How does “survival of the fittest” work with the Bible?

Good point. But from a secular position on prenatal testing of diseases or disability before birth, or even the elderly - you could draw the conclusion that survival of the fittest is a mentality for some not for others. Hence believers see the disabled and elderly differently, as would some secularists.

Thank you for your response.
Again it seems to me that we are talking past each other. I am talking about survival of the fittest as the struggle for life where the “strong” win over the weak, as Darwin understood it. This chart proves, if I understand it right, that some combinations of genes do better than others. That does not indicate that survival of the fittest is true, but only that for some reason that some combination of genes do better than others. If there is more to this than that, please explain.

but selection acts on that variation in a very non-random way: genetic variants that aid survival and reproduction are much more likely to become common than variants that don’t. Natural selection is not random!

A population undergoes random mutation and non-random selection\ 469x105
A population of organisms undergoes random mutation and non-random selection. The result is non-random evolutionary change.

This scholarly website does not agree with you that natural selection and evolution is random.

I am afraid that you are confused. Symbiosis does not refer to any type of interaction between organisms. Symbiosis | Definition of Symbiosis by Merriam-Webster /dictionary/ symbiosis

Symbiosis was adopted by the scientific community in the late 1800s, though it had appeared in English in a non-scientific sense as far back as 1622. When a biological symbiosis is mutually beneficial, it is termed “mutualism.”

Predation, which includes animals eating plants, which you and others seem to confuse with “competition,” is a form of predation. Predation is mutually beneficial to both species involved so it is not the kind of competition that Spencer has in mind when he coinwed the phrase Survival of the fittest, and Darwin accepted this concept.

You seem to agree that there are some problems with Survival of the fittest, but you find that it is a good enough explanation for you. I am glad that Einstein was not satisfied with Newton’s explanation of how gravity worked so that he felt compelled to find a better explanation of how it worked. I do not compare myself to old Albert, but think that his example is the way those who consider themselves part of the scientific tradition of truth seeking need to follow.

But “general biological pattern” is not “moral imperative”.@p

You misunderstand the issue so you misunderstand my position. For the record, Jesus said, Matthew 6:26 (NIV2011)

26 “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?”

Jesus said that the way of nature was not of want, but of sufficiency for all. In other words he is saying that survival of the fittest is wrong morally and biologically. I hope that you know the difference between a zero sum game and a non-zero sum game.

A zero sum game is where the total amount of goods is fixed. This encourages people to get as much as they can and not to share. But Jesus taught that life is not a zero sum game, because we can expand the amount of goods available if we share. If there is a shortage of toilet paper, so everyone buys as much as they can, there will not be enough for all. But if everyone buys as much as they need, there will be enough for almost everyone until more is available. Many studies show that it benefits all if people pool their resources rather than hoard or monopolize out of fear and greed.

If Jesus gave us bad advice not to worry because He misunderstood how nature works, that would be a problem, but He did not give us bas advice because He knows how nature works better than Darwin and Malthus, from whom Darwin get this idea.

The moral imperative not to worry is based on the abundance of God creation, which Darwin made into a shortage. It also means that we need to share with others because we trust God to take care of our needs. It means that we must live by the Truth as far as we can discover it, not by myths which are not based on facts.

What it shows is that deleterious mutations are selected against in functional sequence. These are mutations that make the carrier less fit. It verifies selection of the fittest.

Thanks for your question, David (have we met before?). Sorry, no time to reply right now. You’ll find a few of my thoughts about this topic in the paper linked below from 2010, in case it helps.

Current work on human extension and trans-evolutionary social thinking in review, revise, soon submit or resubmit stage.

From your link:

Definition of symbiosis

1 : the living together in more or less intimate association or close union of two dissimilar organisms

So white is black?

