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"Today the creationists deliver the provoking news. Previously this was the
function of the evolutionists." Do you see the Intelligent Design movement
as this provocation?
- Danish scholar of religion Mikael Rothstein

What is the Meaning of the Term "Evolution"?
Updated: 02/13/2020

It has become painful to "listen to or read" the arguments about "evolution" raging between people that should be seeking more agreement/unity/support with/from each other instead of being tempted to ridicule each other's intelligence.  It seems that the argument has been reduced to a "semantic" one where we no longer have a clearly understood definition of the "hot words" evolution and creation, and no longer have a clear handle on the real intellectual issues.  Both of these words are unproductive to understanding reality unless they mean significantly more than just "change." The most fundamental issue in the consideration of the origin/existence of life–and life forms–and it's myriad aspects is whether there was pre-existent/concurrent intelligence capable of purposeful design involved or whether it came about through some mindless and purposeless process.

Today, most people think in terms of materialism, the idea that physical matter and cause are ordinate, the ultimate or fundamental reality. They hardly can consider that Intelligence and Purpose may be ordinate instead. If intelligence and purpose ARE ordinate, then the creative agency can bring into existence whatsoever it desires. It is as simple as that. The non-existence of a Creator can NEVER be proven, nor the primacy of matter and cause.

My dictionary defines the word "evolve" as "to develop by gradual changes; to unfold."  If, as I suspect, the word evolution comes from evolve, then the term for what Velikovsky envisioned, "catastrophic evolution," is almost an oxymoron.  But the critical issue in the definition is that now the word connotes a lack of intelligent or purposeful design, direction or control.

And so some would say that "evolution is a fact" because if you believe that life went through changes then you believe in evolution. THAT is what the word EVOLUTION means for them.

My response to the above is that we all agree that life has gone through changes, but at this point it seems scientifically impossible to say that some intelligent agency had nothing to do with it.  Philosophically it would always be impossible to say with certainty that intelligence was not involved.

"X" writes:

It seems to me that there is a basic difference, a difference in kind,  between the process of change that takes place in a natural, gradual, developmental sort of way and one that takes place because of some extraordinary environmental change. In politics, this difference has been referred to by the terms EVOLUTION vs. REVOLUTION.

Sudden changes resulting from interventions by hypothetical super-intelligent space-people using Earth creatures as guinea pigs, are not appropriately referred to as EVOLUTION. In politics, we might refer to such intelligent (?) intervention into the gene pool as a "coup" or a
"putsch," but certainly not "evolution." In other words, EVOLUTION should not be used as the over-arching, generic word for "change."

When "Y" says he believes that life "went through changes," he means that it had changes "imposed" on it from intelligent meddlers. This is a far cry from the view that life underwent natural responses to natural changes (however catastrophic) in the environment. The very real, basic differences in these perspectives should be preserved in our language, not glossed over in the desire to build bridges or to win a debate by linguistic means.

We can agree with the above, especially the last sentence.

"Y" writes:

Close.  I am claiming that the evidence indicates intelligent processes in all significant changes, particularly those involving new kinds of body parts, new plans for an organism etc.  This does not rule out the notion that creatures may have changed THEMSELVES via some intelligent process which no longer operates in the world, but always via an intelligent process.  The defining characteristic of evolution(ism) and not just Darwinism, is that random and mechanistic change is involved.  That simply does not work.

I agree with the above.  Can we all stop "hardening" our position and agree that we may lean toward one side of this issue or favor one position but that we just don't know? One principle that I cannot get around: "Intelligent Design" is an oxymoron. You cannot dissociate intelligence from design, and we are swimming in design,

Finally , "Z" writes:

The problem here seems to be that the definition of "evolution"  is being taken from a dictionary. As a former biology major, one professor advised us to never use a dictionary or an encyclopedia as a major reference source since the definitions they provide are either  inadequate, subjective and often intended for the layman. For the level of detail of this discussion, the definition provided by Cardona is incorrect in a general sense. Evolution is a proven biological process by which organisms adapt to their environment. Any competent biology text will lay no claim that evolution in and of itself will bring about new species. The confusion comes about since, almost since its inception, evolution (the process) has been used as the driving force in the "theory that evolution was the process which brought about the origin of species". There is a major distinction between the two that I did see prior to my first-year university biology courses. Most people do not recognize this distinction and simply refer to the theory by the same name as the process. I've found that most dictionaries (at least the ones I've read) probably don't have the space or foreknowledge to go into depth about this distinction and thus you get a skewed dictionary definition. My suggestion is for someone to get a correct definition out of a biology text before continuing further with this thread.

Again, I concur with the above sentiments, although I am not sure we can come up with a completely meaningful definition from a biology text. Whatever definitions of the words "evolution, creation, engineering" we come up with, they should incorporate or retain the critical distinctions dictated by the fundamental issues.

