Discrete versus Gradualism

  1. Gradualism is the cornerstone of Darwin’s Theory of Evolution because without it, he could not justify the idea that one organism changes into another. ‘Gradualism’ equals ‘Continuity’ but also presupposes a significant change, not just variations around a static mean (regression to the mean).
  2. In math, a function is gradual if continuous. A continuous function has a Grade’ (Slope) at every point. If a function is not gradual (continuous), then it is Discrete and has no ‘Grade’ (Slope). A Discontinuous function is a special case of ‘Continuous over limited ranges’. Some argue that large collections of discrete points appear continuous, thus justifying gradualism. This view were acceptable if and only if the contribution of the discrete points were strictly cumulative (such as when many water molecules form water waves). 
  3. Is Nature Gradual? No, Nature is Discrete from the most elementary particles, to molecules, cells, and organisms. New organisms are created by discrete processes and result in newborns that are measurably different from each parent while all DNA mutations are discrete events. Gregor Mendel observed the discrete nature of biology as early as 1865 in the inheritance of dominant and recessive alleles. Darwin might have learned that from Mendel’s papers sent to him, had he read and correctly interpreted the results. To be fair, Darwin’s gradualism was in line with the incorrect view of his times that considered matter a continuum. Only in the late 1800s the true discrete nature of matter started to become common knowledge. However, today everyone knows, yet the gradualism hypothesis remains central to evolution despite lacking any basis.
  4. The list of discrete elements in biology includes but is not limited to: atoms, molecules, biochemical reactions, DNA, RNA, proteins, enzymes, genes, chromosomes, organelles, cell types (pro/eukaryote), cell division (mitosis/meiosis), sex type (male/female), body organs, organ systems, and organism classification. Changes at the discrete micro level including mutations and exposure to free radicals, radiation, and misfolded proteins are not cumulative and can potentially impact the entire organism. Continuous measure such as temperature, volume and weight are not true biologic properties as these change over the life of organisms and are primarily statistical measures at population level in particular populations, environments and time.    
  5. We classify organisms into distinct groups with little if any overlap and with significant homogeneity within the group. If Gradualism were the norm, all living animals would fill a continuous spectrum which would make their classification in various taxa completely arbitrary. Were gradualism true in time – call this vertical gradualism, then gradualism over the current living – horizontal gradualism – should also be the norm. Instead, we observe that even unicellular organisms with huge populations and short-lived generations do not occupy a biological continuum. Plant diversity over the altitude & latitude continuum is a good example of Discontinuity in Nature: as conditions change, we see a changing mix of distinct species, rather than hybrid species as would be expected if Gradualism were true. Animal territoriality is also an example of discrete successful designs dominating certain ranges and mixing with each other at range boundaries without significantly changing their characteristics. 
  6. What about Speciation and Hybridization? And what about the Fossil Record?  A certain flexibility appears built into each biological design – more in some than in others. What we call Speciation and Hybridization may in fact be no more than adaptations within these flexibility ranges. Without confirming experiments on living organisms, it is impossible to determine whether the Fossil Record shows Gradualism or instead predisposition to Gradualism prompts an incorrect interpretation of the Fossil Record.

Pro-Con Notes

Con: Individuals heights are gradual. Height is one of the characters Mendel used with his pea plants, and height at maturity is influenced by a host of loci.

Pro: Height is not a proper biologic measure because height changes all the time, not just during development and because it is arbitrarily determined. Just as well you can sort by vertical reach or eyes height (on or off tiptoes), etc. – these can be more important for survival than the standard measurement and will throw off your statistics. Also food/climate/parasites during development affect size at maturity. And when exactly is maturity?

Con: Gradualism is the rule in evolution, since different alleles usually differ in their phenotypes only marginally. Phyletic gradualism does not claim that there is an absolutely smooth spectrum of species change over time.

Pro: Alleles are not gradual as demonstrated by Mendel. Darwin decreed gradualism precisely to support “smooth spectrum of species change over time”.Where do you see gradualism when everything in biology is 100% discrete from sub-atoms to atoms, molecules, genes, chromosomes, each element of cell structure and cell process, sexes, prokaryotes, eukaryotes, dominant-recessive, etc. etc.?

Con: The fossil evidence supports gradual changes in species.

Pro: The fossil record is “evidence” in the same sense animation is “evidence” of real life events.

Con: Is the DNA of a newborn measurably different and a significant leap from a random combination of the DNA of both parents?

Pro: Yes. Darwin’s theory of inheritance was “blended characteristics” (gradualism). That is, the offspring was a “blend” of both parents. The contrary idea of discrete alleles of genes had been found and proven by Mendel that hypothesized instead that traits, such as eye color or height or flower hues, were carried by tiny particles that were inherited whole in the next generation.

Links:

https://phys.org/news/2010-11-darwin-theory-gradual-evolution-geological.html

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/06/1/l_061_01.html

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260 thoughts on “Discrete versus Gradualism

  1. Joe Felsenstein: My comments on regression to the mean should be taken as addressed to everyone here except nonlin.org.

    Translation: “Falsenstein prefers preaching to the choir”.

    And how’s that “random mating” going for you? Will you ever acknowledge that blunder?

    Rumraket: There are just so many more ways for entropy to increase than decrease. In the same way there are just so many more ways for mutations to result in new alleles, than exactly re-creating lost ones.

    Wrong and wrong. There is exactly ZERO chance for entropy to decrease – it was never observed and it’s impossible in the universe we know. Also, assuming alleles are simply due to [random] mutations is a bad assumption. And if driven by something rather than random, then their re-creation is quite likely.

