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Questions I have for Evolutionists, Q4

August 30, 2007

Question 4:

The mechanism which explains the phenomenon by which living organisms evolve into more complex organisms is called ‘survival of the fittest’. This is the common explanation of the evolutionary process. Even though many philosophers and philosophers of science, whether Christian or non-Christian, debate back and forth as to whether this system is a tautology (void of any real explanatory power as to how things evolve), I see this explanation as attempting to answer the ‘how’ behind the evolutionary process.

If Evolution is the process by which living organisms mutate into more complex organisms, it seems only reasonable for one to ask “well ‘how’ does that happen?”. Which then, the typical answer is “survival of the fittest”. In other words, whatever creatures are most fit for survival will survive. Fitness is detected by what assists survival. Therefore, survival is predicated upon what assists survival (fitness). In other words, ‘survival of the fittest’ is ‘survival of what is able to survive’. Things survive because they are able to. This is the scientific explanation we are given as to why Evolution is possible. So now that I look at it, this explanation does have ‘tautology’ written all over it. But backing up a bit, the Evolutionary process of ‘survival of the fittest’ attempts to explain ‘how’ the Evolutionary process is working, yet can’t account for why it tries to work that way. Even if we assume that the Evolutionary process could be explained by ‘survival of the fittest’, scientists are still not able to answer why fitness and survival are deemed important by mindless matter. They simply assume them to be important to mindless matter because ‘survival of what is able to survive’ leads them to whole heartedly believe this. Yet, the Evolutionist has no bases to assume why nature deems survival necessary. It can only concluded, in the biological realm at least, that things are prone to survive as opposed to not survive and that’s that. There can be no reason for why this phenomenon is taking place and why things “strive” to survive in nature, that is according to Naturalism.

Saying “survival of the fittest” doesn’t explain anything because there is no distinguishment between survival and fitness. Survival means fitness, and fitness means survival. It is unclear which of the two, survival or fitness, comes first. Does survival determine fitness, or does fitness determine survival? It’s like when Evolutionists say things like “cats developed their special eyes which give them night vision so they can hunt better” thus, the cat’s eyes adapted to its surroundings to help it survive better. This sounds good at face value. But note that the cat survives because it has night vision, yet night vision came about to help it survive. So which one came first? The cat can’t survive until its eyes adapt to night vision, while its night vision can’t adapt unless the cat is surviving some how! It’s needs both at the same time, especially within the concept of ‘survival of the fittest’!

Explaining ‘how’ Evolution works is void of any explanatory power without explaining the ‘why’, such as why survival is necessary over non-survival, or why being more fit is necessary over being less fit. Bare matter can’t explain to us why it prefers one over the other. “But we’re working on it” says the scientist. Ok. I’m working on an absolute proof that God exists. This type of statement isn’t really condusice to the topic at hand.

So again, the pressing question I have is this: ‘Why’ does Evolution have things survive as opposed to not survive, or preserve that which is more fit instead of that which is less fit? This becomes a hazy problem for Evolutionists because nature does not have a standard of either ‘fitness’ or ‘survival’. What does nature consult to know when something is finally fit, thus more enabled to survive? Or, when does nature know when survival is being maintained enough therby able to identify favorable characteristics for fitness?

One may say, “well the process just works and that’s that so there’s no need to answer ‘why’ survival or fitness is favored over non-survival or non-fitness.” Ok, then I will say, “God just created everything and that’s that.” Or I would also say, instead of telling me ‘survival of the fittest’ is the mechanism by which things evolve, please give me a real explanation of how things evolve. Otherwise I am left assuming a process which doesn’t explain anything.

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11 comments

  1. You have one big mistake in your question, there is nobody who decides about fitness. It isn’t “Mother Nature” ticking off boxes on a clipboard. There are no criteria for survival, only the fact of survival. And no evolutionist has ever claimed something different. The term “survival of the fittest” is a catchphrase, but no explanation.

    Do you see a tautology in this chain of thoughts?

    – Every(*) organism has more offspring than it would be necessary to keep the current number. Ranges are from “a bit more than just one” to thousands or more.

    – A lot of this offspring dies before adulthood. The number of the population stays nearly constant about a longer period of time (if there is no change in the environment and the population has been around long enough).

    – Every organism is similar to ancestors and siblings, but not identical.

    – Only organisms that reach adulthood can produce new offspring and so give their traits to the next generation (because this generation is again similar…) .

    – Who survives depends on “fitness” (a fast mouse evades the cat, a smart mouse gets the cheese off the trap) and luck(**).

    What “fit” is, depends on the environment. If it changes, other organisms have a higher chance of survival and evolution takes a different direction.

    This works not on the level of an individual or a small group. The fittest mouse can die because of bad luck and the dumbest mouse have a long life of lucky near misses.

