The Instigator
Pro (for)
3 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
5 Points

Natural Selection is an Oxymoron

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 4/10/2014 Category: Science
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 2,263 times Debate No: 52071
Debate Rounds (3)
Comments (1)
Votes (2)




first round is acceptance only.

Good luck!


Thanks M8!
I accept!
So lets get into the fun!
Debate Round No. 1


I want to extend my sincere appreciation to Sagey for agreeing to participate in this debate.

Here's an observation:

Some organisms reproduce. Some don't.

I have just succinctly described that which we call Natural Selection. This is a completely passive process. There is nothing active about it. It simply happens. There is no "selection" taking place. There is only the natural course of the life and death of organisms.

In "The Origin of Species," Darwin asks: "Can the principles of selection, which we have seen is so potent in the hands of man, apply in nature?...we may feel sure that any variation in the least degree injurious would be rigidly destroyed. This preservation of favourable variations and the rejection of injurious variations, I call Natural Selection"[1].

What are these "principles of selection" to which Darwin refers? Darwin studied selective breeding. Selective breeding, otherwise referred to as artificial breeding, is the practice of deliberately ensuring that certain traits of plants or animals survive from one generation to the next. It is a process exercised by professionals. It is active. It is purposeful.

The very word selection refers to an active, purposeful process; a process invariably associated with the intentional states of agents. Does the inanimate environment actively participate in a purposeful "selection" process?. Does the environment so much as care whether any organism survives or not? Does the environment, as Darwin suggested, "rigidly destroy" injurious variations? Of course not! Does the environment, as Darwin suggested, "preserve" some organisms while "rejecting" others?

No! Some organisms reproduce and others do not. Darwin enlists several teleological terms in order to describe this purely passive process. Does it happen that some organisms reproduce while others do not? Of course. But my point here is that there is no active "selection" going on here. Darwin has simply helped himself to yet another teleological term in describing this purely passive process.

Please understand that this is not a debate about the scope or power of what we call Natural Selection (although that is a debate I would be very happy to have). At issue here is nothing more than an examination of the term we use to describe a certain reality. A review of how mainstream biology textbooks define Darwinian evolution reveals the common use of the following words and phrases: "blind," "undirected," "purposeless," "without a plan," "without goals"[2]. A process cannot simultaneously be undirected and purposeful. To say that it can is the very essence of the word "oxymoron."

If we are to communicate clearly, it is essential that we define the words we use precisely. When we use the word "selection," we always refer to an active, purposeful, goal-oriented process. It would be far more honest and accurate of us to refer to "Natural Selection," as "differential reproduction and survival," because that is what it is. It is nothing more.

Selection is an active process. Unless you believe that the environment makes intentional decisions, you must agree that the term, "Natural Selection" is an oxymoron.

I now turn the debate over to my opponent....

[1] "On the Origin of Species," Darwin
[2] "God and Evolution," Richards


Thanks Pro:
Very interesting opening argument.
Though I do agree that: " Some organisms reproduce. Some don't", but, truthfully, that Observation or should I really call it an Assumption, has little to do with Natural Selection overall.

Pro states: "This is a completely passive process. There is nothing active about it. It simply happens. There is no "selection" taking place."

Which is not entirely correct, in fact, you can break the term "Natural Selection" into it's two parts.

* Firstly "Natural", this refers to the changes within a species that are taking or have taken place. These are mostly Random.

There are small biological changes that do not produce instantly noticeable morphological or visual differences sometimes called Genotype (genetic structure or microbiological formation):

These are usually small scale or Microevolutionary changes that can be in the form of Mutation, Genetic Drift, Interspecies propagation (There is evidence that Humans and Neanderthals being two separate species of Hominid, had interbred).

Then there are changes that can be visually noticeable in the morphology or Phenotype (visual structure).

To save typing I will extract these from the following Berkeley University reference:

So please read this source for more information which I don't have room for in this argument.

Module duplication and adaptation
A module refers to a unit that can be duplicated and further adapted. For example, arthropods have various numbers of body segments.

This is the modification of a particular module, usually when there is selection for a specialized function.

Heterochrony is a change in the timing of developmental events. For example, a change in timing might slow down the development of the body, but not alter the maturation of the reproductive system. This change yields an adult organism with a form similar to the ancestral juvenile form.

Allometric growth

Allometric growth is a change in the rate of growth of a dimension or feature relative to other features. For example, we can describe some of the evolutionary changes that produced bats in terms of allometry. Bat wings are basically paws with really long fingers and skin stretched between them. In order for these wings to evolve, the rate of growth of finger bones must have increased relative to the growth of the rest of the bat's body — or perhaps the rate of growth of the rest of the body decreased relative to the fingers. Either way, it is allometry. “

* Secondly: Selection: This refers to what basically amounts to a Filtering System which Determines Which Changes Will Remain Within A Species within a particular Environment.

Unlike Pro's Assumption, Selection does Exist and Selects which species can survive.

