Natural Selection

Natural Selection

Darwin did not define the term “natural selection” in the “GLOSSARY OF THE PRINCIPAL SCIENTIFIC TERMS” in The Origin of Species. To illustrate its actions, Darwin was forced to develop “imaginary illustrations:”

“In order to make it clear how, as I believe, natural selection acts, I must beg permission to give one or two imaginary illustrations”

Evolutionary scientists have struggled to develop a cohesive consensus on how natural selection acts since 1859. While a consensus on the actions resulting in extinction, no consensus exists on the actions of natural selection resulting in the origination of new species.Even Darwin was a critic of natural selection:

“There seems to be no more design in the variability of organic beings, and in the action of natural selection, than in the course which the winds blow.”

Over the past 150 years, scientists have expressed the following problems with Darwin’s main thesis – natural selection.

Conrad H Waddington, 1967

“There, you do come to what is, in effect, a vacuous statement: Natural selection is that some things leave more offspring than others; and you ask, which leave more offspring than others; and it is those that leave more offspring; and there is nothing more to it than that.”

Jerry Fodor and Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, 2010

“We have both spent effort and ink… to show that Darwin’s theory of natural selection is fatally flawed.”

“We think this argument [natural selection] although ubiquitous in the literature, is fallacious.”

Giuseppe Sermonti, 2005

“Natural selection could perhaps be invoked as a mechanism accounting for the survival of the species. But the claim that natural selection is creative of life…  can only leave one dumbstruck.”

“Natural selection only eliminates, and its adoption as a mechanism of origin is like explaining the ‘appearance’ by ‘disappearance.’”

“Natural selection (which should be more accurately termed ‘differential survival’) is not in doubt. No one has ever denied it. Without going into the subject at length, I will say that that it chiefly eliminates the abnormal, the marginal, the out-of-bounds, and keeps natural populations within the norm.”

“… the claim that natural selection is creative of life, of life’s essence and types of orders, can only leave us dumbstruck. Natural selection only eliminates, and it’s adoption as a mechanism of origin is like explaining ‘appearance’ by ‘disappearance.’”

“Natural Selection, which indeed occurs in nature…, mainly has the effect of maintaining equilibrium and stability.”

“Natural selection could perhaps be invoked as a mechanism accounting for the survival of the species. But the claim that natural selection is creative of life, of life’s essence and types and orders, can only leave one dumbstruck.”

“It [natural selection] eliminates all those that dare to depart form the type—the eccentrics and the adventurers and the marginal sort… by bringing them back to the norm.”

William Provine, 2005

“Natural selection does not shape an adaptation or cause a gene to spread over a population or really do anything at all. It is instead the result of specific causes: hereditary changes, developmental causes, ecological causes, and demography. Natural Selection is the result of these causes, not a cause that is by itself. It is not a mechanism.”

Francis Hitching, 1982

“Darwinism, as Darwin wrote it, could be simply but nonsensically stated: survivors survive. Which is certainly a tautology; and tells us nothing about how species originate, as even Darwin’s supporters admit.”

Hugo de Vries, 1905

“Natural selection may explain the survival of the fittest, but it cannot explain the arrival of the fittest.”

Colin Patterson, 1982

“No one has ever produced a species by the mechanisms of natural selection. No one has ever got near it, and most of the current argument in neo-Darwinism is about this question: how a species originates. And it is there that natural selection seems to be fading out, and chance mechanisms of one sort or another are being invoked.”

Niles Eldredge, 2005

“In the literal sense of the word, no doubt, natural selection is a false term; but who ever objected to chemists speaking of the elective affinities of the various elements?”

 Jerry Coyne, 1998

“We must stop pretending we understand the course of natural selection.”

Soren Lovtrup

“Today it is still commonly claimed that Darwin’s natural selection is the evolutionary mechanism par excellence. However, this assertion is not based on any factual evidence, for nobody has ever demonstrated that natural selection can bring about anything but events that are trivial from an evolutionary perspective.”

