Revised Tautology FAQ

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John S. Wilkins

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Aug 2, 2009, 12:35:21 AM8/2/09
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For a long time I have been unhappy about the Tautology FAQ here:

http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evolphil/tautology.html

Now Ivar Ylvisaker and I have produced a revised and simpler, less
pretentious, version, mostly Ivar.

Suggested New FAQ Tautology Page:

Summary: The claim that evolutionary theory is a tautology rests on a
misunderstanding of the theory. Fitness is more than just survival.

The simple version of the so-called 'tautology argument' is this:

Natural selection is the survival of the fittest. The fittest are those
that survive. Therefore, evolution by natural selection is a tautology
(a circular definition).

There is a flaw in this argument. Arguably, "survival of the fittest"
has become an alternative name for the theory of natural selection.
However, the name of a thing usually does not fully describe the thing
that is named and that is true here. The theory of natural selection is
more than just the idea of a "survival of the fittest." In particular,
the theory of natural selection incorporates the idea of inheritance. A
rudimentary example of a natural selection process is this:

1. Some animals in a species have an advantageous trait; for example,
they can run faster.

2. Hence, they are more likely to outrun predators.

3. Hence, they are likely to live longer.

4. Hence, they are more likely to have offspring.

5. Their offspring inherit the advantageous trait.

6. The process repeats; go back to 1.

The result is that the number of animals with this advantageous trait is
likely to increase. The reverse is true of animals without the trait
(i.e., they are less likely to survive until they can reproduce). The
second sentence in the 'tautology argument' above ignores heredity. It
describes a more general concept. But this means that the theory of
natural selection and the idea of the "survival of the fittest" are not
logical equivalents and, hence, there is no tautology.

It is worth noting that, even though the 'tautology argument' is
supposed to demonstrate that evolution is untestable, there is
widespread agreement that, at least, microevolution is testable.
Phillip Johnson, no friend of Darwinism, writes that "...everyone agrees
that microevolution occurs, including creationists" (Darwin on Trial,
page 68). People who try to breed faster horses or to breed smaller
dogs (e.g., to create cute, tiny pets for city dwellers) or to breed
more productive strains of wheat are all, in effect, testing the theory
of natural selection. Examples of natural selection in nature include
the peppered moth and the finches of the Galapagos Islands. (For
evidence that macroevolution is testable, see 29 Evidences for
Macroevolution.)

Karl Popper [1976: sect. 37] also had doubts about whether "Darwinism"
was a testable scientific theory. According to Popper, any situation
where species exist is compatible with Darwinian explanation, because if
those species were not adapted, they would not exist. That is, Popper
says, we define adaptation as that which is sufficient for existence in
a given environment. Therefore, since nothing is ruled out, the theory
has no explanatory power, for everything is ruled in.

This is not true, as a number of critics of Popper have observed since
(e.g., Stamos [1996] [note 1]). Darwinian theory rules out quite a lot.
It rules out the existence of inefficient organisms when more efficient
organisms are about. It rules out change that is theoretically
impossible (according to the laws of genetics, ontogeny, and molecular
biology) to achieve in gradual and adaptive steps (see Dawkins [1996]).
It rules out new species being established without ancestral species.

All of these hypotheses are more or less testable, and conform to the
standards of science. The answer to this version of the argument is the
same as to the simplistic version - adaptation is not just defined in
terms of what survives. There needs to be a causal story available to
make sense of adaptation (which is why mimicry in butterflies was such a
focal debate in the teens and twenties). Adaptation is a functional
notion, not a logical or semantic a priori definition, despite what
Popper thought.

One thing that should be noted, is that in logic a tautology is
something that is _true by definition_. If natural selection
_were_ a tautology, that would mean it had to be true, which is
perhaps a conclusion creationists would not want to reach.

<end>

Any and all comments, criticisms and so forth are welcomed. I may add a
more philosophical "side-FAQ" to this later, if life permits.
--
John S. Wilkins, Philosophy, University of Sydney
http://evolvingthoughts.net
But al be that he was a philosophre,
Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre

el cid

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Aug 2, 2009, 2:11:41 AM8/2/09
to
On Aug 2, 12:35 am, j...@wilkins.id.au (John S. Wilkins) wrote:
> For a long time I have been unhappy about the Tautology FAQ here:
>
> http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evolphil/tautology.html
>
> Now Ivar Ylvisaker and I have produced a revised and simpler, less
> pretentious, version, mostly Ivar.
>
> Suggested New FAQ Tautology Page:


Sorry to say I am unimpressed.
The first complaint, which is a general one about such FAQs,
is that the point it is addressing is amorphous. An actual
instance of the tautology argument ought to be found and
addressed. I looked at the creation wiki but you might
hope to find something less inane. One might pick Ann Coutier's
version.
The second prong of Darwin’s “theory” is generally nothing
but a circular statement: Through the process of natural
selection, the “fittest” survive. Who are the “fittest”?
The ones who survive! Why look – it happens every time!
The “survival of the fittest” would be a joke if it weren’t
part of the belief system of a fanatical cult infesting the
Scientific Community.

The beauty of having a scientific theory that’s a tautology
is that it can’t be disproved. Evolution cultists denounce
“Creation Science” on the grounds that it’s not “science”
because it can’t be observed or empirically tested in a
laboratory. Guess what else can’t be observed or empirically
tested? Evolution! (Godless: The Church of Liberalism, pp. 212-213).

It might be useful to have some other variants.

At the heart of the quoted objection is that fittest is defined
by survival. If fittest is defined by survival, natural
selection is indeed a tautology. The other essential problem
is that it conflates one part of NS, the SotF part with
Evolution.

Now there are a few places to go from here. I've seen nuanced
attempts to say that fittest is independent of other the
trite notion of survival or the more adept notion of
increased reproductive fitness. I personally don't buy them.

I think survival of the fittest is an observation. It is
an observable even if it was theoretically proposed. The key
to this observation is that it links a phenotype to an
outcome. Not all phenotypes are equally likely to survive
to reproduce. This is the essence of the survival of the
fittest aspect of the theory of natural selection part of
the modern theory of evolution.

Outlining a response to the quoted objection:

1 survival of the fittest is a part of the theory of
natural selection but only one part. It is the 2nd part.

2 It is an observation which is undisputed.
This is a good thing.

3 The first part of the theory of natural selection
is also an observation. This observation is that
phenotypic variation exists in populations and
that much of this variation can be inherited.

4 These observation is linked to the rest of the theory of
natural selection but it should be remembered that
they are true and undisputed observations.

5 The third part of the theory of natural selection
is a theoretical part but it has been confirmed by
observation. The theoretical aspects of it allow
one to apply mathematics to biology. This third part
is the deductive logic that says the survival bias
and the degree of inheritance of a trait will
change the proportion of that trait in future
generations.


Your proposed faq does address NS but I find
it to float out of context.

It's late, and I fear I'm incoherent so I'll stop.


David Hare-Scott

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Aug 2, 2009, 4:34:04 AM8/2/09
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While I agree that:

- ToE isn't a tautology or circular
- ToE does make predictions and hence is testable

I also think that the "survival of the fittest" slogan itself can be and
should be dismissed more simply by saying:

- it is not the definition of ToE and trying to make it so is a straw man
argument,
- it is a (clumsily worded) definition of "fitness",
- and that the concept of fitness (differential survival) is but one
component of ToE.

David

TomS

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Aug 2, 2009, 6:24:13 AM8/2/09
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"On Sun, 2 Aug 2009 14:35:21 +1000, in article
<1j3trub.1ni0syk2263bhN%jo...@wilkins.id.au>, John S. Wilkins stated..."

>
>For a long time I have been unhappy about the Tautology FAQ here:
>
>http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evolphil/tautology.html
>
>Now Ivar Ylvisaker and I have produced a revised and simpler, less
>pretentious, version, mostly Ivar.
>
>Suggested New FAQ Tautology Page:
>
>Summary: The claim that evolutionary theory is a tautology rests on a
>misunderstanding of the theory. Fitness is more than just survival.
[...snip...]

Would it be appropriate - or would it just be a distraction - to note
that there is nothing wrong with using a tautology as part of an
explanation?

Or to note that this claim of "tautology" has also been used wrt
Newton's F=ma?


--
---Tom S.
"...ID is not science ... because we simply do not know what it is saying."
Sahotra Sarkar, "The science question in intelligent design", Synthese,
DOI:10,1007/s11229-009-9540-x

J. J. Lodder

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Aug 3, 2009, 12:58:21 PM8/3/09
to
John S. Wilkins <jo...@wilkins.id.au> wrote:

> For a long time I have been unhappy about the Tautology FAQ here:
>
> http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evolphil/tautology.html
>
> Now Ivar Ylvisaker and I have produced a revised and simpler, less
> pretentious, version, mostly Ivar.
>
> Suggested New FAQ Tautology Page:
>
> Summary: The claim that evolutionary theory is a tautology rests on a
> misunderstanding of the theory. Fitness is more than just survival.

