googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Natural Selection, Evolution, and Watermelons

Friday, January 18, 2013

Natural Selection, Evolution, and Watermelons

I live in Louisville, Kentucky. Louisville lies on the banks of the Ohio River which borders Indiana. Like many bordering states, the people of Louisville have a sort of friendly rivalry with the people in IN. I could tell you a hundred jokes about Indiana but today I'm only going to tell you one.

One day, a Hoosier (people from IN are called, “Hoosiers”), decided he was going to start his own business. He knew about a farm in KY that grew delicious watermelons so he drove his truck across the river and bought a truck load at the cheap price of 3 for $1. He drove back home and set up a roadside stand where he sold them for 25 cents each!

The watermelons were very popular and the man sold out very quickly. He drove back to KY for more and those too sold out almost immediately. This went on for a couple of weeks and the man began driving back and forth nearly every day for more watermelons. It wasn't long, however, before the man began to notice he had less money after each trip.

The man's father stopped by to see how his son was doing. The struggling marketer told his father how the watermelons were very popular and sold like crazy but he still seemed to be losing money. Of course he also told him about the great price he was getting on the watermelons in KY. The father scratched his head for a while and considered the situation. Suddenly, an idea occurred to him. He slapped his son on the back enthusiastically, “Cheer up, boy, I've got it! What you need to do is buy a bigger truck!”

They say a joke isn't funny if you have to explain it. Where this Hoosier went wrong seems fairly obvious but I'm going to explain it just in case anyone missed it (after all, there may be Hoosiers reading this). He was buying watermelons at 33.3 cents each and selling them for 25 cents. In other words, he was losing 8.3 cents on each watermelon. You will never make money by losing a little bit at a time – it doesn't matter how long you do it. A bigger truck only means he would lose money faster.

Natural selection is an observed phenomenon where traits not suited to the environment are removed from the population. In the famous, peppered moth example of “evolution,” birds would eat light or dark colored moths as environmental factors changed. Over time, the ratio of light/dark moth in the population would change and evolutionists call any type of change, “evolution.” According to evolutionists, these little changes (microevolution) will accumulate over time to become big changes (macroevolution). It's lie number 5 of the five lies evolutionists tell.

My question to evolutionists has always been, “how long would birds have to eat one color of moth until new colors appear?” The significance of the question usually escapes them but the answer is obvious. You cannot create new colors by continuously removing one color. It doesn't matter how long you do it. It would be the same in a population of white and black mice, if someone continuously killed the white mice. Eventually it would be a population of only black mice. The descendant population will have fewer colors than the original population. Duh!

For evolution to occur, new traits have to be added to the population. For a dinosaur to become a bird, you have to add feathers. The supposed first ancestor did not have feathers. Neither did it have hair or scales or even skin. Nor did it have bones, blood, or organs. For a bacterium to become a bird, there must be a continuous parade of novel features added. That is the only way for one kind of creature to become another kind.

Evolutionists love to bring up examples of natural selection and say it's evolution. They believe the change just needs to happen for a long enough time. If natural selection REMOVES traits and evolution requires animals to ACQUIRE traits, then we have a problem. Natural selection is the opposite of evolution. Continuously removing traits will never add traits no matter how long it continues. It's like trying to make money by losing a little bit at a time. The idea that microevolution plus time equals macroevolution is a joke. It's a joke funnier than the one above because the one above is fictional and the evolutionists are serious.

I agree that populations change. I don't agree that “change” over a long time could ever amount to evolution. Time is not the savior of evolution. Time is the “bigger truck” of evolution.


Todd Williams said...

Nice to see you back, Robert! Thanks for the post. I can't tell you how many people I've come across that are happy to equivocate natural selection to evolution without really thinking it through. It's a simplistic material explanation that allows them to sit comfortably unaware of their creator...really the equivalent of keeping their heads in the sand. I wouldn't include Steven J. in that category, as he actually looks much deeper into ways he believes natural selection and mutation could work together to build genetic code. I wouldn't say that I agree with him, but at least he's going further than 95% of believers in evolution that I've met.

Steven J. said...

I have no idea how long birds would have to eat peppered moths for a new color to appear. On the other hand, the Journal of Heredity (vol. 66, no. 4, pp. 246-247, 1975) reported the appearance of a new color in an inbred line of agouti-colored hamsters. The previous 36 generations had been uniformly agouti, thereby establishing that [a] this was a novel color mutation and [b] that it takes a few dozen generations to produce it. This is, of course, far from the only color mutation to appear in pet hamsters, all of which are descended from a single pregnant female (hence starting with a rather limited gene pool) captured less than 100 years ago. I don't know to what extent this can be extrapolated to Bistula moths, but mutations affecting color are not particularly rare, much less impossible. Your proposed colony of all-black mice, for example, would experience new mutations that would produce the occasional non-black mouse.

