Is mutation completely random?

Posted in the Evolution Debate Forum

Martin HI

Aosta, Italy

#1 Apr 8, 2012
We know that we humans, homo sapiens sapiens, where all black, and that we after exodus of Africa, through mutation and natural selection became white. But the mutation happened first - we became white, then natural selection selected white to be more reproductive successful than the black ones. Some says it was due to easier to synthesize vitamin D, some says it was due to sexual selection, or a combination.
However, my question is, how did this happen? If it was just a random mutation, it has, in my head, to be likely that throughout human history, some of us suddenly turned up to be green, red or maybe plain yellow? Surely, they are not alive today, but can this have happened and is it likely? Because as I have understood, mutations doesnt care about the environment, i.e. the environment doesnt make a mutation happen in that or that direction.
Hopeful regards,
Martin H. Inderhaug
leMango

Naperville, IL

#2 Apr 8, 2012
Martin HI wrote:
We know that we humans, homo sapiens sapiens, where all black, and that we after exodus of Africa, through mutation and natural selection became white. But the mutation happened first - we became white, then natural selection selected white to be more reproductive successful than the black ones. Some says it was due to easier to synthesize vitamin D, some says it was due to sexual selection, or a combination.
However, my question is, how did this happen? If it was just a random mutation, it has, in my head, to be likely that throughout human history, some of us suddenly turned up to be green, red or maybe plain yellow? Surely, they are not alive today, but can this have happened and is it likely? Because as I have understood, mutations doesnt care about the environment, i.e. the environment doesnt make a mutation happen in that or that direction.
Hopeful regards,
Martin H. Inderhaug
It is unlikely that any human skin was green, red, or yellow, as the pigment generating skin color, melanin, is still the same among all people. A section I found on Wikipedia regarding human skin color is far too long and a bit technically challenging to post here, but the link is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_skin_color...

The gist of it is that there are several genes that have been identified which can affect the production and regulation of melanin (as well as other traits) in different ways. Certain gene variations are found almost exclusively, though not universally, in people of particular races whereas others have a more even, though still disparate, distribution frequency. Suffice to say, the difference between white skin and black skin, or even European skin and east Asian skin, aren't simply caused by a single gene mutation, but are accumulated from variations that occurred in several different genes over time.

As for why certain skin colors might be selected over others, there are a few ideas. As you mentioned, many people think that vitamin D production played a strong role in this adaptation, and there is strong evidence to support it. Keep in mind that the further away you are from the equator, the less sunlight will reach that area in any given year, especially during the winter months when the days become much shorter than they get near the equator. Under those conditions, vitamin D deficiency would be a problem among those with darker skin, lest they acquire some adaptation; lighter skin, in this case. Not only would our bodies natural production of vitamin D decrease as we strayed from the equator, but so would the need to have the protection from UV rays that melanin provides. For that reason, having naturally light skin would be a detriment at the equator; although it would allow for plenty of vitamin D production, it would also render one susceptible to horrific sun burns and a host of skin cancers, which is decidedly bad for survival.

So, to answer your question, mutations are random, but they will likely not stick around unless the environment can apply pressure to make the valuable. If there is pressure against a mutation, then they will be selected out of a population. To put it in words you might use, even though the mutation doesn't care about the environment, the environment probably cares about the mutation.

Level 9

Since: Sep 08

Everett, WA

#3 Apr 8, 2012
Evolution occurs through random mutation and natural selection. It cannot work on either one alone. It is together that evolution is possible. So you asked a bad question. Technically the answer is yes, but that is only half of the evolution story at the very most.
leMango

Naperville, IL

#4 Apr 9, 2012
Subduction Zone wrote:
Evolution occurs through random mutation and natural selection. It cannot work on either one alone. It is together that evolution is possible. So you asked a bad question. Technically the answer is yes, but that is only half of the evolution story at the very most.
There's no such thing as a bad question if it is asked in earnest =D
The Dude

Ellesmere Port, UK

#5 Apr 9, 2012
leMango wrote:
<quoted text>
There's no such thing as a bad question if it is asked in earnest =D
Can me and Christina get it on giggity?
LGK

Rock Ferry, UK

#6 Apr 9, 2012
At least 2 problems:

(1). Even if randomness existed, we couldn't apprehend it. To say X is truly random means you have excluded ALL possible influences. Impossible.