I'd say more than that:
it rests o a misunderstanding of science in general.
Science doesn't proceed by rigorous definitions
and logic-chopping on basis of them.
In particular, 'survival of the fittest'
was a rough guideline when the theory got started.
As insight grew, better understanding evolved.
We no longer talk about fitness of individuals,
but instead about frequencies of genes in populations.
'Survival of the fittest' was a mistake right from the start,
unless understood as survival of the fittest -on average-.
It suggest looking at it all the wrong way.

The early Popper should take some of the blame for this,
even if the later Popper recanted (halfheartedly)

> Phillip Johnson, no friend of Darwinism, writes that "...everyone agrees
> that microevolution occurs, including creationists" (Darwin on Trial,
> page 68). People who try to breed faster horses or to breed smaller
> dogs (e.g., to create cute, tiny pets for city dwellers) or to breed
> more productive strains of wheat are all, in effect, testing the theory
> of natural selection. Examples of natural selection in nature include
> the peppered moth and the finches of the Galapagos Islands. (For
> evidence that macroevolution is testable, see 29 Evidences for
> Macroevolution.)
>
> Karl Popper [1976: sect. 37] also had doubts about whether "Darwinism"
> was a testable scientific theory. According to Popper, any situation
> where species exist is compatible with Darwinian explanation, because if
> those species were not adapted, they would not exist. That is, Popper
> says, we define adaptation as that which is sufficient for existence in
> a given environment. Therefore, since nothing is ruled out, the theory
> has no explanatory power, for everything is ruled in.


> This is not true, as a number of critics of Popper have observed since
> (e.g., Stamos [1996] [note 1]). Darwinian theory rules out quite a lot.
> It rules out the existence of inefficient organisms when more efficient
> organisms are about.

Not really. One can always posit that these inefficeint organisms
must be (since they exist!) be in some as yet not understood way
have compensating advantages.
This is what Popper objects to.

> It rules out change that is theoretically
> impossible (according to the laws of genetics, ontogeny, and molecular
> biology) to achieve in gradual and adaptive steps (see Dawkins [1996]).

Not at all, there always is the escape
that 'evolution is a whole lot cleverer than you are'
We may merely not see the possible way.

> It rules out new species being established without ancestral species.

Of course not. All ancestors may be missing from the fossil record.

> All of these hypotheses are more or less testable, and conform to the
> standards of science.

Testable certainly, but that's not what Popper wanted.
He wanted falsifiability without any posible escape.

> The answer to this version of the argument is the
> same as to the simplistic version - adaptation is not just defined in
> terms of what survives. There needs to be a causal story available to
> make sense of adaptation (which is why mimicry in butterflies was such a
> focal debate in the teens and twenties). Adaptation is a functional
> notion, not a logical or semantic a priori definition, despite what
> Popper thought.

Popper was just pigheaded about it.
He needed a stick to beat Marxism with,
and if the same stick could also be used
to beat evolutionary biology, too bad for biology.

Friar Broccoli

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Aug 3, 2009, 9:45:12 PM8/3/09
to
On Aug 2, 12:35 am, j...@wilkins.id.au (John S. Wilkins) wrote:
> For a long time I have been unhappy about the Tautology FAQ here:
>
> http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/evolphil/tautology.html
>
> Now Ivar Ylvisaker and I have produced a revised and simpler, less
> pretentious, version, mostly Ivar.
>
> Suggested New FAQ Tautology Page:
>
> Summary: The claim that evolutionary theory is a tautology rests on a
> misunderstanding of the theory. Fitness is more than just survival.
>
> The simple version of the so-called 'tautology argument' is this:
>
> Natural selection is the survival of the fittest. The fittest are those
> that survive. Therefore, evolution by natural selection is a tautology
> (a circular definition).
>
> There is a flaw in this argument. Arguably, "survival of the fittest"
> has become an alternative name for the theory of natural selection.
> However, the name of a thing usually does not fully describe the thing
> that is named and that is true here. The theory of natural selection is
> more than just the idea of a "survival of the fittest."

I would change:


"The theory of natural selection is more than just the idea of a
"survival of the fittest."

to:
"Thus, the theory of natural selection gives more meaning to
"survival" and "fittest" than is normal in ordinary language."


> In particular, the theory of natural selection incorporates
> the idea of inheritance. A rudimentary example of a natural
> selection process is this:
>
> 1. Some animals in a species have an advantageous trait; for example,
> they can run faster.
>
> 2. Hence, they are more likely to outrun predators.
>
> 3. Hence, they are likely to live longer.
>
> 4. Hence, they are more likely to have offspring.
>
> 5. Their offspring inherit the advantageous trait.
>
> 6. The process repeats; go back to 1.


I would add this:

"From this example it is clear that:
survival - includes inheritance via replication, while
fitness - refers to the set of traits, which here include
running fast, that allows for survival."

> The result is that the number of animals with this advantageous trait is
> likely to increase. The reverse is true of animals without the trait
> (i.e., they are less likely to survive until they can reproduce). The
> second sentence in the 'tautology argument' above ignores heredity.

and append this:

", which is in no way identical to the traits for which it selects.
Since _inheritance_ and other _traits_ are completely distinct
notions there is no possibility of them being tautologically
equivalent."

I would then delete the following:


> It describes a more general concept.
> But this means that the theory of natural selection and the
> idea of the "survival of the fittest" are not logical
> equivalents and, hence, there is no tautology.

because although it may be true (not really sure) it does
nothing to clarify the argument.


I need to take some time to untangle the Popper argument before
deciding if I should comment on it.

Ray Martinez

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Aug 3, 2009, 10:45:35 PM8/3/09
to

http://scienceblogs.com/evolvingthoughts/2008/03/can_a_christian_accept_natural.php

"I once sat across the table from Alex Rosenberg, a well known
philosopher, who argued persuasively that one cannot be both a
Christian and accept natural selection. I think Alex intended this as
a reductio for Christianity, as natural selection is both true by
definition and also observed in the real world" (John Wilkins).

> <end>
>
> Any and all comments, criticisms and so forth are welcomed. I may add a
> more philosophical "side-FAQ" to this later, if life permits.
> --

> John S. Wilkins, Philosophy, University of Sydneyhttp://evolvingthoughts.net


> But al be that he was a philosophre,
> Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre

I am awaiting explanation for the apparent contradiction.

Ray

Iain

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Aug 4, 2009, 6:21:59 AM8/4/09
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Ernest Major

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Aug 4, 2009, 6:23:28 AM8/4/09
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In message
<b8ecdd51-1245-4446...@x25g2000prf.googlegroups.com>, Ray
Martinez <pyram...@yahoo.com> writes
There are 77 replies to that blog post. Are you sure that there are no
explanations among those. For example by James Goetz, at 72.

Point 3, as John wrote, is not compelling, it commits the is/ought
fallacy.

My opinion is that if Christians can reconcile natural evil in the
modern world (e.g. tsunamis, cancer, parasitoids) with their faith, then
there is no reason why the wastefulness of natural selection shouldn't
be a problem. You could even imagine a world in which differential
reproductive success occurs without the cruely. So it's not evolution
that is the problem for Christians, but natural evil. That disposes of
point 2.

A similar argument holds for point 1. If you can reconcile the behaviour
of the weather with your faith, why should you balk at the nature of
mutations.

John said as much - "Theodicial arguments (that justify God's ways to
Man, as Houseman said) are no harder because of NS than they were before
it."

--
alias Ernest Major

Iain

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Aug 4, 2009, 6:32:20 AM8/4/09
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On Aug 4, 11:21 am, Iain <iain_inks...@hotmail.com> wrote:
> My contribution...
>
> http://newsgroups.derkeiler.com/Archive/Talk/talk.origins/2009-01/msg...


To summarise.

"The fittest survive" might be a tautology -- or not -- it doesn't
matter.

But "survival of the fittest" is a _name_ for a phenomenon, not an
argument or a statement. It therefore cannot be a tautology. It is not
even a sentence. It's a noun-phrase.

--Iain

Iain

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Aug 4, 2009, 6:40:22 AM8/4/09
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"Survival of the fittest" is not the theory itself. Nor is "the
fittest survive" the theory. The thory is "the survival of the fittest
is what influences the course of a species' evolution".

--Iain

John S. Wilkins

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Aug 4, 2009, 6:55:12 AM8/4/09
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Ernest Major <{$to$}@meden.demon.co.uk> wrote:

> >http://scienceblogs.com/evolvingthoughts/2008/03/can_a_christian_accept_
> >natural.php
> >
> >"I once sat across the table from Alex Rosenberg, a well known
> >philosopher, who argued persuasively that one cannot be both a
> >Christian and accept natural selection. I think Alex intended this as
> >a reductio for Christianity, as natural selection is both true by
> >definition and also observed in the real world" (John Wilkins).

...


> >
> >I am awaiting explanation for the apparent contradiction.
> >
> >Ray
> >
> There are 77 replies to that blog post. Are you sure that there are no
> explanations among those. For example by James Goetz, at 72.
>
> Point 3, as John wrote, is not compelling, it commits the is/ought
> fallacy.
>
> My opinion is that if Christians can reconcile natural evil in the
> modern world (e.g. tsunamis, cancer, parasitoids) with their faith, then
> there is no reason why the wastefulness of natural selection shouldn't
> be a problem. You could even imagine a world in which differential
> reproductive success occurs without the cruely. So it's not evolution
> that is the problem for Christians, but natural evil. That disposes of
> point 2.
>
> A similar argument holds for point 1. If you can reconcile the behaviour
> of the weather with your faith, why should you balk at the nature of
> mutations.
>
> John said as much - "Theodicial arguments (that justify God's ways to
> Man, as Houseman said) are no harder because of NS than they were before
> it."

