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Apologetics Press :: Sensible Science

15 Answers to John Rennie and Scientific American’s Nonsense—Argument #2
by Bert Thompson, Ph.D. and Brad Harrub, Ph.D.

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2. [Creationists suggest that] natural selection is based on circular reasoning: the fittest are those who survive, and those who survive are deemed the fittest.

First, we have “late-breaking” news for Mr. Rennie. It is not just creationists who have stated that natural selection is a tautology based on circular reasoning. His evolutionary cohorts (rightly or wrongly) have been saying the same thing for years. T.H. Morgan, the eminent geneticist and pioneer of fruit-fly research, seems to have been the first to spot the problem. He wrote early in this century: “For it may be little more than a truism to state that the individuals that are best adapted to survive have a better chance of surviving than those not so well adapted to survive” (as quoted in Bethell, 1976).

Evolutionist Francis Hitching observed that “Darwinism, as Darwin wrote it, could be simply but nonsensically stated: survivors survive. Which is certainly a tautology; and tells us nothing about how species originate, as even Darwin’s supporters admit” (1982, p. 84, emp. added). [Mr. Rennie, it appears that creationists aren’t the only ones who make “nonsensical” statements!] Dr. Hitching even went further to note that “a tautology (or truism) is a self-evident, circular statement empty of meaning, such as ‘Darwin was a man,’ or ‘biology is studied by biologists.’ The trouble with natural selection (and survival of the fittest) is that it seems to fall into this category” (p. 84, parenthetical items in orig.).

Some well-known evolutionists have been trying for years to get their own colleagues to acknowledge that natural selection is a tautology. Somehow, natural selection is supposed to ensure the “survival of the fittest,” but the only pragmatic way to define the “fittest” is (you guessed it!) “those that survive.” At a professional symposium on Neo-Darwinism, geneticist C.H. Waddington of Edinburgh University opined:

The theory of neo-Darwinism is a theory of the evolution of the changing of the population in respect to leaving offspring and not in respect to anything else. Nothing else is mentioned in the mathematical theory of neo-Darwinism. It is smuggled in, and everybody has in the back of his mind that the animals that leave the largest number of offspring are going to be those best adapted also for eating peculiar vegetation, or something of this sort; but this is not explicit in the theory. All that is explicit is that they will leave more offspring. There, you do come to what is, in effect, a vacuous statement: Natural selection is that some things leave more offspring than others; and you ask, which leave more offspring than others; and it is those that leave more offspring; and there is nothing more to it than that. The whole guts of evolution—which is, how do you come to have horses and tigers and things—is outside the mathematical theory (as quoted in Moorhead and Kaplan, 1967, p. 14, emp. added).

Waddington is not alone in his assessment of the serious problems facing evolution as a result of natural selection having been shown to be a circular argument. G.A. Peseley joined the ranks of those criticizing natural selection as evolution’s mechanism when he stated:

One of the most frequent objections against the theory of natural selection is that it is a sophisticated tautology. Most evolutionary biologists seem unconcerned about the charge and make only a token effort to explain the tautology away. The remainder, such as Professors Waddington and Simpson, will simply concede the fact. For them, natural selection is a tautology which states a heretofore unrecognized relation: the fittest—defined as those who will leave the most offspring—will leave the most offspring.

What is most unsettling is that some evolutionary biologists have no qualms about proposing tautologies as explanations. One would immediately reject any lexicographer who tried to define a word by the same word, or a thinker who merely restated his proposition, or any other instance of gross redundancy; yet no one seems scandalized that men of science should be satisfied with a major principle which is no more than a tautology (1982, 38:74).

Arthur Koestler, vitalist philosopher and author, incisively described the tautology of natural selection in these words:

Once upon a time, it all looked so simple. Nature rewarded the fit with the carrot of survival and punished the unfit with the stick of extinction. The trouble only started when it came to defining fitness.... Thus natural selection looks after the survival and reproduction of the fittest, and the fittest are those which have the highest rate of reproduction,.... We are caught in a circular argument which completely begs the question of what makes evolution evolve (1978, p. 170).

