Question reguarding society negating evolution

Mario Vaneechoutte Mario.Vaneechoutte at rug.ac.be
Wed Sep 4 13:26:09 EST 1996

Brian Foley wrote:
> Jeff Gordon wrote:
> >...
> > Ok, since evolution is based upon survival of the fittest, and many
> > would say that times are far less tough in organized society, could it
> > be said (assuming that human beings are, indeed, capable of evolution
> > (which I believe)) that humans are evolving more slowly in their
> > present condition?
> > ...
> "Survival of the fittest" is a nice sound bite, but it is far
> from the basis of evolution.  "Elimination of the weakest"
> might be closer to the truth in most cases.  Over time, we see
> increasing diversity, not a succession of "most fit" species.
> We don't have just one large mammalian predator, but many
> types of bears, cats, and canines.  We don't have just one
> large aquatic mammal, but many species of whales, seals and
> sea lions.
> "Survival of the survivors" or "Survival of the lucky" is
> also often the case.  When humans cause large amounts
> of fertilizer to wash off from crop fields into lakes, the
> fish are unlucky and the algae are lucky.  The total
> biomass of the lake increases.  Are the algae more "fit"
> than the trout?
> With humans, social evolution is far more important than
> genetic evolution.  There may be some important similarities
> between the two, but there are also some important differences.
> An example of a similarity is the increase in diversity,
> even while strong slective forces exist: we now have Pepsi,
> Coke and many other colas for sale in the U.S., not just
> one brand.  An example of a difference is that social
> evolution is very Lamarkian and there is a great amount of
> horizontal transfer of information (Modern car makers learned
> a lot from Henry Ford and also from the plastics, paint and
> computer industries) while genetic evolution is not
> Lamarkian and very little horizontal transfer takes place.

I would call this sex rather than horizontal transfer, whereby sex is 
defined as the mixture of different lineages of information. In biology, 
sex can mix information from two lineages at each generation round, 
while in a cultural context (in one's mind) different lineages of 
information can be mixed simultaneously. This 'hypersex' is probably the 
most important reason why cultural evolution can go much faster than 
biological evolution

> In both biological and social evolution, the survivors
> are often not what one would logically call the "fittest".
> Peakocks have great tails not because they provide
> shelter or allow the bird to fly faster, but only because
> female peacocks seem to like the way they look.  

So, the genetic information of peacocks with the right tail length are 
fittest, because women like those peacocks most. Fitness depends on the 
environment. The environment provides with the selection 'filter'.
In the case of peacock tails, female choice is part of the environment.

Survival of the fittest is indeed a tautology: it says nothing more than 
'the fit fits' or 'the information present today has proven that it can 
be present today'. There is nothing more to it.
However, this is different than saying that Darwinism or evolution theory 
is not predictive. The problem comes down to figuring out to what 
environment the information (biological, cultural, chemical, ...) must 
fit. Finding out about which environment selects for which information is 
the really exciting thing. Darwin was so brilliant to see that the usual 
criteria for fitness (running fast, being strong, ...) alone, were not 
sufficient in the case of sexual selection: the selective environment 
had to be redefined to explain for sexual selection. Different recent 
studies strongly support his hypothesis, thus it was predictive. And its 
predictive power comes from the right definition of the selective 

Evolutionary theories are more and more being developed - applied in all 
fields of social, political, economical activities. Also here they may 
prove their predictive value.

Mario Vaneechoutte
Laboratory Bacteriology & Virology
Blok A, De Pintelaan 185
University Hospital Ghent
Belgium 9000 Ghent
Tel: +32 9 240 36 92
Fax: +32 9 240 36 59
E-mail: Mario.Vaneechoutte at rug.ac.be

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