Survival of the fittest - what does it mean ?

“…Charles Darwin adopted Herbert Spencer’s metaphor “Survival of the Fittest” to describe how natural selection operates in the fifth and sixth editions of the Origin of Species at the urging of Alfred Wallace. Unfortunately “Survival of the Fittest” is a very misleading metaphor. It does not help students gain an adequate understanding of what the natural processes are that really make selection a powerful process…”

John Wilkins:
“… “survival of the fittest” is a verbal shorthand for complex math. The math is not a tautology - for the terms in the equations are interpreted, which means they are what gives the equations substance. For SotF to be an empty tautology, and not a contentful one (i.e., a definition), you would need to show that the terms are not interpretable…”

John Wilkins wrote:
“Many were worried about the voluntaristic implications of the use of the term “selection”: this is why Wallace and Spencer insisted on changing it to “survival of the fittest”, which lacks that implication. Darwin adopted it, but it raised a whole host of other problems - the main one being that it made the whole thing into a tautology, which it wasn’t. The main difficulty is that our language is voluntaristic, and we don’t have a ready made vocabulary without connontations for
talking about an a posteriori outcome. “Goals” are unfortunately part of the vernacular - we talk about “in order to” in biology, but we don’t mean that a particular biological property thereby happened with that outcome in “mind”. Because it achieved that result, it was retained. That’s selection in biology.”

Chris Colby:
The phrase “survival of the fittest” is often used synonymously with natural selection. The phrase is both incomplete and misleading.

If a monkey kicks over a box with letters forming the term SoF - it would have no intent. It would be as meaningless as picking up a piece of paper with “You have a green light”, what was the intent of the author, without knowing the intent the sentence isn’t even wrong.

Now would anybody around here know what was Spencer and Darwin’s intent with SoF. Darwin said it is “…more accurate…” than NS.

An individual that is better adapted to it’s environment than another member of it’s species, that it is in competition with for resources, will be more likely to survive and pass on it’s genes. It’s genes are naturally selected and passed on because it fitted better into it’s specific ecological niche, or because it was fitter to survive in its specific ecological niche.

So there is room for both terms when talking about evolution, depending on which part you are referring to.

A tautology is defined as something which is true by definition and for which not test can be devised to disprove. In what way would your sentence not be a tautology, what test would you give me to disprove or to falsify what you have written. Because your sentence is true by definition.

A tautology is defined as a series of statements that comprise an argument, which statements are constructed in such a way that the truth of the proposition is guaranteed. Consequently the statement conveys no useful information regardless of it’s length or complexity. Thus, for a simple example, the statement “if you can’t find something (that you lost), you are not looking in the right place” is tautological. It is also true, but conveys no useful information. As a physical example, to play a game of darts where the dart board was full of bullseyes, could be called a “tautological” game. You can’t lose. Any argument containing a tautological statement is thus flawed logically and must be considered erroneous.

A tautological argument is not an argument; a tautological game is not a game. (As an aside, a great many of the later, “more advanced” books on evolution attempt to explain away this tautology by some beautiful, highly complex, arguments; e.g. Mayr and or, Gould. Upon close examination of these arguments it will be found that the conclusion is usually obtained by a metaphysical “division by zero”

For example Gould said at
“[T]he geological record features episodes of high dying, during which extinction-prone groups are more likely to disappear, leaving extinction-resistant groups as life’s legacy.”
S.J. Gould & N. Eldredge, “Punctuated equilibrium comes of age”, Nature (1993) 366:223-7, p. 225.
Anyone wants to tell me how this “extinction-proneness” was measured, except by noting that the groups went extinct?

It should also be noted that some apologists for Darwinian logic claim that mathematical equations such as f = ma, or e = mc2 could also be termed tautologies. This is a faulted attempt to vindicate Darwinism which could be termed “innocence by association”; in either case, [and in every case of a mathematical expression] the terms on both sides of the equation are defined elsewhere independently, and thus the equal sign does not mean “is defined by” but rather {hate to say it} but is equal to, thus establishing an equivalence. This equivalence may establish a new “law”, hitherto unknown.

In the way that it describes a statistical trend, not each and every specific instance. In the same way as saying that a fair die will on average show a six once in six throws; however you cannot guarantee a six on any particular throw or series of throws of finite length.

For one example, breeding a colony of bacteria whose antibiotic resistance decreases with exposure to same over several generations. A little imagination will throw up a glut of other conceivable counterexamples.

Can you support this rather serious allegation of intellectual fraud with a source or a reference? Or are they your own invention? Because the last time I looked, Gould and Mayr were still held in very high esteem by their surviving peers.

Only if you tell us how Newton arrived at the idea of universal gravitation except by noting that everything is gravitationally attracted to everything else. Your semantic ruses are growing tiresome.