Finally, I still have the strong feeling that the evolutionary concepts propounded have come about largely through a justifiable, but misguided conscious or unconscious emotional reaction to the ridiculous "Bible thumping" baggage concepts of creationists. Here is how one biologist defines the term "evolution":

by Alexander Mebane

Is it really true that "all life on Earth has developed by evolution"?  Yes, no, and maybe.  It depends on what meaning you assign to the protean word “evolution”; so we had better begin by exhibiting its possible ambiguities.

I)  The original meaning was the unfolding, or working-out, of something potentially present at the outset, like the unrolling of a written scroll, or the development of an embryo into a baby. (In 1866, Ernst Haeckel made the famous pseudoscientific claim that that development illustrates the evolution of life on Earth ("ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny")–a notion that is no longer taken seriously by anyone.) "Evolution" in this sense would apply to the very implausible hypothesis that all subsequent evolutionary changes were somehow compressed or "pre-programmed" into the very first living cell, so that its later development into the vast "Tree of Life" was no more than the natural unfolding of a future already predetermined in that first ancestral organism, without need of any further causative agents.  This looks so much like a reductio ad absurdum that theorists such as Denton (Nature's Destiny) and Ruffié (Traité du Vivant) would undoubtedly deny advocating any such absurdity–though we ought to recall how obviously "impossible" it looks that a barely-visible fertilized egg, or zygote, could contain within itself, without need for any external direction, all of the agencies needed to transform itself, in nine months, into a human baby!

If life's development is thought to have been directed over time not solely by its origin, yet by some supposedly single and self-consistent external agent (called "God"), we have the picture known as "theistic evolution"–which, since it is interpreted as the unfolding over time of a single consistent intention, might still be called an "evolution" in the original sense of the word.

II)  However, the term "evolution" as now usually understood has come (rather improperly) to designate something quite different: Lamarck/Darwin’s hypothesis that all life-forms have "evolved". by unbroken genealogy, from earlier ones by a process of gradual transformation, thus producing a continuous, though branching, "Tree of Life"–envisioned by Darwin, and also by late Lamarck, as having sprouted from a single primordial “root" organism.  Lamarck, closer to the original definition, had invoked as transforming agent a metaphysical élan vital prompted by an organism's life-experience; but Darwin replaced that by the very important scientific postulate that all transfomations have been affected naturally, by merely accidental gene-altering agencies–of which life-experience is not one.

Does the fossil record prove this continuous metamorphosis to be true, as you have undoubtedly seen asserted?  No. As paleontologists have always known, but only for the past generation have dared to say, it proves it to be false: species do not "gradually evolve” out of earlier ones, but are seen to be suddenly-appearing [1], discrete, and permanently-stable entities.  This really-observed non-Darwinian process has been given (by Gould and Eldredge, 1972) the somewhat opaque name of "punctuated equilibria”.

III) You will sometimes see the word "evolution" employed in a quite different (and really improper and tendentious) third way, as designating merely "the real history of the life-forms that have inhabited Earth, as we can decipher it from the fossils they have left in the rocks".  When evolutionists declare that "evolution is a fact", it is this (illegitimate) sense of the word that they tacitly have in mind; but they hope you will take it in Sense II.

IV) We might retain the name "evolution" (as paleontologists still do[2]), though now designating the really-observed process of sudden new-species advents in one discontinuous step, rather than by Darwin/Lamarck's supposed continuous metamorphosis.  Is this only a modification of Darwin' s Sense-II evolution–or something essentially different?  That depends on whether the speciation process is really (as they claim) a wholly-natural one, each new species having been brought into being solely by Darwin's accidental causes, and thus derived by strict genealogy from a single "parent" species.

That Darwinian explanation, however, is in reality a decidedly questionable one, as will be made evident in what follows.  If the origin of species is in truth an event brought about not by natural causes but by artifice (as would seem likely to be the case), we would then have to speak either of "artificial evolution" or of continual creations"–an idea long known to theologians under the name of "successive (or "progressive") creation."

Yet, if (as Christians, Jews, and Muslims are required to believe) all the billions of species have been produced by the intentions of a single divine Designer, that perpetual artificial process might not unreasonably be described as a stepwise sort of "theistic evolution"–and, thus, an "evolution" not in Sense II but in the original sense of the word!

However, the real evidence makes it far easier to believe that a great multitude of DNA-sculptors, generally working at cross-purposes, must really have been responsible for the "creations".  If that is the case, such a non-consistent species-originating process conforms to neither Sense I nor Sense II, and could still be called evolution only in the inappropriate purely-historical sense noted above under III.

[1] See Jeffrey Schwartz's Sudden Origins (1999).

[2] As it is used by EIdredge in his Triumph of Evolution (2000).

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