Creationists' critique of Fisher's Theorem and and evolutionary fitness definitions

Here is the paper. The authors include John Sanford, William Basener, Salvador Cordova and Ola Hössjer. What are your thoughts?

Springer used to be a reputable publisher, so it’s unfortunate to see their decline. Same with Elsevier, really. Isn’t it odd that this was published in something called “Handbook of the Mathematics of the Arts and Sciences” rather than in some relevant journal of evolutionary biology? And I don’t know about the other two, but Sanford and Cordova are well known names who have written much nonsense on evolutionary subjects.

If you want thoughts on what the article specifically says, Joe Felsenstein has written on this subject, I believe. Was it on Panda’s Thumb?


@dsterncardinale did a review of it here:

Edit: Dan also had a conversation with Sal Cordova about the paper here:


It was at The Skeptical Zone in 2018, in reaction to Basener and Sanford’s arguments about the Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection:

  1. My reply: noting that they had misconceived how the theory of mutation versus selection had developed. In fact it was fully formed in journal papers before Fisher’s book appeared.
  2. Their reply giving lots of quotes from population geneticists saying how important Fisher’s work was.
  3. My rejoinder pointing out that these quotes did not imply that his Fundamental Theorem of Natural Selection was the basis for subsequent work on mutation versus selection:
  4. Michael Lynch and I writing about how Basener and Sanford ignored the role recombination would play in affecting the distribution of fitness changes for a whole chromosome:

BHSC also spend a lot of time straw-manning evolutionary biology, implying that since we can’t prove that our genetic system always and perfectly maximizes fitness, therefore it does not increase fitness.


I would really appreciate if an evolutionary biologist had reviewed the book chapter, or the earlier Basener and Sanford paper. But based on the abundance of basic errors in both, that didn’t happen.

Big picture, the book chapter is built on a bait-and-switch:

  1. Evolutionary processes can’t maximize fitness.

  2. Fitness should be defined as…well it’s not totally clear, but something related to functionality or complexity. Even Sal Cordova couldn’t really articulate how they’d like to define it when we had a chat about this chapter, but it has something to do with functionality.

  3. Therefore evolutionary processes can’t maximize function/complexity/whatever.

See the trick? Nobody’s claiming evolutionary processes maximize fitness, correctly defined, but the authors change the definition, and apply the same math to the redefinition.

Nope. Can’t do that.

And that invalidates the whole chapter. The argument is built on nothing.


Daniel, I enjoyed your video (still need to finish it). The BCHS chapter has a grab-bag of arguments. You mention the ones that weirdly redefine fitness, I linked above to my responses to the 2018 Basener/Sanford paper. The straw man of failure of natural selection to always perfectly maximize mean fitness is another. And Stanford’s “Genetic Entropy” argument is another. I haven’t got through the whole chapter but in general there seems to be little new there.


Thank you. The conversation with Sal that @Rumraket linked was really informative, I think. There’s so much to cover, we actually need to schedule a part 2, but we’ve both been busy. I give Sal a lot of credit for having this conversation - most creationists put whatever they write out into the world and act as though it’s untouchable. But I think I was able to spotlight the big picture problems, leaving aside a lot of the more specific and technical problems. The argument they’re making doesn’t make any sense.


The redefinition of fitness-type of arguments is a staple of Sanford and his output on websites like AIG. What is particularly ironic is they have articles dedicated to claiming that it is evolutionary biologists who are dishonestly redefining fitness despite it being AIG who do it, and one of their apologists came here offering this obscene falsehood.


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