If Ray wonders why I said NS is true by definition, it is. It is true
that everything that has a differential advantage over its competitors
in a population will tend to dominate in frequency in the population
over time. This is an if-then statement. If the initial conditions are
satisfied, the results follow. By definition.

Since it is observed in the real world, the definition applies. Many
things that are defined also apply to the real world. This is not
news...

Ron O

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Aug 4, 2009, 7:17:38 AM8/4/09
to
> John S. Wilkins, Philosophy, University of Sydneyhttp://evolvingthoughts.net

> But al be that he was a philosophre,
> Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre

Why don't you put something in about the fact that we can determine
when allele frequency change is not due to natural selection, but due
to genetic drift? When you can tell when something is not the
explanation it isn't a tautology in the way that the anti-
evolutionists use the term. Why is Kimura's neutral theory accepted
for so much of the genetic changes that we can observe in the genome
if natural selection is a tautology the way creationists use the term?

Ron Okimoto

Ray Martinez

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Aug 4, 2009, 1:13:34 PM8/4/09
to
On Aug 4, 3:55 am, j...@wilkins.id.au (John S. Wilkins) wrote:
> John S. Wilkins, Philosophy, University of Sydneyhttp://evolvingthoughts.net

> But al be that he was a philosophre,
> Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre- Hide quoted text -
>
> - Show quoted text -

I am making no points, rhetorical or otherwise.

I am asking for an explanation in order to understand.

In the OP John Wilkins writes:

"One thing that should be noted, is that in logic a tautology is
something that is _true by definition_. If natural selection _were_ a
tautology, that would mean it had to be true, which is perhaps a
conclusion creationists would not want to reach."

In the link John Wilkins writes:

http://scienceblogs.com/evolvingthoughts/2008/03/can_a_christian_accept_natural.php

"I once sat across the table from Alex Rosenberg, a well known
philosopher, who argued persuasively that one cannot be both a
Christian and accept natural selection. I think Alex intended this as
a reductio for Christianity, as natural selection is both true by

definition and also observed in the real world."

I am led to believe, based on the content of both quotes, that John
Wilkins accepts natural selection to be a **factual tautology.**

Ray

Ray Martinez

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Aug 4, 2009, 1:16:07 PM8/4/09
to
On Aug 4, 3:23 am, Ernest Major <{$t...@meden.demon.co.uk> wrote:
> In message
> <b8ecdd51-1245-4446-8984-446154eef...@x25g2000prf.googlegroups.com>, Ray
> Martinez <pyramid...@yahoo.com> writes
> alias Ernest Major- Hide quoted text -

>
> - Show quoted text -

Ernest: I have no idea as to what you are on about. I politely asked
for a reconciliation of two quotes by John Wilkins that appear to
contradict----nothing else.

Ray

Dana Tweedy

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Aug 4, 2009, 1:27:55 PM8/4/09
to
Ray Martinez wrote:
snip

>
> I am making no points, rhetorical or otherwise.
>
> I am asking for an explanation in order to understand.
>
> In the OP John Wilkins writes:
>
> "One thing that should be noted, is that in logic a tautology is
> something that is _true by definition_. If natural selection _were_ a
> tautology, that would mean it had to be true, which is perhaps a
> conclusion creationists would not want to reach."
>
> In the link John Wilkins writes:
>
> http://scienceblogs.com/evolvingthoughts/2008/03/can_a_christian_accept_natural.php
>
> "I once sat across the table from Alex Rosenberg, a well known
> philosopher, who argued persuasively that one cannot be both a
> Christian and accept natural selection. I think Alex intended this as
> a reductio for Christianity, as natural selection is both true by
> definition and also observed in the real world."
>
> I am led to believe, based on the content of both quotes, that John
> Wilkins accepts natural selection to be a **factual tautology.**

Then you are wrong. What John is saying is that if natural selection were
a tautology, it would mean that it's true, by definition, as that's what
tautology means. He's pointing out that such a finding should give
creationists pause. Note that John is not accepting the proposition, but
pointing out it's foolish for creationists to be pursuing this particular
line of argument, as it works against what they are trying to say.

Natural selection is not simply "that which survives, survives", but suvival
is the result of particular traits an individual posesses. Which traits
that determine survival are "selected" (passively) by the environment, not
any conscious choice on the part of the individual.

DJT

Ernest Major

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Aug 4, 2009, 1:30:16 PM8/4/09
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In message
<83ebede8-42e7-4e46...@x5g2000prf.googlegroups.com>, Ray
Martinez <pyram...@yahoo.com> writes
Ray, I have no idea as to what you are on about. You responded to a
quotation of a proposed revision to the Tautology FAQ with a quotation
from John's blog. In the absence of any apparent contradiction between
these two texts, I inferred that the supposed contradiction was between
Alex Rosenberg's claim that Christianity cannot be reconciled with
natural selection, and the observed existence of Christians who do
reconcile their faith with natural selection.

If you genuinely think that there is a contradiction between the
proposed revised Tautology FAQ and Alex Rosenberg's claim then you would
be advised to spell it. (You might note that there's no particular
reason for John's position to be consistent with his reports of someone
else's position; however in this case the positions are orthogonal -
they're addressing different topics.)
--
alias Ernest Major

Ray Martinez

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Aug 4, 2009, 1:40:17 PM8/4/09
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On Aug 4, 10:30 am, Ernest Major <{$t...@meden.demon.co.uk> wrote:
> In message
> <83ebede8-42e7-4e46-a830-5cafe8494...@x5g2000prf.googlegroups.com>, Ray

http://groups.google.com/group/talk.origins/msg/3acc6d73fb1f2a78

The link spells it out. Since Wilkins has me killfiled, you are going
to have to supply the answer.

In advance, Thanks.

Ray

el cid

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Aug 4, 2009, 2:54:37 PM8/4/09
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On Aug 4, 1:27 pm, "Dana Tweedy" <reddfr...@bresnan.net> wrote:
> Ray Martinez wrote:
>
> snip
>
>
>
>
>
>
>
> > I am making no points, rhetorical or otherwise.
>
> > I am asking for an explanation in order to understand.
>
> > In the OP John Wilkins writes:
>
> > "One thing that should be noted, is that in logic a tautology is
> > something that is _true by definition_. If natural selection  _were_ a
> > tautology, that would mean it had to be true, which is perhaps a
> > conclusion creationists would not want to reach."
>
> > In the link John Wilkins writes:
>
> >http://scienceblogs.com/evolvingthoughts/2008/03/can_a_christian_acce...

>
> > "I once sat across the table from Alex Rosenberg, a well known
> > philosopher, who argued persuasively that one cannot be both a
> > Christian and accept natural selection. I think Alex intended this as
> > a reductio for Christianity, as natural selection is both true by
> > definition and also observed in the real world."
>
> > I am led to believe, based on the content of both quotes, that John
> > Wilkins accepts natural selection to be a **factual tautology.**
>
> Then you are wrong.   What John is saying is that if natural selection were
> a tautology, it would mean that it's true, by definition, as that's what
> tautology means.   He's pointing out that such a finding should give
> creationists pause.  Note that John is not accepting the proposition, but
> pointing out it's foolish for creationists to be pursuing this particular
> line of argument, as it works against what they are trying to say.

That is not all that John appears to be saying. Ray has in
fact caught the point.

There are multiple issues that can give rise to confusion here.

1. Confusing the phrase "survival of the fittest" (SoF) with the
theory
of evolution (ToE) or with natural selecition (NS)

2. Is SoF a tautology.

3. Is natural selection a tautology.

Issue 1 requires care in writing and avoiding shorthand or
and lazy practices like dropping things to abbr.

Issue 2 was supposed to the the target of the submitted FAQ.
The FAQ does not succeed.

The phrase "survival of the fittest" is a common shorthand used
in writing about evolution. It causes problems because it presumes
a common understanding that is often not there, in other words various
readers understand it to mean different things.

You have to expand this phrase out to an actual statement to
judge if it is a tautology or not.

You can phrase the observation that animals which are
more "fit" tend to have a better chance of surviving
than their less "fit" compatriots. Animal is a sloppy
term of convenience but please forbear.

In the above usage, fit can have a definition that is
not circularly defined through the probability of
surviving. A faster runner may be considered more fit
or a greater endurance in running may be considered
more fit.

Predefining fit however, may not work for use of this
observation into the standard formulations of NS.
For an animal that does not need to run fast to escape
a predator, or run fast to catch prey, there may be
no advantage.

Sometimes the usage is defining fitness as that which
yields a selective advantage. This form is a tautology
as are all definitions.

No student of logic would see this as a bad thing.

Now does the usage of a an observation about SoF,
that defines fitness based on a reproductive advantage,
and is a tautology, renders the theory of natural
selection a tautology?

