Thanks for your message, which, as is my normal practice, I am copying to my blog CED minus your personal identifying information, and with a more informative heading.
[Graphic: "Survival of the Fittest," Michael Bedard]
----- Original Message -----
To: Stephen E. Jones
Sent: Tuesday, September 12, 2006 8:05 AM
Subject: thinking clearly
>Perhaps "survival of the fittest" is a tautolgy because it is so obvious.
The term "survival of the fittest" was coined by Herbert Spencer, but according to Wikipedia, "he actually did not use the phrase until after reading Darwin's Origin of Species:
"While the British economist Herbert Spencer is often credited with introducing the phrase `survival of the fittest' ... he actually did not use the phrase until after reading Darwin's Origin of Species, and introduced it in his Principles of Biology of 1864, vol. 1, p. 444, writing `This survival of the fittest, which I have here sought to express in mechanical terms, is that which Mr. Darwin has called 'natural selection', or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.'"
Then Darwin in later editions of his Origin of Species adopted "the expression often used by Mr. Herbert Spencer, of the Survival of the Fittest" as "more accurate" than "Natural Selection":
"I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term Natural Selection, in order to mark its relation to man's power of selection. But the expression often used by Mr. Herbert Spencer, of the Survival of the Fittest, is more accurate, and is sometimes equally convenient. We have seen that man by selection can certainly produce great results, and can adapt organic beings to his own uses, through the accumulation of slight but useful variations, given to him by the hand of Nature. But Natural Selection, as we shall hereafter see, is a power incessantly ready for action, and is as immeasurably superior to man's feeble efforts, as the works of Nature are to those of Art." (Darwin, C.R., "The Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection," Sixth Edition, 1872, Senate: London, 1994, p.49)
As for "tautology" also according to Wikipedia, it "has at least three distinct meanings," and in fact it gives four: 1) "a statement true by virtue of its logical form"; 2) "use of redundant language that adds no information"; 3) "needless repetition of an idea, statement, or word" and 4) "Truism, an assertion that is so obvious as to add nothing to a discussion."
"Survival of the fittest" (and indeed "natural selection") is a tautology when there is no independent criterion of fitness. In that case, those which survive are assumed to be the fittest. But then "survival of the fittest" becomes "survival of those which survive" which is a tautology in the above all four senses of the word. Here are some quotes which make that point.
In "the central claim that Darwin made that only the 'fittest' succeed in a struggle for 'survival' ... if you define fitness as 'the ability to survive' then the 'survival of the fittest' becomes a tautology, a self-evident bit of trivia":
"The philosophers have another bone to pick with evolutionary theory, one that has haunted Darwinism for a hundred years: is the idea of natural selection a tautology ... A tautology is the saying of something twice over in different words, and is therefore either a nonsense or a statement which is so self-evident as to be meaningless. The statement 'several bachelors who were not married were at the meeting' is nonsense because bachelors are unmarried, while the sentence implies that they are not. ... For a scientific statement to avoid being tautologous, therefore, it must propose some relationship in the world that is testable by experiment. The problem of tautology in Darwinism is a subtle one. It hinges on the definitions of a few crucial words: 'the survival of the fittest.' This is the central claim that Darwin made that only the 'fittest' succeed in a struggle for 'survival'. If this basic statement does not tell us anything new about the outside world then the whole of Darwinism is in deep trouble. Unfortunately the senses in which these words are often used by biologists do turn the statement into a nonsense. If you turn to a textbook of genetics in search of a definition of 'fitness' you will find something like this: `The genotype with the largest survival rate is defined as the fittest ... ' Goodenough and Levine, 1975 So the central statement of Darwinism, 'the survival of the fittest', becomes: 'the survival of those creatures having the largest survival rate'! Immediately the problem is clear if you define fitness as 'the ability to survive' then the 'survival of the fittest' becomes a tautology, a self-evident bit of trivia. In this form the statement doesn't tell us anything about the outside world that we didn't know already. It doesn't, for example, enable us to predict which members of a population will survive and reproduce, since we cannot measure survival until afterwards. In this sense the neoDarwinists must avoid a sloppy attitude to their theory or it will turn out to say nothing." (Leith, B., "The Descent of Darwin: A Handbook of Doubts about Darwinism," Collins: London, 1982, pp.29-30. Emphasis original)
To avoid "circular reasoning ... there is a need for an independent criterion of fitness .... You can't simply say you're fit because you've survived, because you survive you're fit" (my emphasis):
