The Neutral Theory of Evolution

(Ashwin S) #46

Some mutations can be beneficial.However, they are not directional. They do not add to one another to create novelty… Think in terms of Whales developing echo location… Can complex phenotypes such as this be achieved by neutral mutations?

(George) #47

And the answer from a scientific view is: of course it can.

But the answer from a THEOLOGICAL stance is that whatever might not be possible via a Godless Cosmos is possible when God’s participation is embraced.

(Ashwin S) #48

Be a little reasonable. Have you seen any Scientific work on whether neutral mutations can do this?

From a theological stance… I would just say God created whales.

(George) #49

@swamidass (@Ashwin_s):

Just as I predicted he would conclude!

Go ahead, Joshua … just try to get him to separate “miraculous rain” vs. “Rain by Condensation”.

He will never admit the distinction. And yet this distinction is at the fundamental core of the scenarios of PeacefulScience!

For without that distinction you can’t provide for the difference between De Novo creation of humans vs the EVOLUTION of humans!

(Ashwin S) #50

??? :confused:

(Jon Garvey) #51

That’s not entirely true, George, because the Principle of Sufficient Means (PSM) still applies. For example, it would not be possible even for God to evolve a whale from an artiodactyl by stacking oranges. That’s my beef with some Evolutionary Creation writing - a natural process without any place for teleleogy is claimed, and then the mere existence of God is invoked to make it turn out right (but I know that’s not your position).

The let-out, of course, would be that what are deemed “neutral mutations” are only “neutral” in relation to the narrow question of Darwinian natural selection, ie with regard to “immediate functional advantage”. If conceived as incremental planned changes that allow the transformation of a species to a specific goal, then of course the means are perfectly sufficient, just like a sculptor morphing a clay model by degrees so that it starts as Abe Lincoln and ends as Donald Trump, but remains a face throughout the process.

There are other problems with that (for example it presupposes that only the beginning and the end points are significant), but if something like it happened it would surely be a huge giveaway of divine purpose, because unlike Darwinian natural selection, there seems no reason whatsoever that neutral evolution would produce well-adapted creatures (and I suppose that’s why Neutral Theory retains a scrap of adaptive selection as a kind of fig-leaf).

(George) #52

Trolling, @Ashwin_s ?, or prevented by your own semantic distinctions to never understand?

Most EVERYONE sees a difference between God making Adam, de novo, out of dust vs. God making humans via mutations and NATURAL selection.

@swamidass… test him yourself. See if you can ever get him to accept creation on TWO (or more) ways!!!

(George) #53

@jongarvey, by definition, as soon you add the word God to a question, it is no longer Science.

Once again, you make a
“science-LIKE” statement…
but in a THEOLOGICAL context.

(Jon Garvey) #54

It’s may be a theological statement to say that God provides the order and direction, but it does appear to be empirically verifiable and scientific to say that random changes can’t.

(John Dalton) #55

I’ve read up that thread and this but I still can’t say I see what the test for common design is. I was agreeing with a lot of what you said in the linked thread.

Philosophically there seems to be a connection–not everything has to be an adaptation with a positive function. Beauty does seem to have a connection to our mating behavior; maybe our tendency to find some things beautiful (peregrine falcons yes; the house bats I saw on my walk such now less so objectively) is a side product of such things and our developed visual senses in general. I happened across this video today and it came to mind as well; hopefully it won’t seem too oblique

Why do the deer find the cat so interesting? I’m not seeing any way they might benefit. It could be dangerous in fact (if you’ve ever seen someone bitten hard by a cat, I think you’ll agree).

(George) #56

@jongarvey… Yes, i believe that is correct.

And then the endless dispute arises when someone wants to say that environment IMPOSES meaning… just like lawfully-behaving dice, when thrown, are not truly random.

And so back and forth the sides dispute 2 meanings of “random” (or of non-random).

The solution is: to carefully enforce THREE definitions for random!

(Jon Garvey) #57

But regarding neutral theory, the environment is largely irrelevant because it can only act by natural selection, and by definition near-neutral changes are immune to selection.

