I know I'm going to be accused of beating a dead horse but as Emile Zucherkandl and Linus Pauling said in 1965 ...
Some beating of dead horses may be ethical, when here and there they display unexpected twitches that look like life.It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).
Richard Dawkins has reviewed Jerry Coyne's new book Why Evolution is True in The Times Literary Supplement. The text of the review is posted on RichardDawkins.net [Heat the Hornet].
As you might have guessed, when an adaptationist reviews a book by a fellow adapationist you can expect heaps of praise. Dawkins does not disappoint.
One particular claim caught my eye since Dawkins has made it in the past. I know for a fact that others have pointed out to Dawkins the flaws in this claim. Here's what he says,
Coyne is right to identify the most widespread misunderstanding about Darwinism as the idea that, in evolution, “everything happens by chance”. This common claim is flat wrong – obviously wrong, transparently wrong, even to the meanest intelligence (a phrase that has me actively restraining myself). If evolution worked by chance, it obviously couldn’t work at all.It's true that to say everything happens by chance is wrong. However, it is not true to say that, "If evolution worked by chance, it obviously couldn’t work at all."
Here's a quotation from the most popular textbook on evolution, Evolution by Douglas J. Futuyma. It's in Chapter 10—a chapter titled Random Genetic Drift: Evolution at Random.
Almost all factors are affected simultaneously by both chance (unpredictable) and nonrandom, or deterministic (predictable), factors.... So it is with evolution. As we will see in the next chapter, natural selection is a deterministic, nonrandom process. But at the same time, there are important random processes in evolution, including mutation and random fluctuations in the frequencies of alleles or haplotypes: the process of random genetic drift.Futuyma closes the chapter with a summary of the important points. The first two are ...
Genetic drift and natural selection are the two most important causes of allele substitution—that is of evolutionary change—in populations
Thus, according to the textbook, evolution by chance occurs in spite of the fact that Dawkins says, "If evolution worked by chance, it obviously couldn’t work at all."
- The frequencies of alleles that differ little or not at all in their effect on organisms' fitness (neutral alleles) fluctuate at random. This process, called random genetic drift, reduces genetic variation and leads eventually to the random fixation of one allele and the loss of the other., unless it is countered by other processes, such as gene flow or mutation.
- Different alleles are fixed by chance in different populations.
Now, the only way to reconcile his statement is to assume that either Dawkins doesn't know about random genetic drift, or he uses a non-standard definition of "evolution" (or he is wicked, but I’d rather not consider that ).
I know that Dawkins has written about random genetic drift so I have to assume that he uses a definition of the word "evolution" that excludes it. Since he is using a non-standard definition of evolution, I think it would be wise of him to make this clear in his writing. He should have written something like ...
In my opinion, the only valid mechanism of evolution is evolution by natural selection and that is definitely not a chance process. If natural selection worked by chance it obviously couldn't work at all.