Monday, February 18, 2008

PoE: 1.1.1. No standard definition of "evolution"

At last, here is subsection 1.1.1, "There is no standard definition of `evolution,'" the first actual page of my online book outline, "Problems of Evolution"!

[Left: The late Ernst Mayr's, "What Evolution Is" (2001), which however does not really say what "evolution" is! See below.]

Now that I have posted more than half of the Bibliography pages, I should be able to post these pages more rapidly, my aim being at least one subsection page per week.

However, I am now dividing my time between three blogs, the other two being My other blogs: TheShroudofTurin and Jesus is Jehovah!, progress will inevitably be slower. These pages are really only first drafts, so I make no claim to them being perfect. This is a work-in-progress.


PROBLEMS OF EVOLUTION
© Stephen E. Jones, BSc. (Biology).

CONTENTS

BIBLIOGRAPHY

1. INTRODUCTION

1.1. What is evolution?

1.1.1. There is no standard definition of "evolution"

The first problem of evolution is that evolutionists seem unable to agree on a standard definition of what evolution is!

This is evident in that leading biology dictionaries all have different definitions of "evolution." For example, the Oxford Dictionary of Biology, defines "evolution" as, "The gradual process by which the present diversity of plant and animal life arose from the earliest and most primitive organisms, which is believed to have been continuing for at least the past 3000 million years" (Martin & Hine, 2000, p.219). According to the Cambridge Dictionary of Biology, "evolution" is "Changes in the genetic composition of a population during successive generations" and "The gradual development of more complex organisms from simpler ones" (Walker, ed, 1989, pp.105-106). The Collins Dictionary of Biology states that "evolution" is "an explanation of the way in which present-day organisms have been produced, involving changes taking place in the genetic make-up of populations that have been passed on to successive generations." (Hale, et al., 1995, p.249). The Penguin Dictionary of Biology does not define "evolution" but instead gives a distinction between "Microevolution" being "changes in appearance of populations and species over generations" and "Macroevolution" involving "origins and extinctions of species and grades" (Thain & Hickman, 2000, pp.228-229).

One would think that if anyone could give a definition of what "evolution" it would be the late Ernst Mayr (1904-2005), who for more than a half-century was regarded as "the greatest living evolutionary biologist" (Raeburn, 2001). And if there was any of Mayr's works that would have the definitive definition of "evolution" it would be in his last book on evolution, "What Evolution Is" (2001). But in that book Mayr's definition of "evolution" is "the gradual process by which the living world has been developing following the origin of life" (Mayr, 2001, p.286), is so vague that it would encompass most versions of creation! But this is to be expected of one once frankly admitted that evolution "looks alike to no two persons" with different "attempts at causal explanation" being determined by the different backgrounds of each biologist (Mayr, 1970, p.1)!

But as the late Harvard paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould (1941-2002) once admitted that the theory of "evolution" was "a conglomerate idea consisting of conflicting hypotheses" and that he and his "colleagues teach it as such" (Gould, 1987a, p.65). British paleontologist Simon Conway Morris observed that, "the only point of agreement" among evolutionists is that "It happened" and "Thereafter, there is little consensus" (Conway Morris, 2000, p.1).

However, this lack of a standard definition of "evolution" provides evolutionists with an enormous tactical advantage, in that the same word "evolution" can mean something as narrow as "dog-breeding" and as wide as "all living things are the accidental products of a purposeless universe" (Johnson, 1997, pp.44-45). "Evolution" therefore is a highly manipulable term that enables the evolutionist to switch back and forth between those very different meanings of "evolution" and any meaning in between, during in the course of the same discussion (Johnson, 1995, p.74).

We will next consider what "evolution" is not, and finally what "evolution" really is.

Stephen E. Jones, BSc. (Biology).

My other blogs: TheShroudofTurin & Jesus is Jehovah!