    Allan Miller: If we concede that a change isn’t gradual as you choose to define it, what can we conclude from that in regard to biological change?

    We conclude that “evolution” is impossible. And it’s not “as you choose to define it” since you cannot define your way out of this argument.

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  2. Allan Miller: Nonlin.org: What’s “commoner alleles” anyway?

    Alleles of which there are more than those of which there are fewer.

    See? That’s why “evolution” is so retard: because everything is vague nonsense. But you wouldn’t understand what I mean as ‘scientific rigor’ is not part of your vocabulary.

    Allan Miller: Hang on, why do I need to give an example?

    To support your claims.

    Allan Miller: Be honest, there are barely any examples of living fossils; they are vastly outnumbered by extinct forms. And even among them, we have no data on allele preservation, only superficial morphology, which is contributed to by rather few alleles.

    Actually, every living organism is a “living fossil”. Take humans: since we can’t confirm the transmutation prejudice (“evolution”), you must conclude that as far as we know, humans have always been the same within the inherent observed variability. And the dead organisms too… as far as we know (morphology indeed) – just because the evidence is incomplete, you cannot claim it supports something other than what we readily observe and you cannot discard when inconvenient.

    Allan Miller: So you are saying that “gradualism” has a problem because different, potentially interbreeding variants can occupy the same range without merging? Surely that’s a strike in its favour? Speciation has more modes than simple allopatry. +1 for divergence.

    So many errors in such a short quote, wow! Just a few:
    1. Not just about “interbreeding”
    2. “Speciation” is a failed concept
    3. Allopatry+ are all just fantasies without real life examples. Also see 2.
    4. “Divergence” claim was about Homogeneous into Heterogeneous within Constant Environment, something we NEVER SEE. Also clearly not “allopatry”.

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  3. OMagain: That’s simply not true and even Wikipedia explains it:

    You have no idea how to cite something to support an argument. Quotations should be Short, Clear and Specific followed by Links (your only positive). Now, try again. And you owe for the lesson.

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  4. Nonlin.org: Wrong and wrong. There is exactly ZERO chance for entropy to decrease – it was never observed and it’s impossible in the universe we know.

    Please prove that the chance is zero. Note, you’ve just asserted that ice can’t form. That liquids can’t freeze into solids. Are you aware of that?

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  5. Rumraket: Please prove that the chance is zero. Note, you’ve just asserted that ice can’t form. That liquids can’t freeze into solids. Are you aware of that?

    Nice try, but you were not talking about [trivial] local entropy decrease. Else why would you include “statistical” and “many more ways”? Of course with external intervention all bets are off, hence not “many more ways”.

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  6. Nonlin.org: Nice try, but you were not talking about [trivial] local entropy decrease. Else why would you include “statistical” and “many more ways”? Of course with external intervention all bets are off, hence not “many more ways”.

    You’re welcome to prove that entropy can’t possible decrease in an isolated system. That the probability is zero.

    You said “There is exactly ZERO chance for entropy to decrease – it was never observed and it’s impossible in the universe we know.”

    Prove it.

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  7. Rumraket: You’re welcome to prove that entropy can’t possible decrease in an isolated system. That the probability is zero.

    You said “There is exactly ZERO chance for entropy to decrease – it was never observed and it’s impossible in the universe we know.”

    Prove it.

    Pathetic. You cite, but don’t understand:

    “Never observed” is your clue (proof). If entropy would ever decrease, then perpetual motion machines would be possible. But, in the universe WE KNOW, they are not possible.

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  8. Nonlin.org: “Never observed” is your clue (proof).

    Until 1905 we’d never observed airplanes. Until 2009 we’d never seen a human being sprint 100m in 9:53 seconds. That didn’t make them impossible.

    Haven’t seen it =/= impossible.

    If you roll a jar of dice enough times, no matter how big the jar is, it is strictly possible for you to roll all sixes. If there’s a finite number of dice, there is a non-zero chance of it.

    If entropy would ever decrease, then perpetual motion machines would be possible. But, in the universe WE KNOW, they are not possible.

    You are so confused. There’s a difference between saying the frequency with which it happens, and whether it can possibly happen. The 2nd law of thermodynamics says that entropy will on average always increase. The key phrase there is “on average”. That means entropy some times can decrease slightly, but such decreases are generally swamped by many many more increases of larger magnitude, so the overall result on average is an increase.

    There’s nothing that is physically preventing the molecules of air in your living room from momentarily sorting themselves so all the oxygen ends up in one corner of the room. It’s just that this would be very unlikely to, not that it’s strictly impossible. The probability isn’t zero, it’s just very very low. That means the frequency with which it occurs isn’t zero, it’s just unfathomably rare.

    For perpetual motion machines of any utility to work there’d have to be highly frequent and reproducible decreases happening all the time.

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  9. Rumraket: The 2nd law of thermodynamics says that entropy will on average always increase.

    Perhaps you’re from a different universe. One of fantasy where even “evolution” is true. In this universe,

    “The second law of thermodynamics states that the total entropy of an isolated system can never decrease over time. “

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_law_of_thermodynamics

    Rumraket: There’s nothing that is physically preventing the molecules of air in your living room from momentarily sorting themselves so all the oxygen ends up in one corner of the room.

    Of course there is. If that were possible, you would get free energy (when those molecules expand again) thus violating the first law of thermodynamics. Contrary to youtube popular science, gas molecules are very UNLIKE go stones on a board: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_law_of_thermodynamics

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