The relation between micro- and macroevolution

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Re: The relation between micro- and macroevolution

Postby davidm on February 20th, 2020, 8:03 pm 

Did you read everything I wrote today, carefully? Did you read my link to the evolutionary biologist who discussed why you cannot talk about survival of the fittest in a vacuum, but that, in evolutionary theory, you must couple it with natural selection?

Did you read my response to your request that I give you a statement or principle on this matter, not just an example? I reproduce my statement below:

Since organisms empirically reproduce with heritable variation, some of them will inherit variations that happen to be better adapted to the given environment (make them less likely to be eaten). Others will inherit variations that make them less well adapted (they will be more likely to be eaten). On average, the better adapted individuals will be more likely to survive long enough to reproduce, and thus pass on the adaptive variations that they were fortunate enough to inherit. These traits will consequently begin to spread through the population. This is called “survival of the fittest.” And this, in nature, is exactly what we observe.


I repeat the question I asked earlier: Where is the tautology in this statement of principle? Where, Reg, where?

It is a wonderment to me that you continually invoke Gould while apparently oblivious to the fact that Punk Eek still depends on the very thing you claim is a tautology. See my discussion above about Gould, from The Structure of Evolutionary Theory.
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Re: The relation between micro- and macroevolution

Postby Reg_Prescott on February 20th, 2020, 8:27 pm 

davidm » February 21st, 2020, 12:16 am wrote: Now you had claimed that Haldane wrote somewhere that survival of the fittest is a tautology. When I asked you to show me the exact quote with its context, you admit you can’t do it! Is this honest discussion??


A little googling reveals the source of the Haldane quote to be:

Haldane J.B.S (1935). Darwinism under revision. Rationalist Annals, 19-29.

I don't have it, my local library doesn't have it, it doesn't seem available online, and I certainly ain't coughing up the dough to buy it. Perhaps another member can help.

The quote is cited by various authors. You reckon they're all delusional?


davidm » February 21st, 2020, 12:16 am wrote: Now it's on to Ernst Meyer [sic] !

“… those individuals that have the most offspring are by definition … the fittest ones”


Reg, where is this quote from? What is its context? And what is behind the ellipses?


I don't have the Ernst Mayr source, either. That said, is it really necessary to go dig up when he's saying nothing that is not routinely said by other biologists?

Take a look at this article on the so-called "propensity interpretation of fitness". The authors candidly admit the threat of vacuous tautology, then try to provide a solution -- unsuccessfully, in my opinion.

https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/1480/f ... a8910e.pdf

But the fact is that there is a major problem in the foundations of evolutionary theory which remains unsolved, and which continues to give life to the debate. The definition of fitness remains in dispute, and the role of appeals to fitness in biologists' explanations is a mystery. This is a problem which ought to concern biologists and philosophers of science, quite independent of the vicissitudes of the controversy which it perpetuates.
Biologists agree on how to measure fitness, and they routinely appeal to fitness in their explanations, attributing the relative predominance of certain traits to the relative fitness of those traits. However, these explanations can and have been criticized on the grounds that, given the definitions of fitness offered by most biologists, these explanations are no more than redescriptions of the phenomena to be explained [i.e., tautologous - Reg]

[...]

According to the most frequently cited definitions of 'fitness' that term refers to the actual number of offspring left by an individual or type relative to the actual contribution of some reference individual or type. For instance, Waddington (1968, p19) suggests that the fittest individuals are those which are "most effective in leaving gametes to the next generation." According to Lerner (1958), "the individuals who have more offspring are fitter in the Darwinian sense." Grant (1977, p. 66) construes fitness as "a measure of reproductive success". And Crow and Kimura (1970, p. 5) regard fitness "as a measure of both survival and reproduction" (see also Dobzhansky 1970, pp. 101–102; Wilson 1975, p. 585; Mettler and Gregg 1969, p. 93).

These definitions of "fitness" in terms of actual survival and reproductive success are straightforward and initially intuitively satisfying. However, such definitions lead to justifiable charges that certain explanations invoking fitness differences are circular.
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Re: The relation between micro- and macroevolution

Postby Reg_Prescott on February 20th, 2020, 8:41 pm 

davidm » February 21st, 2020, 9:03 am wrote:
Did you read my response to your request that I give you a statement or principle on this matter, not just an example? I reproduce my statement below:

Since organisms empirically reproduce with heritable variation, some of them will inherit variations that happen to be better adapted to the given environment (make them less likely to be eaten). Others will inherit variations that make them less well adapted (they will be more likely to be eaten). On average, the better adapted individuals will be more likely to survive long enough to reproduce, and thus pass on the adaptive variations that they were fortunate enough to inherit. These traits will consequently begin to spread through the population. This is called “survival of the fittest.” And this, in nature, is exactly what we observe.


