This must be how creationists think a sieve works. The smaller particles see from a distance that they’ll fit through the holes, so they make a beeline for them, while the bigger particles that won’t fit recognize that fact and get out of their way. Adding more material to be filtered reduces the effectiveness of the sieve because the bulk hampers their ability to find their way to the face of the sieve.
You may laugh, but I have to conclude that this is the inevitable rationale that they’d have to make, given their inability to think statistically and impose teleology on every explanation of natural phenomena. So Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig raises a most peculiar argument against evolution. Populations are too large.
…in the 1950s, French biologists, such as Cuénot, Tétry, and Chauvin, who did not follow the modern synthesis, raised the following objection to this kind of reasoning (summed up according to Litynski, 1961, p. 63):
Out of 120,000 fertilized eggs of the green frog only two individuals survive. Are we to conclude that these two frogs out of 120,000 were selected by nature because they were the fittest ones; or rather — as Cuenot said — that natural selection is nothing but blind mortality which selects nothing at all?
Similar questions may be raised for the 700 billion spores of Lycoperdon, the 114 million eggs multiplied with the number of spawning seasons of the American oyster, for the 28 million eggs of salmon and so on.
He doesn’t think evolution can work, because how can it possibly find the two best individuals out of a group of hundreds of thousands or millions? And the problem becomes worse the bigger the population!
Where he sees a million bits of noise obscuring the ability of a purposeful immanentization of selection to zoom in and elevate the ideal pair of eggs to their purpose, I see a million trials of a chance process that might change the statistical properties of the population. There is no ideal pair anywhere, but individuals with advantageous properties merely have a better chance of surviving the winnowing. Bigger population numbers are better for effective selection, rather than somehow hindering it, because evolution is all about the population, not the individual.
But the creationists utterly fail to grasp this fundamental point.
Joe Felsenstein tackles this failure, which is where I first heard about that remarkable Lönnig nonsense.
A retired European geneticist, Wolf-Ekkehard Lönnig, has made a point that he feels is devastating to population genetic arguments about the effectiveness of natural selection. In a post at the Discovery Institute’s blog Evolution News and Views. He pointed to an argument he made in 2001 in an encyclopedia article. The essence of his criticism is that many organisms produce very large numbers of gametes, or of newborn offspring. Most of those must die. Then
If only a few out of millions and even billions of individuals are to survive and reproduce, then there is some difficulty believing that it should really be the fittest who would do so.
In addition, he was interviewed two days ago by Paul Nelson, in a podcast posted very recently by the Center for Science and Culture of the Discovery Institute, on their blog Evolution News and Views. You will find it here. He makes the same point (while Nelson misunderstands him and keeps raising an unrelated point about protein spaces).
It is a stunning thought that evolutionary biologists have ignored this issue. Have they? Have population geneticists ever thought about this? Well, actually they have, starting nearly 90 years ago. And the calculations that they made do not offer support to Dr. Lönnig. Let me explain …
You should read the rest. He explains the basic math behind this process, which surprisingly, the fellows at the Discovery Institute do not understand. He also points out that these principles are demonstrated very pragmatically in certain prospering institutions.
If Dr. Lönnig wants to understand these matters more, I recommend to him that he visit a gambling casino – in spite of the wild uncertainty of individual gambles, he might be surprised at how often he would lose his pocket money playing games that are mostly random, but slightly biased in favor of the house.
There’s something they really seem to have missed about casinos. The odds in their favor are usually (but not always!) small, but when games are played repeatedly, they become a powerful force to suck money right out of your pocket. Increasing numbers increases profits for these places; how would that work if Lönnig’s intuitions about statistics were correct?