Survival of the fittest is indeed not a very accurate description of all of evolution; again, that is why I describe it as survival of the fit enough. The role of such direct competition is often exaggerated, because it sounds more exciting and because it fits with bad misapplications of evolution to social agendas such as social Darwinism. There is much competition happening in nature. For example, fighting over space in a coral reef is vigorous, with organisms stinging, poisoning, and growing over each other. But also there is indirect competition of different strategies. Do you grow big and up and out like a tree or spread out short like grass? There are many tradeoffs; organisms that have an adequate strategy survive. It’s not a zero sum game, but there are limits. As you note, if everyone grabs all that they can, there will be competition. The earth’s resources are limited, and we need to be good stewards of them. Likewise, an organism that becomes out of balance with its environment can cause problems (such as invasive species). Predation involves competition between predator and prey (the arms race between weapons and defenses) as well as between predator and predator (they can’t both eat the same bite) and prey and prey (like the joke that you can stay safe from bears by always hiking with someone slower than you.) At the species level, predation can promote balance in an ecosystem, but that balance is maintained in part by competition.

The flour beetle (Tribolium) studies that I mentioned earlier would be a lab example of direct competition in evolution.

The definition that you quote identifies mutalism as one type of symbiosis, which is what I said. But parasitism is another example of symbiosis that fits the definition that you quote, as is predation (which is not good for the individual getting eaten), or competition, or antagonism (one species is harmed and the other not affected).

Certainly the Bible teaches that we should not have the “look out for number one” attitude of competitiveness. But there are plenty of things that various animals do that are not good examples for us; the lazy person considering the ant is not being wise if he decides to get his living by raiding picnics, or to live in a hole in the ground, or to try to grow six legs, or to enslave others as some ants do.

I believe you were involved in the old ASA email list. If Randy is defining social evolution broadly as “evolution of societies” (including not just human societies but also social insects and other animals), then there certainly is significant altruism and cooperation (although animal altruism can generally fall under kin selection - helping relatives and thus advancing one’s genes - or reciprocal). Sociopolitical agendas that claim to be inspired by evolution are typically selfish, proclaiming that everyone should altruistically sacrifice their interests for the benefit of those promoting the sociopolitical agenda. Altruism and cooperation tend to be rather lacking in the proponents of such schemes. But development of human societies does require cooperation and altruism in order to build the relationships basic to societies.

Thanks David, yes, I do recall you from there too, positively if memory serves correctly from more than 10 years ago. Glad to see you here at BioLogos!

“there certainly is significant altruism and cooperation”

Yes, indeed. This was what I did not discover and was not taught in my N. American education (west coast of Canada). There just weren’t any “theories” available for an “evolutionary” scenario that didn’t fall somewhere into the Hobbes-Malthus-Darwin (plus Wallace, who then turn away from Darwin re: humanity) spectrum. That’s a spectrum that when referring to “human change over time” is imho simply poisonous. Even most of the religious philosophers in N. America had basically swallowed the “evolutionary” meta-narrative, so I needed to look elsewhere.

In case you may recall, the last time we encountered each others’ communication, I was in Russia finishing graduate school. There I discovered the source for the “altruism and cooperation” thinking that you speak of above. It’s from the combination of Karl Fedorovitch Kessler and later, Pyotr Alexeyevich Kropotkin, in the notion of vzaimopomosh or “mutual aid”. Darwinians (cf. 100 years+ outdated thinkers & scientists) who speak of “altruism & cooperation” nowadays, yet without the Kessler-Kropotkin tradition, are usually just wasting the airspace of the conversation, as they simply haven’t done the groundwork needed to understand the supra-national territory of the topic involved.

My book on Evolutionary, Neo-Evolutionary, and Trans-Evolutionary Sociologies is through the first review phase. I reject “social evolution” as a misnomer, a poor concept transfer from biology to society. We can not only get rid of the “survival of the fittest” metaphor from Spencer, which Darwin reluctantly adopted later, as he cooled to the metaphor of “natural selection” as too anthropomorphic (which later caused the split with Wallace, who chose “human selection”, making a clear and key break with Darwin, which many biologists today still don’t even know happened), but also embrace a rich tradition of thought that doesn’t falter on whether or not it “might be” teleological or directed.

The notion of “human extension” is inherently teleological, it implies direction in it’s most simple linguistic expression. This overcomes “evolution” in social sciences and humanities by inserting teleological thinking, where non-teleological evolutionary thinking was failing to come up with answers or solutions to our most pressing problems. E.g. covid-19 is almost entirely a question of “extension”, not of “evolution” (although mutations could become more of a factor). And for the Protestant sola scripturists, it is in the Bible too.