This is where your wilful ignorance really shines through in a big way because you creationists either don’t read or don’t want to understand what you read. Anyone who argues as above is conflating a law of nature with a theorem in mathematics or formal logic.

Equations in physics like “F = m×a” or “E = m×c2” are abstract expressions of relationships about observables in the physical world. They are descriptive, not prescriptive. If you trace them back far enough, they are empirically derived: Newton’s Second Law of motion was the result of careful observation and experimentation. If you look at the wording, the mathematical formulation is “F = k×dp/dt.” With (1) a suitable choice of units of measure, (2) restricting the vectors F and p to be collinear and (3) the assumption that the mass remains constant, the formulation becomes the more usual “F = m×a” formula. Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence is a logical consequence of the postulate that underpins Special Relativity, itself based on Galilean and Newtonian mechanics when applied to Maxwell’s equations. There’s no hint of any tautology in such physical relationships because they are descriptions that bear a direct correspondence to things that are measurable, at least in principle. Without that correspondence they are at best interesting baubles.

In contrast, pure mathematics and formal logic deal with so-called “axiomatic formal systems,” that is, systems that have (1) a set of basic axioms (basic assumptions that are thought to be self-evidently true), and (2) a set of rules of inference that describe valid procedures and methods for combining the axioms into so-called theorems. Every theorem in an axiomatic formal system is necessarily a tautology because it is already inherent in the axioms and the rules of inference that govern the formal system. But this is not the same thing as saying that such theorems are trivial or useless or fruitless – quite the opposite, in fact. For examples, you need look no further than geometry, Euclidean as well as non-Euclidean.



By your definition of a tautology, it is in itself a tautology, must I consider it is therefore logically flawed and erroneous? :wink:

What I posted was in response to your question:

And even by your definition of a tautology, it can’t be seen as such. It does not claim to be the truth, and it can be easily disproved by finding an organism in which genes or attributes that are detrimental as a whole to its survival are still being selected or carried over in some way.

What Darwin and others proposed was a method to explain the physical evidence that we see in nature, and that explanation is still the best one we have. It has since been refined and reinforced by new evidence. By rejecting NS or SotF you will have to come up with some other explanation, and since by your definition any religion is a prime example of your tautology, I am curious to hear your explanation for all the physical evidence and observations in nature. How did we and all the millions of other species come to be?

May I ask what books on evolution you have read?

Darwin was refering to animals. Give me a way of disproving, falsifying what he said in relation to what he was refering to in terms of kittens for example.

It seems that on metari1-world, bacteria don’t count among animals.

All right then, kittens it is: Divide a population of about 1,000 kittens into two groups of roughly equal size. Isolate them from one another. Let group one have free access to good quantities of clean, fresh water, while group two has access only to a small stagnant, arsenic-laced cesspool. If, after a few generations, group two is larger in number than group one, your dream will have been realised.

If not, there’s good reason to think that you’re having a nightmare instead.


To be more precise, if group two did have surviving kittens and they did not mutate any special ways of dealing with their stagnant environment as explained through NS or SotF, but instead required their new survival abilities through some other means - divine intervention or otherwise some unexplained phenomenon, then evolutionist will have to revise their theories.
The same goes if group one does not mutate and has surviving kittens and they are all still the same as the ones at the start.

True enough, but in an answer to metari1’s original question that I addressed, i.e. “In what way would the sentence, ‘an individual that is better adapted to it’s environment than another member of it’s species, that it is in competition with for resources, will be more likely to survive and pass on it’s genes’ not be a tautology,” one need only consider differential survival rates. Mutations can influence differential survival rates but are not required. Ditto pre-existing genetic diversity. The point is that these rates are the statistical results of interactions between individuals and their environment.


Some reading matter:


What you have described in relation to kittens is of course true by definition. Those with clean water will be stronger and those with not will be weaker. What label would you give to the process of dividing a group of kittens into two and everything else as you described, clean and dirty water etc… ?
"…For example Gould said… Anyone wants to tell me how this “extinction-proneness” was measured, except by noting that the groups went extinct?

In other words you are incapable of answering the question and brought up a red herring.

Here is another one:
According to the Talk.Origins Archive, sharks haven’t changed because they “are excellently adapted to their particular niche in their environment.”
Does anyone know how this “excellent adaptation” was measured (apart from observing that sharks haven’t changed, that is)?

And where did I say that SoF is a tautology? It all depends on the person’s intent with SoF, without knowing Spencer and Darwin’s intent with SoF how do we know that stated a tautology.

Here is another one this time from wikipedia: tells us:
“… Natural selection is the process by which favorable traits that are heritable become more common in successive generations …”

Now other than noting that traits which become common are heritable, how were their favoribility actually measured?

