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Author Topic:   Evolution is random! Stop saying it isn't!
Doddy
Member (Idle past 4016 days)
Posts: 563
From: Brisbane, Australia
Joined: 01-04-2007


Message 1 of 99 (414949)
08-07-2007 4:51 AM


((OOC: we're running out of creationists, so I'm going to role-play. Plus, this way I can get you to do my work for me, by providing me with source material for the EvoWiki. What follows does not necessarily reflect my true opinion.))

It is often said in this forum that evolution isn't random, usually in reply to someone who mentions that "something complex can't have appeared by chance". But, evolution certainly is random, by any sensible definition of chance or randomness.

Chance and randomness can have many meanings. It can mean something that isn't preceding with an aim, purpose or reason. Clearly, evolution doesn't aim for anything like mice or men, and many an evolutionist has pointed this out. But this definition is too broad, as even a comet's orbit doesn't occur for any aim or purpose, but its a perfect ellipse, certainly not random.

Randomness can, in statistics, refer to a probability where things have an equal chance of occurring. Clearly, this definition is not what is meant by random chance by any creationist, although I will concede that evolution isn't random in this case, but this definition rules out also the process of rolling two dice (because 7 is the most likely result) and even tossing a slightly bent coin (it won't have a strict 50-50 chance arrangement).

Chance and randomness both refer to something that isn't predictable. Design is predictable, once you know what the design is to be (and if the designer has the capacity to make it), you can easily predict the outcome. Chance and randomness refer to an event that you can't predict - you can't know what will happen at that event, although you can show that there is some bias or something overall when you look at the probability distribution.

Gambling with cards, poker for example, is a game of chance (not pure chance, but random nonetheless). That is, there is no way (at least not without cheating) for one to say what card you will draw. If there were, casinos would have gone broke. However, we can give a certain probability to each card. Say you have already pulled out two aces, you know it will be more likely the next card won't be an ace.

It is clear that mutations are random. They occur due to certain phenomena, such as x-rays or mutagens, but one can't say whether a mutation will occur in any specific locus. You may be able to say that a locus is more likely to occur, but you can't actually predict it, just as with the cards.

Selection merely introduces a bias into the system. Take the example of poker as before. We already had two aces, and say we draw a queen of hearts, a six of clubs and a jack of spades. Now, we introduce the selection. But before I select, do you know what I will select? Nope. You can have a good guess, assuming I know how to play the game, but you can't know. Likewise, evolutionists can guess what will occur when a population is exposed to selection pressures, but they can't predict it - something different will happen each time.

Then, the product will be biased randomness. It will be biased towards something - something that increases fitness in that environment. But it's still random. You can't predict the course of evolution. Steven Jay Gould likened it to a drunken walk, albeit somewhat constrained by some walls. A drunken walk, unless constrained to one outcome, will still be random.

So, one must either conclude that random chance can create the ordered complexity of life today, or conclude that direct design is the only process that can create life.

((out of character again: Or, you could have a go at the definitions of randomness that I used, in comparison to what creationists usually mean when they say evolution was random. Also, I expect I contradicted myself somewhere in that rant - I'm an evolutionist trying to argue for creationism, so I may have let some logic in where it shouldn't be)).


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Message 2 of 99 (414965)
08-07-2007 10:41 AM


Thread moved here from the Proposed New Topics forum.
    
bdfoster
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From: Riverside, CA
Joined: 05-09-2007


Message 3 of 99 (414974)
08-07-2007 12:54 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Doddy
08-07-2007 4:51 AM


There are certainly random processes involved in evolution. But even if evolution is unequivocally defined as natural selection acting on existing variation and mutations, then I don't think it can really be characterized as random or non-random. Mutations are certainly random. But natural selection is a decidedly non-random process.

quote:
Then, the product will be biased randomness.

Huh? I'm sorry as long as we're using English I think we should use the Webster's definition of random:

quote:
1 a: lacking a definite plan, purpose, or pattern b: made, done, or chosen at random
2 a: relating to, having, or being elements or events with definite probability of occurrence b: being or relating to a set or to an element of a set each of whose elements has equal probability of occurrence ; also : characterized by procedures designed to obtain such sets or elements

Definition 2b doesn't alow bias. And you're right, there is huge bias in natural selection. It is not random. The end result of evolotion, the species produced, is random only because two of the processes involved, are random. Mutations are random and existing variation is random. It's the "shuffled deck" of conditions we have now. Shuffle it again and you get a different set of conditions, equally as improbable.


Brent
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Straggler
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Posts: 10284
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Joined: 09-30-2006


Message 4 of 99 (414978)
08-07-2007 1:21 PM
Reply to: Message 1 by Doddy
08-07-2007 4:51 AM


Is anything random
Is anything truly and completely random? In the sense that creationists usually mean it?