“…the reasons for rejecting Darwin’s proposal were many, but first of all that many innovations cannot possibly come into existence through accumulation of many small steps, and even if they can, natural selection cannot accomplish it, because incipient and intermediate stages are not advantageous.”1987

A. Lima-de-Faria, 2009

“Selection is a political not a scientific concept. At the time of Darwin it fitted perfectly the expanding colonialism of Victorian England.”

Bruce Runnegar, 2009

“Natural selection is not a mechanism, it’s the process by which the results of evolution are sorted.,, Not the production of variation, but the ultimate effect of pruning this natural selection process.”

Chris McKay, 2009

“It would be great to have some way to detect natural selection, but we’re unlikely to be able to. We have a hard time detecting it here on Earth and showing that it’s occurring.”

Scott Gilbert, 2009

“… natural selection alone cannot explain how butterflies got their wings. How the turtle got its shell.”

Jean Gayon, 2009

“Contemporary evolutionary biology admits that natural selection is the only acceptable explanation for adaptation, has raised serious doubts about the ability of natural selection to be an all-sufficient principle for the explanation of some or all the other classes of facts that Darwin explained through this principle.”

Lynn Margulis, 2009

“Darwin was brilliant to make ‘natural selection’ a sort of godlike term, an expression that could replace ‘God’, who did it—created forms of life. However, what is natural selection’ really? It is the failure of the biotic potential to be reached. And it’s quantitative… Natural selection is intrinsically an elimination process.”

“What is natural selection? Natural selection is the failure to reach the potential, the maximum number of offspring that, in principle, can be produced by members of the specific species in question.”

“Natural selection occurs all the time. But natural selection is an elimination process.”

“Darwin’s claim of ‘descent with modification’ as caused by natural selection is a linguistic fallacy.”

“Darwin wrote about the Struggle for Life and attributed change to Natural Selection. He made it easy for his contemporaries to think and verbalize Mr. Big Omnipotent God in the Sky up there picking out those He wants to keep. He has been conceived as the The Natural Selector, He throws the others away.”

Stuart Kauffman, 2009

“Is natural selection an expression of some more general process? Like entropy production. And it’s all up in the air.”

Massimo Paittelli-Palmarini, 2009

“The point is, however, that organisms can be modified and refined by natural selection, but that is not the way new species and new classes and new phyla originated.”

Stanley Salthe, 2009

“… simply stated my critique of the concept of natural selection… is that it is suspect because it so snuggly fits into our culture’s obsession with competition.”

“Oh sure natural selection’s been demonstrated… the interesting point, however, is that it has rarely if ever been demonstrated to have anything to do with evolution is the sense of long-term changes in populations… Summing up we can see that the import of Darwinian theory of evolution is just unexplainable caprice from top to bottom. What evolves is just what happened to happen.”

Michael Denton, 1998

“The plastic, metastable character of cytoplasm, which is so fit for crawling and selection adhesion, has not been created by natural selection.”

“The emerging picture is obviously consistent with a teleological view if nature. That each constituent utilize by the cell for a particular biological role, each cog in the watch, turns out to be the only and at the same time the ideal candidate for it role is particularly suggestive of design. That the whole, the end to which all this teleological wizardry leads−the living cell−should be also ideally suited for the task of constructing the world of multicellular life reinforces the conclusion of purposeful design. The prefabrication of parts to a unique end is the very hallmark of design. Moreover, there is simply no way that such prefabrication could be the result of natural selection.”

William J. Dakin, 1928

“Indeed after careful comparative study of the visual organs of the invertebrates, one finds greater difficulty in accepting the principle of natural selection.”

“It is very difficult to conceive of a complex structure, complex as these [invertebrate] eyes, being the final result of a sifting by natural selection.”

Richard C. Lewontin, 1978

“In other words, natural selection over the long run does not seem to improve a species’ chance of survival but simply enables it to “track,” or keep up with, the constantly changing environment”

Percival Davis and Dean H Kenyon, 1993

“In short, the giraffe represents not a mere collection of individual traits but a package of interrelated adaptations… But it is difficult to explain how a random process could offer to natural selection an integrated package of adaptations, even over time.”

Carl R Woese, 2012

I have “no use for natural selection.”

