Natural selection applies to species and not individuals



Natural selection applies to species not to individuals. The most you can say is that evolution and learning are very similar processes where you try new things and you discard what does not work.

Hogwash. Next.

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Perhaps you would like to share with everyone here how natural selection applies to you.

:rofl: I can only guess that you think that “natural selection” – which refers to differential survival and reproduction of organisms like me – is the same as “evolution”, which is a broad term that is typically applied to lineages. Lineages evolve. Organisms are selected. Of course, selection can be thought of as acting at even smaller scales, but the unit of selection is me. The claim that “Natural selection applies to species not to individuals” is ludicrous.

Perhaps you would like to share with everyone here how natural selection applies to you.

P.S. doing that without running straight into social Darwinism is difficult I think. So I repudiate it utterly as immoral as well as rationally unsupportable. It doesn’t apply you because you do not live under the Nazis. We protect the weaker members of society as well we should.

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All anyone needs to know is whether I am an organism. I am. Bye!

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Yes you are. It is the automatic conclusion without further thought that therefore natural selection applies to you which should be examined.

This is not to say that civilization is the end of evolution as many believed for a long time. This is because there is another part of the process of evolution which Darwin didn’t know about. This is what happens when communities protect its weaker members. Instead of stopping evolution it actually a stimulus for evolution because what drives evolution is not natural selection but variation. By protecting its members a community makes it so its members don’t all have to be Daniel Boons and thus this becomes the basis for specialization and cooperative systems such as technology. Besides human civilization, we see this in the development of multi-cellular organisms and even before that in the development of the eukaryotic cell.

You are mistaken about lots of things, one of which is illustrated by the gratuitous falsehood that my conclusions were reached “automatically” and “without further thought.” Now, when I said “bye” before, I was oh-so-subtly signaling that I don’t think this conversation has value. Is that clear now?

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He either reproduced or he didn’t. Whether he did so or not is partly a result of the particular genetic variants he possesses. Therefore natural selection applies to him.

That reduces some selective pressures but it doesn’t remotely eliminate natural selection.


Yes! Very good. I was thinking if someone asked me that question my answer would be… “I have three children.”

But that was a while ago. So… that answer doesn’t apply to me anymore. And in any case this just genetics which isn’t such an all consuming matter for humanity anymore. It might not be long before genetics becomes just one of our tools of technology and then what will natural selection have to do with us?

Just because we are Christians who accept the theory of evolution as fact, doesn’t mean that Darwinism must be our new philosophy and theology. Where we come from doesn’t necessarily dictate where we are going.

So natural selection has already applied to you, even though you’re not a species.

It’s natural selection, which is the subject of this thread.

This doesn’t seem to have any connection to the question at hand.


From Wikipedia

Natural selection acts on the phenotype, the characteristics of the organism which actually interact with the environment, but the genetic (heritable) basis of any phenotype that gives that phenotype a reproductive advantage may become more common in a population.

Apparently glipsnort and sfmatheson think they are a phenotype with a reproductive advantage and perhaps becoming more common in the population.

Personally I can think of quite a few things which are becoming more common in the human population and natural selection has nothing to do with it. This is because natural selection has very little to do with people living in a society which doesn’t buy into the philosophy of social Darwinism.

Neither of us wrote anything like that, because both of us know what the phrase “natural selection” means.

Selection can be strong, weak, positive, negative, and frequency-dependent. It involves individuals. The question was never whether it can be subtle, or shifting, or moderated by zillions of other things. My goal in the discussion is to correct the ludicrous claim, by you, that “Natural selection applies to species not to individuals." Whether Steve or I have a “reproductive advantage” is laughably irrelevant to that.

Sure. Anyone can. That, again, is not remotely relevant to your misunderstanding of the concept of natural selection. No one ever claimed that natural selection is the only thing acting on humans or human populations. I can’t discern why you think this is the topic of discussion, but it is tiresome to watch your claims evolve and to watch you project your mostly incorrect ideas onto a couple of people who happen to be professional scientists.


Thermodynamics might help as an analogy. If you push a volume of gas into a vacuum chamber the overall result is the molecules will spread out evenly within the chamber, on average. However, if you put just a handful of molecules into a vacuum you may have instances where the molecules gather in one space for a moment. Thermodynamics is a stochastic process, so you can get deviations from the mean when you have a low number of interactions. All molecules are being affected by the same mechanisms, but you get an emergent process when you have large numbers. This is very similar to how natural selection plays out in populations.

