General Question

Steve_A's avatar

Formula for evolution?

Asked by Steve_A (5125points) April 2nd, 2010 from iPhone

From my understanding there is no formula for it, correct?

If so why is that?

Observing members: 0 Composing members: 0

67 Answers

dpworkin's avatar

There is a formula:

Genetic Variation + Random Mating + Mutation + Natural Selection = Evolution

Steve_A's avatar

But how do I put it into numbers if say I wanted to find something like amount of time for a change in genetic make up or variation?

Cruiser's avatar

There is no formula…random events + random mutations = such is life and why you are here. Pass the popcorn.

dpworkin's avatar

You would have to have a model for genetic variety, a model for random mating, a model for random mutation, and a model for natural selection. You go get those, and then we’ll plug them in.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@dpworkin don’t forget that it’s all a function of time, too.

dpworkin's avatar

Oh, OK, let’s plug in 5.4 billion years.

Rarebear's avatar

There is a mathematical basis, still early in development based in complexity theory. Good article here in Wired

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

No formula may be presented without a code to present it upon. Therefore, the genetic code is the formula for evolution. It’s already ready already. Primate olfactory genes have been discovered in human pseudogenes. Pseudognes are being demonstrated to contain our legacy files. Learning to read those files, is learning to read the formula for evolution.

LuckyGuy's avatar

@Steve_A Mutations happen all the time. They can occur in the junk DNA with no effect or they can happen in significant genes and have a noticeable effect. Bacteria mutate very quickly and the antibiotic resistant strains survive.

Research at the St. Thomas School of Medicine , London, estimates they occur 128 times in the zygote.

Think of the last chain letter joke that you received from your flake friend. It was in large font with a couple of misspellings. Did you trash it or forward it on? Did you forward it on after correcting the spelling? Did you just pass it on untouched. Did you fix the spacing? If you made an improvement the next person would not know you fixed the spelling error and would pass it on untouched.
The NIH actually used spam to evaluate an algorithm for back tracking genetic mutations.

mattbrowne's avatar

@dpworkin – I’d like to change the formula to:

Genetic Variation + Selective Mating + Random Mutation + Natural Selection = Evolution

laureth's avatar

@breedmitch – then why do we have >6bil. people?

dpworkin's avatar

@mattbrowne Done. Good thought.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

I’d like to change the formula to:

Genetic Variation + Selective Mating + Controlled Mutation + Natural Selection = Evolution

dpworkin's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies I’m down, but you will have to check with @mattbrowne

mattbrowne's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies – You mean random mutations within limits (e.g. caused by natural radiation)? Or do you mean blowing up Chernobyl to increase the rate?

nikipedia's avatar

And let’s not forget about genetic drift and gene flow.

There are plenty of formulas that describe certain features of evolution. The paradigmatic example is the Hardy-Weinberg equation, which describes how the frequency of traits can change across time.

So I think your question is kind of like asking, “why don’t we have a formula for banana?” We could come up with equations to help us describe certain features of bananas (density, number of molecules, rate of growth, rate of decay), but a formula for banana doesn’t really make sense.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar


I mean this:

“Over the years I have found that it is difficult if not impossible to bring to consciousness of another person the nature of his tacit assumptions when, by some special experiences, I have been made aware of them. This became painfully evident to me in my attempts during the 1950s to convince geneticists that the action of genes had to be and was controlled. It is now equally painful to recognize the fixity of assumptions that many persons hold on the nature of controlling elements in maize and the manners of their operation. One must await the right time for conceptual change.”
Barbara McClintock

This was her explanation for refusing to publish her work from 20 years before where she was forced underground with her research because the establishment rejected her findings. She was ultimately awarded the Nobel Prize.

“A goal for the future would be to determine the extent of knowledge the cell has of itself, and how it utilizes this knowledge in a “thoughtful” manner when challenged.”
Barbara McClintock Gifts of Speech

More and more geneticists are confirming her ideas that gene mutation is controlled and not random at all.

