Conflating Natural Selection with Evolution

Evolutionary scientists recently announced a study that many are claiming is proof of evolution in vertebrates.  However, as usual with evolutionary ideas, there is a lot of smoke and mirrors going on which obscures the facts. Words are being thrown around which are being used to mean multiple things without a clear change in meaning.  There has been no observational proof of evolution. It’s all in the words the evolutionists choose to use.  Instead, evolutionists are conflating natural selection with evolution….again.

The study was incredibly thorough and well constructed if the point was to prove natural selection exists. Scientists captured hundreds of light and dark colored mice from a habitat area in northern Nebraska. The genotypes of each group of mice were sequenced.  The researchers then constructed two massive enclosures and released mice into each.  Half the dark-colored mice were released onto dark soil where they were more naturally camouflaged and half were released on lighter soil where they were easy to spot.  The same strategy was used for the lighter colored mice. The researchers then left and came back after three months of allowing the mice to live in their new enclosure, exposed to the elements and the possibility of predators.  Upon their return, to the surprise of absolutely no one, the light colored mice had survived much better on the light soil and the darker mice had survived much better on the darker soil.

The researchers found that a mutation in the genome of the mice had an impact on their survival. This particular mutation deleted an amino acid in the darker colored mice, allowing their offspring to become lighter. In the lighter colored environment, this mutation was favored, leading to an increase in lighter colored mice.  In the darker environment, this mutation was not favored and did not proliferate in the population. From this, the evolutionary scientists deduced that evolution had occurred. “So I think this is a very satisfying illustration of the full process of evolution, from the ecological consequences of these phenotype changes down the molecular details.” Lead researcher Hopi Hoekstra told ScienceDaily.

Critical examination reveals that, as usual, evolutionists are equivocating on the word “evolution”.  Evolutionists use the term “evolution” about as loosely as they can. In this instance, the word is being used to mean variation produced by natural selection. However, the implication is that all live somehow evolved from nothing and that this study is proof. That is a serious over-extrapolation from the available data. While there certainly was change, apart from some old earth heretics, no one denies that change occurs within a group. What creationists argue is that change is limited to within the group and that no new groups are formed.  This study is certainly evidence of natural selection guiding changes within the group. It is not evidence of the rise of a new group.

Further, this mutation is not beneficial, which some evolutionists will assuredly argue. A truly beneficial mutation must be beneficial across the board and have no drawbacks. This mutation is only situationally beneficial. If the mutation occurred in a population living in dark soil, natural selection would weed it out. Light coated mice would stick out like snow on asphalt in a dark-colored environment. Predators would feast on the veritable smorgasbord of essentially free food. That hardly qualifies as a beneficial mutation in any meaningful way.

This study is very illustrative of the traditional evolutionary way of arguing. They attempt to define evolution as simply the results of natural selection. They then redefine the word mid-argument to mean vast amount of changes over long periods of time.  Some of them do it deliberately but most have simply been conditioned to believe that the results of natural selection are the same as macroevolution. They saw the examples in their textbooks in high school and college which were undoubtedly examples of natural selection working on a population, and were never taught to critically analyze them.  Unfortunately for their dogma, natural selection is not the same as evolution.  Change over time happens, no doubt, but this change is small and limited to small changes, such as the change in coat color in a population this study demonstrated. No new kinds have arisen. Mice have remained mice.

3 Comments

  1. Your concept of beneficial mutation is certainly novel (might we say a mutation?-). You say “A truly beneficial mutation must be beneficial across the board and have no drawbacks.” I’ve not been able to think of a single genetic variant that fits that description and so I can’t think of any beneficial genetic variants. For example, you seem to think that the darker allele (presumably the ancestral allele) is a “good” or beneficial gene but that allele is not beneficial on a light surfaced as proven in this experiment so by your definition both alleles are non-beneficial. In fact there is no allele that determines color that could possible be considered truly beneficial.

    I would say there are mutations for which it is hard to imagine any benefit and thus we could call them bad mutations but no mutation (or original condition for that matter) confers only benefit. Consider a mutation that makes an antifreeze protein more efficient. That mutation is great for a plant the lives through a harsh winter and so confers a benefit over the other allele. However, the exact same mutation is a detriment to a plant if the winter is mild because it takes energy to make more antifreeze and so that plant is using energy it could have used to make fruit while its neighbor which doesn’t have the mutation uses it extra energy to make more offspring. The mutation can’t be defined as good bad or indifferent outside a context and that context is the environment which may change and thus change our perspective on that mutation.

