Thursday, February 4, 2010

Purpose and Survival of the Fittest



We've all heard the term "Survival of the Fittest" but how many of you knew that this term was not coined by Charles Darwin, but by Herbert Spencer? And what is Herbert Spencer best known for or credited with? Spawning the concept of Social Darwinism.

So, why are we bringing up this fascinating topic during Super Bowl week? Because the world's leading evolutionary biologist, and chief atheist, decided to weigh in on Tim Tebow's yet to be seen Super Bowl ad. That's right, Richard Dawkins, that crusty ol' so and so pictured above, has elbowed his way past Todd McShay, Gloria Allred, and Joy Behar in making ridiculous claims against Tim Tebow, and his mom, this week. Here's a little of what he had to say.


I gather that Tim Tebow is extremely good at football. That's just as well, for he certainly isn't very good at thinking. Perhaps the fact that he was home schooled by missionary parents is to blame.

The following is what passes for logic in the Tebow mind. His mother was advised by doctors to abort him, but she refused, which is why Tim is here. So abortion is a bad thing. Masterful conclusion.

It is a version of what, following the great Nobel-Prizewinning biologist Peter Medawar, I have called the Great Beethoven Fallacy....

The point is that every single one of us is lucky to be alive against hyper-astronomical odds. Tim Tebow owes his existence not just to his mother's refusal to have an abortion. He owes his existence to the fact that his parents had intercourse precisely when they did, not a minute sooner or later. Then before that they had to meet and decide to marry. The same is true of all four of his grandparents, all eight of his great grandparents, and so on back.


Oh, if Joy Behar had only called Tebow the "Great Beethoven Fallacy" that would have made such interesting tv, but we digress. Doesn't survival of the fittest, or natural selection as Darwin put it, mean the ability to survive and reproduce? And even to cooperate?


Evolution and "survival of the fittest" are not the same thing. Evolution refers to the cumulative changes in a population or species through time. "Survival of the fittest" is a popular term that refers to the process of natural selection, a mechanism that drives evolutionary change. Natural selection works by giving individuals who are better adapted to a given set of environmental conditions an advantage over those that are not as well adapted. Survival of the fittest usually makes one think of the biggest, strongest, or smartest individuals being the winners, but in a biological sense, evolutionary fitness refers to the ability to survive and reproduce in a particular environment. Popular interpretations of "survival of the fittest" typically ignore the importance of both reproduction and cooperation. To survive but not pass on one's genes to the next generation is to be biologically unfit. And many organisms are the "fittest" because they cooperate with other organisms, rather than competing with them.

All "choice" aside, doesn't the fact that Pam Tebow was able to overcome amoebic dysentery and carry a healthy baby with a detached placenta to full term, in what had to be less than ideal conditions, make her a "winner" in the "survival of the fittest" sweepstakes? Or did this aspect of the Tebow story slip past the world's leading evolutionary biologist?

So here are a couple of questions we have for Richard Dawkins.

How do you derive purpose from an evolutionary standpoint? One of the strengths of evolutionary thought and science is that it seeks to determine the "purpose" of an organism, etc. within an ecosystem. For example, what is the purpose of an ant, a bee, or a flower? The purpose of all three within an ecosystem are all understood by children. But more philosophically, how do you derive, not determine, purpose?

Purpose is generally defined as "something set up as an object or end to be attained" or more simply put as "intention." If you want to know the purpose of something, it is generally acknowledged that you must ascertain what was the intention of the designer, manufacturer, and dare we say it, "creator." That's right, purpose is the intention of the creator. For example, if you wanted to know what the purpose of SCUBA gear was your best bet was to ask Jaques Cousteau. If you don't know what the purpose of a man made object is, you ask the guy that made it. Why does this not extend to the natural world as well?

If we are here by some "hyper-astronomical" accident why do we strive for a sense of purpose? And here's the quick test if you believe you have some purpose in life. Ask yourself this, when someone ignores you, cuts you off in traffic or in conversation, is rude to you, does it bother you? Probably. Why? Because you inherently believe or know that you matter and that is derived from purpose.

When a person believes they have no purpose, or reason to live, they are labeled as being "depressed" or even "mentally ill" and may be legally confined against their will by the state. But isn't that what should be logically entailed from the chaos you believe we come from? Birds and bees have a purpose in the ecosystem, but we homo sapiens, not so much?

Our other question, and complaint, with Richard Dawkins is why does he misrepresent his own beliefs by insulting those of us who disagree with him? When did a classical education become totalitarian in its philosophy and application? Once upon a time Oxford taught its students how to think and did not dictate to them what to think. An education, like the scientific process, was a journey towards discovery and not a dictate.

If any one of them [sperm] had won the race to Mrs Tebow's ovum instead of the one that did, Tim would not have been born, somebody else would. Probably not such a good quarterback but - we can but hope - a better logician, who might have survived the home schooling and broken free.

Mr. Dawkins, Tim Tebow did "break free" from the kind of education you seem so want to force upon the rest of us. Perhaps that is why he, unlike many of his peers, has been successful and willing to stand up for what he believes under intense scrutiny and criticism, because he carries with him a sense of purpose and duty to something greater than himself.

It is commonly known, even among Oxford elite, that the losing resort within a debate is to insult your opponent because your argument no longer has the strength to stand on its own. Perhaps you could learn from a refresher in Darwinism 101. The fittest survive by being able to "reproduce and cooperate." Instead of hurling insults at a "dumb jock" and his "religious simpleton" of a mom for beating you out in the market place of ideas, why don't you "cooperate" with your colleagues and raise the money for your own ad? Isn't their ability to successfully harness resources to "reproduce" their ideas the ideal in the natural order of things? Doesn't that make them "most fit" in this scenario? And should that not be commended? Or do the "advantages" of Social Darwinism only apply to the irreligious and logical among us? Or is that Eugenics? Forgive us, but sometimes we confuse the two.

But, hey, what do we know? We readily confess that we are football loving cretins that would like to see Tim Tebow show you what the uneducated and more popular form of "survival of the fittest" really means. Fortunately for you he was home-schooled by his mom to behave better, silly as that might seem to you.

Oh, one other thing. We'll get to Theismann and the Jags tomorrow.

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