James Shapiro writes:

“The conventional view is that genetic change comes from stochastic, accidental sources: radiation, chemical, or oxidative damage, chemical instabilities in the DNA, or from inevitable errors in the replication process. However, the fact is that DNA proofreading and repair systems are remarkably effective at removing these non-biological sources of mutation.”

“Evolutionary genomic change occurs largely by a process of Natural Genetic Engineering.”

”…the degree to which these genome reorganization activities are not random is poorly appreciated. Non-randomness is evident at three levels: mechanism, timing, and sites of action.”

“These examples make it clear that natural genetic engineering occurs episodically and non-randomly in response to stress events that range from DNA damage to the inability to find a suitable mating partner.”

“Molecular genetics has amply confirmed McClintock’s discovery that living organisms actively reorganize their genomes (5). It has also supported her view that the genome can “sense danger” and respond accordingly (56).”

CyanoticWasp's avatar

The element of time is crucial, as it applies to geography as well as incremental change in biology over generations. The geography factor is: tectonic drift, leading to species isolation and therefore diverging paths of development.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Some would actually define time as the measurement of change. So in this respect, yes, time is required for change to happen. However, I do not equate change with evolution. I don’t look at geology as evolving. Geology simply changes, but it does not become better or worse during that change. I consider evolution to be a change for the better, and devolution a change for the worse.

Geology can evolve for the better when a mind is present to control the mutation. A field of weeds evolves into a garden because of codified information being directed at a phenomenon.

The Lincoln Continental evolved from a 2 seater sports car, to a 4 door sedan, and currently into a Pickup Truck. This evolution was directed by a mind changing code in the plans. If mind is removed, then time alone would never have directed the evolution of that vehicle. It may have rusted, but that is just change. It’s not evolution. The mindful change in the plans for the Lincoln Continental were intended to improve the vehicle. The intentions were driven by the Natural Selection of what the public wanted.

A key to determining if a thing is simply changing or evolving, is the discovery of plans. A code that is intentionally changed. Code may be authored with the capacity to re-author itself by acting upon external stimuli, but it is always authored with this capacity from the beginning by its original mindful programmer. Code does not inherently change without being directed to do so.

Chaos is Cause/Reaction.

Evolution is Thought/Action

Chaos is Mindless Cause / producing an unintentional Effect.

Evolution is Mindful Cause / producing an intentional Affect.

mattbrowne's avatar

Highly interesting. Thanks for sharing this!

dpworkin's avatar

Evolution is a blind process with no hierarchy, and “better” and “worse” are entirely meaningless when applied to the process.

mattbrowne's avatar

Blind process is not a scientific term. I like your formula approach better. Not every discussion about evolution should turn into a philosophical battle. Loaded terminology can be counterproductive.

dpworkin's avatar

That was just a descriptor. It is, of course, a process without a hierarchy, unlike the medieval conception of a Chain of Life with humans at the top.

mattbrowne's avatar

The problem with loaded terms: they can send the wrong message and lead to wrong conclusions like ‘evolution is an atheistic theory’. Therefore we should try to remain neutral and stick to scientific terms like random or controlled or selective etc. in my opinion. The term blind is okay when we discuss eyes or the visual cortex.

dpworkin's avatar

Are you able to understand me? If not, let me know and I will try to give you more to work with. If you are able to understand me, thanks for the pedantic correction.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Even terms like “random” are misleading, and extremely unscientific. It’s a placeholder for that which is unknown. Random is not predictable, testable, repeatable, or falsifiable. Random is the most unscientific scientific term ever to arise since “singularity”.

Claiming randomness is a non-answer.

mattbrowne's avatar

Selective mating for example is the opposite of a blind process. Especially the females keep their eyes open to evaluate their suitors. The term ‘blind process’ was made popular by Richard Dawkins, a militant atheist missionary who tries to sell his belief system under the label of science. Therefore I’m a bit touchy when it comes to loaded terms like this. It’s nothing personal.

