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Several questions on evolution, and mutation (rate)

Radford Neal radford at cs.toronto.edu
Sat Aug 31 14:03:03 EST 1996

In article <dyanega-3008962128250001 at catalpa.inhs.uiuc.edu>,
Doug Yanega <dyanega at denr1.igis.uiuc.edu> wrote:

> Evolution is defined as a change in the frequencies of alleles (different
> forms of the same genes) present in a population from generation to
> generation.

There's a slight historical problem with this definition:  Darwin's
theory of evolution was formulated without knowledge of genetics,
including the concept of "allele".  Now, formal definitions can change
over time, to take advantage of the precision allowed by new
discoveries, but this one misses the point in any case.  It certainly
is not an appropriate definition to use when debating fundamental
questions, such as, for instance, whether evolution is the result of
natural selection, or might instead be Lamarkian in nature.

> That's it. I would wager 10 years' salary that this is not at all what
> Dave THOUGHT the definition of evolution was...  Dave is trying to make 
> "evolution" synonymous with "speciation" and it never was and never will 
> be.

This is a fatuous argument.  The primary purpose of the theory of
evolution is to explain the diversity and similarity of form between
different species.  If evolution were in fact incapable of explaining
speciation, being instead confined to explaining variation within a
species, it would be of only minor interest, rather than being the
central organizing principle of biology that it is.

   Radford Neal

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