Here is where I think John has said something, which
I think is true, but that leads to confusion. The
formulation of NS that observes

a. variation exists in populations
b. variation is heritable
c. fitter variants are more likely to produce more offspring

Concludes
I. Successive generation will show an increased proportion of
the fitter variants.

John wrote:
If Ray wonders why I said NS is true by definition, it is.
It is true that everything that has a differential advantage
over its competitors in a population will tend to dominate
in frequency in the population over time. This is an
if-then statement. If the initial conditions are
satisfied, the results follow. By definition.

Now does this "true by definition" equate with "tautology"?

I'm more familiar with "tautology" used to describe statements
like X is Y. But technically speaking, if NS were true by
definition, it could be called a tautology. John is apparently
saying exactly what Ray has interpreted.

However, these formulation of NS are incomplete. Fitness is
a fuzzy concept, and the whole process is stochastic so I
disagree that it is "true by definition" and so NS is not
a tautology even when SoF is a tautologous definition of
fitness.

What needs to be recognized is that despite the fuzzy
nature of matching inheritable genotypes to fit phenotypes,
which can produce exceptions to the expected trends, the
trends toward an increase in fit phenotypes exists. It is
not inescapable in the same sense that a gambler can,
in theory, keep going to vegas to play black jack and
win each time, but it ain't likely to win even half
of the time and the odds are you lose more than you win.
Losing money is vegas is not a tautology, neither is
natural selection, but both have been observed, reliably
and repeatedly and with excellent fit to a theoretical
framework.

Friar Broccoli

unread,
Aug 4, 2009, 8:22:59 PM8/4/09
to

My main interest is in expressing this issue clearly enough
so that I can understand it. In that respect I think your
closing Las Vegas analogy might be useful.

Would for example:
"Victory of the Luckiest"
be a tautology because victory is the only measure of
luck in the Vegas context? I think yes.

The only way (that I can see) in which:
"Survival of the fittest"
differs logically from "Victory of the Luckiest" is that
the fact of "surviving"/reproducing changes or maintains
the heritable traits of the descendants of the survivors
just as per the original Ylvisaker/Wilkins draft.

However, even though the real world properties of
the victor are less substantive than the those of
the survivor it is not clear to me that this changes
anything in logic, so both are tautologies.

If I am correct, and the addition of inheritance changes
nothing, then this statement by Ylvisaker/Wilkins:

"But this [inheritance] means that the theory of natural


selection and the idea of the "survival of the fittest"
are not logical equivalents and, hence, there is no
tautology."

is an unsupport/ed/able assertion (with the addition of
an impenetrable layer of confusion between NS and
survival).

Confusedly yours.

el cid

unread,
Aug 4, 2009, 9:20:48 PM8/4/09
to
On Aug 4, 8:22 pm, Friar Broccoli <elia...@gmail.com> wrote:
> On Aug 4, 2:54 pm, el cid <elcidbi...@gmail.com> wrote:
>

[[[ snip ]]]

You catch me in the middle of a poker tournament,
for whatever it is worth.

I object to the metaphor of the lucky. It is a
poor match to fitness and horribly conflates
the chance aspects of success in passing on
your genes with the fitness bias in doing so.

> However, even though the real world properties of
> the victor are less substantive than the those of
> the survivor it is not clear to me that this changes
> anything in logic, so both are tautologies.

Again I'm playing poker. I delude myself to think
winning is not just luck. So I have a problem
with the "luckiest" as I don't think it maps to
an innate quality. (at least winning luck, bad
luck I have a more mystical belief in)

And to press the more serious aspect, fitness,
even in the tautological definition, is that
part that produces the bias on top of stochastic
effects. When you try to measure fitness, you
approximate it on a distribution with error
based on those stochastic effects. Luck would
seem to be the skew present in the chance
effect and thus be very distinct from a
source of bias --- such as house odds of
winning being greater than player odds at
something random like roulette.


By the way, I'm up, currently ranked 259 out of 9778
players, 54402 left holding 12,515 chips, stack average
5387 needing to place in the top 1000 to cash. I could
probably fold my way home.

Friar Broccoli

unread,
Aug 4, 2009, 11:17:06 PM8/4/09
to

The intent of the phrase:
"Victory of the luckiest"
is to find a pure case of a tautology that has
the same grammatical form as
"Survival of the fittest"
in order to identify the differences and then
determine if those differences are sufficient
to remove the later phrase from the class of
tautological statements.

Are you claiming that "fitness" has some
property that immunizes it from forming part
of a tautological statement? If so, what is
that property?


> > However, even though the real world properties of
> > the victor are less substantive than the those of
> > the survivor it is not clear to me that this changes
> > anything in logic, so both are tautologies.
>
> Again I'm playing poker. I delude myself to think
> winning is not just luck. So I have a problem
> with the "luckiest" as I don't think it maps to
> an innate quality. (at least winning luck, bad
> luck I have a more mystical belief in)
>
> And to press the more serious aspect, fitness,
> even in the tautological definition, is that
> part that produces the bias on top of stochastic
> effects. When you try to measure fitness, you
> approximate it on a distribution with error
> based on those stochastic effects. Luck would
> seem to be the skew present in the chance
> effect and thus be very distinct from a
> source of bias --- such as house odds of
> winning being greater than player odds at
> something random like roulette.

OK, I agree that fitness and chance are different.
But I do not see how that difference prevents
"Survival of the fittest"
from being a tautology when
"Victory of the luckiest" (say roulette player)
clearly is a tautology.

hersheyh

unread,
Aug 5, 2009, 12:12:26 AM8/5/09
to

Well this is the first time you have realized that you are making no
points worth mentioning.


>
> I am asking for an explanation in order to understand.
>
> In the OP John Wilkins writes:
>
> "One thing that should be noted, is that in logic a tautology is
> something that is _true by definition_. If natural selection  _were_ a
> tautology, that would mean it had to be true, which is perhaps a
> conclusion creationists would not want to reach."
>
> In the link John Wilkins writes:
>

> http://scienceblogs.com/evolvingthoughts/2008/03/can_a_christian_acce...

el cid

unread,
Aug 5, 2009, 12:26:01 AM8/5/09
to

Well victory to the one with the most chips
might come closer. Perhaps I'm being defensive.

The tautology is when we define fitness
by the tendency to survive or to successfully
reproduce.

Do we define lucky by the tendency to win?
I confess I have a pre-existing definition of
lucky that's hard to shed. Lucky is predefined
as winning more often that you should in the
situations experience. It matches drawing
to an inside straight more often that predicted
by probabilities. This is distinct from
overall winning because you can still lose
by taking too many chances. So the scoring
function for lucky has to include the
probability of success which is in turn
affected by style of play.

Fitness, however, can be more directly
measured from outcome, presuming that
"luck" did not significantly affect the
outcome.


> Are you claiming that "fitness" has some
> property that immunizes it from forming part
> of a tautological statement?  If so, what is
> that property?

Far from it. Fitness can be defined as the
bias to succeed. If fitness is being defined
this way, success of the fittest is a tautology.

I just have trouble composing a definition
(and therefore a tautology) that simply matches
lucky to victorious.

I was savagely overflushed, having flopped the flush and
aggressively betting it, a fourth spade hit on the river,
he held the Q, me the J with the AK there on the flop.
Such is poker.

J. J. Lodder

unread,
Aug 6, 2009, 7:32:01 AM8/6/09
to
John S. Wilkins <jo...@wilkins.id.au> wrote:

> One thing that should be noted, is that in logic a tautology is
> something that is _true by definition_. If natural selection
> _were_ a tautology, that would mean it had to be true, which is
> perhaps a conclusion creationists would not want to reach.

I think this part is best scrapped altogether.
Tautologies are just tautologies.
Nothing follows from them.
Moreover, is survival of those who survive
that's a tautology, not natural selection.

From a practical point:
who do you expect to fool with this?
Creationists with more brain cells than teeth
will see through it.
The other kind won't get the point.

The FAQ is stronger without,

Jan

TomS

unread,
Aug 6, 2009, 8:08:29 AM8/6/09
to
"On Thu, 6 Aug 2009 13:32:01 +0200, in article
<1j413x8.1gt...@de-ster.xs4all.nl>, J. J. Lodder stated..."

>
>John S. Wilkins <jo...@wilkins.id.au> wrote:
>
>> One thing that should be noted, is that in logic a tautology is
>> something that is _true by definition_. If natural selection
>> _were_ a tautology, that would mean it had to be true, which is
>> perhaps a conclusion creationists would not want to reach.
>
>I think this part is best scrapped altogether.
>Tautologies are just tautologies.
>Nothing follows from them.

That is an odd statement. I must be misunderstanding it, for I can
think of many things that follow from tautologies.

My favorite example is the "Pigeonhole Principle". (See the Wikipedia
article.)