Yet, as Harvard-trained lawyer Norman MacBeth observed: “In the meantime, the educated public continues to believe that Darwin has provided all the relevant answers by the magic formula of random mutations plus natural selection—quite unaware of the fact that random mutations turned out to be irrelevant and natural selection a tautology” (1982, 2:18). James E. Lloyd, editor of the Florida Entomologist, condemned evolution with faint praise (while simultaneously attempting to prop up its alleged factuality) when he wrote:

Natural selection, though it may be tautological and philosophically a poor theory in the various ways it is usually stated (e.g., “survival of the fittest”), and perhaps not even capable of being falsified, is nevertheless profound and axiomatic. It provides the most useful insight for problem solving that biological science has, and is the heart and soul of behavioral ecology (1982, 65:1, emp. added).

The problem for natural selection, however, does not end there. In fact, it gets even more serious. As Gould observed: “The essence of Darwinism lies in a single phrase: natural selection is the creative force of evolutionary change. No one denies that selection will play a negative role in eliminating the unfit. Darwinian theories require that it create the fit as well” (1977b, p. 28). Unfortunately, creating the fit is the one thing natural selection cannot do. As the famous Dutch botanist Hugo deVries put it: “Natural selection may explain the survival of the fittest, but it cannot explain the arrival of the fittest” (1905, pp. 825-826). Colin Patterson placed the matter in its proper focus when he commented that “…most of the current argument in neo-Darwinism is about this question: how a species originates. And it is there that natural selection seems to be fading out, and chance mechanisms of one sort or another are being invoked” (1982).

Scientific American’s Rennie, like a skilled magician, spoke of macroevolutionary processes, and then with the same slight-of-hand trick that Gould used in his 1987 Discover article, proceeded to offer as “proof ” examples of microevolution. With impressive, full-color illustrations, Rennie used the tired old argument of “Darwin’s finches” as a demonstration of natural selection, citing specifically the well-known scientific studies of Peter Grant from Princeton University who, with his wife, observed changes in finches’ beaks on the Galapagos Islands. If this is the best the evolutionists have to offer, then their theory is in worse trouble than they realize.

Creationists never have objected to the idea of natural selection as a mechanism for eliminating the unfit, non-adapted organisms. As a matter of fact, creationists long before Darwin were advocating natural selection as a conservation principle. Few people are aware, apparently, that natural selection was not Charles Darwin’s discovery. A creationist zoologist/chemist by the name of Edward Blyth (1810-1873) wrote about it in the years between 1835 and 1837, well before Darwin. Some evolutionists, like the late Loren Eiseley (Benjamin Franklin Professor of Anthropology and the History of Science at the University of Pennsylvania), even have gone so far as to question the incredible similarity between Blyth’s essays and those of Charles Darwin (1959), hinting at plagiarism on Darwin’s part. Eiseley wrote that “the leading tenets of Darwin’s work—the struggle for existence, variation, natural selection, and sexual selection—are all fully expressed” in a paper written by Blyth in 1835 (1979, p. 55). That fact has not been lost on creationists. Ian Taylor, in his book, In the Minds of Men, discussed Darwin’s reading of Patrick Matthew’s 1831 essay, Naval Timber and Arboriculture, which in its appendix contained the phrase “this natural process of selection”—a phrase that Darwin changed slightly to “natural means of selection” and incorporated into his very first essay, published in 1842 (1984, p. 125).

As a screening device for eliminating the unfit, natural selection represents the Creator’s plan for preventing harmful mutations from affecting and even destroying the entire species. Further, to employ an old adage, that which says too much says nothing at all. The long neck of the giraffe and the short neck of the hippopotamus are both explicable by natural selection, as are both the dull coloration of the peppered moth and the brilliant colors of the bird of paradise. Natural selection “explains” everything, and therefore really explains nothing. It cannot create new genera, families, phyla, etc. It cannot explain adaptation. The fact that an organism is adapted to its environment tells us absolutely nothing about how it came to be adapted. Any organisms not so adapted would not have survived, but this constitutes no proof that the adaptations were produced by evolution. Yet Gould has admitted that natural selection must be able to “create the fit” if it is to be deemed successful in an evolutionary scenario. This, it cannot do. And it certainly cannot explain the vast complexity of life around us. Tautologous arguments are not equipped with the power to “explain” such, much less “create” such.

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