A Mistake in the Matrix

In the DM, I write:

A core element of the non-teleological perspective of evolution is that mutations are random with regard to fitness. This means that mutations are not inherently forward- or outward-looking. Instead, a mutation simply occurs in a random fashion (a genuine mistake) and whether or not it benefits the organism depends on contingency, for as far as we know, evolution does not create targeted mutations to solve specific problems. For example, if there was some mechanism by which the PCP molecule itself could trigger the specific mutation that elicits the expression of continue (see Chapter 6), we would have a powerful indicator of a teleological mechanism at work. In such a case, the cell would be selectively mutating regions of its DNA that it needs to retool in order the meet the challenges of the environment.

Yet upon further thought, I do not think many people would consider this “a powerful indicator of a teleological mechanism at work.”

Instead, we could argue that organisms which have the ability to target their mutations would have a selective advantage over those that can’t.  In order words, the ability to target mutations would be easily explained as the work of the blind watchmaker and not some teleological mechanism.  In a way, we already possess an example that illustrates this.  When the body is stressed by an invasion of microbial pathogens, lymphocytes respond by targeting many mutations to their antibody genes.  Yet this is not considered some form of teleological mechanism.

So while it remains true that a core element of the non-teleological perspective of evolution is that mutations are random with regard to fitness, if mutations were not random with regard to fitness, this too would be easily absorbed into the non-teleological perspective.

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