>Moreover, is survival of those who survive
>that's a tautology, not natural selection.
>
>From a practical point:
>who do you expect to fool with this?
>Creationists with more brain cells than teeth
>will see through it.
>The other kind won't get the point.
>
>The FAQ is stronger without,
>
>Jan
>

J. J. Lodder

unread,
Aug 6, 2009, 9:57:33 AM8/6/09
to
TomS <TomS_...@newsguy.com> wrote:

> "On Thu, 6 Aug 2009 13:32:01 +0200, in article
> <1j413x8.1gt...@de-ster.xs4all.nl>, J. J. Lodder stated..."
> >
> >John S. Wilkins <jo...@wilkins.id.au> wrote:
> >
> >> One thing that should be noted, is that in logic a tautology is
> >> something that is _true by definition_. If natural selection
> >> _were_ a tautology, that would mean it had to be true, which is
> >> perhaps a conclusion creationists would not want to reach.
> >
> >I think this part is best scrapped altogether.
> >Tautologies are just tautologies.
> >Nothing follows from them.
>
> That is an odd statement. I must be misunderstanding it, for I can
> think of many things that follow from tautologies.

Nothing but other tautologies.

> My favorite example is the "Pigeonhole Principle". (See the Wikipedia
> article.)

For example, all mathemathical theorems are tautologies,
(nothing but restatements of the axioms)
so all corrolaries from them are too.

Scientific theories otoh are not tautological,
and shouldn't be,

Jan

TomS

unread,
Aug 6, 2009, 10:11:51 AM8/6/09
to
"On Thu, 6 Aug 2009 15:57:33 +0200, in article
<1j419hp.19r...@de-ster.xs4all.nl>, J. J. Lodder stated..."

And everything that you are saying here is a tautology?

Anyway, surely you would allow that scientific theories can
contain tautologies? Even though the theory taken as a whole is
not tautologous.

J. J. Lodder

unread,
Aug 6, 2009, 5:40:33 PM8/6/09
to
TomS <TomS_...@newsguy.com> wrote:

What gives you taht strange idea?

> Anyway, surely you would allow that scientific theories can
> contain tautologies? Even though the theory taken as a whole is
> not tautologous.

If tautological they can be eliminated.

For the rest this is a somewhat thorny issue.
If a branch of physics is axiomatised
the physical laws become theorems,
hence tautologies. (given th eaxioms)

This however is a matter for foundation specialists.
Few physicists will see the laws of thermodynamics
for example as mere axioms.
They will prefer to say instead that they are laws of nature
that effectively summarise an enormous amount
of empirical and theoretical knowledge.

For the theory of evolution this point is moot,
since axiomatising it is out of the question,
very special models excepted,

Jan

Friar Broccoli

unread,
Aug 6, 2009, 8:25:37 PM8/6/09
to
On Aug 6, 7:32 am, nos...@de-ster.demon.nl (J. J. Lodder) wrote:

For what it is worth, I agree.

It also points up the need to include a clear definition of
tautology in the FAQ. So that when it is shown that
"survival" and "fittest" are not equivalent concepts we
can point back to the definition and say:

SEE we told you so!!

J. J. Lodder

unread,
Aug 7, 2009, 4:46:33 AM8/7/09
to
Friar Broccoli <eli...@gmail.com> wrote:

> On Aug 6, 7:32 am, nos...@de-ster.demon.nl (J. J. Lodder) wrote:
> > John S. Wilkins <j...@wilkins.id.au> wrote:
> >
> > > One thing that should be noted, is that in logic a tautology is
> > > something that is _true by definition_. If natural selection
> > > _were_ a tautology, that would mean it had to be true, which is
> > > perhaps a conclusion creationists would not want to reach.
> >
> > I think this part is best scrapped altogether.
> > Tautologies are just tautologies.
> > Nothing follows from them.
> > Moreover, is survival of those who survive
> > that's a tautology, not natural selection.
> >
> > From a practical point:
> > who do you expect to fool with this?
> > Creationists with more brain cells than teeth
> > will see through it.
> > The other kind won't get the point.
> >
> > The FAQ is stronger without,
>
> For what it is worth, I agree.
>
> It also points up the need to include a clear definition of
> tautology in the FAQ.

It is not really a tautlogy in the truth table sense.
It is a reasoning of the kind:
A = B, B = A, therefore A = A.

> So that when it is shown that
> "survival" and "fittest" are not equivalent concepts we
> can point back to the definition and say:
>
> SEE we told you so!!

OTOH no creationist needs to feel embarrased
by having to admit that
'The survivors are those who survive'
is true.
On the contrary, he can say:
so you finally get my point.

Jan


TomS

unread,
Aug 7, 2009, 6:37:06 AM8/7/09
to
"On Thu, 6 Aug 2009 23:40:33 +0200, in article
<1j41ch5.8vn...@de-ster.xs4all.nl>, J. J. Lodder stated..."

Because it follows from the definition of "tautology".

>
>> Anyway, surely you would allow that scientific theories can
>> contain tautologies? Even though the theory taken as a whole is
>> not tautologous.
>
>If tautological they can be eliminated.

So, tautologies can always be eliminated?

What gives you this idea?

>
>For the rest this is a somewhat thorny issue.
>If a branch of physics is axiomatised
>the physical laws become theorems,
>hence tautologies. (given th eaxioms)
>
>This however is a matter for foundation specialists.
>Few physicists will see the laws of thermodynamics
>for example as mere axioms.
>They will prefer to say instead that they are laws of nature
>that effectively summarise an enormous amount
>of empirical and theoretical knowledge.
>
>For the theory of evolution this point is moot,
>since axiomatising it is out of the question,
>very special models excepted,
>
>Jan
>

Ray Martinez

unread,
Aug 7, 2009, 2:24:10 PM8/7/09
to

That's right----and that point has been ignored by Wilikins and his
supporters.

We all know what this means.

For those who want to review the point:

http://groups.google.com/group/talk.origins/msg/3acc6d73fb1f2a78

Ray

> > any conscious choice on the part of the individual.- Hide quoted text -
>
> - Show quoted text -- Hide quoted text -

ivar

unread,
Aug 8, 2009, 4:25:09 AM8/8/09
to
Some wording changes have occurred to me that may describe the issue
more plainly. My suggested, revised version is:

[Introductory paragraphs unchanged]

Summary: The claim that evolutionary theory is a tautology rests on a
misunderstanding of the theory. Fitness is more than just survival.

The simple version of the so-called 'tautology argument' is this:

Natural selection is the survival of the fittest. The fittest are
those that survive. Therefore, evolution by natural selection is a
tautology (a circular definition).

[NEW]In the fifth edition of his "On the Origin of Species," Charles
Darwin changed the title of the fourth chapter from "NATURAL
SELECTION" to "NATURAL SELECTION; OR THE SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST."
Natural selection is one of the basic processes in what we today call
the Theory of Evolution, other processes being Mutation, Genetic
Drift, and so on. He wrote that he did this because "Several writers
have misapprehended or objected to the term Natural Selection" on the
basis that nature can't "select" in the way that man can "select."
Today, some people object to his addition, "the survival of the
fittest," on the basis that it is a tautology. However, the real
issue is not whether the phrase is a tautology but whether the process
identified by the phrase really happens. Common sense says it does.

[NEW]Consider a rudimentary example of a natural selection process:

1. Some animals in a species have an advantageous trait; for
example, they can run faster.

2. Hence, they are more likely to outrun predators.

3. Hence, they are likely to live longer.

4. Hence, they are more likely to have offspring.

5. Their offspring inherit the advantageous trait.

6. The process repeats; go back to 1.

[NEW]The result is that the number of animals with this advantageous


trait is likely to increase. The reverse is true of animals without
the trait (i.e., they are less likely to survive until they can

reproduce). None of this should be controversial. (Whether this
process can lead to species change is, arguably, controversial but
that is a different issue.)

[NEW]While fitness always implies surviving to reproduce, the details
of what constitutes fitness can vary greatly. Fitness can mean the
ability to run faster or to endure running longer or to climb trees or
to have a hard shell or to have a hairy (warm) coat or to look like
something inedible and so on (and on). There are many kinds of
"fitness."

[UNCHANGED]It is worth noting that, even though the 'tautology


argument' is supposed to demonstrate that evolution is untestable,
there is widespread agreement that, at least, microevolution is
testable. Phillip Johnson, no friend of Darwinism, writes that
"...everyone agrees that microevolution occurs, including
creationists" (Darwin on Trial, page 68). People who try to breed
faster horses or to breed smaller dogs (e.g., to create cute, tiny
pets for city dwellers) or to breed more productive strains of wheat
are all, in effect, testing the theory of natural selection. Examples
of natural selection in nature include the peppered moth and the
finches of the Galapagos Islands. (For evidence that macroevolution
is testable, see 29 Evidences for Macroevolution.)

[Remaining paragraphs unchanged.]

A reference for the Darwin quote is:

http://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?viewtype=side&itemID=F387&pageseq=121

Ivar

Friar Broccoli

unread,
Aug 8, 2009, 8:45:43 AM8/8/09
to
On Aug 8, 4:25 am, ivar <ylvis...@verizon.net> wrote:
> Some wording changes have occurred to me that may describe the issue
> more plainly. My suggested, revised version is:

Personally I find these changes greatly improve your work,
but I still have some problems:


>
> [Introductory paragraphs unchanged]
>
> Summary: The claim that evolutionary theory is a tautology rests on a
> misunderstanding of the theory. Fitness is more than just survival.
>
> The simple version of the so-called 'tautology argument' is this:
>
> Natural selection is the survival of the fittest. The fittest are
> those that survive. Therefore, evolution by natural selection is a
> tautology (a circular definition).
>
> [NEW]In the fifth edition of his "On the Origin of Species," Charles
> Darwin changed the title of the fourth chapter from "NATURAL
> SELECTION" to "NATURAL SELECTION; OR THE SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST."
> Natural selection is one of the basic processes in what we today call
> the Theory of Evolution, other processes being Mutation, Genetic
> Drift, and so on. He wrote that he did this because "Several writers
> have misapprehended or objected to the term Natural Selection" on the
> basis that nature can't "select" in the way that man can "select."

