googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: Evo Speak

Monday, May 4, 2015

Evo Speak

Humpty Dumpty took the book and looked at it carefully. 'That seems to be done right —' he began.
'You're holding it upside down!' Alice interrupted.
'To be sure I was!' Humpty Dumpty said gaily as she turned it round for him. 'I thought it looked a little queer. As I was saying, that seems to be done right — though I haven't time to look it over thoroughly just now — and that shows that there are three hundred and sixty-four days when you might get un-birthday presents —'
'Certainly,' said Alice.
'And only one for birthday presents, you know. There's glory for you!'
'I don't know what you mean by "glory",' Alice said.
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. 'Of course you don't — till I tell you. I meant "there's a nice knock-down argument for you!"'
'But "glory" doesn't mean "a nice knock-down argument",' Alice objected.
'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.'
Through the Looking Glass, by Lewis Carroll

It's somewhat superfluous to say, “words mean things” but at the same time I believe some people think words can mean anything. If you want to have a dialogue with someone, we sometimes take for granted that the other person is using words in the way that we generally understand them. In the creation/evolution debate, it has been my experience that militant evolutionists habitually abuse the language. They do this intentionally so as to muddy the waters and confuse the unsuspecting public. It's rather shameful, really, because they so abuse certain terms that it borders on lying.

I've commented on this phenomenon many times before but I thought it might be helpful if I put some of the most abused words in a single post and create a sort of “Evo-speak to English” translation.

Science: Science comes from the Latin term for “knowledge.” It's generally used to describe a methodology used to study the world or gather simply to gather knowledge. It's also used to describe a body of knowledge (as in, “the mathematical sciences”). Evolutionists, however, intend it to mean, “the methodological search for a natural explanation of some phenomenon.” They're not necessarily interested in the correct explanation – only a natural one. It's been said more than once that even if God created the world supernaturally, creation could still not be taught in schools because it's not scientific. Evolutionists also use the word “science” interchangeably with “evolution.”

Evolution: Most people understand evolution to mean the descent of all life from a simpler life form over millions of years. It includes the change of one kind of creature into another kind – like dinosaur-to-bird or ape-to-man. Evolutionists have a technically meaning of the word where “evolution” can describe any change in a population. So a population of moths which changes from mostly dark to mostly light over a generation can be said to have evolved. It's fine for an industry to use technical terms but if they want to engage the public in a dialogue, they need to understand that the debate over “evolution” is about the ape-to-man type of evolution and not wolf-to-dog.

Natural Selection: This is an observed phenomenon where traits present in a population of animals are tested to see if they are conducive to the environment. Traits that are conducive generally allow the host to live longer and pass the trait along to more offspring. Traits not conducive generally means the host does not live as long and so has fewer offspring. Over time, the undesirable traits tend to become removed from the population leaving a species that is well adapted to its environment. Evolutionists, however, tend to use the term “natural selection” as a synonym for evolution. They want us to believe that the same mechanisms that remove a particular shade of moth pigment (for example) could also turn a dinosaur into a bird.

Creationism: Words ending in “ism” describe a philosophy, belief, or worldview (atheism, capitalism, patriotism, etc). “Creationism” is the belief that God created the world supernaturally. It's not the same word as “creation.” “Creation” describes either the act of God creating or it describes the thing created (i.e., the universe). Creationism is a fine word and completely acceptable in the correct context. Evolutionists, on the other hand, seem to not be aware of the word “creation” and so consistently use the word “creationism” incorrectly. They may say something like, “what is the evidence for creationism?” Such a statement is nonsense because they are essentially asking for evidence of people believing God created the universe. They mean to ask, “what is the evidence for 'creation'?” By the way, words that end in “ist” describe the people who adhere to a particular belief system. For example, people who believe in “atheism” are “atheists.” Therefore, people who believe in “creationism” are “creationists.” Which brings me to my next point about evolutionists.