An experiment with the single-celled organism Chlorella vulgaris showed that, in response to a predator, some cells began grouping together in colonies, forming a single organism too big to be eaten; this behavior persisted for several generations after the predator was removed, indicating that the change was genetic (and reversible by further mutations, once the selective pressure for multicellularity was reversed).

Note, in general, that known sorts of mutations (single nucleotide substitutions, insertions or deletions of one or more nucleotides, duplication of strings of nucleotides, polyploidy, translocation of strings of nucleotides, insertion of retroviral DNA, etc.) can, in sequence, alter any genome to any other genome. To the extent that the genome contains "information," mutations must logically be capable of producing "new information."

Examples can be multiplied. To discuss natural selection without discussing mutation is to discuss a situation that does not exist in the real world and is irrelevant to it.

Steven J. said...

There's a point I'd like to make about natural selection. Creationists (not you, that I recall, but others) sometimes argue that evolutionary theory makes a virtue out of death, since death weeds out the unfit. But that's not quite right. Evolution would still work in a world without death, as long as there was still reproduction. Granted, such a world would require infinite resources (food, space, etc.), and is rather hard to imagine, but grant it for the moment. Every individual survives, and most breed.

In such a world, all the mutations that built up, e.g. a blue whale from some Pikaia-like invertebrate chordate would still occur, and be inherited and accumulated in some lineage. It would exist alongside uncountable trillions of trillions of lineages that didn't evolve in any very adaptive way, but then, we're positing infinite resources.

Indeed, in some ways, this deathless, infinite-resource world would see more evolution than the real one: the theory of evolution has for some ninety years now recognized the problem of "local adaptive peaks" (a series of changes would make the organism fitter, but the earliest of those changes would make it less fit -- so the series can't get started). In a deathless world, these less fit progenitors would survive, and eventually some of their descendants would accumulate the right mutations for the better adaption!

But there aren't infinite resources, or anything close to it. The laws of thermodynamics mean that any living organism needs a constant supply of food, and will die without it -- and sooner or later, will die with it, if only due to accident. In a universe bound by the laws of physics, neither immortality nor infinite resources is possible. The point of natural selection, therefore, is not "death is good," or "death is constructive," but "death is not random;" some mutations are vastly more likely to be preserved and propagated than others. Evolution can proceed in spite of death because fitter traits are more likely to survive long enough to be passed on.

RKBentley said...

Steven J,

You said, “I have no idea how long birds would have to eat peppered moths for a new color to appear.”

Let me give you a hint: if you simply remove one color, new colors will never appear. You can't add by continuously removing.

You said, “On the other hand, the Journal of Heredity (vol. 66, no. 4, pp. 246-247, 1975) reported the appearance of a new color in an inbred line of agouti-colored hamsters.”

That's somewhat interesting. What color was it? Was it something like blue or green? You see, hamsters come in a lot of colors but I'm pretty sure they don't come in new colors. If a long succession of non-banded coated hamsters suddenly produced some banded offspring, I'm not too impressed. If they produced a blue or green haired litter, then you might be on to something.

You said, “Note, in general, that known sorts of mutations (single nucleotide substitutions, insertions or deletions of one or more nucleotides, duplication of strings of nucleotides, polyploidy, translocation of strings of nucleotides, insertion of retroviral DNA, etc.) can, in sequence, alter any genome to any other genome. To the extent that the genome contains "information," mutations must logically be capable of producing "new information."”

I'm not sure how “logical” that is. You could technically argue that rearranging the letters in a word creates new information but that doesn't explain the first origin of the letters nor does it explain the origin of new letters. There's also the question of what is meant by “information.” The letters in the name “Carson” could be rearranged to spell “acorns.” However, acorns only has meaning in English so the language must already exist for the words to have meaning.

You said, “Examples can be multiplied. To discuss natural selection without discussing mutation is to discuss a situation that does not exist in the real world and is irrelevant to it.”

Let's cut to the chase, is natural selection synonymous with evolution? Please make your position clear.

Evolutionists quite unashamedly conflate the two. Like I said, natural selection is the opposite of evolution. Evolution can only occur when animals acquire traits and natural selection can only remove traits. Now, I agree that evolution is only possible where there is natural selection but natural selection does not depend on evolution. In the peppered moth examples, the light or dark moth was selected based on environmental factors. The population did not change because of mutations yet your team still loves to call it “evolution.”

Thanks for your comments. God bless!!


RKBentley said...


You're absolutely right. I think I know why they conflate natural selection and evolution. They are trying to leverage examples of something we do observe (natural selection) to make plausible something we don't observe (evolution).

I've cited instances where mainstream sources, like “Scientific American,” use the terms interchangeably in the same sentence. It's quite shameful.

Thanks for your comments. God bless!!


