Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The origin of the flawed notion that natural selection is not random/chance

I am very interested to find out who first said that natural selection is not random/chance but is the very opposite. I re-read Darwin's original book and did not find it there. The earliest source for this flawed notion that I could manage to find is the 1982 book by one of the founders of Neo-Darwinism, Ernst Mayr, "The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance". This notion has since been repeated many times in his later books, such as "What evolution is" and "What makes biology unique". But I have yet to find an evolution textbook by other authors that pay special attention to this notion. This notion is however often emphasized by books aimed at the lay public, such as those by Richard Dawkins and Jerry Conye. But these books never acknowledge the source of this notion, as if it is either the author's own or Darwin's.

Here is what Mayr wrote in his 1982 book.

"Darwin’s theory rejected uncompromisingly the existence of any finalistic factor in the causation of evolutionary change, and this strengthened the resistance of many to natural selection. Most of his contemporaries could see only a single alternative to teleological determination, this being accident. Indeed, until modern times many scientists and philosophers have rejected selection, saying that it was unthinkable that “the marvelous harmony of organisms” could all be due to accident. Those who raised that ojection overlooked the fact that natural selection is a two step process. At the first step, the production of genetic variability, accident, indeed, reigns supreme. However, the ordering of genetic variability by selection at the second step is anything but a chance process. Nor is selection, as has sometimes been claimed, something that is intermediate between chance and necessity, but something entirely new that escapes the dilemma of a choice between these two principles. No one has stated this better than Sewall Wright (1967: 117): “The Darwinian process of continued interplay of a random and a selective process is not intermediate between pure chance and pure determination, but in its consequences qualitatively utterly different from either.”

"It is remarkable how generally it is overlooked that with natual selection Dawin has introduced an entirely new and revolutionary principle which is not at all vulnerable to the objection that his theory relies entirely on accident. Darwin himself apparently forgot this occasionally, since he confessed at one time that he was greatly bothered by “the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe…as the result of blind chance or necessity” (1958: 92, as if these were the only two available options."

I wish to make two comments.

Darwinists such as Sewall Wright as quoted above can only say what natural selection is not (not pure chance and not pure determination) but can never really articulate what it actually is. The reason for this is simple: it is not sensible to human intuition and reason. No one in human history has a word for such a meaningless concept or something that is not chance and not determined.

Darwin probably never said that natural selection is not accident (no where can I find evidence to that effect). Thus, when he confessed that he was greatly bothered by “the extreme difficulty or rather impossibility of conceiving this immense and wonderful universe…as the result of blind chance or necessity”, he was not experiencing a lapse in memory, as alleged by Mayr.

So, as far as I can find, the flawed notion that natural selection is not random is not from Darwin but is from one of the most famous Darwin followers Ernst Mayr. It is not an inherently inevitable logical deduction from Darwin's theory (if it is, Darwin would have deduced it) but is in fact a twisted defensive response to the valid criticism that Darwin's theory is basically a creation -by-accident theory.

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