Evolutionists: Just like “creationists” describes people who believe in a miraculous creation of the universe, “evolutionists” describes people who believe in an old universe and the gradual rise of species via evolution. The term does tend to be used more by creationists but there is usually nothing pejorative meant by its use. It's more of a label of convenience to identify the participants in the debate. Most evolutionists, on the other hand, abhor the term. I've heard them say things like, “there's no such word as 'evolutionist,'” as though they're the word czars who get to decide which words are “real.” I'm not sure exactly why they despise the term but I suspect it's because they feel using it makes evolution sound like a belief. Evolutionists who reject the term often suggest the word “scientists” as an alternative. It's rather ridiculous because not everyone who believes in evolution is a scientist. And for the record, the belief that life arose via evolution is “evolutionism.”

Theory: Lay people, which includes the majority of people, tend to use the word theory to describe a guess or hunch about how something happened. Some people will highlight the word “theory” in the term, “theory of evolution” as an argument that the whole belief is speculative. Scientists, on the other hand, have a technical definition of the word that makes it a little more substantial than just a guess or hypothesis. However, in spite of their insistence that scientific theories are “well tested, well substantiated, and well supported” explanations of the evidence, evolutionists themselves toss the word “theory” around in much the same way that the lay public does. I direct you, for example, to the LiveScience article, “7 Theories on the Origin of Life.” Here are seven “theories” about how life began that are unobserved, untested, and frankly do not even describe processes that have actually produced life. They're seven guesses. The argument that “evolution is just a theory” may not be a strong argument, but neither does describing evolution as a "theory" make it any more credible scientifically.

In conclusion, I'll remind you of a quote made by Laurence Moran on Talk Origins:

Scientists such as myself must share the blame for the lack of public understanding of science. We need to work harder to convey the correct information. Sometimes we don't succeed very well but that does not mean that we are dishonest. On the other hand, the general public, and creationists in particular, need to also work a little harder in order to understand science. Reading a textbook would help.

I would say to Mr. Moran that “scientists” are not the final arbiters on what words mean. It's the “general public” - the very group that he chides as being uninformed – that actually decides what words mean. Scientists shouldn't “share the blame”; they should accept the blame for years of intentionally abusing words in attempt to mislead the general public in the evolution and creation debate.


Steven J. said...

Experts in every field are the final arbiters of what words in that field mean. True, the public may disagree, not even realizing that it disagrees, and this needs to be taken into account when dealing with the unlearned and ignorant (C.S. Lewis somewhere notes that to laymen, "immaculate conception" means "virgin birth" -- which is, of course, not at all what Catholic and High Church Anglicans mean by the term), but this does not make the experts wrong. At best, it means that words have (as they often do) multiple, context-dependent meanings.

Also note, as Dr. Moran does, that this works both ways -- a layman who assumes that experts are using a technical term in the same non-technical sense he is are simply wrong -- they are reading out of context and misunderstanding what they read or hear.

It may be worth noting that "evolutionist" has a technical meaning; it means a biologist who studies particularly the processes of evolution. Jerry Coyne is an evolutionist (he is an expert in speciation), but, e.g. P.Z. Myers and Richard Dawkins technically are not.

The technical meaning of "evolution" is any inheritable or genetic change to a population. Changes due to environmental factors acting on individuals (e.g. smaller stature due to malnutrition) can affect entire populations but is not evolution (but if smaller offspring survive because they need less food, and the largest size attainable even given good nutrition shrinks over time, that is evolution).

Creationists differ as to how much inheritable change over time they accept. Todd Woods once argued that bears and dogs do indeed share a common ancestor; I'm not sure that Hugh Ross admits that dogs and coyotes share a common ancestor. Evolutionists, of course, assume that the same processes that produce the degree of change that you can accept produce, over larger amounts of time, the sorts of changes you reject.

I have encountered evolutionists (in your sense, not the technical sense) who use "evolution" to mean "natural selection" (Arthur Keith, infamously, said that Hitler tried to model German society on "evolution," but this makes no sense unless he actually meant "natural selection"), but I have not seen the reverse occur. Do you have a citation?

