The non-survival of the unfit

Between the first edition and second edition of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, a phrase slipped in which he rather regretted later. Herbert Spencer — a fervent supporter of Darwin’s theory of evolution — had written that evolution is “the survival of the fittest”. Darwin thought that the phrase was a felicitous one and adopted it himself rather too hastily.

Well . . it isn’t “the survival of the fittest”. Any number of people of varying degrees of fitness can survive. Evolution, rather, is “the non-survival of the unfittest”. More to the point, so long as an unfit person — someone with, say, a deleterious genetic mutation — doesn’t have offpsring and doesn’t pass the mutation on then this is what evolution is really about. And that’s usually done by females not selecting him as a partner.

One thought on “The non-survival of the unfit

  1. As I’m sure you know, the survival of the fittest in modern parlance is true at the level of the genome. Yes this is exactly the same as saying the unsurvival of the unfittest. 🙂

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