Individuals are experiencing natural selection. The effect of that mechanism on individuals produces an emergent process at the level of the population. The mechanism applies to all individuals which results in an increase of average fitness for the population as a whole.



I think you meant to say Evolution applies to populations, not to individuals.

Paradoxically, natural selection DOES apply to individuals… or nothing happens at the population level.

Do you follow me?

Nope. I meant what I said. But you make a valid point which plays right into my next explanation.

I follow you. It is just incorrect. You have it correct according to orthodox Darwinism, but we know more now than we did then. Natural selection at the individual level is not the only means by which you get natural selection at the species level. This is because individual evolution is only one part of the process. There is another part which Darwin didn’t see. It begins when communities start protecting the weaker members. This brings the species to a new stage of evolution where variation in the individual increases because you are no longer limited to those individuals which can survive on their own. This allows specialization of roles for the individual and thus cooperative benefits like technology. When this happens natural selection no longer applies to the individuals but continues to apply to groups of individuals (communities or populations if you like) as they compete with other groups.

This is has been carried to its ultimate conclusions in the development of multi-cellular organism when the communities become the new individuals. Many think this happened at least once before that in the development of eukaryotic cells.

Of course there are simplifications in this because the degree to which the community can shield the individuals from natural selection changes with those cooperative benefits. This should be obvious with the advances of human technology (especially medical technology) but it is easily applied to multicellular evolution as multicellular organisms evolve better ways of protecting itself from environmental challenges.

If there was a nit picking contest scientists would be some of the most well trained contestants, so don’t feel discouraged if people find fault in your descriptions of evolution.

Perhaps a better way of putting it is that natural selection operates at many levels, from the individual to entire groups of species that are connected by ecological interactions. We also have to be mindful of the emergent processes we are trying to understand.

We humans have this bias towards black and white categorization which often don’t exist in nature. For example, people often talk about the “Species problem”, as if nature is supposed to operate in such a way that there are obvious and easy to define boundaries between species. The Species problem is really our problem in expecting black and white categories.

In my (probably misinformed) opinion, we need to start with the question and then work towards an answer. All too often we start with an answer (i.e. natural selection) and try to force fit it into the question. For example, what is causing changes in the phenotypes of termite colonies? We would have to consider social interactions between termites of the same colony, competition between different termite colonies, interactions between individual termites and their commensal bacteria that break down cellulose into sugars, prey species, and so on. For each species we may find different ecological interactions and population dynamics that affect how the species changes, and how the changes in that species affect other species. If we start with a black and white definition from the start we may miss something.


Nit picking, @T_aquaticus?

We have YECs who think individuals evolve, and we have others who say natural selection doesnt apply to individuals.

Its sloppy thinking … and it leads to sloppy discussions.

And it sounds like you didn’t read the rest of my reply, so that is an explanation for why your response here is inadequate. But here is a further analysis, so lets see if you follow it or you just like handing out blind judgments without any substance.

What is the difference between a species and a population? The flow of genetic information. Eventually genetic drift will cause separated populations of the same species to become different species. So until then they can be called subspecies but are completely capable of contributing to the future development of the species should those separate populations merge again. In fact we see this happening with the Neanderthals and the Denisovans when they merge with the modern humans after being separated and thus are now part of the modern day human gene pool.

Natural selection is the means by which the gene pool changes because of a stochastic bias favoring some genetic configurations over others. This stochastic nature of the process (in addition to the above mentioned phenomenon where communities protect its weaker members) is why it is incorrect to say that natural selection applies to individuals. But since the distinction between populations and species are often temporary it is strange to say that it only applies to populations and not species. Furthermore, changes in the environment may not be local and thus you can have the same stochastic bias affecting all the populations of a species and thus natural selection working on the species as a whole rather than on the populations separately.

So what, you may say… death is death isn’t and there is no natural selection without individuals dying. Death and natural selection are not the same thing. Just because some local disaster wipes out population doesn’t make this a consequence of natural selection. And just because that disaster doesn’t effect certain individuals or populations doesn’t mean this is an operation of natural select either, for it could be completely random, coincidentally wiping out the best of the species rather than the worst.

Nope, that’s wrong. You are right that there is a stochastic element to natural selection, and I like your description of selection as resulting from a “bias favoring some genetic configurations over others.” But the conclusion that it is thus “incorrect” to say that selection applies to individuals isn’t even defensible on a tortured semantic basis. It’s just wrong, and it’s not even debatable.

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