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Index to Creationist Claims,  edited by Mark Isaak,    Copyright © 2005
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Claim CA500:

Natural selection, or "survival of the fittest," is tautologous (i.e., uses circular reasoning) because it says that the fittest individuals leave the most offspring, but it defines the fittest individuals as those that leave the most offspring.


Gish, Duane T., R. B. Bliss and W. R. Bird. 1981. Summary of scientific evidence for creation. Impact 95-96 (May/Jun.).
Morris, Henry M. 1985. Scientific Creationism. Green Forest, AR: Master Books, p. viii.


  1. "Survival of the fittest" is a poor way to think about evolution. Darwin himself did not use the phrase in the first edition of Origin of Species. What Darwin said is that heritable variations lead to differential reproductive success. This is not circular or tautologous. It is a prediction that can be, and has been, experimentally verified (Weiner 1994).

  2. The phrase cannot be a tautology if it is not trivially true. Yet there have been theories proposing that the fittest individuals perish:
  3. The fittest, to Darwin, were not those which survived, but those which could be expected to survive on the basis of their traits. For example, wild dogs selectively prey on impalas which are weaker according to bone marrow index (Pole et al. 2003). With that definition, survival of the fittest is not a tautology. Similarly, survival can be defined not in terms of the individual's life span, but in terms of leaving a relatively large contribution to the next generation. Defined thus, survival of the fittest becomes more or less what Darwin said, and is not a tautology.


Lindsay, Don. 1997. Is "survival of the fittest" a tautology?

Wilkins, John. 1997. Evolution and philosophy: A good tautology is hard to find.


  1. Lefalophodon. n.d. Alpheus Hyatt (1838-1902).
  2. Hyatt, Alpheus. 1866. On the paralellism between the different stages of life in the individual and those in the entire group of the molluscous order Tetrabranchiata. Memoirs Read Before the Boston Society of Natural History 1: 193-209.
  3. Pole, A., I. J. Gordon and M. L. Gorman. 2003. African wild dogs test the 'survival of the fittest' paradigm. Proceedings of the Royal Society, Biological Sciences 270(Suppl. 1): S57.
  4. Weiner, Jonathan. 1994. The Beak of the Finch. New York: Knopf.

Further Reading:

Gould, Stephen J. 1976. Darwin's untimely burial. In Michael Ruse, ed., Philosophy of Biology, New York: Prometheus Books, 1998, pp. 93-98.
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created 2001-2-18, modified 2004-12-2