I certainly didn't mean this as a criticism. I remember when I was 8 or 9 years old, reading about how animals developed this or that physical characteristic in order to cope with a particular environment. This was in the context of a discussion about evolutionary theory, but I didn't get it initially: *how* did animals adapt to their environment? If people needed to fly, does that mean they might one day grow wings? It seemed incomprehensible to me, and I assumed there must be some complicated magic going on that only scientists could understand (a lot of the world was like that at that age). Then it struck me. There wasn't any special process of adaption needed: each generation was born a bit different from the previous one just by chance, and those animals which were better suited to their environment survived and had more babies than the ones less well adapted. The fact that offspring were imperfect copies of their parents *had* to result in changes in species over time as their environment changed, and it would look like the animals were adapting to their environment. The point of this story is that I was very young and almost completely ignorant of biology, but despite this was impressed by what was a very simple and self-evident idea. Strictly speaking, I was wrong to call it a tautology or analytic truth like logical or mathematical statements, because it is contingent on an empirical fact: random variation in reproduction. But given this, evolutionary theory follows inevitably - even if God made the world yesterday.
Stathis Papaioannou

On Jul 6, 2006, at 10:56 PM, Stathis Papaioannou wrote:

Destroying your species runs counter to evolution. I'll rephrase that: everything that happens in nature is by definition in accordance with evolution, but those species that destroy themselves will die out, while those species that don't destroy themselves will thrive. Therefore, there will be selection for the species that don't destroy themselves, and eventually those species will come to predominate. When you think about it, the theory of evolution is essentially a tautology: those species which succeed, succeed.
Stathis Papaioannou

As a biologist I can't let this go - this is a common misunderstanding of the theory of evolution.  It contains a lot more than just "those species which succeed, succeed".  From EvoWiki:

"Grabbing one statement out of the whole evolution argument and calling it a tautology is like looking at a mathematical proof where the statement (a+b)*c = (a*c) + (b*c) is used, then denouncing the whole proof on the basis that (a+b)*c = (a*c) + (b*c) is a tautology. Tautologies are true. Therefore one can draw true conclusions from them. What is wrong with that?"

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