Toward a Biology Worthy of Life > Evolution and the Illusion of Randomness > Brief excerpt
A project by Stephen L. Talbott

How to save the randomness of mutations?

But even leaving aside all the contextually coherent revision and all the meaning-making that bends the apparently random to the organism’s own purposes, we find that strictly low-level analyses show mutations to be nonrandom. The point isn’t disputed by anyone, and current researches aimed at elucidating all the factors conducive to genomic change are steadily expanding our field of view, with huge implications for evolutionary theory. This leaves but one last refuge for those who would persuade us that the mutational element of evolutionary change is blind, lifeless, and meaningless. . . . “Mutations are claimed to be random in respect to their effect on the fitness of the organism carrying them. That is, any given mutation is expected to occur with the same frequency under conditions in which this mutation confers an advantage on the organism carrying it, as under conditions in which this mutation confers no advantage or is deleterious” (Graur 2008).

So not even mutations, it turns out, are really random. There is only one crucial respect in which we need to declare them random if we would reduce to an illusion the meaningful coherence of all the rest of life: they are (in the special sense just given) random with respect to their effects upon fitness, and therefore in their evolutionary role. So runs the prevailing belief.

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