You have said it as well as can be done:

“development of human societies does require cooperation and altruism in order to build the relationships basic to societies.”

Absolutely no need for any “evolutionary” theory of anything once one leaves the biological realm and enters the (largely, but not entirely) “teleological” realm of human existence. We’re then “not in Kansas (biology) anymore” and must turn to different tools of understanding and interpretation. Indeed, new vocabulary is then required and should be welcome, as to be expected when switching realms from natural science to philosophy and theology.

Thanks for spurring these thoughts, David.

Have you ever studied ecology? I know that ecology only became popular after I graduated so maybe you did not take it in college. however, if you took ecology you would understand that what you call competition is called by science “symbiosis.” Symbiosis is the way that Nature or God maximizes the resources available so that all biota can benefit from them. It is the opposite of survival of the fittest, which is everyone for themselves.

The impact of survival of the fittest, or the fit, can be clearly seen in the world today. Many people are not willing to change or sacrifice some for the sake of the common good, because they are afraid they will lose out. They believe that they have some God given right to do what they want to do even though it is clear that many are endangered.

“The flour beetle (Tribolium) studies that I mentioned earlier would be a lab example of direct competition in evolution.” @paleomalacologist
Somehow I missed it so I did a search and came up with the information below.

Polygyny and fertilization success[edit]

In red flour beetles, males are known to engage in polygamous behavior. Research largely shows that Male red flour beetles engage in polygamous behavior to avoid inbreeding depression, especially when there is competition from other males. There is a higher fertilization success in out-bred males when they compete with inbred males to fertilize the same female.[12]

In polygamous beetles, the male that last fertilizes the female ends up having a higher fertilization success. Polygamy can thus be seen as an evolutionary result as males compete to be the last to fertilize the female’s egg and contribute more to the next generation. Sperm precedence is thus a means of evolutionary competition through which the males try to achieve greater reproductive success.[13]

Even though the word competition is used here it is hard for me to see how the beetles could compete to be last, to be first, yes, to be last, no. It reminds me of the words of Jesus: “The first will be last and the last will be first,” but there is no indication that people compete to be last. This instead appears to be a method utilized by Nature, i.e. God, to prevent an ingrown species by randomizing the germ pool.

However, offspring fitness is not related to the ability of the males to attract females.[7] In other words, just because a male reproduced more often due to increased ability to attract females, does not necessarily mean the offspring have inherited the traits that result in increased fitness.[7]

Predation is a form of symbiosis because it is good for both species. Humans are predators. We eat meat, fish, vegetables, etc., but we also cultivate plants and give animals food, shelter, care, etc. We do NOT compete with cows for resources. We give resources to cows and they give us meat, milk, leather, etc. That is the difference between mutualism and “competition.”

Competition and antagonism are not a part of symbiosis. As far as I can tell they are non-existent or almost non-existent. Parasites that seriously damage their hosts might be an exception to the rule, but they seem to be rare and do not involve competition. Humans have trillions of symbiotic microbes living in them and on them, and are important to their survival, but do not have their DNA. They are totally dependent upon humans for their existence, so they are parasitic.

God made humans through evolution just as God made all of the other flora and fauna. God told humans: Genesis 1:28 (NIV2011)
28 “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.”

Humans could not fulfill the command unless they adapted the way the earth functions. In the same way all of the other biota could not fill the earth unless they evolved so they could fit their ecological niches on the earth. This God through evolution created a home for humans and many other biota on this special planet. Some people might not like the reference to God in this statement, but that is what the facts indicate.

So what’s symbiosis again?

sym- with, as in sympathy. biosis- life. Life along with others as opposed to life against others.

So why did you disagree with[, contradict] the definition you posted?

