The Natural Selection Paradox

Natural selection does nothing to explain the origin, development, and existence of all living life forms.  The Natural Selection Paradox

The Natural Selection Paradox Explained

The Natural Selection Paradox v.1.4. More information on The Natural Selection Paradox and more information about the shortcomings of natural selection can be found at Copyright © 2022 Nevin S. Purnell. Quotes with attribution permitted.

  1. Introduction
  2. Definitions
  3. Preemptive Disclaimers
  4. The Natural Selection Paradox Explained
  5. Implications of The Natural Selection Paradox

I. Introduction

Darwin introduced natural selection in Chapter 4 of On the Origin of Species, a chapter he later referred to as “the key-stone of my Book.”[i] Because it includes the word selection, the phrase natural selection implies volitional discernment in nature capable of rendering an action. Darwin underscored the assumed volitional attributes of natural selection when he characterized—some say personified—natural selection as scrutinizing, rejecting, preserving, and sensibly working in nature:

It may be said that natural selection is daily and hourly scrutinizing, throughout the world, every variation, even the slightest; rejecting that which is bad, preserving and adding up all that is good; silently and sensibly working, whenever and wherever opportunity offers, at the improvement of each organic being in relation to its organic and inorganic conditions of life.[ii]

Modern evolutionists and educators continue to leverage this term to imply that this necessary “scrutinizer” lurks about in nature as a non-random motive force of evolution. They recognize that Darwin’s descent with modification—evolutionary variation introduced in each parent-to-child replication—arises randomly in nature. But evolutionists believe that natural selection acts as an invisible natural organizer, that natural selection silently and sensibly works to bring streams of order out of the flood of randomness offered up by nature. In this sense, then, natural selection itself appears as the necessary keystone in the arch of evolutionary theory. Without natural selection, Darwin’s arch crumbles; the center cannot hold.

The Natural Selection Paradox offers a different view of natural selection: that—despite the observations in nature attributed to it—natural selection plays (and played) absolutely no role in the creation and continued existence of every living species of plant or animal on Earth today.

II. Definitions

ParadoxA statement that is seemingly contradictory or opposed to common sense and yet is perhaps true.“Paradox.” Merriam Merriam-Webster, 2022. Sat. 22 January 2022.

Descent with ModificationThe passing on of traits from parent organisms to their offspring.

Natural Selection:  The “preservation of favourable variations and the rejection of injurious variations….” – Charles Darwin, On The Origin of Species, A Facsimile of the First Edition (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964), 81. (This definition derives from Darwin’s statement: “This … , I call Natural Selection.”).

EvolutionThe idea that from a beginning life form all current living forms arose and exist as the preserved product of unguided, purposeless, natural mechanisms, chiefly natural selection acting on random heritable variation or mutation. – Derived from a definition at

Note that our definition of evolution is entirely consistent with modern science as a natural process operating in nature in two steps: (1) variation in offspring (Darwin’s descent with modification) and (2) natural selection.

Evolution defined this way is wholly consistent with current evolutionary thought and emphasizes what mainstream evolutionary biologists hold as true: that the purely natural Darwinian mechanism of natural selection acting on random variations in living organisms completely suffices to explain the origin of complex, entirely new life forms—including human beings—from simpler, prior life forms. Evolutionary biologists also hold as true that the life forms that exist today have been preserved from extinction to do so.

Note further, that we define and use the term evolution as understood by mainstream science to exclude the supernatural: This purely natural process operates without divine intervention. In his widely used college textbook Evolutionary Biology, evolutionary expert Douglas Futuyma writes:

By coupling undirected, purposeless variation to the blind, uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations of the life processes superfluous.

D. J. Futuyma, Evolutionary Biology (Sunderland, Mass.: Sinauer Associates, 1998), 5.

For the purposes of our explanation of The Natural Selection Paradox, we adhere to Douglas Futuyma’s conclusion.

III. Preemptive Disclaimers

IV. The Natural Selection Paradox Explained

The Natural Selection Paradox is explained with reference to two flowcharts: Diagram 1 and Diagram 2. The bracketed portion of the process in both diagrams corresponds to our definition of evolution as well as the process of evolution as described by experts.

