Evolution 101- Part 12: Survival of the Just Dumb Luckiest

Remember, normal text is copied from Evolution 101 by the Understanding Evolution team! (Voted “Best Use of an Unnecessary Exclamation Point” by the readers of Car and Driver, 2007) http://evolution.berkeley.edu/

BOLD font is me, Rent A Friend 2000, being Bold.

Genetic drift — along with natural selection, mutation, and migration — is one of the basic mechanisms of evolution.

In each generation, some individuals may, just by chance, leave behind a few more descendents (and genes, of course!) than other individuals. The genes of the next generation will be the genes of the “lucky” individuals, not necessarily the healthier or “better” individuals. That, in a nutshell, is genetic drift. It happens to ALL populations — there’s no avoiding the vagaries of chance.

According to this paragraph, you’ve got survival of the fittest, and then survival of the just dumb luckiest. I think if Darwin would have used the phrase “Survival of the Just Dumb Luckiest,” he’d have been asked to more parties.

beetles squish

Earlier we used this hypothetical cartoon. Genetic drift affects the genetic makeup of the population but, unlike natural selection, through an entirely random process. So although genetic drift is a mechanism of evolution, it doesn’t work to produce adaptations.

Finally, something we can agree on. Sort of. Genetic drift doesn’t work to produce adaptations. True. But to then call it a mechanism of evolution seems vacant. They’re trying to argue that the change of a population through random dumb luck is a mechanism of a process whereby bacteria gain new genetic information until they becomes wolves and cabbages? Am I the only person who thinks the authors didn’t read this? Doesn’t this sound like, “Rock tumbling effects the structure and appearance of rocks. The Taj Mahal is made of rocks. Therefore rock tumbling is one of the mechanisms which produced the Taj Mahal.” I had a rock tumbler as a kid. I should have kept that thing.  

Natural selection

Natural selection is one of the basic mechanisms of evolution, along with mutation, migration, and genetic drift.

Darwin’s grand idea of evolution by natural selection is relatively simple but often misunderstood. To find out how it works, imagine a population of beetles:

  1. There is variation in traits.
    For example, some beetles are green and some are brown.
  1. There is differential reproduction.
    Since the environment can’t support unlimited population growth, not all individuals get to reproduce to their full potential. In this example, green beetles tend to get eaten by birds and survive to reproduce less often than brown beetles do.
 beetles bird
  1. There is heredity.
    The surviving brown beetles have brown baby beetles because this trait has a genetic basis.
  1. End result:
    The more advantageous trait, brown coloration, which allows the beetle to have more offspring, becomes more common in the population. If this process continues, eventually, all individuals in the population will be brown.
 all brown beetles

If you have variation, differential reproduction, and heredity, you will have evolution by natural selection as an outcome. It is as simple as that.

NOW I get it. If I tear out enough pages from my copy of Cookie Monster and the Cookie Tree, it will eventually become War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy. It really is as simple as that! And every bit as impossible! Check out their example- we start with green and brown beetles. Eventually, because of birds, there are no more green beetles. And this is how bacteria become wolves and cabbages? It amazes me what people can overlook when they have already decided on a conclusion. On this logic I could get rich faster if I burn the money I already have instead of just spending it.

Natural selection at work

Scientists have worked out many examples of natural selection, one of the basic mechanisms of evolution.

Any coffee table book about natural history will overwhelm you with full-page glossies depicting amazing adaptations produced by natural selection, such as the examples below.

 orchid wasp  katy did  faux snakesNon-poisonous king snakes mimic poisonous coral snakes  bue feets
Orchids fool wasps into “mating” with them. Katydids have camouflage to look like leaves. .The blue-footed booby

Behavior can also be shaped by natural selection. Behaviors such as birds’ mating rituals, bees’ wiggle dance, and humans’ capacity to learn language also have genetic components and are subject to natural selection. The male blue-footed booby, shown to the right, exaggerates his foot movements to attract a mate.

Again I have to ask if this is simple ignorance or willing deception. Above we saw how natural selection reduces the genetic information in a population. (The Green ones went away.) Now we’re going to look at all kinds of amazing design and say that these were somehow created by the process which made the green ones go away? These examples they give are NOT creatures which we have seen evolve from some simpler form. We did not observe the Katydid evolve a leaf form, or the orchid evolve the wasp shape. These are given as examples of the result of natural selection, because the authors begin with the assumption that the reductive process of natural selection MUST HAVE created all of the existing features of all living things. This is worse than circular reasoning.