    But overall the chance of survival is not equal and so some traits have a higher probability of being present in the next generation. Not all of that generation will have them, but more than not. Generation after generation you see small changes. And if you divide a population in two, they’ll drift apart and end finally as two distinct species. If they have survived. 😉

    (*) Every used here as “the ones from the mainstream”. There are some special cases.

    (**) In a pure sense of “random event”.

    English is not my first language, so I am sorry if some stuff is not as clear as possible.

    Now I am interested if this comment get’s published. In my experience the chance is less than 50% 😦


  2. There are no criteria for survival, only the fact of survival.”

    So there is no explanation as to why things survive, they just do? Is that what mosts Evolutionists today would say?

    I’m having a hard time following you’re overarching point.

    You said, Who survives depends on “fitness” (a fast mouse evades the cat, a smart mouse gets the cheese off the trap) and luck(**).

    Again, this assumes that a mouse wants to survive as opposed to not survive. It could use it’s speed to hurry up and kill itself. Again, “survival of the fittest” cannot explain why things survive as opposed to not survive. It is only assumed that things are to survive, and thus will evolve.

    Lastly, Evolution is borrowing from the Christians worldview, which most of its proponents oppose. To “survive” assumes something is alive, and what it means to be “alive” can’t solely be determined scientifically.


  3. So there is no explanation as to why things survive, they just do? Is that what mosts Evolutionists today would say?

    Depends on how you define “why”. The probability of an organism to survive is higher if it has good answers for the environmental challenges. But it never reaches 1, there is always “bad luck”. There are no underlying rules, just the decision between life and death in each moment. There is no conciousness behind that, no goal, no direction.

    I’m having a hard time following you’re overarching point.
    This was a short summary of my standard 90 minutes introduction into evolution for 15 year old kids. I can’t write a full blown essay here in the comments. But perhaps you take one of the many introductory texts about evolution (one that is written by a good natural scientist and not by someone who wants to disprove evolution) and work your way through it. I get the feeling that you have never taken the time to find out what evolution is about but were sure that it can’t be true because it’s contradictory to what you believe to be true.

    I have stated 5 points above – do you see a mistake in one? Which one don’t you understand?

    Again, this assumes that a mouse wants to survive as opposed to not survive. Mice have not much room in their tiny brains for “free will”. They react mostly on inherited instincts and stuff they have learned – where the learning again is controlled by inherited instincts.

    But a mechanism to fight for survival is a trait that should be very successful for being propagated to the next generation. What happens to all the mice without it? How many chances do they have to give their behaviour to the next generation?

    It is only assumed that things are to survive, and thus will evolve. No.

    It’s OBSERVED that organisms survive and others not.

    It’s OBSERVED that the survivors have statistically different traits from the ones that don’t survive.

    It’s OBSERVED that new traits come into existence in populations and that they either vanish again or propagate (right word? get more) in the future generations.

    It’s OBSERVED that different species share a lot of their building blocks and are more or less similar to each other.

    And so on.

    The “Theory of Evolution” is a system of thoughts that try to explain these observations. And up to now there has been not a single one that contradicts the Theory. And it has been tried. There are a lot that can’t be answered in detail because we have not enough data. But every time someone had enough funding to go to the root of something, there has been no contradiction to the Theory of Evolution.

    Evolution is borrowing from the Christians worldview, Where? I see no such borrowing.

    I know people who are Christians and believe that the Theoy of Evolution describes perfectly the living world – including the descent of man. It depends on how you read the first pages of the Bible – as reality or as a metaphor.


  4. Mice don’t have “free will”? Did you observe this in a lab?

    It’s observed that people who evolved want to kill themselves too. A dozen people throw themselves off the Golden Gate Bridge every year. Observing that things want to survive or not survive doesn’t explain a mechanism! It just states a phenomenon, not a mechanism.

    The mechanism “survival of the fittest” can’t account for 1. what “survival” and “fitness” exactly are, and 2. how mindless matter in motion can detect the difference between survival and non-survival, fitness and non-fitness.

    Evolutionary theory, as I see it, swims in the ocean of the very thing most Evolutionists oppose, namely, the supernatural.


  5. Mice don’t have “free will”? Did you observe this in a lab?

    Actually yes. The reactions of a mouse in a controlled environment to stimuli are highly predictable. Not much room for “free will”.

    Can you give a definition of “free will”?

    It’s observed that people who evolved want to kill themselves too.
    Yes, they have not enough fitness. 😉 (From a non-evolutionary POV: They are poor sods and talking to someone would have helped most of them.) Nature isn’t perfect, it’s really messy.

    You seem to think in black and white only. There are a lot of differences between individuals and these differences are the key to understanding Evolution.

    The mechanism “survival of the fittest” can’t account for 1. what “survival” and “fitness” exactly are,

    It has not to do that. These terms are the base for the explanation, and you can’t explain something with itself. At least not in science.