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    1. I can see where you are coming from, but I think you’ve missed something here. A mutation that causes death would be universally deleterious. I think we can agree on that point. A mutation that confers an upward evolutionary change (ie gaining wings, or the ability to walk rather than crawl), would be what we could call a universally beneficial mutation, at least in the evolutionary paradigm. I think we could probably agree to that point as well, though we’d disagree over it ever happened. That leaves the overwhelming majority of mutations. Most confer no benefit at all and are slightly deleterious. In the few cases where are benefit is conferred, almost exclusively it only benefits the organism in a specific scenario, much like this one. This is not an upward evolutionary change. It helps the mice in one area, but if that same mutation occurs in the same species in a different location, it seriously decreases their fitness, not to mention any other potential, as yet undiscovered problems the mutations may cause.

      If, as you say, no mutation confers solely benefit, evolution has a major problem. If a mutation has a positive, and negative effect, but the positive outweighs the negative slightly or situationally, which I think is how you are defining a “beneficial” mutation, you run into all kinds of problems. For one you cannot get the new phenotypes and genotypes necesary to create new kinds of organisms without carrying over massive genetic baggage that would cause the organism to go extinct incredibly quickly. So either there are/were a ton of universally beneficial mutations, or there should be no life on earth if deep time is accurate. You’re over a barrel at that point. Either there were tons of exclusively beneficial mutations in the past, which we don’t observe today, or there were not, in which case genetic entropy would have wiped out all life on earth. Neither position is particularly pallatable to your view, I’m aware, and frankly, I don’t really expect to change your mind. But I do wish you would.

      Always a pleasure having one of these discussions, and I appreciate you keeping it civil, unlike some of my other commenters whose comments do not get published.

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  2. Thanks, these things are worth really thinking about and aren’t easy to explain. I would have to say that all of your points would have some validity if your assumptions about evolution were correct. So I think your logic is find but if it is built on false premises you will go astray. You seem to hold some very common misconceptions about mutations and evolution theory in general. I teach a majors-level evolutionary biology course and these are very common among biology majors. I have lots of conversations about these things with students and I always find it interesting to see we have trouble understanding what seems to students to be—natural selection and mutation–superficially simple ideas. I’ve just been talking about teleology and the great chain of being and its influence on evolutionary thought and then we turn to mutations this past week so those sorts of things caught my eye in your post.
    Interestingly, we don’t agree even on what you think we should both agree upon. You say “A mutation that confers an upward evolutionary change (ie gaining wings, or the ability to walk rather than crawl), would be what we could call a universally beneficial mutation, at least in the evolutionary paradigm. I think we could probably agree to that point as well, though we’d disagree over it ever happened.”
    If I used this quote on an exam I would ask my students to identify a couple of errors or misconceptions in what you have said. There are a number of things here that could be unpacked. First, the use of the word “upward” with respect to evol change. That goes back to the application of ideas of the Great Chain of Being but more particularly it’s a Lamarkian view of evolution rather than Darwinian. Lamark saw the change in organsisms as the result of “striving” of always moving from simple to more complex as if that were some law of change. It has goal or endpoint in mind and therefore movement toward that goal is forward or upward progress while movement away is downward evolution. So basically a late 18th and early 19th century way of thinking.
    But lets look at your example. Say gaining wings. You are calling that a upward change. Presumably you would consider the loss of wings as downward or the result of bad mutations. You also are calling that a universally beneficial mutation. That is the second problem. You have divorced mutation from context and claimed, sort of as the arbiter of what is good and bad, that this would be universally beneficial? Why. Is flight and having wings superior to lack of flight? In some cases yes but I would say that isn’t universal. Wings are best in all circumstances. Every single character of every single organism could be a negative character under some conditions. On a small island with no predators, wings are very costly. It takes a lot of energy and brain space to accomplish flight. As a result birds are limited in other ways. If you are a bird living on an island and your food is on the ground and you don’t fly as well as your neighbor you have an advantage over that neighbor. You can use all the energy that your neighbor is using flying around to gather food and make more eggs. A mutation that causes a bird to be less flight capable on an island very well might be a positive mutation. We could call that a positive mutation because we could observe the fact that that mutation is selected for in the population and the allele frequency rises over time. so in this sense we do see a trajectory for that trait. Now, if we introduce a predator to the island suddenly that suite of characters is not so good and is selected against. But if there never is a predator that trait will continue to be a positive trait and the bird that evolves there will be fit for that environment. We wouldn’t say that an ostrich is an inferior or “downward” evolved organism. Sure, it can’t fly but it can do a heck of a lot of things that few other birds can and so we would say it has many adaptation that are not found in other birds. An ostrich could not be large enough to ward off a predator with its legs if it also had to fly.