We could define Selection as: The Criteria and Constraints in a selected environment that determines the Survival of those creatures that live within it.
For instance:

A Desert Environment will select those who can survive extreme temperature changes and can survive long periods without water, a genetic change that reduces these abilities will reduce the survival of the individual creature and thus be less likely to propagate, while any genetic change that enhance these abilities will be more likely to survive and propagate.

Which brings me back to Pro's Opening Statement: "Some organisms reproduce. Some don't"

Pro would be far more accurate if Pro stated:
Organisms that Pass the Selection Criteria for a particular environment are more likely to Reproduce, than those who Fail.

I will refer to Individualization specifically and notice that it states that there is Selection for specialised Function. Most often this function has to do with either one of three activities:

1: Obtaining nutrition.

2: Protection or self defence.

3: Propagation.

If a change improves the species ability to perform any of those three basic activities, then likely those with the improvements will have a better chance of survival in that particular environment.

This chance for survival and domination in that environment is a Selection process, those who lack improvements may become dominated by those that gain, thus they lose the race and fail to survive. This is what was termed: “Survival Of The Fittest”
Though a far better description is: "Survival of the best adapted to that particular environment."

Charles Darwin Stated:
“It may metaphorically be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinising, throughout the world, the slightest cariations; rejecting those that are bad, preserving and adding up all that are good; silently and insensibly working”

Ref: "Origin Of Species"

Debate Round No. 2


I want to sincerely thank Sagey for an incredibly informative, well researched, and logically methodical presentation. This was a very thorough, well referenced, scholarly argument!

Unfortunately, most of this argument belongs to a different debate. For the most part, Sagey offered a comprehensive defense of the scope and power of natural selection. As I stated earlier, this is not that debate. As I also said, it is a debate I would be very happy to have; all the more so, now that I know the formidable ability and passion Sagey possesses for this subject.

This is a far more modest debate. It's a debate on nothing more than definition. Is the term "natural selection" an oxymoron? To answer this question, we really need to cite nothing more than the dictionary. I used Merriam Webster online. Here are the relevant definitions:

oxymoron: a combination of words that have opposite or very different meanings.

natural: existing in nature and not made or caused by people: coming from nature

selection: the act of choosing something or someone from a group.

There you have it! Natural describes what just happens. It happens naturally without purposeful, active intervention. Selection, on the other hand, is a deliberate choice. Selection is active purposeful choice - exactly what does not happen in nature. Thus, natural selection is, by definition, an oxymoron.

For example, water naturally flows downstream. We make a selection, or a choice, to dig a trench to divert it to our vegetable garden. The stream flows naturally. The trench is an active selection. It is not natural. Similarly, organisms live and die. Selective breeders actively intervene into this natural process. They desire particular phenotypic outcomes. Therefore, they actively intervene, breeding certain animals for a purpose, for example, breeding horses for speed. The faster the progeny, the more they are bred and preserved by the breeders.

No such process goes on in nature. Natural outcomes simply happen. There is no selection. No choice is made. Sagey is pretty accurate when he says: "If a change improves the species ability to perform (survival enhancing traits), then likely those with improvements will have a better chance of survival..."

Yep. That's pretty much it. Different creatures reproduce differentially. I can't emphasize this enough: it just happens

But when he says, "This chance for survival and domination in that environment is a Selection process," he is confusing the fact that we have adapted the term "natural selection" to describe what is happening with the natural unfolding of differential survival and reproduction. Nothing is being actively selected. It is simply happening. Origin of Life researcher David Abel says it well:
"The environment cannot select for isolated function. The environment is blind to functionality. It has no
preference for function over non-function. The environment has no capacity for caring whether the
fittest organisms survive better. They just do."[3]
Even the Darwin quote that Sagey provided us with is presented as a metaphor (I'm not paranoid, the environment really IS always scrutinizing me!).

The environment doesn't care. Therefore it doesn't select. It just happens. You are free to call it what you wish, but if you wish to call it Natural Selection, you are employing the rhetorical device that we call oxymoron. There's nothing wrong with it. We use oxymoron's all the time: random choice, honest thief, noticeable absence, etc. etc. Natural Selection fits in to this list.

It just happens!

[3] "The First Gene," Abel, 2011, p 167

Preemptive note: Merriam Webster provides a definition for the word selection that matches that which we call natural selection. Please note that this definition is tied directly to the term natural selection.


Thank you very much Pro for your compliment, and for a formidable Argument to rebut.

Though I do believe that Pro has failed to provide evidence that “Natural Selection” is an Oxymoron.

The problem with Pro's argument is that Pro is looking at the combination in an incorrect way.

A Full Definition of Oxymoron is: “ A combination of contradictory or incongruous words (ascruel kindness); broadly : something (as a concept) that is made up of contradictory or incongruous elements. Such as; “Cruel Kindness”.


