googlef87758e9b6df9bec.html A Sure Word: December 2016

Thursday, December 15, 2016

“Kinds” versus “species”

The term “species” is surprisingly difficult to define. When asked, most people offer a reproductive test; that is, creatures that can reproduce naturally together and have fertile offspring are the same species. Of course, this definition is not without a myriad of exceptions. Wolves and dogs, for example, can mate and have fertile offspring yet they are considered different species. So can bison and cows, polar and grizzly bears, and dozens of other mammals. Hybridization is ridiculously common in plants. All of these are examples of different species mating so the ability to reproduce is not a rigorous definition of a species. Neither can a reproductive test be used to identify species of asexual organisms like bacteria.

Species is an invented term, I understand that. And, in spite of the many problems of defining it, I usually don't have a problem with the word. However, in some cases, an exact meaning of the term is necessary. I came across just such an instance the other day. On FaceBook, someone posted an article titled, Scientists watch as a new species evolves before their eyes. From the article:

Speciation, the formation of new species through evolution, is not usually an event you can directly observe. Organisms typically take many generations to accumulate enough changes to diverge into new species; it's a slow process. In fact, the difficulty of directly observing speciation is a reason cited by skeptics of evolution for why they have doubts. But biologists working at the University of California, San Diego, and at Michigan State University, may have just put a rest to all of those naysayers. They report to having witnessed the evolution of a new species happen right before their eyes, in a simple laboratory flask

You can see from this paragraph, the author of the article is suggesting that the emergence of a new species (in the article, it's a new species of a virus) is somehow evidence of evolution.  If the rise of a new species is to be used as an example of evolution, then yes, I'm going to ask what criteria are the scientists using to define a species?  In this case, a reproductive test is not sufficient since viruses are also asexual and cannot “mate” with the parent population in any manner.

Did you notice, too, how the author seems characterize critics of evolution as people who deny speciation happens? He was very careful not to use the word, “creationists,” but we all know that's who he means. It's typical of evolutionists to make this straw man argument. The reality is that most creationists don't deny speciation. In fact, it's a critical part of young earth creationism. God created animals according to “kinds.” Noah took terrestrial animals on the ark in pairs of “kinds.” All modern species are descended from these narrow groups. The 30+ species of modern cats are all descended from the 2 felines on the ark, for example.

When told that creationists accept speciation, evolutionists respond in one of two ways. One way is to ridicule the creation model as a type of “hyper-evolution” because the amount of diversification that has occurred during the time since the Flood is much faster than the slow, gradual process theorized by evolutionists. In a previous post, I've discussed the claim that creationism is a belief in hyper-evolution. It's also somewhat hypocritical of them to criticize creationists for believing in rapid speciation when they post articles like the one above talking about speciation happening before their eyes – but never mind that now.

The other way they respond is to throw out a red herring and ask the creationist to define the term, “kind.” It's a red herring because, whether or not a creationist can define the word, “kind,” it doesn't excuse the evolution from having to define a species when it's being used in the example above.

When I was discussing the article above on FaceBook, one critic actually said he couldn't respond to any of my points until I gave a precise definition of “kind.” Really? I doubt that. I mean, there may not be an iron clad definition of the word species but I understand the term well enough to discuss it. I use the term frequently myself and only ask for a rigorous definition when evolutionists try to leverage “speciation” as evidence for their theory. Am I supposed to believe that evolutionists can't understand the concept of “kind” well enough to discuss it unless we give them an iron clad definition first? Like I said, it's a red herring.

I've discussed species and kinds on my blog before. I might not be able to give a rigorous definition of either but here are some practical definitions. A species is a population of organisms that have enough traits in common that they can be identified as belonging to the same group. I admit, my definition may have a few difficulties but at least it's rid of the need of a reproductive boundary. A kind is a group of organisms originally created by God that would reproduce organisms similar to themselves and includes all the varied species descended from the original group. Maybe I could come up with a better definition but, I daresay, this one is more precise than nearly any definition of species that I've heard from evolutionists.