Niche construction theory adds another level of environment (but that’s not neutral theory), ie randomly changed organisms find a way of changing their environment - but that is all to do with the wit of the organism (and the luck of finding that bit of dsppling that hides its spots is also habitable).

Now, if they say that the environment causes variations that turn out favourable, they’ve abandoned the idea of “random with regard to function.” And they’ve also endowed the environment with near-magical powers that, once more, point to God.

(George) #58


You have an irritating tendency to expand on every idea until you have eliminated any distinctions… and brought general epistemoligical mayhem into the room.

Your point about neutral changes should drive home a point that SOME people can’t fathom: why don’t fruit flies dramatically evolve in laboratory conditions?

  1. lab conditions are set to maximize FRUITFUL fruit flies.

  2. branches of life that experience dramatic evolution usually don’t do so because of a single mutation.

  3. most cases of dramatic cases come from a perfectly content population suddenly being confronted by a dramatic environmental change!

Case Study #1:
Homids and other mammals lept forward when the asteroid killed all the large meat-eating Dinos!

(Jon Garvey) #59

Thread is on neutral theory. My post was on neutral theory. You introduced environment. Environment not relevant to neutral theory - unless you know better?

(S. Joshua Swamidass) #60

It is a test for common descent, not design.

That is one of the biggest surprises. It certainly does not scientifically prove design, but science does not have a good account for beauty.

That is not quite right. It depends what we are talking about. Selection is not irrelevant to everything.

Neutral mutations in one environment may not be neutral in another. So neutral is defined in a context. Change the context and the precise definition of neutrality is important. This interaction between the two is very important.

(John Dalton) #61

Yes, I misspoke, or mistyped :slight_smile: But what would the test be?

(George) #62


I’m surprised that I have to explain my reasoning about bringing up the environment! This kind of infernal distinction I am pointing to is your cup of tea!

I think we can safely assume more than one category of neutral mutation. The one that we should make pains to remember involves a simple question:

If there is a neutral mutation that renders a human more immune to the plague vector… and the human population has not encountered the plague… nor will it for 100,000 years… can we safely say the mutation is (for the time being) a NEUTRAL mutation?

(Jon Garvey) #63

OK - I grant that, a point also made by Joshua. In that case we have not only the “appearance of design”, but the “appearance of foresight”.

That’s interesting, beause the “appearance of design” was taken seriously and explained intelligibly, by those passé Darwinists, by adaptive selection as regards function, “appearance of beauty”; and beauty by sexual selection (more or less plausibly). The new appearance of foresight can only be explained by non-intelligible luck, and many of the beautiful features also.

There’s an awfully big hiatus in science’s explanatory power, isn’t there?

(Joseph Akins) #64

Can you share the link to that interaction? The evolutionary origin(s) of placental mammals is instructive.

(Joseph Akins) #65

Thank you for offering to interact on this article by Koonin.

All of the “tinkering” by evolution, as Jacob framed it, is apparently neutral since we don’t see more hopeful monsters in the fossil record? Who, or what, set the boundaries? Can boundaries to neutral evolution be detected computationally? Experimentally?

Koonin article p. 5 top right column: “Another major phenomenon that shapes the evolution of complexity is pervasive recruitment of “junk” genetic material for diverse functions. There are, of course, different kinds of junk in genomes [28]. Exaptation of parts of mobile genetic elements (MGE) is one common theme. Sequences originating from MGE are routinely recruited for regulatory functions in eukaryotic promoters and enhancers [68–70]. In addition, MGE genes have been recruited for essential functions at key stages of eukaryotic evolution.”

Taking it further, Koonin continues: “The pervasive exaptation in complex organisms evolving in the weak selection regime appears as a striking paradox: the overall non-adaptive character of evolution in these organisms enables numerous adaptations which ultimately lead to the dramatic rise in organismal complexity [39]. In a higher abstraction plane, though, this is a phenomenon familiar to physicists: entropy increase begets complexity by creating multiple opportunities for the evolution of the system [80, 81].

This is a far cry from the”just so” story telling of popular biologists like Sean B. Carroll and closer to that of Sean Carroll the cosmologist and his appeal to black box computer programs only the high priests of science can understand. Science is becoming too mathematically driven for empiricists such as myself to keep up. Very exciting!