To get at randomness in evolution we have to take a stab at illustrating natural selection, so let’s take a hypothetical example. Suppose someone wrote a book about a vampire and a human falling in love. Just to make it relevant to this site, let’s just say, hypothetically, that this person is a Mormon. Now let’s say that this book becomes a phenomenon and a zillion copies of this book sells and is so big that whenever you misspell a word on Amazon.com, it throws you to an add for this book.
(Now just to be clear, I’ve never completely read this hypothetical book. Not because I won’t read these kinds of books, but because I am a loyal and devout Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan. We used to watch this program as a family. After the show, the rules of the house were that we would sit around and have in depth discussions about ethics, sex, highschool, homosexuality, the appearance vs. the reality of evil, weapons of choice, thought experiments like, what would you do if your mother were captured by a demon/robot?, etc. And these discussions were with teenagers! Indeed, we are fans of such devotion, that my second son when giving his mission farewell (or whatever we call them these days to pretend we are not having one—but really are) started his talk, “After Buffy died in at the end of season-five, they wrote on her tombstone, She Saved the World a Lot. Isn’t that what we all want to do? Save the world?” The bishop had both hands on the arms of his chair and looked ready for action, but the sacrament meeting proceeded very nicely and normally after that. Anyway, to a Buffy purist, reading something that even gives even the hint, or appearance as they say, of being derived from the true source is an offence. I did, however, read the first three chapters of this hypothetical book, but could go no further as my loyalty to Buffy seemed being challanged.
So anyway, say this book about vampires . . . No wait. I can feel the wrath building. I am offending people. I’m treading on sacred ground here. Oh, I can write tongue in cheek about Noah. I’ll stomp on creationists with big leather boots. I’ll get banned from Mormon aggregator sites like nothingwavering.com for believing in evolution, but now I’ve gone and done it. To talk disrespectfully about this book is a kind of Heresy (notice capital ‘H’) that is not allowed on a Mormon Blog! I can feel a great disturbance in the force as if thousands of Meyer fans cried out and were shutting down this window. So OK, OK, I’ll switch examples, my wife has devoured the books and said that if I say one more bad word about them, she will take down the large framed oil painting of Sarah Michelle Gellar that hangs in our living room above the fireplace, blow out the perpetually burning candles placed before it in honor of the Slayer, and instead put up a picture of our family with me and my wife, our kids and their spouses and dog all dressed alike standing in a pleasant copse. So I’m backing off. But you need to understand that my refusal to read this book has deep philosophical roots and isn’t just because it’s book written by and for woman (based on its readership, mind you, not sexism (I read and enjoyed The Goose Girl, so obviously I’m no Troglodyte and at least somewhat enlightened in reading Mormon bestseller female writers of note.) But in this case I just couldn’t get past the fact that she had in some strange way harmed the Buffyverse. Of course I never, actually . . . I mean hypothetically, read it so . . .
So rather than the hypothetical vampire book, now suppose, hypothetically again, that there was a woman that wrote a book about a wizarding school. We’ll make her non-Mormon just so I don’t offend my readership (And I do have a little more moral authority here because I’ve actually read all seven hypothetical books, or rather would have, if they were not hypothetical (And please don’t tell my departmental colleagues, even hypothetically, I’m supposed to seen as a serious scientist and shouldn’t be reading this kind of stuff. I should appear wise and serious at all times, obsessively focused on research, and always dignified and refined. And especially don’t tell them that I dressed up as a wizard for midnight party to pick up the sixth book at the local bookstore, and especially especially don’t tell them that I’ve read them twice or that cheered out loud when Mrs. Weasley trounced Bellatrix Lestrange). Anyway . . . (I am so distracted tonight.)
Say this book sells in the same way or even better than the Buffy-derived vampire book. Suddenly, when you go to the kid’s books section at the bookstore, there is nothing but wizard books. Tons of them. It’s a mad spree of wizards, witches and fairies everywhere you turn. That, my friends, is Natural Selection. (Well actually it’s more like artificial selection, but we’ll sort that out in a minute). Wizards win the selective contest. (And oh yes I’m bitter here too. I wrote novel about a marry bunch of squirrel warriors right at the cusp of the Red Wall series peak which book I, also, found offensive because they didn’t have a proper animal culture that had evolved like mine! They were just animals dressed up like people as it were. So I never read beyond the first book, but sadly just as I sent off my novel with hopeful eyes and naïve determination, about female squirrel warriors and male squirrel poets, animal novels died. Yes I am a bitter man. I’ve written lots of novels and only managed to get one published and that by Covenant, (and yes it’s out of print, thank you for bringing that up). But my parents and kids read them (I think), but there it is, I’ve been come sour and disillusioned, with my dreams of Amazon sending misspellings to my book fading. (Notice I daren’t think the book was rejected because, well, it just wasn’t that good)(and can you imagin, the publisher said I used too many (and how many is that exactly) parentheses)).
Anyway back to the story, evolution through natural selection takes three things:
(1) Variation in some trait characteristic
(2) Selection for that trait characteristic (meaning those with that trait survive better than the other members of that population)
(2) And trait must be heritable (it must resemble its parents in that trait).
This is no theory. It’s Law. It’s a weird law, granted, and some philosophers of biology call it an algorithm. When you think about it long you are forced to say with Darwin’s ‘Bulldog’ Thomas Huxley, ‘It’s so simple, it’s a wonder I didn’t think of it first.’ It works in anything you want to try, even on a computer.
So back to wizard children’s books. Suppose now there are still hundreds of children’s books sent in by hopeful, yet blazingly naïve, authors: animal stories, pirate stories, rock and roll stories, stories of lost-little-kids-in-the-mountains-who-are-very-brave-and-fight-their-way-through-various-and-sundry-adventures stories, stories of warrior-squirrels-who-are-very-brave-and-fight-their-way-through-various-and-sundry-adventures stories, and lots of others, but among them are wizarding stories. Now, the publisher knows that in this selective environment of consumer preference wizard stories are selling like Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans so these things get chosen for publication at a slightly higher rate. As a result the world fills with wizard books. The publishing environment selects for these books and soon bookstores are as teeming with wizarding books as the Early Devonian was trilobites. That’s evolution.
This happens with pigs and corn too. We call it artificial selection. Next time a rousing adventure as I explain real Natural selection and randomness (Maybe led by a daring female squirrel warrior who falls in love with a vampire at a wizarding school)!!!!
P.S. Stephanie Meyers if you read this and tell me that you have never watched Buffy I will as penitence read all your books, bang my head against the wall, and say “Bad Scientist, Bad Scientist”, until someone hands me a sock. I may do all that anyway if a stake-carrying Buffy Fan can authoritatively convince me I’ve misjudged the books.