Re: Natural Selection - Question

Rod Hagen (
Wed, 25 Jan 1995 13:35:10 +1000

In article <>, (Brad Swanson) wrote:

> In article <>,
> (Richard Spear) wrote:
> > In article <> Brian Doyle
> <> writes:
> > >Subject: Natural Selection - Question
> > >From: Brian Doyle <>
> > >Date: 22 Jan 95 11:44:16 CST
> >
> > > If a species forces another species into extinction,
> > > i.e. Humans hunting animals, either by pollution
> > >or other conventional means, into extinction,
> >
> > > Is this considered Natural Selection??
> >
> > No
> >
> > Regards, Richard
> >
> Boy Richard, thanks for that indepth analysis of the situation. Any
> reason why it wouldn't be considered natural selection? It certainly is
> evolution, since evolution is the change in allele frequencies in a
> population. What extinction
> produces is a loss of all the alleles for that population. So evolution
> is occurring, the forces of evolution are genetic drift, mutation,
> assortative mating, migration, and natural selection. Hmm, which one of
> these fits, not drift, as the extinction certainly wasn't a chance event,
> wasn't a mutation, assortative mating couldn't do it, and the dispersal
> patterns probably wouldn't do it either. Looks like we only have one
> candidate left. That being said, it doesn't mean that we shouldn't worry
> about driving species extinct. We are changing the world at a much more
> rapid rate than new genetic material can be introduced to allow evolution
> via natural selection to act. With mutation rates of around 1e-6 (at
> least for nuclear non-repetative sequence DNA) we are asking the
> populations to respond at a faster rate then they physically can. Is it
> natural selection, I would argue not natural, the things we are doing are
> not natural (pollution, global warming, etc) but maybe artificial.
> However that is just in MHO. I suppose that it is not that different than
> the mass extinctions produced at the K/T boundary and the other really big
> extinctions. Rapid environmental change followed by mass die-offs as
> organisms failed to find the genetic variation quickly enough to handle
> the new situations. Anyways, a quick poll of the grad students here says
> it is natural selection.
> Cheers,
> Brad

It seems to me that one of the problems here is that the word "natural"
has acquired "value" to a point where it has become problematic. Both
sides in environemntal debates tend to equate "natural" with "good", but
do so in slightly different ways.

Opponents of environmentalism, invoking examples of "nature red in tooth
and claw" see earlier extinctions as "natural" and then argue that as
humans are only following in the footsteps of "nature" in causing
extinctions, the procedure is "natural" and therefore "good".

Environmentalists, on the other hand, see "natural" processes, as those
which occur outside the realm of "modern" industrial human kind. Once
humans are involved the process is, by definition, not "natural" and
therefore "not good".

If your strip the value from "natural" in "natural selection", it seems to
me that the process referred to by Bruce Doyle fits the characteristics of
"natural selection", a la Darwin. Contrary to the views of
anti-environmentalists however, this does not provide any ethical
justification for its occurence. All it amounts to is an explanation of

Human beings are in a unique position (within certain bounds) to make
decisions about what will and what will not happen in the "natural" world.
To accept human induced extinctions simply on the basis that aspects of
the process can be couched in Darwinian terms seems to me to involve very
poor use of our power. It involves a fundamental denial of our most unique
attribute, our minds, and ultimately condemns us, and our descendants, to
live in a less interesting, less fullfilling world. Taken far enough, it
has the potential to deny us our own existence as a species.

Whether the process of selection is "natural" or not, we should have the
sense to stop ourselves from accelerating it.

Rod Hagen