By studying animals, observing behavior, it is not that difficult, even for the layperson to notice that certain species have traits that give them an advantage over other species and which will therefore be favorable. You can also study population sizes and growth and compare that to other similar species. I’m no biologist, so I’m not sure if there is some “favorability index” by which you can measure species or traits against, but it is certainly possible to say that this animal is better adapted to it’s environment than that animal because it is faster and can smell better, and in a contest this animal will always be the favorite to win.

Although I haven’t read it yet, I think this book should explain it much better than is possible here: The Beak of the Finch.
with another review here: Reviews

You also haven’t answered my questions I posted a while ago:

No, it isn’t. If we are to accept an omniscient and/or omnipotent and/or supremely beneficent and/or some super-intelligent designer, the kittens will already be equipped to deal with such an adverse environment. Moreover, there is a tiny (but nonetheless non-zero) probability that the original group of kittens just happens to be split in such a way that group two (which is confined to the bad water) consists mostly or entirely of specimens that already have a higher resistance to bad water – maybe because they need less water to survive or are better equipped to utilise contaminated water – and the other group consists mostly or entirely of sickly and sterile specimens, so that your expectation may be violated on entirely naturalistic grounds. Ergo, your claim that “it is true by definition” doesn’t hold water.

Possibly “incipient speciation.” There is good reason to believe that geography and/or topography are frequently instrumental in species bifurcations simply because two branches of what was once the same ancestor species no longer interbreed owing to geographical and/or topographical obstacles that separate them. Over time, their genomes diverge because they develop in isolation of one another, usually in environments where different selection pressures prevail. Eventually, said divergence is sufficient so that if any interbreeding was to happen, they can no longer produce any fertile offspring (e.g. a mule) or any offspring at all. At this point they become properly different species. This idea is given powerful support by the existence of so-called “ring species.”

No, the red herring is all yours, which my response was intended to expose: Empirical observations allow us to infer apparent rules that govern natural phenomena. Such apparent rules become hypotheses and eventually full-blown scientific theories if borne out by many further observations. These theories become part of the (always tentative) canon of science and allow us to make sense of certain observables and facts in terms of abstract and overarching principles embodied in these theories. Now, how do you propose to advance human knowledge if any and all such observations immediately become meaningless as soon as they happen to conform to a particular explanatory principle? Because that is what your errant little semantic quibble about “survival of the fittest” being post hoc and/or tautological actually comes down to. In effect, your suggestion is that General Relativity is no use in studying binary star systems because their behaviour conforms to Einstein’s equivalence principle which states that inertial and gravitational mass are physically indistinguishable from one another.

Red herring. The real question is what factors (environmental, genetic, behavioural) may have brought these extinctions about because the extinctions themselves are qualitative, not quantitative, observations of a bygone effect. Also, see previous.

See previous.

See previous.

Why, here:

Given in response to the following definition of “survival of the fittest” supplied by bluegray V:


New Findings Confirm Darwin’s Theory: Evolution Not Random

Now, the findings of an international team of biologists demonstrate that evolution is not a random process, but rather occurs through the natural selection of successful traits.

It should be noted that the article is very, very badly titled.


How do one go about to read the actual study?

Here you go.


From bacteria to kittens to humans:

Sickle-cell disease in humans is caused by a simple and well-understood mutation. It is inheritable in the same way that blue eyes are. This, otherwise, somewhat debilitating disease occurs more commonly in people (or their descendants) from parts of the world where malaria is or was common, but it also occurs in people of other ethnicities. This is because those with one or two alleles of the sickle cell disease are resistant to malaria since the red blood cells are not conducive to the parasites - in areas where malaria is common there is a survival value in carrying the sickle cell genes.

I see no problem with cause and effect here, and no problem with measuring the survival value that the mutation confers to the “victim”.

There is another related blood disease which has a similar effect. 16% of the population of Cyprus (and lower percentages of the population of nearby Mediterranean countries) suffer from thalassaemia which was seen for centuries as a curse, having a visible presentation in the formation of facial features and causing shorter life expectancies for those afflicted. As a result of the prevalence, all islanders carry the gene (most in the recessive form) and every Cypriot is immune to malaria.

I first heard about this story in a brilliant documentary by the geneticist Professor Robert Winston (not sure if it was “Threads of Life” or “The Human Body”). His point was that our understanding of genetics may lead us to want to “prune-out” genetic disorders like these and lose undiscovered benefits such as malaria resistance. If we discovered genes which cause certain heritable diseases, would pruning them from the genome help us or possibly introduce a weakness to diseases discovered in the future or future mutations of current life-threatening diseases?