I repeat the question I asked earlier: Where is the tautology in this statement of principle? Where, Reg, where?




Where is the tautology? Isn't that screamingly obvious?

What we're being told, in a nutshell, is that the "better adapted" (i.e., the fitter) survive and reproduce more successfully than the less well adapted.

("... the better adapted individuals will be more likely to survive long enough to reproduce ...")

Now, here's the problem: who are the better adapted?

Are they not simply those who survive and reproduce more successfully?

If yes, we're back in the same old vacuous loop: those good at surviving will survive (and transmit their genetic material, etc, etc, blah blah blah).

If no, who are they?

As I've said before -- apparently to no avail -- is that to escape the circularity, fitness/adaptedness will have to be defined without any reference to survival and reproduction.
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Re: The relation between micro- and macroevolution

Postby Reg_Prescott on February 20th, 2020, 10:26 pm 

If the point of my previous post is not clear, why don't we try a thought experiment.

Let us all take a trip to Davidm's faraway planet. We do indeed observe David's ball-like creatures frolicking in the jungle; this time in two varieties: black and white.

Q1: Which are the "more well adapted"? The blacks or the whites?

Q2: How do you determine this?



Is "well adapted" not just another way of saying "well suited to survive (and reproduce) in a particular environment"?

(Otherwise, well suited to do what?)

If this is the case, then to "explain" survival and reproductive success by appeal to adaptedness -- as Davidm does ("... the better adapted individuals will be more likely to survive long enough to reproduce ...") -- constitutes an exercise in circular folly.

In other words, you'd be explaining absolutely nothing.
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Re: The relation between micro- and macroevolution

Postby TheVat on February 20th, 2020, 11:22 pm 

Back to topic. Feel free to PM each other on the separate matter of tautology and feel free to keep circling back to that until the thermodynamic death of the universe. See my previous post, and David's response, if you are uncertain of the topic. The subject line is also a clue. Off-topic posts will be removed, so make a copy of anything in it you think should be saved.
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Re: The relation between micro- and macroevolution

Postby davidm on February 21st, 2020, 3:07 pm 

I have no further interest in discussing any alleged tautology. I have shown that there is none, and all biologists, including Haldane, Mayr, and Gould agree. So this is not just beating a dead horse, it is beating it into the constituent quarks of its atoms.

From page 653 of The Structure of Evolutionary Theory:

... we hold firm to the classical bare-bones Darwinian definition, but recognize that selection can work on evolutionary individuals at many hierarchical levels. Selection has traditionally been defined as the differential reproductive success of evolutionary individuals based on the fitnesses of their traits in interaction with the environment. Thus, we recognize higher-level selection by the differential proliferation of some higher-level individuals (demes, species, clades) over others — just as we define conventional natural selection by the differential reproductive success of some organisms based on phenotypic traits that confer fitness.


In the bolded parts we see that Gould obviously accepts Darwin’s key insights, and that in no way does he regard survival of the fittest, as a consequence of variable reproduction with natural selection, to be problematic in the least. Apposite to this thread are his statements that “selection can work on evolutionary individuals at many hierarchical levels,” and, “… we recognize higher-level selection by the differential proliferation of some higher-level individuals (demes, species, clades) over others”

That is the crux of the matter, no? I take that to be the point of discussion here.
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Re: The relation between micro- and macroevolution

Postby davidm on February 21st, 2020, 8:31 pm 

We could also throw in hopeful monsters, because the name alone is so cool. :-) The idea, too.
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Re: The relation between micro- and macroevolution

Postby Reg_Prescott on February 23rd, 2020, 3:05 am 

Well, I've just got to the end of Gould's 400-page epic "Punctuated Equilibrium", written roughly 20 years ago, shortly before his death. Fittingly, this will be my final contribution to the thread.

