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Evolution is ambiguously defined (Talk.Origins)

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Response Article
This article (Evolution is ambiguously defined (Talk.Origins)) is a response to a rebuttal of a creationist claim published by Talk.Origins Archive under the title Index to Creationist Claims.

Claim CA212:

Evolution is defined ambiguously, and claims that it is fact are based on the ambiguity. It is usually defined as "change in heritable characteristics in a population over time" (often expressed as "change in allele frequencies"), which everyone accepts as fact, but that does not mean that macroevolution or common descent are fact.

Source: POSH (Parents for Objective Science and History), n.d. Biology text review.

CreationWiki response:

Talk Origins does not counter the claim that evolution is defined ambiguously. The source it uses is quite instructive in showing how this ambiguity is used in school class rooms, and this ambiguity is not limited there. It can be seen on the media and even by evolutionists themselves. They use the word "evolution" to talk about

  • stellar evolution - the development of stars
  • cosmological evolution - the history and development of the universe
  • chemical evolution - the origin of life

(For sources on this see CA610 where the claim that evolution only deals with biological evolution when it starts is refuted.)

It is also true that evolutionists use variety within types of animals and speciation, which is relatively minor morphological and genetic change within a family of living organisms, e.g. bacteria, moths, dogs, etc, as evidence of the major theory of evolution which states that over billions of years bacteria have changed into fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals, which is, by the way, major change.

You may hear bacteria gaining resistance to antibiotics, or birds that were once interfertile (able to produce offspring) being split into two groups that can no longer breed with each other described as "evolution is action". The fact of the matter is that the bacteria are still bacteria, and the birds are still birds. The major parts of the theory of evolution, otherwise known as Darwinism or Neo-Darwinism or biological evolution, have never been observed and thus cannot be classed as fact. But this is an example of how the ambiguity of the word "evolution" is used to say that one small scale effect which is termed as "evolution" is evidence of the grand theory when they are not intrinsically related. The small scale effect is observed and accepted by creationists, but creationists do not take the leap of blind faith to say that such small scale change is unlimited or as vastly greater boundaries than what is observed.

Note that based on the grand unobserved and unobservable extrapolation (and therefore unscientific) of the observed small scale change that evolutionists believe that fossils in the layers of the ground are related, that similarities in the genetic code of different, apparently unrelated genera of living organisms (like fish and pigs, or pigs and humans) says something about how they are descended and other so-called evidences for the theory of biological evolution.

Anyway, let's deal with the Talk Origins discussion of this creationist claim.

(Talk.Origins quotes in blue)

Language tends to be ambiguous at times (e.g., the entry for the word "set" covers more than twenty-two pages of the original Oxford English Dictionary.) The word "evolution" is an unfortunate instance of that ambiguity; it is used for the fact of biological change over time; as shorthand for the theory of evolution, which encompasses a much broader range of observations and ideas; and for change generally, in any realm. The ambiguity can usually be resolved by the context in which the word is used, at least by people who know something about biological evolution.

Talk Origins makes an accurate statement. This fact is useful for anyone who looks at the evidences evolutionists use to promote their religious theory. Looking at the context of the use of the word "evolution", and comparing that with the evidence that is put forward, most people can tell how much philosophical baggage is applied to the word "evolution" and the evidences it uses. You will be able to see if what is being talked about is minor variation or actual observed evidence of the mega-change theory of biological evolution.

Mixing contexts is indeed improper, and the fact of allele frequency change, by itself, does not establish the theory of evolution.

Again, we can agree on this sentence.

The soundness of the theory of evolution does not rest on ambiguity. On the contrary, scientific papers are written so other scientists can tell what the authors are talking about; they must be as unambiguous as possible. The evidence is overwhelming: evolution is not only a theory; major aspects of it, such as common descent, are also facts.

This is where accuracy fails Talk Origins. As I said before, careful reading of scientific papers, and careful listening to what evolutionists say can help a person determine what sort of change is being talked about, how the word "evolution" is being used, and whether the evidence presented actually adds positive evidence for the theory of evolution. But to say the evidence for the theory of biological (Darwinian) evolution (or any other major form of naturalistic evolution such as chemical evolution, stellar evolution, or cosmic evolution) is overwhelming is at best questionable, and at worst, a lie, a gross error. This is again "elephant hurling", where a person gives a vague but grand statement that claims some authority due to the grand size of backing, but since none of that evidence is given (or major aspects of it have been refuted), the statement on its own has little real value, if any.

Talk Origins says that evolution is not only a theory, and by that it most likely is talking about biological evolution, the Darwin hypothesis about the origin of species or the idea that all living organisms come from one or a few common ancestors. There is no real scientific (observable) evidence for this. Talk Origins tries to make out that common descent is a fact. Let's note a very important aspect of this "fact". It has never been observed. There is no historical record of such a thing. It is more akin to a naturalistic interpretation of different phenomena. I'll note one idea to help you see what I mean.

