Evolution is all About Understanding Change
Dispelling the myth of "Survival of the Fittest"

By Ray Gardens



1 - Introduction

2 - Charles Darwin

3 - Evolution is “by means of natural selection”

4 - Evolution is not “survival of the fittest”

5 - Why did Darwin use the phrase "by means of natural selection"?

6 - Evolution is not a ladder, and we are at the top.

7 - Charles Darwin, Science and the meaning of life.

1~ Introduction

This article will be about dispelling the myth of “survival of the fittest”, which has nothing to do with Charles Darwin’s book “On the Origin of Species

After having had a few heated debates about this term, I began to realize that almost all people believe that strong verses weak is what evolution is about. The strongest survive to dominate all others. The term goes so far as to be used as a legitimization of ethnic cleansing. Under this false pretext millions suffered due to a simple twist of words.

This is not what Darwin’s theory for evolution is about, and one reason Darwin was so concerned that his explanation might be misunderstood. He had good reason to worry, because this is exactly what has happened over the past one hundred and fifty years.

2~ Charles Darwin

Charles Darwin, born in England on 12 February 1809 was the fifth child of six. Already in his early life Darwin had a taste for natural history, collecting, and getting involved in debates around the scientific interests of the times. Darwin graduated in 1831 from Cambridge and a few months later was proposed as a companion to Robert FitzRoy, commander of the H.M.S. Beagle, on expedition to chart the coastline of South America.

His journey began in 1831 when he stepped aboard the H.M.S Beagle and traveled around the globe on a scientific survey mission for the British government as a naturalist. Besides collecting samples from around the globe, Darwin discovered many new geological formations that did not fit in with what he hoped would explain how God had created the world in seven days, some six thousand years earlier. His earlier thoughts that he would find scientific evidence to support his beliefs were soon lost, only to be replaced with a new wonder about the planet we live on. The numerous discoveries during his (almost) five years journey aboard the Beagle, forced Darwin to question the literal truth of Genesis and the bible. None of the geological or biological evidence that Darwin collected supported the Bible in its explanation of our origins. Darwin’s efforts to find scientific facts to support the common held belief the God created the world in seven days had failed.

Returning home to England in 1836 Darwin continued to gather evidence for an explanation that would later be his theory about the origins of the species. It took 24 years before Darwin published his book “On the origins of the Species” in November 1859. Before this date he had already published a number of books and articles on a number of subjects from geology, zoology and his voyage on the Beagle.

When Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species”, he knew how controversial his book would be with respect to the Victorian era he was living in. Charles Darwin spent almost thirty years gathering evidence for his theory, and during this process he was confronted with one problem, how to explain it without it being misunderstood.

For a short biography (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Darwin) the following link is a good place to start. I would also recommend for those who like adventures to read Darwin’s first book “The Voyage of the Beagle.” Its an easy read, and is a good way to begin to understand how Charles Darwin began to gathered samples and knowledge while on expedition with Captain FitzRoy.

It is also important to understand the impact of the industrial revolution during the Victorian era that set off a massive explosion of scientific exploration. The increasing demand on the local resources in Europe resulted in an increased exploration of the rest of the world to meet these demands. Every means to increase production was now fashionable, and science was the best partner to help quench this thirst. Industry was the first step in knocking down the religious dogma that has since long dominated the world.

Darwin took the chance and set out to explore the world, as did so many others at the time. Pandora’s box was now open as a result of international competition to exploit the last undiscovered area’s of the world and it resources.

3~ Evolution is "by means of natural selection"

This means that all biological life mutates with each generation in minimal amounts, and this is where the controversy begins. At the time when Darwin wrote his explanation of evolution, the debate was focused not so much on the fact that the world had changed since it had come to exist, but what were the causes of these changes. The current trend of thought was that everything had occurred within the time line set out by the bible. But let’s not forget that not all of the scientific community was convinced of the bibles explanation. The split between science and religion is not just a question of faith. Religion is based on faith, and science is based on gathering hard evidence. You might be able to sell stocks on faith, but if you’re looking for raw materials to fuel an economy, hard evidence is needed. Science was the perfect partner for business and government. They set out to conquer the world, and for that you need exact maps and geological surveys to be able to determine where you can get the most profit. For the first time, a partnership between business interests and scientific research had been found, a partnership that could never could have existed between religion and science. You now have the funding needed to make new discoveries around the planet we live on. The controversy of how the world came to be was now open to discussion, and evidence could be gathered to support the theories now being suggested by science. Science needed a partnership to be able to make the progresses we now have today.

What is the understanding of “Mutation” and how long does the process carry on? Darwin didn’t have all the information, but he did see the changes that had occurred over the millions (billions) of years that our planet has existed. In the meantime we see species that haven’t changed all to much in the evolutionary process, and other species that have changed so much that they don’t have anything in common with their ancestors.