For reference and emphasis in the diagrams, we will again depend upon expert Douglas Futuyma’s characterization of the evolutionary process (numbers, brackets, and emphasis added):

By coupling (1) undirected, purposeless variation [descent with modification] to (2) the blind, uncaring process of natural selection, Darwin made theological or spiritual explanations of the life processes superfluous.

We grant for our purposes herein the fact of “undirected, purposeless variation” in nature. We affirm the variation observed in nature as examples of Darwin’s “descent with modification.”

We focus instead on the “uncaring process of natural selection” and its role in producing, facilitating, or in any other way enabling creation of new life forms or facilitating their capacity to continue to exist to this day.

Moving through the flow chart of Diagram 1, we note the arrow indicating time passing vertically downward from a time in the past (Time 1) when the first life form appeared at this time in the present (Time 7) when all current species—including human beings—exist.

We start with the first life form that had a replicating DNA sequence: Organism 1 at Time 1. No one knows the identity or origin of this first organism. We can consider Organism 1 to be the first animal ancestor of human beings, which we are told was a sea sponge.[iv] But without question, evolutionary theory requires that there was a single, first organism in the human line of descent.

As noted by the arrow leading to the decision diamond at Time 2, Organism 1 replicates to make a child. If this child’s genome includes variations introduced into its inherited DNA sequence, then nature will build it to be different from the parent—and if no variation appears in the DNA sequence when replicated, then no modified organism arises.

In our example, variation emerges in the replicated DNA sequence of Organism 1 such that at Time 3, for the first time on Earth, a new organism appears: Modified Organism 2—an example of Darwin’s descent with modification. Modified Organism 2 descended from Organism 1 with modifications, which we now know derive primarily from variations—including mutations—in the coded DNA sequence inherited from Organism 1.

The question now becomes this: What is nature to “do” with Modified Organism 2 if evolutionary processes are going to play a role in eventually producing many, many modified organisms throughout a long history of descent with modification of innumerable organisms to produce humans and every existing species on Earth?

This question—what is nature to do? —is answered by evolutionists with a “doing” step: natural selection. Like Darwin, evolutionists believe that natural selection performs some “doing” role in nature—producing, acting upon, or otherwise guiding evolutionary processes.

Diagram 1: Flowchart of Evolutionary Processes

Some of the “doing” actions ascribed by Darwin to natural selection include these:

In a section of Origin of Species having the page header “What Natural Selection Can Do,” Darwin infers from the negative that natural selection can produce something. He states:

In more modern times, Ernst Mayr (widely considered the most eminent evolutionary biologist of the 20th century) explicitly described natural selection as being a “direction-giving force.”[xi] Another modern evolution expert, Richard Dawkins, similarly attributes a “guiding” ability to natural selection when he states that chance variations can be “tamed…only if there is a mechanism for guiding each step in some particular direction, otherwise the sequence of steps will career off in an endless random walk.”[xii]

With, perhaps, an eye to the “doing” conundrum, leading evolutionary textbooks define natural selection by describing the results achieved, rather than explaining the “how” of the achievement.[xiii] Consider, for example, these two representative definitions of natural selection:

Neither definition goes beyond a description of results to address how differential survival or reproductive success of the survivors is achieved. They fall short of that explanation. Such definitions are akin to defining “photosynthesis” as “the correlation of the color green with variation in CO2 assimilation success.” Observation of a result absent a mechanism for achieving the result is not a useful definition.

It remains that natural selection—to be meaningful—must do something responsible for differential survival or reproductive success. According to Darwin and modern evolutionary theory, the question as to what natural selection can or will do hinges on whether the variation introduced into Modified Organism 2 is “favorable” or “injurious.” Favorable variations lead to survival (to reproduce), while injurious variations lead to “rejection” (and maybe extinction). The decision diamond at Time 4 indicates this question and its two possible outcomes.

For purposes of testing the theory, we accept that if the variations are injurious to Modified Organism 2 it may not survive to reproduce; natural selection can “reject” it at Time 4 as being unfit for survival. Its time on Earth is over; it may have been eaten by another animal, starved to death, or succumbed to a natural disaster. In a worst-case scenario, the entire line of descent for Modified Organisms 2 goes extinct. And we can accept the rejection of Modified Organism 2 as an example of natural selection “doing” something.