In some cases, we can directly observe natural selection. Very convincing data show that the shape of finches’ beaks on the Galapagos Islands has tracked weather patterns: after droughts, the finch population has deeper, stronger beaks that let them eat tougher seeds.

Apparently these guys have not read ALL of the “very convincing data”. The rest of the data shows how the sizes and shapes of those beaks are flexible across years. There is no net gain or loss, and the 13 species of finch which some claim to exist there all interbreed, making them, by most definitions of the word ‘species,’ all the SAME species. This is like counting the green beetles after a group of hikers has gone by and deciding that, because there are fewer green ones (they got stepped on- see illustration above) that we’re watching natural selection. When Darwin was there 150 years ago, there were finches with varying beak sizes. Today, there are finches with varying beak sizes. No information has been gained, no net change has been observed, and the data of their breeding habits indicates that they are all one single species. Yet, somehow, this is one of the best examples of Natural Selection the evolutionists can come up with. When I was in middle school, I was on a basketball team. I could claim we were a great team, but when pressed, I would have to admit that the best we ever did was losing by ten points. If these examples are any indication, Natural Selection is a lot like that.

In other cases, human activity has led to environmental changes that have caused populations to evolve through natural selection. A striking example is that of the population of dark moths in the 19th century in England, which rose and fell in parallel to industrial pollution. These changes can often be observed and documented.

I can’t blame them for glossing over this example. If the finches are their best example of Natural Selection, this is certainly the top contender for the spot. What this drive by reference is talking about is the peppered moth, an insect which, like the beetles in their hypothetical cartoon example, comes in two flavors: white with black spots and black with white spots. The story goes like this: When the industrial revolution hit, the soot from factories turned the trees dark, thus making it easier for the dark moths to hide. This meant the light moths were now easier for the birds to find. NATURAL SELECTION! There are several problems with this story as it pertains to natural selection as a mechanism for evolution.

  1. 1.   No new information was created. At the start- light and dark moths. At the end- light and dark moths. This will not turn bacteria into wolves and cabbages.
  2. 2.   The color of the tree had not caused the dark moths to go extinct in the thousands of years before the industrial revolution, and so it is doubtful that the color of the trees would make the white ones disappear after it.
  3. 3.   Even if it did, that is a loss of genetic information, which is not how you turn bacteria into wolves and cabbages. If you go back to those branch diagrams, this is the erasing of one arm, not the splitting of one into two arms. It’s kinda different.
  4. 4.   The clean air act of the 1960’s resulted in cleaner air and normal colored trees. So this example is a short lived one with no long term results.
  5. 5.   All of that aside, this example is based on poor science and demonstrated with lies. Let me sum it up: The pictures you see in your textbook of the moths resting on the tree trunks are fake. Those moths are dead and were glued there for the photo op. Scientists collecting data for 40 years found a grand total of 2 moths on tree trunks (and that photo is not them). The moths hide under leaves, up in the branches, making this example completely moot and the pictures used to sell it fraudulent, much like the thin and healthy people who are featured in fast food commercials.

But once again, you needn’t take my word for it: “The [peppered moth] experiments beautifully demonstrate natural selection—or survival of the fittest—in action, but they do not show evolution in progress, for however the populations may alter in their content of light, intermediate, or dark forms, all the moths remain from beginning to end Biston betularia.”—*Harrison Matthews, “Introduction,” to Charles Darwin’s Origin of the Species (1971 edition), p. xi.

“This is an excellent demonstration of the function of camouflage; but, since it begins and ends with peppered moths and no new species is formed, it is quite irrelevant as evidence for evolution.”—On Call, July 2, 1973, p. 9.

And yes, this is one of the BEST examples of Natural Selection that is said to have been observed. Imagine the ones that don’t make it into the textbooks.

Join me next week for part 13.



About rentafriend2000
Rocking my 40's with a heart full of love and muffins, science and technology. Jesus loves me and wants me to totally rock! And I am here to help.

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