Bias in the arrival of variation can dominate over natural selection in Richard Dawkins’s biomorphs

Various interesting things in this paper, to me.

The main themes (“arrival of the fittest” associated with Andreas Wagner and “mutation-biased evolution” associated with Arlin Stoltzfus) aren’t new but are current. The paper starts with a nice (and clear, and accurate) account of Dawkins’ illustration of an “infinite monkey theorem”, this being the Weasel program in The Blind Watchmaker. They then discuss a “third version” of that illustration and use the Biomorph program to explore its implications. I had never thought of the Biomorph program as another “version” of the typing-monkeys trope, but I think I follow the authors’ logic here and I liked reading their description.

One thing that I find striking is the use of The Blind Watchmaker as a major source (of ideas and hypotheses to critique or build on) for a scientific paper. The Blind Watchmaker is not a scientific work in the sense that Dawkins makes it clear that he wants to educate and persuade. The book is not written as a scholarly work with extensive citations etc. The Weasel program is a tiny part of one chapter. I don’t mean this as a criticism of the paper, in fact I think it’s pretty cool that the aging (if brilliant) TBW is inspiring serious science.

One corresponding author is Ard Louis, a colleague of Dawkins’ at Oxford and well known for his evolutionary creation stance (he’s written at BioLogos).


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