Near the very bottom of the evolutionary hypothetical geologic column, their theoretical depiction of how the layers of the earth should be ordered, there are signs of bacteria. Above that layer, in their theoretical framework, there are more complex creatures (in fact there is a huge gap in complexity between the Pre-Cambrian [the name for the bottom layer in the theoretical columm] and Cambrian layers [the next layer up] which is commonly known as "the Cambrian explosion"). In other words, in one layer some "simple" things are buried and in the other layer more complex things are buried. Now evolutionists cannot do DNA tests on the fossils to find out who the father is (like a paternity test) to see if they really are related. They just believe that the bottom organism changed into the organisms higher up. No such thing has been observe in the living world today or in human experience. They are just imposing their religious naturalism on the fossils in their own theoretical idea about rock strata.

There are many more untestable assumptions involved, but I just gave you this to give you an idea of how evolutionists can operate. They are not unbiased observers of facts. They are biased humans who impose their worldview on the evidence, like everyone else. Creationists admit their bias. It is up to people to find which is the right bias to have.

Also you need to be very careful about things Talk Origins claims are facts that are not. It may state that major parts of the theory of evolution are fact, but they may not be. The example they give definitely is not. It is only consistent with the theory and the theory is far from fact, which is why it is called "the theory of evolution", and as some ancient Jewish and Christian commentators have stated: a theory that is useful [even that is questionable when it comes to the theory of evolution] does not thereby show that it is true/fact.

An important point to note is what science cannot do. Talk Origins tries to tell us about the "fact" of common descent from a simple, possibly uni-cellular organism, suggesting that the changes that organism has to go through to become us is factual. Because this has never been observed in human experience, the next quote is useful in judging such a statement.

"The universally-held rider to the theory of empiricism is Hume's proof of the ultimate unprovability of any experiential knowledge or the 'uncertainty principle'. This means that scientists agree that even the most well-tried theory is not certainly true and even the most well-founded prediction can, in principle, prove wrong. Experience alone has the last say always. This thesis - itself 'proven' only by common sense or ordinary reasoning - is hailed in science as the guarantee of open-mindedness and anti-dogmatism. It teaches caution and reservation about all past observations and present theories." (Objectivity in science, by Robert Priddy)

Since the "fact" of common descent from a simpler organism is outside of human experience, it is simply not a fact at all, not even a scientific one. Talk Origins oversteps its boundaries here, claiming to be a scientific website, but making unscientific claims.

Just one last thing. The whole statement of Talk Origins is as follows: "evolution is not only a theory; major aspects of it, such as common descent, are also facts." This statement is quite inaccurate. Evolution is still only a theory, even if it has facts within it. Why? Because it can be a misinterpretation or misrepresentation of the facts it contains, even if it supposedly has some usefulness. And, as I pointed out before, the example of "fact" given puts the idea that the major aspects of the theory are facts in question. Added to this is the fact that there is evidence against the general theory even in the observable world today, e.g., limited change in living organisms, no evidence that nature on its own can create more genetic information which is necessary for the grand theory of evolution. I repeat, evolution is still only a theory at best, and an unscientific religio-philosophical myth about the history of living organisms at worst.

Creationists sometimes misuse the ambiguity to their own advantage, trying, for example, to include cosmological change as part of the theory of evolution (Hovind n.d.). This is gross ignorance, deliberate dishonesty, or both.

This is also incorrect. Although Hovind does include cosmological change as part of what he calls the "general theory of evolution" (see below), this is not the same as what Darwinists call "the theory of evolution", which is just biological evolution. He separates cosmic evolution from biological evolution, but shows that they all come under a naturalistic and also atheistic umbrella of an evolutionary development of the universe into its current state, including both living organisms and the universe around them. So his "general theory of evolution" is an overview of that naturalistic evolutionary history of the universe. In the quote underneath he summarizes his overview (what he calls "the general theory") with 5 major naturalistic claims, the last two of which refer to the theory of biological evolution.

"When I use the word evolution, I am not referring to the minor variations found in all of the various life forms (microevolution). I am referring to the general theory of evolution which believes these five major events took place without God:

  • Time, space, and matter came into existence by themselves.
  • Planets and stars formed from space dust.
  • Matter created life by itself
  • Early life-forms learned to reproduce themselves.
  • Major changes occurred between these diverse life forms (i.e., fish changed to amphibians, amphibians changed to reptiles, and reptiles changed to birds or mammals)." (Dr. Hovind's $250,000 Offer)

He shows that the word "evolution" is ambiguous and it has a number of uses which he justifiably uses since other scientists use the terms he uses in the way he states them. You see this further down on his webpage where he has 6 forms of evolution.

"There are at least six different and unrelated meanings to the word “evolution” as used in science textbooks.

  1. Cosmic evolution- the origin of time, space and matter. Big Bang.
  2. Chemical evolution- the origin of higher elements from hydrogen.
  3. Stellar and planetary evolution- Origin of stars and planets.
  4. Organic evolution- Origin of life from inanimate matter.
  5. Macroevolution- Origin of major kinds.
  6. Microevolution Variations within kinds- Only this one has been observed, the first five are religious. They are believed, by faith, even though there is no empirical evidence to prove them in any way. While I admire the great faith of the evolutionists who accept the first five I object to having this religious propaganda included in with legitimate science at taxpayer’s expense. (ibid.)

So Talk Origins have either misunderstood him, or they were just libelling him and other creationists.

See Also