Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Survival of the misconception

Something which I wrote a while ago to try and set the record straight on Conservapedia.

A lot who dismiss evolution have never watched it in action and think that it is impossible to do so. When asked what it is they say “survival of the fittest” or “something which is slow” and that’s about it. Either statement is a misunderstanding of the concepts.

It is not survival of the fittest, I know that this is what Darwin said but if he were alive today I’m sure he’d agree that this isn’t the right catch phrase and neither is it accurate. Its un-survival of the un-fittest, which is less catchy but far more accurate, things which don’t do well get selected out of the gene pool, everything else has a fighting chance of continued genetic existence. Sounds like splitting hairs but the distinction is important. If you just breed from what is at that time the “fittest” from the population it is likely that the population will become susceptible to some future disease or defect. When some time later the meaning of survival changes there may not be enough diversity to adequately adapt. By only eliminating those which are too weak to survive a level of variability is maintained that allows for future adaptation.

Neither is it slow. It takes Time to get going (autopoiesis) and then wham it’s of (The Cambrian explosion), and then its refinements are slow. We perceive it from our stand point as being slow because we are on the plateau of evolutionary rate. In the initial stages the potential for exploring new avenues is vast and the rate of genetic change is great, but it is destined to fall off exponentially. Initially populations move very fast toward genetic convergence and achieve a largely converged gene pool early on. As the gene pool has becomes more converged the diversity is reduced and the rate of evolution slows to a rate related to the rate of mutation.

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