But what if the variation introduced into Modified Organism 2 by its inherited DNA sequence is favorable to Modified Organism 2? That is, what if the modification inherited by Organism 2 from Organism 1 confers some advantage for survival and Modified Organism 2 survives to reproduce?

According to Darwin, natural selection operates to preserve Modified Organism 2.  What this means to an observer is that Modified Organism 2 simply moves unchanged and unfettered through time—presumably to replicate further (Time 5).

Here is the question that must be adequately answered by evolutionists if we are to believe evolutionary processes created human beings: What, exactly, did natural selection “do” in nature to preserve Modified Organism 2 to be alive at Time 5? In other words, what in nature happened such that Modified Organism 2 is preserved in a manner observed by us as “differential survival” or “reproductive success”? Did something in nature termed natural selection modify or adapt Organism 2, as Darwin suggests? Did something in nature termed natural selection produce anything that renders Organism 2 more fit to survive? Did something in nature termed natural selection invisibly intervene to “guide each step” or render “a direction-giving force,” as Richard Dawkins and Ernst Mayr allege?

According to modern evolutionary theory, the answer to the questions above—or similar questions—must be “yes” if natural selection is to play any meaningful role in the process of evolution. For this reason, many modern evolutionists follow Darwin in harboring the notion that the “preserving” function of natural selection entails some non-random, sensible working—i.e., doing something—in nature to guide evolutionary development. Natural selection is the necessary doing step to be “coupled” with undirected, purposeless variation—descent with modification—to produce the necessary “direction” or “guidance” to achieve increasing complexity in diverse organisms through time. Why include it in the evolutionary process if it does not do something?

We must, therefore, press further by asking not only what preservation of an organism looks like but how this preservation is achieved. In other words, what does nature “do” to perform the feat of preservation by something called natural selection? What did natural selection do for Modified Organism 2? Rather than simply defining natural selection by describing the resulting fallout observed at Time 5, we must question what happened in nature to cause the fallout.

Consider the view from Modified Organism 2’s lived experience. Modified Organism 2 arrives on Earth at Time 3 and lives unchanged[xvi] to freely roam about fed and uneaten to reproduce at Time 5 and beyond. Modified Organism 2 lives each day “untouched” by natural selection as it is preserved in its lifetime to reproduce. “Preservation” of Modified Organism 2 changes nothing of its existence or its fate. Modified Organism 2 passes its life on earth happily unaware of natural selection; natural selection is invisibly irrelevant to Modified Organism 2’s origin or continued being.

It is evident that natural selection “did” nothing for Modified Organism 2. If we are to ascribe to natural selection some volitional action (as evolutionary biologists tend to do), natural selection simply stood back and watched as Modified Organism 2 passes through time to replicate further. We observe Modified Organism 2 blissfully going about life untouched by—and unaware of—natural selection.

According to evolutionists and as indicated at Time 6, this process of replication with variation—that is, descent with modification—has operated in history through innumerable generations (“n” generations, n being a very large number). Darwinists allege that one of the modified organisms built by evolutionary processes repeated over n generations is human beings (Time 7).

In short, the evolution of human beings—according to evolution—can be traced through an unbroken chain of untouched-by-natural-selection favorable variations that arose in each member of a line of organisms going all the way back to Organism 1.

Our second diagram further illustrates the claim that natural selection plays no role in the evolutionary process.

Diagram 2 is identical to Diagram 1—except that it shows what the process of evolution would look like without the step of natural selection. The shaded area on Diagram 2 indicates the absence of natural selection from the process.

Note the result: In the absence of natural selection, the fate of Modified Organism 2 is unchanged. That is, for Modified Organism 2—and any other new life form possessing favorable variations—the presence of some process in nature we call natural selection remains invisibly irrelevant to its survival. Its life experience, developmental history, and fitness to reproduce is not affected by natural selection at all as it passes through time preserved to reproduce further.

Whether Modified Organism 2 passes through time because it was “preserved” by natural selection or because natural selection did not exist to affect it in any way it is to say the same thing: Natural selection did nothing in the creation, existence, or continued replication of Modified Organism 2.

Diagram 2: Flowchart of Evolutionary Processes Without Natural Selection

Both the origin and the fitness-to-reproduce of Modified Organism 2 is explained solely by the modifications it inherited from Organism 1. And according to evolution, this process was repeated through history innumerable times to produce human beings.

