Ecology and Natural Selection


#1

Maybe you won’t mind if I reply. When you mention natural selection, I’m not sure about the entire scope of the word that you have in mind. Natural selection as catch phrase for survival of the most adapted, or the fittest, seems to be true. So the fastest healthiest runners in a wildebeest herd escape the chasing lions. The best polar bear seal hunters survive the winter, while the poor hunters starve and do not breed, or do not raise cubs. But, I know you have ecology on your mind, and so are concerned that lions become so effective at hunting that they over-populate and destroy their own food source. Thus you would assume that not just the fittest survive, but those who do not destroy their own environment survive best. In grand terms, some people would just call this another aspect of natural selection, at least from an evolutionary perspective. It would seem that animals cannnot plan their own ecology, although we see beavers influencing it to some degree. However, when we look at ecologies and natural systems, we would be appreciative of how balanced and integrated they often are. Yet, it could be argued that various ecologies are possible in a particular location, even though not all possible ecologies are present.

Perhaps you are arguing that ecological realities make the adaptation of new species more difficult?


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(Roger A. Sawtelle) #2

John Z,

Thank you for your response. In a way I am arguing the exact opposite.

Imagine for instance, the time period when the dinosaurs became extinct.

First of all they did not become extinct because of competition from mammals. They became extinct because of climate change and the warm swampy environment that nourished them and gave them plenty of food disappeared. Thus they slowly died out for ecological reasons.

So what happened in these transformed swamps that the mammals inherited. Mammals were readily able to adjust to these new plants, climate, and species, because they were smaller, worm blooded, had fur, etc, but this did not happen automatically, but by small steps, so as the climate, insects, and vegetation changed, so did mammals so that eventually mammals and other new species fill all the ecological space vacated by dinosaurs and beyond, because as a group they are more versatile, more adaptable.

To summarize individual plants and animals are attracted into new ecological niches because a)they offer new sources of food, and b) there is always population pressure to encourage looking for new sources of food. There was an extensive study done a few years ago which points to this correlation between the opening of new ecological niches because of climate and landscape change, and the development of new species. The only problem was that while those who wrote up the study for the press recognized this correlation, the authors of the study refused to accept
It.

Another evidence for this view is the fact that life forms do adapt to their environmental niche by changing that niche. Of course beavers are prime examples, and also human beings. Niche construction theory has pointed out many others.

Thus the reason that species develop and change is because the environment changes, as with the end of dinosaurs and the Ice Age. This is the opposite of Darwinian Natural Selection where genetic change leads to adaption as opposed to the need to adapt leads to genetic and other change.

In the case of the lions, when their prey flourishes, they flourish. When their prey does not have enough to eat, then then they also do not flourish, so the ecology evens things out.

I hope this explains how my view of natural selection is different from the Darwin’s and how the ecological understanding of “survival of the best adapted” explains how natural selection works much better than “survival of the fittest.”


Roger's views on Darwinism and natural selection
#3

Yes ecology and environment are very important for species habitat. But there are a couple of problems with some of your statements. Maybe its just wording. One is that mammal fossils (lots of them) have apparently been found with dinosaur fossils, so development of mammals was not dependant on climate or ecological change. Yes, the relative population sizes did change, but external environment cannot create genetic change, but only provide a conducive environment. In order to have adaptation leading to new species, you would have to have a variety of genetic mutations or already existing genetic diversity providing material that can adapt. But mammals in general can adapt to a large variety of ecologies and environments… so we have bears in many parts of the world, dogs (foxes, wolves, coyotes) in many different environments, as well as birds especially migratory birds. Mammals exist in cold oceans, warm jungles, in dry dessert climates and very wet environments. There is no reason to suppose based on climate change that they couldn’t exist in the previous ecology or climate. Changing ecologies or environments may provide a reason for movement or migration, or selection from available phenotypes, but not for development. Extinction is not the opposite of development, but is an independant phenomena which does not depend on evolutionary processes, but can occur with or without evolutionary processes.