Laurence Moran, 2013

“We are skeptical of claims for the ability of random mutation and natural selection to account for the complexity of life. Careful examination of the evidence for Darwinian theory should be encouraged.”

Stephen C Meyer, 2009

“Given the probabilistic resources of the whole universe, it is extremely unlikely that even one functional protein or DNA molecule—to say nothing of the suite of such molecules necessary to establish natural selection—would arise by chance.”

Richard Dawkins, 1997

“For simplicity we speak of mutation as the first step in Darwinian process, natural selection as the second stage. But this is misleading if it suggests that natural selection hangs around for a mutation which is either rejected or snapped up and the waiting begins. It could have been like that: natural selection of that kind would probably work, and maybe does work somewhere in the universe. But as a matter of fact on this planet it usually isn’t like that.”

“Natural selection works because it is a cumulative one-way street to improvement. It needs some luck to get started, and the ‘billions of planets’ anthropic principle grants it that luck.”

John Beatty

“Lyell accused Darwin of ‘deifying’ natural selection by attributing to it the sort of creativity that should be reserved for the Creator.”

Thomas Nagel, 2012

“It is prima facie highly implausible that life as we know it is the result of a sequence of physical accidents together with the mechanism of natural selection.”

“… the appearance of life from dead matter and its evolution through accidental mutation and natural selection to its present forms has involved nothing but the operation of physical law−cannot be regarded as unassailable.”

James A Shapiro, 2011

“… it is apparent that systems engineering is a better metaphor for the evolutionary process than the conventional view of evolution as a selection-biased random walk through the limitless space of possible DNA configurations.”

“It is important to note that [natural] selection has never led to formation of a new species, as Darwin postulated.”

“Selection operates as a purifying but not creative force.”

Anthony Flew, 2007

“Natural selection is, notoriously, not selection.”

William Bateson, 1921

Natural selection, it is a “plausible account of evolution in broad outline, but failed in application.”

Steven Jay Gould and Richard C. Lewontin, 1979

“An adaptationist programme has dominated evolutionary thought in England and the United States during the past 40 years. It is based on faith in the power of natural selection as an optimizing agent. It proceeds by breaking an organism into unitary ‘traits’ and proposing an adaptive story for each considered separately. Trade-offs among competing selective demands exert the only brake upon perfection; non-optimality is thereby rendered as a result of adaptation as well. We criticize this approach.”

Eugene V. Koonin, 2011

“Natural selection, which is obviously akin to and inspired by the ‘invisible hand’ of the market that ruled economy according to Adam Smith… Viewed from that perspective, the ‘invisible hand’ of natural selection appears almost miraculously powerful, and one cannot help wondering whether it is actually sufficient to account for the history of life.”

“Darwinism in its original formulation faced problems more formidable and more immediate than the question of the sufficiency of natural selection.”

Thomas Huxley, 1860

“There is no fault to be found with Mr. Darwin’s method, then; but it is another question whether he has fulfilled all the conditions imposed by that method. Is it satisfactory proved, in fact, that species may be originated by selection? that there is such a thing as natural selection? that none of the phenomena exhibited by species are inconsistent with the origin of species in this way? If these questions can be answered in the affirmative, Mr. Darwin’s view steps out of the ranks of hypothesis into those of proved theories; but as long as the evidence at adduced falls short of enforcing that affirmation, so long, to our minds, must the new doctrine be content to remain among the former – an extremely valuable, and in the highest degree probable, doctrine, indeed only extant hypothesis which is worth anything in a scientific point of view; but still a hypothesis, and not yet a theory.

Noam Chomsky, 1972

“It is perfectly safe to attribute this development to ‘natural selection’ so long as we realize that there is no substance to this assertion; that it amounts to no more than a belief that there is some naturalistic explanation for these phenomena.”

Karl Popper

The theory of natural selection is a “metaphysical research program” rather than a scientific hypothesis.


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Darwin, Then and Now is a journey through the most amazing story in the history of science - the history of evolution. The book encapsulates who Darwin was, what he said, and what scientists have discovered since the publication of The Origin of Species in 1859.

With over 1,000 references, Darwin Then and Now is a historical chronicle of the rise and fall of the once popular theory of biological evolution.