"When discussing organic evolution the only point of agreement seems to be: `It happened.' Thereafter, there is little consensus, which at first sight must seem rather odd." (Conway Morris, S., 2000, "Evolution: Bringing Molecules into the Fold," Cell, Vol. 100, January 7, pp.1-11, p.1).

""evolution an explanation of the way in which present-day organisms have been produced, involving changes taking place in the genetic make-up of populations that have been passed on to successive generations. According to DARWINISM, evolutionary MUTATIONS have given rise to changes that have, through NATURAL SELECTION, either survived in better adapted organisms (See ADAPTATION, GENETIC), or died out. Evolution is now generally accepted as the means which gives rise to new species (as opposed to SPECIAL CREATION) but there is still debate about exactly how it has taken place and how rapidly changes can take place." (Hale, W.G., Margham, J.P. & Saunders, V.A. , 1995, "Collins Dictionary of Biology," [1988], HarperCollins: Glasgow UK, Second edition, p.249. Emphasis original).

"Of course the official caricature utterly misrepresents the scope of the controversy. Creationists are not necessarily Genesis literalists or believers in a young earth, nor do they necessarily reject `evolution' in all senses of that highly manipulable term. A creationist is simply a person who believes that God creates-meaning that the living world is the product of an intelligent and purposeful Creator rather than merely a combination of chance events and impersonal natural laws. Critics of evolutionary theory are well aware of the standard examples of microevolution, including dog breeding and the cyclical variations that have been seen in things like finch beaks and moth populations. The difference is that we interpret these observations as examples of the capacity of dogs and finches to vary within limits, not of a process capable of creating dogs and finches, much less the main groups of plants and animals, in the first place. This skepticism about the extrapolationist view of evolution is hardly unreasonable, because many distinguished evolutionary biologists have also written that large-scale evolutionary change cannot be explained as a product of merely the accumulation of generation-to-generation variations. As any creationist (and many evolutionists) would see the matter, making the case for `evolution' as a general theory of life's history requires a lot more than merely citing examples of small-scale variation. It requires showing how extremely complex biological structures can be built up from simple beginnings by natural processes, without the need for input or guidance from a supernatural Creator." (Johnson, P.E., 1995, "Reason in the Balance: The Case Against Naturalism in Science, Law, and Education," InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, p.74).

"Vague Terms and Shifting Definitions Make sure people don't mislead you by using vague terms that can suddenly take on a new meaning. In the creation-evolution debate, the key terms that are subject to manipulation are science and evolution. Everybody is in favor of science, and everybody also believes in evolution - when that term is defined broadly enough! But science has more than one definition, and so does evolution. Watch out for `bait and switch' tactics, by which you are led to agree with a harmless definition and then the term is used in a very different sense. Here's an example of how you can be deceived: `You believe in dog breeding, don't you? Well, did you know that dog breeding is an example of evolution? Now that you know that, and have seen all those breeds of dogs for yourself, you realize that you actually do believe in evolution, don't you? Good. That's enough for today. Later on we'll tell you more about what evolution means.' (It's going to mean that all living things are the accidental products of a purposeless universe.) This is not a `straw man' example, by the way. Selective breeding of animals is a process guided by intelligence, and it produces only variations within the species; yet Darwinists from Charles Darwin himself to the more recent Richard Dawkins and Francis Crick have cited it as a powerful example of `evolution.' If somebody asks, `Do you believe in evolution?' the right reply is not `Yes' or `No.' It is: `Precisely what do you mean by evolution?' My experience has been that the first definition I get will be so broad as to be indisputable - like `There has been change in the course of life's history.' Later on a much more precise and controversial definition- like the one by the National Association of Biology Teachers I quoted in chapter one - will be substituted without notice. That one word evolution can mean something so tiny it hardly matters, or so big it explains the whole history of the universe. Keep your baloney detector trained on that word. If it moves, zap it!" (Johnson, P.E. , 1997, "Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds," InterVarsity Press: Downers Grove IL, pp.44-45. Emphasis original).