(2). Even if we could know X really & truly was random, how is that a cause? "Random" has no causal efficacy & it's not a mechanism.

So what do people really mean when they say "random?" Well, I'm afraid what they mean is they haven't got a clue. Please accept my apologies.
The Dude

Ellesmere Port, UK

#7 Apr 9, 2012
LGK wrote:
At least 2 problems:
(1). Even if randomness existed, we couldn't apprehend it. To say X is truly random means you have excluded ALL possible influences. Impossible.
(2). Even if we could know X really & truly was random, how is that a cause? "Random" has no causal efficacy & it's not a mechanism.
So what do people really mean when they say "random?" Well, I'm afraid what they mean is they haven't got a clue. Please accept my apologies.
We will accept your apology after you've admitted you're talking crap. Until then your platitudes are worthless.

Had any luck in finding that code El? No?

Thought so.

“Wear white at night.”

Since: Jun 09

Albuquerque

#8 Apr 9, 2012
LGK wrote:
At least 2 problems:
(1). Even if randomness existed, we couldn't apprehend it. To say X is truly random means you have excluded ALL possible influences. Impossible.
(2). Even if we could know X really & truly was random, how is that a cause? "Random" has no causal efficacy & it's not a mechanism.
So what do people really mean when they say "random?" Well, I'm afraid what they mean is they haven't got a clue. Please accept my apologies.
Back to Kalam, are we?
Ignorant Person

Stockport, UK

#9 Aug 5, 2013
I am confused. I just read a quote by Richard Dawkins that natural selection is not random. But I thought that according to evolution something changes and if it's good it stays and if it's bad it dies out and that the change was random. So if this is true then in what sense is evolution not random?

On a different note, if mutations are random then that must mean that human life came about by chance.

From a statistical point of view, surely the fact that we are here and we are only alive because we are in exactly the right place with the perfect conditions indicates that this is not an accident because truely, what are the odds?

“Nihil curo de ista tua stulta ”

Since: May 08

Orlando

#10 Aug 5, 2013
Ignorant Person wrote:
I am confused. I just read a quote by Richard Dawkins that natural selection is not random. But I thought that according to evolution something changes and if it's good it stays and if it's bad it dies out and that the change was random. So if this is true then in what sense is evolution not random?
Let's review the term "Natural Selection". The word "SELECTION" is what makes this NON-random. Human breeding of animals for specific traits is an example of ARTIFICIAL selection. Natural selection just performs similar functions without the human intervention. Your parents probably met and produced you as a result of being attracted to each other. This is also an example of Natural Selection.
Ignorant Person wrote:
On a different note, if mutations are random then that must mean that human life came about by chance.
You are welcome to ascribe any supernatural qualities to the series of events that led life to form, plus the various forces that promoted this life to diversify (evolve) including the mechanisms of natural selection and mutation. Like I said, you're welcome to ascribe these various actions to God, but there is at this time no evidence for a supernatural agent that has done so.
Ignorant Person wrote:
From a statistical point of view, surely the fact that we are here and we are only alive because we are in exactly the right place with the perfect conditions indicates that this is not an accident because truely, what are the odds?
The odds that we are here are 100%. I can guarantee that I am here eating a cheeseburger and sipping on iced tea.

If you're attempting to invoke the "Goldilocks Zone" argument, you're again calculating incorrectly. We evolved to our environment. Had our environment developed differently, we would have evolved differently.

"Statistically", there are billions of possible planets in similar "Goldilocks Zones" throughout the universe, hosting TRILLIONS of potential life forms. We are but one species.

“Nihil curo de ista tua stulta ”

Since: May 08

Orlando

#11 Aug 5, 2013
I should add to the above that should a Cheetah run down and kill a SLOW gazelle, while the FASTER gazelle is able to outrun the cheetah, that too is an example of natural selection.
Gillette

Fairfield, IA

#12 Aug 6, 2013
Ignorant Person wrote:
I am confused. I just read a quote by Richard Dawkins that natural selection is not random. But I thought that according to evolution something changes and if it's good it stays and if it's bad it dies out and that the change was random. So if this is true then in what sense is evolution not random?
Mutations are random for the most part. Then, the filtering action of natural selection, which is not random, works on those random mutations.