.

> Today, some people object to his addition, "the survival of the
> fittest," on the basis that it is a tautology. However, the real
> issue is not whether the phrase is a tautology but whether the process
> identified by the phrase really happens.

Here you are:

1- effectively doing an end run around the question of whether
"Survival of the fittest" is or is not a tautology.

2- making an unsupported assertion about what the "real
issue" aught to be.

For the first point I have suggested a possible direct answer
(lifted straight out of JJ Lodder's comments) as an add on to
your last NEW revision below.

On the second point you might try adding that tautologies
refer to symbolic formulas, here the words "survival of the
fittest" not to the realities those formulas are intended to
describe. What is important are the facts not the words used
to describe them.


> Common sense says it does.
>
> [NEW]Consider a rudimentary example of a natural selection process:
>
> 1. Some animals in a species have an advantageous trait; for
> example, they can run faster.
>
> 2. Hence, they are more likely to outrun predators.
>
> 3. Hence, they are likely to live longer.
>
> 4. Hence, they are more likely to have offspring.
>
> 5. Their offspring inherit the advantageous trait.
>
> 6. The process repeats; go back to 1.
>
> [NEW]The result is that the number of animals with this advantageous
> trait is likely to increase. The reverse is true of animals without
> the trait (i.e., they are less likely to survive until they can
> reproduce).

.

> None of this should be controversial. (Whether this process
> can lead to species change is, arguably, controversial but
> that is a different issue.)

I think you need to ditch "arguably, controversial" here.
None of this is even arguable. I suggest you go for something
like:

"also contested by creationists"


> [NEW]While fitness always implies surviving to reproduce, the details
> of what constitutes fitness can vary greatly. Fitness can mean the
> ability to run faster or to endure running longer or to climb trees or
> to have a hard shell or to have a hairy (warm) coat or to look like
> something inedible and so on (and on). There are many kinds of
> "fitness."

From here I think you can hit the tautology question directly
with something like:

"From this it is clear that the expression 'survival of the
fittest' cannot be a tautology in the formal sense because it
is possible to replace the value 'fitness' with a wide range
of characteristics and obtain a wide range of 'survival' outputs
depending on the circumstances. (For example, tree climbing
ability would provide no survival advantage for a grazing
animal living on the African plains or in the arctic tundra.)
Thus, since a tautology must be true under any possible
valuation, this expression simply cannot be a tautology."

> [UNCHANGED]It is worth noting that, even though the 'tautology
> argument' is supposed to demonstrate that evolution is untestable,
> there is widespread agreement that, at least, microevolution is
> testable. Phillip Johnson, no friend of Darwinism, writes that
> "...everyone agrees that microevolution occurs, including
> creationists" (Darwin on Trial, page 68). People who try to breed
> faster horses or to breed smaller dogs (e.g., to create cute, tiny
> pets for city dwellers) or to breed more productive strains of wheat
> are all, in effect, testing the theory of natural selection. Examples
> of natural selection in nature include the peppered moth and the
> finches of the Galapagos Islands. (For evidence that macroevolution
> is testable, see 29 Evidences for Macroevolution.)
>
> [Remaining paragraphs unchanged.]
>
> A reference for the Darwin quote is:
>

> http://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?viewtype=side&itemID=F38...
>
> Ivar

I will try to look at the Popper argument tomorrow, in the hope
that I can find something useful to say. Falsification
confuses me horribly.

el cid

unread,
Aug 8, 2009, 10:51:01 AM8/8/09
to
On Aug 8, 4:25 am, ivar <ylvis...@verizon.net> wrote:

...


> Today, some people object to his addition, "the survival of the
> fittest," on the basis that it is a tautology.  However, the real
> issue is not whether the phrase is a tautology but whether the process
> identified by the phrase really happens.  Common sense says it does.

In a FAQ on tautology, the real issue is if SoF is a tautology
and in the cases where it is, what does that imply. That and
that alone should be the point of the FAQ.

...


> [NEW]While fitness always implies surviving to reproduce, the details
> of what constitutes fitness can vary greatly.  Fitness can mean the
> ability to run faster or to endure running longer or to climb trees or
> to have a hard shell or to have a hairy (warm) coat or to look like
> something inedible and so on (and on).  There are many kinds of
> "fitness."

This all meanders around apriori notions of fitness but it is
necessary to tackle the tautological notion of fitness
head on. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fitness_(biology)

Friar Broccoli

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Aug 9, 2009, 7:15:07 PM8/9/09
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OK, I took a look at the reply to Popper's falsification
argument, and it seems simple and clear. I think removing all
of the extraneous comments Wilkin's had tacked on to the
original improves things considerably.

So I have only a few changes to suggest:

> Karl Popper [1976: sect. 37] also had doubts about whether "Darwinism"
> was a testable scientific theory. According to Popper, any situation
> where species exist is compatible with Darwinian explanation, because if
> those species were not adapted, they would not exist. That is, Popper
> says, we define adaptation as that which is sufficient for existence in
> a given environment. Therefore, since nothing is ruled out, the theory
> has no explanatory power, for everything is ruled in.
>
> This is not true, as a number of critics of Popper have observed since
> (e.g., Stamos [1996] [note 1]). Darwinian theory rules out quite a lot.
> It rules out the existence of inefficient organisms when more efficient
> organisms are about. It rules out change that is theoretically
> impossible (according to the laws of genetics, ontogeny, and molecular
> biology) to achieve in gradual and adaptive steps (see Dawkins [1996]).
> It rules out new species being established without ancestral species.

.

> All of these hypotheses are more or less testable, and conform to the
> standards of science. The answer to this version of the argument is the
> same as to the simplistic version - adaptation is not just defined in
> terms of what survives. There needs to be a causal story available to

I would change:
"needs to be a causal story" to
"needs to be a real world causal account"

so that hostile readers do not make the immediate link
from story to fairy tale.


.

> make sense of adaptation (which is why mimicry in butterflies
> was such a focal debate in the teens and twenties).

I would change the above to:

"make sense of adaptation (which is why mimicry in butterflies

making them easier to detect by predators was such a focal


debate in the teens and twenties)."

since the connection is otherwise nearly impossible to make for
inexperienced readers.

> Adaptation is a functional notion, not a logical or semantic a
> priori definition, despite what Popper thought.


.


> One thing that should be noted, is that in logic a tautology is
> something that is _true by definition_. If natural selection
> _were_ a tautology, that would mean it had to be true, which is
> perhaps a conclusion creationists would not want to reach.

As already discussed I agree that this paragraph should just be
chopped. My view is that even if NS or SoF "_were_ a tautology"
it would _NOT_ therefore be necessarily true. Since tautologies
refer only to logical or semantic formulas, the formula could
always be TRUE, but not (at least in principle) refer to
anything in the real world.

alternatively, if you really want to keep this paragraph you
could fix the problem I see by changing:

"that would mean it had to be true" to
"that would make it appear that survival of the fittest must to be
true"

but I think it is just a bad argument.


Finally, I believe you need a closing paragraph to summarize the
argument and fix it in the readers mind. I suggest something
like the following:


"Thus, there are two reasons why "survival of the fittest" is not
a tautology:

- "survival" a measure of reproductive success can not be
identical to "fitness" which is a set of physical
characteristics.

- "survival of the fittest" isn't a grammatical or logical notion
(which is what tautologies refer to), but a causative
description of events the _real_ world."

J. J. Lodder

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Aug 10, 2009, 4:42:18 AM8/10/09
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Friar Broccoli <eli...@gmail.com> wrote:

> "Thus, there are two reasons why "survival of the fittest" is not
> a tautology:
>
> - "survival" a measure of reproductive success can not be
> identical to "fitness" which is a set of physical
> characteristics.

As it stands this is just propaganda.
Fitness isn't just a set of physical characteristics.

If it were it could (at least in principle) be measured.
Even worse, fitness is not a property
that can be assigned to individuals.
(what's your fitness quotient?)
Not even retrospectively by counting
how many descendants they leave in the next generation.

The ToE really is an inherently statistical theory,

Jan

ivar

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Aug 10, 2009, 6:13:45 AM8/10/09
to
Here's another draft:

[Introductory paragraphs unchanged]

[NEW]In the fifth edition of his "On the Origin of Species," Charles
Darwin changed the title of the fourth chapter from "NATURAL
SELECTION" to "NATURAL SELECTION; OR THE SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST."
Natural selection is one of the basic processes in what we today call
the Theory of Evolution, other processes being Mutation, Genetic
Drift, and so on. He wrote that he did this because "Several writers
have misapprehended or objected to the term Natural Selection" on the
basis that nature can't "select" in the way that man can "select."