"Learn to use terms precisely and consistently. Evolution is a term of many meanings, and the meanings have a way of changing without notice. Dog breeding and finch-beak variations are frequently cited as typical examples of evolution. So is the fact that all the differing races of humans descend from a single parent, or even that Americans today are larger on average than they were a century ago (due to better nutrition). If relatively minor variations like that were all evolution were about, there would be no controversy, and even the strictest biblical fundamentalists would be evolutionists. Of course evolution is about a lot more than in-species variation. The important issue is whether the dog breeding and finch-beak examples fairly illustrate the process that created animals in the first place. Using the single term evolution to cover both the controversial and the uncontroversial aspects of evolution is a recipe for misunderstanding." (Johnson, 1997, p.57. Emphasis original).

"evolution The gradual process by which the present diversity of plant and animal life arose from the earliest and most primitive organisms, which is believed to have been continuing for at least the past 3000 million years. Until the middle of the 18th century it was generally believed that each species was divinely created and fixed in its form throughout its existence (see special creation). Lamarck was the first biologist to publish a theory to explain how one species could have evolved into another (see Lamarckism), but it was not until the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859 that special creation was seriously challenged. Unlike Lamarck, Darwin proposed a feasible mechanism for evolution and backed it up with evidence from the fossil record and studies of comparative anatomy and embryology (see Darwinism; natural selection). The modern version of Darwinism, which incorporates discoveries in genetics made since Darwin's time, probably remains the most acceptable theory of species evolution (see also punctuated equilibrium). More controversial, however, and still to be firmly clarified, are the relationships and evolution of groups above the species level. See also macroevolution; microevolution." (Martin, E. & Hine, R.S., eds. , 2000, "Oxford Dictionary of Biology," [1985], Oxford University Press: Oxford UK, Fourth edition, p.219. Emphasis original).

"The theory of evolution is quite rightly called the greatest unifying theory in biology. The diversity of organisms, similarities and differences between kinds of organisms, patterns of distribution and behavior, adaptation and interaction, all this was merely a bewildering chaos of facts until given meaning by the evolutionary theory. There is no area in biology in which that theory does not serve as an ordering principle. Yet this very universality of application has created difficulties. Evolution shows so many facets that it looks alike to no two persons. The more different the backgrounds of two biologists, the more different their attempts at causal explanation." (Mayr, E.W., 1970, "Populations, Species and Evolution," Harvard University Press: Cambridge MA, Reprinted, 1974, p.1).

"Evolution The gradual process by which the living world has been developing following the origin of life." (Mayr, E.W., 2001, "What Evolution Is," Basic Books: New York NY, p.286. Emphasis original).

"Mayr has been called `the greatest living evolutionary biologist' by his colleague Stephen Jay Gould. He has held that honorary title for more than half a century: one of his most important contributions came in 1942, when he published `Systematics and the Origin of Species,' which incorporated genetics, ecology and paleontology into what has become the modern view of evolution. And Mayr has been hard at it ever since, turning out two books this year alone. (Besides this one, he has a 500-page scholarly work on the birds of Melanesia, written with Jared M. Diamond.)." (Raeburn, P., 2001, "An Evolving Idea." Review of "What Evolution Is," by Ernst Mayr, Basic Books. New York, 2001. The New York Times, December 16)

"evolution (1) Microevolution: changes in appearance of populations and species over generations. (2) Macroevolution or phyletic evolution: origins and EXTINCTIONS of species and grades (see SPECIATION). .... It is usually accepted that causes of evolutionary change include NATURAL SELECTION and GENETIC DRIFT, and that macroevolutionary change can be explained by the same factors that bring about microevolution. ... Opposed to evolutionary explanations of the composition of the Earth's fauna and flora is the group of views termed 'SPECIAL CREATIONISM', which holds that there are no bonds of genetic relationship between species, past or present." (Thain, M. & Hickman, M., 2000, "The Penguin Dictionary of Biology," [1951], Penguin Books: London, Tenth Edition, pp.228-229. Emphasis original).

