Hi all! I have a question about evolution. some people say that evolution is a bloody struggle for existence, the survival of the fittest and fittest. the second point of view says that there is a lot of cooperation, altruism and mutual assistance in evolution. which of these points of view is correct? thanks!
Hi, Alexey. Who says it can’t be some (or a lot) of both? As to “survival of the fittest” - that was more Herbert Spencer’s phrase than Darwin’s … perhaps “survival of the most successfully reproductive” is closer to the mark, but the mechanism still stands as a general concept without nitpicking at the technicalities too much.
There is a lot of understandable discomfort with the more Malthusian “life in competition” perspective which people then make great efforts (whether successfully or not) to refute. We like the altruism and cooperation narratives which we then (whether successfully or not) labor to demonstrate and highlight.
I think it fairly clearly demonstrated by now that reality has a whole lot of both.
Evolution depends on lots of factors, but ultimately for it to occur depends on passing characteristics down to the next generation. Being stronger, being smaller, being better at digesting the dominant food source, thicker fur, thinner fur, laying more eggs, being better parents, hiding your eggs better, and a thousand other things may be important. How an organism lives is far more meaningful than how they die.
Like Merv said, it is not one or the other, but both plus a lot of other factors also, including a little luck. We mammals are here largely because a big rock wiped out the dinosaurs.
People sometimes conflate conditions and causes. Evolution is just the change in allele frequencies in a population over time. So in that sense, it isn’t really a bloody struggle for existence. Organisms without blood who don’t kill anything to live still evolve. Evolution happens under various conditions and is driven by various causes. Some aspects are random (mutations, neutral drift). Many conditions and causes that drive evolutionary change are a complex web of relationships and effects. When the balance is disrupted by a change in some parts of the relationships and the system reestablishes an equilibrium of sorts.
@ARus Alexey, thank you for the excellent question, however you deserved better answers. The problem does not lie with those who responded, bur with the state of the science.
I begin with a clarification. Darwin described evolution is a process, which is based on two other processes, Variation, whereby genes change and new alleles are created; and Natural Selection, whereby alleles, are selected in or out of evolutionary process.
Darwin also used the term "survival of the fittest’ to describe natural selection. He believed that it is caused by the fact that the number of fauna can grow much faster than the the growth of available resources. He theorized that this causes intense struggle between individuals for food and other resources and that the new genes of the winners of this struggle result in evolutionary change.
So far so good, but there is a problem. Darwin based survival of the fittest entirely on theory, but science demands evidence, and so far the evidence has not been forthcoming.
The most apparent conflict is between predator and prey, but that is not what natural selection is about. The lion and the zebra are not in conflict for food, because the lion does not eat grass. In the spring when the rains fall and grass is abundant, both the lions and zebras thrive. It is only later when the rain slows when both the lions and zebra suffer and the zebras suffer less than if their ranks had not been culled by the lions.
Thus the zebras benefit from the system of predation, which makes this a symbiotic relationship. “Sym” means together and 'biosis" means living, “living together” in a mutually beneficial relationship. This is not the same as cooperation, which is a human process, but clearly it is very similar. Cooperation, love is the human form of symbiosis, which we can accept or reject.
Another way of seeing how natural selection works is looking at the extinction of the dinosaurs. It is well established that the non-avian dinosaurs went extinct after ecological changes cooled the planet so that the lush plant life which was their food disappeared They died out slowly because the ecological niches they depended on disappeared, not because they are in competition with mammals. Mammals survived and eventually thrived because they were able to adapt and expand their habitat. God/nature created more diversity through the extinction of the dinosaurs, not less.
@ARus, I hope that this begins to answer your question. I know that it only skims the surface, so feel free to ask additional questions, because the nature of natural selection is a very important issue
Peace of Christ, Alexey!
From what I understand, there’s a little truth to the classical interpretation of Darwin’s theory; if raptors patrol the skies, I have no doubt that white mice living in a brown forest are likely to be eaten faster than they can reproduce! But at the same time, it isn’t as if their brown-furred contemporaries are actively trying to replace them, nor is it that the hawks want to annihilate the white mice; the brown mice are simply more successful than the white mice because they are much less likely to be spotted by birds of prey. The mice go about their business in the same place at the same time, it’s just that one group does it better.
