Walter ReMine (an anti-evolutionist who ardently believes that “Haldane’s Dilemma” is a real problem for evolution) recently updated the entry for “Haldane’s Dilemma” at the CreationWiki. The update does not directly refer to my recent posts on the topic, but does address the points that I made. Actually, “address” is probably the wrong word – he provides a hand-waving dismissal without actually responding to any of the specific points I raised. Ordinarily, a hand-waving response isn’t worth the effort needed to write a reply, but in this case the errors that ReMine makes are worth discussing simply because they provide a convenient jumping-off point for a discussion of the way evolution actually works.
Remine’s latest update to the Haldane article reads:
Recently, evolutionists are promoting another version of soft selection. In reality, it is not a type of selection, but an illegitimate accounting trick, similar to the double-booking used in financial scams. It operates like this. In effect, the various other costs of evolution (such as the cost of continuity, the cost of mutation, the cost of segregation, the cost of random loss, and a several other costs) are collectively — and misleadingly — called “background mortality”. Then this is claimed as an additional source to pay the cost of substitution. That is, the accounting that should go toward paying the “background mortality” is diverted to paying the cost of substitution. That leaves the other costs of evolution unpaid, which is not a plausible scenario. In effect, evolutionists are robbing Peter to pay Paul. This approach does not reduce the cost of substitution one iota, instead it attempts to increase the payment by means of misplaced accounting practices. [Note: This version of soft selection is promoted only when evolutionists are trying to solve cost-related problems, otherwise it plays no role in their evolutionary presentations.]
Apparently, ReMine thinks I’m playing shell games, and that I’ve selected the examples I have to try and “solve cost-related problems.” Actually, neither could be further from the truth. In reality, what I did was to demonstrate exactly why cost isn’t a problem – at least it’s not the way that ReMine defines it.
Here’s what ReMine has to say about evolutionary costs in the CreationWiki article:
A cost argument operates as follows. Every evolutionary scenario requires a certain level of reproduction rate – called a “cost.” A cost is a required reproduction rate for a given evolutionary scenario. If the species cannot actually produce the required reproduction rate, then the scenario is not plausible. In other words, each scenario has a requirement, and if the requirement is not met, then the scenario is not plausible. That requirement is reproduction rate.
There are various types of cost, each for a specific purpose. Such as:
1. The cost of continuity – a reproduction rate of 1, which is required merely for continuing into the next generation.
2. The cost of mutation – the extra reproduction rate required for preventing genetic deterioration due to harmful mutations.
3. The cost of segregation – the extra reproduction rate required for maintaining polymorphisms in a population.
4. The cost of random loss – the extra reproduction rate required for coping with random losses to the population, (such as fire, flood, famine, selection for non-heritable traits, and many other factors).
5. The cost of substitution – the extra reproduction rate required specifically for making substitutions – that is, required for increasing the number of copies of the substituting mutations.
[Haldane's version of the cost concept was far more indirect and confusing, but (when correctly reinterpreted) it was effectively identical in how it operated, and in the results it produced.]
The sum of all those costs (plus a few other minor costs) is the cost of evolution: the total reproduction rate required by the scenario. Thus:
Cost of evolution = Cost of continuity + Cost of mutation + Cost of segregation + Cost of random loss + Cost of substitution + …
If the species cannot produce that required reproduction rate – in other words, if the species cannot “pay the cost” – then the scenario is not plausible. Haldane’s Dilemma merely applies that logic each generation.
Strangely enough, this is a case where ReMine has the basics more or less right – he just managed to forget a really, really important cost – the cost of not-entirely-random losses.
The thing about life is that not all death is entirely random. In fact, quite a bit of death isn’t all that random. The organisms that are lost to predation are (usually) those that are easiest for the predators to catch. The males that are the worst match to the female ideal for that species are the ones that are least likely to find a mate. The bird with the strongest beak is the most likely to crack the harder shells, and therefore less likely to die from starvation.
That’s not to say that everything is non-random, of course. Random chance can always come in and screw things up. The better-swimming deer
The point here is that survival doesn’t need to be totally non-random. As long as one variety of the species is less likely to suffer from a particular type of death, there is something there for natural selection to work on. Non-random survival is what makes natural selection possible.
Non-random survival, strangely enough, is missing from ReMine’s list of (unless it’s one of his “other minor costs”). Natural selection can (and has, and does) act to reduce the rate of non-random death. Reductions in the death rate for a particular genotype can (and do) result in that genotype spreading through the population. There’s absolutely no “misplaced accounting” involved here. If a mutation results in fewer individuals dying from a particular cause before reproducing, then more individuals with that mutation will reproduce.
All of the talk about costs and accounting misses one simple, basic point. If a mutation is spreading through the population, whatever “costs” might exist are being paid. Evolution doesn’t get credit – any and all costs must be paid immediately and without fail. If the costs are not being paid, the trait doesn’t spread. In fact, viewing things in term of “costs” and “payments” can obscure an important point: the reduction in mortality from another source does not “pay” the “cost” of spreading the new trait through the population. If a new, heritable trait is the cause of a decrease in mortality, the decrease in mortality is the cause of the trait’s spread.
This is not a novel concept, of course, and it hasn’t been a novel concept for almost 150 years. This is just natural selection. Not only is it possible for a decrease in mortailty to result in the spread of a trait through the population, it is almost inevitable. The only way this wouldn’t work is if there is no such thing as non-random mortality, or if it is not possible for any mutation to make an organism less likely to die before reproducing.