Mike Dunford posted Entry 2861 on January 29, 2007 07:32 PM.
Trackback URL: http://www.pandasthumb.org/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.fcgi/2851

Over at scienceblogs.com, there is an ongoing series of posts covering basic concepts in science. John Wilkins (who was the one who had the idea for the series in the first place) is maintaining a list of posts in the series. If you are interested in evolution, you will probably appreciate all of the posts in the biology section of the list. The following post is my first contribution to this series. I’m crossposting it here because the concept - fitness - has come up in the comments in both of my two most recent posts here.

In 1862, the British philosopher Herbert Spencer used the phrase “survival of the fittest” to describe Darwin’s concept of natural selection. It’s not a bad phrase, really, and it doesn’t do a bad job of describing natural selection - the individuals in any population that are “fittest” - best suited to reproduce - are the ones most likely to reproduce successfully. If this is correct (and it is), we can expect that “fitness” would be a very important concept in evolutionary biology. It is, of course, and John Wilkins has already provided a good explanation of the concept in general. I’m going to look at something a little more specific - how can we measure fitness.

Continue reading (at The Questionable Authority):

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Comment #158715

Posted by Paul Flocken on January 30, 2007 3:49 PM (e)

No, ‘survival of the fittest’ is not a bad phrase, but it is not a good one either. With the people I know personally who I try to explain(sometimes argue but thankfully I know few died in the wool creobots) evolution to, whenever they trot out the tautology bit I state right off the bat that the phrase is a bad one and that it was never intended to be more than a rhetorical device for public consumption and not a rigorous explanation for use between scientists. I substitute the phrase ‘survival of the fecundist’ or for the truly biblically inclined ‘survival of the most fruitful’. This phraseology seems to make it easier to lead into discussions of how the gene is what confers fitness and the gene is what is surviving from generation to generation and that evolution is the growth in numbers of genes relative to other genes. Successful genes will eventually outnumber unsuccessful ones. Don’t know that this means much but felt like sharing.
Sincerely,
Paul Flocken

Comment #158718

Posted by GuyeFaux on January 30, 2007 4:05 PM (e)

…whenever they trot out the tautology bit…

It never ceases to amaze me that the same people who believe that evolution is a tautology also believe that it’s false.

Comment #158720

Posted by Henry J on January 30, 2007 4:15 PM (e)

Re “It never ceases to amaze me that the same people who believe that evolution is a tautology also believe that it’s false.”

Ditto.

Tautology = always true regardless of evidence or lack thereof. False => not tautology. Methinks they missed one or both of those points, huh?

Comment #158722

Posted by David B. Benson on January 30, 2007 4:23 PM (e)

At the risk of appearing as stuffy as a certain ghost who often haunts here:

ToBL: Theory of Biological Evolution
SotF: Survival of the Fittest

==: eqivalence

ToBL==SotF is a tautology, as

True==True
False==False

So sometimes even ‘Goddidit’ers can correctly apply logic…

Comment #164038

Posted by Popper's ghost on March 5, 2007 2:42 AM (e)

No, ‘survival of the fittest’ is not a bad phrase, but it is not a good one either. With the people I know personally who I try to explain(sometimes argue but thankfully I know few died in the wool creobots) evolution to, whenever they trot out the tautology bit I state right off the bat that the phrase is a bad one and that it was never intended to be more than a rhetorical device for public consumption and not a rigorous explanation for use between scientists.

Survival of the fittest is a tautology but descent with modification is not, and it’s the combination of the two that yields evolution.

I substitute the phrase ‘survival of the fecundist’ or for the truly biblically inclined ‘survival of the most fruitful’.

But it’s their fruitfulness that is relevant, so “fecundity of the fecundist” or “fruitfulness of the most fruitful” would be the accurate – but silly – phrases. What’s relevant is that the fittest survive long enough to produce offspring, and thus their fitness descends (given that there are non-tautological processes that allow that).