An idea has been combing through my brain recently regarding natural selection and the process of variation. I’m certainly not abandoning natural selection as a mechanism. There is no dispute, it happens. However, what I’m considering is whether natural selection is a strong enough force to create the massive amount of variation we observe in the world today. This article is merely meant to broach the question. I’m interested in hearing thoughts on the subject so comment away.
Before I go any further, I am aware that there are some members of the creation science community who push an idea called mediated design, which postulates that God guided the variation of at least some organisms to fit them to their environment. Since this is essentially a full-blown substitute for natural selection, at least in how it is usually applied, I’m ignoring it for the purposes of this discussion.
In order to have this discussion, we need to define exactly what we mean by natural selection. I think the fundamental misunderstanding that many people have about natural selection is that it acts on the individual. It does not. Natural selection acts on groups of organisms. It does this by means of selective pressure that weed out organisms that do not fit well in a given environment. However, often, natural selection will not completely remove traits that are not beneficial in an environment. For example, African elephants are well known for their tusks, but a small portion of the population has no tusks. Even though African elephants have been known for generations, natural selection has not completely removed the information required for lack of tusks. The same problem exists for many other creatures as well. This is how natural selection tends to work. It does not completely eliminate variation. Instead, natural selection weeds out the very worst variations and limits the rest that are not as well suited to the environment.
This is where the question arises, is natural selection enough? Take just one created kind, the cat kinds. Within the cat kind, there is extensive variation in size, color, some aspects of morphology, behavior, and habitat. Is natural selection enough to go from a non-descript cat that got off the Ark, to the massive variation we have today? Perhaps. The genetic variability in the original kinds would have been extensive. Further, epigenetics would have induced some changes in how the genome was expressed, leading to changes in phenotype. Is that enough to get civets, mountain lions, ocelots, lions and tigers all from the same created kind? The answer would certainly appear to be yes on its face but there are issues. For example, leopards, lions, and cheetahs speciating from one another when sharing the same habitat is a problematic question. In the case of the leopards, this could be possible as they spend so much time in trees but why did cheetahs and lions speciate in the same habitat? Further, why did natural selection nudge lions on the path to living in prides, the only big cat to do so? These are questions natural selection struggles to answer.
The same issue is apparent in other kinds as well. Natural selection is a mindless process, even according to evolutionists like Dawkins. It does not act with a view to long term benefit. Further it acts on populations, not individuals. Thus saying that it somehow produced behavior, which acts on individuals within populations, because of the benefit of that behavior is spurious. Natural selection cannot be both blind and mindless and somehow intelligently guide the process of variation and speciation to produce the best results. This is trying to have it both ways, as evolutionists often do, and it will not work. However, it would seem that there are holes in the natural selection wall.
This leads to the question of intelligence and brings us back to the mediated design hypothesis of Wood, Guiluzza, and others. Did God play a role in fitting creatures to their environment in the post-flood world, or was it purely naturalistic? I’m hesitant to say God was involved directly in fitting creatures to their environment because this is not something that He tells us in His Word. Assuming that God did not intervene providentially, is there a natural process that could produce the variety of behavior and appearance present in the cat kind and others? This is where I’d like feedback from my readers. Let’s discuss. Is natural selection enough? If not, what mechanism should we posit? Or did God actively intervene? I will point out that mediated design is not the answer. Removing natural selection from the equation does not solve the issues. It merely creates more. So please spare me that as a proposal. However, a mechanism by which God might have intervened is on the table as an option, if you can propose a convincing one. Let’s hear your thoughts.
Your last questions are important and certainly not easy to answer. Christians in science have written hundreds of books on the topic with no clear consensus on the mechanisms that God employs in directing his creation. How active is He? Where does he act by special providence or special creation? I have a though experiment to show how hard a few of these questions are in my speculations about the origins of Mike Trout. https://thenaturalhistorian.com/2018/11/12/gods-knitting-needles-revealed-in-the-creation-of-mike-trout/
I also want to note that term definition is pretty important when the questions are this hard to answer and you definition of natural selection is confusing. At the start you make the following statement: “I’m considering is whether natural selection is a strong enough force to create the massive amount of variation we observe in the world today.” It might seem a bit technical but I think it is important to recognize that natural selection doesn’t create variation. Any description of natural selection talks about the process acting on variation resulting in changes the distribution of that variation in future generations. It doesn’t talk about natural selection creating variation. There is a big emphasis on how natural selection can maintain or remove variation but not create it. Variation is instead attributed to mutations.
Second, you provide contradictory statements about the nature of natural selection. In the third paragraph you state: “This is how natural selection tends to work. It does not completely eliminate variation, instead favoring particular variations.” Notice the word “favoring” here and then look at what you say the second to the last paragraph: “Natural selection is a mindless chance process, even according to evolutionists.” How might a process that “favors particular variations” be a “mindless and chance process” at the same time? The former is correct. Natural selection is the opposite of a chance process. The result of natural selection is that some variation are favored over others. If it were just chance there would be no favoring and allele frequencies would change randomly from generation to generation. BTW, this does happen to many alleles but that falls under another mechanism called genetic drift which is a form of sampling error which can be described a chance effects. But this mechanism is different precisely because it is random and natural selection is not.
As always, thank you for the feedback and the link, I’ll definitely check it out. I think we disagree about the source of variation. I believe most variation (not all obviously) was built into the original kinds and they have speciated and varied since then, though mutations certainly have played a role. Thank you for pointing out the contradiction. I didn’t make clear enough what I meant and I’ve edited the article to make it clearer. What I was driving at was that natural selection does select for traits but it does so mindlessly. In other words, it does not think about the long term benefit of the population, instead merely what works in the immediate environment. Further, it really doesn’t help with behavioral changes, at least in the instance I cited, because behavior involves the interaction of individuals, not the overall population, which is what natural selection acts on. Natural selection does not change individuals, it changes populations.