Hope this helps!
Darwin’s work lacked nothing but Mendel’s units of heredity.
What I meant by that was the extremely aggressive “strong crushing the weak” portrayal people ascribed to the theory.
Nether or both.
The big trap in the survival of the fittest is that fit doesn’t have the traditional definition of fit. It gives the impression that its a competition to be the most successful species which it isn’t, it’s a fight to be as selfishly successful as possible.
This means their is a variety of strategies and interaction that will evolve.
Some do seem confrontational, like the relationships between predator and prey is largely a competition. Cheetahs need to run fast to catch gazelle and similarly gazelles need to run fast to get away from cheetahs, but in both cases the objective is not to have cheetahs be more successful than gazelles or vice versa, it is a pure selfish objective to be as successful as possible.
But in situation were two species can bring something the other doesn’t have improving resource collection, then it is in the best selfish interest of both species to collaborate and eventually form an inseparable symbiosis.
Sometimes it is the species best interest to give something a way, that is the reason plant produce nectar and fruit. It give animal and insects a selfish interest in passively carrying their seeds and pollen to new areas with more ressources.
This does also mean that their is a competition between two species for a same limited pool of ressources.
So sometimes it is a bloody struggle, sometimes their is cooperation and sometimes their is something that may look like altruism but is more similar to a salary than a free gift. Ultimately it is all selfishness, millions of selfish species interacting balancing ou in the environment.
The two possible paths that you have mentioned are not mutually exclusive. They are more like coined phrases focusing on different aspects of evolution. Convolution is a term used to describe how multiple species share some sort of system together. It’s ecology. It’s the milkweed and the monarch, the giant American ground sloth and the pawpaw fruit and its even on some ways may include domestication and how that affected earlier hunter gather tribes and wolves. There is also convergent evolution which is where multiple species, unrelated, share similar evolutionary morphological traits. That’s like sharks and dolphins.
Part of evolution , which is the byproduct of species passing on there genes to their offspring, is surviving. Some survive in ways that help them in their game with others. Such as deer are really fast , really quiet, and can easily go over thickets and streams that are 8 feet wide. Wolves are fast with lots of endurance, have razor sharp teeth and long claws that can sink into a animal and bring it down. The deer don’t really fight off predators. They run. They work as a group very different from how wolves work in a group. Deer are able to run pretty fast pretty quick and though mothers will dart off to draw attention the mostly rely on the fastest escaping while the slowest gets eaten. That as a byproduct over the years causes the fastest deer to have more surviving offspring because they don’t get eaten. Wolves as a pack hunt together. This behavior is seen in many predators. They learn that if they work together they can hunt bigger prey.
This same teamwork is seen in animals not considered predators like elephants and gorillas. Gorillas don’t really go out hunting down animals as a pack. Sometimes sure but usually not. Instead their teamwork is focused more on keeping safe. They look out for predators. They help raise their kids. The young males fight off other things sometimes. But typicslly you don’t see gorillas killing lions or snakes. They run from them. Though I think maybe there is evidence of them killing baby predators when they find them. I’m not sure though.
But either way you can see evolution is about surviving. But part of that surviving is also working as a team and some of these teams are predators and some are not and they typically operate differently. Compassion and protection is still important.
So the two things you mentioned are not at war with each other. They are complimentary.
…neutral drift (for probabilities).
I agree with most of the previous comments.
60 years ago the prevailing dogma was that competition is driving population fluctuations of mammals. This would mean that competition is the dominant factor in natural selection. Now the prevailing view is that competition is important but…
The first major shift from the dominance of the competition view was caused by observations that predation is often a more influential factor than competition. After that came the understanding that, in many cases, mutualism appears to be the most influential factor driving natural selection.
Competition and mutualism are apparently opposing strategies. Yet, the reality is more complicated. One hypothesis suggests that interactions between species vary from competition to mutualism depending on external conditions. In extreme environments, such as cold and windy areas, potentially competing species may have a mutualistic relationship. Also when predation risk or disturbances are extreme, the relationship may be mutualistic. Between these two extremes, the species compete.