There is nothing Contradictory about “Natural Selection:

”Definition of Natural: “1nat·u·ral

adjective \G2;na-chə-rəl, G2;nach-rəl\

: existing in nature and not made or caused by people : coming from nature

: not having any extra substances or chemicals added : not containing anything artificial

: usual or expected”

Example: “the natural course of the disease”

From: “;

“Whether or not selection takes place depends on the conditions in which the individuals of a species find themselves. Adults, juveniles, embryos, and even eggs and sperm may undergo selection. Factors fostering selection include limits on resources (nourishment, habitat space, mates) and the existence of threats (predators, disease, adverse weather). Biologists often refer to such factors as selective pressures. “


Definition of “Natural Selection”

”natural selection


Full Definition of NATURAL SELECTION

: a natural process that results in the survival and reproductive success of individuals or groups best adjusted to their environment and that leads to the perpetuation of genetic qualities best suited to that particular environment


Thus both “Natural” and “Selection can be Passive or Active, in the realm of Evolution “Natural” Active, in that it means Natural changes within a species, such as Mutation, Genetic Drift, etc...


In Evolution is mostly Active: In the case of the Evolution of Zebras and Peppered Moths it is active Selection in that the active Selection process is made by their predators. In the case of the Zebras Active Selection is made by Lions, Crocodiles, Wild Dogs and Hyenas; whereas in the case of the Peppered Moth the Active Selection is made by birds.

Regarding Environmental Selective Pressures: Such as in a desert, the Action of the extremes of Heat and Cold that are Actively determining which alleles will be selected for Survival, which will “Naturally” favour the most well adapted though these may seem passive to us, but heat is an active force.


Pro stated:“This is a far more modest debate. It's a debate on nothing more than definition.

Actually it is a debate on Semantics.”

Pro also stated: “Natural describes what just happens. It happens naturally without purposeful, active intervention. Selection, on the other hand, is a deliberate choice. Selection is active purposeful choice - exactly what does not happen in nature. Thus, natural selection is, by definition, an oxymoron.”

As I've demonstrated: Selection in Evolution is an Active Process, whether by Predators, Pathogens, or Environmental Forces, making the selection of those who will not get the chance to pass on their genetics, thus altering the gene pool of the species.

Pro targets Selective Breeding, yet Selective Breeding has little to do with the “Theory Of Evolution”, as it is simply an application of the Laws Of Evolution some of which were known before Darwin, some knowledge of Evolution existed as far back as Leonardo da Vinci, who is a founding father of Evolution.

Pro Incorrectly States: “No such process goes on in nature. Natural outcomes simply happen. There is no selection. No choice is made.”

As I've demonstrated in both arguments, Active Selection is taking place, predators, diseases, antibiotics, environmental factors are actively selecting out those who will not pass on their genes.

Pro stated: “Creatures reproduce differentially. I can't emphasize this enough: it just happens”

Yes: Creatures Reproduce Differently, why, because other forms of reproduction likely left them as easy prey for predators and disease.

Humans propagate the way they do, because it produces better protection from diseases.

If we reproduced Asexually, we would have been wiped out by Pathogens actively selecting all humans.

"Slow though the process of selection may be, if feeble man can do much by his powers of artificial selection, I can see no limit to the amount of change, to the beauty and infinite complexity of the coadaptations between all organic beings, one with another and with their physical conditions of life, which may be effected in the long course of time by nature's power of selection."


Natural is Changes, Selection is Action affecting these Changes.
Thus: No Oxymoron Exists in "Natural Selection."

Debate Round No. 3
1 comment has been posted on this debate.
Posted by Sagey 7 years ago
There are many great examples of passive selection processes.
Think I will use my next argument to demonstrate those.
Science uses these all the time, so I don't know where Pro gets the idea that Selection needs to be active.
The activity is supplied by the Natural events, the selection simply guides or chooses which events work and which don't.
2 votes have been placed for this debate. Showing 1 through 2 records.
Vote Placed by Sargon 7 years ago
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Total points awarded:30 
Reasons for voting decision: The core of Pro's argument was that Darwin employed teleological language to describe the process of natural selection, but at the same time, evolution is described as random, blind, and non-teleological. The alleged oxymoron in natural selection is that it employs both teleological and non-teleological language. I found the vast majority of Con's R2 to be irrelevant, considering this is not a debate about the soundness of natural selection, but whether or not it employs contradictory language. Con seemed to realize this conceptual mistake in R3, but by time he addressed Pro's actual argument, he was two rounds behind. Con was able to correct Pro in many places regarding his characterization of certain biological concepts, but I believe that this had no implications on the resolution. Con did not sufficiently refute the assertion that natural selection employs teleological and non-teleological language, which entailed a Pro victory regardless of other disputes.
Vote Placed by Seeginomikata 7 years ago
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Total points awarded:05 
Reasons for voting decision: I found Con argument to be much more persuasive and made much more sense. I also liked Con sources more than pro sources.

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