A first problem is defining it.
And the people who “know” often
assume more than they say…
And more than that, they expect you
to assume–and really believe–
the same things they do…
Here are 6 different ways “evolution”
is used in science…
But to discover them, you must use the DOOR.
In the previous post we attempted to explain “evolution” by creating our own general definition. Here we’ll show how others have sorted out the baggage carried by this loaded term that can build walls, divide many, keep or lead to loss of teaching or preaching jobs, and blind others to serious science investigation.
The 18-page article is “The Meanings of Evolution” by Stephen C. Meyer and Michael Newton Keas¹ of the Discovery Institute. In it the authors work from the Scopes Trial of the 1920s up to modern times in language that’s easily understood. To sort things out they find “evolution” (usually thrown about as a single word) is used in 6 different ways. (Again, we’ll highlight key points.)
(1) Change over time; history of nature; any sequence of events in nature.
(2) Changes in the frequencies of alleles [alternative forms of a gene] in the gene pool of a population.
(3) Limited common descent: the idea that particular groups of organisms have descended from a common ancestor.
(4) The mechanisms responsible for the change required to produce limited descent with modification; chiefly natural selection acting on random variables or mutations.
(5) Universal common descent: the idea that all organisms have descended from a single common ancestor.
(6) Blind watchmaker thesis: the idea that all organisms have descended from common ancestors through unguided, unintelligent, purposeless, material processes such as natural selection acting on random variations or mutations; the idea that the Darwinian mechanism of natural selection acting on random variation, and other similarly naturalistically mechanisms, completely suffice to explain the origin of novel biological forms and the appearance of design in complex organisms.
Let us risk a few brief summary comments.
• “(1)” is very general. It could include–or exclusively refer to–only cosmic (not biologic) changes from the Big Bang on. [To many Christians, after the BB, the sequence of cosmic evolution is not a problem, or issue.]
• “(2)” refers to things like precise population studies of frequencies of different kinds of genes in gene pools. Ex.: The melanism studies of peppered moths, though contested, are the most celebrated examples of studies in microevolution. For the geneticist, gene frequency is the “study of evolution in action.” [This, in itself, is rarely an issue.]
• For “(3)”: Each of the varied finches that Darwin observed could have come from a common ancestor. [Almost everyone would agree with that.]
• Regarding “(4)”: Most biologists have little difficulty with natural selection [whether there’s an engineer or not] determining changes occurring within a species. However, with larger changes in completely “novel body organs” or “body plans” some question the sufficiency of the mechanisms of natural selection to account for the origin of major morphological changes in the history of life [as suggested by “(6)” below.
• As to “(5”): Darwin argued that his “universal common descent” best explained the variety of biological evidences including fossil succession and biographical distribution of species, the existence of suboptimal or useless organs, and the existence of similar body structures and parts on otherwise very different creatures. The presumed strength of this theory of common descent has led many scientists to regard, and often strongly argue for, this theory as fact.
• “(6)” has been popularized by Richard Dawkins. The big argument is, “Should we consider evolution as theory or fact?” Theory? Certainly, but fact, no. Meyer and Keas in their article present a long discussion of the history of this issue, and they and others have discussed at length the interconnections between science, philosophy, and religious faith.
• Note: The issue for most is over biological evolution.
• Note also: The origin of the first matter and energy is not the issue here. If and when that comes up, there is a sometimes mention of a “multiverse,” etc. This certainly can be discussed, as should be the problems, and missing pieces, of natural selection. So far, anyway, the suggestion of a multiverse or many universes is simply speculation.
¹ The website for this article is arn.org/docs/meyer/sm_meaningsofevolution.pdf . Unfortunately, we’ve found this worthy article difficult to copy, but it can be easily read electronically. Meyers is a director of the Discovery Institute, and Keas is a Senior Fellow. We recommend this organization which can be found at discovery.org.