Evolution is not – and never has been – the “survival of the fittest”

I was listening to a Professor expounding on evolution on the radio and found his glib assertions about the “survival of the fittest” both irritating and lightweight. (A person who talks down to his audience or who is incapable of explaining his theses to a lay audience should never – I think – be allowed to become a “Professor”).

Evolution does not lead to the excellence of survival traits.

While the individuals of any species best fitted to survival will likely survive, they are not the only individuals to survive. All those not weak enough to perish will also survive. And if these individuals – who only just clear the survival stakes – are adept (or lucky) in the reproduction competition then it is their genes which are carried forward. And the resultant genes carried forward we call “evolution”.

Evolution is only the result of survival x reproduction. As the environment around the individual changes (climate, competition…), the traits that will permit survival will also change. If a species has a wide variety of traits available among its individuals then it is more likely that some individuals will survive in the changing conditions. If this variability of the available traits is insufficient to cope with the magnitude of the change that species will become extinct as all its individuals perish.

Those individuals who succeed best in the “fitness for survival” stakes are not necessarily those who reproduce most. And in the reproduction stakes it is the number of offspring that counts. As genetic studies are now showing the leading lion in a pride is not always the sole male producing offspring. Sneaky young lions from outside the pride and some of the lionesses who have roving eyes often succeed in cuckolding the dominant male. Even birds who were presumed to mate for life apparently have little flings on the side from time to time. Birds of Paradise who have the showiest and most colourful displays are not necessarily the strongest or the fastest but they are the most expert at getting their way with their ladies. The traits needed for individual survival are not necessarily those most suited to successful reproduction (number of offspring).

Survival is not of the “fittest” but of all those not weak enough to perish.

Evolution is thus controlled first by individuals who are just good enough to survive but –  more importantly – who excel at reproduction. 

Human society now sees to it – or tries to – that a lack of “fitness” of any kind is not a bar to either survival or reproduction. In consequence the evolution of humans will then be controlled by individuals in stories like these who – by any stretch of the imagination – are far from being the “fittest”:

  1. Father of 22 children by 11 women …
  2. Man who fathered THIRTY kids ….
  3.  ….. fathered up to 600 children through sperm bank ….. 

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