Evolution, Natural Selection & Random Mutation
There are some thoughts that I wanted to put down regarding the ideas of what has commonly been called the “Theory of Evolution.” I’m not certain that I’ll get to all of this in one post, so we’ll see how this goes.
The first thing that I want to do is make some distinctions among some various terms that get bandied about today and debated, argued, etc. Those terms are “evolution,” “natural selection,” and “random mutation.”
Beginning with evolution, it must be said that there are two concepts of evolution and it seems as though they are often getting confused and lumped together to both mean the same thing. On the one hand, we have the idea of micro-evolution which is also sometimes referred to as “variation among species.” This refers to the idea that, within a species, there can be a wide range of variation.
However, with micro-evolution, one species does not evolve into another. That concept, would be macro-evolution. Typically, this is the commonly understood meaning of the term “evolution.” Much of the debate surrounds whether or not macro-evolution is a proven fact and that all life on earth evolved from microbes in a warm puddle of goo several billion years ago.
It may be surprising to note that many Christian scientists, philosophers, theologians, etc. actually accept micro-evolution as such a thing is pretty self-evident. The difficulty begins when micro-evolution (which can, and perhaps should) be accepted as scientific fact is presented simply using the term “evolution.” Naturally, most people when faced with this term think of macro-evolution. Therefore, this wordplay can cause a great deal of issues in communicating ideas back and forth.
As you could well imagine, when one person is talking about micro-evolution and the other is talking about macro-evolution, yet both parties are referring to each as simply “evolution,” we can get off track pretty quickly. Therefore, for the purposes here, I will leave micro-evolution alone as a given and in any references to macro-evolution, I will simply use the term “evolution.”
Before getting into natural selection, it might be better to next go into the idea of random mutation. This concept is supposedly how new traits, characteristics, attributes, structures, etc. come into being among species. We have seen that random mutations are, in fact, a scientifically provable occurrence.
What we have discovered with the latest technologies is that random mutations are due to some sort of confusion in the transference of DNA code. Perhaps a particular gene for both parents was somehow damaged and therefore that gene was not passed on to the next generation. This is one example of how DNA code can result in a mutation.
Another perhaps surprising thing is how many Christians will accept the mechanism of natural selection. It is specifically for this idea that Darwin became famous and not the theory of evolution as the theory of evolution had already been well established generations prior to Charles Darwin.
As with micro- vs. macro-evolution, a common mistake is to think of natural selection as evolution or vice-versa. It should be understood that natural selection is simply one of the mechanisms by which evolution is thought to work (along with random mutation), according to Darwin. It has been referred to as “survival of the fittest” which is, perhaps a bit over-simplified, but gets across the general idea.
Natural selection essentially refers to the idea that, as an organism evolves and random mutations occur, those mutations may be beneficial, harmful or of no consequence. Those which are beneficial increase the chances of that organisms survival. Those that are harmful will lead to that organisms demise, usually before it has the opportunity to procreate. Thus, the harmful mutation is “naturally selected” to be terminated and the beneficial mutation is “naturally selected” to be passed on to the next generation.
For now, I will leave it at that and continue on this thought next week when I delve into some of this further. At this point, I mainly wanted to get on the same page as to what these terms and ideas mean.
Grace, love and peace.