I would argue that survival of the best adapted is synoymous with survival of the fittest in the mind of the evolutionist, just different way of saying it, an elaboration of the term.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #4

I would argue that survival of the best adapted is synonymous with survival of the fittest in the mind of the evolutionist, just different way of saying it, an elaboration of the term.

JohnZ,

A long time ago I assumed the same thing. It was only when I began to discuss evolution as adaption that I was informed by evolutionists on that site that this is wrong. Probably because Lamarckian evolution was seen as an adaption to the environment, so the adaptionist view was seen as Lamarckian as opposed to Darwinian.

I did some reading, especially of Richard Dawkins whom everyone said was the best source of information about how evolution works and found that they were right. Dawkins is dead set against ecological natural selection and his understanding of evolution, called the gene’s eye view, by design or not is anti-ecology and anti-design. BioLogos has yet to take on the gene’s eye view of evolution.

No one said that the extinction of dinosaurs caused the creation of mammals. However dinosaurs developed began before the mammals. We are talking about how and why species change and develop. Is there any doubt that if the earth’s climate and topology were the same today as they were at the time of the dinosaurs, they would still rule the earth?

Mammals thrive in diverse environments. Early earth was not a diverse environment. They flourish in a cooler environment, The early earth was not cool.

The recent edition of Scientific American on evolution pointed out that the place where homo sapiens emerged is in Africa which was subject to much ecological variation at the time this happened which put a premium on the ability of humans to use their mind to adapt to change in ways that other creatures cannot.

I quite agree it is difficult to understand why science has overlooked the role of adaption in how natural selection works, except Charles Darwin missed it l50 years ago and no one thought it proper to correct him. Plus survival of the fittest seems to appeal to the macho blood lust in many.


#5

Since I am not inclined to accept macro evolution, I only portray what I have read various evolutionists to say about it, including what I have learned in obtaining my degree in Science, as well as in many readings since then. So I had thought that adaptation was generally considered a form of survival, and especially recently, adaptation has been invoked as an alternative to simply assuming the fittest survive, since by “fittest”, many people assume the biggest, fastest, strongest. Adaptation includes the concept that even miniscule bacteria, or vulnerable hummingbirds, or the sloth, or helpless fawns, or burrowing owls and finches can adapt to their environment well enough to survive and thrive. Whether an environment changes or not is important but secondary to the concept, evolutionarily speaking. Yes it is true that a globally warmer or cooler climate would change the range of environments. Nevertheless, the range of a warmer globe compared to a cooler globe would have considerable overlap.

I agree you did not say the extinction of dinosaurs caused the creation of mammals. But you did hint that the change in climate caused the creation (you called it development) of mammals.

I would assume that early earth was indeed a diverse environment. The impact of elevation differences (unless elevation was uniform) and latitude would still induce diversity, even if the range of diversity shifts. If mammals survived alongside the dinosaurs, then the climate could not have been so severe that it was impossible for mammals even in those locations most favorable to the dinosaurs. (Unless the fossils were buried a long distance from the original normal habitat.)


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #6

JohnZ,

Now you appear to be a young earther which does indicate the problem.

Modern science indicates of course that after the Big Bang, the stars were formed. After our sun was formed the earth and other planets took form. You know of course that the core of the earth is molten iron with rock on its surface. This was the original form of our world, hot molten rock covered as it still is primarily by water.

Also the land originally was not seven continents as it is now, but one large land mass, which we call Pangia, which gradually became six (Europe and Asia are still one land mass.) If this is true and all the physical evidence points to these facts, it means that God not only created life forms by evolution, but the physical form of the planet by radical evolutionary change. God did it, no matter when some people think because God is the only One Who can do it. The question for those who are believers with scientific inclination is, How did God create in space and time as the Bible said God did, not if God did it?

As Christians we might not want to hear this, but I ask you, Did not our faith evolve over time? When God called Abraham, did God give him the Ten Commandments? No, God waited a long time until the time of the exodus to give these laws to Moses. Nor did God create kingship for Israel until God chose Saul to be the first king.

