August 16, 2021 | David F. Coppedge

Natural Selection Is a Reckless Driver

Natural selection is blind and doesn’t care where it is headed.
If it drives anything, it drives creatures extinct. Get out of the car.


“Natural selection” is one of the most useless phrases in all of science. We call it the “Stuff Happens Law” because no matter what feature is observed in the natural world—good, bad or indifferent—it gets attributed to natural selection. The same “law of natural selection” can produce opposite outcomes. There is no equation for it.* Natural selection commits the fallacy of personification: who is the Selector? Neil Thomas discussed this cogently in his new book, Taking Leave of Darwin (2021):

Darwin wanted to have his cake and eat it too. Natural selection is a mindless process; Darwin was adamant about that. Yet he habitually repaired to purposive terminology in his descriptions of it, as when he limned natural selection’s construction of the eye: “We must suppose that there is a power always intently watching each slight accidental alteration of the transparent layers [of the eye]; and carefully selecting each alteration which, under varied circumstances, may be in any way, or in any degree, tend to produce a distincter image.”

One might legitimately ask, how it is possible to “intently watch” and “carefully select” unintelligently? That is entirely discrepant with what Darwin elsewhere claimed for the process he invoked. The contradiction points to a more than trivial conceptual confusion, and I would surmise that the very phraseology Darwin uses reveals that he must have had some awareness of the illogicality of his own position, even if only in some barely conscious level of apprehension. (p. 116)

Selectionists have another bad habit of portraying natural selection as a “driver” of evolutionary change. If it is, it is a reckless driver that will take its passengers off a cliff. The illogicality of that phraseology is similarly apparent. One cannot consider a driver going blindly in all directions to be a driver at all. It would be worse than Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Here’s an example of this bad habit.

Anolis lizard with inflated dewlap (Wiki Commons)

Same dance, different species: how natural selection drives common behaviour of lizards (University of New South Wales). The press release written obligingly by Diane Nazaroff leads with a photo of a well-designed male Anolis lizard with bright red dewlap (a throat fan, attractive to females). Nazaroff, led by her university overlords in the science building, announces “A surprising study on the behaviour of unrelated lizards demonstrates how evolution can lead to different species learning the same skills.” This will be another treatise on convergent evolution: one of natural selection’s nifty tricks that contradicts Darwin’s own expectations of a branching tree.

Like a novelist, she entices with a dramatic lead-in about a lizard on a Jamaican island bobbing its head and pulsing its dewlap to attract a mate. But then she tells about another lizard in Kuala Lumpur that performs a similar dance to warn a rival it is trespassing. Natural selection must have been “driving” these unrelated lizards to converge on the same dance! How fascinating!

A surprising study on the behaviour of unrelated lizards demonstrates how evolution can lead to different species learning the same skills.

Remarkably, they have evolved the same strategy to cope with the same selection problems, Dr Terry Ord from the Evolution & Ecology Research Centre at the UNSW School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences says.

According to his research published in Ecology Letters, this scenario of two unrelated lizards displaying similar behaviour shows that natural selection directs evolution towards the same common set of adaptive outcomes over and over again.

You can watch the lizards do their dewlap dance in video clips in the article. But Ord is confused. Is natural selection in the driver’s seat? Or is it the lizard? In the next sentence, we hear:

“The surprise is that lizards in both groups have evolved remarkably similar displays for communication, but they also tailor the production of those displays according to the prevailing conditions experienced at the time of display,” Dr Ord says.

The personification of natural selection continues in the article. Natural selection is powerful. Natural selection is subtle. But is it more than explanatory arm-waving?

But what this study highlights, he says, is what many evolutionary ecologists have argued – that natural selection is an extremely powerful process that can override the “baggage” of past history to produce the same adaptations.

“So if arm-waving is the most effective solution to some change in the environment, then natural selection would ultimately lead to its evolution rather than a more subtle (less effective) modification to an existing vocal call,” he says.

Ord thinks that natural selection led distant lizards to converge on push-ups. Presumably if a man in Jamaica learns that push-ups give him bigger arms, and a man in Kuala Lumpur learns the same thing, this would be an example of “convergent evolution” driven by the Stuff Happens Law.

Natural selection is blind, they say. What’s blind is the logic of these lizard zoologists. They can’t figure out who is driving. Is convergent evolution driving? Or are the lizards driving? Whatever stuff has happened, they’re all excited about Mr. Toad’s driving. It’s a thrill ride!

“Evolutionary biologists are excited about convergent evolution because it gives us multiple examples of the same adaptation evolving time and time again in very different animals.

“So it tells us what the challenges are faced by these animals and how they have solved it in terms of evolutionary adaptation.”

Ord goes on to say that convergent evolution happens all over the animal world. But what have evolutionists done other than attach a catchy phrase to a phenomenon? Both “natural selection” and “convergent evolution” seem magical: diverging and converging, adding and subtracting, advancing and retreating, driving and being driven. Add in more Darwin Flubber, and natural selection will do anything you want.

The evolutionists expect us to believe that natural selection is occurring right before our eyes. Neil Thomas recalls Tommy Cooper, a TV comedy magician in the 1980s who enjoyed unmasking the deceptions of conjurers, and simultaneously getting his audiences to laugh at their own credulity.

I sometimes think of Cooper’s mocking catch-phrase “just like that” as being a snappier (and more honest) synonym for the more portentous “natural selection.” For as nineteenth-century Princeton theologian Charles Hodge saw the matter, natural selection was “a blind process of unintelligible, unconscious force, which knows no end and adopts no means.” It’s no wonder that the matter is rarely put this baldly, of course. If you want to skirt the damning admission that your theory is in any sense magical or metaphysical, you will have to resort to euphemistic periphrasis.

So natural selection drives some animals apart, and other animals together. Just like that!

Natural selection is Darwin’s abracadabra. He realized, though, that it couldn’t be used for the origin of life. Later disciples of Darwin conjured up another magic word for chemical evolution: Aminocamino! Just like that!

*The ratio dN/dS appears in some evolution papers as a quasi-mathematical measure of selection (e.g., dN/dS > 1 supposedly means positive selection), but this is a proxy, not a direct relationship to a trait that shows improved fitness. Evolutionists assumed that non-synonymous mutations (dN) indicate the action of selection, whereas synonymous mutations (dS) indicate genetic drift. Since then, however, synonymous substitutions have been shown to have functional roles in protein regulation. Recently the ratio as a measure of positive selection was shown to be indistinguishable from chance. For more about this, see our 22 May 2020 entry, “Positive selection is a myth.”




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Categories: Darwin and Evolution

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