One hypothesis is that major evolutionary leaps and evolutionary radiation happen when species are released from hard competition. Even substandard mutants can survive and reproduce if they don’t have to compete with stronger individuals. Such conditions are seen after major catastrophes, like after large space rocks hit earth. If true, this would mean that the speed of evolution is not high when there is a hard struggle for resources, rather the opposite.
One additional point. Natural selection is just one process in evolution. There is also sexual selection and neutral drift.
Note also that competition and “nature red in tooth and claw” (actually a pre-Darwin quote from Tennyson) are more likely to draw viewers to a nature show on TV and are easier to invoke to justify selfish social agendas than cooperation. Thus, popular presentations tend to be rather biased and inaccurate.
Environments are constantly changing and have multiple factors influencing each species, so there is not likely to be an actual “fittest”. The fit enough survive.
Charles, the problem with this scenario is How could the white mice get a toehold in the forest if they are easy prey? Indeed the white mice found in the labs are “albinos” bred specifically for that purpose, not to survive in nature.
What your example does point out flora and fauna are adapted to the ecological niche in which they live. If conditions in that niche as when the dinosaurs became extinct, the flora and fauna must either adapt or find a different more suitable place to live. Most dinosaur species died out, but the avian dinosaurs become birds and still exist, even though many species are now under threat once more because of the climate change.
Natural selection is based on the ability of flora and fauna to adapt to the ecology.
I am sorry, but this is a lie and a myth. It is a very dangerous myth at that. Indeed we are seeing how selfishness is coming very close and may succeed in destroying our great nation. I hope and pray that this well not happen, but it does not look good!
We see that selfishness has no morality. It lives on lies, cheating, and robbery, because it does not care about others only itself.
Some people say that nature is selfish or amoral, because they say that biota cannot think. While it true that biota do not think the way humans do, they do have nervous systems that enables them to interact with other biota and the environment. Biota interact. Indeed their future is dependent on their ability to adapt to their environment as opposed to those beings who are selfishly wrapped up on their own wants and feelings.
What you do have right is that our world is composed of billions of flora and fauna interacting with the environment that determines evolution and the character of our world. Now if you are looking for a constant here it is the environment, not the flora and fauna, which changes and this effects us, but we have been conditioned to think the opposite, that the flora and fauna are the source of change…
Please, folks, predation is NOT competition. Most of us humans are predators, right. We eat meat and even those who eat plants are eating other biota, but when we go to the supermarket we are not competing with chickens and cows, and potatoes for scarce resources.
The chickens we eat are the ones we breed, we shelter, and we feed. In a real sense we give the life. They would not exist except for us, while they provide humans with eggs and fried chicken, so we would have the food we want except for them.
Do chickens benefit if humans do not consume them? Not really. If humans do not buy chicken, farmers cannot afford to raise them, so everyone loses.
That is called symbiosis. Look it up if you doubt me. Not only that but there are trillions of symbiotic lifeforms which are not human, do not have our DNA , but live within and on our bodies, which are essential to our good health. They are not us, but they are needed by us while we feed and protect them. This is mutuality. These lifeforms are called symbiots.
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Mt 22:39, Mk 12:31, Lk 10:25. Jesus made it clear that people should love others AS they love themselves. Evolutionist have coined a word, altruism, which means loving others more than ourselves. They oppose altruism to selfishness meaning to love ourselves more than others. This of course is a false dichotomy, which leaves out Christian love, which includes self and others. It is also a trap because it opens the door for Christians to think that selfishness is good because it embraces self respect. It is also a lie because it paints Christians as altruistic, without respect for the self God gave us…
Evolution is a process which has been going on for millions of years. Survival cannot be its and our purpose, because being is not an end in itself. The only rational purpose for the universe is that it is a home or habitat for humanity, that it is is the place tailored for us to live together and determine who we really are. It is a place that does not make us love others or prevent us from loving others as ourselves. It is a place where God loves us freely and asks us to love God freely.