The origin and fitness to reproduce of every currently living Modified Organism n—including human beings—must be explained solely by the cumulative modifications it inherited from a long line of descent with modification from Organism 1.

V. Implications of The Natural Selection Paradox

1.      Evolution of all current life forms from a first life form must be explained as evolving by descent with modification alone.

To believe evolutionary processes as the explanation for all current life forms, one must believe that the progression from the first life form to modern species happened solely by variation introduced and accumulated into each new genome created along the way. Human beings must be the result exclusively of descent with modification over time from the first genome on Earth to the present.

2.      Humans and every other living thing that exist today must have evolved through time from a first life form in an unbroken chain of favorable variations.

Not one of the ancestral organisms in the human line of descent experienced a rejection ending the line. Natural selection merely stood back and watched as modified organism after modified organism passed through time to reproduce unhindered, resulting in the human species today.

3.      Natural selection—like a passive filter that does not touch the favorable modifications that flow through unobstructed—played no role in the origin and continued existence of every one of the favorably modified life forms offered up at every stage of development leading to every existing life form.

Filter or no filter, the result in nature is the same for all preserved organisms, including every existing life form today.

4.      The “Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection” cannot explain the creation and existence of any existing species from a first life form.

Darwin’s theory—and modern versions of it—often go by a shorthand characterization as “Evolution by Natural Selection.” But natural selection played no role in the evolution of any organism alive today.

5.      Darwin’s keystone is removed; the arch must eventually crumble.

Natural selection—the keystone in the evolutionary arch and the key to the process of evolution—has absolutely no bearing on the creation or existence of all living life forms today. The evolutionary arch must fall under its own weight.

6.      Theological or spiritual explanations of the life processes are not superfluous.

To work at all, the evolutionary process must be imbued with some unseen, unobserved, unexplainable capability to “silently and sensibly” guide the evolutionary machine. Is not invoking natural selection for this invisible involvement indistinguishable from invoking theological or spiritual intervention?[xvii]

7.      Gone is the perceived need to reconcile the “science” of natural selection with “religion” on the issue of creation.

The Natural Selection Paradox affirms our deep-down intuition that the Biblical stands without the need to be reconciled with evolution. We are not the product of natural selection at all, guided or unguided. There should exist among Bible-believers no need to formulate any hybrid evolution/creation narratives.

VI.       Objections to the Natural Selection Paradox

Objection 1:   The Natural Selection Paradox ignores the fact that evolution operates in populations, not only in individuals. Much of the observed evolution today can be explained by population genetics.

Response:   Evolution observed today in populations and explained by population genetics is real. But the creation, development, and existence of new life forms must be explained at the individual level. Descent with modification refers to individual descent. Individuals are replicated with variation. Every example of natural selection provided by evolutionists today is an example illustrating the fate of individuals: individual dark moths, individual green bugs, individual short-necked giraffes, individuals in a population, etc. For every example cited, the actions of both descent with modification and natural selection in populations occur at the level of the individual organism.

Objection 2: The Natural Selection Paradox entails that, if it and biological evolution are true, the Earth should be populated not only with every existing species but also with every mutant and every organism with an “injurious variation” supposedly created and rejected along the way.

Response:   That is correct.

Objection 3:   The Natural Selection Paradox ignores the fact that natural selection may have indirectly aided the continued survival of those not rejected to die. For example, eliminating certain organisms may have freed up food resources and possibly eliminated predators, both of which could have aided the human line of descent with modification.

Response:   That is plausible. Redefining natural selection such that what it “does” is “lane clearing” to remove certain organisms such that the continued descent with modification of other organisms can progress unhindered—while problematic for other reasons—is not totally incompatible with The Natural Selection Paradox. But, if so, every survivor on Earth today nevertheless remains the product of descent with modification alone.

[i] See,

[ii] Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, A Facsimile of the First Edition (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964), 84 (emphasis added).

[iii] D. J. Futuyma, Evolutionary Biology (Sunderland, Mass.: Sinauer Associates, 1998), 5.


[v] Darwin, Origin of Species, 86 (emphasis added).

[vi] Ibid., 85 (emphasis added).

[vii] Ibid., 86.

[viii] Ibid., 86-87.

[ix] Ibid., 200 (emphasis added).