Darwin gave us many examples of how species vary. Not only could nature produce new variations, mans own influence over the past thousands of years through domestication have changed species that once started as wild and have since been domesticated through breeding. Livestock, pets, and birds have all been bred for generations over thousands of years in order to serve our needs. Not to mention the genetic changes in the plant world that man has produced. Humans would not have been able to sustain the world's population if we hadn’t crossed breed over thousands of years, the rice, grains, corns and other plants.

The fact that we can use the variations in our environment to selectively pick out and cross plants to improve qualities and yield shows how much change is possible. The changes are not always as a result of conflict, but simply as a result of changes to the surroundings, to the needs, or possible advantages. Our ecosystem produces changes in the genetic material as part of the process of survival. Change is programmed and triggered by a long list of factors. Without this ever changing process, we most likely wouldn’t have survived the last couple of millions of years to evolve into our own human species.

In the end, Darwin had discovered that every living organism had changed over the millions of years that our planet has existed. That this changing process had not stopped but continued while he was alive, and that this change could be brought about by the environment or by us.

4~ Evolution is not "Survival of the fittest"

This phrase was coined by Herbert Spencer after reading Darwin’s "The Origin of Species."

Darwin first used Spencer's new phrase "survival of the fittest" as a synonym for "natural selection" in the fifth edition of On the Origin of Species, published in 1869.[2][3] Darwin meant it as a metaphor for "better adapted for immediate, local environment", not the common inference of "in the best physical shape." [4] Hence, it is not a scientific description,[5] and is both incomplete and misleading.

This phrase is the first example of what happens when you misunderstand what evolution means. It indicates that Spencer might have understood what he meant but what others understood under this new phrase is something else.

All life forms on this planet have to be in sync with their surroundings. The smallest organism can kill the biggest organism, and the biggest can kill the smallest. The only factor that plays a role in this whole process is that not any one of these organisms is more dominate then the other. Should one become dominant, the balance will be lost.

The most common expression that has arisen since this phrase was coined, is that many people have begun to say “only the strongest survive.” But for most people strength is based on power, which is misleading. This idea results in dictators thinking that they now can exterminate all other races because "they" then can become the dominant race. This is really taking evolution out of its context and into an extreme.

5~ Why did Darwin use the phrase
    "by means of natural selection?"

At the time, it was the best way to explain that all life forms were subject to change as a result of our environment. Our environment is influenced by the sun, moon, magnetic fields, atmosphere, geography, geology, climate, vegetation, insects, marine life, wildlife, and much more, all changing and all having influence on each other.

The worlds’ climate has shifted and changed a number of times since the first life forms appeared. Our planet has had shifts in climate ever since it’s come to exist.

The continents, mountains, oceans, plains, valleys, rivers, lakes, volcanoes, and a whole lot of other geographical formations have been shifting and changing over the past billion years since the earth has come to exist. Where once oceans existed, now mountains have risen. Where there was only one continent there are now five continents (seven if you count the poles.) The drifting continents alone have given rise to a wide biodiversity that differs from one continent to another. The changes in landscape results in changes to vegetation, which results in changes to wildlife. Where once a land mass was connected and now is isolated (Madagascar / Australia to mention just two) new species have evolved as a result of this isolation.

Geography has played a major roll in the process of evolution. Our planet is constantly changing. Rivers change course and modify the landscape. Oceans change our coastlines shifting habitat, and influencing our climate. Change is everywhere and you only have to open your eyes to see it. Change is what allows the biodiversity to survive on this planet. A planet that doesn’t change might end up looking like a pancake since no new mountains would arise when the old ones have been eroded away.

Our climate and geography are only two examples of changes that have been happening since our planet has come to exist. Where new habitats are created and old ones disappear, the surrounding vegetation has changed and adapted, resulting in adaptations of the wildlife. The interaction between all these elements result in the world that we live in. Our own influence will also have results that will change our surrounding environment. We have eliminated through our own existence a number of species. This has allowed other to step into territories that they might not have been able to before. Who knows how this will influence the evolutionary path of future species.

Darwin was most likely trying to eliminate mans emotional approach to explain why things are. Nature doesn’t work emotionally, but we humans like to stamp emotional explanations for events that we cannot understand rationally. Nature works without emotions. Its not spiteful or interested in eliminating one species verses another. Those are human interpretations. Ironic that we are a by-product of this ecosystem, and are able to question our own existence where nature doesn’t even know of it’s own existence.

There is no physical conflict between stronger or weaker, just change as the surroundings change. Evolution is about being able to change to the changing environment. Change is just daily business and not a conflict. There isn't a struggle as we think of it. It's only human to think in strong and weak, but the environment around us doesn’t do this.