In the last few pages, Gould reflects upon the (almost) thirty years that had elapsed since the publication of his initial paper, co-authored by Niles Eldredge, and the various reactions it had inspired, in some cases to an almost staggering degree of religious-like zeal and vituperation from the ultra-adaptationist camp typified by Dawkins and Dennett.

Come to think of it, not at all unlike the reaction I've received here myself in depicting the challenge to orthodox hegemony that PE constituted (and perhaps still constitutes). Complaints and accusations hurled my way over the past four pages include:

1. Constructing and attacking a strawman of the ante-PE evolutionary synthesis, i.e., failing to understand (both pre- and post-PE) evolutionary theory.

2. Constructing and attacking a strawman of Gould's (and Eldredge's) ideas. It was even suggested that I had not read them!

3. That Gould and Eldredge were effectively saying nothing new: Darwin "anticipated" PE.

4. Exaggerating the importance of G&E's work.

5. Even scurrilous whispers here and there of dishonesty, as well as suspicions of my harboring a hidden agenda! (that old "closet Creationist" chestnut again, eh?)


For your edification, gentlemen, a quick survey:

"Similarly, I would say that the characterization of evolution as being strictly gradual and uniform was more of a straw man argument since even Darwin noted that evolution happened in fits and starts and, in the real world of fossils, etc., we can see long spans of time with little change in some species while others exhibit change seemingly very rapidly. So what?" - Forest_Dump (page 1)

" ... your points at best seem to be making mountains out of molehills or tempests in tea pots." - Forest_Dump (page 1)

"Truth be told, the notion of gradual and steady change doesn't even make a ton of sense to me at the moment [...] So, truth be told, I think you mischaracterize what evolutionary theory really is to any but some more fringy types" - Forest_Dump (page 1)

"hidden bias or agenda" - Forest_Dump (page 2)

"For the “Copernican Revolution” analogy to hold with respect to modern biology, we would need two theories, empirically equivalent, that have different foundational claims. [...] This state of affairs does not exist." - Davidm (page 2)

"What they do take issue with is phyletic gradualism — but PG is not a core tenet of Darwin." - Davidm (page 2)

"As I have shown, in the very first edition of Origin, he [Darwin] actually anticipated Punk Eek." - Davidm (page 2)

"And yes, I have read the material under discussion. Have YOU? Because anyone claiming Eldredge and Gould proposed a Copernican Revolution in evolution either have not read, or have not understood, either -- as I have demonstrated." - Davidm (page 2)

"I just object to your mischaracterization of his [Gould's] views" - Davidm (page 2)



Before proceeding, why don't we remind ourselves of the prescient words of the great William James that I posted on page 1:

"First ... a new theory is attacked as absurd; then it is admitted to be true, but obvious and insignificant; [and] finally it is seen to be so important that its adversaries claim that they discovered it themselves".

It's a funny old world, eh? Apparently, unbeknownst to myself, Louis Agassiz said something very similar, which Gould refers to (on page 352) as "Agassiz's rule":

"When a new doctrine is presented, it must go through three stages: First, people say that it isn't true, then that it is against religion, and, in the third stage, that it has long been known."

Applied to the reception of PE, Gould characterizes Agassiz's rule thus: Stage 1, denial; Stage 2, "punctuated equilibrium was vociferously dismissed as contrary to religion--that is, as apostate anti-Darwinian nonsense"; and Stage 3: "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em (but don't grant 'em too much credit for innovation or originality)"


Gould spends the final few pages of PE drawing attention to the much appreciated scientific criticism of his work, citing support from fellow PE admirers, as well as the almost manically-jealous ("jealous" is his own word) ad hominem howls of outrage from his naysayers.

Let's begin with the charge that Darwin had said it all before; that Darwin "anticipated" punctuated equilibrium, and by extension, that I've been exaggerating the importance of G&E's work. I quote directly from PE, pages 343-345:

THE CHARGE OF RIP-OFF
"I suppose, therefore, that when we began to arouse substantial jealousy, someone was bound to argue that Darwin himself had said it all before"
[...]
One simply can't do history by searching for footnotes and incidental statements, particularly in later editions that compromise original statements. As with the Bible, most anything can be found somewhere in Darwin. General tenor, not occasional commentary, must be the criterion for judging a scientist's basic conceptions. If Darwin historians agree on a single point (for example, see Gruber [1974], and Mayr [1982b]), it is the importance and pervasiveness of Darwin's gradualism--a commitment far stronger than his allegiance to natural selection as an evolutionary mechanism.
[...]