[x] Ibid., 201 (emphasis added).

[xi] Ibid., xvi; introduction by Ernst Mayr. Mayr’s complete quote: “That natural selection is a direction-giving force, within the limitations of the evolutionary potential set for a given species by its genotype, has now been substantiated abundantly.”

[xii] Richard Dawkins, The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1996), 318 (emphasis added).

[xiii] See, e.g.,

[xiv] Ibid., Futuyma (2005).

[xv] Ibid., Stearns and Hoekstra (2005).

[xvi] At least without change leading to enhanced fitness to reproduce. That is, the organism can change by losing an appendage, being harmed but not killed, and the like, but such changes are not relevant to evolutionary processes.

[xvii] Darwin dabbled with the idea of a “subordinate deity” as a “regulator” of natural selection. Termed the “demiurgic narrative,” this idea is reviewed here:

3 responses to “The Natural Selection Paradox”

  1. Early on, you state Darwin’s definition of natural selection as “preservation of favourable variations and the rejection of injurious variations…” but you then make the following adjustment: “What this means to an observer is that Modified Organism 2 simply moves unchanged and unfettered through time” In other words, you redefine natural selection solely as selection AGAINST an injurious trait. Then you can say that natural selection does not act on the favorable variations. But that’s not correct. You have changed the definition. Part of the trouble here is that you see the only action as being in one generation. Does Organism 2 live long enough to reproduce? But what if the mutation is a slight increase in fecundity? Both Organisms 1 and 2 survive to the next generation. but over multiple generations, the proportion of Organism 2 will increase, and in a resource limited environment, the absolute number of Organism 1 may decrease. it’s true that the mutation takes place at the level of the individual. But the process plays out on the level of the population. That entire process is natural selection.


    • Thank you for your excellent comment. We appreciate all discussion–that’s the only way to approach this subject. You wrote, “In other words, you redefine natural selection solely as selection AGAINST an injurious trait.” But this is not our “redifinition.” This is the only thing natural selection “does” in nature. That is exactly our point–to attribute any effect FOR natural selection is to effectively say natural selectin does nothing; it merely “stands back and watches” organisms survive to reproduce. Every example provided as examples of natural selection is exactly that: nature acting againt an injurious trait. So we did not redefine natural selection, we simply provided the only way natural selection looks to an observer (as evidenced by every example). We do not see the action as being in one generation. Our explanation uses one generation and then shows clearly the process as it would proceed through “n” generations. But if natural selection does anything “positive” it must do it at the generation level to individuals. Descent with modification happens to individuals. Natural selection acts on individuals. The fact that individuals make up populations such that the aggregate effect is noticed in populations does not change The Natural Selection Paradox. These discussions are hard to have in comment sections of blogs, but we believe we have addressed your main concerns. Thank you, again!


      • I agree with you that it’s difficult to have these discussions in the comments section of a blog post. I appreciate your openness to conversation. I doubt we will continue too much longer. However:

        Descent with modification happens to individuals.

        Yes. True. > > > Natural selection acts on individuals.

        No. Untrue. or at best, incomplete. Natural selection is the description of a process that takes place over time/ generations to a population. The population is made up of individuals but selection doesn’t act on the individual. (ok, if the modification was “die immediately” or “fail to reproduce” you could say it operated on the individual, but that’s the exception that proves the rule, because the population dies with the individual.)

        Suppose an insect is born with a slightly better color match to the leaf it feeds on, and this leads to a very slightly improved chance that the bird that feeds on that insect will fail to eat it before it reaches reproductive age. But it’s a small change- not a sure thing on the individual level. If one individual insect is eaten- whether this is Organism 1 or Organism 2- Natural selection didn’t wipe it out; the bird did. But if it happened to make it past the first generation, and if you came back to the population to see that over many generations most of the insects have the new color because slightly fewer of those were eaten every year, you would say that natural selection is at work, and that it makes just as much sense to say it “chose” the advantageous adaptation, as that it “rejected“ a non-advantageous one.

        You say that natural selection “sits back and watches” the organism that survives; it doesn’t DO anything. That’s true. BUT THAT’S ALSO TRUE that it “sits back and watches” the organism that dies. Natural selection does not act on the individual because natural selection is a description of a statistical population-wide phenomenon.




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