Would All Evolutionary Theorists Agree with This Statement?

Since a number of people here are insisting that there are very few really significant differences among evolutionary theorists regarding evolutionary mechanism, I thought I would put that assertion to a test.

I will give a statement I read, from a biologist who claimed to know a great deal about evolution. The statement is a paraphrase, since I cannot find the original quotation, but since the biologist made the same claim on more than one occasion, I am sure I remember the essence of it.

The statement runs like this:

“People put far too much emphasis on mutation in evolution. Evolution does not work primarily on mutations, but on variation already present in the population. Evolution could do all the things it does now, even without mutations. Mutations might speed it up a little bit, but it would be almost as fast as it is now, even if there were no mutations at all.”

The implication of the statement was that evolution could bring life “from bacterium to man” without a single mutation occurring. The worst that would happen would be that evolution would take a little longer (only a little longer) without any mutations. So fish, flowering plants, elephants, and man would have emerged eventually, only maybe a few hundred million years later, had there never been a single mutation.

Is this view of evolution one that virtually every current evolutionary theorist subscribes to? Or is it an outrider, outside of the mainstream of evolutionary thought?

I invite comments from all those here who consider themselves to have knowledge about current evolutionary theory and the mechanisms it endorses.

Without author and source, all of this is pointless. There is no need to waste forum space on what is possibly a doctored, out of context quote that may or may not come close to meaning what @Eddie is trying to get at.


Wrong. It’s precisely the point that you should not need to know the author or source. The statement is either true or not true regarding how evolution proceeds; it doesn’t matter who said it. If “modern evolutionary theory” has such a strong consensus about mechanism as you and everybody else here is making out, then surely an “expert” such as yourself can tell right away whether or not the stated account of evolution is or is not something that would be accepted by the majority of practicing evolutionary theorists.

If I said that evolution proceeds by, e.g., giraffes trying really hard to stretch their necks to reach high leaves, and the offspring inherit the stretched necks, and so giraffes keep getting taller, would you need to know who said that in order to say whether or not that view was part of current evolutionary theory? I don’t think you would. I think you would say the claim is false, and not part of current evolutionary theory. You should be able to do the same with the claim above.

The question whether I have accurately transmitted the claim is a valid one, and I am willing to take that up at some later point in the discussion. However, at the moment, all I want to know is whether the statement as given is one that would be endorsed by the majority of practitioners of “modern evolutionary science.”

The problem, @Eddie, is that you have as much as stated that the quote is not verbatim, which means it probably does not convey the message you wish to here. And without source, there is no way to know that you are not just badly paraphrasing a rhetorical question, and conveniently forgetting the real point of the publication.

Since you wish to be coy about the author, you should at least give us the accurate, unaltered passage, along with the abstract of the article, the summary of the same, and the 2-3 paragraphs that precede and follow the passage.

Otherwise, the discussion is about something that, for all intents and purposes, you are just making up.

Not that exploring your imaginary perceptions of evolutionary theory may not have any educational value. But at least let’s be clear about what is being discussed.


Art, you’re blathering. Is the statement as given part of the modern consensus about evolutionary mechanism, or not?

If I gave Daniel Ang a set of equations produced by a physicist, and asked him if the third line was correctly derived from the second, he would not ask me: “Who wrote these equations?” He would simply tell me whether or not the work was correctly done.

The whole value of modern science is that it is neutral with respect to persons. It assesses claims based on their intellectual merits.

If you don’t have enough knowledge of current evolutionary theory to say whether or not the given statement is part of it, you can simply pass, and let those biologists here with more knowledge of current theory answer the question.

@Eddie, few here would see the point of discussing something, not borne of evolutionary theory, but that you are making up. Surely you can see this.

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I didn’t make it up. It is a statement by a research biologist with many publications, who claims great knowledge of evolutionary theory. I can’t give you the exact source because it is buried in thousands of comments on another blog site, and I don’t remember the date or title of the column in which it appeared, and it might take 20 or 30 hours of my personal time to find it, if I ever could. But since the same writer made the same statement at least twice, and probably three or four times, and I took careful mental note of it (and of the fact that the statements were made as absolutes and were unaccompanied by any qualifications or caveats), I am quite certain I have not misrepresented the meaning, even though I cannot vouch for the exact words.

But in any case, your concern about the fidelity of my reproduction is irrelevant to the question whether the statement, as it stands, is true or not. You profess great knowledge of what contemporary evolutionary theory claims. If you have as much knowledge as you say you have, you should be able to tell immediately whether the above statement is in line with what the vast majority of experts on evolutionary mechanism think today. So is the statement, as it stands, a correct representation of what most evolutionary biologists think about the importance of mutation in evolution? Either you know, or you don’t know. If you don’t know, just pass, and let others answer.

The question is not: “Has Eddie accurately represented the view of a certain biologist?” The question is: “Does this statement, whoever wrote it, represent the consensus of modern evolutionary theorists regarding the role of mutation in evolution?” If you are willing to answer the question, then do so. If you are unwilling to answer the question, then remain silent and let others hold the floor.

I’m reminded again of the difference between Science and Arts Ph.D.s. In the Arts, when someone asks a question, people proceed to give their answers to the question. But apparently – if blog sites concerning evolution are any example – the first instinct of a Science Ph.D. is to challenge the legitimacy of the question, and spend hours arguing about that, thus fatiguing everyone else in the room until they lose interest in the question and go fishing or bowling instead. Possibly that is what you are hoping will happen – that the question will be dropped if you evade answering it long enough.

