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  • Sean O'Leary

Survival of the Fittest?

There is something misleading about the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’. It is easy to imagine ‘survival of the fittest’ as a fierce competition to find the most dominant individuals. In human society, we are accustomed to matches and competitions to find the best teams or the best athletes. But, if this was all that mattered, there would not be such diversity amongst living things.


The most we can say about the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’ is that it offers an incomplete account of the theory of evolution, an unusual phrase that Darwin himself did not originally use. Darwin used the phrase ‘descent through modification’.


There is no single fittest individual or species. First of all, living creatures of very different types can be comparably fit for a variety of reasons. Secondly, fitness depends on the environmental context, allowing many variations of creature to be suitable for different niches.


The theory of evolution does not predict, nor does it assume, that individuals or species must eliminate each other in the struggle for survival.


However, evolution does suggest that genetic factors that increase the survival chances of a species will increase over time. The way in which this incrementally occurs is often as diverse as the species that exist on our wonderful planet. So, the phrase 'survival of the fittest' means something like 'survival of the best fit for particular conditions over time'.


The adaptations that occur in nature are a constant source of fascination and wonder. What does the book of nature tell us about God?



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