    You are right that benefits are only in a specific scenario but remember every organism on earth lives in a specific scenario. Look at a bacteria that has a mutation for better antibiotic resistance. That is a lousy mutation if the bacteria is not living in an environment with a fungus that is making the antibiotic. It takes energy to make and so it is a waste of energy making it less fit. However the same mutation in competitive environment were antibiotics are present (not necessarily all the time but say every 1000 generatations it experiences that environment) then that mutation is beneficial. Is that mutation an “upward” or “downward” mutation? Neither word makes sense but if you have to use them you have to use them in context and realize that the same mutation that is beneficial can also turn harmful later. We have genes that prevent us from getting cancer. You might think that making those genes “better” at preventing cancer would make them better genes but if they work more efficiently they cause more cellular damage by their very nature, though less cancer, which builds up and causes us to have other problems later in life. It’s a trade off, there isn’t a universally good version of this gene since the same genes in other species may work differently in a different environment. I would like to see as well as an eagle but if I did I would need a far bigger visual cortex which would mean I would have to give up something else or have a much bigger head which would require even more energy and generate more heat. I can’t have one thing without it hurting something else so just adding awesome eyesight isn’t universally beneficial especially if I can survive just fine with my current eyesight.

    Could go on but the point is that you are saying that making wings is “upward” evolution and somehow be beneficial in the evolution paradigm. I’m not sure what you think that paradigm is but evolutionary theory doesn’t say that wings by definition must be better than no wings and so evolution must be trying (is striving) to achieve that necessary goal. It just says that wings work in certain circumstances and hence it is possible that under those conditions wings will evolve but if an animal has wings and is faced with new circumstances “upward” evolution (which I take it to be survival) would dictate that loss of wings is an advantage and would be the beneficial trait.
    Back to the mice. Yes, the mutation for light color very well might have some negative features but on the whole it is positive for the mice under those circumstances. The same is true for the darker mice. As I said before making pigment is also a detriment to the mouse. In high sunlight it is good because it blocks UV light protecting it from getting skin cancer but it also causes large absorption of light causing over heating and more water loss. Neither color is all good all the time it’s the best feature for the overall survival of the organism at that time.
    But here is the interesting question to ponder. What color did God make that mouse originally? Was that color universally beneficial in every place that that mouse could go. I suppose if it was impossible for the mouse to die it wouldn’t really matter what color it was. They could have pink with purple poka dots originally and maybe all current colors are mutations that only happen to work in one environment but are not universally beneficial. Of courses the original color could have been any color so universally good doesn’t have much meaning. If it was “perfect” does that mean the genes it has were 100% beneficial at all time under all circumstances? Did that mouse live on light grey rock at perfectly even temperatures? I don’t think so. Did it have genetic variation but if it did could any of those variants have been better than another? Is one variant being more fit for an environment make one more perfect than another? You could say that God make them so they could sort their alleles to survive best in multiple environments but how would that sorting happen? Natural selection? If so then we see that one allele is not beneficial is not universally beneficial. It may be good for the species but it isn’t good for every individual. And lastly, was every variant of a gene that could have good benefit under specific circumstances all made in the creation? If not then mutations certainly do produce variants that are good for individuals.
    Cool data point of the day to consider regarding your second paragraph. By the time you are 30 you will have probably experienced 10 quadrillion mutations in your body. Any yet here we are. Mutations are shockingly common yet very rare. Realizing why this isn’t a contradiction will be very useful in understanding genetic entropy.

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