RKBentley said...


I've been thinking about your “deathless evolution” comment and thought I'd add my thoughts. Let me start by saying that I've never thought that non-believing evolutionists see “virtue” in death. I would say they see death only as a cruel (but indifferent) reality. I have said that theistic evolutionists see a sort of virtue in death. They actually believe God used death as a tool to create. You might read The Paleobabbler's blog where he expressed this very view.

I'm not sure exactly how creatures would evolve without death. I've already said that evolution is wholly dependent on natural selection. How can anything be “selected” if everything works? For example, if all animals can get food, then what advantage is fast over slow? Why would anything need to be a better hunter if it never has to kill anything? A slow, blind, stupid creature would live just as well as a quick, alert, cunning one if neither had to worry about surviving.

The only evolution that would be possible would be in sexual selection. Whichever animal leaves the most offspring would likely pass on those traits that allowed it to attract the most mates. Thus, the “attractive” mutations would become more and more abundant over time.

Of course, such an idea is academic. It may be interesting but it's pointless. We all die and death will reign until Christ returns.

God bless!!


Steven J. said...

I'm not quite sure what you mean when you ask if I think natural selection is synonymous with evolution. On the one hand, no, of course it is not. Natural selection is no more synonymous with evolution than a car motor is synonymous with a trip to the store. The one is a cause of the other, not the same.

But I think you are accusing evolutionists of conflating natural selection with evolution when you actually mean that they cite minor adaptive changes "within kinds" with evolution. This goes back to your earlier rejection of the term "evolution" to describe any change in the frequency of inheritable traits in a population (or, more generally, any sort of change in a population that you think is compatible with biblical creationism).

Evolutionists define evolution as they define it, and by that definition, many changes that you dismiss as "just natural selection" are in fact evolution (that is, the change itself is evolution; natural selection -- non-random survival of variant offspring -- is the cause).

Note, by the way, that the fact that mutations are not specifically mentioned does not mean that none have occurred: in the peppered moth example, for example, the black morph seems never to have been observed prior to the 19th century, implying that it was itself a novel mutation, an addition to the mix of traits in the population before natural selection started subtracting traits. Given observed mutation rates, presumably new mutations, mostly neutral and trivial, are being added in each generation.

Two further notes:

First, if multiple traits in different individuals make those individuals more likely to survive and reproduce, then the fact that individuals with these traits have more descendants than individuals without them means that eventually, every potential mate will have at least one of them -- so natural selection causes the accumulation of traits that did not occur in the same ancestors to be more probable and happen faster (in that sense, evolution in my "infinite resources, deathless world" might be slower -- I haven't done the math for it). In this respect, natural selection can be additive, not just subtractive, even without taking mutations into account.

Second, in point of fact, natural selection is not the sole cause of evolution. "Genetic drift" (purely random change in the frequency of traits that are all equally fit) has been recognized as a possible sort of evolution since the formation of the "modern synthesis" in the 1930's, and was brought into prominence by the work of Motoo Kimura in the 1960s. Neutral drift is why molecular clocks work, to the extent that they work. Natural selection is still thought to be the only significant cause of adaption, but not all evolution is adaptive.

Steven J. said...

Regarding new mutation and new information: you're not raising the proper objection to my argument. When I pointed out (quite correctly) that logically, mutations can change any sequence to any other, I automatically addressed the question of meaningfullness and new information (if I can add, subtract, duplicate, and switch around letters at random, I can turn "Carson" into any word in any language that can be written in the Latin alphabet).

The proper objection is to look back to my mention of "local adaptive peaks." It is conceivable that every "kind" occupies an island with a typical, shifting "fitness landscape" (so that species can change "within kinds" and adapt in different ways while remaining in the same "kind"), but that there are immense, unalterable canyons of globally low fitness between these islands -- so that any sort of evolutionary change that would move a population out of a "kind" makes it less fit, so that while there are myriad chains of mutations that could change, e.g. a monkey into a man, every one of those mutational paths leads through a region of grossly inferior fitness that natural selection cannot cross. Then we can argue over whether this is in fact correct.

Asking where the genetic "letters" first came from is moving the goalposts, from evolution to abiogenesis. However, the formation of nucleotides, at least, is simple chemistry; they, and other components of DNA, are formed naturally from simpler chemicals under many conditions. Getting them together to form DNA is an unsolved problem, though, e.g. the formation of RNA precursors from inorganic common chemicals at the University of Manchester in the UK suggests that it may not be unsolved forever.

The "meaning" of nucleotidds -- the correlation between the 64 three-nucleotide codons used in DNA and the 20 amino acids used in proteins -- does not seem to be random but is correlated with the chemical properties of the nucleotides themselves. Presumably, the meaning of the genetic alphabet, like the letters themselves, arose through the laws of chemistry.