Barry Arrington digs up the ‘tautology’ argument

Barry Arrington should stick to what he’s good at — banning blasphemers.

Instead, he has disinterred the corpse of the “natural selection is a tautology” argument, propped it up in a chair, and is now attempting to engage it in conversation.

Trust me, Barry – that corpse is dead, dead, dead.  Among the coroner’s findings:

1. Even the dimmest of IDers and creationists accepts that “microevolution” occurs.  Insects become pesticide-resistant. Finch beaks change in response to drought conditions.  Microbes acquire antibiotic resistance.  How does this happen?  Through natural selection.  It ain’t a tautology.

2. The tautology mongers miss a basic point about fitness.  Fitness is <i>not</i> defined in terms of the reproductive success of an individual. An unfit individual who gets lucky and reproduces successfully does not get reclassified as fit.  A fit individual who gets hit by a meteorite isn’t reclassified as unfit. To claim that “the fittest” are “those who survive”, as the tautology mongers claim, is ridiculous.

Back to hunting down blasphemers, Barry.  Leave the science to those who understand it.

268 thoughts on “Barry Arrington digs up the ‘tautology’ argument”

  1. Steve Schaffner

    Joe Felsenstein: In that sense it’s similar to “friction” in physics.Does “friction” cause a sliding object to slow down?Or is it the the particular collisions and temporary bonds of atoms?

    Sounds right to me.

  2. waltowalto

    keiths: Likewise, fitness measurements depend on fitness, but fitness does not depend on fitness measurements.

    Fitness measurements depend on fitness in ratio essendi.
    Fitness depends on fitness measurements in ratio cognoscendi.

    That just means that one is first in the world, while the other is first in our understanding. We give the tensile strength a high rating because of our measurements, but, as you say, the measurements are high because of the physics.

    In spite of the fact that the Medieval philosophers they hold so dear were quite clear on this matter, the tautology-thumpers can’t seem to get this matter straight. It’s been confusing them terribly. They should go back and consult Duns Scotus or something.

  3. Alan FoxAlan Fox

    Steve Schaffner,

    OT @ Steve Schaffner

    I think I saw you mention you worked with C. elegans. On other threads, most recently here there’s been some discussion of the evolution of braininess and consciousness. Would C. elegans and its 302 neurons be a useful research subject in this regard?

  4. GlenDavidson

    NS is a tautology, but creationists want to claim it for creationism. Edward Blyth, creationist, is said to have come up with the idea first. It may well be the truth, but it hardly changes anything about its relevance to producing organisms that, as observed, were not “designed” with forethought and rationality, rather evolved by increments without being able to take ideas from other lineages.

    I don’t know, maybe Barry himself has never bragged about a creationist coming up with NS, but UD certainly has. Why can’t they figure out whether it’s a good (but arbitrarily limited) idea that a creationist came up with, or a mindless tautology that is believed only because people don’t like the idea of eternal life, or whatever nonsense they claim? Evidence clearly isn’t the deciding factor for them, but is there any deciding factor at all, or will creationism always be making mutually-contrary claims?

    Glen Davidson

  5. Steve Schaffner

    Alan Fox:
    Steve Schaffner,

    OT @ Steve Schaffner

    I think I saw you mention you worked with C. elegans. On other threads,most recently here there’s been some discussion of the evolution of braininess and consciousness. Would C. elegans and its 302 neuronsbe a useful research subject in this regard?

    Sorry, not a species I’ve ever worked on. And I’m avoiding this (and all other) consciousness discussions, since I’m not sure what it is or how to think about it or sometimes whether I’ve got it or not.

  6. Alan FoxAlan Fox

    Steve Schaffner: I’m not sure what it is or how to think about it or sometimes whether I’ve got it or not.

    That’s helpful in itself. Depends on how you define “consciousness”, I guess.

  7. Guillermoe

    William J. Murray:

    No.Saying that something performs at a high level because it has a high performance rating is a tautology that offers no meaningful information.

    I already answered this:

    This debate started with “survival of the fittest”. Fit in that phrase is not biological fitness, as Steve defined it. It means “adapted to the environment so as to be capable of surviving” (Merriam Webster).

    We are not saying “the survival of the survivors”. We are saying “the survival of the adapted to the environment”. We are not saying “something performs at a high level because it has a high performance rating”. We are saying “something performs at high level because it has characteristics A, B and C” OR “something has a high performance rating because it has characteristics A, B and C”.

    With regard to biological fitness, you are making the same mistake. Science does not state “the fitter reproduce more”. Science says “certain traits/phenotypes/genotypes are fitter”.

  8. keithskeiths Post author

    If nothing else, you would think that the sports analogies would have gotten through to phoodoo and William.

    Is there anyone who truly believes that batting averages are meaningless, and that MLB teams are blowing millions of dollars on a tautology when they sign someone with a .325 average?

  9. Kantian NaturalistKantian Naturalist

    walto: Fitness measurements depend on fitness in ratio essendi.
    Fitness depends on fitness measurements in ratio cognoscendi.

    Perfect. Nihil obstat.

  10. Allan Miller

    Hmmm. A bit late to the party, but I like to think of NS as a sieve. One takes an assorted collection of gravel, the present population, and presents it to the sieve (OK, it’s a probabilistic sieve!).

    Some of the population passes through the sieve, some remains trapped in the mesh. If the future population is drawn from that which passes the sieve, we might define fitness as ‘the capacity to pass the sieve’. That which passes the sieve is indeed that which has the capacity to pass the sieve – a tautology of sorts. My feet are the things on the end of my legs; they’re still real.

    Yet, in the real world, sieves routinely sieve, and no-one denies the real causal capacity of sieves to enrich subsets in certain characteristics (and impoverish them in others, in an inevitable yin-yang manner) on the ludicrous grounds that they only select the things they select.

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