"The heart of the whole business is natural selection, and whether natural selection actually means anything. If you put it in the form of the survival of the fittest, which is substantially the same thing, you can easily see that you are going around in a circle. If you ask which are the fittest, the answer is always those who survive, they're obviously the fittest. And if you ask how do you decide they were the fittest, the answer is of course obvious: it's because they survived. So you're going around in a circle and we call the results of this kind of circular reasoning a tautology. Natural selection is a more difficult phrase and you have to examine it a little longer before you see that it gets into exactly the same position. It is obvious that there is a need for an independent criterion of fitness, if it is to be a serious theory. You can't simply say you're fit because you've survived, because you survive you're fit." (Macbeth, N., "Darwinism: A Time for Funerals," Robert Briggs Associates: San Francisco CA, 1982, p.1)
There needs to be identified in advance "some trait or traits, independent of leaving more offspring, that explain why one individual is more `fit,' i.e., more likely than others to leave a greater number of offspring" (my emphasis):
"Since tautology is fatal for any sort of causal explanation, it is somewhat mysterious to find a number of authors advancing an admittedly tautologous formulation of natural selection. Waddington, for example, published the following passage in 1960: `Natural selection, which was at first considered was though it were a hypothesis that was in need of experimental or observational confirmation, it turns out on closer inspection to be a tautology, a statement of an inevitable although previously unrecognized relation. It states that the fittest individuals in a population (defined as those which leave the most offspring) will leave the most offspring. Once the statement is made, its truth is apparent. This fact in no way reduces the magnitude of Darwin's achievement, only after it was clearly formulated, could biologists realize the by enormous power of the principle as a weapon of explanation.' [Waddington, C.H.. "Evolutionary Adaptations," in Tax, S., ed., "The Evolution of Life," University of Chicago Press, 1960, Vol. 1, p.385] ... The passage above defines fitness as leaving the most offspring. It then states that the fittest individuals will leave the most offspring, and it calls this statement `a weapon of explanation.' ... If the fact of deafness is to be explained, how does it help to suggest an impairment of hearing? If differential reproduction is to be explained, what light is shed by pointing to differential reproduction? We already know that some individuals leave more offspring. What we want to know is why. . Since the tautologous formulation does not produce any criterion of fitness other than the fact to be explained (differential reproduction), it amounts to the claim that facts explain themselves-individuals leave more offspring because they leave more offspring. Contrary to Waddington's claim, the tautologous repetition is utterly useless for explanatory purposes." (Brady, R.H., "Natural selection and the criteria by which a theory is judged," Systematic Zoology, Vol. 28, 1979, pp.600-621, p.603. Emphasis original)
The problem is that it is difficult (if not impossible) in the wild (and definitely impossible in the fossil record) to determine in advance what are the independent criteria of fitness in order to test whether survival was due to those criteria. Thus Harvard geneticist Richard Lewontin admits that, "Unfortunately the concept of relative adaptation also requires the ceteris paribus [other things being equal] assumption, so that in practice it is not easy to predict which of two forms will leave more offspring" and "In practice relative-adaptation analysis is a tricky game unless a great deal is known about thee total life history of an organism":
"When adaptation is considered to be the result of natural selection under the pressure of the struggle for existence, it is seen to be a relative condition rather than an absolute one. Even though a species may be surviving and numerous, and therefore may be adapted in an absolute sense, a new form may arise that has a greater reproductive rate on the same resources, and it may cause the extinction of the older form. The concept of relative adaptation removes the apparent tautology in the theory of natural selection. Without it the theory of natural selection states that fitter individuals have more offspring and then defines the fitter as being those that leave more offspring; since some individuals will always have more offspring than others by sheer chance, nothing is explained. ... Unfortunately the concept of relative adaptation also requires the ceteris paribus assumption, so that in practice it is not easy to predict which of two forms will leave more offspring. ... . A zebra having longer leg bones that enable it to run faster than other zebras will leave more offspring only if escape from predators is really the problem to be solved, if a slightly greater speed will really decrease the chance of being taken and if longer leg bones do not interfere with some other limiting physiological process. Lions may prey chiefly on old or injured zebras likely in any case to die soon, and it is not even clear that it is speed that limits the ability of lions to catch zebras. Greater speed may cost the zebra something in feeding efficiency, and if food rather than predation is limiting, a net selective disadvantage might result from solving the wrong problem. Finally, a longer bone might break more easily, or require greater developmental resources and metabolic energy to produce and maintain, or change the efficiency of the contraction of the attached muscles. In practice relative-adaptation analysis is a tricky game unless a great deal is known about thee total life history of an organism." (Lewontin, R.C., "Adaptation," Scientific American, Vol. 239, No. 3, September 1978, pp.157-169, pp.166-167)