I’m not sure how effectively we can move away from the terminology of social “evolution”, though it is true that the word often leads to an excessively biological concept of social evolution (and often an inaccurately popularized version at that). Evolution defined simply as non-cyclic change over time is such a broad term that it applies to all sorts of things, which easily leads to confusion or misrepresentation. Of course, societies develop and change over time; in that sense, they do evolve. Some of the patterns of change in societies have some resemblances to some of the patterns in organisms. But not everything is a great match. Also, that tells us nothing about whether a pattern is desirable or ethical, just that it happens. My background is in biological evolution. What I have encountered of claims to apply biological evolution to social evolution almost always proves to be invoking evolution in support of views already held, with no real basis in the biology.

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We actually do compete some with cows. Because my house is there, that same area of land cannot also be a cow pasture. By eating grains, I am consuming food that could otherwise be eaten by cows. It is certainly true that we are not generally in very direct competition with them, but competition does exist.

I do have reasonable familiarity with ecology, both from taking and from teaching courses in biology and paleontology. You’ve got some good points, but your terminology is not exactly standard, and it causes confusion. Direct competition is certainly not the whole picture, and its role tends to be exaggerated in popular accounts of evolution. Certainly for humans, cooperative approaches are much more likely to be a good strategy, rather than cutthroat competition.

The flour beetles are popular lab animals, so there are several different studies on them. The direct competition comes from studies where two different but very similar species of flour beetle are put in the same lab enclosure and allowed to live through several generations. Over time, one species dies out, depending on the exact balance of conditions in the experiment. The beetles are forced into direct competition by the experiment. In nature, however, it tends to be a situation of species 1 doing better over here and species 2 doing better over there - they are competing, but not head to head - each has its own place.

The standard definition of symbiosis is any situation with a close interaction between two species, which includes competition and antagonism as well as mutualism, commensalism, parasitism, and others.

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First of all you way that the experiment does not replicate what takes place in nature, because they two kinds of beetles do not compete in nature. They each have their own niche in which they do fine, right? So the experiment is you take them out of their niches and put them into an artificial niche and sometimes one kind of beetle thrives and the other dies out and other times the second type thrives and the other dies out.

The important question here is Why the different responses to what appears to be the same situation? This is where to Nobel is won. My guess is that the situations are not the same as you have indicated. My guess because I do not have all the information is that Beetle A does better when the experiment more closely matches it ecological niche, and Beetle B thrives when the experiment more closely matches it niche.

The beetles are not competing, They are doing what ecology taught them to do, making the most of their environment in a unnatural situation. The experiments do not prove that species compete. It shows that symbiosis works for the good of the biosphere.

Now you say that the definition of symbiosis has been stretched so far that the word has become meaningless. That was not true the last time consulted the Wikipedia. It does not make sense to take a beautiful word and destroy it. Sympathy does not also mean antipathy. Symphony means harmony, not cacophony.

Now look I have asked for evidence that Natural Selection is based on conflict. You have come up with one example which proves the opposite. If that does not convince you and others, I don’t know what will, but I have gone this read before so my hopes are not that high.

On the other hand if you choose to think that symbiosis means survival of the fittest or conflict, I don’t see how to convince you otherwise. I guess I could quote reams of material from the Wikipedia, but if your mind is set, that is it for you.

Humans do not compete with cows in any significant way. Humans are wise enough to know that that if they do not share space and food with cows, they will not receive their milk and meat. Lions are endowed with wisdom by symbiosis to know that if they kill off all of their prey, there will be no food in the future. Sinful greedy, survival of the fittest humans do not follow these restraints. They want all they can get, even if it creates waste and pollution.

@paleomalacologist, David your “handle” indicates you study the evolution of mollusks. Do you find any evidence that mollusks do not change by adapting to their environment?

Yes, the experiment forces the competition to go to extremes, and that is rare in nature. Competition exists widely, but its role does get exaggerated. As the Wikipedia article on symbiosis ( states, competition is considered to be one type of symbiosis, so we’re stuck with the more literal meaning of “life together” no matter what the togetherness looks like. (Not that Wikipedia is overly reliable; it generally demonstrates that there is much justification of the Pharisee’s opinion of the crowd, but this particular entry does follow the standard biological definition of symbiosis.) Indeed, sinful and greedy humans often take a “compete by putting the other down” attitude. While that often works for getting ahead in the short term, overall in the long term it causes problems and thus is likely to be less fit than cooperating. The wisdom of not wiping out the prey is not internal to the lions, but rather is built into the broader system - which is what we should expect, biblically. Lions are just animals; evolution is just a pattern. To make sense of it and see what we need to know requires looking to God, not studying the details of what is merely a part of His creation. Studying the details of the creation has great practical use, but must be directed by wisdom.