So evolution is partly random and partly not random.
Ignorant Person wrote:
On a different note, if mutations are random then that must mean that human life came about by chance.
Only if you ignore the mechanism of natural selection.
Ignorant Person wrote:
From a statistical point of view, surely the fact that we are here and we are only alive because we are in exactly the right place with the perfect conditions indicates that this is not an accident because truely, what are the odds?
We don't know what the odds are, because we don;t know all the factors involved, so any calculation is impossible and pure BS.

But we are HERE, so the odds can be said, in a sense, to be 100% or 1:1 because it HAPPENED.

Deal a well-shuffled deck of cards. Now what are the chances that that PARTICULAR arrangement of cards wold come out? Astronomical, right? 52 x 52 x 52... etc.

But evolution is not aiming for any particular arrangement of the cards, so to speak. Evolution just deals the deck. Whatever comes out is what comes out.

I'm sure you'll agree that the odds of SOME arrangement coming out every time the cards are dealt is 100%!:)

“I started out with nothing”

Level 6

Since: Nov 10

and still got most of it left

#13 Aug 9, 2013
Ignorant Person wrote:
I am confused. I just read a quote by Richard Dawkins that natural selection is not random. But I thought that according to evolution something changes and if it's good it stays and if it's bad it dies out and that the change was random. So if this is true then in what sense is evolution not random?
On a different note, if mutations are random then that must mean that human life came about by chance.
From a statistical point of view, surely the fact that we are here and we are only alive because we are in exactly the right place with the perfect conditions indicates that this is not an accident because truely, what are the odds?
Generally (but not in all species) a males and female make a choice to procreate, that choice us usually based on physicality of some sort, plumage, ability to sing, best display. That choice is not random.

There may be deeper associations but I have not looked into this subject deeply enough to make further comment.

On your different note, consider that there are around 8 or 9 million known species alive on this planet today, each different to some grater or lesser extent when compared to another species. It is also known that more than 98% of all documented species are now extinct, that’s a lot of different species. Almost a billion species over around 3 billion years, not such big odds.

And who is to say that humanity is the best that evolution can produce? Humanity? Well we would say that wouldn’t we?

We have evolved well enough for the environment we choose to inhabit, such traits are pretty much useless to fly or in water or on high mountains or in complete darkness underground or in sub arctic conditions or… or… or….

Add in recent observations currently cataloguing around 2 or 3 stars a day with planetary systems, about 1% of those are showing planets that are in the “goldilox” zone. This indicates the conditions found on earth are not all that special. Up to date only a tiny fraction of a percent of the stars in our galaxy have been observed, there are around 500 billion more stars in our galaxy and billions and billions more galaxies.

Now for hypotheticals, If in all that matter there is only one planet with that has developed life I would consider the universe a universal waste of space.

“Think&Care”

Since: Oct 07

Location hidden

#14 Aug 9, 2013
LGK wrote:
At least 2 problems:
(1). Even if randomness existed, we couldn't apprehend it. To say X is truly random means you have excluded ALL possible influences. Impossible.
Wrong. For example, the type of mutation that arises is not determined by the environment. It is determined by the specifics of, say the radiation as it affects a particular individual. Or, for example, it is caused by a duplication of a gene that, again, is not determined by the environment. In this context, randomness means that nothing directly measurable in the environment determines the specifics of the mutation (as opposed, say, to the mutation rate). It is still possible for the environment to determine the *rates* of mutation.
(2). Even if we could know X really & truly was random, how is that a cause? "Random" has no causal efficacy & it's not a mechanism.
Again, not true. Random means that there is a distribution of possibilities in a given situation and which of those possibilities actually happens is not determined by the situation. There can still be an uneven balance between those possibilities and there can be further situations that eliminate those possibilities in non-random ways. The randomness generates the possibilities that then are fed into non-random processes.
So what do people really mean when they say "random?" Well, I'm afraid what they mean is they haven't got a clue. Please accept my apologies.
The fact that you have no clue doesn't mean that nobody has a clue.

