Evolution: understanding the term

In Evolution/Creation, Science, Term Definition by Steve WilkinsonLeave a Comment

In the coming weeks, I will be posting a blog which should be very helpful to people struggling with the issue of creation vs evolution. However, as a background to that article, we first need to take a look at some of the terms used in the discussion. We will begin with the word evolution itself.

Definition of Evolution

It is important to realize that people can mean different things by the term ‘evolution’. I find that people are often talking past each other in discussions when using this term. It is important, then, to get everyone on the same page so they can truly get to the core of agreement or disagreement.

evolution (#1) – change over time – We use this inside and outside of science. For example, the way school is taught has evolved over the years. In science, this can be applied to biology. We certainly know biological organisms change over time as well as through generations. Think of basic biology experiments with fruit flies, bacteria, etc. I think everyone accepts this definition and understanding of evolution (or at least should).

evolution (#2) – micro or special – Small changes between generations of living things, where some changes will likely be advantageous to an organism and be passed on through generations. In other words, natural selection or some derivative of the concept. Some might dispute whether a species (1)another ambiguous term jump can happen here, but I think micro evolution is (and should be) generally accepted. Most of us have heard about the finch beaks Darwin observed, or we might think of something like dog breeding. Though forced by humans, there is a similar effect. In the end, it is still a dog, but the changes can be quite remarkable.

evolution (#3) – macro or general – That micro or special evolution, over long time periods, can account for the diversity of life we see. (2)Origin of life is really a separate issue, though sometimes called chemical evolution. Common descent or Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA) language is often used. This is where the most of the disagreement comes in (or, where it should come in).

When scientists chide people for not accepting evolution as a fact, they are talking about evolution #1 and probably #2. However, they are also often brining an assumption of #3 along with that. When Christians reject evolution, they should probably be rejecting only #3, if any at all. There are some Christians who would accept #3.

If we simply lump all three definitions together and accept or reject them in whole, the scientist is going to think the Christian who rejects evolution to be simple-minded or worse. On the other hand, the Christian who  is wary of #3 is going to see the scientist who accepts evolution as up to no good; trying to smuggle their worldview in with their science. And, unfortunately, both are often the case.

If we understand these definitions, we can ask the right questions when we are in conversation to be certain we know what the other person means by ‘evolution’. We can then decide on how many things we agree, and talk about the areas where we disagree. Doing so might not bring agreement and resolution, but should bring understanding and generate mutual respect. This is something desperately needed from both sides in this debate!