Today, some people claim that his addition, "the survival of the
fittest," indicates that natural evolution is a tautology and, hence,
is not a legitimate scientific hypothesis that can be tested.

[NEW]However, there is a problem with this claim. There is more to
natural selection than just the idea that survivors survive. The
words do not define natural selection. Rather, "the survival of the
fittest" is more of a catchphrase or an epigram that states an
essential idea in natural selection.

[NEW]Consider a rudimentary example of a natural selection process:

1. Some animals in a species have an advantageous trait; for
example, they can run faster.

2. Hence, they are more likely to outrun predators.

3. Hence, they are likely to live longer.

4. Hence, they are more likely to have offspring.

5. Their offspring inherit the advantageous trait.

6. The process repeats; go back to 1.

[NEW]The result is that the number of animals with this advantageous
trait is likely to increase. The reverse is true of animals without
the trait (i.e., they are less likely to survive until they can
reproduce).

[NEW]Life evolves. Some creatures become more prevalent, others less
prevalent. Some traits become more common, others less common.
Changes in the environment, e.g., climate changes, new competitors,
disappearing food sources, and so on, propels this evolution.
Evolution is a complex process. You can't reduce an explanation of
this evolution to just three words. "Survival of the fittest" when
used as a name for "natural selection" is not a tautology.

[UNCHANGED]It is worth noting that, even though the 'tautology
argument' is supposed to demonstrate that evolution is untestable,
there is widespread agreement that, at least, microevolution is
testable. Phillip Johnson, no friend of Darwinism, writes that
"...everyone agrees that microevolution occurs, including
creationists" (Darwin on Trial, page 68). People who try to breed
faster horses or to breed smaller dogs (e.g., to create cute, tiny
pets for city dwellers) or to breed more productive strains of wheat
are all, in effect, testing the theory of natural selection. Examples
of natural selection in nature include the peppered moth and the
finches of the Galapagos Islands. (For evidence that macroevolution
is testable, see 29 Evidences for Macroevolution.)

[Remaining paragraphs unchanged]

John S. Wilkins

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Aug 10, 2009, 6:42:59 AM8/10/09
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ivar <ylvi...@verizon.net> wrote:

I was thinking that we need to define "tautology" and why it is
problematic, if it is. What do you think?

ivar

unread,
Aug 10, 2009, 6:53:34 AM8/10/09
to
A few comments on my choice of words may be helpful.

I am assuming that the the important target audience is two kinds of
individuals:

a.) One is someone who knows little of biology, whose biases are
religious, who has heard or read that Darwin's evolution is a fraud
because it is a tautology, and who wants to investigate whether this
is true.

b.) The second is a person who finds the arguments for evolution
compelling and who is looking for words to use to explain to someone
like the person above that evolution really is rational.

The objective is limited to explaining why the tautology is wrong.
The objective is not to educate people about the theory of evolution
or about natural selection or about the philosophy of biology except
insofar as this is necessary to explain why the tautology is wrong.

Insofar as possible, the explanation should appeal to everyday common
sense. Jargon is bad because the target reader won't understand it.
And, it isn't obvious to me that the target reader needs to understand
the details of what a modern biologist means by "fitness."

I am dubious that discussions about the nuances of tautology as a
concept are a good idea. They can leave some readers half convinced
but suspicious that they have just been conned by an argument similar
to those used to explain how 2 + 2 = 3.

Ivar

Burkhard

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Aug 10, 2009, 7:29:46 AM8/10/09
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On Aug 10, 11:42 am, j...@wilkins.id.au (John S. Wilkins) wrote:
> >http://darwin-online.org.uk/content/frameset?viewtype=side&itemID=F38...

> > eseq=121
>
> > Ivar
>
> I was thinking that we need to define "tautology" and why it is
> problematic, if it is. What do you think?
> --
> John S. Wilkins, Philosophy, University of Sydneyhttp://evolvingthoughts.net

> But al be that he was a philosophre,
> Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre

I would tend to agree. People who come to the FAQ will typically have
read the "tautology" claim (which are sometimes, though not always
based on a misunderstanding what a tautology actually _is_ - just see
backspace).

If the answer does not clear this up and addresses the issue head on,
they might feel that it is not addressing point and tries to "weasel
out"

ivar

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Aug 10, 2009, 7:35:34 AM8/10/09
to
> I was thinking that we need to define "tautology" and why it is
> problematic, if it is. What do you think?
> --
> John S. Wilkins, Philosophy, University of Sydneyhttp://evolvingthoughts.net

> But al be that he was a philosophre,
> Yet hadde he but litel gold in cofre

It has occurred to me that these words at the beginning of the FAQ
page are, perhaps, too simple and that the page might be easier to
understand if they were fleshed out some.

"The simple version of the so-called 'tautology argument' is this:

Natural selection is the survival of the fittest. The fittest are
those that survive. Therefore, evolution by natural selection is a
tautology (a circular definition). "

Ivar

John S. Wilkins

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Aug 10, 2009, 7:39:10 AM8/10/09
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Burkhard <b.sc...@ed.ac.uk> wrote:

> I would tend to agree. People who come to the FAQ will typically have
> read the "tautology" claim (which are sometimes, though not always
> based on a misunderstanding what a tautology actually _is_ - just see
> backspace).
>
> If the answer does not clear this up and addresses the issue head on,
> they might feel that it is not addressing point and tries to "weasel
> out"

[New introductory paragraph]
A tautology is saying the same thing over twice, repeatedly. In other
words, it's using unnecessary words. In logic, a tautology is a
statement that is true by definition, like "a bachelor is an unmarried
man". Tautologies are not falsehoods, therefore, but they can be
uninformative. If an explanation uses a tautology, then understanding
has not been advanced: a famous example is in the play "The Invalid" by
Moliere, in which ignorant doctors explain why opium makes you sleepy by
saying, it has a "dormative virtue", which is a fancy way of saying that
it makes you sleepy.

When people say that natural selection is a tautology, they mean that
there is no explanation there, just repetition of ideas. This is what
this article argues is wrong.
[end]

John S. Wilkins

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Aug 10, 2009, 7:44:25 AM8/10/09
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ivar <ylvi...@verizon.net> wrote:

Does the new paragraph I just posted work with these words?

TomS

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Aug 10, 2009, 7:56:42 AM8/10/09
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"On Mon, 10 Aug 2009 21:39:10 +1000, in article
<1j4959c.v2e0uscm39d0N%jo...@wilkins.id.au>, John S. Wilkins stated..."

I don't know whether it would be a good idea to note that not all
tautologies are uninformative. A tautology can serve to call one's
attention to something which should be obvious. A tautology can be
*part* of a non-tautologous, informative discourse.

Friar Broccoli

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Aug 10, 2009, 8:25:06 AM8/10/09
to

I think this is bad because it again confuses "natural selection"
with "survival of the fittest". It is "survival of the fittest" that
is
accuses of being a tautology, not "natural selection". (The charge
against "natural selection" is a different one, that there is no one
to do any selecting)

Friar Broccoli

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Aug 10, 2009, 8:38:10 AM8/10/09
to
On Aug 10, 4:42 am, nos...@de-ster.demon.nl (J. J. Lodder) wrote:

The above left me very confused (my normal state).

You said what "fitness" is not, but not what it is.
Or perhaps you are saying it is meaningless and
therefore that SoF really is a tautology?

Friar Broccoli

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Aug 10, 2009, 8:47:31 AM8/10/09
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On Aug 10, 7:39 am, j...@wilkins.id.au (John S. Wilkins) wrote:

So you have to say it four times then?

> In other
> words, it's using unnecessary words. In logic, a tautology is a
> statement that is true by definition, like "a bachelor is an unmarried
> man". Tautologies are not falsehoods, therefore, but they can be
> uninformative. If an explanation uses a tautology, then understanding
> has not been advanced: a famous example is in the play "The Invalid" by
> Moliere, in which ignorant doctors explain why opium makes you sleepy by
> saying, it has a "dormative virtue", which is a fancy way of saying that
> it makes you sleepy.
>
> When people say that natural selection is a tautology, they mean that
> there is no explanation there, just repetition of ideas. This is what
> this article argues is wrong.

It may be possible to improve the wording, but I agree that
something very close to this needs to be near the beginning.

John S. Wilkins

unread,
Aug 10, 2009, 9:20:33 AM8/10/09
to
Friar Broccoli <eli...@gmail.com> wrote:

> > > > >38... eseq=121


> >
> > > > > Ivar
> >
> > > > I was thinking that we need to define "tautology" and why it is
> > > > problematic, if it is. What do you think?
> >
> > > I would tend to agree. People who come to the FAQ will typically have
> > > read the "tautology" claim (which are sometimes, though not always
> > > based on a misunderstanding what a tautology actually _is_ - just see
> > > backspace).
> >
> > > If the answer does not clear this up and addresses the issue head on,
> > > they might feel that it is not addressing point and tries to "weasel
> > > out"
> >
> > [New introductory paragraph]
> > A tautology is saying the same thing over twice, repeatedly.
>
> So you have to say it four times then?

Pleonastically.


