Once life first formed as a single celled organism deep in Earth's geologic past, what Charles Darwin called natural selection naturally took off and took over. Religious Jews, Christians, and Muslims do not have a true understanding of evolution, natural selection, and survival of the fittest in the same way that biologists understand them.
In a nutshell, sometimes a DNA double helix does not make a perfect copy of itself, and instead creates a mutant copy of itself, a mutation. DNA frequently makes imperfect copies of itself, mutations. If the mutation confers some kind of increased survival chances, so that it successfully mates before it dies, that is survival of the fittest, because if a mutation has survival benefit, it will give an organism in it's particular environment,  advantage over competing members of the same species, and it will be more likely to pass it's genes to it's offspring, and the beneficial mutation will spread to larger numbers of it's own progeny. Those members of a colony that don't have the beneficial mutation will dwindle and finally die out.
If a mutation is neutral it will neither add to nor subtract from an organisms chances of passing along its DNA. The term survival of the fittest simply means those more suited to their environment because of genetic drift in the DNA, and the organism will be able to out compete competition, and pass its beneficial mutation to all its offspring.
Victor J. Stenger has said that a better way of saying natural selection is environmental sifting. Evolution is not the work of an intelligent designer, it is the work of the environment. When an environment is relatively stable not much evolutionary change takes place. But if an environment starts to destabilize, maybe by getting colder or hotter, or having reduced resources due to overpopulation, such conditions drive evolutionary change. It's a random, accidental process, unguided, unintelligent.
Many Christians are sure to point out that science has yet to explain how life arose from organic and inorganic chemicals in the first place if it wasn't intentionally created.
How might life had first arose without a Creator ?
It is a known scientific fact that in an opened system such as our solar system, where Earth constantly receives energy from the Sun, the Second law of thermodynamics (increasing disorder), i.e., entropy, can be largely reversed as long as our energy source, the Sun, keeps supplying energy to the Earth.
There are plausible explanations of how life might have arose from simple compounds that do not violate any of the known "laws" of physics. One such hypothesis could be that early in Earth's geologic prehistory the Earth was pitted with hot springs and pools, all of them filled with liquid water full of chemical compounds that continuously combined and recombined, becoming progressively more ordered, and when it reached a certain level of complexity it made the jump from non-life to life.
As long as Earth receives energy from the Sun, the law of entropy (increasing disorder) is largely reversed. With energy input disorder and chaos will, over time, assemble itself into complex order.

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My contribution to pedantry:  Perhaps the term "survival of the fittest" is not precise.  It implies an absolute which, as far as I can tell, is not something that exists in nature.  Might something like "survival of the fit" or "fit enough" work better?  Organisms can be far from the theoretical pinnacle of "fitness", and still reproduce quite successfully unless their environment is so saturated that only the very most fit survive long enough to reproduce.  I'm no biologist, but it seems to me that variation in "fitness" is the norm.

I go outside for a piss and see two wild muscadine vines.  One has buds already, and the other doesn't.  I recall from years past that the two have very slightly differently shaped leaves and different size & timing of fruit.  Neither seems "most fit" for the environment, but each is apparently fit enough to continue, and they may eventually diverge enough to cross the arbitrary line of speciation.  It seems to me that if only the "fittest" survive, speciation would be linear, at least within a locale, rather than distributed, as appears to be the case.

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Interesting point. Yes, fittest isn't quite perfect here, although the fact that organisms must compete means that fittest of the competitors works instead of fittest possible. Over the short term, fitness may not be as important as luck, but over the long term (many generations), fitness starts to bite. And then, of course, the changing environment changes the meaning of fitness.

Another fine point: we must remember that the real test is the ability to get one's genes into the overall gene pool. In some cases, altruism can achieve this better than competition. The bee that sacrifices its life while stinging an invader isn't very fit herself, but her genes achieve more because of that altruism.

Chris: 

"Another fine point: we must remember that the real test is the ability to get one's genes into the overall gene pool. In some cases, altruism can achieve this better than competition. The bee that sacrifices its life while stinging an invader isn't very fit herself, but her genes achieve more because of that altruism."

Everyone here is so intelligent. I am so glad I found Atheist Nexus.

It reminds me sadly that the Catholic and Muslim religious do all they can to expand their gene pool--and then try to foist their religions on the children. Maybe the non religious should be doing the same. I brought up three atheist children--but am beginning to think that my wife and I should perhaps have had more offspring. 

Problem with that, Terry, is sustaining all that extra population.  We're having a rough time keeping our logistical heads above water with seven billion people as it is.  I'm beginning to wonder if ZPG is an idea worth considering.

As you observe, though, the muslims and catholics don't want to be bothered ... but then, they don't appear to be interested in being responsible with the planet, either.

Ted:

"Perhaps the term "survival of the fittest" is not precise... Might something like "survival of the fit" or "fit enough" work better?"

Good point man, and well said. 

"Survival of the fittest' is terminology that appeals to the macho, patriarchal view of history and evolution.  The proper term should be 'survival of the most adaptable.'  That is to say, survival of those genetic strains that are more likely to change as environmental situations change around them.

The reed bends with the wind and survives.  The mighty oak refuses to bend and is broken and dies.

To use a phrase attributed to the mythological Christ:

"The meek shall inherit the earth."

Philip:

I still think, though, that survival of the fittest expresses an evolutionary idea, viz., those made more fit to survive in a changing environment by beneficial mutations are more likely to live long enough to pass their genes to their offspring.

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