"evolution Changes in the genetic composition of a population during successive generations. The gradual development of more complex organisms from simpler ones." (Walker, P.M.B., ed., 1989, "Cambridge Dictionary of Biology," Cambridge University Press: New York NY, Reprinted, 1990, pp.105-106. Emphasis original).

"Well, Mr. Kristol, evolution (as theory) is indeed `a conglomerate idea consisting of conflicting hypotheses,' and I and my colleagues teach it as such." (Gould, S.J., 1987, "Darwinism Defined: The Difference Between Fact and Theory," Discover, January, pp.64-70, p.65).

5 comments:

Da Vinci said...

Stephen Jones: "I am an Australian Christian old-Earth creationist/IDist biologist who accepts universal common ancestry (but not evolution)."

I think you are nothing but an oxymoron.

Stephen E. Jones said...

Da Vinci

>Stephen Jones: "I am an Australian Christian old-Earth creationist/IDist biologist who accepts universal common ancestry (but not evolution)."
>
>I think you are nothing but an oxymoron.

Thanks for your comment.

However, you "think" wrong.

The fact is that I *am* a creationist who accepts universal common ancestry and I debated that position for over a decade (1995-2005) on Yahoo Groups against both evolutionists and creationists until I `retired' from debating to concentrate on blogging.

The key is that while I accept universal common ancestry, I do not accept that the mechanisms were fully naturalistic, i.e. I maintain that God intervened supernaturally at strategic points in those chains of descent.

That position has been rejected as "not evolution at all" but "divine creation" by evolutionists from Darwin to Dawkins.

For example, Prof. Michael Behe, who also accepts universal common ancestry, but not fully naturalistic evolution, and calls his position God-guided evolution, is classified as an Intelligent Design Creationist by leading evolutionists.

See also my web page, "Why I (a creationist) accept common ancestry (not evolution)"

Stephen E. Jones

Da Vinci said...

Stephen Jones: "The key is that while I accept universal common ancestry, I do not accept that the mechanisms were fully naturalistic"

The concept of evolution doesn't imply the mechanism. You can accept evolution without naturalistic mechanisms. I think you have a misunderstanding of evolution. The mechanisms of evolution can be naturalistic. Evolution as a concept does not include the mechanisms which explain how it happens. IMO you accept universal common ancestery and evolution (but not fully nuturalistic evolution).

Stephen Jones: "I maintain that God intervened supernaturally at strategic points in those chains of descent."

Can you give any examples for these interventions? For example is the fusion of chimp 2A ve 2B chromosomes a result of God's intervention? If so how do you know that? Do you have any evidence that it is not a naturalistic process?

And do you think there has to be an intervention of God for every novel species?

Stephen E. Jones said...

Da Vinci

>The concept of evolution doesn't imply the mechanism.

[...]

>Can you give any examples for these interventions?

[...]

>And do you think there has to be an intervention of God for every novel species?

Sorry, but I have neither the time nor the inclination to engage in extended answering of evolutionists' questions anymore. Over a decade of debating committed evolutionists on the Internet from 1994-2005 taught me that *nothing* I say makes even the *slightest* difference to them.

So for the answer to these questions and more you will have to wait till I get to that section of my online book, "Problems of Evolution".

Otherwise, do searches on my now terminated Yahoo list CreationEvolutionDesign and see what my answers were.

Now as per my stated policy on my CED blog's front page, I no longer debate and so I reply only once to each comment and allow the commenter to have the last word.

You can now have the last word.

Stephen E. Jones

Da Vinci said...

S. Jones: "You can now have the last word."

:))))

No, thanks.

I will only advice you one thing. Try to understand the difference between evolution and its mechanisms. Mechanisms are independent from evolution. I think you accept evolution but not the naturalistic mechanisms of it.