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.