God does want us to thrive and prosper. God made us and the world so the best way to thrive and prosper is to work together with others, other humans, other biota, and the natural forces of this universe. Even so doing what is right does not always work out the way we want it. God still tells us that we need to be patient and trust in God’s goodness. Repaying evil with evil is not God’s way.
Do unto others as you would have then do unto you. This is the flip side of loving others as yourself. This does not mean that we cannot seek to correct others or prevent then from harming others, because Christians sometimes we need correction and others to protect us from doing harm.
There is selfishness in nature, not at the level of species but at the level of individuals or genes. Individuals of many species are willing to reproduce and consume until their resources are depleted and the whole population crashes or goes locally extinct. This could be the human case but I hope that humans are wise enough to prevent it from happening.
In my opinion, our behavior is a mixture of basic mammal and something above that. Being selfish, advancing the success of relatives, and cooperating in a ‘tit-for-tat’ way (I help you if you will help me) is basic mammalian behavior. God gave us something that gives us a possibility to lift above that.
I assume that the other species don’t have the same abilities and possibilities that we have. Therefore, it may be misleading to humanize what happens in the nature.
Assuming that the rational purpose of the universe is being the home for humanity is very human-centered thinking. At the point of creation, I believe that God knew that the universe will eventually include humanity. Yet, I’m sceptic about humans being the sole purpose of creation.
@knor, you have made a statement, which is fine. But we are talking about science, which requires more than opinion. It demands evidence that there selfishness in nature. If what you say is true, then such an extinction or crash must have happened. Or maybe this is only as you say an individual phenomenon, which does not drive evolution, which is group phenomenon.
Let me say again. The starting place of evolution as developed by Charles Darwin is survival of the fittest, the view that life the struggle of individuals for scarce resources to secure survival and reproduction. This view is a myth. It does not belong in science.
Resources to sustain life are not scarce. There is no need for famine in the world. Where there is hunger it is because of poor distribution of food, not because of a shortage of it. The way to maximize these resources is by cooperation, not conflict. There are many things people cannot do by themselves and most everything they can so better with the help of others.
We need to replace the phrase and the concept “survival of the fittest” with a view that is accurate and true. Instead we have been trying to put bandaids on it, which only causes confusion by creating the impression we have solved the problem when we have not.
Humans are not survival machines, who live only to survive and reproduce, and neither are other biota. We love our pets and they love us because there is more to life than existence. We are made to live together in joy and harmony.
Symbiosis does not anthropomorphize biota. It is the framework that God used to create our universe and make us humans. Only humans can think, but we are still kin to other beings. Symbiosis guides biota to create the harmony of nature, but God gives to humans our minds and spirits to be viceroys of God’s creation to make it better for us and ours, our to make it collapse in sinful chaos as we are doing now.
I suspect that the phrase “enlightened self interest” is the root of most of this conflict. This phrase reflects the belief that people are “enlightened” they will do the “right” thing voluntarily because they will know that being unselfish is in the ultimate interest of everyone. Enlightened self interest is not selfish because it puts the general interest of everyone ahead of one’s personal self interest. However it can be used to justify selfishness because many think that the totality of self interest balances out as the general interest, which it does not. Only love does that.
I have studied population fluctuations of mammals. If herbivores are given a possibility to live without predators, they multiply until they have overconsumed their resources. After that, they starve to death. There are examples from the wild and we have also experimental evidence of this.
Predators are trying the same, although territoriality, generalist diets and the possibility to emigrate when prey numbers decline limit the local extinctions to few species, mostly resident specialists.
So yes, this kind of selfish behavior is common in nature. There is no harmony of nature, no species- or group-level ‘wisdom’ to limit reproduction or consumption to avoid local extinction.
I hope that modern humanity is an exception because we have the ability to understand what drives changes in population numbers and to calculate what should be done to avoid local extinctions. Unfortunately, so far the decisions have been more selfish than wise. That is why we have the current environmental crises despite plenty of early warnings by experts.
I think you can go a tad further than sceptic. Eternity and infinity of creation aren’t about you, and me. It’s the other way around.
It wasn’t, it was about God’s joy.
Wasn’t this the result of removing wolves from Yellowstone?