Natural Selection Theory Makes Scientists Lazy
‘Natural selection’ is a vacuous concept that provides a convenient way out from doing the hard work of science.
In the history of science, certain concepts have seemed intuitively obvious to natural philosophers, beyond the need of questioning. To Ptolemy, the earth was fixed. To Greeks and medieval scholars, sickness was caused by humors or vapors. To early moderns, vermin sprang from filth (spontaneous generation). Victorians believed in the myth of progress (which Darwin’s theory fit perfectly). In the 20th century, Marxists explained everything as manifestations of the “class struggle” (which also fit the ideas of Darwin and Malthus).
Rather than question whether these concepts could bear the weight of the evidence, the true believers merely assumed them. It should not be surprising, therefore, that scientists in the 21st century have their own myths. As we shall see, “natural selection” is the current myth in biology. Many lazy scientists feel they have done their work to simply refer to natural selection as the cause of whatever phenomenon they are investigating. If you don’t believe it, here are some recent examples in the news.
[Note: Please read the sections “Clarifying the Claim” and “What to Look For” in the January 10 article before proceeding.]
Natural selection and spatial memory link shown in mountain chickadee research (Science Daily). Scientists in Reno, Nevada collected data on survival of chickadees in the Sierra Nevada mountains in wintertime. “Chickadees with better learning and memory skills, needed to find numerous food caches, are more likely to survive their first winter, a long-term study of mountain chickadees has found.” Why was that? “Enhanced spatial cognition and brain power evolves via natural selection,” they conclude. But if natural selection (NS) were a directional, progressive law of nature, chickadees would be today’s Einsteins after millions of years. Why would any dumb chicks be born? And yet all through the research, the chickadees were still chickadees! No speciation occurred. Darwin used NS to explain the origin of species—indeed, the entire biosphere—not just variations within species. The students involved worked hard on data collection, but here’s what one said: “Results like these (about natural selection) make the long days of digging out snowmobiles, shoveling snow and programming our chickadee feeders from underneath a tarp in sleeting weather worth the effort twice over.” They were not lazy about data collection, certainly; they were lazy about explanation. Other possibilities than NS should have been considered, such as pre-programmed adaptability. Saying “Stuff Happens” (NS) says nothing at all.
Darwin’s finches don’t tell the whole story of avian evolution (Phys.org). This article provides good news and bad news. The good news is that the icon of Darwin’s finches is in trouble (again). The bad news is that the scientists at University College London won’t let go of their lucky charm, natural selection, which perpetuated the icon to begin with. The authors show extreme bird beaks which, they agree, cannot be explained by natural selection due to competition for food. But like a bad habit, in comes the old NS mindset. Measuring beaks and skulls, they tell a new selectionist just-so story:
The researchers also discovered that birds who eat grains—such as finches and quail—and those who survive on the nectar of flowers—like hummingbirds—exhibit the highest rate of cranial evolution. By contrast, terrestrial carnivores—hawks, falcons, owls and other birds who hunt and eat using their talons—exhibit a very slow rate of cranial change.
“This is where natural selection comes into play,” said Professor Anjali Goswami, a Research Leader at the Natural History Museum and a co-author on the study.
“Birds that eat nectar or seeds are going to experience lots of competition for resources and must evolve in order to survive.“
In the end, they admit their story is simplistic. “Our study focused on the skull, but we hypothesise that other parts of the body could be shaped by diet and ecology, such as wings, talons, and stomachs,” they say, raising the perhapsimaybecouldness index to justify their lazy explanation.
Darwin’s rabbit helps to explain the fightback against myxomatosis (Phys.org). Examples of resistance to pathogens are often cited as examples of NS in action. “Nearly seventy years after myxomatosis decimated the rabbit populations of Australia, Britain and France, a new study reveals how the species has evolved genetic resistance to the disease through natural selection,” the story goes. In this case again, though, the research starts and ends with one species. Nothing evolved. Take away the threat, and the population would probably return to its previous ratio. The flawed reasoning in this article could be applied to Jews in WWII. Did the ones who survived the death camps evolve resistance to Nazism by natural selection? Perish the thought!
How genes and evolution shape gender – and transgender – identity (The Conversation). This article represents a new low in selection theory. It demonstrates that having a PhD is no protection from absurdity and social pressure. Dr Jenny Graves claims that our sexual identity is selected (naturally) by the genes of the opposite sex. And then she uses this claim to rationalize the gender fluidity trend, saying:
These variants of sexual identity and behaviour may therefore be considered examples of what we call “sexual antagonism”, in which a gene variant has different selective values in men and women. It makes for the amazing variety of human sexual behaviours that we are beginning to recognise.
Is she a racist? Does she not realize that we are all Homo sapiens? Is she denying free will? Then, logically, natural selection must have caused her to write comedy, as she follows social fads off the cliff.
Folks, if you want to evolve resistance to Darwine, then please learn the art of Baloney Detecting.