Survival of the Fit
by Hill Roberts

"Survival of the fittest" is the fundamental premise of natural selection. It is easily seen to be a tautology, or circular argument. It is not necessarily wrong for that, it is just not useful as a predictive theory for natural selection. It is not useful because the two parameters, survival and fitness, are not objectively deterministic. It is patently obvious common sense that things more fit for their circumstances will thrive in those circumstances for which they are most fit to thrive in. This is like a story my freshman daughter brought home from her history class. When her practice teacher was asked to explain what a speech pathologist is, the teacher impressively proclaimed "a speech pathologist was one who does speech pathology." Almost certainly this is correct, but as the giggling of the class attested, entirely useless. It also said a great deal about the common sense of anyone giving such an empty response. Survival of the fit is the survival of the survivors who are fit to survive because they are...You see--endless circle.

Arm wrestlers  The natural selection tautology might seem to have some utility when implemented in a more rigorous mathematical fashion, as in the Hardy-Weinberg Equilibrium equation. Using this equation for differential survival fractions of a population, one can predict shifts in gene frequency over a series of reproductive cycles. The main determining variants are coefficients which give the survival efficiency of each gene contributing to the gene pool under consideration. So by measuring shifts in gene frequencies over time, the survival efficiency coefficients for that particular circumstance can be backed out of the equation. This might be useful in predicting gene frequency shifts in other similar circumstances. Does that sound more useful? It shouldn't. All that means is that we are able to count the surviving variants in one situation and from that predict that if another situation just like it occurs, we will likely get similar surviving fractions. What it does seem to show is that the natural selection tautology conforms to simple common sense even when one is willing to do a lot of counting.

 The "survival of the fit" example is offered here merely to illustrate a similar situation with a favorite argument used to defend a young earth position: appearance of age. The idea is that if God instantaneously created a fully functional earth for Adam and Eve it would necessarily have an "appearance of age" simply due to its mature and whole functionality. Well, that seems reasonable. This idea was originally suggested by Phillip Gosse in the early 1900s. He was careful to point out that this would only account for those features of the creation that were necessary for mature functionality. As such he noted that the great collections of fossils, entrapped in the attendant sediment layers, could not reasonably be understood as appearance of age, because sediment rock works just fine in the geological sense without any fossils in it at all. (Remember a fossil is just a rock in the shape of an organism.) In other words Gosse understood it was not necessary for God to create sediment layers with fossils in them in order to create a fully functional earth. Hence, almost no one who appeals to appearance of age does so for the fossils. Almost everyone agrees fossils must be the result of some process or events subsequent to the original creation. On this there is a rare uniformity of agreement, whether one is a young earth creationist, old earth creationist, or even a non-creationist.

 Now this is when the tautology begins to rear its head. The problem is that we have a hard time knowing what is and is not necessary for a fully functional earth. When push comes to shove, everyone agrees certain actions would be deceptive on the part of an "age creator." For example, if the creator did actually label rocks with an imprinted notarized age stamp that certified the rock was a billion years old, when in fact it was only 6000 years old, that would universally be considered deceptive. Of course the situation is not so clear, and that's where the rub comes. How can we tell if a certain natural feature of the creation was a necessary aspect of a fully functional mature creation? That's easy: if it gives an appearance of age. All features that appear old were necessary, by definition. At that point the appearance of age argument has become just as circular a tautology as survival of the fittest. In fact, we could well call it survival of the appearance of age. When does an apparently old feature's young age survive scrutiny? When it is only an appearance of age!

 Well yes, that is obviously so. And useless. It explains nothing. It defends nothing. "Anything that appears old is really young because it is well known that young things appear old." (No, that isn't "well known," that's weird.) But eventually all practitioners of this apologetic for youth will end up dismissing any and all aspects of natural history that seem to indicate antiquity. It is all explained away by invoking "appearance of age." Guaranteed, without exception!

 The reason no one appeals to appearance of age for fossils is that fossils are close to something having actual labels on them. The labels in the case of fossils read "I was once alive." It is obvious they couldn't have been both once alive and newly created at the same time. The basic law of non-contradiction applies. It doesn't take a science degree to understand the "once alive" message of a fossil. However, it does sometimes take a science degree, or at least some rudimentary knowledge of nature, to see that there are literally thousands of other such "fossils" hidden in the folds of creation which do not seem to be necessary for a fully functional creation, yet proclaim a message of antiquity in spite of that. Such messages are written in starlight so dim no one can see the stars; such messages are written in microscopic fossils so small they look like dust; such messages are written in magnetic molecules so weak as to be undetectable except with very sensitive meters; such messages are written in the nuclei of atoms slowly decaying to smaller atoms while giving off totally imperceptible radiation. The list could go on forever. Yet for every such "fossil" feature of natural history uncovered, the response is simply, "Oh I think God could have made it look any way He wanted to!"


Magic Hat When the list of examples of age gets too overwhelming the logic suddenly shifts from what God DID do, to what God COULD do. No one argues that God couldn't make fossil-shaped rocks. The argument is over whether He did. There is nothing in Genesis or anywhere else in the Bible that tells us not to take at face value the signs God built into nature. Without that, one must reject any appeal to the appearance of age tautology due to the silence of the scripture. However, there is direction in the Bible to study nature to learn about God's nature. There is no limitation placed on which parts of nature are to be examined in this regard. It would be passing strange indeed if God created a natural record fundamentally deceptive at its core to testify of His fundamentally faithful and true divine nature. The natural record at face value is an awesome testimony to that.

 If one can understand the logical problem with the survival of the fit tautology, one should understand the logical problem with the appearance of age tautology. Although both are appealing to people of considerable intellect, both are so "common" in their sense as to be useless. Appearance of age has no evidential value at all, but "apparently" it has great apologetic value as a bit of philosophical rhetoric in the face of massive evidence of age. Appearance of age concedes the point: it appears old. Why is that such an appealing argument? Is it maybe just the appeal of The Deceiver determined to undermine the natural evidence provided by the Creator? For if it only appears old, who's to say nature doesn't just appear to be designed and created, that the Bible doesn't just appear to be inspired, and that Jesus didn't just appear to rise from the dead? That is exactly the argument made by skeptics, and some have unwittingly bought into the skeptic's logic wholesale by embracing appearance of age to support a doctrine nowhere given in Scripture and nowhere suggested for salvation. Is appearance of age fit to survive?

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