I think the term random is being used as a scientific term, see for example

but you are correct that randomness is not the same as unpredictability. The extend of mutations (number of changed base pairs) or the location of an electron is not completely random, so we know about the likelihoods.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

I too am a bit sensitive about that word “random”. My fondness for Info Theory has given me reason to inspect its misuse quite thoroughly. It begs for the word “deterministic” to be examined carefully as well.

Your Wiki link reveals some common truancy’s when tossing these words about.

” which some random genetic mutations are retained in the gene pool due to the non-random improved chance for survival…”

Why don’t they just equate “non-random” with “deterministically”?

“The characteristics of an organism arise to some extent deterministically… and to some extent randomly.”

”...the density of freckles that appear on a person’s skin is controlled by genes and exposure to light; whereas the exact location of individual freckles seems to be random.”

“is controlled by genes”... yeah, code expression. The only way to illustrate determinism is through a codified expression. Find a code, any code, and witness determinism incarnate.

And as for random, the key term is “seems to be”... Random is just a placeholder word. It makes science seem as though they know what’s going on when in fact they don’t. Freckle placement can only be attributed to one of two things. It is either a deterministic codified expression, or it is cause and effect. Both have origins that may be revealed. Both have rules that are predictable, testable, repeatable, and falsifiable. Neither are random.

The only thing in the universe I consider random is the physical constants of energy and matter… White Noise… A random un-assembled collection of building blocks. Static… Entropy…

Mindless Cause will E-ffect that Noise.

Mindful Code will A-ffect that Noise.

mattbrowne's avatar

Well, the term non-deterministic mutations seems uncommon, but it might be better than random mutations.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Do we really have any evidence that there even is such a thing? Sorry, but I feel this is one of the most profoundly important issues in science, biology, genetics, and origins that we face today. And whether we call it random or non-deterministic, can we afford to embrace that concept with anything more than incredulity?

Am I wrong to assert that every phenomenon has a reasonable and predictable explanation? Once studied, cannot the source of all phenomenon be ultimately traced back to cause/reaction or thought/action? Science doesn’t even realize that by claiming randomness, that claim is akin to promoting magic and miracle. Can we allow science to promote non-answers such as this?

We are well to acknowledge the impossibility of such a thing. To date, no one has ever truly witnessed or created randomness of any kind. Encryption industries spend a tremendous amount of resources attempting to create randomness. Yet they are thwarted every year by a new generation of hackers who illustrate the flaws in such a pursuit. The most powerful computers in the world are paired with the most brilliant minds available to author newer random number generators. With a little research, one quickly learns of the challenges they face. Encryption sciences fully admit that true randomness has never been accomplished.

I believe that randomness is the biggest dogma that the scientific community faces, and they would do well to abandon promoting such a concept so loosely. It begs us to accept fantasy as factual.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Interesting thoughts there.

I agree that the word random is greatly overused by people who don’t even have a concept of its meaning. However, when we’re talking about events happening on a level that we cannot yet either observe or understand I think it makes more sense to term them as “random” rather than “sporadically caused by unknown factors” or another collection of words having similar meaning. As far as 21st century man is concerned (and even most scientists, I think), the terms have more or less the same meaning. Which is not to say that those same scientists aren’t looking into ways to discover and observe those causes, too, and find the determined and predictable cause.

So lightning strikes used to be considered ‘random’, for example. We know better now. Lightning strikes high points with better electric conductivity (generally). But among equally high and conductive points, why does one get struck and not another? As far as we can tell, that’s still random… until we discover more about weather, lightning strikes and electrical conductivity.

We know that a given mass of radioactive isotope will decay to one-half of its current radioactivity in a certain time period. But we can’t predict which atoms will emit the electrons to make that happen—we know it’ll happen, but not how. On a quantum level that’s a random occurrence, as far as we can tell. (And if we could observe at the atomic level, then we’d apparently have a hand in determining the outcome—causing the loss of randomness that existed prior to our observation.)

