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This site is named for the famous statement of US Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver from Missouri : "I`m from Missouri -- you'll have to show me." This site is dedicated to skepticism of official dogma in all subjects. Just-so stories are not accepted here. This is a site where controversial subjects such as evolution theory and the Holocaust may be freely debated.

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Sunday, March 23, 2008

Blog war over terms "artificial selection" and "natural selection"

There is now a big blog war going on over the meanings of the terms "artificial selection" and "natural selection." The blog war involves ID'ers Michael Egnor and Jonathan Wells and the Darwinist Panda's Thumb, Larry Moran, Mike Dunford, Mike the Mad Biologist, etc.. There is a lot of name-calling, most of it coming from the Darwinists, as usual.

Michael Egnor gives the following definitions of "natural selection" and "artificial selection":
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Natural selection is selection in nature, presumably arising without intelligent agency. An example of natural selection would be the differential reproduction of organisms in nature, without the evident guidance of an intelligent agent.

Artificial selection is selection caused by intelligent agency. An example of artificial selection would be the intentional breeding of bacteria by a scientist in a research lab.

The distinction between natural selection and artificial selection is at least matter of definition, and perhaps there are empirical differences as well.

Yes, I certainly agree that "[t]he distinction between natural selection and artificial selection is at least matter of definition"!

I disagree with Dr. Egnor's definitions here. To me, "artificial selection" is "selective breeding," where humans handpick animals or plants for breeding, e.g., breeding short-legged sheep because of their poor ability to jump fences. The poor ability to jump fences is "fitter" for human purposes but is not necessarily "fitter" (or less fit) for the sheep. And sheep that can jump high fences are not necessarily fitter, because jumping high fences might result in greater exposure to predators.

"Natural selection" could be loosely defined as the selection of organisms by the environment instead of by humans, but there would then be many different kinds of natural selection involving both natural and artificial conditions, e.g., (1) natural selection in the wild under purely natural conditions; (2) natural selection in the wild under man-made conditions, e.g., man-made pesticides, the presence of non-native species that could only be introduced by humans; (3) a laboratory simulation of a natural evolution -- including a natural selection -- that could possibly occur under purely natural conditions; and (4) natural selection in a laboratory situation that could not occur in nature, e.g., where mutations are induced by massive doses of radiation or where there are synthetic or semi-synthetic antibiotics. So "natural selection" can be a very ambiguous term. To prevent confusion, maybe terms other than "natural selection" could be used in situations where the environment does the selection but the situation cannot possibly occur in nature.

Egnor continues,

What is the relationship between natural selection and artificial selection? There are two possibilities:

1) Natural selection is substantially different from artificial selection. If true, then breeding of bacteria in a research lab in order to study antibiotic resistance doesn’t depend substantially on the theory of natural selection.
2) Natural selection is substantially the same as artificial selection. If true, then breeding of bacteria in a research lab in order to study antibiotic resistance does depend substantially on the theory of natural selection. However, if natural selection is substantially the same as artificial selection, then biological change in nature (natural selection) is in some ways the same as biological change caused by intelligent agency (artificial selection). That’s an assertion that some of the evidence in evolutionary biology is consistent with intelligent design.
(emphasis in original)

That is specious reasoning that is solely based on Egnor's arbitrary definitions of terms. Egnor creates confusion by using the terms "intelligent design" and "intelligent agency" to refer to both the intelligence of humans and intelligence of unknown agents.
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6 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

And your point is ... ?

Monday, March 24, 2008 3:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Voice in the Urbanness said...

It is difficult to find a post by you that does not include name calling. This complaint makes you look even more hypocritical than usual, and that is a difficult mark to top.

Monday, March 24, 2008 6:46:00 AM  
Blogger NP said...

The most accurate way of describing artificial selection would be that it is a subset of natural selection.
Sometimes the two are treated as being different simply because of the element of human intervention. However, that is a very Victorian approach, since humans are very much a part of nature and not dissociated from it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008 3:26:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

NP said,
>>>>>The most accurate way of describing artificial selection would be that it is a subset of natural selection. <<<<<<

I disagree. In natural selection, the organisms that propagate are blindly selected by the environment and these organisms become fitter for the environment. In artificial selection by humans, the organisms do not necessarily become fitter for the environment. I used the example of breeding short-legged sheep because of their characteristic of having a poor ability to jump fences. That characteristic could make them more fit for the environment, less fit for the environment, or neither.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008 6:18:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Therefore, those tough aggressive grizzly bears, their presence incompatible with human civilization, are like long-legged sheep, resulting in their near-extinction in inhabited areas.

Not to mention what has happened to those poor, discriminated-against smallpox bacteria and guinea worms. Tsk! Are they fit for the "environment" or not? And why is it that the most successful germs are those that tone down their lethality? (Parasitism usually pays better.)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008 11:33:00 AM  
Blogger Larry Fafarman said...

Anonymous said...

>>>>> Therefore, those tough aggressive grizzly bears, their presence incompatible with human civilization, are like long-legged sheep, resulting in their near-extinction in inhabited areas.

Not to mention what has happened to those poor, discriminated-against smallpox bacteria and guinea worms. <<<<<<

There is hardly an eco-system left in the world that has not been affected in some way by human activity. So by your standards, there is almost no truly natural selection.

I narrowly defined artificial selection as "selective breeding." However, selection of organisms can include both artificial and natural elements, as I pointed out.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008 1:07:00 PM  

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