05.27.2015

Arrival of the Fittest cover

The phrase “arrival of the fittest” is seen and heard from time to time, often contraposed with the phrase “survival of the fittest” (due to Herbert Spencer, but adopted by Darwin in the fifth and sixth editions of the Origin). Typically it is used in making the claim that natural selection cannot by itself account for evolution because selection must have variation upon which to act. Thus natural selection (it is claimed) explains the survival but not the arrival of the fittest. The rhyme between “arrival” and “survival” is catchy, and it’s not surprising that Google Scholar lists almost six hundred articles containing the phrase “arrival of the fittest,” with eighteen articles containing it in their title. There are also at least three books with the phrase in their title, of which the most recent is Arrival of the Fittest: Solving Evolution’s Greatest Puzzle (2014), by Andreas Wagner.

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Dippy! Let me start this post with this declaration: the Natural History Museum in Knightbridge, London, is awesome. Where else does a marble statue of Darwin sit serenely atop a grand staircase overlooking “Dippy,” a magnificent Diplodocus? Nowhere.

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“Greenhouse gases” and “the greenhouse effect” are terms used to describe some of the most basic concepts related to global warming. If students learn anything about climate change, they usually learn about these first. This is good in some ways, because these are the fundamental concepts in scientific explanations of how climate change works and why the earth is warming. But the specific metaphor here, comparing the Earth to a greenhouse with carbon dioxide and water vapor cast in the roles of panes of glass, has been criticized on the grounds that it may engender a misunderstanding of the science.

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Jehovah's Witnesses are an outlier for their views on evolution and climate change. Click image for more background. One of the first things I (and many others) noticed about the graph of various American religious groups’ views on evolution and the environment was how much of an outlier Jehovah’s Witnesses are. They are, on average, quite supportive of environmental policies, while vigorously anti-evolution. Most other denominations show a strong correlation between the two sets of attitudes.

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05.21.2015

H. H. Newman, Acc. 90-105 - Science Service, Records, 1920s-1970s, Smithsonian Institution Archives

“Reluctant as he may be to admit it, honesty compels the evolutionist to admit that there is no absolute proof of organic evolution” (emphasis in original). That’s a passage from H. H. Newman’s essay “Is Organic Evolution an Established Principle?” published as chapter 4 in his 1921 collection Readings in Evolution, Genetics, and Eugenics.

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