What Is Natural Selection?

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Natural selection refers to the idea that living creatures survive due to their ability to adapt to their environments. Find out why natural selection causes some species to die out over time with help from a science teacher in this free video on life science.

Part of the Video Series: Physical & Life Science
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Video Transcript

Hi, I'm Steve Jones and I'm going to explain a little bit about natural selection. One of the problems of natural selection is it is immediately associated with one name, Charles Darwin, who actually composed a book called 'On the Origin of Species', and it wasn't he that coined the term, but the term was later used, 'survival of the fittest'. Now, what this meant was that when things developed, things that had the best adaptation to the environment would survive best. Those that had the worst adaptation would tend to die out, and therefore, as generations developed, those with the best characteristics would become dominant and those with the worst characteristics would die out. Well, this seemed a very obvious thing. In fact, when it was first postulated, it really caused quite a fuss, particularly in the religious community who didn't like the idea of the earth having been here for millions of years, because they felt, you know, four thousand years was what they'd calculated. It caused a lot of fuss. And, in fact, many schools refused to teach Darwinism, and it was outlawed. But, of course, the scientific community persisted, and modern theories can differ slightly, so that there certainly is something in this survival of the fittest, that is, those that are best adapted. With man, it is different, because man has got more control over his environment, when you think of the things we do with medicine, and so forth. And, if we don't have legs, then we have a problem or we would have had a problem had we been a cave man. But, nowadays, we can sit in a wheelchair. So, nowadays, adaptation is not necessarily the criterion which determines whether we survive or not. Possibly, it might be even survival of the cleverest, the one who has the best way around a difficulty rather than the survival of the one who is physically fittest. So just because people are big and powerful and strong, they don't live longer. In fact, they die like the rest of us, and very often they die earlier. So, basically, when we're talking about natural selection, we have got a change nowadays to the way we look at the survival theories. So, that is basically what we mean by the natural selection process, and how it works today.


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