I have, on the other hand, encountered creationists who deny natural selection. I have encountered creationists who claim that creationists invented or discovered the idea. These are occasionally the same creationists: apparently, if you attribute natural selection to Darwin, it leads directly to the Holocaust, but it you attribute it to Edward Blythe, it has no morally deleterious effects (even though it seems to me that if you think natural selection has some sort of purpose or goal, that ought to make you more likely to embrace eugenics). So the temptation to demonstrate to creationists that natural selection really happens, whether or not they approve of it this week, is sometimes strong.

Steven J. said...

I mention again that words have ranges of meaning, and meanings change over time and across groups of speakers. It seems to me rather inconsistent of you to insist that "creationism" cannot be synonymous with (one particular use of) "creation," in the same article in which you challenge what you see as arbitrary stipulative definitions of, e.g. "theory."

Anyway, when I, or I think "evolutionists" (in your sense) in general, speak of a "natural" explanation, they mean one that tells us why things are one way rather than another in terms of the "nature" of causes, the effects they regularly produce and the effects they cannot produce. Now, there's a real problem with generation an explanation in terms of omnipotence: a cause that can mimic the effects of any other cause whatsoever, or produce effects no finite cause is capable of.

An explanation in terms of miracles would therefore depend on aspects of God's nature other than His omnipotence -- e.g. His goals or design philosophy. But creationists generally either insist that we are not entitled to assumptions about these things (e.g. my own assumption that if young-Earth creationism were true, all radiometric dating would yield ages ranging from zero to ca. 10,000 years old, simply because God could do that and would wish nature to be a clear, honest revelation of what He had done), or insist that somehow, despite appearances, nature does fit those predictions (e.g. repeated denials of the existence of "junk" DNA -- or even of feathered dinosaurs!). An "explanation" that is consistent with any possible evidence is no explanation at all -- precisely because it doesn't tell us why things are this way rather than that way.

Theories are testable explanations. Again, note that if you're going to argue (as every creationist ministry does) that no possible evidence could falsify creationism, then you're arguing that creation is not a theory.

Note that theories on the origin of life might, despite incompleteness, be genuine theories by virtue of actually making testable predictions (e.g. are these reactions possible under plausible conditions?). "God poofed life into existence six thousand years ago but probably doesn't feel like doing it today" is not so testable. Note that claiming that some theories are well-tested and abundantly supported does not make these attributes part of any definition of the word "theory," any more than describing a steak as "juicy" and "tasty" means that nothing overcooked could possibly be a steak.

RKBentley said...

Steven J,

The “experts” are welcome to have jargon. However, they are wrong when they expect the general public to only use the same technical meaning of the jargon that the experts have defined. Did you read all of Dr. Moran's article that I linked? Let me cite another passage:

“Standard dictionaries are even worse.

"evolution: ...the doctrine according to which higher forms of life have gradually arisen out of lower.." - Chambers

"evolution: ...the development of a species, organism, or organ from its original or primitive state to its present or specialized state; phylogeny or ontogeny" – Webster's

These definitions are simply wrong. Unfortunately it is common for non-scientists to enter into a discussion about evolution with such a definition in mind. This often leads to fruitless debate since the experts are thinking about evolution from a different perspective. When someone claims that they don't believe in evolution they cannot be referring to an acceptable scientific definition of evolution because that would be denying something which is easy to demonstrate. It would be like saying that they don't believe in gravity!”

By what authority do you believe he can assert these common definitions are “wrong”? If the experts don't understand what a layperson means when he says “I don't believe in evolution” then I will help them: It means the person doesn't believe men evolved from apes. But you really expect me to believe the experts don't already know that? Do you really expect me to believe that evolutionary scientists are so smart that they become confused when they hear “stupid people” use words incorrectly?

The experts know exactly what the debate is about but, like I said, they are intentionally conflating the various meanings of the word, “evolution” in order to muddy the water. According to their “technical” definition of evolution, there is no substantial difference between a population of moths varying in shades of gray and a frog becoming a prince. If you accept the former, you have to accept the latter because both are “evolution.” It's a lie!

If your side truly wants the debate to move forward, you should get past the ridiculous idea that us common folk really don't even know what we're objecting to. But, I know your side really doesn't want the debate to move forward. They'd rather employ the smoke and mirrors as long as they can.

Thanks for your comments. God bless!!