Several questions on evolution, and mutation (rate)

Radford Neal radford at cs.toronto.edu
Mon Sep 2 11:16:29 EST 1996

In article <dyanega-0109962027360001 at catalpa.inhs.uiuc.edu>,
Doug Yanega <dyanega at denr1.igis.uiuc.edu> wrote:

>I am NOT redefining evolution, I am instructing the non-biologists here
>what the accepted biological definition has been for much of this century.

I think you are quite wrong in this regard.  First because, as I
pointed out previously, your definition of evolution as "changes in
frequencies of alleles" fails to capture the reason why evolution is
an important subject.  Second, because it is a pathetically inadequate
definition even if one were aiming at a technical characterization for
use when the conventional views on which it is based are not in dispute.

Even the most casual acquaintance with the variety of organisms on
Earth should reveal to you that they differ in more than the
frequencies of alleles.  The concept of an "allele" applies only when
the set of genes is regarded as fixed, which is clearly not the case
when considering organisms that differ wildly in the number, length,
and organisation of their chromosomes.  You might also like to consider
whether your definition of evolution is adequate to describe the
origin of the eukaryotes via endosymbiosis - or for that matter, of

If you're going to ignore all this, however, why stop at frequencies
of alleles?  Why not go all the way, and declare that evolution is
really about changes to an organism's DNA - even if the changes are in
a non-coding region, or if the change is from one codon to another
that is synonymous.  That'll stop those ignorant critics cold - easily
demonstrated *proof* that evolution occurs all the time!  Sure, they
may still question whether eyes or hands can really evolve by this
mechanism, but with this definition, it is easy to see that evolution
really has nothing to do with things like eyes and hands.  The fools
just don't know the up-to-date definition, being stuck in the rut of
thinking of evolution in the same way that Darwin did.

Winning arguments this way clearly has certain advantages - in the words
of Bertrand Russell, "they are the advantages of theft over honest toil".

    Radford Neal

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