(cf. "What they do take issue with is phyletic gradualism — but PG is not a core tenet of Darwin." - Davidm, page 2)

Fortunately, one needn't take my partisan word in refutation. Frank Rhodes, then the president of Cornell University, but a distinguished paleontologist [in reply to Gingerich "denying our originality and asserting once again that Darwin had said it all before"]:

"I do argue that punctuated equilibrium--whether true or false--is a "hypothesis of major importance" and that it has had a beneficial impact on the quality of recent paleontological studies. Gingerich asks: "What nuances [of punctuated equilibrium] were unanticipated by Darwin?" From a long list, I suggest the following: its relationship to the genetics of stasis and the punctuation, morphological stasis and developmental constraints, evolutionary models in relation to paleontology, stratigraphical correlation, species selection, mathematical models of evolutionary rates, selection of RNA molecules, phylogenetic divergence, and the evolution of communities. These topics, and many more studied from the viewpoint of punctuated equilibrium, have been the subject of recent papers . . . To suggest that there was no nuance of punctuated equilibrium which was "unanticipated by Darwin" is to make an icon of Darwin and to adopt an extravagantly Whiggish view of the history of Darwin's particular contribution--great as it was."


Note in passing (you in particular, Forest, and my own putative "hidden agenda"), this salient observation (p346-347): "When charges of dishonesty or lack of originality fail, a committed detractor can still label his opponents as unconcerned with scientific truth, but motivated by some ulterior (and nefarious) goal. Speculations about our "real" reasons have varied widely in content, but little in their shared mean spirit (see, for example, Turner, 1984; Konner, 1986; Dennett, 1995).


Gould closes (pp355-356) by expressing his appreciation to his supporters through what must have been difficult times:

I welcome the generous assessment of Kenneth Korey (1984) in the preface to his compendium of Darwin's best writing, The Essential Darwin:

"Unquestionably no single challenge to the synthesis has provoked more attention than the theory of punctuated equilibrium ... [...] It is true that punctuated equilibrium was not a prediction of the synthesis; on the contrary, Simpson emphasized continuous, phyletic evolution as the most pervasive feature of evolution at this level [...] Species selection, in its present form, would seem to require the most profound reworking of evolutionary theory."


A profound reworking, eh? Now, I've no doubt Gould and Eldredge were far too modest to use the word themselves, but that sounds an awful lot like a revolution to me, chaps. And scarcely what might be described as "making a mountain out of a molehill".

and

And I thank Paul Ehrlich (1986) ...

"[...] And it's not fair to swallow the punctuationist view within the gradualist orthodoxy simply because the possibility of rapid speciation has always been part of that orthodoxy. The punctuationist view is about dominant patterns, not about what is possible--and it represents a genuine challenge to one widely held within evolutionary theory".


Compare with my own response on page 1 to Forest_Dump's "So what?" (first on list of complaints and accusations above):

"But what if "no gradualism whatsoever" is in fact the norm rather than the exception; the "dominant" position?"
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Re: The relation between micro- and macroevolution

Postby davidm on March 1st, 2020, 2:18 pm 

Meanwhile, breaking news: Molecular evidence supports Darwin’s adaptationist view, informing the debate over what drives evolution

It must be stressed, though, that the headline is a bit misleading. Darwin, with his usual prophetic genius, predicted that other mechanisms for evolution would be found besides adaptationism, and also specifically did not insist on only phyletic gradualism. Pretty good for the founder of what someone here has called a “BS theory,” and a guy who did not even know about genes, DNA, molecular clocks, drift, the current fossil record, etc.

I do wonder, though, apropos of the Moran/Dawkins clash linked upthread, if Larry Moran, adaptationist skeptic, will address this study at his blog.

Also in the news:

Rutgers Researchers Set Out to Prove Evolution of All Life, Possibility of Extraterrestrial Life

And!

For the first time, scientists found a complete protein molecule in a meteorite — and they’re pretty sure it didn’t come from Earth.

Science, wonderful science, marches on — and pays not the slightest bit of attention to David Berlinski, Phillip E. Johnson, Michael Behe, William Dembski, Stephen C. Meyer, and the rest of their merry band of babbling IDiots! :-D

And, no, Reg, I have not read your latest post.
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