Many mollusks show change by adapting to their environment. Others show little change, having found a stable environment and stuck with it. There is plenty of competition as part of the complex balances in the environment. Moving species to where they don’t belong throws off the balance, leading to problematic competition, such as the zebra mussels in the Great Lakes depleting the plankton and growing on other things.

I am sorry but you are reading that wrong, as it seems is @Klax. What the Wikipedia says is that competition is not a TYPE of symbiosis. At best competition is an aspect of symbiosis. It is Not the way symbiosis Natural Selection works as Darwin thought. Nor is conflict seen as an alternative strategy within symbiosis as people have claimed.

"The biologist Lynn Margulis, famous for her work on endosymbiosis, contended that symbiosis is a major driving force behind evolution. She considered Darwin’s notion of evolution, driven by competition, to be incomplete and claimed that evolution is strongly based on co-operation interaction, and mutual dependence among organisms. According to Margulis and her son [Dorion Sagan]
(, “Life did not take over the globe by combat, but by networking.”[58] This is a direct quote from the Wikipedia article on Symbiosis.

I agree with Lyn Margulis, except I would go farther and say that all evolution is driven by symbiosis, which is not the same as cooperation, which the human aspect of mutualism. This seems to be a radical claim, until one looks at how evolution really works in nature, where it makes sense. All this blather about my ideas being unscientific or anti-scientific is just that, blather. It has a strong grounding in good tested science.

[quote=“paleomalacologist, post:56, topic:44329”]
Many mollusks show change by adapting to their environment. Others show little change, having found a stable environment and stuck with it. There is plenty of competition as part of the complex balances in the environment. Moving species to where they don’t belong throws off the balance, leading to problematic competition, such as the zebra mussels in the Great Lakes depleting the plankton and growing on other things.

Let us move from the discussion of theory, that is symbiosis, to the facts as we know it. You say that mollusks change if their environment changes, but so not change if their environment does not change. That is not the way Darwin saw it or many scientists today see it at least in theory. They say that evolution is driven by genetic change which is independent of the environment. They seem to say that first comes genetic change, then a struggle to see which alleles will survive and which will not, based on the survival of the fittest.

My view is that first comes ecological change as you say, and then comes the competition if that is what you need to call it, but it is not so much against others, but in a common attempt to better adapt to the new environment or niche. Sexual sharing of genes makes possible the sharing of these adaptions with others of the same species, not the other way around as Dawkins says.

Invasive species throw off the balance of nature and are usually caused by the actions of humans, so they are in this way unnatural. They can se seen as the exceptions that prove the rule. We have the rabbits in Australia which had to be killed off by a pandemic disease introduced by humans. We have HIV which moved from Green Monkeys to human beings and is still a serious threat if not controlled by medication. You brought up Zebra Mussels… They are organisms that have been placed in different environments where there is not the checks and balances of their old environment.

Symbiosis is the process by which nature adapts biota to their environment. Some times this is not possible, so they go extinct and make room for new species. Humans are a excellent example.

Thank you for sharing in a responsible manner.

I haven’t said what symbiosis is, so I couldn’t have got it wrong.

You have.

As I pointed out explicitly.

You refuse to clarify the post in question.

Why is that?

In Darwin’s words:

"Your criticism on the double sense in which I have used Natural Selection is new to me and unanswerable; but my blunder has done no harm, for I do not believe that anyone excepting you has ever observed it. … I suppose you have read the last number of H. Spencer; I have been struck with astonishment at the prodigality of Original thought in it; but how unfortunate it is that it seems scarcely ever possible to discriminate between the direct effect of external influences & “the survival of the fittest”." (to Wallace 1866);query=“natural%20selection”;brand=default"survival+of+the+fittest"&tab=

I have, but you fail to accept it.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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