Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Define evolution absent the Darwin lobby, and what do you get?


Here’s how the Royal Tyrrell Museum in Alberta, Canada, noted for its spectacular dinosaur collection from the Badlands, defines evolution (June 3, 2013):

Changing Life: Species change through time and give rise to new species. As the earth changes, so must the organisms that live on it. The plants and animals that adapt to their changing environments pass along these successful traits to their descendants over millions of years. This is the theory of evolution.

Sounds reasonable. Except, unfortunately, it is not the “theory of evolution” that is typically inflicted on the public.

The Darwin lobby doesn’t like this sort of definition because it leaves mechanism (especially their favourite God-like mechanism, natural selection acting on random mutation as the cause of almost all development in life forms) out of the picture.

The museum is wise to avoid prostrating itself before the Darwin lobby. We really have no idea how much evolution has occurred by horizontal gene transfer, epigenetic change, chromosome doubling, convergence on a common target, genetic drift within a boundary fixed by external circumstances, etc. We just do not know at this point.

The only danger in even drawing attention to the Tyrrell’s explanation of evolution is that a horde of Darwin’s faithful will write to demand that the wording be amended to reflect their belief system. Let’s hope the  lobby is too busy hounding some neurosurgeon or or other to go after the museum.

Someone reminded me recently of ID godfather Phillip Johnson’s approach:

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 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! (Defeating Darwinism by Opening Minds, 1997)

Before it zaps you.

I think definition 1 is fine. The word "evolution" is in fact commonly used in this way to mean a "process of formation or growth" for any manner of subject and the dictionary reflects that. The "blunder" arises when this very broad definition is inappropriately extrapolated to cover specifically the formation and development of all life in the universe through strictly natural processes. It is not the definition that is flawed; it is the analogy that is flawed. sagebrush gardener
Thats what happens when you consider your audience. Sometimes you can go into detail, sometimes you cant. It depends on who youre going to be talking to. Joealtle
And when it comes to biology, why does the OP's definition differ from Futuyma's? Aren't they explaining the same process? The OP's definition of evolution leaves out natural selection and mutations. If evolution is simply change over time, then it might be true: everything changes over time. But did everything get here by means of an undirected process, as Darwin stated? Barb
Yes the first definition is the most commonly used by the layperson. When it comes to biology though, something tells me that definition is not the one they are looking for. Joealtle
The first definition is generally the most common, and the one that most people associate with the word. That's why the OP (which you obviously didn't read) asks that a person be specific when discussing and defining evolution, because it can have several different meanings. And none of those meanings prove that evolution is true, either. Barb
Barb, if youll notice, there were numerous definitions in your copy/paste job. The first one is the one that mentions airplanes, and the first one has nothing to do with evolution in the biological sense that you are trying, and I emphasize TRYING, to talk about. Its ok, get 'em next time. Joealtle
Tell that to Douglas Futuyma: "[Darwin's] alternative to intelligent design was design by the completely mindless process of natural selection, according to which organisms possessing variations that enhance survival or reproduction replace those less suitably endowed, which therefore survive or reproduce in lesser degree. This process cannot have a goal, any more than erosion has the goal of forming canyons, for the future cannot cause material events in the present. Thus the concepts of goals or purposes have no place in biology (or any other of the natural sciences), except in studies of human behavior. (p. 282) Futuyma goes on to discuss an experiment involving bacteria later in his book: "This experiment conveys the essence of natural selection: it is a completely mindless process without forethought or goal. (p. 285) Maybe it's Futuyma's reading comprehension that is bad. Barb
Barb, evolution "designs" in the sense that is an iterative process with feedback loops. It is not a "blind, random process". But I guess you already know that. 5for
The first planes didn't have jet engines on them. How did later planes get jet engines? What blind, random process did this? Oh, wait. Planes are still designed by humans and do not evolve from lifeless raw materials. My reading comprehension is fine. Yours, not so much. Barb
Depending on the definition, airplanes can be said to evolve...as in "development"...the first planes didnt have jet engines on them you know. You should work on your reading comprehension. Joealtle
From Dictionary.com: ev·o·lu·tion [ev-uh-loo-shuhn or, esp. British, ee-vuh-] 1. any process of formation or growth; development: the evolution of a language; the evolution of the airplane. 2. a product of such development; something evolved: The exploration of space is the evolution of decades of research. 3. Biology . change in the gene pool of a population from generation to generation by such processes as mutation, natural selection, and genetic drift. 4. a process of gradual, peaceful, progressive change or development, as in social or economic structure or institutions. 5. a motion incomplete in itself, but combining with coordinated motions to produce a single action, as in a machine. Did anyone else notice Berra's blunder in the first definition? Airplanes don't evolve; they are engineered. By humans. Here is how I would define organic evolution—the theory that the first living organism developed from nonliving matter. Then, as it reproduced, it is said to have changed into different kinds of living things, producing ultimately all forms of life that have ever existed on earth, including humans. And all of this is believed to have been accomplished without intelligent direction or supernatural intervention. Barb

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