Can probablility always provide a pattern given enough throws of the metaphorical dice?

Imagine a random number generator generating numbers between 1 and 10. After a million numbers had been generated you would probabilistically expect to see each individual number represented a roughly equal number of times. This is not a random result. It is a result predicted by the laws of probability.

I have genuinely been in a debate with IAJ where he claimed that quantum theory was in agreement with creationism because it was NOT random whilst evolution was fundamentally impossible because it IS random.

So basically creationists will define random to mean whatever their argument requires.


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RAZD
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Message 5 of 99 (414981)
08-07-2007 1:46 PM
Reply to: Message 3 by bdfoster
08-07-2007 12:54 PM


But natural selection is a decidedly non-random process.

It's a response to random (sometimes catastrophic) events and the random change of environmental factors over time.

quote:
1 a: lacking a definite plan, purpose, or pattern b: made, done, or chosen at random
2 a: relating to, having, or being elements or events with definite probability of occurrence b: being or relating to a set or to an element of a set each of whose elements has equal probability of occurrence ; also : characterized by procedures designed to obtain such sets or elements

Definition 2b doesn't alow bias.

But others do, so that doesn't refute the issue. Let's look at definition 1a: random that allows the unplanned response to random (sometimes catastrophic) events and the random change of environmental factors -- and still be random in it's result.

Thus you get small beaked Galapagos finches one day, large beaked ones the next, and small beaked ones another day. Random.

Enjoy


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bdfoster
Member (Idle past 2985 days)
Posts: 60
From: Riverside, CA
Joined: 05-09-2007


Message 6 of 99 (414994)
08-07-2007 3:27 PM
Reply to: Message 5 by RAZD
08-07-2007 1:46 PM


There is no doubt that the natural processes that cause natural selection to operate are random. But the fact that environment, even if it is random, biases the selection, removes total randomness from evolution.

Suppose a population with random variation is in equilibrium with its environment, and the environment changes. Natural selection will select the individuals that best fit the new environment. Even if the environmental factors and changes are totally random, the selection imposed by it is not. A truly random selection of individuals would appear drastically different than the selection chosen by the random swings of nature. The random selection would not be biased toward survival. It would not be biased in any way.


Brent
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Doddy
Member (Idle past 4016 days)
Posts: 563
From: Brisbane, Australia
Joined: 01-04-2007


Message 7 of 99 (415033)
08-07-2007 8:14 PM
Reply to: Message 6 by bdfoster
08-07-2007 3:27 PM


bdfoster writes:

The random selection would not be biased toward survival. It would not be biased in any way.


But, is it random which card you draw from a deck, if you already have removed two aces? Not by that definition of randomness where every chance is equal. That definition is strictly mathematical, and as such doesn't have much application outside of theoretical situations.

In fact, by that definition, nothing in evolution is random. Mutations are more likely to occur in certain areas that others, and mutations are biased towards degradation.

That is why that definition of randomness, which is a strict statistical definition, isn't what is meant by creationists when they say evolution is random (although to be honest, they never do clarify that).


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AnswersInGenitals
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Posts: 509
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 8 of 99 (415040)
08-07-2007 9:19 PM
Reply to: Message 7 by Doddy
08-07-2007 8:14 PM


There is absolutely nothing in any theory of statistics that says that all possible outcomes must have the same probability of occurrence! In fact, the point of much of statistical theories is to determine the various probabilities of the various outcomes by means of analysis or experimentation. By letting yourself get hung up on this "equal probabilities" nonsense, you have gotten sidetracked away form the trust of your OP.

Evolution is a process that has two key components, one random (mutation in its various forms) and one deterministic (natural selection). Not all mutations are equally probable, but the mutation process is still random (in Darwinian evolution) - it does not occur with a pre-planned outcome or teleological 'intent'.

A card game is also a process with both a random component and a deterministic component: The shuffling and dealing of the cards is random, the rules of the game are deterministic. Who gets which cards is totally random, but once the players each get a set of cards, which player "survives" - acquires the most "resources", is completely determined by the rules. Even allowing for bluffing in poker, the winning player, which is only loosely coupled to the random set of cards dealt, is still determined by a set of rules, although these are now subtle, psychological rules that may not be well understood. Note that the fact that various hands and card draws are not equally probable is not relevant to the discussion or to any functional definition of random, chance, or statistical process.

In fact, most processes that we encounter every day are combinations of random (or unpredictable sub-processes) and deterministic sub-processes: the weather, who we marry, what job we get, etc. People who have only a pedestrian acquaintance with quantum mechanics often get confused in thinking that QM says that everything is random and equally likely and that nothing is predictable. This is totally untrue. QM usually predicts that the outcome of a situation can only occur within a narrow range of possibilities, and it precisely predicts the probabilities for those outcomes in that range.