For example, many quantum processes are random. There is nothing that happens 'just before' them that determines which possibility will actually happen. Furthermore, the randomness itself allows for certain types of predictions that can be tested. And, in situations such as Bell's theorem and the Arrow experiment verifying it, we can exclude causal explanations as opposed to random ones because causality has certain restraints not found in acausal situations.

“Think&Care”

Since: Oct 07

Location hidden

#15 Aug 9, 2013
Ignorant Person wrote:
I am confused. I just read a quote by Richard Dawkins that natural selection is not random. But I thought that according to evolution something changes and if it's good it stays and if it's bad it dies out and that the change was random. So if this is true then in what sense is evolution not random?
Think of it as a two step process. Flip a coin. Whether it comes up heads or tails is random (for our purposes). Suppose, though, that you flip a lot of coins and only keep the ones that come up heads. That selection is non-random. is the overall process random?

But let's do a slightly more realistic example. Suppose you flip a coin. if it comes up heads, you roll a pair of dice. If it comes up anything other than a 2, you keep the coin. If you it comes up tails, you roll the dice, but only keep the coin if it comes up 12.

Now, this process is random at both stages, but the overall effect is that the number of heads accumulated will be many more than the number of tails accumulated. That is a non-random effect and is a sort of selection.

A similar thing happens in physics. The motion of molecules in a gas is a very chaotic thing. yet, the mass of molecules leads to very specific values of things like temperature and pressure, which obey very non-random laws.
On a different note, if mutations are random then that must mean that human life came about by chance.
From a statistical point of view, surely the fact that we are here and we are only alive because we are in exactly the right place with the perfect conditions indicates that this is not an accident because truely, what are the odds?
What exact probability are you attempting to calculate? It is necessary to be very precise when doing probability calculations or you can easily get meaningless numbers out.

If you are asking what the probability that you, specifically, would be the result after about 3 billion years of evolution, the answer would be vanishingly small. But that is rather similar to shuffling a deck of cards, laying them out and asking what the probability is that *specific* order would have been laid out. Again, the probability is vanishingly small. But, the probability that *some* specific order will be laid out is 1.

If you are asking what the probability is that intelligent life *of some sort* would evolve given life existing about 3 billion years ago, and within the life of the earth, then I would say the probabilities are much, much higher, but almost impossible to calculate. There are simply way, way too many interconnected variables to consider, each affecting the probabilities of others.

If you are asking what the probability is that intelligent life would happen at some point in our galaxy, I would bet again that the probability is very high (probably close to 1), but is again very hard to calculate, mainly because we don't know the conditions that are required for life to form.

If you are asking what the probability that you specifically would arise from the mating of your parents, that at least becomes within the realm of calculability: but even here you would have to calculate the odds of the chromosomes crossing at the right locations and multiply it by the number of sperm, the amount of sperm on each mating, and take into account the number of matings.

None of these probabilities is easy to calculate, and they all give the different answers to your basic question.
Libertarian

London, UK

#16 Aug 9, 2013
White people were not more successful at breeding, its just that their descendents spread out. Further changes did take place for instance when man reach north america, the far east and australia.

Mutations are completely random, apart from time of high activity from the sun so more ionised radiation reaches the earth.

But only the first appearance is random, the survival of the gene afterward is the complete opposite of random, it is selected or not by the enviroment in the context of all the other genes which bring advantages or not depending on both the gene and enviroment.

A gene can be an advantage in one enviroment and a disadvantage in another.

Being black is an advantage under high levels of UV radiation but is a disadvantage under low levels, but thats just the simplified answer.

Races only appeared about 100,000 years ago, thats like yesterday to the genes.
SimpleTom

Nanaimo, Canada

#17 Oct 7, 2013
So many errors... where do I start...
Mutations are random, evolution is not. Evolution is the relative survival and reproduction of all the variations in any species, so better mutations for their environment thrive, poorer ones don't. As already mentioned, darker skin individuals thrive in high UV environment, lighter skin where there is less light. And not all variations are due to mutations. Most species have a high degree of normal variability that may result in year by year selection of certain traits over others. Galapagos finches change to different beak shapes during droughts that change the seeds available. Spotted moths changed from predominantly white to predominantly dark during the industrial revolution, but both extremes, and many middle shades had always existed.

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