That is, "the theory is not falsifiable in its operational form" because "Under examination, the operational forms of the concepts of adaptation and fitness turn out to be too indeterminate to be seriously tested":
"Natural selection is free of tautology in any formulation that recognizes the causal interaction between the organism and its environment, but most recent critics have already understood this and are actually arguing that the theory is not falsifiable in its operational form. Under examination, the operational forms of the concepts of adaptation and fitness turn out to be too indeterminate to be seriously tested, for they are protected by ad hoc additions drawn from an indeterminate realm. Future knowledge may reduce the organism to a determinate system, but until such time too little is known to investigate organism-environment relations. Researchers should consider whether natural selection is necessary to empiric investigation in their area, and whether it can serve the purpose for which it is applied." (Brady, Ibid., p.600)
Which means that for all practical purposes, "survival of the fittest" (and indeed "natural selection") is a tautology!
>It could, of course, be elevated to the level of an axiom. That way we'd all
> know where to start from.
Same problem. That the fittest survive is an uninteresting "truism: a claim that is so obvious or self-evident as to be hardly worth mentioning, except as a reminder or as a rhetorical or literary device." What would be interesting would be to specify in advance an independent criterion of "fittest" so that "survival of the fittest" or "natural selection" can then be a testable and falsifiable scientific theory.
>Evolution is a fact. Natural Selection is a theory.
That depends on what one means by that very flexible word "evolution." As a reviewer of Richard Dawkins' book, "River out of Eden" noted, "It does not help to be told that evolution is a fact if we are given no clear or consistent indication of what that fact is supposed to be":
"Ever since the notion of evolution was co-opted to refer to the process that Darwin had originally called `descent with modification,' evolutionary biologists have been in a hopeless muddle over what they have actually managed to explain. It does not help to be told that evolution is a fact if we are given no clear or consistent indication of what that fact is supposed to be." (Ingold, T., "Swept away by the current." Review of "River out of Eden," by Richard Dawkins, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1995. The Times Higher Education Supplement, 16 June 1995)
If "evolution" is defined as "changes in gene frequencies in populations" then "everyone accepts this" so "evolution" in that senese is indeed "a fact":
"Still another need for specification: the term 'evolution' can expand and contract upon demand: it covers a multitude of sins, as some might put it. First, there is the idea that at least some evolution has occurred, that there have been changes in gene frequencies in populations. I suppose everyone accepts this, so we can put it to one side." (Plantinga, A., "Creation and Evolution: A Modest Proposal," 95th Annual Meeting of the Eastern Division of the American Philosophical Association, Washington DC, 27-30 December 1998).
But if "evolution" is defined as "the standard scientific theory that `human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process'" (my emphasis):
"In one of the most existentially penetrating statements ever made by a scientist, Richard Dawkins concluded that `the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.' Facing such a reality, perhaps we should not be surprised at the results of a 2001 Gallup poll confirming that 45 percent of Americans believe `God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so'; 37 percent prefer a blended belief that `human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God guided this process'; and a paltry 12 percent accept the standard scientific theory that `human beings have developed over millions of years from less advanced forms of life, but God had no part in this process.'" (Shermer, M.B., "The Gradual Illumination of the Mind," Scientific American, February 2002. My emphasis)
then only an atheist would believe that that "evolution," as so defined, "is a fact."
But then if Christianity is true (which it is), atheism would be false, and therefore the standard scientific theory" of "evolution," as so defined, would not be a fact (to put it mildly)!
Thanks again for your message, but please don't interpret this as an invitation to debate, because it isn't. I ceased over a decade of debating evolutionists when I closed down my Yahoo discussion group in 2005.
Stephen E. Jones, BSc (Biol)
Genesis 1:26-27. 26Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." 27So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.