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Doddy
Member (Idle past 4016 days)
Posts: 563
From: Brisbane, Australia
Joined: 01-04-2007


Message 9 of 99 (415060)
08-08-2007 12:29 AM
Reply to: Message 8 by AnswersInGenitals
08-07-2007 9:19 PM


AnswersInGenitals writes:

the mutation process is still random (in Darwinian evolution) - it does not occur with a pre-planned outcome or teleological 'intent'


Does natural selection occur with intent, or with a pre-planned outcome? It can't, as it is a purely a natural process, just like the diffusion of gas molecules. So then, doesn't it also pass a random by those criteria?

AnswersInGenitals writes:

Note that the fact that various hands and card draws are not equally probable is not relevant to the discussion or to any functional definition of random, chance, or statistical process.


How can the fact that various hands and card draws are not equally probable be irrelevant, but the fact that various phenotypes/genotypes are not equally probable to reproduce is relevant?


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AnswersInGenitals
Member
Posts: 509
Joined: 07-20-2006


Message 10 of 99 (415152)
08-08-2007 1:37 PM
Reply to: Message 9 by Doddy
08-08-2007 12:29 AM


Processes well modeled as random.
Does natural selection occur with intent, or with a pre-planned outcome? It can't, as it is a purely a natural process, just like the diffusion of gas molecules. So then, doesn't it also pass a random by those criteria?

Your 'criterion' is that anything that is natural is random. Actually, this isn't a criterion, you are using this as a definition of "random". When an apple falls from a tree it falls directly towards the center of the earth until it hits the ground. This is a natural process but is not random. The orbits of the planets and their moons can be predicted thousands of years into the future with an extreme precision that is only limited by our patience to make observations and calculations. This natural process is not random. Your definition of random is your own and is not used in any field of mathematics or science. You can define your way into fantasy, but not into reality.

How can the fact that various hands and card draws are not equally probable be irrelevant, but the fact that various phenotypes/genotypes are not equally probable to reproduce is relevant?

I, of course, did not say these things are irrelevant, I said they are irrelevant to a formal definition of "random". I am merely saying that in random processes, the various possible outcomes can have the same or different probabilities. Note that there are only two ways to determine or estimate the probabilities for the various outcomes: 1) to have a quantitative model of the process from which you can analyze the probabilities - and you are conjecturing or theorizing that this model is a good representation of reality; or 2) to observe the process a large number of times and catalog the distribution of outcomes of the trials.

Also note that a great many processes that we think of and treat as random are really deterministic. When you flip a coin, if you can measure the exact position of the coin on your finger, the exact dynamics of your thumb striking the coin, the exact interactions of all the air currents that interact with the coin, the exact mechanical properties of the floor where the coin lands and the geometry of that landing, etc., you can in principal determine exactly how that coin will land. Most point mutations in genes are caused by the thermal motions of the various molecules in the vicinity of the gene when it is being transcribed. If you knew all these motions exactly, you could again exactly predict the outcome of these mutations. (For the sake of this argument, I am ignoring quantum fluctuations which are, apparently, fundamentally stochastic in nature. But even including such quantum fluctuations, their influence on such macro objects as coins and cards would be small enough that the outcomes of coin flipping and card shuffling could in principal be predicted with almost total certainty.)

The most precise way to describe these processes is that their behavior is such that they are well modeled as random processes. Whether such a description is appropriate is determined by observation - whether that behavior does in deed emulate the behavior of the stochastic model conjectured. In particular, even when considered as fundamentally deterministic processes, they do not act to produce some pre-planned outcome.


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RAZD
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Message 11 of 99 (415191)
08-08-2007 5:48 PM
Reply to: Message 6 by bdfoster
08-07-2007 3:27 PM


random selection and a model of evolution
Suppose a population with random variation is in equilibrium with its environment, and the environment changes. Natural selection will select the individuals that best fit the new environment.

We can discuss two different levels of environmental (or rather 'ecological' to include more of the biome than just the environment) change - catastrophic and gradualistic.

Under catastrophic ecological change whole populations survive or perish depending on a luck of the draw chance: were they within the area of death or not. This is obviously random selection having nothing to do with the fitness of any particular genes or adaptations.

Such random selection could wipe out a main population and leave widely separated (or separate a main population from) peripheral sub-species, ones that do not necessarily recognize the other peripheral sub-species as potential mates, thus leading to "instant" speciation by accident.

Under gradualistic ecological change we have fluctuating changes about generally average conditions -- such as the annual rainfall on the Galapagos Islands that can lead to selection first in one direction and then in the other. The direction of the selection is random (and the result is generally not currently open to prediction).

We can model this with successive throws of dice: the first throw sets the survival of a hereditary trait, and the second sets the reproductive success of that hereditary trait (the product of those plus the surviving parents make the next generation potential). Once the survival and reproductive success of each variation of that hereditary trait is modeled the overall size of the population can be modeled by a final throw of dice and each hereditary trait generation potential adjusted accordingly to make up the total population (with the increase or decrease in total numbers) to model the severity of the selection pressure on each generation.