As the term applies to evolution, things happen “sporadically and because of unknown factors” during the fertilization of the egg and the development of the zygote that affect its characteristics and to some extent its abilities at birth. (Things happen for more and more known reasons, too, and science discovers more and more of them on an almost daily basis. But the sheer number of factors and combinations are so complex that it’s doubtful that we even could know all of the interactions—hence apparent randomness.

If our collection of brilliant minds and supercomputers could approach Nature in terms of complexity and computing power, then maybe we’d solve her riddle of apparent randomness. Or maybe she’d just come up with more factors we hadn’t yet considered.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar


That is the very point I wish to make. Random is used as a placeholder word until the cause or reason is actually demonstrated. That’s the basis of random being untestable, unpredictable… unscientific.

Unfortunately, the loose usage of the term has led some to consider randomness AS a cause, or AS a reason. Nothing could be further from the truth. Especially in genetics, rapidly being discovered as an Information Science, we must in all good conscious, release ourselves from the antiquated preference of attributing evolution as having anything to do with random mutations whatsoever. This position, my position, being clearly supported in the provided quoted links above from Barbara McClintock and James Schapiro.

I forget who said it. I think it was Dawkins, but it may have been Sagan or Hawkings, but I distinctly recall one of them equating evolutionary randomness as being a happy accident. This deceives scientists (and students) into promoting the very mysticism they deny. This is inexcusable. Nothing about it resembles science.

Rarebear's avatar

I’ve already had a debate with @RealEyesRealizeRealLies and I’m sure he and I both don’t want to repeat it here. I will say, though, that I do agree with his assertion that evolution is not random (at least I think that’s what he’s asserting). Speciation is definitely not random when it comes to natural selection.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Whether genetic change over time is truly random or “caused by a complex enough chain and combination of facts as to appear random to careful observers” is more or less moot. The fact is that change happens, we don’t always know and can’t often predict when or why it will occur, and combinations of changes over time lead to better or worse adaptation to the organism’s environment… and increase or decrease its chances of self-propagation.

So I would say, in opposition to @Rarebear, that both evolution and speciation certainly are random or give that appearance, pending massive further study.

Rarebear's avatar

@CyanoticWasp Let me ‘splain. Mutation is random. Speciation is not. The whole reason why there is speciation is that there is selective pressure in a certain direction depending upon environmental factors that cause one population to diverge from another.

dpworkin's avatar

Well there is more than one model for speciation: anagenesis and cladogenesis, to name two.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@Rarebear I understand what you’re saying, but the “change in environmental factors” that occurs is more or less um random-or-what-passes-for-that, isn’t it?

Rarebear's avatar

@CyanoticWasp You can’t call environmental change totally random. It’s certainly complex, but you can predict certain environmental changes based upon preexisting data. For example, let’s posit for the sake of argument that ice ages are a product of solar cycles. You can therefore predict that when there is a solar minimum or solar temperatures drop a bit, then there will be an ice age. Or, to take another example, all of a sudden atmospheric carbon dioxide levels rise, you can predict a rise in global temperatures.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

@Rarebear because of the complexity of the system environmental change is “essentially random”, but even if it’s not, what’s not predictable is what changes will occur in the genome to make various organisms more successful in whatever “here and now” they face. The species and individuals certainly don’t make their own predictions of sun cycles and atmospheric changes; they don’t direct changes. Some work, and some don’t.

You don’t know which fish will develop shallow-water ‘walking’ capability and a lung, or which will adapt to deeper and cooler waters, for example. Even if the physical environment changes not a whit, the biosphere that all organisms compete in changes as some succeed more or less than others. Predators adapt (or not) to feed on more abundant prey, which have become more successful vis a vis other species due to their own ‘better’ adaptations to whatever pressures they face.

Rarebear's avatar

@CyanoticWasp Great sub-discussion here by the way. I actually meant “complexity” in the mathematical sense, not vernacular sense. There is a branch of mathematical theory called complexity theory that predicts “nodes” of organization in an otherwise chaotic system. That’s what I was talking about.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

Okay, then I need to hit the books, figuratively speaking, and I’m not going to do that tonight. It has been enjoyable.