Our faith evolved, changed from Abraham to Jacob to Moses to Joshua to David to Josiah when another book of the Law was found to Daniel in exile to Nehemiah in the return to Jesus, yet is it still the same faith lived in different forms under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. We cannot even say that they Church is the same from Paul to the present day. The Eastern Orthodox Church likes to think it represents the ancient Church, and the Catholic Church likes to think that its teachings have been set by St. Thomas Aquinas, but the Protestant Church is guided by the living God through the Holy Spirit seeking God’s Truth for the present age.

Therefore God’s creation by gradual change, Jesus came not to destroy the Law, but to fulfill the Law, is consistent with how God works in the Bible through God’s covenantal relationship with God’s people, as well in the universe that we know through science.

So does the Bible lie when Genesis says that God created the universe in six days? No. God told us through the Bible, which is God’s word, not God’s Word since Jesus is God’s Word (John 1:1,) what humans needed to know when they needed to know it. Genesis provides the foundation for our faith as well as the foundation for science, but Genesis is not the gospel, nor is Genesis science. It is the beginning, not the end of both of these ways of knowing about God and God’s Creation.

God’s ways are not our ways. They are better than our ways. We should not expect God to do things the way we would do them, but seek to understand why God acts as God does.


#7

Roger, I don’t think I said I was a young earther. I said I am not inclined to accept macro-evolution. (whether the earth is young or old). You have kind of switched the topic from ecology to theology and philosophy. In addition to a degree in science, I also have a degree in arts (Philosophy/English), so am familiar with that approach to life as well. I will assume you agree with what I said about adaptation and selection. I was hoping you would elaborate on what you meant by development, since “development” is a rather generic word that could cover a lot of different things.

Okay, now for your philosophical musings. Neither I nor any YEC that I have read, has any philosophical or theological difficulty with the idea that the planet has changed in dramatic ways, including continental movement. They do dispute the time frame and the method in which it happened. I hear you saying that because changes happen through history, we should be willing to accept that our perception of creation should change. Sounds reasonable, but it is no justification for accepting a particular change. We wouldn’t use that type of justification for suggesting that we should accept communism, or the islamic faith or for all becoming mormons because after all, things change and evolve.

Does God tell us what we need to know when we need to know it? Yes. But does he tell us falsehoods in the meanwhile? No.

However, I am personally more interested in the scientific issues and difficulties with evolution, than with the theological difficulties. Evolution has become its own religion, and for that reason alone, needs to be challenged. Some scientists will say that evolution is not really science at all, since it has so little evidence for it, and violates scientific laws. Evolution is also used as a generic term for anything that involves change, which confuses the discussion sometimes. But scientifically, the growth of a baby to an adult is not evolution, nor is the melting of snow evolution, nor is a change in temperature or the eruption of a volcano evolution. In the same way, the shifting of continents is not evolution, and the oscillation of climate change is not evolution. If the earth were to become Mars or Venus, maybe that would be evolution of the planet, but that is not really in the purview of the discussion. So in the same way, our faith grows, but it does not evolve, it does not become a different species from the time when we as born again Christians begin to trust the Lord, and to be filled with the spirit. Nor does God evolve. Yes, our understanding of God changes and grows, as it has done for people from the beginning, just as our knowledge of physical universe has grown. But knowledge, while real in itself, cannot be equated with physical reality. Just because our knowledge changes, even evolves, does not mean that biological reality itself evolves by the paradigm of evolutionary theory, even though there are undeniable aspects of change.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #8

John Z,

You seemed to think that the earth remained stable while only living creatures changed. What I was trying to point out is this was not true. The surface of the earth started out as a cooling mass of lava, which slowly evolved into what it is today.

There is no question that there was change. The question is what caused the change in life forms. If you, like others, refuse to consider the possibility that they change to adapt to changes in the earth’s environment, that is your problem.

Evolution refers to gradual organic change. It is also refers to Darwin’s theory. I do not accept that theory as he stated it, but I do not reject the fact of evolutionary change.

As you say, God does not evolves, but humans do. Humans change, their culture changes, their ideas change, and their religions change, especially Christianity. You might not like that. I might not like that, but that is the way God made us.

