Faustian Epistemic Randomness

January 11, 2006 § 10 Comments

We are often told that the randomness in neo-darwinian theory just means that the mutations in the genome are unpredictable, and nothing more. So I propose a compromise between neo-darwinians and darwinian sceptics over what can be taught in high school. Instead of calling the mechanism evolution by random mutation and natural selection, we can call it evolution by mutations of unknown origin plus natural selection. That ought to make everyone happy, don’t you think?

Or perhaps more accurately still, evolution by mutations of unknown origin plus natural selection, operating on a genome of unknown origin.

Can’t we all just get along?


§ 10 Responses to Faustian Epistemic Randomness

  • c matt says:

    I always have a hard time with “random” and “predictable” as I learned them from a business statistics pov. As taught there, randomness was <>required<> in order for any measure of prediction t be reliable. I suppose they are using a different definition of “random”. As I was taught it, for statistical purpose, random means that outcome A is just as likely to occur as outcome B, C, or D, for population ABCD. If outcome A were more likely or less likely than the others, then randomness would not exist and prediction could not be accurately made.I suppose in the evoltutionary sense, the definition is somewhat different (at least from what I have seen) as they define it as an occurrence that cannot be known (predicted?) in advance. Does the difference arise because in one case, you are dealing with predictions of outcomes in which all possiblities are known (or can be identified), whereas in the other, we do not even know what all the possible outcomes may be and therefore cannot calculate a probablity for any particular outcome?

  • If there is one thing the blog community is slowly be surely convincing me of, it is that “We cannot all get along”. But it would be nice if we could. I do like your way of defining evolution for schools, nice compromise, but one I doubt the ACLU would assent to.

  • John Farrell says:

    I think the problem with that, Zippy, is that many biologists would agree–if evolution was a matter solely of random mutations and natural selection.But as I’ve found out in my various queries to evo-b’s (if you’ll excuse the abbreviation) there are actually other mechanisms which, I’m told, are considered even more important than random variation.Such as?Genetic drift, genetic recombination , sexual selection (a –ahem–subset of natural selection), and so on.Now, randomness plays a role in genetic drift, too, as I understand it, so it may be just a matter of your broadening the range of the compromise.What do you think?“Yes, we can all just get along,” he said, as he turned, scattering a number of empty beer bottles across the top of the bar and into the lap of a very unhappy waitress.🙂

  • Mark says:

    Zippy:I have a favor to ask. I’m swamped and I’ve stirred up a bigger hornet’s nest than I anticipated with “Bedfellows” entry on my blog. I took intended as a rather obvious lampoon on the “let us do evil that good may come of it” logic several readers have championed in the torture debates.To my amazement, Pavo is now denying that he ever said we could ignore the Church’s teaching on consequentialism. (I’m also discovering, to my surprise that impalement is not immoral. Who knew? But that’s another story.) Could you do me a favor and take this argument up. I’m trying to do fifty things and I just can’t argue with them all. If you have time could you help me out?Mark Shea

  • William Luse says:

    Are you available to help out on other blogs too should the need arise?

  • Marion (Mael Muire) says:

    Zippy, won’t you consider putting up an email address? ZippyCatholic@yahoo.com would be great.Thank you.Mine is Marion_Upon_St_Blogs@yahoo.com

  • zippy says:

    Bill: “other blogs” is probably too broad a commitment to take on, but I am ever at your disposal, time and other commitments permitting.Marion: I crumble at the fair lady’s request, and shall post just such a contact.Mark: I hope you have/had a great weekend, and have done some pot-stirring in the < HREF="http://www.markshea.blogspot.com/2006_01_01_markshea_archive.html#113710602482392712" REL="nofollow">appropriate thread<>.

  • zippy says:

    “…and I have done…”, that is.c matt: I think there are lots of interesting issues around randomness which are pregnant with meaning. At some point I may get my thoughts on the subject better organized, and if I do it may even become another post or two. But I do think the Princess Bride caution applies – I am not sure that word means what we think it means.

  • Marion (Mael Muire) says:

    Thank you, Zippy, dear! My hero!

  • […] to concede the depth of our ignorance.  So people do what people have always done: create just-so stories consistent with known facts (er, well, mostly consistent) and treat those (wildly […]

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