We can do this with beak size in Galapagos Finches and just two alleles\traits in the model. The result will be an oscillation around an average with an occasional "drunken walk" over several generations in one direction (larger beaks) and an occasional "drunken walk" over several generations in the other direction (smaller beaks).

This models generation to generation evolution with a random process that matches the observed behavior of the Galapagos Finches.

Even if the environmental factors and changes are totally random, the selection imposed by it is not. A truly random selection of individuals would appear drastically different than the selection chosen by the random swings of nature. The random selection would not be biased toward survival. It would not be biased in any way.

But the observed process can be modeled by a random selection process. This is because the selection pressure in this case is random in direction (based on random changes in direction and severity of the ecology in question). This makes the result of such selection random.

The only conditions this may not be applicable is where you have gradualistic ecological change with fluctuating changes about a long term trend to a different ecology (whether by movement of the population or due to long term climate or similar).

However these too are random (but long term) effects on the selection and can be modeled with another throw of the dice or two.

Therefore the process of evolution can be modeled by a random process that produces the same kind of results as are observed in the natural history of change in species over time. It's all just a luck of the draw.

Enjoy.

(arguing as devil's advocate)

Edited by RAZD, : clarity


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Doddy
Member (Idle past 4016 days)
Posts: 563
From: Brisbane, Australia
Joined: 01-04-2007


Message 12 of 99 (415223)
08-08-2007 8:44 PM
Reply to: Message 10 by AnswersInGenitals
08-08-2007 1:37 PM


Re: Processes well modeled as random.
AnswersInGenitals writes:

Your 'criterion' is that anything that is natural is random.


No, it's yours. I told you what my criterion was in the opening post -an event that can't be predicted. You're the one who, in message 8, said "the mutation process is still random (in Darwinian evolution) - it does not occur with a pre-planned outcome or teleological 'intent'". Thus, you have implied that randomness includes anything that isn't occuring with a pre-planned outcome or intent. There are natural processes that don't have a pre-planned outcome or intent, such as the orbit of planets - they weren't planned and they weren't intended, as stated by modern physics anyway.

AnswersInGenitals writes:

Also note that a great many processes that we think of and treat as random are really deterministic.


Of course. And yet, nobody on Earth has the power to predict the outcome, because we can't measure all those variables and do the needed calculations, at least with any great accuracy, in such a short period of time.

AnswersInGenitals writes:

In particular, even when considered as fundamentally deterministic processes, they do not act to produce some pre-planned outcome.


Does evolution act to produce a pre-planned outcome?


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Bodhitharta
Member (Idle past 4172 days)
Posts: 10
From: Tacoma, WA, USA
Joined: 08-08-2007


Message 13 of 99 (415250)
08-08-2007 11:14 PM
Reply to: Message 11 by RAZD
08-08-2007 5:48 PM


Re: random selection and a model of evolution
Evolution Is Dead!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljBP3OTRtp8

Since evolution is supposed to be a biological event it would seem clear to me that if Life can occur without evolution than evolution is not needed to explain any portion of life. Life consists of organisms that metabolize, manage waste and have the capability to reproduce itself. These functions occur without any evolution whatsoever and therefore certainly suggest that evolution is not neccessary or at all likely. Since all living things have these functions there would be no reason to believe they were not created.

Edited by Bodhitharta, : No reason given.


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Message 14 of 99 (415254)
08-08-2007 11:30 PM
Reply to: Message 13 by Bodhitharta
08-08-2007 11:14 PM


Re: random selection and a model of evolution
Welcome to EvC. I know this is your first post, but since we get this often, please be aware that EvC is a debate site grounded in honest and intellectual sparring.

You may use a link to a video or site as part of your post if it helps you make a point, but please don't use links instead of personal comment.


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    RAZD
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    Message 15 of 99 (415293)
    08-09-2007 9:03 AM
    Reply to: Message 13 by Bodhitharta
    08-08-2007 11:14 PM


    Re: random selection and a model of evolution
    Welcome to the fray Bodhitharta

    Since evolution is supposed to be a biological event it would seem clear to me that if Life can occur without evolution than evolution is not needed to explain any portion of life.

    I watched your video. If you want to discuss it you should open a new thread (go to Forum Proposed New Topics) and provide the link to the video and tell us what you think is the most compelling argument from the video. Be prepared for a reality check.

    This is really off-topic on this thread which only deals with evolution being random, and what you are talking about is abiogenesis. (check the forum rules).

    Enjoy.

    ps - also check out (help) links on formating questions

    type [qs]quote boxes are easy[/qs] and it becomes:

    quote boxes are easy


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