If you have an idea better than Darwinian evolution, let’s hear it. I am trying improve on it also.


#9

Roger, once you get away from evolution as a philosophy or an ideology or even a religion, then you have to define what you mean by evolution in the context. We might say that our ideas evolve, but this has nothing to do with scientific evolution. We can say that technology evolves, but again, this is not scientific evolution in a biological or chemical physical sense. When we talk about evolution in a scientific sense, rather than in a philosophical or social sense, we are talking primarily about biology. Sometimes this gets broadened to included space, planets, solar systems and habitat (temperature, volcanoes, etc.), but that is not evolution in the biological sense. It is physics mostly, tied in with chemistry. It is not organic, but inorganic.

Organic evolution is tied directly to genetics and inseparable from it. Certainly, the world has changed over time. Evolutionary theory posits that the globe started as merely a cooling mass of lava, which obviously is not the condition of earth today, although there is still a lot of lava within the earth. Scripture indicates that the earth was void, and without form, covered by water. In both cases, the world has changed. But mere change is not evolution. Evolution requires species change. The earth is still earth, not a moon, nor a different planet such as Mars or Jupiter.

When we look at the human race changing as if it were an evolutionary thing, then we have turned evolution into a philosophy or theology, rather than a body of scientific principles and processes. God may have given us permission to have changing religions, but religions have changed since the beginning, and people have left God and come back to God since the beginning of scripture until now. That aspect (which is the main one) has not significantly changed. In any case, you can have one without the other. You can have a change in faith without a change in biology, or you could have a change in biology without a change in faith. They should not be conflated.

I should say also about permission to have changing religions does not mean approval by God. God allows us to make mistakes, and even allows us to disobey him. But…

As far as biological change, which is something I prefer to discuss in this context, I do understand and accept all the forms of biological change that I can see or measure. Obviously, even what Darwin saw in the Galapagos was a form of apparent change in the finches. However, with all the different beak sizes, he did not see finches evolve into something that could not be called a finch.

In all the studies of fruit flies and changes, we have never seen a fruit fly become a house fly or a wasp; they remain fruit flies. All the different breeds of dogs are still dogs, as is true for cattle and horses remaining true to type. (and of course, most of the varieties is a directed special selection, not a random undirected natural selection). We have seen some small changes through cross-breeding, such as between rye and wheat to produce triticale. But again, this is directed and controlled, not natural evolution.

Of course I agree with you that animals adapt in a sense, to the limits of their genetic variablility. In some other cases, they adapt merely structurally, as in the differences between bigger muscles and smaller muscles, weaker bones and stronger bones, bigger beaks and smaller beaks. Different lifestyles result in some changes. But obviously, they are also limited in their adaptation, which is why some species go extinct, and other species move in to friendly areas. Such as kangaroos moving from Europe to Australia, and many birds being migratory.

We could suppose that there are various types of bears, and various types of tigers, which are in different habitats, adapting within the limits of their genetic capability, but which could still breed together if given the opportunity and encouragement. In all of these cases, genetic variability has been lost in the various more specialized lines or genotypes. This is selection, but it is not evolution. It is a loss of genetic information. Dogs and wolves and coyotes can interbreed. But each specialized line of dog has less genetic variability than the ancestor such as wolf or wild dog. Mongrels have more variability than purebreds. Evolutionists will say this selection is evolution. But by itself it is a loss of genetic information, not a gain of information. It is limited to size, color, conformation, and does not generate new organs or appendages.

An early evolution theory error was that animals could adapt physiologically and structurally to suit their environment. This was before genetics were well understood. Now we know that if animals are to change significantly, the genetics must have changed first; enough mutations must have happened to create new organs or organelles that create a benefit for an organism in a new environment, or even in the same environment in which it already lives. The question is whether or not this is actually biologically likely or possible, especially to create the huge diversity of species we see today within the context and timelines proposed by evolutionary theory. Some scientists say that this is logistically and statistically improbable, and therefore scientifically impossible.