Rarebear's avatar

@CyanoticWasp There are several books on complexity theory that I’ve read, unfortunately all pretty old by now. Most of the research is coming out from the Santa Fe Institute. Probably the best is by Roger Lewin entitled Complexity.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Sounds like Math Gravity.

Does it suggest organizational clumping can arise from random static?

If so, shall I accept the sci-fi Poltergeist may be more truth than fiction… “They’re here!”

Rarebear's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies lol no, although that random static you linked to is said to be background from the cosmic microwave background. Not sure I believe it, though.

dpworkin's avatar

Does it have anything to do with “Emergence Theory”?

Rarebear's avatar

@dpworkin Yes, exactly. Emergence Theory is a prediction of Complexity Theory. It’s where you get orders of organization out of seemingly chaotic systems. An example could be a honeycomb. Why 6 sides to a honeycomb? Well it turns out that 6 sides is the most efficient use of energy and space, and you see this hexagonal shape all throughout nature—not just in honeycombs.

dpworkin's avatar

That’s what I thought, but thanks for clarifying. I have kind of adopted Emergence Theory as my private wall of defense against the idea that some sort of intelligence was necessary for life to have begun. There is at least one very articulate advocate of that view on Fluther, and I am often stymied in my arguments with him because of the paucity of my knowledge on the subject of Information Theory. Anyway, thanks.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Emergent Complexity does not account for the existence of codified information. Fractal patterns are everywhere, but patterns and codes are opposites. There has never in all of history been one single demonstrated mechanism from chaos that can author code. And if sentient authorship is the only known mechanism, demonstrated trillions of times per day since the beginning of recorded history, then it is science that demands of us to infer sentient authorship.

Rarebear's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies The original question wasn’t asking about Creationism. S/he was asking about a formula for evolution.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

I don’t believe in Creationism. I don’t believe in Intelligent Design either.

I believe in Intelligent Evolution.

And the only reason I brought it up was to address @dpworkin‘s reference to ”...defense against the idea that some sort of intelligence was necessary…”

Creationism requires a God to be introduced into the conversation. I only claim a requirement for an original sentient author for the original code. It could all be auto pilot from there. That author may or may not be some form of deity… I do not know. But whatever it is, I cannot deny the necessity for such a being.

People have a hard time understanding my perspective on this. Not my position. Not the science I reference. But it’s my perspective that seems to be troublesome. Most think that when I speak of a Sentient Author, that must mean that I’m speaking of a traditional supernatural God. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I don’t believe in the supernatural.

Follow me and see if this doesn’t help explain. Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that life on earth arose by chance. I have no mechanism to explain such a thing, but let’s just suppose. Well, if that is so, then life could also arise by chance somewhere else in the cosmos. It’s not that formidable of a conceptual leap to suppose that this extraterrestrial life form could be so far advanced and beyond our comprehension that it very well could seem God like to humans. It is not difficult to suppose it may actually exist on a dimensional plane that is not so attainable to us either.

Point being, that if there truly is a God (or God like being), then it is perfectly natural for this being to exist. If this being is naturally beyond the confines of human conceptions of space/time/matter/energy, then it is perfectly natural for it to be that way.

Rarebear's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies “I only claim a requirement for an original sentient author for the original code.” Which is Creationism.

Rarebear's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies Your worldview requires some sort of designer to be the initial creator of the genetic code. Creationism.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Well the wiki disagrees with you, for the reasons noted.

If I abide by your definition, then you are a Creationist as well, because you authored a comment… i.e. created it. But I don’t suppose you need to fit the m.o. of the traditional religious God any more than the original author of the genetic code does.

Creationist also typically believe that the Christian God created the heavens and the earth in six days… six literal days. I don’t.

But if you insist upon tagging me as a Creationist, then so be it. I cannot help what you call me. I cannot make you see the differences either. Shall I at least earn the title of NeoNeo 2.0 Creationistalistic?

