EHRC Homepage | New Category | Your Questions

Lynn Margulis, a well-known evolutionist has candidly responded to this question as follows:

“We agree that very few potential offspring ever survive to reproduce and that populations do change through time, and that therefore natural selection is of critical importance to the evolutionary process. But this Darwinian claim to explain all of evolution is a popular half-truth whose lack of explicative power is compensated for only by the religious ferocity of its rhetoric. Although random mutations influenced the course of evolution, their influence was mainly by loss, alteration, and refinement. One mutation confers resistance to malaria but also makes happy blood cells into the deficient oxygen carriers of sickle cell anemics. Another converts a gorgeous newborn into a cystic fibrosis patient or a victim of early onset diabetes. One mutation causes a flighty red-eyed fruit fly to fail to take wing. Never, however, did that one mutation make a wing, a fruit, a woody stem, or a claw appear. Mutations, in summary, tend to induce sickness, death, or deficiencies. No evidence in the vast literature of heredity changes shows unambigious evidence that random mutation itself, even with geographical isolation of populations, leads to speciation. Then how do new species come into being? How do cauliflowers descend from tiny, wild Mediterranean cabbagelike plants, or pigs from wild boars?” (Lynn Margulis, Dorion Sagan, Acquiring Genomes: A Theory of the Origins of the Species, [pg. 29] (Basic Books, 2003)) and in another passage:

“[R]andom mutation is wildly overemphasized as a source of hereditary variation. Mutations, genetic changes in live organisms, are inducible; this can be done by X-ray radiation or by addition of mutagenic chemicals to food. Many ways to induce mutations are known but none lead to new organisms. Mutation accumulation does not lead to a new species or even to new organs or tissues. If the egg and batch of sperm of a mammal is subjected to mutation, yes, hereditary changes occur, but as was pointed out very early by Herman J. Muller (1890-1967), the Nobel prizewinner who showed X-rays to be mutagenic in fruit flies, 99.9 percent of the mutations are deleterious. Even professional evolutionary biologists are hard put to find mutations, experimentally induced or spontaneous, that lead in a positive way to evolutionary change.” [pg. 12]

Will Provine has discussed the utility of natural selection in the Afterword to the 2001 publication of his book, The Origin of Theoretical Population Genetics. He is reflecting in 2001 on the views he held from 1959-1970:


1. Natural selection was the primary mechanism at every level of the evolutionary process. This simple statement raises to major problems for me now. As John Endler has argued eloquently in Natural Selection in the Wild (1986), natural selection is not a mechanism. Natural selection does not act on anything, nor does it select (for or against), force, maximize, create, modify, shape, operate, drive, favor, maintain, push, or adjust. Natural selection does nothing. Natural selection as a force belongs in the insubstantial category already populated by the Becker/Stahl phlogiston (Ender 1986) or Newton's 'ether.'" [pg.199]

* * *

"Having natural selection select is nifty because it excuses the necessity of talking about the actual causation of natural selection. Such talk was excusable for Charles Darwin, but inexcusable for evolutionists now. Creationists have discovered our empty “natural selection” language, and the “actions” of natural selection make huge, vulnerable targets.[p.200]" Will Provine. The Origin of Theoretical Population Genetics (University of Chicago Press, 1971), reissued in 2001.
Clearly then, natural selection is a word without power, and perhaps a word without meaning. Insofar as evolution is concerned, using "natural selection" to cover our ignorance about process is inexcusable.

Ó 2011 Arthur V. Chadwick, Ph.D.