#10

Interesting also that I read yesterday about how water formed on an earth that was cooling molten lava. The speculation and theory was interesting, but I wonder if anyone has actually done the math on it? It seems rather doubtful that the atmosphere could hold enough moisture while the earth was hot, in order to deposit on the earth when it cooled, which sounds suspiciously like an old “creationist” theory which has been discarded by creationists for some years already.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #11

@Sy_Garte

It sounds like you are talking about neutral drift, which per my understanding is neutral because the allele is neutral ecologically, meaning that it does not affect the way it way it interacts with the environment materially one way or the other. If something is neutral, it is neutral, and neutral means that it does not affect the relationship to the ECOLOGY.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #12

@Sy_Garte

What you say is true, but I do not see that as the issue. The models we are talking about are ECOLOGICAL models. Traditional evolutionists, Dawkins is the prime example, do not link Natural Selection with ecology.

So the question is whether or not ecology is directly connected with Natural Selection or not. Steve @glipsnort said that there is an “intuitive” link between fitness and ecology. It is NOT an intuitive link. It is a LOGICAL link.

If we say that fit air rises and we know that it is fit because it rises, and then we discover that air that rises is always hot, we can say logically and accurately that air that is hot is fit and hot air rises. We could say that fit air rises, just as we say that fit alleles flourish and reproduce, but those sentences are meaningless.

We need to bring evolution into line with other scientific thought and clearly say that Natural Selection is based on then ability of alleles to adapt to their environment.

To say that the ability to adapt to the environment determines fitness, does not mean that we can predict how those alleles will adapt, just that they will adapt if they are to survive, which is usually the case.

We need to be seriously thinking about how humans can adapt to climate change and how we can slow down or reverse climate change so other life forms will be able to survive. This is not impossible because God has given us the minds we need to understand our world, our universe, our ecology.


(sy_garte) #13

Yes, they do. But I dont know how to convince you of that. Plenty of evidence can be found on Jerry Coyne;s blog, “Why evolution is true”. I have never seen any evolutionist who denied a linkage between ecology and natural selection. It is intuitive, because it is a basic tenet of the theory.


(Roger A. Sawtelle) #14

@Sy_Garte

I am afraid that I have never considered a serious thinker.

However I do challenge you to find where Dawkins, who is considered an evolutionist, the last time I checked.; makes the linkage between evolution and ecology. If fact he does deny this link as I have pointed out in the past without any kind of acknowledgement. Dee Dawkins, Climbing Mt. Improbable, pp. 267-68.

Please also read the book, The Gaia Hypothesis by Michael Ruse on this whole issue.

Dawkins makes clear what he has determined as the cause for evolution and that is DNA or the Selfish Gene. Now when I spoke a bout traditional evolutionists, I am talking about the Dawkins people. I am recognizing that ecology is a relatively new scientific trend that gained traction only in the last 50 years with the Silent Spring, Lovelock, Margulis, and Earth Day.

It is not a basic tenet of the theory, because Darwin depended Smith, Malthus, and Survival of the Fittest. Yes, it should be a basic tenet of the theory, but reading something that is not there into Darwin is false and thoroughly misleading. It is a gross distortion of science, and continues the devaluation of ecology as Wilson has found.


(sy_garte) #15

Roger

I cannot find my copy of Climbing Mt. Probable, but I do have The Ancestors Tale handy. (I refuse to lend it out). There are plenty of references to ecological aspects of evolution. In the chapter on Coral Reefs there are quite a few. Here is one (page 474) about the relationship of cleaner fish to their larger dangerous “clients”

“On tropical coral reefs, the almost fantastical levels of cooperation achieved between cleaner fish and client is symbolic of the way an ecological community can sometimes simulate the intricate harmony of a single organism…herbivores depend on plants, carnivores depend on herbivores. Without predation, population sized would spin out of control…Without a particular “keystone” species…the whole community would collapse”

So, that is Richard Dawkins writing about evolution and ecology. I am curious about the passage you mention in the other book, so, if you could type out the offending words (either here or in a message to me) perhaps we can lay this matter to rest.