6~ Evolution is not a ladder.

It’s so human to think of evolution as a ladder, and we are at the top of it. Evolution has nothing to do with ladders. I’ve included the correct definition of evolution at the bottom of this article. But for those of you who would rather read it here in short, it comes from the Latin word “to unroll”, “to unfold”, to change, or from a simple life form to a complex life form. A simple life form can be a single cell to a more complex life form with two legs and two arms. That doesn’t mean the one is better then the other, since the most complex life forms evolved out of the simplest, and without the simplest the most complex would not have come into existence.

There was a time when we thought the universe revolved around our planet, and that we were the center of the universe. In the meantime, we’ve discovered that we are definitely not the center of the universe and that we are part of a giant universe filled will millions of galaxies. We are nowhere near the center of anything, but rather part of the whole.

Our environment doesn’t revolve around us, and it’s not as if it would only be here because we exist. We are part of this planet just like every other living organism that has existed since this planet has existed. We are not higher, lower, between or anything else as part of a giant eco system. The only difference is we can question this system emotionally and try to understand how we fit in.

The only ladder we can use is the one for intelligence, and I would be very careful to judge ourselves as higher to anything alone on that. Ladders are human metaphors designed to give us an idea of where we find ourselves in relation to the surroundings we live in. I’m higher up the ladder then you are since I’m President of this company now. But being President of the company only works if your company has people to help you achieve your goals. Again it takes everyone onboard to keep the company afloat, working together for the business to be successful. Our environment is the same, it takes all the players for a successful ecosystem.

When you read further on the definition of evolution it often refers to changes and improvement of other kinds, such as political. Watch out, the definition means something different when used in this context. This is not what Darwin was talking about.

Language can be misleading and often we use words in the wrong context. Ignorance is not an excuse, but I can understand for most people who don’t interest themselves with science or evolution that this misunderstanding can happen.

So why not make it simple, evolution means change. That eliminates all the emotional elements that we so like to use in order to understand a natural phenomena.

Understanding where we came from, and understanding the meaning of life are two different pairs of shoes. The one has nothing to do with the other, but we often like to put them together. We can debate the idea that we are at the top of the ladder, but it’s not on the evolutionary ladder.

7~ Charles Darwin, Science and the meaning of life.

Science can explain where we came from, but it can’t explain the meaning of life. Science might have set off to explore where we came from in the hopes it might find an explanation as to the meaning of life, but it’s failed to do that. Religion and science have both failed in giving a really good answer as to why we exist. Religion doesn’t have anything to support its explanation of how we came to exist since every story from the bible is simply fiction, and only based on faith. Science has massive evidence for evolution but no explain of the meaning of life.

Charles Darwin set out on a scientific expedition to bring back evidence to support Gods existence, and he was not the first to do this. But to his great disappointment all the evidence he brought back went against all that he had learned or believed in. Science didn’t give Darwin a reason why, but it did explain where we had come from.

But in the end the meaning of life has nothing to do with evolution. Religion has up till the mid 19th century been the only source of explanation for our existence and meaning of life. The only difficulty with religion is that it has no scientific support to justify its explanation as to the origins of the universe and our existence. Science on the other hand cannot explain the meaning of life.

This on going conflict is one of the major reasons that religion can still hold so much sway over our population when it comes to the meaning of life. We would rather believe a myth then face the fact that our existence is as a result of millions of mutations going back millions of years.

That still leaves us with the "why" question. But just think, maybe the why isn’t so important after all, since every one of us can come up with there own reason why.

I suppose it’s easier for some to simply defer the question as to why we exist to a higher source that’s manipulating our lives for it’s own purpose. It might be comforting to some, but not to all of us. I would like to take my life in my own hands and decide my own destiny.

But no matter how we would like to see it "Change" is still happening and we can't stop it.


Pronunciation: ev-uh-loo-shuhn

Function: noun

Etymology: Latin evolution-, evolutio unrolling, from evolvere

Date: 1622 


1. One of a set of prescribed movements.

 A process of change in a certain direction : unfolding.

(B)  The action or an instance of forming and giving something off : emission.

(C)     (1)  A process of continuous change from a lower, simpler, or worse to a higher, more complex, or better state : growth.

    (2)  A process of gradual and relatively peaceful social, political, and economic advance.

(D)  Something evolved.

3.  The process of working out or developing.

(A)  The historical development of a biological group (as a race or species) : phylogeny.

(B)  A theory that the various types of animals and plants have their origin in other preexisting types and that the distinguishable        differences are due to modifications in successive generations; also : the process described by this theory.

5.  The extraction of a mathematical root.

6.  A process in which the whole universe is a progression of interrelated phenomena.


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