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Thursday, July 26, 2007

Evolutionary psychology vs. evolution as a fact

With the neo-Darwinian synthesis, Darwinism became a simple, elegant theory in science that might - or might not - do what is claimed for it.

Is Darwinism the explanation of finch beak changes in the Galapagos? Maybe. (There are opinions pro and con about that.)

Is it the explanation for certain beneficial mutations in the malaria parasite? Apparently, yes.

Does it explain why the giraffe has a long neck? Apparently no.

Does it explain why men cheat on their wives? Huh? Who let YOU in here, creepazoid? I SAID we needed someone to keep a watch on the door!

I think that after Behe's Edge of Evolution, the legitimate questions revolve around what Darwinism can be shown to actually do, in the restricted sphere where we can be quite sure it is doing anything at all.

One reason I came to realize that Darwinism’s power had been blown out of all proportion was the relative unwillingness of evolutionary biologists to detach themselves from the florid arguments of evolutionary psychology. Normally, people in their position will be anxious to cut loose from cranks.

With some sensible exceptions such as Larry Moran and Jerry Coyne, they didn’t cut loose, and there was one obvious reason why they didn’t. They don't want the books balanced. They don’t want any accounting of what Darwinism can actually do.

Now that I have read Edge of Evolution I think I pretty much know why.

It's too bad if we have to admit that we really don't have a good theory of how evolution happens, but apparently we really don't.

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A physicist directs you to online evolution games ...

Recently, I've been directing people to the online evolution games at Mutation Works, with the proviso that I am no good with games myself.

Fortunately, a physicist friend writes me to say:
I've been having a great time reading Mike Behe's Edge of Evolution to my 2- and 4-year-old kids each night. They don't really get it, but they like having me in their bedroom for an extra long story time.

Mike has done a great job of explaining the huge probability difference between getting one lucky mutation and getting two lucky mutations. But just to really drive home this point, Malcolm Chisholm has created two online game that illustrate Mike's thesis about how Darwinism can easily account for one favorable mutation but can't easily account for when two
or three mutations have to occur simultaneously for a benefit to be gained. (This was not Malcolm's original goal, but nonetheless the games are a great asset to Mike's book).

The first game, which some of you have already played, is at: Mutation Works

In this game, you play a single mother-to-daughter lineage that is trying to mutate two codons to two others before Dawkins [major Darwinist] can "randomly" generate his famous "Methinks it is like a weasel" phrase. Typically, this game ends via a stop codon in your gene, or with Dawkins winning
after several hundred million years (for an organism with 1 generation per year).

The second game, which was released today, is at:
Mutation Works Human

In this game, you play 100,000,000 mother-to-daughter lineages that are trying to go from CAT to ATG before Dawkins can get a sequence of amino acids, which spell a familiar phrase (though you'll have to remember your one-letter amino acid codes). Having 10^6 lineages speeds up
evolution, but since there are three required point mutations the time to success decreases only by a factor of 100, which is still not fast enough to beat Dawkins!

I like this second game a lot because it shows the distribution of mutations over the 10^6 lineages. As you play the game you can see how the original codon loses constituents to other codons, but that the codons that can gain constituents are only those that are 1 or 2 point
mutations away. It would take a really long time before the ones that are 3 point mutations away (like ATG) start accumulating constituents.
I hope you enjoy these games and play them often. Each time you do, the data is stored and Malcolm and I hope to analyze and publish the results (yes, Malcolm could automatically generate the data, but it's more interesting when other people are involved!)

All the best,
P.S. Tell your friends about this. Malcolm assures me that the server can handle lots of people playing the game.

Great! So let the games begin! I'll make jugs of juice in the kitchen.

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