I’m told I should prostrate myself before “modern evolutionary theory,” but when I try to find out what “modern evolutionary theory” asserts, the supposed “experts” in it dodge my questions. I have here given people a perfect opportunity to say that modern evolutionary theory does or does not assert the view recorded above. If none of the biologists here will answer the question, then I will infer that they have no interest in teaching me what it is that modern evolutionary theory does or does not assert about the importance of mutations.

Technically speaking, I’m not an evolutionary theorist. But I’ll comment anyway.

Without mutations, the system would run out of variation after a while. Mutations replenish the supply of variation.


Thanks for this lucid, straightforward, non-evasive answer. Let’s see if the biologists here can match you in clarity and intellectual courage.

So, @Eddie (not some anonymous misquoted biologist) asserts:

People put far too much emphasis on mutation in evolution. Evolution does not work primarily on mutations, but on variation already present in the population. Evolution could do all the things it does now , even without mutations. Mutations might speed it up a little bit, but it would be almost as fast as it is now , even if there were no mutations at all.

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How can someone earn a Ph.D. and have such poor reading comprehension? I certainly did not assert the statement quoted. I made clear that it is a statement by someone else.

And I did not even ask if the statement was true or false. I asked only if it is a statement that would be endorsed by the supposed “consensus” of modern evolutionary theory. If no one here knows the answer to this question, then no one here has any business at all making statements about what modern evolutionary theory holds or does not hold.

@Eddie, I could play the game, but honestly don’t have time right this moment. I suppose you are getting resistance because it feels like you are setting a trap. Perhaps the smart move is to avoid the trap by refraining from playing?

What exactly is your point?


Even if I were doing so, what difference would that make, regarding the correct answer? Does modern evolutionary theory assert that evolution could achieve all that it does even if there were no mutations at all, but would just proceed more slowly – and even then, only slightly more slowly? If anyone here knows what modern evolutionary theory asserts, it should be very easy to answer this question.

As for your question about my point, that should be obvious from my statements above. I’m told time and again that I should defer to the alleged consensus of modern evolutionary theory, in which supposedly all practicing theorists are so close that their views resemble two almost superimposed circles (see Chris Falter’s Venn diagram). Well, if there is such an overwhelming consensus, then any biologist here should know immediately if the statement I quoted represents current evolutionary theory. If nobody here knows whether or not the statement is part of modern evolutionary theory, then it would be absurd for any of them to expect that I would regard their description of modern evolutionary theory as reliable.

LOL. How many ways can I assert that, in my opinion, @Eddie, you made this “quote” up? I don’t believe you captured the essence of whatever you think you heard or read. You haven’t given me any reason to think otherwise.

What is the point of discussing a figment of your imagination, Eddie?

Utterly irrelevant, as far as science is concerned. It is a statement about how evolution works. Science is interested only in the correctness or incorrectness of such statements, not in who uttered them.

I repeat the statement:

“People put far too much emphasis on mutation in evolution. Evolution does not work primarily on mutations, but on variation already present in the population. Evolution could do all the things it does now , even without mutations. Mutations might speed it up a little bit, but it would be almost as fast as it is now , even if there were no mutations at all .”

Does modern evolutionary theory agree with this statement, or not?

You have already indicated either that you don’t know (in which case you shouldn’t be pontificating on evolutionary theory), or that you do know, but are too afraid to answer (for some defensive motivation that you aren’t stating). So since you either cannot or will not answer the question, why not simply remain silent?

One more thing- it is quite likely that a discussant with good Google skills could easily use the author’s name (if the assertion is not @Eddie’s) to flesh out the details that @Eddie isn’t going to provide. I would bet that the details are much more pertinent than @Eddie’s point.

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Science is not centered on statements. Science is concerned with what actually happens.

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No. By itself, the statement (which sounds like something benkirk might have written on the BioLogos forum) is mostly true for short time scales and becomes increasingly and obviously false on long time scales. Even on short time scales some quite important evolutionary events would not occur without new mutations, however. As you subsequently expounded it – applying it to the whole history of life – then no, no evolutionary theorist would agree to it.


Thanks very much for this, Steve. It is a clear and non-evasive response to my question.

Based on my layman’s reading of contemporary evolutionary theory, I agree with your answer. I don’t think most contemporary evolutionary theorists would subscribe to the statement.

But you can see the problem. When on blog sites, people claiming great authority in science in general and evolution in particular, make statements like that, and try to badger people into accepting them as part of modern evolutionary theory, it creates problems. We are supposed to accept modern evolutionary theory, but are not provided with any clear sense of who exactly is the spokesperson for modern evolutionary theory. Is any aggressive biologist (I’m not speaking of you, whose manners are good) with strong opinions to be taken by lay people as the voice of modern evolutionary theory? Don’t such statements do more harm than good to the promotion of modern evolutionary theory?

Haven’t we already had this discussion? How can one talk about “what actually happens” without making statements? Boyle’s Law is a statement. Charles’s Law is a statement. Even a mathematical equation is a statement. A reporting of data is a statement. Scientific conclusions are statements. Science can’t possibly proceed without making statements, analyzing statements, criticizing statements, etc. Of course the statements are always considered in relation to what happens in nature – but statements are still necessary, in science or any other rational activity.