Re: Random from Professing evolution column

From: Don Winterstein (
Date: Sat Feb 08 2003 - 03:32:07 EST

  • Next message: Iain Strachan: "Re: Random from Professing evolution column"

    I wrote:

    > > Even where species changes in historic times have been clearly
    documented, no one has shown that the mutations responsible were random.<

    To which David Campbell replied:

    > It depends on the definition of random. (snip)

    Are you saying that someone has shown that the specific mutations that
    caused the species changes were indeed random, in any sense?

    To me "random" means what I think it means in most of science, namely, that
    a sufficient number of samples will fit a probability distribution function
    such as a Gaussian, but that the location within the distribution of any
    particular sample before it is measured is completely unpredictable. (This
    definition may not satisfy a mathematician, but I think it's good enough for
    a physicist or a theologian.)

    I have no doubt whatever that mutations occur at random. For example, one
    cause of mutation is cosmic radiation, and at sea level that is strictly
    random any way you measure it; therefore I'd predict its effects on DNA would also be random.

    My point is that no one needs to believe that such random mutations are the
    ones that led to emergence of new species, because no one can prove, for
    example, that God did not skew the distributions for his own purposes when
    new species emerged. I do in fact believe that some "descent with
    modification" occurs from random mutations, but this is just a belief, and
    I'd have no reason to dispute anyone who did not believe it. I cannot
    believe that ALL descent with modification comes from random mutations.
    Such a belief would clash with my perception of God's involvement with the
    world and with me.

    Actually, your later comment, ".if God is sovereign over the outcome of casting lots, as various passages attest, then this sort of randomness does not exclude God," says precisely, in different words, that God indeed may skew the distributions. So I guess in this respect we're in agreement. It's just that I would say you lose randomness as soon as there is any deliberate skewing. Is this just semantics? I don't think so.

    Theories are great and can be lots of fun. Beautiful are the scenarios of
    stellar evolution and nucleosynthesis, but the very first time (to the best
    of my knowledge) any of these ideas was subjected to empirical test, it
    failed miserably. I'm talking about the discrepancy between predicted and
    observed neutrino flux from the sun. This is now an old problem, but I
    haven't heard that they've solved it yet.

    So theories can be elegant and neat, but unless they are put to the test,
    they're not terribly respectable. The accepted mechanism of organic
    evolution in particular has never been put to the test, so it has garnered
    much more respect than it deserves. A proper test to give it true respectability
    would show that mutations known to be random in the scientific sense can
    give rise to complex changes in living organisms of the sort documented in
    the fossil record. For obvious reasons such a test is not practicable.

    Hence the accepted mechanism of evolution is a fine belief useful perhaps
    for studying microbes and speculating about other forms of life, and also
    for organizing and communicating one's thoughts about organic evolution, and
    maybe for other things as well--I'm sure you know better than I; but it's
    not science in the sense of quantum electrodynamics, for sure!


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