Survival of the Fittest 3


charles-darwin-survival-of-the-fittest11

UPDATE: A commenter has kindly pointed out that the above quotation attributed to Charles Darwin is not actually a Darwin quotation. Details can be found at the following link to verify that http://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/05/04/adapt/

Where does the term “Survival of the Fittest” actually come from, and what does it really mean?

The context for asking this is that there is a prevailing myth regarding this term that needs to be robustly challenged. To illustrate exactly why lets turn to well-known evangelist Ray Comfort for some “inspiration” on this topic. Within a recent posting he does the usual Christian PR thing by attempting to assert that he holds the high moral ground and illustrates this with a claim that there are no atheist charities. He then proceeds to very dishonestly play the “Survival of the Fittest” card as follows …

If you find yourself in a lifeboat with no food and a group of very hungry people who are checking you out for lunch (it has happened), who would you rather be sharing the lifeboat with: a group of starving evolutionists who believe in “survival of the fittest” and have no moral absolutes, or a group of Christians who love their neighbor as themselves and fear God?

There are of course a few things here, but first, I’d like to roll back a bit and address the charity issue.

There are a couple of rather important points regarding the primary thrust of his argument …

  • Yes there are indeed lots of religious charities, but that is quite obviously because there are lots of religious people, and so that reality is a reflection of that.
  • He is in fact claiming that charity is exclusive to religion, and that is simply not a factual claim
  • Humans are by nature altruistic for quite natural reasons that have very little to do with any specific religious beliefs, and so it manifests itself within humanity regardless of their specific religious beliefs, or lack of any right across many distinctly different cultures that have very distinctly different beliefs.

So are there non-religious secular charities?

Of course, there are lots, for example Amnesty International or Doctors Without Borders are a couple of rather obvious examples that spring immediately to mind. It may also be appropriate to ponder over the conflict of interest that religion can introduce. Clearly the religious charities do a lot of good work, but some do also have a very specific religious agenda and have been specifically created to promote a religious belief by using charity as a means to do. A well-known religious charity would perhaps by the Missionaries of Charity that was founded by Mother Theresa, but what is not fully appreciated is that their specific charitable activities are highly questionable. Vast sums of money have been donated on the understanding that it was to be used too assist the poor, but it was instead used to promote fanatical Catholicism. There is much I could write about them, but if I did so then I’d be getting way off topic. Instead, if curious to find out more, you can simply read a recent posting I wrote on Mother Theresa.

To finish this charity bit off – Mr Comfort’s claim that only the religious are truly loving and caring does not withstand any analysis because the available and rather obvious facts simply do not back him up.

Survival of the Fittest – FAQ

  • So did Darwin every promote the idea of “Survival of the Fittest”? No, Darwin’s big idea is that species are naturally selected, and that is something quite different.
  • The term “Survival of the Fittest” was dreamed up by Herbert Spencer
  • Modern biologists do not use the term, because it does not describe the mechanism behind “Natural Selection”.
  • Completion between people, or between different species, is not what drives evolution.
  • Darwin does use the word “fittest”, but in the context of what he wrote, it specifically means “better adapted for immediate, local environment” and did not mean “in the best physical shape”. (Translation: this bit of the jigsaw is the best fit for this gap in the puzzle and so it survives because it is the ideal shape, and not because it is in any way more robust than any other piece).

The Lifeboat question

So Mr Comfort asked a question …

If you find yourself in a lifeboat with no food and a group of very hungry people who are checking you out for lunch (it has happened), who would you rather be sharing the lifeboat with: a group of starving evolutionists who believe in “survival of the fittest” and have no moral absolutes, or a group of Christians who love their neighbor as themselves and fear God?

Personally I’d rather be in a boat filled with people who are prepared to work together on the problem, and not with a group who just give up and start praying to an imaginary deity who will do nothing because it does not actually exist. There are always possibilities and survival is a real option in this lifeboat scenario …

In 1952, Dr. Bombard deliberately drifted across the Atlantic for 65 days without provisions of any kind to prove that it was possible to survive on plankton, saltwater, and raw fish. Since he was alone, it is not known how much saltwater he consumed in proportion to rain water or liquid squeezed from fish.

What his experiment did show was that it is possible to survive many days in the open water without anything, but your raft and your survival skills.


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3 thoughts on “Survival of the Fittest

  • Daniel

    In God is not Great, Hitchens comments on a hypothetical question he was asked once: you are alone in a an unfamiliar city at night and see a group of people coming your way. You know nothing about these people, except that they are coming from a religious meeting. Does this information make you feel safer or less safe?

    Hitchens says that this has happened to him and he felt less safe imagining that the men coming in his direction were coming from a religious meeting.

    The Banana Man can’t even come up with something original.