Rarebear's avatar

Wiki disagrees with me? Then I must be wrong! But your argument of me being a Creationist because I typed up a post is silly, and you know it—and frankly, that’s beneath you. And I agree that you’re not a Young Earth Creationist or anything like that (if you were, I probably wouldn’t give you the time of day, and I respect you). If you want to call yourself NeoNeo 2.0 Creationalistic, I’ll smile and say fine.

mattbrowne's avatar

I think this also applies here:

If we accept God as the reason for the universe and the way it works (an act of faith) instead of a self-explanatory universe (also an act of faith) many statements about God are a rationally true (”... therefore…”). For example

“God made two great lights, the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night.”

A -> B and B -> C means A -> C

In my example B stands for the 4 elementary forces and they are the reasons for stars to form and shine. A made B and B made C, therefore A made C.

I believe in A made B. Therefore A also made C. C are not only stars but also human beings. Evolution is a consequence of B and this means A does not meddle with the way B works. This view does not make me a creationist or a follower of ID.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

The ABC’s of Origins… I l-i-k-e it!

Rarebear's avatar

@mattbrowne Right. But you’re also not asserting as @RealEyesRealizeRealLies apparently is that there some sort of intelligent designer is REQUIRED (emphasis mine) to create genetic code. I maintain that the genetic code is completely natural. No designer required. That’s where he and I disagree. If you agree with him, then I would assert that you, too, are a Creationist—because there is some intelligent designer that CREATED (emphasis mine again) the code.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

If all codes to date have been attributed to some intelligent designer, then we are all creationists to some degree. There has never been a demonstrated mechanism that can account for code arising by chance. How then is it possible to believe in such a thing?

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

And a definition of terms is appropriate here.

I use the term Sentient Author, because that’s the only mechanism that has ever been demonstrated to author code, or author a code that can then re-author itself based upon reaction to stimuli. I speak specifically about codes here, all codes, including the Genetic Code.

The term Intelligent Design is usually reserved for those who wish to claim the cosmos as designed by a religious interpretation of a God being. It has nothing to do with genetics. I cannot call myself an Intelligent Design proponent because I have no evidence of any plans that force me to infer a designer for the cosmos.

But the smoking gun to determine if something is designed or not is a set of plans. It solves Paley’s watch argument. If we find plans for the watch, then it must have been design. In this way, Intelligent Design is somewhat related to genetics, although it may be in the form of an original code that is left on auto pilot once installed, and not needing the original author beyond that.

Creationist are those who believe in the biblical account of 6 day creation. But if you redefine that word to include anyone who expresses authorship capacity, then you are including yourself as a creationist by default.

Rarebear's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies No, I’m not, and it’s a very weak argument to say just because I’m typing, I’m a Creationist—but we already went through this many posts above. Young Earth Creationists are those who feel the Earth was created in 6 days. Many Creationists, including proponents of Intelligent Design accept the age of the Earth as it is.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Rarebear – Yes, to me the designer has a passive role during the formation of stars, planets, abigenesis and the evolution of proteins and the genetic code. I understand that @RealEyesRealizeRealLies sees this differently.

RealEyesRealizeRealLies's avatar

Not at all @mattbrowne. I make no claim that the cosmos is authored or designed. No pre-existing code has been discovered that predetermines the existence of the cosmos.

And as for life, I’ve often noted, under the precedent of A.I. research, that the original programmer is not necessary for modifying existing code to react to stimuli. That capacity may have been programmed from the beginning and then left to its own development from there. It may be passive indeed.

I only infer an original Sentient Author to get life started. That’s all I have hard evidence for. That’s all I can assert with any degree of precedent to support it.

Any further assertion seems purely speculative and philosophical.

dpworkin's avatar

Hard evidence? May I see the results of the peer-reviewed study?

Rarebear's avatar

@RealEyesRealizeRealLies “I only infer an original Sentient Author to get life started”. And again, this is a form of Creationism.

Rarebear's avatar

@everybody: Here is a good blog bost by Jerry Coyne that is apropos that I just found.

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