.pdf
    See the basal placement of the large predatory birds and carrion feeders (Fig 2), matched with substantially depressed evolutionary rates (Fig 3).

    Before Cornelius or a sympathiser claims that this is some sort of voodoo, there certainly are many documented variations in mutation rates and many known mechanisms that can result in this. In this circumstance a subpopulation with a lowered mutation rate will preferentially survive if the others mutate themselves to extinction.

    Thus on a DNA level, which also flows into the morphological level, evolutionary rates are heterogenous across clades of species, leaving some relatively slowly evolved species.

    Over the long term, however, such species are less capable of evolving with environmental change and may be more prone to extinction.

    On the other hand, apomorphic taxa, regardless of how well fit they are, do typically exhibit high levels of genetic change, relative to other species.

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  17. If some organisms have evolved the capability to evolve some more, how does science account for the animals that have hardly evolved at all?

    Evolution is not driven by a 'desire' to evolve into a better species, it is driven by changes in the environment, by the fact the predators are evolving, and that the availability of resources changes. What it means when a species doesn't evolve for long periods of time or only evolves slightly is that there is no need for evolution in that species' environment. If there is no pressure from the environment to evolve certain characteristics, then they won't evolve. Evolution is driven by competition and changes in the environment, it is not driven inherently by some kind of abstract need to change. It is true that those most successful at mating will produce most offspring, but those most successful at mating will probably be those who are most adapted to the environment - and if the environment is not changing, neither will those most adapted to it. Hence no or very little evolution.

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