    “survival” = being long enough alive to produce offspring (and before you split hairs, this is valid only in this context).

    I tried to define “fitness” in another comment.

    BTW, I already said that “survival of the fittest” is a catchphrase. The real term for the mechanism is “natural selection” and describes it much better. Beware – there is nobody doing the selection, it just happens.

    and 2. how mindless matter in motion can detect the difference between survival and non-survival, fitness and non-fitness.

    It simply doesn’t. It either lives or feeds the fish. You expect too much from nature, it’s a really simple game.

    You have avoided my question: Evolution is borrowing from the Christians worldview, Where? I see no such borrowing.


  6. I think there’s somewhat of a language barrier between us and our conversation isn’t very intellectually satisfying. I’m just going to agree to disagree with you now instead of later. Thanks for posting though.


  7. I think it’s not so much the language. You don’t try one moment to think outside of your box.

    You never answered one of my questions. That’s not a discussion.


  8. I wouldn’t lose too much sleep over it. Take care.


  9. “So again, the pressing question I have is this: ‘Why’ does Evolution have things survive as opposed to not survive, or preserve that which is more fit instead of that which is less fit? This becomes a hazy problem for Evolutionists because nature does not have a standard of either ‘fitness’ or ‘survival’. What does nature consult to know when something is finally fit, thus more enabled to survive? Or, when does nature know when survival is being maintained enough thereby [sic] able to identify favorable characteristics for fitness?”

    Cameron,

    I am convinced now as ever that you have not seriously read any work on evolutionary biology. If so, you are seriously obfuscating tenets of the theory with philosophical propositions and selectively using one to undercut the other, and vice versa. Also, I think you are misinformed on the whole idea. Evolution begets the notion ‘survival of the fittest,’ but evolution as a theory is an expansion on this idea (touted by Darwin) as the REASON this is the case. So evolution IS the ‘why.’ Surely you don’t discount the proof of the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra, even though it doesn’t answer ‘why’ roots and polynomials exist!

    Here is the definition of ‘evolution’ as lifted word-for-word from the OED:

    “The process by which different kinds of living organisms are thought to have developed and diversified from earlier forms during the history of the earth”

    From wikipedia:

    “Evolution is change in the heritable characteristics of biological populations over successive generations.”

    ‘Fitness’ according to population genetics:

    “Fitness is the quantitative representation of natural and sexual selection within evolutionary biology. It can be defined either with respect to a genotype or to a phenotype in a given environment. In either case, it describes individual reproductive success and is equal to the average contribution to the gene pool of the next generation that is made by individuals of the specified genotype or phenotype. The fitness of a genotype is manifested through its phenotype, which is also affected by the developmental environment. The fitness of a given phenotype can also be different in different selective environments.”

    Note that nowhere are these definitions not rigorously defined. As for the mechanisms by which evolution acts, you are incorrectly stating that natural selection (read: survival of the fittest) is the ONLY mechanism, but it’s not. You are overlooking gene flow, genetic drift, genetic hitchhiking, and biased mutation. You are either under-read or misinformed on the subject of evolutionary biology if you discount these out of hand for one such mechanism.

    Regarding ‘survival of the fittest,’ a quick excerpt, LITERALLY the first subparagraph to its wikipedia entry, as to why modern biologists avoid this aphorism:

    “While the phrase “survival of the fittest” is often used to refer to “natural selection”, it is avoided by modern biologists, because the phrase can be misleading. For example, “survival” is only one aspect of selection, and not always the most important.”

    ‘Survival of the fittest’ is an aphorism derived FROM evolutionary theory, it is not the theory itself. This is just like the philosopher regarding analytic propositions: ‘you can’t square a circle,’ but differential geometry can easily give us a means to continuously and smoothly transform one to the other. But differential geometry doesn’t invalidate philosophy! Using cute sayings to judge the basis on which they’re proffered does nothing to discount the overarching theory.

    I looked all of this up in minutes. I know you are capable of doing the same. Taking a singular phrase and applying it rigorously to the crux of the theory writ large is remarkably unjust. Let’s call this what it is: your shoehorn into discussing the ontology of logic and your issues with material naturalism. I’ve said this several times now: evolution is not a worldview. You are just passing the buck to a presuppositionalist argument and building a ship to prove that ships have captains.


    • Survival of the fittest is admitted even by Naturalists to not be a satisfactory mechanism for macro-evolution. It makes more sense along the lines of micro-evolution, however.


      • I clearly won’t disagree that ‘survival of the fittest’ is unsatisfactory. I’d say there are many reasons to accept macroevolution, but we could devote almost an entire blog to the dozens of evidential findings corroborating this, so not enough room here. I don’t want to cop out, but this debate is fairly static at the philosophy of science level so I don’t know what you or I could accomplish here…



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