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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Flying lessons

Reading the editor’s comments about polar bears in the April issue, it soon occurred to me that what was being described was not really evolution at all, at least not in the sense of one kind of animal changing into an essentially different kind of animal. A white bear may well be more likely to survive in the Arctic than a black bear, but they are both bears in the same way that white men and black men are both men, essentially the same.

Natural selection and the ‘survival of the fittest’ may well explain why polar bears are white and why rabbits run fast. It may even shorten the time required to run stochastic models (as explained in the article about genetic algorithms), but it does not explain how one kind of animal can change into something essentially different.

For example, how could a non-flying creature ever evolve into a flying creature? Wings may well be an advantage, but only when fully developed. In the intervening millions of years they would be a disadvantage and therefore the ‘survival of the fittest’ would prevent the gradual development of wings. Also, even if wings did somehow develop, who would be around to give the creature flying lessons?