Think about examples of species and kinds. Dogs, wolves, and coyotes can breed together and have fertile offspring yet they are considered different species. Because of their very different anatomies, Great Danes can no longer reproduce with chihuahuas yet they are still considered the same species. Evolutionists and creationists both agree that all canine have descended from a common ancestor yet if creationists call the members of the canine group a “kind,” evolutionists act like they can't understand the term at all. //RKBentley scratches his head//

Evolutionists play word games. They constantly conflate natural selection and evolution. I talked in my last post about how they casually use the word theory but harp on creationists for calling evolution a theory. They claim macroevolution is evolution above the species level but they can't even define what a species is. When pressed for a definition of species, they attempt to derail the conversation by asking creationists to define a kind instead. I agree you can't have a conversation with someone if there isn't a clear understand of the terms being discussed. In the evolution/creation debate, evolutionists aren't interested in discussion. I know they're not stupid – they're just playing dumb. Conflate, equivocate, obfuscate. That's the tactic of evolutionists.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Evolution is “just” a theory after all

Creationists sometimes criticize evolution by describing it as “just a theory.” In other words, it's a “theory” not a “fact” or a “law.” In response to that criticism, Scientific American said the following:

Many people learned in elementary school that a theory falls in the middle of a hierarchy of certainty--above a mere hypothesis but below a law. Scientists do not use the terms that way, however. According to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), a scientific theory is "a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world that can incorporate facts, laws, inferences, and tested hypotheses." No amount of validation changes a theory into a law, which is a descriptive generalization about nature. So when scientists talk about the theory of evolution--or the atomic theory or the theory of relativity, for that matter--they are not expressing reservations about its truth.

Now, it's typical for people in different lines of work to have industry specific terms or even specialized meanings for common words. It's called “jargon.” The word, “load,” for example, might mean something different to a truck driver than an engineer. It's always been a pet peeve of mine, wherever I've worked, to hear my employees use jargon when talking to customers. I would always have to remind them not to use terms like LTV, DI, or DDA when talking to customers. It's fine that people use jargon, but when you're communicating with the public, you need to use terms the public understands.

Scientists have a special meaning for the term, “theory.” I get it. Even so, I think evolutionists need to be a little more gracious when attempting to “educate” non-scientists in the scientific meaning of the term. I think their snobbery is unjustified in at least two ways: 1) Scientists are also a little casual in how they use the word and 2) the meaning intended by a lay person is not entirely incorrect. I'll expand on both of these points.

If the word theory is supposed to mean a “well-substantiated explanation” of some phenomenon, why do evolutionists habitually use the word “theory” when talking about abiogenesis? We have never observed life rising from non-living matter in nature; neither have we been able to artificially create life from non-living chemicals. There is no “well-substantiated explanation” of how it happened so there can be no theory of abiogenesis. All they have are guesses – wild guesses – about how it might have happened but none of the guesses have actually produced a living thing. Still, they call them “theories” about the origin of life. Why do they do that? It could be that they are trying to minimize the embarrassment of having no natural explanation for the origin of life by assigning to their guesses the “scientific” term, theory. It could be that they're really not as hyper-sensitive about the word as they pretend to be with critics and just use the technical definition of the word as a red herring to derail the debate. Either way, when they are so loosey-goosey with the term themselves, they lose credibility when they harp on how non-scientists use the word.

The other thing, though, is that, even according to the scientific definition, the “theory” is still just an explanation of something. It may be “well-tested.” It may seem to explain the thing well. But at the end of the day, the scientific meaning of the word isn't terribly different than how the non-scientist means it. They both mean explanations.

Let me give you an analogy: I can open a carton of eggs and see there are a dozen. That's an objective fact. But why are there a dozen eggs? In other words, why do they sell eggs in dozens rather than, say, in tens? If I had to inventory eggs, it's easier to count by tens than by twelves. If I had to guess, I would say it's because there are more ways to divide dozens than tens. If a farmer ships eggs to multiple families or a family is feeding several members, how many ways the eggs can be divided evenly is important because it reduces left overs. This could be my hypothesis and I could test it by questioning farmers or doing historical research into the practice. Maybe my hypothesis will be confirmed or maybe not. Regardless, why there are a dozen eggs will never be an objective fact in the same sense as there are a dozen eggs. Do you see? No matter how confident we may be with the theory, it will never be held in the same regard as the fact.

I've said before that calling evolution, “just a theory” is a weak criticism. I didn't mean, however, that it's wrong to say it. I think it's weak in the sense that it doesn't really address any particular weakness in the theory. It's sort of like saying, “evolution is stupid.” I think it is stupid but if I want to convince someone about why it's stupid, I'd better have something a little more substantial. On the other hand, evolution is not correct simply because evolutionists use the word, “theory” to describe it. When a critic expresses his doubts by describing evolution as “just a theory,” it means he's questioning the explanation. Scolding him about the technical meaning of the term, theory, doesn't really help the evolutionist. Let's face it, no matter how much smugness... er, I mean confidence evolutionists have, it really is just a theory after all!