>
> > In other
> > words, it's using unnecessary words. In logic, a tautology is a
> > statement that is true by definition, like "a bachelor is an unmarried
> > man". Tautologies are not falsehoods, therefore, but they can be
> > uninformative. If an explanation uses a tautology, then understanding
> > has not been advanced: a famous example is in the play "The Invalid" by
> > Moliere, in which ignorant doctors explain why opium makes you sleepy by
> > saying, it has a "dormative virtue", which is a fancy way of saying that
> > it makes you sleepy.
> >
> > When people say that natural selection is a tautology, they mean that
> > there is no explanation there, just repetition of ideas. This is what
> > this article argues is wrong.
>
> It may be possible to improve the wording, but I agree that
> something very close to this needs to be near the beginning.

Have at it then!

Friar Broccoli

unread,
Aug 10, 2009, 9:56:40 AM8/10/09
to
On Aug 10, 6:53 am, ivar <ylvis...@verizon.net> wrote:
> A few comments on my choice of words may be helpful.
>
> I am assuming that the the important target audience is two kinds of
> individuals:
>
> a.) One is someone who knows little of biology, whose biases are
> religious, who has heard or read that Darwin's evolution is a fraud
> because it is a tautology, and who wants to investigate whether this
> is true.
>
> b.) The second is a person who finds the arguments for evolution
> compelling and who is looking for words to use to explain to someone
> like the person above that evolution really is rational.

It is my BELIEF, that 90%+ of your audience will be "b" after
getting into an argument with a creationist.

> The objective is limited to explaining why the tautology is wrong.
> The objective is not to educate people about the theory of evolution
> or about natural selection or about the philosophy of biology except
> insofar as this is necessary to explain why the tautology is wrong.
>
> Insofar as possible, the explanation should appeal to everyday common
> sense. Jargon is bad because the target reader won't understand it.
> And, it isn't obvious to me that the target reader needs to understand
> the details of what a modern biologist means by "fitness."

At this point, I am still not even clear that "fitness" is not
defined as the characteristics of those that "survive" and thus
that SoF may, as a practical matter, be a tautology.

How can you explain to me that "fitness" is NOT defined this
way if you cannot tell me (at least in general terms) what
"fitness" IS?

> I am dubious that discussions about the nuances of tautology as a
> concept are a good idea. They can leave some readers half convinced
> but suspicious that they have just been conned by an argument similar
> to those used to explain how 2 + 2 = 3.

If the argument is clear and compelling creationists will
believe they have been conned, no matter what. All we can do,
is do our best to put all our cards face up on the table.

Friar Broccoli

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Aug 10, 2009, 10:05:30 AM8/10/09
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On Aug 10, 9:20 am, j...@wilkins.id.au (John S. Wilkins) wrote:

I prefer to wait to trim the hedge and pull weeds until after
the lawn and walkway are in.

Walter Bushell

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Aug 10, 2009, 10:58:59 AM8/10/09
to
In article <1j4959c.v2e0uscm39d0N%jo...@wilkins.id.au>,

And all of mathematics is tautological.

el cid

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Aug 10, 2009, 11:05:34 AM8/10/09
to elcid...@gmail.com
On Aug 10, 7:39 am, j...@wilkins.id.au (John S. Wilkins) wrote:

> Burkhard <b.scha...@ed.ac.uk> wrote:
> > On Aug 10, 11:42 am, j...@wilkins.id.au (John S. Wilkins) wrote:


> > > I was thinking that we need to define "tautology" and why it is
> > > problematic, if it is. What do you think?

Yes yes * 1000.

> > I would tend to agree. People who come to the FAQ will typically have
> > read the "tautology" claim (which are sometimes, though not always
> > based on a misunderstanding what a  tautology actually _is_ - just see
> > backspace).
>
> > If the answer does not clear this up and addresses the issue head on,
> > they might feel that it is not addressing point and tries to "weasel
> > out"

> [New introductory paragraph]
> A tautology is saying the same thing over twice, repeatedly. In other
> words, it's using unnecessary words.

No no.

> In logic, a tautology is a
> statement that is true by definition, like "a bachelor is an unmarried
> man". Tautologies are not falsehoods, therefore, but they can be
> uninformative. If an explanation uses a tautology, then understanding
> has not been advanced: a famous example is in the play "The Invalid" by
> Moliere, in which ignorant doctors explain why opium makes you sleepy by
> saying, it has a "dormative virtue", which is a fancy way of saying that
> it makes you sleepy.
>
> When people say that natural selection is a tautology, they mean that
> there is no explanation there, just repetition of ideas. This is what
> this article argues is wrong.
> [end]

What is the purpose of this FAQ?

I think it is that there exists arguments against evolution that
claim it is a tautology and therefore is invalid. An example
of the argument should be included. I provided one earlier from
the rather recent work by the moral degenerate Ann Coulter in
her Godless book. It's an appropriate strawman to tear down.

Q: What is the tautology argument against evolution?
[[ find one or more that suit ]]

Q: What is a tautology?

A: Examples
All unmarried men are bachelors.
All bachelors are unmarried men.

A: Tautologies defined
Stolen from http://members.iinet.net.au/~sejones/PoE/pe02phl3.html#lgclprblmstlgy
A tautology is a statement that is "true by definition,
true by the meanings of words, true by the use of
syntactical elements" but "give no information about
the world" (Fearnside & Holther, 1959, p.137). "It is
this lack of material content that is referred to when
it is said that such truth is tautological or trivial."
(Fearnside & Holther, 1959, p.137).

Q OK, so what?
Tautologies are fine as definitions, but not as testable
scientific statements-there can be nothing to test in a
statement true by definition.)" (Gould, 1978, p.40)

Q OK, yeah, and so what about Evolution. Is it a tautology?

A: First we have to break down what we mean by evolution
and in particular what we mean by Natural Selection and
and what we mean by Survival of the Fittest.

The theory of evolution is more than just Natural Selection.
Natural selection is one of the mechanisms working within
the theory of evolution. Natural Selection begins with a
set of observations about reproducing organisms and
develops some logical consequences. Survival of the
Fittest is one of the observations within Natural
Selection.

[Expand, briefly, evolution]
[modern synthesis, includes NS, incorporates population
genetics, includes natural history]

[Expand NS]
Observation 1 Populations of organisms tend to produce more offspring
than
survive to reproduce in the next generation.

Observation 2 Variation is usually observed to exist in each
generation.

Observation 3 Some of the variation produces individuals with
competitive
advantages over their peers.

Observation 4 Some of these advantageous traits are inheritable.

Deduction 1 Competition among peers will favor those individuals with
advantageous traits.

Deduction 2 Those individuals with advantageous traits will tend to
produce more offspring.

Deduction 3 Subsequent generations will have a higher proportion
of the inheritable traits that provide a competitive advantage.

There are no tautologies in this formulation of Natural Selection.
[Darwin Scholars might add some of his words]

[I find it interesting that you can explain NS in simpler terms,
using a tautologous formualtion of SoF, making
me wonder about the claims of tautologies being useless. I do
this below ]

Q What about Survival of the Fittest?

A Survival of the Fittest is the bumper-sticker version of the
theory of Natural Selection. It does not cover all of the
theory of evolution. It focuses on a deduction 1 of the
logical argument presented above and assumes that the rest of
it is obvious (which it mostly is but not being explicit about
obvious things often leads to confusion). So another way to
present natural selection is to say:

A. Organisms show variation.

B. The fittest are more likely to survive to produce
more offspring. (Survival of the Fittest)

C. Fitness will increase in successive generation.

Q. Is that statement of Survival of the Fittest a Tautology?

A. Lets compare it to the statement about bachelors and
married men.

The fittest are more likely to survive to produce more
offspring.
The more likely to survive and produce more offspring
are the fittest.

Hmmm. It looks like a tautology that defines "fitness".
Let's try it out in C above.

C'. 'The more likely to survive and produce more offspring'
will increase in subsequent generations.

Yes, the substitution works as fitness is being defined
in statement B. There are some subtle arguments here about
probabilities but for most intents and purposes, this
statement of survival of the fittest is a tautology.

Q. Isn't that a problem if you define fitness that way?

A. No. In fact, population genetics has a formal
variable called fitness which is measured by the proportion
of a trait that survives in the next generation. So
it isn't a problem, it is part of turning the theory
of natural selection into a mathematical model.

Q. But if it is a tautology, isn't that bad?

A. Not if we are careful with the word _fitness_.

We are just getting a new meaning for this
word _fitness_ to take the place of many words.
It is a technical usage.

The confusing part is that there are already meanings
people use for the word fitness and in particular
the meaning people associate with physical fitness.

The physical fitness meaning is often a good match
to the intuitive sense of a reproductive advantage.
It is often used in examples of a faster rabbit
outrunning a fox or a stronger walrus gathering
a larger harem.

But being stronger and more muscular may not always
be the biggest advantage for an organism so sometimes
physically fit doesn't match to evolutionarily fit.

A simple example is that building muscles instead
of fat doesn't help if you need to survive through
a snowy winter with little food. Muscles consume
energy but fat provides it.

An important lesson about the technical definition
of fitness is that it depends on the environment
an organisms lives it and what competitive challenges
it faces.

Fitness is still a good word but everybody,
especially evolutionary biologists, needs to
be careful not to confuse the technical definition
of fitness with more casual meaning.